Blood Follows - Steven Erikson

Reviewed for Usenet (or see Google archive).

Blood Follows
Steven Erikson
PS Publishing
ISBN: 190288034X (Amazon link (optimistic)) (Abebooks (realistic))

Steven Erikson is the author of the massive, and massively popular, fantasy series Malazan Book of the Fallen. Clumsy series title, cliche ridden plotting, over the top characterisation, and sometimes purple prose - I'm a fan. Seriously, I contemplated giving up several times before I was even a dozen pages into the first book, Gardens of the Moon. I couldn't get past the dragons, thieves' guild, and stupidly-powerful-flying-elves-with-magic swords, and worse, there were names with ap'os'trophe's. Then something strange happened. Within another dozen pages I was enjoying myself, and within a dozen more I was quietly impressed. The series is now up to book five, Midnight Tides, and is still interesting. Not perfect by any means, but interesting.

Blood Follows is a small press novella spun off from the Malazan series, though it appears to be a slightly disconnected alternate version of the world (Mell'zan?) according to some curious conversations within the story - or else the author is just having fun, and doesn't want to have to weave this into the canonical backstory of his primary series. PS Publishing are the small press, with very cool catalogue catering to the rabid collector who wants to pay for a nicely bound, signed, numbered copy of something by a favourite author. Sometimes this is something they won't be able to read elsewhere, and other times the novellas pop up again in bound mainstream editions, edited by PS Publishing's owner, Peter Crowther.

This is actually a re-read for me, in anticipation of the sequel, The Healthy Dead, which is currently sitting on my shelves. I don't seem to have posted anything the first time around, so here's the plot summary: Blood Follows is basically a little murder mystery set in the curious town of Lamentable Moll. The killer is apparently something supernatural and sinister, not surprising given Erikson's typical world-building, and even less surprising given that Lamentable Moll is riddled with old, mostly empty, barrows. There are two main characters; Sergeant Guld is your typical bluff, world-weary, honest cop, and has little time for the political fall-out caused by the involvement of some of the court, and even less time for the ineffectual magics of the court mage assigned to help him. The killer left few clues, wiping even the minds of those rats and pigeons who might have been witnesses. Rats come up a lot in this story. Adds instant atmosphere. The other major character is Emancipor Reese, an everyman with bad luck, shallow pockets, a miserable wife, and two mangy kids (his, but not of his blood). He's not happy as his employer is the latest victim, though Reese is less upset about the end of his employer than by the end of his employment. Luckily for him, an opportunity soon arises, as a pair of gentlemen have advertised for a man-servant. As befits the setting they turn out to be a curious pair of gentlemen in that they offer Reese too much money with too few questions asked, and only one of them is ever seen. Complications ensue.

Obviously, the scope for murder mystery subtlety in a novella of < 90 pages is limited, and what this should really be read for is the trademark blend of supernatural horror and character driven comedy. Erikson's world feels layered with history and magic, and I've always liked the messy array of players on the cosmic stage. This is a world where the blessing of a god is really worth having, but maybe not something to be desired, but then gods are just some of the players, and not all Ascendants, or would be Ascendants, are gods. It's a complicated sort of world for a simple man with a wife, two kids and bills to pay to become involved in. There's little or no plot tie-in with the main Malazan series, but there's enough overlap in world building that Blood Follows would probably be an unsatisfying standalone read, raising endless questions about what's going on. Who's Hood? What's a Warren? What's a Mortal Sword? A Soletaken? (The again, that's pretty much the feeling you get when starting Gardens of the Moon too. Personally, I like that in media res approach, and think the onion skin layers of background are part of what Erikson's books something other than just Extruded Fantasy Product.)

Recommended to Erikson fans, but hard to justify seeking out for readers new to his world.

Posted: Thu - August 5, 2004 at 09:37 PM