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 wrap our coverage of Crack’d Pot Trail and the other Bauchelain and Broach novellas.
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.
Crack’d Pot Trail: Wrap
So here we are at the end of the novellas. A few points before we take a holiday break and return in mid/late January with Ian’s Blood and Bone.
If I had to rank these in order of preference, I’d go this way:
- Crack’d Pot Trail
- Wurms of Blearmouth
- The Healthy Dead
- Blood Follows
- The Lees of Laughter’s End
It is a bit ironic that my favorite Bauchelain and Broach novella doesn’t really even have the two in it save as shadows in the background. And I admit, that’s a big loss, as I so love Bauchelain especially. That said, there were several reasons this is my favorite:
The metafictional aspect makes Crack’d Pot stand out from the others. I love the multiple layers to it and the way he plays with the elements of writing as well as the other facets of the creative process—performance, the relationship between artist and critic, between artist and fan. And I’m a sucker for a good Chaucer parallel.
In that metafictional aspect, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the many times Erikson seemed to be speaking directly to his critics: why so much detail? Why not so much detail? Why such language? Why do you do that? And that? And that? Why don’t you do this? And this? And this? All I can think is this must have been both very fun and very cathartic to write.
I liked as well the way it portrays the power of words, of story. And of course the way Flicker “slays” his audience… (sorry). And the way it asks us two major questions involving art, big questions in a short story: Can art be redemptive? Is art relevant in the “real world”?
The structure was another plus for me. On the one hand, there was a relatively tight storyline with the journey and a constant three-fold sense of suspense: one track being which poet would be killed, another track being the suspense over when Bauchelain and Broach would appear (because of course they would, right?), and the third track being when the carriage inhabitant (s) would be revealed (and whether or not they’re in fact Bauchelain and Broach). On the other hand, the novellas offers a slew of digressions as we get several stories, each of which has its own bit of built-in suspense—within the story itself and also due to the fact that each story keeps getting interrupted. More layers upon layers.
It also helped that Flicker I thought was a great character, both as he is developed throughout the novella—his wives, his views on creativity, on humanity—and how he is revealed at the very end. I loved his narrative voice—the language, the playfulness, and the unreliability of it.
It doesn’t stand out among the other novellas in terms of its black humor—after all, all of them have that in spades—but it was still an enjoyable, if unappetizing facet of the novella. Just as the occasional forays into the more serious themes familiar to us all were, such as the relationship between gods and their worshippers, or humans’ inhumanity to other humans.
As I’ve said many a time in our reread, one of my favorite things about fantasy is the way it can literalize the metaphorical. And this is a wonderfully apt metaphor for art/creativity—this idea of consumption. The artist consumed by his work/art. The fans consuming the artists’ work. Even the regurgitation of what one has earlier “consumed.” And the question of where does one draw the line between apt consumption and less so.
Finally, in a series that spends a lot of time confounding expectations, overturning or examining tropes, I absolutely love that this latest novella does that so explicitly by being a “Bauchelain and Broach” novella without having (for all intents and purposes) an appearance by Bauchelain and Broach. Now there’s a stick in the eye for fans and critics alike. Love it!
OK folks, that’s it for Crack’d Pot Trail. Hope to see you (more of you ideally) once we (and it will be we—Amanda will be back!) return to the novels in January (tell your friends, tell your family). Thanks for those that stuck through the novellas!
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.