Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson

(2009-09-07)

You know the drill by now, this is the ninth Malazan book written by Steven Erikson, the twelfth overall, and if you haven’t read the rest you’re beyond help.

That being said, sturdy companion, if you’re at this point of your own free will – the end is nigh. This epic, compelling and indeed, at times, maddening series is but one weighty tome away from conclusion. But do we go there armed with answers or too many questions? Unfortunately it is heavily the latter.

The first and most interesting answer (it ISN’T a spoiler don’t worry) is that Dust of Dreams is in fact the end. It seems that so large is the final chapter of Erikson’s masterpiece, which he explains in the foreword, that it needed to be split into two.

Thus the end begins oddly in places new - such as the fortress of an insane K’chain Che’malle matron, following a line of malnourished and tortured children out of a dark place infected by the Crippled God - and old, the court of blanket-wearing sovereign Tehol the Only. At the court of the king where an Elder God does all the work, we are surprisingly offered a few clear answers. Of the connection between warrens and decks, gods and mortals, between the things we have suspected and the little we know to this point. For its honesty; where whence there was only subterfuge and shadows, it is all the more refreshing. Don’t get used to it.

Dust of Dreams is not like the other books. It starts fast, the disparate fragments of places not yet seen and characters not yet met in the prologue give way to one of the most tense and exciting scenes in the series. Old favourites and new wards face a reading of the Deck of Dragons like no other and isn’t everybody just happy to be a part of it. Plans are laid, the board is set and the shocks have only just begun.

Sadly after this hectic beginning the pace slows dramatically as time is taken to expand each of the new story threads. Although this is very frustrating given the opening promise, it works to put the reader in the same frame of mind as the Bonehunters waiting for the Adjunct to point the way forward. This hesitancy extends to the Bonehunters’ allies, both the Perish Grey Helms and the Khundryl Burned Tears, as everyone and their dog seems to wander for an age about a dead wasteland, broken only by several very interesting Elder-related scenes, until the end. And what a nasty end it is.

Dust of Dreams is harder than any of the previous books. There are two ongoing, brutal scenes of unmitigated horror, apart from the deaths and battles, which will make for very difficult reading. Steven Erikson is taking no prisoners nor offering any happy solutions and this tone fills the book with a sick, uneasy feeling as we lurch from uncertainty to tragedy in the blink of an eye. Worse still perhaps, the most pressing questions from this book, due to it being only half the end, go unanswered as the staggering weight of the series falls squarely now on The Crippled God. The single greatest fear being that that final book will not hold under the pressure of all that the author has wrought.

In conclusion Dust of Dreams is half a story with so many significant moments, new characters and events that it will take time, more so perhaps than earlier books, to digest. Initially it feels too dark, as if Erikson has taken heavily from contemporaries like Abercrombie and Bakker without adjusting the balance. On first read it does appear to be one of the weakest of the Malazan books but without proper context to place it in, the other half The Crippled God, it's difficult to do anything but sit on the fence and cross your fingers for the final volume.

Owen Jones © 2009

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