Welcome to the Malazan Reread of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda, and finally comments from Tor.com readers. In this article, we’ll continue our coverage of Crack’d Pot Trail.
A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novel and whole-series themes, narrative arcs that run across the entire series, and foreshadowing. Note: The summary of events will be free of major spoilers and we’re going to try keeping the reader comments the same. A spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.
A few quick notes re the World Fantasy Conference this past weekend. Steven read a decently long excerpt from the newest Bauchelain and Broach novella, and let me say that it was laugh out loud hysterical from start to finish, with listeners wiping tears out of their eyes and rocking in their seats as he related what has to rank as one of the most inept break-in attempts in history by a group that makes the Three Stooges look like a group of Manhattan project scientists. Seriously, seriously funny. I may very well have to retract my statement earlier that Crack’d Pot Trail is my favorite novella. We’re all in for a treat, believe me.
Meanwhile, Cam read a great tease from Dancer’s Lament, which if not quite so riotously funny still has us laughing out loud throughout. I don’t want to say too much about that one though as it was more plot-centered. Let’s just say Jaghut’s humor remains alive and well.
Crack’d Pot Trail Part Five
Brash announces he’s going to sing Anomandaris by Fisher kel That. Apto chokes, a mule bites Flea, and the mules laugh. When Ambertroshin just points out the mules are hungry, Tulgord Vise asks where he’s from. Ambertroshin answers Theft, and says it’s an interesting story that brings him here, and if they run out of tales, he can maybe offer one up for a night or two. When Arpo Relent asks if he’d do so for his life, Ambertroshin answers he’d probably sicken anyone who ate him, but more importantly, his boss the Dantoc, “being a powerful woman rumoured to be skilled in the sorcerous arts,” wouldn’t be so thrilled at her servant being killed. The host says he didn’t she the Dantoc was a sorcerer, and Ambertroshin says they are only rumors. When Arpo asks what “Dantoc” means, Ambertroshin says he hasn’t a clue; he assumes it’s some sort of title. Nobody seems to have heard the title, though Apto, who is from the region, says she is well known in the city, is powerful and perhaps feared, and is rumoured to have gotten her wealth by trading slaves. Brash interrupts by crying out, “Anomandaris!” a cry repeated by the vulture nearby, to everyone’s (save the mules) surprise. They tell him he can go on with this tale.
He begins in, much to Flicker’s dismay, the poet’s Stentorian voice that “seeks to import meaning and significance to every damned word.” He begins in torturous rhyme and when Calap Roud complains that Fisher’s wasn’t a slave to rhyme, Brash says he’s making the original “accessible to everyone, even children.” To which Roud responds, “It’s a tale of betrayal, incest, and murder, what on earth are you doing singing it to children.” Brash argues the young are fine with it, and need such material to stay interested. . He starts up again, but Tiny points out he must have skipped a verse or two, warns him it better start getting funny, and then he and his brothers start divvying up who gets to eat which parts. The story soon degenerates, as does the audience response. Nifty interrupts with a story of a wicked witch and her husband who spoke the language of beasts. She tries to teach him love and when he spurned her, she vowed to kill all men (or at least shave their chests and thus steal their power). He then explains the city was named Tomb and this is what confused Fisher (why he set Anomandaris in a tomb not the city Tomb). Nifty continues that Tomb’s king was Draconus, and he had two daughters, “shaped of clay and sharp stones, neither possessed a heart.” As he starts to explain their names and why they chose them, the Chanters start discussing killing him. Brash jumps in to say Rake kills Draconus and gets the sword, then whines they can’t vote yet because he never got to the funny part. Tulgord Vise tells him to quite whining: there’s lots of time, they have leftovers, and the bigger priority is water.
Flicker jumps in with his story about the knights hunting Bauchelain and Broach. He says as well in the group is a “strange and silent man who walked like a hunter… yet in his life could be seen the ragged scrawl of a soldier’s cruel life.” He says a soldier’s prayers are begging for “life and righteous purpose… pulling the god down… begging voiced as a demand.” The soldier of his tale has “abandoned redemption” and seeks only to rid the world of the “stain” of Bauchelain and Broach. But when he says this is what makes the former soldier more noble than the others, Arpo Relent objects that the “Well Knight serves only the Good, the Wellness of the soul.” When he starts of litany of good living though, Tiny points out he still ate human flesh last night, to which Arpo replies it was out of “necessity.” Flicker calls that a word the hunter/soldier understands well, and goes on to talk of the hunter/soldier’s vow that demands so much of him, “the god of his vow.” Steck Marynd interrupts to tell Flicker he presumes much. Flicker answers they all do, and explains his story is merely that—as story; the characters are not the group members: “To noble Purse Snippet I paint a scene close enough to be familiar.” Steck calls that BS, saying he’s just stealing from what’s around him and calling it “invention.” Flicker explains, “Each listener… shall fill in and buttress up as he or she feels fit.” Apto doesn’t understand how changing a few names and “pretending” it isn’t what it is can be labeled imaginative or why Flicker would bother once he’s just said what he’s doing. Purse Snippet interrupts to ask how the group in the story is doing, and Flicker says not well, “the enemy has drawn close, closer than any among them is aware.” Tulgord Vise draws his sword partway ready for an attack, and warns Flicker to not be coy if he knows something. Flicker answers he knows nothing special, and this is an example of Vise bring his own “clutter of details” to the story and building “something monstrous.” Tiny announces nothing can happen—no votes or decisions—can happen while he sleeps. Purse Snippet shuts him down, telling him she will decide what happens to Flicker, she alone. Auto asks how Flicker’s doing so far, and she replies not so great, but she’ll wait a bit.
Flicker says those non-artists hearing this story can’t imagine the “sudden prickling sweat that bespeaks performance,” the fears of the artist: what if the audience is comprised of idiots, of tasteless oafs? What are they thinking as they look at me, listen to me, read me? What if they hate me? What do they want? What do any of them want? What if I just, didn’t anymore?
Tiny starts complaining again and when Arpo Relent calls him a thug, the Chanter brothers explain how Tiny is a king, how they threw out the Crimson Guard and now rule Stratem. When the others express some skepticism, they reveal Tiny is a necromancer, which really raises the hackles of Steck and the Knights. As tension spikes, Tiny warns them he’s the “deadliest person here, best you all understand that.” Tulgord accuses him of bluffing, daring him to take on the Mortal Sword of the Sisters. Tiny though mocks the idea that the Sisters care about mere “irritants” like Bauchelain and Broach, saying it is merely Vise’s pride driving him, his anger at being made a fool of by the two sorcerers. When it looks like it might come to violence, Tiny tells Midge to pick someone, and when Midge choose Sellup, Tiny kills her and then raises her, much to her dismay. Nor is Nifty happy one of his fans has been killed. Brash, on the other hand, points out that helps with the food problem. Steck tells Tiny that he (Steck) has made a living off of killing necromancers for hire and he’s acquired a loathing for them in that process. Tiny points out Steck can’t get them all with his one quarrel, but the Knights side with Steck. Brash thinks this is all great, and Tiny angrily notes the poets are the ones who caused all the trouble. Meanwhile, Sellup advances on Nifty saying she still loves him, and he flees her embrace. Oggle and Pampera head off in pursuit. After a few moments of poetry back and forth, Arpo wonders if in fact Nifty is running from them, not Sellup. Vise says they won’t get far and they group continues on, with a lot of “I’ve got an eye on you” and “I’ve made my point.”
Didn’t you get a little excited when you saw we were going to hear some of Anomandaris? And then, oh my god, the poem we do get. For the first few lines you’re like, wait, what did I miss, this can’t be Fisher. I mean, really, it can’t be. Was this in the days when he was in a boy band or something? So, so painful those rhymes. And don’t get me started on that “sword still to waken…”
And having attended many a creative writing reading, I couldn’t help but laugh at Flicker’s aside about the “stentorian cadence… that seeks to impart meaning and significance to every damned word, even when no such resonance obtains.” Believe me, I’ve been in an audience wondering why that “the” got so much intonation…
And tell me this doesn’t have resonance in today’s culture, the idea that some think the only way to keep a youthful audience attentive is to throw lots of sex and violence at them.
And then there’s the idea that either everything needs to be made accessible to children or that it needs to be dumbed down for them. Two ideas I personally can’t stand.
I did love the closet part though.
Finally, Nifty starts to tell us a good story (I like Flicker’s too, but that’s a whole different, um, story). But does anyone else find something sneaky about having a “wicked witch,” “a rabbit hole,” and a “carrot patch”?
Flicker is good with the words though, isn’t he? Do you think it’s a coincidence that so much of this sounds like “Malazan” style—talk of soldiers and gods and necessity and justice etc.?
So what do you all think of Steck? Think we’ll find out more about him? Do you think there is more to him?
So is Flicker bringing in some reader response theory here, with this idea of the readers filling in stories with their own personal baggage, with what they bring to the story? Do any two readers hear/read the same story, even if the words are the same?
You have to love Snippet’s steeliness when she shuts down Tiny and his brothers.
So this is the second reference to Bauchelain and Broach being “closer” than thought. Does Flicker know more than he’s letting on? If not Flicker, does our actual author? Are they nearby? Just how nearby if so? We’re almost halfway through (44%) and still no sign of our “heroes.” What’s with that? I do think this is a good place to raise their names again, as Erikson’s audience has to be getting a little restless at this point. Plus, once again, add a bit more suspense.
Speaking of adding suspense, this is a great moment of tension as the non-artist group members line up against each other and Tiny reveals his necromantic power. Even better than the tension within the scene itself though, which is nicely taut and then broken up with some dark comedy via Sellup, is how the tension now ripples forward as the reader has to wonder if violence will break out within the group and also wonder how Bauchelain and Broach might fare against this group when they show up (they will show up right, the reader is wondering)
Bill Capossere writes short stories, essays and plays; does reviews for the LA Review of Books and Fantasy Literature, as well as for Tor.com; and works as an adjunct English instructor. In his non-writing and reading time, he plays ultimate Frisbee (though less often and more slowly than he used to) and disc golf.