Friday, January 20, 2012

Book Review: Dust of Dreams

I don't know what I was thinking, but I started reading Dust of Dreams during finals week last quarter.  Considering that reading a Malazan Book of the Fallen novel can often times be an incredibly challenging endeavor, I threw caution to the wind and dove in.  I guess my brilliant stratagem behind this was that my holiday break would be filled with the latest adventures of The Bonehunters and their allies. So, with two books left to go in this EPIC ten book series, and with myself feeling like a slacker because I erroneously thought Seak had finished the series, I dug in my heels and cracked open the penultimate volume, Dust of Dreams.

This one takes place more or less completely in the empire of Lether and it's surrounding regions.  Flipping to the list of characters involved in this novel, there's lots of familiar faces to be had, and plenty of fan faves as well.  Not only that, but the story is more or less centered around one massive army, The Bonehunters, so that's pretty much a recipe for Steven Erikson awesomeness right?  Fun characters, and the promise of wide scale battle is pretty much what he does best.  So this one was great right? Right....?

Well, not exactly.

Its a bit hit or miss to tell the truth, and probably more miss than hit.

Like every other Malazan Book of the Fallen novel, this one is pretty massive.  816 pages of massiveness to be exact.  That massive page count isn't such a big deal if that's what the story requires, the problem here is that this one felt extremely bloated, and probably could have been half as long if not even less. Especially considering how much actually happened in this novel, which isn't much.  I think that as these gigantic fantasy series go on in time, the editing disappears as the publishers give a successful author a longer leash, and make less changes because they know the baby is gonna sell no matter what.

At least it felt that way to me, because as I said earlier not a lot happened here.  Without spoiling too much, the gist of what when down is that an army moved from point A to point B, then had a battle.  That's about it.  In many ways Dust of Dreams was basically a set up novel for the grand finale in The Crippled God and I've heard other places that Dust of Dreams is basically the first half of what is basically one MONSTER final book that is the combination of DoD + TCG.  Which makes me a little bit more lenient in terms of what happened in Dust of Dreams, but it still felt like there was too much of nothing going on, over the course of a shit load of pages.

Like every other Malazan Book of the Fallen novel I've read so far this one had its fair share of ups and downs.  The downs were, well...down there. Waaay down there.

There were definitely times when I wondered whether or not it was worth even finishing the series, that's how frustrating this book was at times.  Dull plot threads, tedious passages where nothing happens, and some strange barbaric torture rape that was just disgusting and unnecessary.  Not good.  Not good at all.  

The ups, though fewer and far between than usual, and vastly outnumbered by the downs, were just good enough to see me through to the end.

Like I mentioned earlier, the cast of characters here was, for the most part, a who's who of my favorite characters from the series, barring Karsa Orlong and a couple others.  It was good to check back in with Fiddler and the rest of the Malazan marines, and meet a few new interesting characters along the way.  Also, the parts that featured King Tehol, Queen Janath, Chancellor Bugg, Treasurer Bugg, and Ceda Bugg were always fantastic.  Not to mention every scene with Ublala Pung, which were equally hilarious and fun.

The polarizing effect of fun characters and great action versus dull characters, and tedious unnecessary plot lines really wore on me in Dust of Dreams.  Its been a problem that has plagued me throughout the series, and probably wont totally go away in the final book either.  It took an even greater amount of persistence to get through this one than any other volume in the series.  Thankfully, there was just enough here, not to mention a pretty major cliff hanger to keep me on for the finale, but make no mistake, this one was a slog.

In my opinion, this was the weakest installment in the series so far.  After reading this dud, I'm not exactly eager to cap off the series.  I'll likely need a pretty good extended break, to forget the pain of this read, before I hitch up my trousers and take the plunge on the finale.

Grade: D+


Bryce L. said...

Yes! You did it! What you've said really sums up a lot of my feelings. I really didn't think EVERY character needed to philosophize.

I still enjoyed it, especially Tehol and Bugg as you mention and Ublala. But, as you saw, I just wasn't ready to finish this out.

Ryan said...

Yeah, I just barely made it through. I think I'm gonna need a pretty long hiatus from the series before I can finish it off. Which is fine since I don't yet own a copy of The Crippled God yet.

Tom Lloyd said...

It's a weird one yes. I think if he'd not been feeling the pressure to produce two Malazan-sized books the ending would have been tighter - but of course Crippled God would have been only available in e-format because a book can't physically be that long.

CG is better though, I was happy enough with the ending despite the high standards of the series and the knowledge that both Erikson and Esselmont aren't finished with the series. Don't leave it too long though, otherwise you'll start forgetting details!

Ryan said...

Tom- Thanks for your comment. I'm glad to hear that The Crippled God is an improvement. I've heard that some of the Esselmont books (Return of the Crimson Guard and Stonewielder) shed some light on the content of Toll the Hounds and Dust of Dreams, so maybe reading those will improve the experience of DoD for me.

That said, they'll probably have to wait, because I plan on knocking off TCG before I dive back into the Esselmont books.

Tom Lloyd said...

Heh, the Esselmont books will probably shed light on TOH for you, but i'd had a couple of years gap in my Malazan reading I think, so spent half the time just trying to remember stuff!

Ryan said...

I'll most likely be walking that memory tightrope myself, because I seem to only read about one Malazan world book per year.

At the rate those two produce, I'll be reading Malazan books for years to come.