Reviewed by I O’Reilly
I was unremittingly ignorant of the characters of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach when I picked up this book, having heard people whisper about the awesomeness of the Malazan series but, as yet, not quite getting around to tackling it. It had been pegged in my literary imagination as one of those long, epic cycles of books that you could build a house out of and use the dust jackets for the wallpaper.
In short, you could say I was kind of daunted by the prospect.
THE WURMS OF BLEARMOUTH on the other hand, is entirely different. For one, it is only just over 120 pages. With that kind of brevity Erikson wastes no time in getting to action, as the very first scene introduces us to a mad necromancer busy attempting to assert his evil rule through the power of lyric verse, and torturing his own brother. Throw into the mix a rancid village full of the hopeless and helpless, and then the slightly sociopathic heroes Bauchelain, Broach and Emancipoor Reese and you can see that we have a tale full of murder and mayhem.
The story itself reads a little like Shakespeare-gone-TARANTINO, with a fully developed sense of glam and irony as Erikson pokes fun at his own creations.
There is a shipwreck amidst a storm (owing in part to the fact that unlucky Emancipoor Reese is the unluckiest soul ever to not-drown, as every boat he has ever sailed on has capsized), which brings to the shores of the horrible little spit of land called Spendrugle, our protagonists. Instead of defeating the evil necromancer Lord Fangatooth Claw the Render (yes, you did read that name right), the gentleman-rogue Bauchelain and his manservant Korbal Broach instead decide to have dinner with him.
There is also a Witch and a cursed statue, a tax-collector and an inn full of more ladies of negotiable virtue than you could shake, well, whatever it is you shake in those sorts of circumstances.
Yep you’ve got it, this is a farce. A bit like of comedy of errors, but the errors are all character flaws and outrageous characters. There are characters called Spilgit Purrble and Warmet Humble, Whuffine and Tiny. The prose oozes mud and depravity with a general ‘ick’ factor that makes you yearn for a fantasy with more elves and magic swords.
But that is the point with Erikson, isn’t it? He isn’t presenting here a story in a ‘classic’ fantasy world. Sure there is magic and tunics and blouses and swords, but I get the feeling that Erikson has stripped all of the shiny bits out of this fantasy world and is heading straight for the dark, horrible bits where all good tales are made. Most of the book is light in style with character dialogue that will have you laughing out loud, but at times Erikson delivers a line straight to the jugular:
â€œFaith was a claw hammer to pry loose the boards beneath the commonryâ€™s feet, an executionerâ€™s axe to lop off the heads of unbelievers, a flaring torch to set light to the kindling, crowding a thrashing fool bound to a stake.â€
On the whole I do not think that this story is for everybody. If you like your heroes admirable and their thoughts noble then stay away! However, if you like stories that are knowingly having fun with their own genre, or you are just fascinated to learn more about the sorts of people that inhabit the world of the Malazan then you will find the WURMS OF BLEARMOUTH a singular treat.