Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Review: Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson

When it comes to titling a book, few authors approach Steven Erikson for shear appropriateness. Dust of Dreams (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) really does represent the words of the book that follows.

The statues shifted. Some straightened. Some hunched down as if beneath terrible burdens. The statures – my kin. My sisters, my brothers. There are none to look upon us now, none to see us, none to wonder at who we once were, at who shaped us with such … loving hands. As she watched, they began, one by one, falling into dust.

None to witness. Dust of dreams, dust of all that we never achieved. Dust of what we might have been and what we cannot help but be.

Statues are never mute. There silence is a roar of words. Will you hear? Will you listen?
How depressing. Erikson is often criticized and occasionally praised for an apparent nihilistic approach to writing The Malazan Book of the Fallen. The above quote certainly leans in that direction and after reading Dust of Dreams I can hardly imagine anything close to a happy ending for this series. The weight of the world grows heavier. The suffering of children is shown in horrid detail through a detached, defeated view. Soldiers march knowingly to their death. Entire peoples are destroyed. Hopes and dreams are reduced to dust and through dust unrealized hopes and dreams are shown. Humans and other species alike seemed doomed to never change, seemed doomed to destroy.

Yet hope, however small, however unlikely, remains. Sometimes people do change, sometimes evolution does happen. Sometimes mistakes of the past are learned from.

Dust of Dreams is the penultimate volume in Erikson’s magnum opus, The Malazan Book of the Fallen – though it may be more appropriate to consider it the first half of the final volume. It ends over a cliff that will leave many reeling. It is simply a beautiful mess. The timeline is a mess best left alone. Hundreds of names confound. Erikson is overly wordy, plots can trudge along at a minuscule pace, everyone is a philosopher, and you can’t walk 10 feet without tripping over another all-powerful being hiding in plain site who saves the day at the critical moment. Yet, Erikson shows a skill with prose far exceeding what has become accepted in epic fantasy. Erikson weaves a deep and meaningful thematic tapestry through the sword and sorcery. And Erikson will make you exclaim ‘Holy Shit!’ This is the best epic fantasy out there – and it’s a complete mess likely to drive away many a reader. Like so much in the series itself, there is an inherit duality.

As I discuss in
my review of Toll the Hounds (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound), The Malazan Book of the Fallen presents an interesting conundrum – while generally the focus is on those that live to fight another day, this series may be best viewed with a focus on those that die along the way. It is about the Fallen – just as the title says. Behind the series of wars that revolve around a central conflict among the gods where ancient species war and human pawns that just might attain checkmate, is the cost, the toll, the consequence and the dead – the real story. And then Erikson throws a wrench in it all – even when someone is dead, their ultimate purpose may just be beginning.

Yes, this ‘review’ is largely the pseudo-intellectual musing of an unabashed fanboy of Erikson’s writing. I have completely ignored such details as plot – this is the ninth book of a ten book series, the plot is largely irrelevant for an exploration like this – but, if needed,
Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist exhaustively provides the set-up. Larry Nolen of the OF Blog of the Fallen and I don’t always see eye to eye, but we have a very similar approach to this series and his review of Dust of Dreams helped reinforce and expand on some of my own reactions. Let me be clear, I love the plot – Erikson continually blows my mind – yet, he can be excruciatingly annoying at times. But I am ever fascinated by the writing between the lines, even when attached to overly-verbose musings that go on for pages.

What does it all mean? Well, that’s been the question since the first page of Gardens of the Moon (
US, UK, Canada, Indiebound). I don’t have an answer yet. The set-up points to something very bad, very depressing. Yet the words not spoken show a dogged hope that simply won’t be annihilated. I can’t wait to find out. 7.5/10


PeterWilliam said...

I'm with you Ken - I love this series. One of my crazy little fantasies is to have a completed set of Malazan books, a mountain-top cabin and no need to return to RL for at least a couple of months. One day, I will go on an extended Malazan vacation.

Neth said...

someday I'll do the same - these books are so damn confusing at times that reading them all back-to-back would great.

Anonymous said...

I abosolutely love this series of books, I have lent the first book to 4 people over the last 18 mths all have gone on to buy the entire series, I also have read Ian's 2 books as well. I know what you mean about a malazan vacation, I picked up the first book and read the entire series up until reapers gale. I then re read the entire series again before the launch of the next book. I had never read a book twice as theres so many to chose from up until reading Steven Erikson, the only downside is that after reading this series it has kind of ruined fantasy for me. I cant find any other writer who manages to trigger such a range of emotions in the reader, there are parts where I found myself laughing out loud others where I felt depressed even reading it. I liked Dust of Dreams but would have prefered to wait until the last book comes out to read it as this book ends giving away hardly anything and leaves you wishing for more. I am waiting to see how he manages to tie up so many different story lines in one book it will certainly be interesting.


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