Mages, [Reece] concluded, were obnoxious in so many ways it was almost pointless listing them.
With all the high drama and world-shattering battles, it’s easy to forget that Steven Erikson also writes comedy that borders on insanity. Whilst there are more than a few snippets in the Malazan Book of the Fallen, from Iskaral Pust to Tehol and Bugg, Telorast and Curdle to the Mott Irregulars, his boundary-pushing is on full view in these short stories. Anyone who has read the main series will have their own opinion of the terrible duo, Bauchelain and Korbal Broach: necromancers, mages, adventurers, unlucky masters of … well, anywhere really. In all honesty, if you haven’t read those books, I wouldn’t start here. It’s just too niche, too specifically weird to be the first time you meet this world. Saying that, if that’s what you’re in to, go for it, but seriously, considering all the people who struggle with Gardens of the Moon (for whatever reason), choosing to go with this first is more like avoiding the black runs to ski on blancmange filled with sharks in clown costumes.
And yet the book is a reminder of the author’s peerless ability to sketch vibrant characters in little more than a few lines and a handful of what looks like (but isn’t) offhand comments. Of course, there are times where this goes perhaps a little far. Right at the outset of ‘The Wurms of Blearmouth', there’s a TMI introduction to one Felittle, a young lass with a tendency to pee all over her paramours, which is a tad more than I ever needed to know. Just a smidgen. So I’ve shared the love. You’re welcome. Even so, what Erikson can do really, really well is take you from those moments of thinking ‘what in the ever loving hell am I reading’ to laughing out loud in a few sentences. His prodigious talent for imagining bizarre situations is only emphasised when the stories are shorter, though I hesitate to call them more focused because that would suggest a linear practicality these tales do not share. All three are flat-out bonkers, that kind of zany, bouncing off the walls type crisscrossing of people and events that still manages to come together in the end. None of this should work at all.
But it does because, within each piece of madness, there is something that grabs the attention and won’t let go. I especially love the way Bauchelain and Korbal Broach have all this magic but every time you meet them, they’re always trying to come back from one disaster or another. That Bauchelain acknowledges it here only makes me all the more amused because it underlines their ongoing astonishment about why it keeps happening to them: 'Given our record thus far when assuming positions of authority, even I must acknowledge that trial and error remains an important component in our engagement with power’. Emancipor Reece as the long-suffering servant is a perfect foil for their villainy, the precarious nature of his position (the former holders are all dead) always seeming to turn out for the best. So far. Besides, the phrase ‘we’re all mad here’ is all too apt. We’ve got dead men who refuse to stay dead, lizard cats who remember being something more, demons, gods in hiding, and more bizarre names than you can shake a stick at. It’s crazy, but remains that rare type of madcap humour that never ceases to surprise.
Whist this collection hasn’t found a place in my heart, it provided some laughs and I consider it time well spent. Definitely worth a go if you enjoyed the darker comedic side of Malazan or want something to keep you going until the release of The God is not Willing.
ARC via fantasybookreview.co.uk from publisher. - 7.5/10 - Emma Davis
I received a review copy of The Second Collected Tales of Bauchelain & Korbal Broach in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Steven Erikson and Bantam Press.
I was pretty excited to read more about everybody's favourite necromancers and their trusted manservant's dark and often humourous adventures. In the main Malazan series the deadly duo are only seen in Memories of Ice but have featured in 6 short stories, 3 of which are collected in this volume. If you are new to the Malazan world I would not recommend starting here.
The Wurms of Blearmouth - 9/10
This is probably my favourite of the Bauchelain and Korbal Broach stories. It follows 5 or 6 point of view perspectives and is set on an island where ships are often found wrecked on the beaches. It is ruled by a mad sorcerer known as Lord Fangtooth Claw and any strangers who arrive in his domain are typically tortured and murdered. Bauchelain and company arrive and demand an audience with the ruler. Many other parties turn up on the island chasing the mages for deeds previously done and we also witness the politics of this village which is mainly set in a bar - it all makes for an interesting mix. My favourite scenes always included Bauchelain and Mister. Reece. Bauchelain comes across as being like an intelligent, noble Victorian gentleman who just happens to be extremely witty and is also an expert mage and summoner. He is always the cleverest man in the room. This story has suprising depth for its 120 or so pages and it has a very satisfying conclusion that I didn't see coming. There were one or two mini-scenes which I thought were needless and didn't add to the story such as a young girl who pisses on her potential lover whilst sitting on his lap.
Crack'd Pot Trail - 4/10
This is probably the worst story I've read that's set in the Malazan world. I'm only rating it so high because it is well written and I guess the concept is quite interesting. My main disappointment is that the titular characters of this story collection are featured for less than one page in a 160-page story. Presented in the first person perspective of a chronicler called Flicker as he travels on a 20 or so day pilgrimage with warriors, other poets, and bards. Essentially, this short narrative boils down to different poets telling a story to the witnessing crowd when they are travelling or resting by a fire during the evening and if the audience doesn't like a certain tale then that poet is then killed and eaten by the other members of the entourage. Some of the poems and songs are interesting - one, in particular, recites details about series favourites Anomander Rake and Draconus. Another is about Kalam and Laseen. All being said, I only vaguely cared about 2 or 3 of the characters and if this was not a short story I would have not finished it. If I had personally paid for this book described as 3 tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach I would have felt cheated by this addition.
The Fiends of Nightmaria - 7.5/10
This story was as comic as it was gruesome and dark and Erikson returns back to form with this entry. I'm not sure what the duo have gotten up to since we last saw them but Bauchelain is now King Bauchelain the 1st of Farroq with Korbal Broach as the grand bishop. Korbal Broach's relationship with the new King is excellent throughout all these stories. Broach is a very talented mage and also a Soletaken (he can turn into a crow) but he adores the dark arts, is quite childlike and Bauchelain often keeps his good friend in check. While Bauchelain is summoning demon princes to haunt his castle to kill a missing God, Broach has many headless soldiers that he's reanimated to follow him. Apart from the scenes featuring these two, there are perspectives from a gang of warriors who suprise, suprise, wish to kill the necromancers, a group of wannabe thieves including Symon the Knife (who is awful with a knife), and a lizard creature ambassador who speaks for the Fiends of Nightmaria. This was pretty enjoyable and I read it in one sitting. Similar to the pissing scene in The Wurms of Blearmouth - there is another needless scene where a demon masturbates and 'spurts' over a warriors face before running away. I'm not sure if Erikson has fewer boundaries in his more comic side projects such as this and Willful Child but that was completely needless.
To conclude, I'm glad I got to read this as Bauchelain and Korbal Broach are brilliant characters for all their schemes and evil nonsense. I'm sure they've travelled half the known world wrecking havoc and ruining the lives of all who are unfortunate enough to cross their paths. I would definitely pick up any further adventures the two necromancers decide to act out. For the most part, this was highly enjoyable however, the second story left a sour taste in my mouth. I'd still recommend this for fans of Malazan however with me explaining the second story and how it doesn't really fit in this collection, perhaps other readers will look at it in a different manner and not be disappointed like I was. - 6.5/10 - James Tivendale
Steven Erikson's ongoing fantasy series, the Malazan Book of the Fallen has brought new life and originality into the fantasy genre. Steven Erikson kindly spoke to Fantasy Book Review in September 2009, shortly after the [...]
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