Thursday 6 May 2010

Crack'd Pot Trail by Steven Erikson

Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, the Nehemoth, “quarry of ten thousand stone-eyed hunters”, travel the Crack’d Pot Trail across the Great Dry to the city of Farrog, but we travel instead with a motley group in hot pursuit: hunters of the Nehemoth, pilgrims to the Shrine of the Indifferent God, and poets heading for the Festival of Flowers and Sunny Days, in hope of being crowned The Century’s Greatest Artist (an annual event). On the twenty-third day of a twenty-two day journey the more muscular members of the party decide to start eating the artists in the party, forcing them into a competitive Scheherazade.

The book begins bravely, testing the reader’s patience with twenty-two pages of italics, introducing a huge cast of characters in deliberately overblown language, and it never stops being brave. If Erikson’s huge commercial novels are as peculiar as this I look forward to reading them. Crack’d Pot Trail is clever, playful, subtle, tense and gruesomely funny, and a defiant rumination on the relationship between reader and writer. “What if my audience is composed of nothing but idiots?” asks the narrator. “Raving lunatics! What if their tastes are so bad not even a starving vulture would pluck loose a single rolling eyeball?” Erikson puts his poets and storytellers in a situation where their lives depend upon their ability to sway such an audience.

When the reader is asked, “Am I slave to your expectations, sir? Does not a teller of tales serve oneself first and last?” it’s hard not to be reminded of songs like the Stereophonics’ Mr Writer or Nirvana’s In Bloom, where bands rounded on the critics (“snarky homunculi”, per this book) and fans who didn’t understand them, and at times you may wonder if Erikson is taking his Amazon reviews a little too seriously. Yet he offers good advice: “To be a living artist is to be driven again and again to explain oneself, to justify every creative decision, yet to bite down hard on the bit is the only honourable recourse, to my mind at least. Explain nothing, justify even less.” Thematically and philosophically rich, exquisitely written, and extraordinarily tense: this was my favourite sword and sorcery book in years.

Crack’d Pot Trail, Steven Erikson, PS Publishing, hb, 182pp.

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