The Bonehunters prepare to leave the city of Letheras and join their allies — the Perish Grey Helms and the Khundryl Burned Tears — but all they know is that the Adjunct will march them to the far east of the continent. Adjunct Tavore keeps silent, however, and without motivation or purpose the army is only a hair's breadth away from rioting. To add insult to injury, the Adjunct forces a reading of the Deck of Dragons that shakes awake powers that have been asleep for ages all over the continent.
Near the border kingdoms of Lether the White Face Barghast have settled in wait for their mythical, glorious war against a prophesized enemy. But one potential enemy after another fail to live up to their expectations and so Warleader Onos Toolan faces mutiny from the clans under his lead.
Deep into the Wastelands there is a train of homeless children, calling themselves the Snake and wandering through hardships and disease to flee their old destroyed homes. They are pursued by what they call the Adjudicators who are supposedly responsible for the destruction of Kolanse and environs.
The last living K'Chain Che'Malle Matron tries to save her dying hive and sends the human Kalyth out to seek a Shield Anvil and a Mortal Sword for their imminent conflict with an old enemy. But the Matron seems to have lost her mind and different fractions among the hive don't believe in a possible victory any longer.
At the same time six lost wanderers stumble upon a gigantic dragon-shaped city in the middle of nowhere, but it is not as abandoned as it first seems.
Followed by The Crippled God.
Dust of Dreams provides examples of the following tropes:
- Absent Minded Alchemist: Hedge recruits a Letherii alchemist into his newly raised cadre of Bridgeburners to solve their problem of having no more Moranth munitions. Bavedict is unused to army life and hauls around an entire labratory in his personal wagon, trying to create these wondrous explosives based on Hedge's colorful descriptions of them. He's ultimately unable to recreate the Moranth bombs but he does invent an acid spray and napalm.
- The Alliance:
- Played for Laughs with the Bolkando Alliance. It is rumored to be an alliance between the Kingdoms of Bolkando and Saphinand and the Akrynnai, banded together against the reputedly expansionist Letherii Empire; worrisome as those are the only possibly dangerous neighbours for the Letherii. It has, however, never existed. The Bolkando simply enjoy playing games and yanking the Letherii strings.
- The Malazan Bonehunters ally themselves with the Perish Grey Helms, the Khundryl Burned Tears and the newly formed army of the Letherii Empire. Eventually, they also gain the Bolkando as allies as well.
- Attack! Attack... Retreat! Retreat!: At first Hedge leads his Bridgeburners against the charging Nah'ruk. Then, after they witness how Quick Ben is roasted via lightning bolt, plans change quickly. Though it's less "retreat, retreat" than it is "drop down and play dead".
- Balance of Power: Kilmandaros, Elder Goddess of Smashing Things to Tiny Pieces, is the goddess of destruction and disasters, to balance the power of creation.
- Berserk Button: Elder Goddess Kilmandaros is the personification of rage without reason, and even her body seems made to leash out in mad rage. Usually seemingly lethargic, she really does not like two things: dragons and places of worship. It's the main reason the Errant wants her around for his plan: she can be counted on to smash in the dragons' skulls once they have outlived their usefulness.
- Beware the Silly Ones:
- The Tiste Liosan are portrayed as wacky, stuck up elves that have been isolated for so long they don't work with the current world too well anymore. They are also hell-bent on pushing their agenda and powerful enough to back it up.
- Curdle and Telorast have been around for two books now, mostly as comic relief. Turns out Bottle was right about them, as they are actually dragons who almost succeeded in conquering the Throne of Shadow and have been around for very, very long.
- Big Bad Wannabe: The Errant has the potential to be a seriously nasty threat in theory, and he definitely wants to be a Big Bad, but not even his supposed allies Kilmandaros and Knuckles take him seriously and he is the butt of the jokes of people all around him regularly. He starts the book being bitch-slapped mid-kill by manchild Ublala Pung and ends it in fetal position on the floor while his "allies" laugh at him. He does, occasionally, succeed in making life harder than necessary, though.
- Bling of War: Abrastral, Queen of the Bolkando Kingdom and general of her own private army, wears flamboyant armour when she is commanding her troops.
- Blue and Orange Morality: The K'Chain Che'Malle, finally getting their own narratives, are shown — as could be expected from telepathically communicating intelligent dinosaurs — to have this. They believe in the "logic of despair" and that an existence without an opposing force, without tension, untouched by chaos, is also without meaning, and that freedom lies only in never being certain of one thing only, while for much of the series it has been shown that humans prefer certainty, which for the K'Chain Che'Malle is amoral.
- Body Horror: Hetan's hobbling.
- Calling Your Bathroom Breaks: Withal announces he's going to take a piss and whatever else, right before he and Sandalath are about to enter Gallan's Road. He knows it annoys her.
- Conflict Killer: Draconus' return to the world of the living kills the Barghast conflict that took about a third of the whole book in seconds. He appears without warning and accidentally shock freezes all Barghast that didn't desert the battlefield beforehand, his reaction to this amounting to: oops.
- Cover-Blowing Superpower: Ruthan Gudd surprises the Bonehunters by spontaneously summoning Stormrider armour to aid him in battle. It is not made clear who or what he actually is, but some insight into his thoughts reveals that he also spent some time in an Azath house and gives himself a 50:50 fighting chance against Draconus
- Crossing the Desert:
- The Bonehunters set out to cross the Wastelands and later the Glass Desert on their way to Kolanse.
- The Snake are fleeing their destroyed homeland through the Glass Desert, going in the other direction.
- Several minor fractions are also crossing these two deserts for some time, like the six Letherii refugees and the T'lan Imass under the newly again-undead Onos T'oolan.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The Bonehunters, who had just curbstomp conquered the Letherii Empire in Reaper's Gale, run into the K'Chain Nah'ruk in the Wastelands and get curbstomped simply because they are in the way and it's to late to avoid a battle.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?:
- Amby and Jula Bole strike again, when they fight off and heavily injure a flying raptor that just demolished their carriage and killed three people inside it. Apparently, they jumped on its back and punched it into submission.
- Man child Ublala Pung literally punches out the jerkass God of Fate known as the Errant when the latter is about to kill Brys Beddict in the open street and Ublala runs into them.
- The Dividual: Curdle and Telorast, who bicker constantly, but also finish each other's sentences and act as one entity.
- Don't Fear the Reaper: The Guardians of the Gate, formerly known as the Bridgeburners, who have ascended and taken the place of Hood. According to Iskar Jarak, their expressed aim is to be a different face of death, one that is more familiar than Hood had been:'[...] You see us as Guardians of the Gate, but we are more than that. We are or will become the new arbiters, for as long as is necessary. [...] In all our guises, Destriant, we shall be more than the Reaper ever was. We are not distant. Not indifferent. You see, unlike Hood, we remember what it was to be alive. We remember each and every moment of yearning, of desperate need, the anguish that comes when no amount of beseeching earns a single instant's reprieve, no pleading yields a moment's mercy. We are here, Destriant. When no other choice remains, call upon us.'
- Droit du Seigneur: Discussed for laughs. Bugg claims there used to be a tribe where the chief and his wife had the privilege of bedding imminent brides and grooms the night before the marriage. King Tehol is mildly optimistic in his inquiry, but Bugg admits he just made that up. To get back at Tehol, though, Queen Janath offers to write the custom into the histories.
- Fate Worse than Death: The Barghast have a cruel tradition that is called Hobbling. It is practised on female outcasts and entails cutting off the front half of their feet in order to make their gait hobbling. It also means a complete loss in status, meaning the female in question is required to "lift her backside" to anyone man or woman (or, in fact, campdog) who wants her without complaint.
- Floating Continent: The K'Chain Nah'ruk sky keeps are floating city/machine hybrids. Near the end of the book, we also find out that the Rooted nests of the Che'Malle are able to fly, despite being the size of mountains.
- Glory Seeker: The Barghast who travelled all around the world to Letheras, to fight their mythical destined enemy, first thought to be the Tiste Edur. After they find out the Edur were already broken by their failed conquest of Lether, they turn to the small border kingdoms. After those turn out not to be much of an enemy at all, they then regress into infighting among their clans, on the best way to wipe themselves out.
- The Gloves Come Off: During the climactic battle of Dust of Dreams, Ruthan Gudd is convinced he will not survive the battle, enough so that he blows his cover by sheathing himself and his horse in Stormrider armor and charging the enemy army head on, alone.
- High-Altitude Battle: The climax has the Sky Keeps and Uprooted Che'Malle nests duke it out in the sky over the heads of their respective armies.
- Hive Queen: Gunth'an Acyl, the last K'Chain Che'Malle Matron governs over the hive Ampelas Rooted. She even has a psychic link to every inhabitant under her rule.
- Killing Intent: According to Bugg, power is the promise of conflict, the recognition of the damage conflict entails, and thus the one with more power projects more presence, which equals being a bigger threat. This is how ascendants keep each other at bay, by making their power felt.
- The Klutz: Curdle and Telorast, two mostly undead spirits currently possessing the skeletons of tiny dinosaurs. They tend to lose body parts, frequently expose their plans for betrayal in conversation and are all around wacky.
- Layman's Terms: Bugg tries his best to explain to Seren Pedac how power really works, how it's not actually a contest, as people are want to assume, but the promise of conflict. Seren, being human and a novice mage, has trouble understanding that, however.
- Lightning Gun: The K'Chain Nah'ruk wield weapons whose descriptions put them very close to tesla coils. They generate enough electricity to enable them to shoot lightning at their enemies.
- The Migration: Second Maiden Fort, its prison, the civilians on the island, and the entirety of the Shake Tribe are in danger of being drowned as the ice around Lether melts and the seas rise. The seas are too rough to travel by boat and there are no wizards to open traditional warrens to travel to safety. Yan Tovis and her brother Yedan Derryg opt to use the powers of the Shake and travel Blind Gallan's Road to a new world, arriving at the abandoned Tiste Andii city of Kharkanas...
- One-Man Army: Quick Ben takes out three whole phalanxes of K'Chain Nah'ruk all by himself, with little more than magically charged acorns.
- Playing with Fire: Quick Ben, again. He defeats a battalion of K'Chain Nah'ruk by setting the air around himself on fire.
- Professional Killer: The Shi'Gal Assassins in the K'Chain Che'Malle nests are the Matron's personal executioners. There are up to three of them at any one time, and they are bred to have anathema mindsets, so they would under no circumstances form an alliance and turn on the Matron.
- Psychic Link: This is how the K'Chain Che'Malle are able to communicate with humans. When Gesler and Stormy get the treatment of being drenched in spit, they acquire the ability to not only communicate with them, but to see through the eyes of every one they choose.
- Ruling Couple: Starting in this volume, the recently crowned King Tehol Beddict and his newly wed wife and previous professor Queen Janath Anar are seen jointly ruling the Kingdom of Lether. Janath also happens to be the kingdom's historian and Tehol never fails to ask her opinion on everything.
- Shock and Awe: When the Bonehunters face the K'Chain Nah'ruk, they suddenly find themselves having to counter lightning.
- Sleep-Mode Size:
- The Nachts, small ape-like creatures, turn out to be pocket versions of Venath Demons as long as they stay in the verse's main realm. When Sandalath and Withal enter Kurald Galain and take the Nachts along, the Nachts change form and become hulking Venath. They speculate that the Jaghut specifically bred the Nachts for this purpose, though nobody knows why and the Jaghut are famously taciturn when it comes to explaining anything.
- Curdle and Telorast temporarily assume their true forms when Fiddler's reading of the Deck of Dragons draws power into Letheras. Turns out they are, true to their claim, dragons whose souls have been stuffed into tiny velociraptor skeletons.
- Squad Nickname: Hedge takes advantage of his new lease on life by forming his own company of soldiers from Lether and trying to remake them into the Bridgeburners. Considering his better recruits are a pair of Letherii prostitutes given the names "Rumjugs" and "Sweetlard" it looks like a fool's errand.
- Squishy Wizard: Zig-zagged. Quick Ben is fairly easy to take out when he is not expecting an attack. However, when he knows he is in danger and has time to prepare, even lightning strikes barely scratch him.
- Theme Twin Naming: The twins Hetan had after becoming pregnant by Kruppe in Memories of Ice are named Stavi and Storii.
- Taking You with Me: Quick Ben goes out in a literal blaze of glory unleashing all his magic at once to eliminate part of an attacking K'Chain Nah'ruk invasion force.
- Tap on the Head: Fiddler knocks out Quick Ben with his helmet when the latter gets too obnoxiously smartass again.'Took a fall there, High Mage,' said Fiddler.
'Aye, I'm thinking you was struck with a thought.'
Quick Ben spat, gingerly probing the side of his head. 'Must have been some thought,' he muttered. 'Hit so hard I can't even remember it.'
- Tarot Troubles: Fiddler's reading of the Deck of Dragons in the beginning of the book is the most intense to date yet. It is implied that this isn't a simple reading, but more like an active call on ancient gods who promptly mark their players. By throwing the people attending the meeting across the room.
- Those Two Guys: Curdle and Telorast who are always seen in tandem and their loony miens betray their importance.
- Wham Line:'He set out, boots crunching on the dead. Returned to the world. Draconus.'