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Dust of Dreams is the penultimate novel of The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Steven Erikson's immense ten-volume saga chronicling the story of the Malazan Empire and its legions and the peoples and tribes it comes into contact with. More accurately, Dust of Dreams is also the first half of an immense 1,800-plus-page single novel, to be completed by The Crippled God when it follows (hopefully) next year. This, then, is the beginning of the end and the start of the final act of this immense series, certainly the most ambitious work of epic fantasy ever attempted.

Reviewing the ninth of a ten-book series feels slightly redundant. By now, people know if Erikson is for them or not. As a result, this review will likely be of most interest to those readers who perhaps felt that the series' second half has been more disappointing than its initial half, with the acceleration of the expansion of the cast of characters, concepts, races and forms of magic reaching an increasingly convoluted and over-complex pace. It is hard to argue with this, and the fact is that Dust of Dreams introduces yet many more new characters, ideas, forms of magic and concepts. Whilst it is certainly the case that we get some long-standing mysteries resolved in this book - like why exactly Tavore had to break with the Malazans and bring her army to the far side of the planet - other mysteries are left unaddressed or even further complicated by events. If Erikson takes the literally hundreds of questions left dangling by the series and answers them satisfyingly in the final book of the series I will be surprised, but I have a nagging feeling that an awful lot of stuff is going to be left for the already-promised nine additional Malazan books that Erikson (and four more from his co-writer Ian Esslemont) has been contracted for.

Dust of Dreams is certainly far more proactive in plot than the largely static and introspective Toll the Hounds, and returns to the format of many of the earlier books in the series: a lot of set-up and ponderous navel-gazing punctuated by some humour followed by a convergence of forces, usually in a massive battle sequence. The humour is great (although Tehol, one of Erikson's more reliable sources of comic relief, is actually severely annoying in this novel) and the characters in the Malazan army and occupied Letheras are mostly well-drawn, but the traditional problems of having tons of pretty identical 'salt of the earth' Malazan soliders with stupid names who can debate morality and political theory at the drop of the hat remains intact. Erikson's characterisation is also suspiciously transparent here: many of these soldiers, established not just here but in The Bonehunters, Reaper's Gale and House of Chains as well, seem to have scenes just so we feel sympathy for them later on when they are killed (or at least their fates are left hanging). For some of the characters this works, but for most it doesn't.

On the prose style, Erikson's writing ability remains impressive but is often mis-aimed: a lengthy five-page debate on morality between two characters often seems to end in the stunning realisation that it's wrong to use civilian shields in warfare, or unrestrained capitalism and the exploitation of poorer nations through trade is as bad in its own way as slavery and colonialism. Stunning insights into the human condition, these are most definitely not. As a result progress through the novel can feel like wading through treacle until the story actually gets moving again.

At the same time, Erikson still has an almost-unmatched ability to bring together subplots and characters in interesting combinations, moreso in Dust of Dreams as more of the puzzle of the entire series is unveiled and we begin to get a sense that most of those annoying minor elements that played virtually no constructive roles in previous books - such as Icarium and his machine, the Eres, the Shake, a certain journey through the Imperial Warren, Stormy and Gesler's long-ago transformation and the endless emo Tiste Andii moping around - are all vital pieces of the puzzle. The sheer breadth of Erikson's imagination, the scope of his world and the ambition of his story remains staggering and genuinely impressive, although arguably the weight of that narrative is so heavy that the author struggles in places to get his vision across.

Events culminate in a battle sequence that redefines the meaning of the word 'epic'. This series has had its share of massive engagements, from the Chain of Dogs through the Siege of Capustation and the Battle of Y'Ghatan through to the Bonehunters' rampage across the Letherii Empire, but what happens at the end of Dust of Dreams and the forces brought to bear eclipse everything that has come before combined. The novel ends on a colossal cliffhanger - for the first and last time in the series - with the immediate threat apparently receding but with the tally of the survivors incomplete. The fates of literally dozens of named characters are left hanging in the balance until the final book arrives, hopefully next year.

Dust of Dreams (****) is a typical latter-period Malazan novel, by turns infuriating and impressive, turgid and lyrical, slow and immensely action-packed. It's a stronger book than The Bonehunters and Toll the Hounds, possibly Reaper's Gale as well, and leaves the reader wanting more, which in the final analysis is a good thing, but there remains the nagging feeling that if Erikson could cut to the chase a bit more, the series would not only be shorter but also considerably stronger. Still, a bit late in the day to worry about that now. The book is available now in the UK and will be published in the USA on 19 January 2010.
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on 28 January 2015
I've struggled. Struggled to turn the pages. And its struggled. Struggled to set the fire in my loins that most of the other books (barring 8) have done.

Is it a good book? Possibly, but it's a tad boring. Like 8. Too many characters you don't care about. Why focus on say 40 disparate characters who mostly die instead of the characters that make the series (like Quick Ben and Fiddler), who get barely a whole chapter between them (again). I enjoyed perhaps one fifth of the book. The rest was a real chore. Hope by the Errant's hairy ballsack book 10 makes up for it!
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on 17 June 2016
many years ago I read up to volume eight of the series and stopped because nine wasn't out yet. I loved those books, every single one of them and all for different reasons. I was so excited to have got "back on the wagon" and start volume nine and perhaps its that level of expectation that has lead to my sense of disappointment. It seems that this book could be about 2/3 of its present size if you removed all the blatant filler, I am so tired of pages of characters talking in riddles when asked direct questions by their companions, of tedious eulogies and pointless reflections on the nature of the world. The bits I love are still buried away in there but it like meeting an old friend at a reunion who has seriously let himself go, I can see my old friend in there but its not the same as in the good old days.
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on 10 May 2016
Fantasy, by definition, means without rationale. In short: you can write anything you like, it doesn't need logic, sense or indeed rationale, because, heck it's fantasy. Erikson has done just that, taking full advantage of not having to make any sense or explaining himself to anyone. You either like it or hate it, and regrettably I'm with the latter group. His names, both for characters and places, sound like letters grabbed at random from a scrabble bag. There is no sense of "nomenclature" -- a method of attributing names. Swedish kitchen appliances spelled backwards, indeed. Compare with Tolkien and, to a lesser extent, Martin, who took a lot of trouble with names, getting them to sound and feel right. The story twists between tear-jerking and just plain stupidness. And maybe it's time Andy Latimer of Camel took notice of a potential copyright infringement in a close-match title...be an interesting about-turn, and sell a few more copies!

This is a book for people who just want to immerse themselves in a writer's ability to write, because that's all that's on show here. Erikson can write, and how. The dense, matted narrative just gushes from his fingertips.
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on 15 December 2011
The best characters have gone to his world creating partner. His story is now set in a substitute continent where not much happens. The best names have gone. The awesome mythology is a thing of the past. In this book the most boring characters wander aimlessly for thousands of pages in the dullest of all landscapes, a dry empty wilderness. Whether this is filling a contractual requirement when the author is bored stupid with the series or whether some quirk of the deal he had with Esslemont over the usage of the best characters, places and history, who knows but this books is simply a waste of paper and of my reading effort.

The first few books of this series are some of the very best fantasy I have ever read, worth ten stars at least. Who can ever forget the Chain of Dogs just for a start. It is correspondingly heartbreaking that the series has now sunk to the low of this book. So much marvellous and awe inspiring imagination gone. How can an author let that happen? It all started with the continent shift a few books back but I have laboured on for the odd moment of the old glory. That moment is entirely absent in this book, even the battle is a write off. Can I muster the cash or the desire to buy that last book in the series? I don't know if I really care how it ends now, I really don't.
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on 7 May 2011
As with many long series such as Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time there are good books and poor books, this is a poor one, well down on the excellent early ones. A lot happens but its all rather random and mainly to get characters ready for the final book. I expect you could miss this one with no effect on reading the last. It feels more like fulfilling an agreement with the publisher for 10 books than writing one than needed writing.
Here's hoping he returns to form for the last one.
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on 11 September 2009
I have tried to estimate the number of times, over the years, I have re-read all of the books in the Malazan Book of the Fallen and I've just realised it's about the same number of times I threw this latest door stopper in the corner in absolute frustration.

I'm used to his wandering off in different directions only for these threads to reappear later and turn out to be far from minor diversions in the story. I've learned to read his books with patience and they have been all the more enjoyable for it.

Here, it just didn't seem to flow, it was fractured, discordant and gave me the impression of many short stories stitched together with no discerning pattern. Characters, plot, action, tension, humour and colour aplenty in all his books but sadly lacking here.

This is the first of his books I haven't wanted to re-read the minute I finished it and I don't see that changing in the foreseeable future.
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on 3 March 2010
'Dust of Dreams' is the ninth book in Steven Erikson's 'Malazan Book of the Fallen' saga.

After 'Toll the Hounds' (TtH) I'd serious doubts whether one of my favorite fantasy/adventure authors had lost his touch. That particular book I found filled with philosophical musings that I had trouble following, almost to the point that I had trouble maintaining my interest. Some concerns regarding TtH were rekindled after reading the Prologue for this latest book, but those fears were soon laid to rest once I began the actual novel. Somewhere between book 8 and this volume Erikson's seems to have re-found his story telling mastery. The story told here was easy to follow and made sense; I didn't have to almost 'study' and decipher the text I did with 'Toll the Hounds'.

Again, as with all other novel in the Malazan series, this book begins with glimpses of several different characters and their stories; small snippets of tales that begin to draw together as you get deeper into the story. We are also reacquainted with several Malazan regulars, such as Quick Ben, Fiddler, Adjunct Tavore, Tehol and Bugg to name a few. As well, there are many others characters, both old and new.

There is, for those who care, an adequate map of the Lether Empire, where most action in this novel takes place.

My only wish for this book, (and previous installment of this series as well) would have been a slight change in the way the extensive list of characters and their affiliation (Dramatis Personae) found in the front of this book, was presented. It would have made it so much easier if the names within different groups or sects had been listed in alphabetical form. As it was, I spent a lot of time looking through the Dramatis Personae, for characters whose name were randomly place among an extensive lists of all the people who populated this book. However this is a minor complaint in an otherwise wonderful addition to the Malazan books.

Conclusion:

YES!...Steven Erikson IS back. This latest Malazan book has returned to the style that all of us (the Malazan fantasy faithful) have gotten to know and expect from previous novels prior to 'Toll the Hounds'. This book and the last (book 10), 'The Crippled God' are, according to the author's note, apparently linked. I can hardly wait for the final installment.
5 Stars.

Ray Nicholson
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on 17 September 2009
In common with other reviewers I have experienced the roller-coaster ride that is epxerienced when reading Erikson's novels. You have to be prepared for both the peaks and troughs and I'm afraid this is one hell of a trough.

I have read the previous 8 novels and found some of them too be truly excellent - Deadhouse Gates being a particular favourite.

Unfortunatley this one is simply just not a good novel. The component parts are there - return of The Bonehunters, Tehol and emergence of Draconus - but his simply does not work. The novel feels like a device to get to the final novel and as such is not that enjoyable.

Erikson at his best can write very good comedic dialogue but in this novel the humour feels trite. Tehol goes from funny to irritating and the jokes about the simple minded giant Ubula Pung feels school-boyish. Also too many characters are introduced with no back story and as a result you cannot get your teeth into any set narrative.

I really struggled with the main thrust of the novel.This being The Bonehunters setting-out into the middle of nowhere to travel to their almost ceratin deaths. This is just not believable and no explained in enough detail too attempt too make it so.

I would agree with another reviewer that I simply would not revisit this novel and as such would not recommend it to other readers.

The million dollar question is will I buy and read the tenth novel? Probably.
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on 31 October 2011
As book 9 of 10 I was keen to read this and then the final book in a back to back sitting. The previous Erikson books have been read in a couple of days - Apart from Toll the hounds which was put down for a while. By the time I read this I'd exhausted my patence and was looking towards reading something - anything else really. It actually put me off reading for a long time.

Its rather similar to Toll The hounds and much darker. Bleak even for an Erikson novel. Theres a significant amount of the book dealing with one of the characters and his family being quite gruesomely treated so he can be set up for a vengeful return later on. Even for an adult fantasy novel I found the lingering discussions of cuturally accepted mutilation and rape quite disturbing.

This aside Much of the book felt like filler and the sections dealing with some of the characters felt perfunctory as if the charcters needed to put in an appearance , but actually had nothing to do. Normally this cna be forgiven with some snappy and witty interaction and dialog , but in this case I found a lot of it felt forced and unconvincing.

I will not harp on in a negative fashion. This is the precursor to the final apocalypse hanging over the world. This book is maneuvering the major players into position. As such it is a neccessary requirement and the compromises of narrative and structure sometimes do not easily come together. I found this to be the case here - and Im assured that the last book makes it all worth it. I found myself comparing it to the penultimate Wheel of time book which does much the same thing and Though In the past Ive liked both series - in entirely different ways, Id have to say Brandon Sanderson did a much better job with "Towers of Midnight"

If you are a true fan of Erikson then Id probably try and do what I set out to do - read this and the final book back to back and treat this as the first half of a very long epic conclusion.
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