Spoiler Free Review: The Fiends of Nightmaria (6th Bauchelain and Korbal Broach Novella) by Steve Erikson (Subterranean Press, 2016)
Bonkers, absurd, silly, fantasy comedy, this time poking fun at dungeon crawls and the often times ridiculous politics of genre fantasy novels… amongst the other usual targets. Sharply written, but did I mention silly, absurd fun? Plus, the Subpress Edition has great artwork.
(Only Slightly) Longer Review:
The king is dead, long live King Bauchelain the First, crowned by the newly en-cassocked Grand Bishop Korbal Broach. Both are, of course, ably assisted in the running of the Kingdom of Farrog by their slowly unravelling manservant, Emancipor Reese.
However, tensions are mounting between Farrog and the neighbouring country of Nightmaria, the mysterious home of the Fiends. Their ambassador, Ophal D’Neeth Flatroq, seeks an audience with King Bauchelain who has thus far rebuffed his overtures. But, the evil necromancer has some other things on his plate.
In order to quell potential rebellion nearly all the artists, poets, and bard wannabes in the city have been put to death, however a few survivors from the Century’s Greatest Artist competition languish in the dungeons bemoaning their fates. Well, just moaning in general really… and maybe plotting escape and revenge.
An added complication is that the Indifferent God is loose somewhere in the bowels of the castle.
But were it not crowded enough down there, an intrepid party of thieves, the (in)Famous Party of Five, have decided to infiltrate the castle in order to rescue the Head of the Thieves Guild who was plucked from the streets shortly after the coup.
So pity the poor folk of Farrog, pity the innocent caught in the necromancers’ diabolical plans… or alternatively, revel in the fantasy farce that is the Fiends of Nightmaria.
Steven Erikson’s novellas detailing the exploits of the necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, along with their long suffering manservant, Emancipoor Reese, are curious things. They are both part of the Malazan world, and yet they are very much apart. The previous novellas have been tongue-firmly-in-cheek parodies and satires of various genres and styles, as well as stories in their own right, and this one follows in that very tradition. Taking aim at dungeon crawls, quest parties and the inexplicable conventions of fantasy races and politics, Fiends is a ridiculous, over-the-top, yet undeniably smart, comic fantasy, with its absurdity turned all the way up to 11.
A defining feature of the B&KB novellas has been the exaggerated, puerile humour, and Erikson delivers this by the bucket full. But by picking up this story shortly after the events of Crack’d Pot Trail, and referencing the events of Blearmouth, there is a strong sense of continuity and development in the over-arching narrative concerning the dastardly trio’s long journey, plus some more tantalising hints about their pursuers. However, one aspect that I personally enjoy about the books, and Fiends is no exception, is the sharp satirical note that Erikson tries to disguise beneath the ludicrous comedy. So many aspects of fantasy writing are punctured here if you just scratch beneath the silly surface layer. Erikson is clearly a writer that knows his tropes and is not afraid to lampoon them or exaggerate them unto absurdia. But as this is the sixth one in the series, you should know what to expect by now.
There is actually not a lot more that I can say at this point without giving away huge chunks of the plot. So let me end by simply saying, Fiends of Nightmaria is ridiculous amounts of silly fun. Bauchelain, Korbal Broach, and Emancipor Reese are back to their usual antics, and chaos ensues. Enjoy.