Crack’d Pot Trail is the latest novella by Erikson in his Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach novella series that takes place in his Malazan world – though at 180 pages, I’m not sure it can be truly considered a novella anymore. Bauchelain and Korbal Broach are notoriously evil necromancers and now have a group of honorable hunters dedicated to seeing them dead. The action takes place along a pilgrimage trail in an essentially anonymous desert where hunters, artists, groupies, pilgrims and one critic find themselves on the same trail – a trail of the worst kind of desperation.
The horses of the noble hunters are far too valuable, the mules pulling the coach of a rich pilgrim are far too valuable, but the food is gone people have got to eat. Everyone knows it’s improper to eat women, noble knights, and even critics – leaving the artists, whom everyone also know are not of any real value (except perhaps as dinner). The hapless artists find themselves competing each night to not become dinner as everyone becomes a fan or a critic and grows to enjoy the taste of desperate artist.
Malazan fans will be disappointed that this Tale of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach doesn’t really feature Bauchelain and Korbal Broach much at all – instead we get a whole new suite of characters that could lead into their own serial line of stories. This concentrates on the hunters and the artists that feed them.
As I see it, the most effective way to describe what Erikson is doing with Crack’d Pot Trail is to be blunt and a bit foul. Erikson has balls – balls that Steven Colbert would envy. Erikson has a lot to say on story telling, artistic integrity and intent, fandom, and criticism – and at least some of what he is saying is something of a big FU to his fans and critics alike. As the artists (generally poets and other verbal storytellers) tell there tales in defense of literally being eaten for dinner, the audience often interrupts and questions the artist – why are you talking about that, get to the details, more sex, more violence, etc. Additionally, there is one professional critic among the audience (literally a judge at the contest the artists are ultimately traveling to) – a critic who often jumps in and demands more details and explanations – often about completely inane aspects of the story. The picture painted isn’t pretty…and then it gets nasty.
The point becomes very clear and it bites hard. Hell, one of the groupies for an artist becomes a rather sardonic zombie tagging along the periphery of the trail and the object of her admiration meets and unfortunate end along with the other groupies. After all, what artist doesn’t dream of eating their fans and what fan doesn’t dream of eating the heart out of their beloved?
It’s not all so biting – Erikson tells things from the point of view of one of the artists and through this artist he basically bears all. We see the artist’s view on life, the universe and art. We see his justifications for doing what he does. We see the heart of his intent. It’s only fitting that this artist enters into a separate agreement – a promise to provide redemption to one of his fellow travelers or to die if he fails to satisfy. And the end – is there redemption, is there art, or did a whole bunch of people just die?
And lest I forget – the pilgrimage is to visit the shrine of the indifferent god. That’s not appropriate, not appropriate at all.
Erikson has written something I think all authors dream of writing at one point or another but are either too scared or too smart to actually put on paper. Well, as a fan, a critic, and a far from noble knight, I have to say that I loved every juicy bit of Crack'd Pot Trail – I think I’ve developed a taste for it. 9/10
Related Posts: The Lees of Laughter's End review, Interview with Steven Erikson, Dust of Dreams Review, Toll the Hounds review, Reaper's Gale review, The Bonehunters review, Return of the Crimson Guard review