Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Book review: "The First Collected Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach" by Steven Erikson

I have recently bought a collection of short novels by Steven Erikson, set in Malazan World and featuring Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, two minor comedic characters from "Memories of Ice", and their even funnier manservant Emancipor Reese (aka Mancy the Luckless). Truth to be said, I expected them to be a bit lengthier; it is less than 400 pages long.

Stories from "The First Collected Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach" are not intended for everybody - it is clear that Erikson wrote them for fans of his books. He usually isn't one to give clear explanations and introductions to his settings, but this is even more pronounced here and it is especially true for first story. I presume that second two could be read by anybody, but a good portion of jokes and references would be lost on those who never read main Malazan books. This collection is intended for fans who can understand the humor of accidental vomiting in a bowl of worms and excusing it as an offering for Drek.

First story, "Blood Follows", is what I expected of it. It describes Emancipor's first encounter with Bauchelain and Korbal Broach (I don't know why, but he is always referred as Korbal Broach, never only Korbal or Broach) and it takes place in town of Lamentable Moll. He has just lost another employer (another on a long list of dead ex-employers, thus Mancy the Luckless) and after getting drunk in his honor, he goes to apply to mysterious job-offer. At the same time, Lamentable Moll is in panic because of line of gruesome murders where victims lost a part of their bodies. Sergeant Guld, a famous investigator, is feeling he has come to edge in his search for perpetrator...

Second one, "The Lees of Laughter's End", is similar in its dark tones to the first one, but very different in realization. It takes place exclusively on a ship: we have Bauchelain and Korbal Broach with Emancipor; young seer that talks with her dead mother; Captain that know nothing about shipping and relies completely on her First Mate; three ex-soldiers with one brain between them; stolen statues of unknown origin and power; ship's crew scared out of their skins. If this is not enough, ship is currently traveling over Red Road, where every kind of potential can get realized...

The last one, "The Healthy Dead", is typical for Erikson, and deals with the topic of rulers with good intentions. City of Quaint was a normal city few years ago: corrupt rulers, unhappy citizens, poor peasants. A normal kind of city. But the latest king has decided to makes his citizens more healthy, for their own good, regardless of their willingness. Bauchelain and Korbal Broach end up hired by the locals to put things back in order, but they will do it in their own, unexpected way...

One thing I like about Erikson is that he doesn't take sides. There are many examples of this when a character (or group of them) that has been depicted as evil, turns out to be a just a human, neither good nor evil. Good and evil are very relative terms in Erikson's books. But he did a truly marvelous thing here: he took two characters that would be deemed as evil from any other writer and wrote a book with them as main characters, without taking sides. Bauchelain and Korbal Broach here do some really evil things. I mean really evil: the missing ear scene is quite morbid, but the scene with Bloodwine is especially noteworthy; people get killed and mutilated in unexpected amounts. But not in one instance does he take opinions and try to judge. He does make fun scenes, but in every one we can find the suffering of victims. If his intention was to shock us and make us think about good and evil in people, he succeeded completely.

On the side of humor, he did his regular job, which means great. You will find here a regular collection of his extreme characters. As I said, you should me familiar with this setting to appreciate all the jokes. Action takes place somewhere on the continent of Korel, which is part of the world not much explored by Erikson. Only three main characters here are known from before, but you will find other ones familiar too, in style if not in substance.

His writing is typical: lots of dialogue, but also lots of monologue. I have been recently reading Raymond E. Feist's books, and it is marvelous how different these two are in their style. For Erikson is normal to read four or more pages where no one said anything and nothing happened but some characters discussing some metaphysical subject; with Feist, you will be surprised to find one such paragraph.

If I haven't been clear enough about it, this book is even more violent and bloody than Erikson usual, just that you know.

"The First Collected Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach" is a great collection, but intended primary for fans; as such, I would advise it to any fan of Steven Erikson. Great fun to read, but also a thought-provoker.

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