As you're all undoubtedly aware, over the last few years I became a huge Steven Erikson fan, and I'm always looking forward to the next Malazan installment. Surprisingly, though I can't get enough of The Malazan Book of the Fallen due to it being so ambitious a tale and so vast in scope, the author's hilarious short fiction stories comprised of the Bauchelain and Korbal Broach novellas have been totally satisfying reading experiences. So far at least. . .
Here's the blurb:
It is an undeniable truth: give evil a name and everyone's happy. Give it two names and . . . why, they're even happier.
The intrepid necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, scourges of civilization, raisers of the dead, reapers of the souls of the living, devourers of hope, betrayers of faith, slayers of the innocent and modest personifications of evil, have a lot to answer for and answer they will. Known as the Nehemoth, they are pursued by countless self-professed defenders of decency, sanity and civilization. After all, since when does evil thrive unchallenged? Well, often: but not this time.
Hot on their heels are the Nehemothanai, avowed hunters of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach. In the company of a gaggle of artists and pilgrims, stalwart Mortal Sword Tulgord Vise, pious Well Knight Arpo Relent, stern Huntsman Steck Marynd, and three of the redoubtable Chanter brothers (and their lone sister) find themselves faced with the cruelest of choices. The legendary Cracked Pot Trail, a stretch of harsh wasteland between the Gates of Nowhere and the Shrine of the Indifferent God, has become a tortured path of deprivation.
Will honour, moral probity and virtue prove champions in the face of brutal necessity? No, of course not. Don't be silly.
Having thoroughly enjoyed Blood Follows, The Healthy Dead, and The Lees of Laughter's End, I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into Crack'd Pot Trail. For if I couldn't read Erikson's The Crippled God, then a new novella featuring my two favorite necromancers and their manservant seemed to be the next best thing. Expecting more of the same in style and tone, I was sorely disappointed. Indeed, while the first three novellas were fun-filled reads showcasing the misadventures of this unlikely trio, Crack'd Pot Trail is more akin to a weird experimental theatre play. The narrative is all over the place and often lacks coherence. At times I found myself wondering what the heck this novella was supposed to be about.
I habitually go through Erikson's novellas in one or two sittings, always bemoaning the fact that the end is reached all too rapidly. Yet with Crack'd Pot Trail, it took me about two weeks to finish a 181-page novella. I kept expecting, or at the very least hoping, that Erikson would turn it around with one of his unanticipated twists that would leave me dumbfounded. But alas, in the end the novella turns out to be a collection of reflections on the nature of art, being an artist, and their relationships with inspiration, their fans, and their craft.
Moreover, the novella's focus remains on the various members of the Nehemothanai. Emancipor Reese, Bauchelain, and Korbal Broach don't make a single appearance until the bottom of page 180. Considering that these three are at the heart of the stories, this was a major disappointment.
As always, humor abounds in this latest short fiction piece, but it doesn't always work. Whereas I found myself chuckling often while reading its predecessors, the humor in Crack'd Pot Trail frequently felt strained and wasn't as funny as in the previous novellas.
The ending, at least, promises more interesting adventures to come. Still, Crack'd Pot Trail, based on the potential of the novellas which came before it, can't be considered anything but a letdown.