Fantasy Review: The Wurms of Blearmouth by Steven Erikson

Tehol and Bugg. Kruppe and Iskaral Pust. Telorast and Curdle. These are names that will be instantly familiar to readers of Malazan Book of the Fallen . . . and which bring an immediate smile to the face. It's almost unfair that an author with such a flair for complex, densely woven epic fantasy can also pull off witty banter and darkly madcap humor, but Steven Erikson used those duos exceptionally well to lighten the overall tension and contrast the often crushing sense despair.

In a sense, his Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach are almost like excised chapters, removed from the overall saga, and allowed to stand on their own. More importantly, as much as they are still connected to the overall saga, they can be read as standalone tales, providing new readers with a taste of Erikson's literary magic. They're probably not the best place to start, lest they create an unfair expectation of the series, but you cannot deny their appeal.

The Wurms of Blearmouth is actually the fifth novella to feature Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, the first three of which were conveniently collected in a single volume a few years ago. Originally released as a limited edition back in 2012, Wurms is just making its mass market debut now.

I'd be doing you a huge disservice to try and deconstruct the plot (you really have to experience it to appreciate it), so I'll just settle for highlighting a few favorite elements. Lord Fangatooth Claw the Render is the perfect parody of the over-the-top, scene-chewing villain - he's a pompous, arrogant sorcerer, given to making grandiose speeches, but completely inept at saying anything of substance. He insist that Coingood, his poor scribe, document his every word . . . but revise, reinvent, and rewrite it to sound better.

“Find the clever things he said, Scribe, and change them around.”

Felittle and her mother, Feloovil, are another awkward pairing - the virgin seductress who only wants the chance to be a whore, and the brothel owner who clings to illusion of her daughter's innocence. I tell you, I nearly lost it when long-suffering Emancipor Reese (cursed manservant to Bauchelain and Broach) gets flashed by Feloovil's miraculously enhanced breasts, and nearly driven mad by the sight of those hungry, slavering nipple-mouths. So much horrible fun.

Her breasts had no nipples. Instead, in place of them, were mouths, with soft, feminine lips painted bright red. As he stared, both tits blew him a kiss.

Spilgit Purrble, the self-nominated tax collector; Ackle, the once-dead gravedigger; and Hordilo Stinq, the pirate turned lawman; these three men have some of the best dialogue in the entire story, with bewildering conversations about everything from muddy buckets to shovels attaining a level of wit and cleverness that Erikson somehow pulls off effortlessly. They're largely responsible for driving the story forward, with everybody else really just along for the ride, and our heroes really just having a jolly time baiting their pompous foe in anticipation of an end-game that's as bloody as it is bloody fun.

Spilgit shrugged. “I doubt anyone’d ever claim renting shovels was a profit-making enterprise.”

It's a crazy, madcap tale, and one that will have you laughing out loud on a regular basis. It's a story that bears close reading, however, as much of the magic is contained in the words - both dialogue and narrative. At just over 200 pages, The Wurms of Blearmouth is a perfect sort of literary desert for fans of the Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Paperback, 208 pages
Expected publication: July 8th 2014 by Tor Books


  1. Looking up the first set of books on my iPad right now...

  2. Have to sit down and get into this series. There are just so many books and so many pages in this grand epic that I keep running away from it. : /

  3. This was a surprise arrival on my front porch earlier this week from Tor. I'm tempted to read it as it's a short novella and looks to be a quick read...but I have very limited experience with Malazan Book of the Fallen. The first book only, in fact. That along with this being the fifth installment of novellas, should I even attempt or am I just going to be completely lost?


    1. If you've read the first book, Mogsy, then you're good to go. These side adventures don't really tie too closely into the overall mythology, so you won't be missing anything.


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