There's nothing like the sea air for rejuvenating you, so you'd figure an ocean voyage would be just what the doctor ordered for Emancipor Reece. The luckless servant of necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach is in need of the tranquillity and peace that is supposedly offered to those who travel those wide open expanses. Sure he has gainful employment that takes him far away from his wife and the children she claims are his, but as we've seen in previous titles featuring him and his masters, Blood Follows and The Healthy Dead, working for necromancers hasn't been without its disadvantages.
Having to leave town in a hurry when their habits have disturbed the locals too much is the least of the tribulations that has driven Reece to find various means to render himself insensate. It was one such occasion which forced him to book passage for his masters and himself on a vessel not asking many questions about its passenger's reason for travel or recent history. Unfortunately for Reece the captain and crew of the good ship Suncurl haven't been completely forthcoming when it comes to their own provenance, meaning they're all in for some unpleasant surprises during the course of the voyage.
While not much can ruffle Bauchelain's equanimity, after all his travelling companion in an effort to compensate for the loss of his manhood (Broach is a eunuch) has constructed a child out of living organs that he's removed from other humans, even he is a little put out to find that not only has a lich manifested on board, but a god is after the little ship as well. While the lich, a being composed of a multitude of souls that manifests as the bodies of said souls mashed together, is trouble enough when it starts grabbing crew members in an effort to bulk up, the god and the reason it's chasing the ship could be more than even the combined talents of Bauchelain and Broach together can handle.
Welcome to author Steven Erikson's third book devoted to the adventures of three characters who played a small roll in his epic series The Malzan Book Of The Fallen. Published by Nightshade Books The Lees Of Laughter's Endreunites readers with the two most likeable evil characters you're liable to ever meet. As long as you skirt over their nastier habits, and the fact that their very presence sends shivers up and down most people's spines, as evil necromancers go these two aren't such bad sorts, even when you get to know them. Why Bauchelain is probably one of the most urbane and witty types you'll ever meet. All right so he has any number of demons that he has summoned at his disposal, and could probably peel the flesh from your bone with a spell if he was so inclined, but everybody has their little foibles.
It's unfortunate that Korbal Broach doesn't share any of his partners more redeeming features when it comes to social interactions, but he's shy by nature and prefers to skulk in the shadows and avoids most company. On the other hand it's doubtful you'd want to meet him under those circumstances either, because he's usually out hunting for "components" to add to his child. So unless you're prepared to become an unwilling live organ donor, you'd best avoid dark allies when Korbal is in town.
Needless to say both gentlemen are also exceptionally handy to have on your side in a fight, so the crew of the Suncurl are quite prepared to overlook any and all of the duo's nastier habits when the screaming starts and crew members start vanishing in the hold of the ship. However even they can't prevent the lich from wrecking havoc and when the god shows up, from securing his prize. Yet in the end our erstwhile heroes and their faithful manservant come through this scrape relatively unscathed, and with enough of the ship and crew intact to continue their voyage.
Those who are familiar with Erikson's from the Malazan series have come to know and love his ability to create memorable characters and fascinating story lines. However, what they might not be as aware of is his very macabre sense of humour. It's not often an author can make the actions and behaviour of a blood thirsty monster funny, but listening in on the lich as its various souls complain, voice opinions, and generally argue amongst itself is as funny a bit of writing that will turn your stomach as you've probably ever read.
It's not just the demons who are fun to read about either, the motley assortment of crew are as strange and original as any of the odd characters Erikson has created to populate the fringes of his world in the past. The Captain and her three companions turn out to be something other than just your standard sea faring folk, being ex-members of a city guard who stole from the city they were supposed to be guarding and took to the sea in an effort to put their former employers behind them. Unfortunately aside from just stealing coin of the realm, the also lifted some statues from the treasury, which is what has attracted the attention of the god who is in hot pursuit of the ship.
While the sea voyage might not have agreed with Emancipor Reece so far, and the crew's numbers have been drastically reduced, those of us merely observing the action on board the good ship Suncurl are having a great time. I don't think I've read an author who can make gruesome as funny or bring it to life with such skill and wit as Erikson does in The Lees Of Laughter's End. Others might be as funny, but nobody can match him for intelligence and character creation. His ability to take the absurd to its logical conclusion - if a creature like a lich is made up of multiple souls it only makes sense that it would occasionally argue amongst itself - is what separates him from most others and keeps a reader in stitches.
If you've read other books set in the world of The Malazan Book Of The Fallen series, you'll appreciate this stand alone story featuring Bauchelain and Korbal Broach for the different view of the world it offers. However, even if you've not read anything else by Erikson, you'll find a lot to enjoy in this odd little tale. Originally published in England by PS Publishing, Nightshade Books has now made The Lees Of Laughter's End available to North American readers and it can be purchased either directly from their web-site or any discerning on line retailer.
(Originally posted July 2009)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.