Dust of Dreams (Malazan Book of the Fallen, #9) - Steven Erikson It was possible (perhaps) through book three (Memories of Ice) to offer a reasonably concise summary of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. By this point, however, trying to untangle all of the threads Erikson’s woven is like trying to untangle the Gordian Knot of politics in the Middle East. Which is one of the more attractive elements in Erikson’s opus – he refuses to simplify his characters’ motivations and the complicated clash of their many goals.

And, boy, are things beginning to clash.

In Reaper’s Gale, the Bonehunters arrived on the Letherii empire’s continent like the title’s storm reference as they marched to their fated, unwitnessed final battle. At the end of that book, Letheras had fallen; Rhulad Sengar, the undying Edur emperor was dead (by Karsa Orlong’s hand); a friendly regime under Tehol Beddict had assumed power; and the Errant had been chased from the city of Letheras. But there were intimations of the coming apocalypse – for example, the K’Chain Che’Malle were again active, and despite his defeat, the Errant was gathering together the Elder Gods in a bid to return to power.

In Dust of Dreams, the ultimate “enemy” remains elusive. Is it the Crippled God? Maybe. But Tavore may be marching to free him. Is it the Forkrul Assail? Perhaps. Their concept of “justice” would erase all intelligent life on the planet. Is it the K’Chain Nah’ruk? The K’Chain Che’Malle? Is the ultimate enemy the Elder Gods? And it seems like every side aims, to some extent, to wipe the slate clean and begin the cycle over again.

A short list of the vying factions would include:

The Bonehunters Tavore continues to be an enigma to her troops, apparently so crushed by what she sees ahead that she can’t burden the people relying upon her with the knowledge lest they succumb entirely to despair. Of course, that’s doing nothing for the morale of the legion. Despite Y’Ghatan and Malaz City, the army remains shaky and unsure of itself.

The Khundryl and the Perish Greywolves Though the Khundryl remain firm allies of the Adjunct they appear to have been broken by the “wrong” battle that engulfs the armies when they run into the K’Chain Nah’ruk. And Tanakalian, the Shield Anvil of the Perish, is corrupted by ambition and may break in the final battle.

The Letherii Under Brys Beddict, I think they’ll remain allies of Tavore.

The K’Chain Che’Malle The last group of K’Chain (the Acyl) have gained a new lease on life under humans – the Destriant Kalyth, the Mortal Sword Gesler and the Shield Anvil Stormy (the latter two kidnapped from the Bonehunters to lead the K’Chain legions against the Nah’ruk). They also are instrumental in deciding the fate of Icarium (yes, that long journey finally comes to an end).

The T’lan Imass Actually there are several factions emerging among the Imass – Onos T’oolan has died again and Olar Ethil resurrected him to be her tool of vengeance; the Unbound have returned and are moving to join the Bonehunters; and Rud Elalle, the half-human son of Menandore and Udinaas, has left the Refugium to protect it and the newborn Azath (Kettle).

The Jaghut A hitherto unknown group of Jaghut, connected to Hood in some way, have appeared. What their motivations and goals are remain hidden.

And then there’s the Forkrul Assail, the Elder Gods, the new gods (the Elders’ children), Shadowthrone and Cotillion, etc. The mind reels trying to sort things out…

Erikson continues to maintain a good balance between the particular lives of his characters and the “macrocosmic” aspects of the novel. And despite the novel’s deep rooted pessimism, individuals’ actions continue to mean something. Just like the hope of rebirth after Ragnarok, there’s hope of survival after whatever the Adjunct is marching into in the Wastelands.

Another element in Erikson’s work that I find attractive is that he also refuses to identify a “good” and an “evil.” Even the Crippled God receives a measure of sympathy. After all, he didn’t ask to come to the Malazan’s world; he was dragged here by a cabal of wizards who were attempting to bring down Kallor’s empire. He’s been chained so that the gods can feed off of his power. Who wouldn’t be a little bit irritated by that? Or there’s the matter of the Pannion Seer – she was an undead K’Chain Matron, driven insane. And speaking of the K’Chain Che’Malle, even they get a sympathetic nod in Dust. The only race who remain wholly inimical are the Forkrul Assail.

I look forward to Book 10 with an anticipation I haven’t felt for a similar series in a long time.