One of the crasser ways devised by television producers to cash in on the popularity of a show was the “spin off”. This usually involved taking a second-tier character from an original show and trying to make something out of nothing for no other reason than to make more money.
Almost invariably, these shows were not only inferior to the originals but would never last more then one or two seasons. The problem was that most supporting characters didn’t have the substance to base a show around. They had been created with the purpose of being incidental to the main action and that quickly became obvious when the spotlight shone on them. Just because a character could grab an audience’s attention for 30 seconds a week didn’t mean he or she was interesting enough to have their own show.
In the literary world spin offs aren’t as common as they are in television. They are rare enough occurrences to make them noteworthy if for no other reason than the author has been able to find the time to write about secondary characters. Therefore when Steven Erikson, best known for the 10-book series The Malazan Book Of The Fallen, began writing novellas featuring three characters who made a brief, yet memorable, appearance in one of his books, I decided to check them out.
Everything I had by Erikson up to that point was worth reading, so the chances were good these would be too. That the characters in question, the necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach and their man servant Emancipator Reece (also known as Mancy the Unlucky for his history as a sailor on doomed ships and the fact that all of his prior employers had meant untimely ends) had made an indelible impression in their brief appearance, was evidence there was a good chance they could carry a novella on their own.
The Wurms Of Blearmoth, currently available from Britain’s PS Publishing and hopefully soon to be released in North America by Macmillan who have published three previous novellas in omnibus form, is the fourth tale to feature two villains you’ll learn to love to hate and their luckless manservant. (A fifth book, The Crackedpot Trial, focuses on a group of disparate hunters trying to track down Bauchelain and Korbal Broach for the various crimes they have committed against society.)
As we have discovered in their previous adventures evil and villainy are relative terms, and as often as not the two necromancers are relatively benign compared to those they have encounter on their travels.
When the Suncurl, the ship they had boarded to make their hasty exit from the town of Lamentable Moll, finally gives out under them, Bauchelain, Korbal Broach and Emancipator Reece find themselves wading ashore at one of the most desolate outposts in West Elingarth, Spendrugle of Blearmouth. Why anyone would want to hold sway over such a backwards outpost is unknown, but Lord Fangtooth Claw the Render, has only recently usurped his brother to take control of the remote backwater.
That he takes his position as local tyrant seriously is made clear by his keeping his brother chained in the dungeons of his moulding keep for a bit of routine torture, his edict that all newcomers be brought to said keep in order to be put to death and his employment of a scribe to make sure his words are remembered for posterity. While Fangtooth is ruler of this little cesspit, the town’s inhabitants are more than his equal when it comes to being memorable.
From the inn keeper/madam with the strange additions to her anatomy and her beautiful yet simple daughter, the ex-tax collector who plots to leave the town with the aforementioned daughter, the town’s sole militia member who carries out his master’s edict of arresting all newcomers, to the hung man who refused to die and to the strange old fellow who lives in a cabin by the beach, the town seems filled out of proportion to its size with the weird and the odd.
Yet as strange a collection of folk they might be, they are still woefully unprepared for the onslaught of visitors they are about to receive. For not only do everyone’s favourite necromancers make it ashore from the wreck, so do three of the boat’s crew. These three bring with them a history that includes a posse of heavily armed, but not very intelligent, soldiers intent on bringing them to justice for a theft they carried out in a far off land. The first mistake the locals make is treating Bauchelain and Korbal Broach as they would any other visitors – which means being taken up to the keep for Lord Fangtooth’s pleasure.