Friday, January 04, 2008

Review: The Lees of Laughter’s End by Steven Erikson

(n) lees: the sediment (dregs) from fermentation of an alcoholic beverage; the solid element which precipitates at the end of the fermentation; cells of dead yeast, pulp of berries and, in red wines, pips and grape-skin.
The Lees of Laughter’s End is the third published novella (second chronologically) by Steven Erikson that follows the horrifically strange and powerful duo, Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, and their inept manservant, Emmacipor Reese (known to the sailors as Mancy the Luckless). These novels take Erikson’s typical dark, gallows humor and turn it more sardonic and even absurd as these two enigmatic mages (at least one of which is psychotic) attract powerfully strange events.

Laughter’s End is a swath of ocean within Erikson’s Malazan world where nightmares come to life – it’s the place the huge and monstrous dhenrabi go to mate, where sharks that would dwarf Jaws both feed and flee the spoils. It’s a place where spirits of the dead have the power to rise, to become solid elements – particularly spirits bound to the iron nails ships are constructed from.

The Suncurl is a ship traveling The Wastes on its way from Lamentable Moll to the southern coast of Genebakis. The captain knows nothing of sailing and is accompanied by three deserter soldiers and a drunken first mate (who actually knows a bit sailing) as they flee Stratum for unknown reasons. In Lamentable Moll they took on a new crew and three passengers – Bauchelain, Korbal Broach, and Mancy the Luckless.

The Lees of Laughter’s End begins as the Suncurl is about to enter Laughter’s End and the horrors it will awaken. A creature new to Erikson readers – a lich – is raised and terrorizes the crew while Korbal Broach goes fishing with some interesting bait and lets his ‘child’ out its cage to ‘play’ with the lich – things begin to get bloody. Who will be the lees of this fermented mess?

Erikson has gift with names that is unmatched in The Lees of Laughter’s End and adds to the perfectly dark and sardonic prose. Gust Hubb, Birds Mottle, and Heck Urse are deserter soldiers who along with the rest of crew are subjected to a horrific chain of events, made comic in its random, pointlessness absurdity. First mate Ably Druther does indeed ‘druther’ ably and eventually meets an appropriate end. Briv the Cook’s helper, Briv the Carpenter’s helper, and Briv the rope braider inspire a running ‘who’s on first’ routine culminating in a scene with all three in the same place, epitomizing the dark and absurd hilarity of the novella.

Erikson’s novellas are great examples of short fantasy that could be accessible to any audience, but will be most appreciated by those familiar with his Malazan series. The price and limited nature of their release makes them difficult to come-by for the average reader, but if you have means or opportunity, I recommend take it – Erikson’s writing is better in short form than long and the humor is perfect for a mind like mine. The Lees of Laughter’s End easily equals Blood Follows and The Healthy Dead. 8/10

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