It’s been a few weeks now since I finished this book, and although I wanted to do a good write up on it, I haven’t been able to pull my thoughts together enough to get it done. So here are just some disordered thoughts.
Dust of Dreams is the ninth and penultimate volume in Steven Erikson’s Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. The story forms a sequel to the seventh volume, Reaper’s Gale, and occurs concurrently with Toll the Hounds. In this book we’re back to following the renegade Malazan army called the Bonehunters, who find themselves following their commander Adjunct Tavore east toward the Wastelands with very little idea of what they are heading toward, or why. Meanwhile, Elder God the Errant seeks out allies from his past in an attempt to reclaim his power, and the K’Chain CheMalle – a race of lizards believed long dead but revealed now to still live out in the Wastelands – send out a human servant to find a new way to survive.
The book is typical of the Malazan series, with a lot of the old familiar characters and several new ones. The theme of extinction – that of species and of tribes – continues, with several viewpoint characters being last survivors of their people, and highlights too the storylines which feature old gods being replaced by new, and the old ways of magic in turn being replaced with new forms.
Erikson’s prose, to my mind, improves with each volume, and he has developed quite a skill for poetic imagery, displayed in bits and pieces throughout the book. His characters are little changed, however; there are different types, and some distinctive personalities, but in many ways a lot of the characters lack a unique voice.
I think one the storylines I enjoyed the most was that of the Perish Grey Helms travelling through the kingdom of Bolkando. Narrated by the ambitious, arrogant, and short-sighted Shield Anvil of the order, the reader is constantly exposed to his poor opinion of the Mortal Sword who leads them, while simultaneously watching as she demonstrates more poise, tact and intelligence than he manages himself. Erikson also uses this storyline to indirectly show us how strong the trust between the Bonehunters and their allies has grown, and how far the Adjunct’s planning has gone – something we see little of elsewhere as the Adjunct has become more distant and closed off from the other characters. This perspective on their respective journies is a nice touch to prevent the reader from deciding she is as lost and uninformed as the rest of her soldiers.
Something has to be said about the ending. Dust of Dreams is the only book in the entire Malazan saga to end on a cliffhanger, with the final volume looming in the near future. The book climaxes with a pair of battles, however we only witness the end of one of them. After watching the characters we know and have followed all through this story, the book leaves them, and follows instead with a different battle, which, though it does feature viewpoint characters that we have met before, and brings several storylines of the book to a climax, lacks a little of the human element to help you empathise with the individuals dying on this battlefield.
That said, Dust of Dreams does continue the quality of work that the series has held in recent volumes, and it entertains in all the ways I’ve come to expect. At this point I’m quite commited to the large and complex story Erikson’s weaving, and I’m enjoying it drawing toward a climax now, however there are still many things left unexplained, and it feels Erikson’s going to have a hard time pulling all the loose threads together in the final book. Time will tell.