Posted by: markfender | March 24, 2015

Dust of Dreams

And then there were two.

Dust_of_DreamsDust of Dreams is the penultimate book in Erickson’s series and it’s got a problem: It doesn’t end. There’s even a note from the author at the beginning apologizing for not ending the book. It turns out Erickson hates cliffhangers, but, after eight books, had a massive ending to write and discovered that it was going to take two books to tell it. So, this book doesn’t have a satisfactory ending. I happen to agree with Erickson regarding cliffhangers (They have always felt like a cheap trick to invest me in further works. Maybe make the first one good and I’ll come for the second? Not to say that cliffhangers haven’t been well-done in the past, but they seem like a lesser technique to employ.) so I appreciate the author’s note before I delved into this one. Still, reading these as they were published, it was a bit of a let-down.

However, I do think there was some good writing and plotting in this book. I really liked the Snake storyline, about a group of children driven from their home making their way across the Wasteland, all the while being pursued by the Forkrul Assail (Yay! Another Elder race). Using words like “ribby” and “quitters,” the POVs in this section really highlight the childlike nature of the participants, which I found effective. Badalle, in particular, was an interesting character, as she turns Erickson’s penchant for poetry into the literal manifestation of power. While I don’t always appreciate Erickson’s poetry, the English nerd in me dug that words can have power.

However, there’s some disturbing stuff in this book as well. The Barghast storyline really goes out of its way to highlight how broken their culture is. The hobbling of Hetan and the subsequent gang rape is written with an unflinching eye. There have been complaints about this section and I can’t fault them, because it is some horrific stuff. However, it didn’t felt like an author going for gratuitous images to raise the stakes. To quote one of Erickson’s favorite words, we as readers must witness the events – to know and feel sympathy we must undertake harrowing journeys through fiction occasionally. If anything upset me with this storyline, it was the casual manner in which both Tool and Hetan seem to accept their coming fates. Having lived in the Barghast culture and receiving several hints that events would soon escalate, Tool and Hetan…do nothing to prevent it. And while it is pretty shitty to blame the victims, it really did feel like these events could have been avoided if both characters had been a little less indecisive (Hell, even if they’d discussed with each other that they didn’t know what to do would have helped some. Unfortunately, they’re a sitcom-couple – incapable of telling the truth to each other).

There are times, however, when I felt like, because Erickson had decided that he couldn’t tell the story he wanted to tell in one book, he deliberately inflated the page count. The Malazan army is on the march, except it takes them until chapter 11 before they actually leave the city (and it’s not until chapter 16 that we revisit their journey). The Icarium storyline also felt like it was written in the manner that it was to inflate the page count, even though I liked that storyline.

Icarium’s story is a weird one. At the end of Reaper’s Gale, he attempted to start up one of his machines and it didn’t work. Explosions resulted. People are killed in the ensuing devastation. In this book, Icarium is trapped in his own mind, sublimating the personalities of those who died in the explosion into his psyche. He’s one guy walking across the desert, but the story is of seven characters traveling together, with a ghost following them. The first time I read this book, I’m pretty sure I missed the one hint about the truth of Icarium’s story and just thought it was a group of people traveling. (I remember Icarium showing up at the end of the book, but I apparently blocked all the previous stuff). On the reread, I kind of enjoyed this storyline as being something pretty weird and different. But, seriously, there’s one mention at the very beginning that this is all happening in Icarium’s mind and, if you miss it, you’re probably just confused. And, while this storyline worked, I did feel like it was a bit padded out. There really wasn’t anything that prevented Erickson from treating this like the Silchas Ruin storyline (i.e. three scenes in total). It kind of reminded me of that ol’ GM trick – complicating a storyline needlessly so that it will fill a four-hour block of time.

There’s also a whole plot about the Shake that didn’t really do much for me either. It’s about them returning to Kharkanas, the city of Dark in another realm. While the whole Mother Dark thing has spooled out in every single book (and Toll the Hounds has her returning), it just felt so disconnected from everything else happening that it never really stuck with me.

There’s also some weird bits. Setoc, who was mentioned once in Reaper’s Gale (and, of course, she had a different name then), is a fully-fledged character here. Erickson probably should have included some more back story here as her inclusion felt almost random. Who is this character who’s suddenly so important? I barely remember her from Reaper’s Gale and I read that book two weeks ago (and, I only remembered her because I reminded myself when I ran across her in Reaper’s Gale that she was in the last two). Likewise, some of the characterization seems to have disappeared from some characters. The Dramatis Personae does have 187 characters listed, so maybe Erickson himself was overwhelmed with characters.

Despite these complaints, I liked this book. It was much better on the re-read, especially because there’s not a year break between this one and the concluding volume to contend with. The K’Chain Che’malle get some much needed backstory. The battles, in particular, really highlight the epic nature of the series (the particular standout to me being the arrival of Draconus). It’s not necessarily a satisfying book to finish (because of that aforementioned cliffhanger) but it was a satisfying book to read. If I have a real complaint, it’s that there wasn’t enough Tehol and Bugg.

 

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