Bauchelain and Korbal Broach: Three Short Novels of the Malazan Empire, Volume One - Steven Erikson Bauchelain, Korbal Broach and Emancipor Reese make cameo appearances during the siege of Capustan in Memories of Ice Malazan Book of the Fallen 3. There Quick Ben and Bauchelain cross sorcerous swords, and Quick unleashes half of his Warrens to escape the demonologist’s trap. As narrative goes, it’s a spandrel, a meaningless episode made possible by the convergence of Erikson’s Malazan story arc and the path of three favorite characters. The scene in the book reminded me of an incident from my own past: I managed to survive high school by joining Drama Club in my sophomore year and spending the next three having a ball acting with a group of people who had some real talent. I was the student director for the last play of my senior year – “The Miracle Worker.” There’s a scene (I forget the exact circumstances) where a neighbor of the Kellers is visiting the house and we contrived to have me accompany her as her husband. I had no lines and changed nothing in terms of the story but it gave me a chance to appear one last time on stage – a convergence of the play’s story arc and my “career” as an actor.

But I digress.

The book in question here is a collection of three Bauchelain & Korbal Broach (BKB) novellas – “Blood Follows,” “The Lees of Laughter’s End” and “The Healthy Dead.” Erikson tells “Blood Follows” from the point of view of Emancipor Reese, a resident of Lamentable Moll, whose most recent employer has become the latest victim of a gruesome serial killer. Family obligations and a nagging wife drive Mancy to seek employment with the enigmatic Bauchelain and the creepy Korbal Broach, visitors to the city. It will not be a spoiler to reveal that Bauchelain is a demonologist and Korbal, a necromancer (and Soletaken*), or that the latter is responsible for the recent spate of murders. Eventually, the city’s investigators close in on Korbal and the pair flee, dragging the hapless Mancy along (nagging wife being a far more intimidating prospect than going on the lam with homicidal maniacs).

“The Lees of Laughter’s End” picks up right after the events in “Blood Follows.” Mancy and his new employers flee Lamentable Moll aboard Suncurl. Reese’s ill luck continues because the ship is cursed with a crew of deserters pursued by implacable foes (their ship’s name is Unreasoning Vengeance) and the nails holding it together have been inadvertently imbued with souls from Lamentable Moll’s cemeteries. The latter causes the dead to rise in the course of the journey. This and an attack from the sea monsters infesting the channel known as Laughter’s End cause no end of havoc.

“The Healthy Dead” takes place after the first two stories but is not a direct sequel. At the end of “Laughter’s End,” the pursuers of Captain Sater and her crew are closing in on Suncurl but that encounter and its denouement go unmentioned as “The Healthy Dead” opens. This story finds the trio approaching the city of Quaint, which endures the rule of King Macrotus, a healthy-living fanatic. “The Healthy Dead” is the most overtly “preachy” of Erikson’s stories, an allegory about the fascism of good intentions and self-righteous certainty, and the evil that results.

I’m not in love with the characters of Bauchelain and Korbal. And I’m even less of a fan of prose humor generally but the stories are amusing in an elicits-a-chuckle sort of way, not a knee-slapping-laugh-out-loud way. And Erikson shows a flair for good (if ridiculous) names, e.g., Lamentable Moll or Invett Loath, Paladin of Purity, or Well Knight Storkul Purge. If you like Erikson already, then I’d recommend this collection. I’m more hesitant t recommend this to nonfans even though they might enjoy the grisly humor and cynicism of the protagonists.

* For non-Erikson fans: Soletaken are weres able to take a singular form (in Korbal’s case, a raven); as opposed to D’ivers, who are weres who can take multiple forms (like a swarm of rats or spiders).