40 pages in and Dust of Dreams, the ninth book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series looks like it might be the most astounding fantasy
novel in some time. 400 pages in and you’re bored to tears and can’t wait for it to end. But there are 400 more pages to go.
Dust of Dreams is to the Wheel of Time, as Black Swan is to Showgirls, a classier version without the energy. Dust of Dreams is well written, but the writing consists of the same thing done over and over again. There are too many characters and almost all of them spend frightening amounts of time agonizing about who they are, what the point of doing anything is and whether life has any meaning. And they do it for page after page.
There are gripping elements here and a dramatically edited down book might have captured them. The children’s journey across the desert deserves to stand on its own. So does the Malazan army’s last stand. But instead chapter after chapter goes to the prolonged bickering and internal debates of too many characters. Most of it adding up to nothing. Maybe a 100 pages or more dedicated to seven bickering characters who are parts of a split personality, leading to an awakening of a character who doesn’t seem to show up in this novel. A 150 pages on the rape and torture of Onos Toolan’s wife Hetan, then the failed rescue attempt by her brother, and the extermination of the White Face Barghast. Nothing anyone does makes a difference and the material is ugly, unpleasant and pointless. It leads nowhere.
Dust of Dreams might be more defensible, if Erikson didn’t top off his philosophical meandering with the trite. The K’Chain Che’Malle’s search for a new religion ends with Kathyn telling them to believe in compassion. The K’Chain Che’Malle are an ancient civilization with a high level of technology who are about to be exterminated, until two Malazan warriors show up with innovations like using shields and strategic formations, and rekindle their hope with their human confidence. For a book so determined to be smart, that isn’t smart at all.