Thursday, February 19, 2015

[Review] The Wurms of Blearmouth

Tyranny comes in many guises, and tyrants thrive in palaces and one-room hovels, in back alleys and playgrounds. Tyrants abound on the verges of civilization, where disorder frays the rule of civil conduct and propriety surrenders to brutal imposition. Millions are made to kneel and yet more millions die horrible deaths in a welter of suffering and misery.

But leave all that behind and plunge into escapist fantasy of the most irrelevant kind...

When I first delved into Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen (around the time I began this blog, back in 2009), it was such a great experience to know that I had a lot of Malazan-stuff ahead of me (ten fat novels from Erikson, Ian C. Esslemont's additional books, and a number of novellas) - an overflowing of fantasy goodness, compared to the one or two books a decade from Mr. Martin. Even when I had finished The Crippled God, the tenth book of the main cycle, Malazan-books were published at such a frequent rate that for a long time I had something new to read that I was really looking forward to - until after Forge of Darkness, the first of Erikson's new prequel trilogy. Suddenly, the waits became longer. Not Martin-long in any sense, but still, after indulging in so much Malazan goodness for so long, I suddenly had the feeling that the well was finally dry. However, there was one novella that had eluded me, which I finally bought as a Christmas present for myself, which was The Wurms of Blearmouth, latest tale featuring Erikson's trio Bauchelain, Korbal Broach, and Emancipor Reese (Mancy). 

The tales of these three figures (who first appeared in Memories of Ice) are relatively short, yet just as dense and strange as you'd expect from Steven Erikson. They are quirkier, with more droll humor and less of the serious, deep themes pervading the main cycle, which makes it feel as if these tales are not meant to be taken as seriously. The weird thing is that they still take place within the same boundlessly creative setting; and without knowing a little bit about the main setting, The Wurms of Blearmouth might not be as easy to understand. 

Density comes from the sheer amount of characters Erikson squeezes into the short tale; there are as many POVs here as in A Game of Thrones, if not more. You constantly jump between heads (so to speak), but it isn't as complicated a tale as the full novels, so it's not really a problem. Throughout the tale there's a lot of fun to be had, and I chuckled more than once, absolutely. It was good to see Erikson back at what he does best, after the disappointing Willful Child Star Trek-parody. 

Each character, strange as they are, feel fully fleshed out and alive, the setting is suitably grim, and you just never know what to expect from the next paragraph. Constantly surprising, the story twists and turns toward a fun conclusion. In tone and style, the novella follows on from the previous Baucehelain & Korbal Broach tales (Blood Follows, Crack'd Pot Trail, The Healthy Dead, and The Lees of Laughter's End), but feels less experimental yet more character-driven. There are some absolutely insane ideas tucked inside the covers of this 200-page novella, I won't spoil them here, but I assure you, my eyebrows were raised more than once. 

The one thing that left a bad taste in my mouth, is that once again there's a certain misogyny shining through certain parts of the text. Women are treated - not all of them, mind you - as chattel (which is partially due to the nature of the story - a central feature is a brothel masquerading as a tavern) and most men seem to think mostly with the wrong head. This also troubled me slightly in Willful Child, but is not as blunt here, fortunately. Now, I do not doubt in any way that Steven Erikson is a nice fellow and that he in no way is as misogynistic as any of his characters, but its a feature of his writing that has become noticeably more prominent in his latest works, and I am not sure the story would have been just as fun and engaging if this element was a bit more subdued. Or I'm just getting old. 

The dialogue is, as usual, fun and engaging, the banter between characters top notch. Through it all, Erikson - as always - manages to say a thing or two about life, death, taxes, and other themes that engage him, but he does not dwell on any particular subject for too long (given the shortness of the text). Sarcasm and irony add to the experience, as do the Malazan-specific details that a reader without prior knowledge would miss (sembling D'ivers, how godhood works, Hood etc.) 

Even so, I would recommend this novella to anyone in need of a chuckle, a fast-paced fantasy tale with a dash of the absurd, but at times so strongly written I am left wondering how the heck this man manages it. What a writer, folks. 

Here's an interesting essay on writing, which the man published on his blog a few days ago. It shows how much thought he put into the writing process, creativity, world building et al. I love reading the man's thoughts. As I've said before, I have a suspicion he's a genius. And he remains the best at fan relations, as witnessed by his continual interaction with the re-readers at TOR. Speaking of TOR and re-reading, Bill Capossere and Amanda Rutter have just started their re-read of Ian C. Esslemont's Orb Sceptre Throne, starting with the Prologue.

No comments:

Post a Comment