Steven Erikson's epic fantasy monster The Malazan book of the Fallen is reaching it's conclusion. The ninth part, Dust of Dreams, is the first half of what could be considered the massive closing volume of the series. Until now I have read his books in mass market paperback format, the sheer size of his work makes a hardback rather unwieldy (don't get me started about on how crappy trade paperbacks are). This time around I couldn't contain my curiosity long enough for the paperback to be released. I ordered the hardback anyway. Dust of Dreams is what we have come to expect from Erikson. A massive, multi-faceted, fantasy for the hard-core, epic fantasy fan. In other words, I loved it.
Dust of Dreams is set on the Letherii continent shortly after the events in Reapers Gale. King Tehol the Only has assumed the throne after the defeat of the Triste Edur occupation at the hands of the Malazans. Travore's Bonehunters are preparing for a march into the Wastelands, an aptly named region east of the empire of Lether, that was left almost devoid of life after some ancient catastrophe. Their goal is a mystery to everybody but the Adjuct. In the mean time the Malazan allies are approaching the kingdom of Bolkando, which the Malazan's must pass though to reach the Wastelands. With foreign armies approaching from three directions the Queen of Bolkando feels threatened. It is by no means certain Tavore will reach the Wastelands without a fight.
The Wastelands themselves may appear empty but all sorts of ominous signs point to the fact that it won't be for much longer. Several groups are making their way to or across the region. Most importantly the K'Chain Che Malle, not seen in these lands (in living form at least) for ages, are trying to re-establish themselves. On top of that, events in Toll of the Hounds have removed some major players from the field and released a number of very powerful others. When the effects of the events in Toll of the Hounds become clear on the Letherii continent, it puts just about everybody on edge. From the lowest squad magician in Tavore's army to the most ancient of gods. Change is coming and true to Erikson's style it promises to be violent.
In a brief author's note Erikson explains why this book is going to end on cliffhanger. A first in the Malazan series. Personally, I am not too fond of cliffhanger endings. At least not when reading a series that is currently being written. The prospect of having to wait for the conclusion for a year (or longer) does not generally add to the reading experience. The author seems to agree and has avoided cliffhangers thus far. He thinks it necessary for this book however. The climax of his series is simply to large to fit into one tome. All things considered I think Erikson handles this first cliffhanger rather well. Certainly, it leaves us with a lot of questions, the fate of quite a few characters is unknown, but it does also provide us with some answers, contain some major developments in the overall story and at least one complete story arc. There are worse cliffhangers out there.
Dust of Dreams, like previous volumes in the series, is quite a challenging read. I figured it would take me about ten days to finish it but that turned out to be too optimistic. There's an awful lot going on in this book and rushing through it is not going to enhance the experience. Some readers think Erikson's books are too long and that he could have handled to story in less words. I think for some of the previous books this was in fact the case (The Bonenhunters in particular). I don't think it goes for this book though. We see the story though the eyes of a lot of different characters but Erikson does keep the story contained to a handful of story lines. With eight books worth of back story and the inevitable continuity errors that have crept up during the series, that doesn't mean this book is a lighter read than the previous ones but it did have a pretty clear sense of direction. Something that Toll of the Hounds for instance didn't find until the last couple of hundred pages (or at least not one I could detect).
There are lots of memorable scenes in this book, most of which would considered spoilers but a few I can mention. Tehol and Bug are some of the best characters Erikson has written in my opinion. Their continued satire of the fallacies of capitalism and Letherii society and government is just hilarious. Most of this is contained in the first part of the book, which on the whole is a very fast paced opening by Erikson's standards. Fiddler's antics to escape doing a reading of the Deck of Dragons for the Adjunct is another highlight. The reading itself, if you will permit me a tiny spoiler, makes sure the book is off to a running start. A pace that does sag a little in the middle portion of the book but Dust of Dreams is still one of the faster paced books in the series.
The real verdict on the quality of this book is in part dependant on how Erikson wraps things up in The Crippled God. I am very much looking forward to reading the conclusion of this series that will no doubt remain one of the landmarks in epic fantasy. Dust of Dreams, like the entire series, is complex, dark, humorous and at times heart-wrenching. For fans of the Malazan world this book delivers what has drawn people to the series in the first place. My expectations of the last two volumes were high and Erikson hasn't done anything to temper them with this book. Dust of Dreams sets things up for a blistering finale. Normally books wait for me to find time to read them, with this author I can't wait for the final book to be published.
Title: Dust of Dreams
Author: Steven Erikson
Publisher: Bantam Press
First published: 2009