Sunday, March 2, 2014

Book Review: Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson

Dust of Dreams is the ninth book of the ten-book series Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson. This has been a good series overall and the end is just in sight. It's taken a long time to go through these books for various reasons, though, which is a drawback when trying to remember the many names or plot lines. As always, I try to avoid direct spoilers, though some knowledge of the prior books will help.

Read on for my full review.

Overall Impression
This is another fine addition to the Malazan series, though personally not my favorite. There is a lot that happens throughout the book and many characters to remember. Unfortunately, I had to take 2-3 breaks to read other books and so lost the thread of the story. As in prior books, though, things speed up towards the end so while the start and, especially, the middle can drag on, the ending ties up everything neatly. In this case, quite a few things are left unresolved, but this is to be expected as the next book is the final one in the series.

Plot
The book does open very powerfully with one of the famous readings of the Deck of Dragons. Fiddler is a master at this, though clearly very reluctant to participate. The Deck shows us the players in the game, particularly with respect to Warrens and Houses. It is in opposition to the Tiles, which deal with Holds and the Elder Gods. The Master of the Tiles, the Errant, is not pleased at having these Malazans in Lether playing around with the Deck.

The book follows the three major armies heading off to the Wastelands and the lands beyond. These are the Malazan Bonehunters, the Khundryl Burned Tears, and the Perish Grey Helms. Along the way, others join them and it looks like somehow the White Face Barghast ended up in this continent as well. I must have missed when this happened.

Part of the story also revolves around a band of children, the ribbed snake, that is crossing a wasteland. The Whys and Hows and Wheres are not initially clear and it's probably the most confusing part of the tale as many of the characters are brand new. They are being hunted by what they called Quitters, though one among them is in disguise. She refers to them as Inquisitors and the subsequent hints make it clear what they really are. Only at the very end, however, do we see how this plot line ties to some of the others.

Characters
We see plenty of familiar characters in this book, including Quick Ben, Fiddler, Brys, Onos T'oolan, Sinn, and some gods like Mael, Errastas, and Kilmandaros. We even see Burn for the very first time here (unless I missed an earlier appearance). Burn is the Sleeping Goddess of the Earth and some of the earlier books refer to the dates as so-and-so year of Burn's Sleep. We know that the Crippled God has poisoned Burn in some fashion and Quick Ben and the others have vowed to work to fix that. How much the poisoned has affected her, if at all, is not made clear, but she clearly has become a player in this game.

We see the appearance of some other big names too, including Draconus, forger of Dragnipur. Draconus appearance is absolutely amazing and one of the best parts of the book. It is an earth-shaking event felt by so many people. His appearance is tied to events of the prior book, so you can roughly time them together (ie, this book doesn't start immediately after the end of Book 8). Icarium also shows up, though that's a bit confusing at first. His story arch is somewhat hidden from us so that only at the end we realize that it was Icarium all along. Icarium is cool, but I could have done without the convoluted way the author tries to hide him from us. Even now, after finishing the book, I still find it, and the related plot lines, somewhat confusing.

One of the most shocking things about character development that reflects the dark tone of this book is how brutal Erikson can be with them. He can build them up little by little and have them be within mere inches of their goal before violently killing them. Reminds me a bit of George R.R. Martin, though I think Erikson is a bit sparser with his deaths to make them more meaningful.

Setting / World Building
One of the things we learned in prior books was the origin of the warrens of magic: an elder god's blood. This keeps being a recurring theme throughout the series and we see the clash of old vs new magic when the Malazans landed in the Lether empire. One of the characters had gone under the radar for the past few books and now we realize that this character is tied to new warrens. These new warrens are very fresh and new and it's unclear how much of a role they will play, but it adds a new dimensionality to the magic and sources of power in the series.

We see plenty of live K'Chain Che'Malle in this book, which is pretty neat. We also see the K'Chain Nah'Ruk, the short-tails, which had briefly appeared in other books. In fact, I remember a scene where Quick Ben and others witness a ton of sky keeps while traveling through the Imperial warren. The implications of that are seen in this book.

Final Thoughts
This was not the strongest book in the Malazan series, though it could also be that my interrupting it several times hurt my enjoyment of it. In particular, there were several odd and somewhat confusing plot lines in an already huge book with too large of cast of characters. However, the ending for both the 3rd and 4th parts were especially epic and thoroughly enjoyable. It doesn't feel as complete as the others, and the author acknowledges that. It clearly was meant as the first part of the finale. Hence, I'm looking forward to the final book as Erikson really knows how to end his books with a blast.

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