Review: Dust of Dreams

Posted: February 23, 2011 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Steven Erikson, Epic Fantasy

We actually have a good reason for not reviewing this novel sooner. Quite simply, it didn’t make sense to. DUST OF DREAMS (Amazon) is just the first half of the final entry into Steven Erikson‘s epic series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Seriously. It is literally the first half of the story and ends in a giant cliffhanger.

Sure, we could have reviewed this back when it came out last year. We almost did. After an epic debate lasting all of 30 seconds, we decided to wait until THE CRIPPLED GOD (Amazon) was about to be released to do a re-read and review of this stellar novel. It just didn’t feel right to review it any other time.

It seems lately that many authors are writing huge novels that are forced to be split. Honestly this isn’t on our list of favorite things. Generally what happens–as evidenced by Robin Hobb’s DRAGON KEEPER–is the first volume of the split novel is all boring set up for the second volume. The first volume essentially just… stops. No real climax. Nothing close to a resolution. It makes it rather difficult to justify to one’s self why time was actually spent reading that first volume. Erikson mentions at the beginning of the novel that DUST OF DREAMS is just the first part of a huge novel. He’s honest and up-front about it. More importantly, DUST OF DREAMS and THE CRIPPLED GOD are the finale to a series, they aren’t introducing the setting, characters, etc. We can give more leeway to the split-book approach in a finale than an introductory novel. That said, all the honesty in the world doesn’t mean we weren’t worried how the novel would come across upon reading.

Again we should clarify; this review is equal parts our impressions after the first reading, and also after a very recent re-read. We do this because we felt very strongly that our reading experience of THE CRIPPLED GOD would be, well, crippled without having just read the first portion. Yes, we are very happy we did so, and recommend you do the same.

Anywho. DUST OF DREAMS. We were super worried. Would it be a return to the stuff that made us fall in love with the series, or more of the (in our opinion) uneven TOLL THE HOUNDS? Would it hold up to a re-read, or bore us to death? It’s almost unfair to have these huge questions and expectations going into a novel. If you’ve already read this novel, then you know like we do that DUST OF DREAMS was pretty awesome. Even though it ends on a cliffhanger, man, what a crazy “ending.” You know what we mean. It hearkens back to the end of MEMORIES OF ICE in theme and level of slaughter. Really, the entire novel is worth reading just to get those last 100 pages. Insane.

In very general terms–we know many of you aren’t at this portion of the series yet, so no major spoilers–everything is falling apart. Gods are at war. Humans at at war. Non-humans are at war. Gods, humans and non-humans are at war amongst themselves and each other. Races and peoples that had their moments of glory in prior novels at at the brink of total annihilation. Things are bleak, near hopeless even. Adjunct Tavore is leading her outlawed army towards a perceived final battle that none of them expect to survive. All the while you can’t help but feel everyone and everything is being manipulated. It is truly some awesome stuff.

We could give you a play-by-play account of who is in this novel, and what they are doing. We could. But that take a seriously long time. You know by now that Erikson’s novels each have 83 million characters. That’s just how he rolls. Included in this novel are the Bonehunters, Bridgeburners, Letherii, Barghest, K’Chain Che’Malle, Jaghut (an army of them… yeah), Forkrul Assail and Imass. Quick Ben is here, as is Fiddler, Tavore, Bugg, Mappo, Draconus, and just about every other major player in some for or another. The novel is FULL.

There is a heavy dose of introspection and humor in DUST OF DREAMS.

What’s interesting about this novel is how it seemingly wraps up several plot threads. One of the major criticisms of this series is how nothing ever seems to get resolved. Personally, we feel this is unfair. Unlike other authors who feel like they can never just let a character be, Erikson will finish with a character if they are no longer key to what is happening. Not every character needs a glorious or momentous event to end their part in this epic series. More often than not, Erikson wraps up an event or a character with something small or subtle. It was really in this novel where we really began to to feel the end was near. In many cases the scenes were very short and subtle, but extremely powerful.

There is a heavy dose of introspection and humor in DUST OF DREAMS. Much of the time–as is normal for soldiers–the Malazan army spent their days in boredom with too much time on their hands. Worries ensued. Doubts. An almost morbid acceptance of their impending doom–lets face it, we know Erikson has zero mercy in these huge conflicts. The humor makes a perfect counterpoint to the doom and gloom. Even more impressive was that the emotions these scenes conjured held up upon re-read. Ladies and gentlemen, that is pure skill on the Erikson’s part.

Was it perfect? C’mon. You know we are going to say no. A lot of the build-up could have been edited down. We get that Erikson likes to write elliptically, touching on that same emotion repeatedly as the novel progresses. But man sometimes it was done a few times too often in our eyes. This is really a personal preference sort of thing. We don’t mind it really, but we know it bothers quite a few readers.

In the end, and after a re-read, our opinion of this book didn’t change. You finish it feeling emotionally winded. You feel worried about the characters that are left hanging at the end. We couldn’t feel anything but amazed at how it all came together–even though it was only the first half.

And then comes the second half, and concluding novel in the series. Oh man.

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: Erikson usually has some strong language throughout his novels. What's here won't surprise you if you've read this far into the series.
  • Violence: Remember the end of book 3? It's a bit like that.
  • Sex: It's mentioned and thought of by numerous characters, and there is one pretty brutal scene that is handle with surprising tact


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