This volume is another polarising one insofar as its ratings are concerned, and it could be due to a very real syndrome called Malazan Fatigue. Admittedly I was afflicted by this fatigue during my first attempt to follow the Malazan recommended reading order a couple of years ago, and I did not even start on this book. This time around, having a better understanding of the stories being told during my reread and not attempting to read both Erikson and Esslemont in order, I managed to progress into Dust of Dreams and thoroughly enjoyed it.
The opening chapters herein were the strongest ones I've read in the entire series to date. It brings the reader back to where we were left off in Reaper's Gale; in Letheras to where The Bonehunters are encamped. The story starts with an ominous tone, predicated around one of my favourite scenes in this series (as hard to comprehend as it may be most times), i.e. those involving the Deck of Dragons. Erikson thoroughly immerses the reader into the lives of soldiers, providing numerous cut scenes from one individual or squad to another, showing how boredom can be an enemy of a soldier as many amongst them ruminate and bemoan their fate in the hands of the Adjunct. The humourous reprieve granted by my favourite Malazan duo, usually at the most unexpected or inappropriate time, is a huge welcome.
The timeline in Dust of Dreams runs parallel to that in Toll the Hounds, up to a certain point. Having read the preceding volume bestows the delicious joy of having inside information of the earth-shattering events which have transpired, as well as the bated anticipation as to how it will play out. There were also a surprising number of expository scenes that finally brought some light to the murkier sections of the vast and intricate tapestry which is the Book of the Fallen. Suffice to say, many of the seemingly missing pieces of the puzzle are gradually falling into place. Even with all the revelations evident so far, one burning question remains, surrounding the most enigmatic character of all, the awesome Quick Ben.
Image from Subterranean Press
In the same vein of all the preceding books, we have again a whole new cast of characters introduced even this late into the series. One which I had not expected but was completely thrilled about was that of the perspective of the K'Chain Che'malle, a race of lizard-like beings for which we have only ever seen from a distance as completely alien, supremely advanced and wholly dangerous. This storyline provides the much-needed insights into these ancient beings who inhabited the world way before the humans ever did.
Speaking of humans, the philosophical narrative in Dust of Dreams took on an even more bleak and depressing view of the horrors that beset humanity, all which mirrored our real world. Themes of extinction and annihilation, and of desperation to survive. There is one arc, in particular, that was terrifying in its portrayal of children and their ability to adapt.
Children are quickest to necessity. They can make any world normal. Be careful, daughter, with these humans. To live, they will do anything.
On the flipside, the commentary on the legacy that we leave behind for future generations rings true like a clarion.
The beast that was civilisation ever faced forward, and in making its present world it devoured the world to come. It was an appalling truth that one's own children could be so callously sacrificed to immediate comforts, yet this was so and it had always been so.
The same goes for neglect, willful or otherwise.
A child starved never grows tall or strong. A child unloved can never find love or give it when grown. A child that does not laugh will become someone who can find nothing in the world to laugh at. And a child hurt deeply enough will spend a lifetime trying to scab that wound – even as they ceaselessly pick at it. ... all the careless acts and indifferent, impatient gestures among parents... as if they had no time for their own children... and all of that was simply passed on to the next generation, over and over again.
While the Malazan books had been violent and brutal, I will not call it gratuitous. Regardless, I do need to mention that there are scenes in this book which may qualify as a trigger warning for serial rape and torture. Scenes which again draw upon our world. What is the reason behind such a portrayal? Instead of paraphrasing, I'll put forth the words of the author himself.
Torture is going on right now. People are being maimed. Some will die. Others will live with pain and trauma for the rest of their lives. And it you're at all like me, you feel helpless to do anything about it. But one thing you do have a choice over: you can turn away.… and while such acts of violence are in all likelihood very distant from us readers here, they exist, as a chapter in the history of our own civilisation, our own culture, and future books recounting the history of our present, will note us with clinical clarity, as nations in which torture was both condoned and conducted.I didn't write that scene for you. I wrote it for them. And I ask the same of you. Read it for them. As my wife said, whatever we feel is as nothing compared to what the victims have, and will, go through. And in the grand scheme of things, our brief disquiet seems, to me now as it did then, a most pathetic cry in this vast wilderness.
I almost cannot believe I am finally at the threshold of the conclusion of the Book of the Fallen. As Dust of Dreams is merely the beginning of the end, it closed with a heart-rending cliff-hanger (what else would you expect from this series), and for the first time, I'm delving into the next book immediately. The Crippled God, here I come!