Steven Erikson – Dust of Dreams

Dust of Dreams (2009) by Steven Erikson is the ninth volume in the epic and massive series The Malazan Book of the Fallen. I will start of by stating that this series currently is my favourite fantasy series, or rather, has been for the past 5 years since I started reading them. As I started late, I bought them as mass market paperbacks and as I like to have my books as much in the same layout as possible, it forces me to wait a year after the release of each volume. Luckily I can be patient, even as the publisher decided to revamp the series after book 5. Personally I like the first rendition much more.

As it is my favourite series, there was no time to add purchase or reading posts, because once I bought it I mainly spent my time reading, as it should be. As it is too much work to recount the previous volumes I can explain why this is my favourite series.

First is the depth of the series. A stunning amount of layers, neatly mixed from the first to the final volume. Few books I’ve read contained so many mysteries and secrets. I love that. The story thrives on it.

Second is the epic scale. The mythology, though vague and scattered, is on the level of Tolkien and Homeros. So rich, so haunting, so diverse. Another part is the wide range of characters, peoples, nations, societies and races. Many feel very original, nothing like the common earthly copies to which many fantasy authors stick or create variations of.

Third is the impressive ease with which he handles a large cast of characters, making sure they cannot be flat and giving them sufficient attention to build them. This last point is also a sort of weak point. Because of the large cast there is little space for true depth and characterization. One does not grow really attached to specific characters. Maybe that is actually for the better, as the death toll is high (the title of the series is fittingly named). Even so, it is a choice one always has to make, else the pace of the story can slow down too much, becoming longwinded and losing strength. This does not really happen in these books. Erikson never sticks too long with a character but keeps shifting continuously, allowing us to see events from many vantage points. Still, he prevents the reader from discovering too much, but just enough.

Fourth is that each book contains its own story and each story stands proud and strong on it’s own. Each is different in tone and development and has it’s own flavour, although military campagns dominate. You can never predict what is going to happen, which is the thing I love most.

The fifth and most impressive point is that he has maintained a constant high level of quality in his books. I cannot name a weak book. Of course there are some things in a book that sometimes feel too much, for example when he introduces yet another new set of side characters whose purpose sometimes remain unclear for a long part in the novel, but I call it more a reader flaw than a writer flaw.  Another point on the quality is that it is done in massive volumes. Most of my paperbacks count more than 1000 pages, but it is never too much.

With all that covered, I can focus on the ninth book. It is the first half of the two part final. Erikson, unlike some other authors, keeps a tight plan and schedule, and I certainly praise him for that. It allows me to endure the wait on some other series. In the beginning of the book Erikson apologizes for not having an ending in this book as the story was too long for one volume. All his other books has an ending, although there were still plenty of storylines waiting to continue. As Erikson opened the book about the end, I will start with it as well. It actually did have an ending even as this time one of the main storylines ended it a sort of pseudo-cliffhanger. If I compare it to the previous volume it was only a little more open. Nice to apologize, Steven, but for me it was not necessary. A simple note that it was first of a two parter would’ve just been sufficient.

The plot itself, as usual, is too complex to elaborate on. Spoiling would take too much to write. As already spoiled before, this ninth installment is as good as the previous ones, for all the reasons mentioned in the beginning. It even contains new mysteries, as usual caused by older mysteries being unveiled. What does set this volume apart from the previous ones are two things.

First are revelations. There were plenty of revelations is the previous books, but the ones in this book seem to have reached the core of story. Of course many still remain, but Erikson has reached the point that we have come to the disclosure of the final mysteries which form the foundation for the important story lines. It feels as such in the way they are presented. It almost pained me to see it happen, but I think each storyteller wants to get to the end where he finally can tell how it really is (or most of it). And he does it very well.

The second new thing is that philosophy is emerging in the story. Different characters are discussing the existence of the universe they live in. How the past was and what the future will bring. To me it feels that Erikson for the first time is bringing a message. Not that they didn’t exist before, but they were veiled, only for those who wanted to see. This time it comes with more clarity. The question is if it is to prepare us for the final events to come or for Erikson himself to look back to the immense and complex universe he has created now that he is nearing the end of the story. In these moments he lets the reader think about it as well too.

No need for me to recommend this book, and all the previous ones, in this review. I think my previous words have said enough. The only question remains is if the final ending will be just as great as those of the previous novels. I cannot wait, but I will have too.

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