Bauchelain and Korbal Broach (The First Collected Tales) by Steven Erikson - Book Review

Write on: Fri, 29 Nov 2019 by  in Archive Read 2147

 The world of the Malazan Empire is among the most complex fantasy worlds ever created. Very few would disagree with this, even those in the fantasy community who hold onto a firm dislike for Erikson’s storytelling style. I admire the world and characters; the complexity of both is second to none and I have within my mind’s eye, expanses of scenes as tragic as they are heroic, as cruel as they are hopeful.

 But this isn’t about the Malazan Book of the Fallen; in Erikson and Esslemont’s world, you can also find stories such as the ones within the pages of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach. Kooky, funny stories, darkly humorous and filled with the most outlandishly morbid action and violence that I’ve come across in a novella.

If you, like me, have read Erikson’s epos you’ll have some knowledge of Bauchelain, Korbal Broach and their manservant Emancipor Reese from the pages of Memories of Ice. They’re a memorable trio, as much for the initial mystery surrounding them as for their own inability to estimate what they’re up against. If you have yet to make contact with Memories of Ice or any of the other entries in the Book of the Fallen, fear not, for these three collected novellas don’t expect you to know anything about their zany characters as they depopulate towns, sail through bloody seas and wreck entire civilization. I use hyperbole here, though I expect Erikson wouldn’t mind, being generously at fault for exercising the very same rhetorical device more than once. 

In many ways, these might be some of the most accessible of Erikson’s works – though they’re also the shallowest. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no small amount of poignant commentary but this time around, it’s subservient to the humour of the story, to the sheer bloody eccentricity of it all, as characters Bauchelain, Korbal Broach and Emancipor Reese flung themselves – or sauntered towards – one strange event after the next. I dislike Korbal Broach. Something about this silent, murderous eunuch tickles me the wrong way but I am all too fond of both Bauchelain and Emancipor. Their interactions with one another and the world around them brought me joy, always.

After a bit of scene-setting during the first novella, I began laughing. I laughed, and laughed, sometimes pausing in the span of a few pages, two or three or four, only to laugh more and harder and heartier than I did previously. I laughed through insane scenes of hyperviolence; through corpses raising from the dead to take vengeance on the living over too much healthy exercise;  through the systematic dismemberment of a poor guardsman at the wrong boat at the worst possible time; through the ripping apart of a nun blamed for eating babies because of her sharpened teeth when in truth her teeth were rotten.

Did I mention this novella was morbid as sin itself?

My score? 4/5, since laughter well and truly cures everything – even death, judging by the heaps of corpses that that old joker, Bauchelain brings back around.

 You’ll love this if:

  • You like necromancy;
  • You like necromancy memes;
  • You want to put the romance back in neck-romance-y;
  • Even I cringed at that last one; 
  • You have a weak spot for manservants who tend to over-indulge in the self-medication department;
  • And more, prob—no, that’s about it, actually.

Thanks for reading! Next up, I've got a special feature for you all - an interview with Benedict Patrick, writer of the excellent, spooky Yarnsworld novels, who stops by the nest to chat about his experiences with this year's SPFBO, the novel he released in October 2019, and his upcoming work! 


Last modified on Friday, 29 November 2019 18:50
Filip Magnus

Filip picked up his first fantasy novel when he was seven and hasn’t stopped reading since. A critical reader who judges novels on their technical use of language and plot alike, he has a soft spot for literary fiction and tragic, heroic tales.

In his free time, Filip writes fiction, makes gaming reviews on YouTube, and maintains a personal blog. All that when he’s not too busy going through piles of books in as short a time as possible.