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The Healthy Dead
Steven Erikson
PS Publishing, 100 pages

The Healthy Dead
Steven Erikson
Steven Erikson was born in Toronto, grew up in Winnipeg, and worked in the UK for several years until returning to Winnipeg a few years ago, where he now lives with his wife and son. He is an anthropologist and archaeologist by training, as well as being a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Gardens of the Moon (1999), his first fantasy novel, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Midnight Tides
SF Site Review: House of Chains
SF Site Review: Blood Follows
SF Site Review: Memories of Ice
SF Site Review: Deadhouse Gates
SF Site Interview: Steven Erikson
SF Site Review: Gardens of the Moon

Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson

In this sequel to Blood Follows, Steven Erikson returns to the exploits of his necrotic duo, the refined yet diabolical conjuror, Bauchelain, his silent, corvine partner Korbal Broach, and their reluctant, world-weary servant, Emancipor Reese. First appearing in Memories of Ice, where they caused all manner of undead havoc, four years have passed since events in Lamentable Moll, where Reese first met his dubious employers, itinerant masters of the dark arts. Their arcane studies and investigations have kept them ever on the road, one step ahead of the armies pursuing them from the last town they frequented. While offering only a nomadic existence amongst companions whose taste and proclivities are disturbing to say the least -- living under the constant threat of arrest and summary execution, and witness to acts that would unhinge a greater man -- Emancipor Reese has nonetheless adjusted to his new life, with the emolument of various medicaments to maintain a restorative daily stupor. But things could be worse, as his married life in Lamentable Moll might testify, and in their own mysterious way, his masters do look out for him, assuming their activities don't kill him first.

Upon arriving at the remote town of Quaint, his employers are solicited by saints to rescue the city from a unique form of despotism: a "considerate king" whose rule represents a plenitude of kindness. Though warned "in this world, there are worse things than a considerate king," those who have solicited the necromancers remain adamant in their desire for relief. Though Reese is baffled by their request, Bauchelain is quick to perceive the inherent evil that can reside in governance for the good of the people:

"Do you not realize, Mister Reese, how perfectly diabolical is this king's genius? Every tyranny imaginable is possible when prefaced by the notion that it is for the well being of the populace."
Intrigued by what, in the necromancers' past experience, is a singular challenge, and finding "the ethical aspects of [the] mission surprisingly... refreshing," Bauchelain is pleased to accept the commission. The only serious problem presented, from Emancipor Reese's perspective, is that he will "play an essential role" in his master's plans.

Parodying our contemporary obsession with health and fitness, as well as probing the notion of what is good for us, Erikson delivers his funniest tale to date, showing he is the equal if not the better of authors such as Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde when it comes to turning fantasy tropes towards contemporary satire and farce. Replete with his usual cast of memorable characters -- Necrotus the Nihile, Storkul Purge or Invett Loath -- as well as a delightful pantheon of deities and demons as often characterized by their foibles as any eminent power, The Healthy Dead significantly adds to the ever-burgeoning narrative and mythic wealth found in the author's Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Those of you already familiar with this series know that it is the most important work of epic fantasy since Donaldson and Tolkien. Unequalled in scope and imagination, and at times measuring the latter's evocative power (read the Chain of Dogs in Deadhouse Gates), Erikson has also brought a new level of allegory and symbolism to his work, while at the same time providing vivid entertainment. To this effort The Healthy Dead is more than a mere aside, and it is difficult to envision you'll read a more enjoyable or satisfying tale this year.

Copyright © 2004 William Thompson

In addition to the SF Site, William Thompson's reviews have appeared in Interzone, Revolution Science Fiction and Locus Online. He also has worked as a freelance editor for PS Publishing, editing The Healthy Dead and Grandma Matchie, by Steven Erikson, and Night of Knives, by Cameron Esslemont. He lives in Mesilla, New Mexico.

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