The Lees of Laughter’s End is the third novella to star the necromantic duo of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, as well as there hapless (and luckless) manservant Emancipor Reese. This novella takes place immediately after our “heroes” have escaped Lamentable Moll aboard the ship Suncurl and now make their way towards the city of Laughter’s End. While its strict chronology might make it a bit of a difficult read for those who missed out on the earlier novellas I felt that this entry was the strongest of the three with the characterization of the three main characters spot on and with the secondary characters sketched with a deft hand.
I am, unabashedly, an Erikson fanboy (perhaps more accuratley a Malazan fanboy) and, while the last couple of main novels were a bit slow, have enjoyed everything he has written so far. I mention this only because I fear my fandom means that I am hardly unbiased when discussing anything Erikson/Malazan related. On terms of pure fiction, absent of a shared world and the readers experience therein, The Lees of Laughter’s End is a bit of a mixed bag. With taught pacing and excellent humor of both the linguistic and slapstick variety the novella stands fairly well on its own. However, it felt to me that all of the aforementioned is predicated on the readers knowledge of the Malazan world. While there are some tidbits dropped by Erikson to explain Malazan related elements, the Forkrul Assail for example, other elements (who Hood is and knowledge of the Warrens) are left unexplained. A good portion of the novella’s humor relies on the soldier banter that is prevalent in the rest of series as well here though the interaction between Heck Urse, Birds Mottle, and Gust Hubb is honed to a razor fine point and punctured by a Three Stooges-esque routine that is played quite expertly. Where the larger Malazan series is the very definition of epic fantasy the Bauchelain and Korbal Broach novellas, and The Lees of Laughter’s End, is something more akin the madcap fantasy.
In truth it might be best to view this entire series of novellas as a kind of “thank you” to fans in one sense and as the palate cleansing sherbet of the Malazan world; a means for Erikson to stretch his humorous legs before returning to the grimmer and more serious toned Malazan series. It is an entertaining side-trip that is fun on its own and at the same time whets the appetite for August’s Dust of Dreams. This isn’t a complaint, merely a statement of the fact and, perhaps, a warning that those unfamiliar with the Malazan world might find this novella a bit difficult to get into. Fans of the Malazan series who haven’t experienced any of these novellas, and who have already encountered the main trio in Memories of Ice, can keep an eye out for the omnibus coming in September. The uninitiated best approach The Lees of Laughter’s End with some caution while Erikson’s writing style will likely delight the lack of explanation visa vi certain Malazan specific elements is enough to make it a bit of a confusing read.