Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen (Book 9 of 10)
Genre: Epic fantasy, grimdark fantasy, fantasy
First published: 2009 by Bantam (UK) and 2010 by Tor (US)
The denouement of the Malazan Book of the Fallen is so long that it had to be written over two enormous books. Dust of Dreams is the first act of this grand finale and it was glorious!
This volume is another polarising one insofar as its ratings are concerned, and it could be due to a very real syndrome called Malazan Fatigue. Admittedly I was ‘afflicted’ by this during my first attempt to follow the Malazan recommended reading order a couple of years ago and I did not even start on this book. This time around, having a better understanding of the stories being told during my reread and not attempting to read both Erikson and Esslemont in order, I managed to progress into Dust of Dreams and thoroughly enjoyed it.
The opening chapters herein were the strongest ones I’ve read in the entire series to date. The story picked up from the closing events in Reaper’s Gale; taking place in Letheras where the Bonehunters were encamped. The story started with an ominous tone, centred on some of my favourite scenes in this series (as hard to comprehend as it may be most times), i.e. those involving the Deck of Dragons. Erikson thoroughly immerses the reader into the lives of soldiers, providing numerous cut scenes from one individual or squad to another, showing how boredom can be an enemy of a soldier as many amongst them ruminated and bemoaned their fate in the hands of the Adjunct. The humourous reprieve granted by my favourite Malazan duo, usually at the most unexpected or inappropriate time, was a huge welcome.
The timeline in Dust of Dreams ran parallel to that in Toll the Hounds, up to a certain point. Having read the preceding volume bestowed the delicious joy of having inside information of the earth-shattering events which have transpired, as well as the bated anticipation as to how it will play out. There were also a surprising number of expository scenes that finally brought some light to the murkier sections of the vast and intricate tapestry of the series’ narrative threads. Suffice to say, many of the seemingly missing pieces of the puzzle were gradually falling into place. Even with all the revelations evident so far, one burning question remained, surrounding the most enigmatic character of all, the awesome Quick Ben.
Image from Subterranean Press
In the same vein of all the preceding books, we have again a whole new cast of characters introduced even this late into the series. One which I had not expected but was completely thrilled about was that of the perspective of the K’Chain Che’malle, a race of lizard-like beings for which we have only ever seen from a distance as completely alien, supremely advanced and wholly dangerous. This storyline provides the much-needed insights into these ancient beings who inhabited the world way before the humans ever did.
Speaking of humans, the philosophical tone in Dust of Dreams took on an even more bleak and depressing view of the horrors that beset humanity, all which mirrored our real world. Themes of extinction and annihilation, and of desperation to survive. There was one arc, in particular, that was terrifying in its portrayal of children and their ability to adapt. It was also the most plodding subplot in the book which to me didn’t seem to have much significance to the larger story.
“Children are quickest to necessity. They can make any world normal. Be careful, daughter, with these humans. To live, they will do anything.”
On the flipside, the commentary on the legacy that we leave behind for future generations rings true like a clarion.
“The beast that was civilisation ever faced forward, and in making its present world it devoured the world to come. It was an appalling truth that one’s own children could be so callously sacrificed to immediate comforts, yet this was so and it had always been so.”
The same goes for neglect, willful or otherwise.
“A child starved never grows tall or strong. A child unloved can never find love or give it when grown. A child that does not laugh will become someone who can find nothing in the world to laugh at. And a child hurt deeply enough will spend a lifetime trying to scab that wound – even as they ceaselessly pick at it… all the careless acts and indifferent, impatient gestures… as if they had no time for their own children… and all of that was simply passed on to the next generation, over and over again.”
While the Malazan books had been violent and brutal, I will not call it gratuitous. Regardless, I do need to mention that there are scenes in this book which may qualify as a trigger warning for serial rape and torture. Scenes which again draw upon our world. What is the reason behind such a portrayal? Instead of paraphrasing, I’ll put forth the words of the author himself.
“Torture is going on right now. People are being maimed. Some will die. Others will live with pain and trauma for the rest of their lives. And it you’re at all like me, you feel helpless to do anything about it. But one thing you do have a choice over: you can turn away.
… and while such acts of violence are in all likelihood very distant from us readers here, they exist, as a chapter in the history of our own civilisation, our own culture, and future books recounting the history of our present, will note us with clinical clarity, as nations in which torture was both condoned and conducted.
I didn’t write that scene for you. I wrote it for them. And I ask the same of you. Read it for them. As my wife said, whatever we feel is as nothing compared to what the victims have, and will, go through. And in the grand scheme of things, our brief disquiet seems, to me now as it did then, a most pathetic cry in this vast wilderness.”
I almost cannot believe I am finally at the threshold of the conclusion of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. As Dust of Dreams is merely the beginning of the end, it closed with a heart-rending cliff-hanger (what else would you expect from this series), and for the first time, I’m delving into the next book immediately. The Crippled God, here I come!
Review originally written in 2017