Blog Archive

View My Stats
Thursday, October 4, 2007

GUEST REVIEW: Bauchelain & Korbal Broach novellas by Steven Erikson

As astutely noted by fantasy novelist James Barclay, fantasy literature typically comes in no number less than three. The trilogy is the most common, though some ambitious authors strive for five, ten, or perhaps more books, citing complex characters and long, twisty plotlines as the need for such length. While Barclay notes that this is not necessarily a bad thing—high romance, if well written, can go on for decades without much complaint from critics and consumers alike—it is woefully uncommon to read an epic tale weaved in one novel and one only, snug between two covers instead of six at a minimum.

Though many believe it cannot be done, Steven Erikson proves with his Bauchelain and Korbal Broach novellas that fantasy literature can, in fact, spin a yarn of interesting, developed characters and strong, perfectly paced plotlines with little to no frays at the end of the string.

In a way, Bauchelain and Korbal Broach is a trilogy, but each of the three novellas—“Blood Follows”, “The Lees of Laughter's End”, and “The Healthy Dead”—are able to tell a complete story with a total page count significantly less than most single volumes in any larger series. Weighing in at approximately 100 pages each, each installment not only fits perfectly with the others to form a cohesive story, but individually, tells a tale that introduces characters and builds their personalities to the degree that the reader feels he has known them for an entire trilogy of full-length literature.

Erikson's characters are by far the most enjoyable point of his stories. Relying more on people rather than a world to drive his action, the strong personalities of Bauchelain the conjurer, Korbal Broach the eunuch, and Emancipor "Mancy the Luckless" Reese drive each of the novellas. Though the reader never fails to uncover new facets of each of these three main personalities throughout the trilogy, each protagonist’s goals, and motivations used to reach those goals, are understood almost perfectly by the midpoint of “Blood Follows”. Some authors fail to convey proper understanding of their protagonists over the course of several books, but Erikson does so after a few dozen pages.

Supporting cast members play almost as important a role in each of the novellas as do Erikson's three protagonists. Each of the novellas introduce one or more new characters that Erikson builds as thoroughly and convincingly as his main roster. His tactic in building any character, whether primary or secondary, is accomplished through a hybrid of dialogue that is adapted to each particular character's vernacular, as well as quick chapters that show just enough of a character's story to peel their protective veil away to see what they're hiding.

In the character's first chapter, Emancipor Reese is quickly seen as a down-on-his-luck, brow-beaten husband controlled by his over-bearing wife. This is shown through Reese's actions—slipping into the house, quietly closing the door behind him—and his reaction to his wife's complaining that he's been fired from yet another job. Just as the reader becomes curious as to why Reese has lost "yet another" job, the chapter ends, moving on to another character, which leaves the reader wanting more of Reese, yet readers are quickly interested in whoever followed him because that person becomes equally compelling.

Erikson's prose changes to complement each character's setting and background, though this comes off as a pro and a con. On the positive hand, the prose is adjusted to fit certain situations, such as the sole setting of a ship for “The Lees of Laughter's End”. Sailing jargon is used in copious amounts, and usually in places that lend an overt hint to readers who don't normally walk on sea legs. On the other, negative hand, the prose is sometimes extremely confusing to decipher, especially when written for mysterious characters and events. More than once I found myself re-reading entire paragraphs to gain a better understanding of what was happening before I felt comfortable in continuing. Still, this isn't too frequent an occurrence, and did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.

As mentioned, Erikson does rely on his characters more than his world to move each story along, but his world does not suffer from this. Each novella constructs a brand new stage upon which to wage action, which helps keep the story stay fresh. Whether in the holds of a ship or in the shady alleyways of Lamentable Moll, the characters make each environment their own, and each provides the perfect backdrop for storytelling.

Bauchelain and Korbal Broach not only combines three novellas that form a complete story, but does so with the fluidity lacking in many 1,000-plus page monsters. For those familiar with Erikson's Malazan books, or for those looking for the perfect introduction to the author's work, look no further than Bauchelain and Korbal Broach.

Reviewed by David Craddock

ABOUT DAVID: Whether essays, short stories, or novels, David Craddock loves to read almost as much as he loves to write. A long-time reader of genre favorites such as Tolkien, Robert Jordan (RIP), Terry Goodkind, R.A. Salvatore, and J.V. Jones, Leighton was given the pleasure of critiquing for Fantasy Book Critic and hopes to convey his enjoyment of literature through his passion for writing… (Due to legal issues David had adopted a pseudonym in Sean Leighton, but he is now able to use his real name :)

NOTES: The Bauchelain & Korbal Broach novellas are Mr. Craddock's introduction to Steven Erikson’s Malazan world. For collectors, a hardcover edition that includes all three novellas is now available for purchase through PS Publishing. You can get the full details HERE.


Jebus said...

I bought all three from Amazon when I discovered they'd been published - I'd read maybe 4 of the Malazan books by then (earlier this year) and was powering through the rest.
These were a great read while I was waiting for my copy of The Bonehunters to arrive. Erikson fleshed out the characters a lot more and I especially enjoyed The Healthy Dead with some truly brilliant minor characters pretty much overtaking the narrative.
The man can do no wrong.

Katie said...

love the coverart

Anonymous said...

Love the original cover art even more... ;)

ito said...

I laughed out loud throughout the entire second novella.

Follow by Email


Click Here To Order “Right To The Kill ” by Craig Schaefer!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “Spit And Song” by Travis M. Riddle!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “The Arkhel Conundrum” by Sarah Ash!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “The Company Of Birds” by Nerine Dorman!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “The True Bastards” by Jonathan French!!!
Order HERE


Click Here To Order “Rumble In Woodhollow” by Jonathan Pembroke!!!
Order HERE