Fantasy Book Review: The Fiends of Nightmaria by Steven Erikson

Fantasy Book Review

Horned dragon skull sitting before burning village
The Fiends of Nightmaria
Author: Steven Erikson
Publication Date: March 16, 2021
Publisher: Tor Books
Genres: Epic Fantasy

For an author with such a flair for complex, densely woven epic fantasy, Steven Erikson also has a deft touch for witty banter and darkly madcap humor. In his Malazan Book of the Fallen, that humor is often used to contrast the often crushing sense of despair, but in the Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach it takes center stage.

For a novella, there’s a lot going on in The Fiends of Nightmaria. Bauchelain and Broach themselves (along with Emancipor Reese) are largely relegated to a framing device, but the story is too much fun for me to complain about that. The Monty Python-esque scenes of the artists and poets awaiting torture in the dungeon are some of the most amusing stuff he’s ever written, while the over-the-top parody of sword-and-sorcery quests explored with The Party of Five (or four or six or maybe seven) is laugh-out-loud funny in a Three Stooges kind of way. You have to read it to appreciate it, but there’s a scene involving being tossed atop a wall (and impaled on a spike) that made me giggle, and another involving two ends of a rope and a rather abrupt descent into a well that made me groan.

There’s also some rather absurd humor involving Bauchelain, Broach, the act of summoning a demon, and a conversation with said demon that is somehow both stupid and brilliant all at once. And then there’s the subtle humor of the narrative itself, with little throwaway lines like “He watched a spider chase a mouse across the floor” that, if you catch them, leave you smiling. Really, the only thing that fell flat for me was the Ambassador’s speech impediment, which might have some comic value on-screen, but which stops the story dead as you try to decipher it via text.

The Fiends of Nightmaria is fun stuff, but probably best reserved for fans for serious Malazan fans, and probably best enjoyed as a breather between those big, seriously epic books.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.