Dust of Dreams (Malazan Book of the Fallen), by Steven Erikson
Fans of Steven Erikson should know what to expect by now, and Dust of Dreams, the ninth and penultimate instalment of the monumental, genre-redefining Malazan Book of the Fallen, is in every respect classic Steven Erikson. It’s all here in profusion, from his marvellous strengths – a lyrical, poetically infused writing style that’s a cut above any other fantasy writer working today, a deeply involved plot, a tremendous sense of involvement with these characters – to his well-known weaknesses – pages of interior monologues for minor characters, a sometimes overwhelming sense of nihilism, and a plot that takes quite a while to really get going.
Dust of Dreams is actually the first half of the final volume of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, which as Erikson explains in his foreword, explains the lack of a typical story arc and, unusually for him, the presence of a monstrous cliffhanger of an ending, with the fate of many of our favourite characters left unknown. Perhaps in the same way as the divided volumes of George RR Martin’s last and next books were forced to do, the focus here is on one set of characters in one part of Erikson’s world, the continent of Lether – so we take in Tehol Beddict, now King of Lether but still spryly eccentric, along with his Chancellor (and Elder God) Bugg; the Bonehunters, including favourites Fiddler, Quick Ben, Hellian, Gesler, Stormy et al; the Shake, whose presence in previous volumes was rather tedious but who now start to make sense in the grand scheme of things; various tribes of the plains, including the White Face Barghast, now led by Onos T’Oolan, and the remains of various other tribes; and the gods and Ascendants are of course well-represented too, from the scheming Errant to the newly resurrected Draconus (the timeline for Dust of Dreams overlaps with that of previous volume Toll the Hounds).
Perhaps more significantly, the role of a number of races who have hitherto been minor players in the saga is becoming apparent: the Jaghut are once again becoming a force to be reckoned with (and fans of the series will be able to imagine the impact when the T’Lan Imass find out about that, especially in light of the revelations about Hood at the end of Toll the Hounds); the Forkrul Assail are becoming more visible; and most importantly, the reptilian K’Chain Che’Malle, believed extinct, are back in a big and bloody way.
Erikson’s terrible sorrow over the excesses of mankind, their effects on the environment and on each other, with the extinction of a number of tribal peoples occurring during the course of the book, is made very apparent, and you sense that as the characters relentlessly approach the convergence that they don’t want but seem incapable of avoiding, there are more than a few serious points that he wants his readers to take on board.
It should be apparent to anyone reading Dust of Dreams, if it wasn’t already, that everything Erikson does is meticulously plotted going back to the very beginning – and once we get to the end, it will be necessary (gulp) to read the whole lot again and appreciate just how many developments were foreshadowed, had we but had the eyes to see what was going to happen. While the cliffhanger ending may leave us dangling until sometime next year, we can at least have the confidence that Steven Erikson won’t keep us waiting too long for the final volume – after all, he’s probably known what’s going to be in it (and children, I predict it’s going to be seriously grim) for quite some time. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to it…