Friday, March 4, 2011

Malazan Re-Read: Dust Of Dreams by Steven Erikson

NOTE: If you haven't read the previous 8 books in the series and plan to do so....this post contains EYE-BLEEDING SPOILERS. Be aware. You have be duly warned.

I attempted this a few weeks back when I finished my re-read of the ninth Tale Of The Malazan Book Of The Fallen DUST OF DREAMS, but it got entirely away from me and became a five page rambling mess, which I promptly deleted and wrote up something else instead. Well, since the tenth book is taking it’s time arriving from the UK (What in the five hells is wrong with the Canadian Postal Service when they get a package from!), I’ve decided to try again, and this time I plan to break up the different plot threads in the book into sections as I think it might come across as more organized. Let’s give ‘er a shot. Still, this is less a review as a kind of synopsis/mish-mashed discussion and rumination.

DUST OF DREAMS picks up mostly where 7th book REAPERS GALE left off (since the 8th book TOLL THE HOUNDS mostly concerned happenings on the continent of Genebackis) on the continent of Lether:

-Tavore Paran and her dissident, betrayed, and exiled Malazan army, The Bonehunters have come to Letheras and helped unseat the ruling Tiste Edur empire (though they had less to do with the destruction of twisted, previously-unkillable emperor Rhulad).
-Beddict brother (and revolutionary mastermind) Tehol now rules as king in Letheras with Manservant/Royal treasurer/Ceda/Elder god (Mael) Bugg at his side.
-Acquitor Seren Pedac is quietly living in Letheras and is pregnant with the child of exiled Edur warrior Trull Sengar.
-The Khundryl Burned Tears are marching north from their landing as are the Perish Grey Helms in a union to help the Bonehunters in their quest to march east into the Wastelands.
-Yan Tovis, Yedan Derryg and the rest of The Shake are dealing with the fallout of the events of REAPERS GALE and where their destiny should take them.
-The Barghast led by recently “enlivened” warrior (who used to be T’Lan Imass undead) Onos Toolan, and his wife Hetan attempt to keep control of an ever-widening gyre of divided tribal strife.
-Tiste Andii Silchas Ruin, 3rd son of Mother Dark, is in the Refugium with Udinaas, his son Rud Elalle, and the Imass.
-Half-Jaghut warrior Icarium Lifestealer, when last we saw him, disappeared underneath Letheras into a machine he built ages ago.

Phew. That’s a lot of plot threads to keep an eye on. Thankfully, nine books into the series, I find it fairly easy to keep track. So off we go.

The book starts with Tavore and The Bonehunters in Letheras and the soldiers are beginning to stagnate and one thing you don’t want soldiers to have too much time on their hands as they may start to get other ideas and look at desertion. Tavore wants Fiddler to do one of his ridiculously injuring readings of the Deck Of Dragons so that she can have a little more insight into what it is they are marching into in the East. This first section is pretty funny as it has various Bonehunters laying a convoluted trap to drag Fiddler to the Adjunct for the reading (which he hates doing).  The Bonehunters storyline consists mostly of posturing and politicking within the city of Letheras for half the book. None of that is boring though, as the characters that make up the different squads are always entertaining. I think that is what HOUSE OF CHAINS and THE BONEHUNTERS did for this army. With the Bridgeburners in GARDENS OF THE MOON and MEMORIES OF ICE, it was like we were all seeing the tail end of a tried and true assemblage of soldiers who were formed years previously. We didn’t know all that much about them at first, but we liked them. The fact that The Bridgeburners are now either dead or spread all over the place in various stages of retirement shows us Erikson planned to give us our own. He gave us The Bonehunters. Our own army of soldiers and we got to watch them grow, work together, love each other, hate each other, fight beside each other ect. We got our crew from the start. So I think that as much as we grew to love the Bridgeburners, our affinity with The Bonehunters must go deeper. I love that aspect and I think that is why in the first half of this book, when they all are sitting around going stir crazy and pondering their futures it’s not only interesting but enthralling. In the second half of the book all hell breaks loose. The Bonehunters are travelling (with Brys Beddict and his Letherii soldiers as escort) through hostile territory and attempting to make their way east to the other side of the continent and Kolanse. I’d rather not spoil anything, but they kind of get sandwiched in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nuff said.

The Barghast. Sigh. The Barghast storyline is one of those plot threads that you wonder about for so long. The tribes are all fighting, and not accomplishing any of the things they came to Lether to do. It’s really rather slow, and at some points seems almost boring. Where the genius lies though, is in the execution. Erikson had plans for this race of people from the outset and let me tell you it ain’t pretty, it ain’t pretty at all. The whole slower storyline builds, and builds. It builds so much that when the bow actually breaks it is with crushing surrealism, horrific scenery and some of the most emotionally charged passages in the series. The fate of Tool, Hetan and her children, and every other Barghast is something folk talk of, and they will remember it…though I can’t imagine they enjoy remembering it. Remember seeing “Requiem for a Dream” and thinking, wow that’s a good movie...that I don’t ever want to watch again cause it depressed the shit out of me? Yeah. That.

Seren Pedac’s portion in the book only happens at the beginning, on the evening of the Deck Of Dragons reading Bugg/Mael goes to her and with two other ascendants (or elder gods, not sure) in attendance, they protect her from the twisted machinations of Elder God The Errant who wants to kill her and her unborn child, who is the son of Knight of High House Shadow Trull Sengar and a threat.

The Snake. This is probably one of the most-discussed parts of the book solely for its rather strange nature and tone. Basically it’s the story of a long train of children refugees from that eastern continental place called Kolanse, where it seems death, starvation and destruction rule. It is told from the POV of a few of these kids, and in my first read it was difficult to get what was being put across. Upon a re-read I discovered that this plotline is meant to be told from children who are trying to survive a harsh landscape without having the skills to do so (think Lord of the Flies) and the resultant mishmash of chaos, death and the like. It also becomes apparent that they are being hunted by some Forkrul Assail as well. It actually works FAR better on a re-read as I hated it the first time round and on my re-read I found it to be MUCH more palatable.

I’ll refer to the following thread as The Ghost, Taxilian, Sheb, Breath, Last, Asine, Rautos & Nappet one. This is the story of a number of characters who are either dead (or unknown) making their presence…odd to say the least. The passages alternate between being told by the Ghost (who can see things happening that the crew doesn’t) and then by each member in turn. They wandering the wastes and come upon a wrecked K’Chain Che’Malle dragon-shaped keep and attempt to get it running again while trying not to kill one another. This plotline gives us one of the more satisfying conclusions within the book as it explains something in a very roundabout way that makes you thunk your head and go “Duh! That makes sense.”

Kaylyth and the K’Chain Che’Malle. Within the walls of another keep, called Ampelas Rooted, a matron sends her scouts, only daughter, assassin spy and a human from Kolanse to find her a shield anvil and mortal sword for a forthcoming conflict. This is a nice plotthread as it not only gives us heavy insight into the raptor-like Che’Malle race, but also into an adult from the very same place as the kids from The Snake hail from. This one builds and then twists into  both the Ghost crew plotline and the Bonehunters one as well.

The Shake. Yan Tovis (also called Twilight, Queen of the Shake) and her brother Yedan Derryg with a ragtag band of shake and prisoners make their way onto the Road of Gallan, which unknowingly leads in Kurald Galain and the realms of Darkness. The revelations that await them there (about both their past and their future) are rather staggering and heartfelt. I loved this plotline.

All the characters you love are here. All the humour, cleverness and thrall of a Malazan volume. I loved this book. Like flat out loved it. This probably ranks as my 3rd fave in the whole series behind MOI and DG. It has everything I wanted it to, and really acts as an opening to the final act. It has a lot of cliffhangers at the end and that’s the first time that’s happened yet as Erikson prefaces the book by saying that this book and the final one are one volume split in two.

Erikson shows us in this book that there is method to his madness and things I have wondered about for years are answered while others are still left tantalizingly hanging. I usually can pick out a favourite character in each book who stood out especially well. Like Beak in REAPERS GALE who probably remains one of my fave characters in the whole series. In this one I’d actually have to give the best character moniker to two characters at once. Stormy and Gesler have always made for interesting and fun plotlines, but in this book they get to shine like never before. Again, I won’t spoil anything, but sufficed to say they are "the badass".

In the penultimate volume in ten years work I think Erikson can be VERY proud of his creation. Something with so much depth and emotion that I am unendingly attached to. I am very connected to these characters and I will be very sad to see the series end. I’ll miss them all.

There are two other trilogies planned by Erikson, one about the Tiste Andii city of Kharkanas and one about the Toblakai (which I expect will concern Karsa and Ublala’s army), so there is definitely more to look forward to, just not the main series.

I know this seems more like synopsis and rambling, but if I approached this from any other way or even from a more review-like standpoint it would be 20 pages long. As is evident from the re-read you can make notes, upon notes, upon notes about this series.

Sufficed to say, if you struggled a bit with TOLL THE HOUNDS slower pace, then this book will appease you.

Great volume.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your post. I'm just finishing DoD and I can't agree more with what you have said. This is my first read and I can't put the book down. But the previous Toll the Hounds too me forever to finish (kept putting it down and coming back to it 2 weeks later). The "snake" sub story I have been just skimming, and other parts I just can't get enough of. Plus, so many questions are answered and described. Long live the Bridgburners! Bring on the next one!



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