The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Vaster in depth and scope than any other fantasy epic ever written, it's hard to believe the series is actually coming to an end. And as this multilayered tale draws to a close, I was quite eager to sink my teeth into the ninth volume of this saga. Indeed, I've rarely been this eager to read a fantasy novel. Fanboy I may be, it's true, but after the uneven read that was Toll the Hounds, I simply couldn't wait to return to the continent of Lether, where everything would be played out.
In the Author's Note, Steven Erikson warns us that Dust of Dreams is essentially the first half of a two-volume novel, to be concluded with the forthcoming The Crippled God. Hence, there are no resolutions to the various storylines, and Erikson had no choice but to end this one with a cliffhanger. And as far as cliffhangers go, it's about as big as they come. Erikson asks readers to please be patient. For the record, I can tell you that there is closure of a sort at the end of Dust of Dreams. Just not what we are used to. . . Be that as it may, Dust of Dreams advances the plot toward the grand finale we have been waiting for, and the book ties many storylines together in surprising fashion.
In my opinion, Gardens of the Moon, Deadhouse Gates, Memories of Ice, House of Chains, and Midnight Tides were meant to lay the groundwork for the entire series. With that established, The Bonehunters, Reaper's Gale, and Toll the Hounds served as transition books to bring all these disparate plotlines together in a complex tapestry of threads and characters. Dust of Dreams and The Crippled God are the climax of this ambitious fantasy saga. Like most fans, I've often shaken my head in confusion, perplexed by the fact that Erikson appeared to be focusing on secondary characters and seemingly unimportant storylines in every single Malazan installment. Well, Dust of Dreams finally provides a number of surprising, even shocking, answers. Past volumes contained an enormoius amount of foreshadowing that we simply didn't get. Yet in Dust of Dreams, a lot of things suddenly make sense. A case in point would have to be the entire Shake storyline. At times, it felt kind of lame and unnecessary in the past, but you won't believe what Erikson has in store for them.
Both The Bonehunters and Reaper's Gale were all over the place in terms of plotlines, which is what I loved about them. Toll the Hounds, although suffering from inconsistent rhythm, more or less followed the blueprint of earlier Malazan books. I feel that Dust of Dreams bears more similarities with the former, as the author has a panoply of storylines to bring together.
The Tiste Edur empire overthrown, the Bonehunters find themselves without an enemy. Morale is low among the soldiers of this exiled Malazan army, and ennui threatens to make things worse, yet Adjunct Tavore won't give the order to march into the Wastelands. They can all feel the threat of what's coming, but still they must wait.
Warleader Onos Toolan is gradually losing control of the White Face Barghast. Clan chiefs continue to abandon the herd, while others now openly challenge Onos Toolan's right to lead them. Hetan knows that an enemy must soon be found, or the White Face Barghast could be fragmented beyond repair.
Foreign leaders seek to take advantage of the Khundryl Burned Tears and the Perish Grey Helms as both armies prepare to rendezvous with the Bonehunters to enter the Wastelands. Indifferent to the fact that the three armies will face a menace that could destroy the world, these nobles plan treachery.
Hundreds of refugees march westward, forced out of their homes, tortured, and murdered by the Fathers, the Quitters, the starvers, and the bone-skinned Inquisitors. Rutt leads them across the Glass Desert, beyond which lies salvation in the form of a mysterious glass city.
Kalyth, last survivor of a tribe on the Elan Plain, has been named Destriant of the K'Chain Che'Malle by Matron Gunth'an Acyl. She is ordered to journey beyond Ampelas Rooted to seek out a Mortal Sword and a Shield Anvil. Obviously insane, the Matron is preparing for war.
With the Omtose Phellack ice fields melting, the water level is rising, threatening the Shake's existence on Third Maiden Isle. Prophecies claim that the Shake, broken, decimated, and lost, are destined to change the world. Twilight and the Watch will take their people upon the Road of Gallan, a journey that will bring the Shake back to the First Shore, as well as their destiny.
Resenting the threat posed by the Deck of Dragons and its mysterious Master, the Errant reclaims his role as Master of the Tiles. Summoning the surviving Clan of Elders, he plans the biggest betrayal of all.
Adjunct Tavore plans to cheat Shadowthrone and Cotillion. The gods can have their war, but she and the Bonehunters won't be used. Though she will order the army to march toward Kolanse, an isolated confederation of kingdoms beyond the Wastelands, the Adjunct is aware that the gods and Ascendants are planning another Chaining of the Crippled God. And though she is seemingly playing Shadowthrone's game by marching to face the new menace which overwhelmed Kolanse, no one knows what Tavore's ultimate plan truly is.
Olar Ethil, the daughter of T'iam who embraced the Ritual of Tellan, has an agenda of her own, and she will compel even the Herald of Death to see her schemes succeed.
As gods and Ascendants hover in the background, a convergence is about to take place in the Wastelands. And to the south, a cluster of jade-colored stars can be seen shining in the blackness of the night sky.
Revelations about the K'Chain Che'Malle, the Shake, the Soletaken, the D'ivers, the dragons, the Tiste wars, the T'lan Imass, yada yada yada, abound. Once again, expect the unexpected!
There is a lot of introspection in Dust of Dreams, mainly from the soldiers, and at times I found it a bit off-putting. As a renegade army on foreign shores, the Bonehunters are aware that they will make the ultimate sacrifice to save the world, their heroic feats unwitnessed. As these unsung heroes contemplate their dismal future, there is a lot of musing about what it means to be a soldier, the futility of war, etc. It adds another dimension at the beginning of the novel, yet it starts to get old after a while. It doesn't take anything away from the reading experience, mind you, but it does slow down the pace in many chapters.
In addition to the usual Malazan, Lethreii, and godlike suspects (Fiddler, Quick Ben, Tehol, Bugg, etc), Dust of Dreams sees the emergence of a host of characters whose importance in the greater scheme of things had not been evident earlier in the series. Yan Tovis and Yedan Derryg immediately come to mind, but the same could be said of Setoc, Grub, Rud Elalle, Sinn, Gesler, and Stormy. Add to that the return of characters such as Silchas Ruin, Icarium, Mappo, Kilmandaros, and more (though not in roles readers may have anticipated), and you have an incredible convergence about to occur.
It takes a while for the proverbial shit to hit the fan, but when it does Steven Erikson caps it all off with a bang. Indeed, the author closes the show with epic battle scenes reminiscent of Capustan and Coral. The very best action scenes since Memories of Ice, no question!
Although it ends with a major cliffhangers, Dust of Dreams furthers the plot and sets the stage for what should be an unforgettable finale in The Crippled God. Believe me when I tell you that this book will have you begging for more! Steven Erikson is a master storyteller.
Dust of Dreams is epic fantasy with a capital E!
The final verdict: 9.5/10
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