Welcome back 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 (with Amanda, new to the series, going first), and finally comments from Tor.com readers.
In this article, we’ll cover the prologue of Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Orb Sceptre Throne.
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.
We open as Ebbin wakes and gets his camp organised. He’s a member of the Learned Brethren of the Philosophical Society, and has a dig out in the burial hills near Darujhistan. His two assistants are obviously very professional and very keen to participate… Or not. Ebbin is convinced that his research has brought him to a truth that has lain hidden for many thousands of years.
He accidentally drops his light in the well and it is snuffed out, leaving him to see ‘weak shimmerings’ and ‘lustrous flickerings’, which leads him to believe he has discovered something. “Here may be the tomb of the greatest, and last, of the Tyrant Kings of Darujhistan.” Ooh, that sounds like someone we want to meet!
Ebbin tries to find a new lantern in the camp, but instead is lowered back into the well carrying just a candle. He finds that it looks like the well has been looted, that someone got there before him. He still heads into the tunnel to see what can be found and discovers a rockfall, causing him to think that perhaps what lies behind is still inviolate.
We meet Thenaj, as he tries to release Korus (High Born of Aral Gamelon) from the waves of a shimmering sea of light. Korus wonders if Thenaj is Eleint, since he was not affected by the acid of the sea, but Thenaj says that he is just a man. We find out that at one point he had a different name and doesn’t remember what it is.
The demon claims that he is now Thenaj’s for the service that Thenaj did him, but the latter refuses and makes it clear he doesn’t want to exploit anyone (unlike those he knows who exploit the Warrens).
Baruk is out and about in Darujhistan, working on drawing a new map of the city. He is surprised by the sudden arrival of Kruppe, and ink ends up all over his map.
They talk about the portents that threaten death’s death.
Kruppe talks his customary nonsense that is not nonsense in the slightest, about digging deeper and heaving up things long hidden from the bright glare of the sun.
Baruk appears exhausted at the idea that his determination to keep the circle broken is being affected by recent events, and that, in turn, concerns Kruppe.
We shift attention to the Way of Sighs, and of the arrival of a new dancing talent: “…the unprecedented arrival of a bright new star among the constellation of its most talented practitioners.” It is clear that, despite the gossip, the rest of the dancers have no idea who she is and where she has come from/been trained.
They gossip about her love affair with Jeshin Lim, the cousin of councilman Shardan, and about Lim’s sudden rise to a seat on the Council.
In this scene between Jeshin and his dancer, we see evidence that she is starting to pull away from him—and also that she has been the one to guide his every step on his route to power. Here she tells him about a man who shares his vision for a strong Darujhistan: Humble Measure. She suggests they meet.
Esten Rul enters the monastery where it is said that Traveller, legendary swordsman and slayer of Anomander Rake (*sobs*) now resides.
Esten Rul approaches an old man who is sweeping and declares he is there to challenge Traveller. The old man tells Esten Rul that Traveller has retired. When Esten Rul starts threatening others, the old man says he will take him to Traveller, but only if he can demonstrate his worthiness, which involves going hand to hand with the old man.
Esten Rul heads back down the trail from the monastery and an acolyte asks the old man if he will return. He refers to the man as Master, and we see that this is, in fact, Traveller. Traveller hopes that Esten Rul has taken on board the lesson he was given.
An old woman sits outside her shack and carves a stick beneath the jade light of the Scimitar. Those who live nearby refer to her as ‘that crazy old woman’. She looks up into the night sky with filmy eyes, and mutters: “Almost, now. Almost.”
Ha, so my first thought on reading this opening and meeting Ebbin is that it sounds remarkably like The Mummy, and investigating ancient tombs. Yeah, remember how well that turned out?
And Raest? Yep, we remember him from all those pages ago. He was such a lovely chap—definitely someone whose burial grounds Ebbin should be poking around in…
Ebbin is a typical naive character that you just want to shake. You know everything is going to go wrong with his poking around! Especially when he thinks things like: “And it seemed to him that the tunnel had always been here, undiscovered and patient, as if awaiting him.” Gives a slight sense of foreboding!
And so it begins… It seems like an eternity ago that we were reading Stonewielder, so my chances of actually remembering anything about this shimmering sea of light and therefore who this stranger Thenaj might be is remote. (Sorry, Cam!) But I’m sure we’ll have more hints thrust upon us as we go.
Okay, so with the scene between Kruppe and Baruk the breaking of Dragnipur is mentioned, and that brings home the fact that, for me, it feels so very strange to step back into this world when it seemed as though we already saw the end of the story. I know that stories don’t ever really end, but a ten book fantasy series came to an end not long ago (*mourns again*) and poking around in these extras feels odd. I’ll get immersed soon, no doubt, but for now it feels like pulling on a spring coat when you’re used to being muffled up in winter clothing.
I have missed Kruppe.
And now this dancer introduced—with a quick reminder as well about the politicking that takes place as naturally as breathing in Darujhistan. After the titanic fantasy of The Crippled God, it does feel nice to come back to a more micro situation, with petty squabbles and barbed conversations.
And Taya is a familiar name to us—we last saw her plotting with Mallick Rel. She certainly gets around! It does beg the question what her real intentions are here in Darujhistan, since her last outing involved multiple assassinations!
Esten Rul—such a puffed up fool. I don’t think that anyone would think that his worthiness was sufficient to actually meet Traveller. I am a sucker for scenes where the arrogant fights the least, not realising that they are, in fact, the person they wanted to go toe to toe with.
“I’m going to have to start all over again…”
“As we all should, Master.”
“Well said. Yes. As we all should. Every day. With every breath.”
Welcome back everyone!! Hope you’re all rested and rejuvenated.
Haven’t these people seen Poltergeist? Don’t they know not to mess around with ancient burial grounds?
OK, and then, not just any burial grounds, but the ones from which the “ancient Tyrant Raest” rose up? Hmmm.
Oh all right, the tomb of the “greatest, and last, of the Tyrant Kings of Darujhistan.” Well, what could go wrong there?
I like the detail we get, one based in experience one would assume, of the long-term changes in climate and how they affect archaeology.
So if you recall, we’ve seen this sea of light at the end of Stonewielder. Which may give a clue as to who this amnesiac who calls himself Thenaj might be. Whoever he is, he seems quite upset at those who “exploit” the warrens.
I’ve always enjoyed the few “demons” we’ve seen. Sure, the Malazan world has given us thousand upon thousands of pages, but I could have done with seeing more of the demons. Maybe a novella or two, guys?
Oh Kruppe, I’ve missed you.
So we have an early scene with a “what lies underneath us from the past” concept via the burial grounds. And now we have Baruk laying a new map over an old map—another “what lies underneath us from the past” image. Then we have Kruppe talking about “Perhaps if one dug deeper, though—who knows what might be uncovered? Things long hidden from the bright glare of the sun heaving up gasping and blinking…”
So, the circle “remains broken,” Baruk says, but he’s clearly worried. Something to keep an eye on apparently.
Lots of mysterious folks in this prologue. The amnesiac Thenaj at first. And now a mysterious dancer whose kept her past closed off. Who might she turn out to be—an old face, someone new? Then our Malazan veteran—another identity to wonder about. And then Traveler, “disguised” as an old man sweeping. It seems appropriate therefore that Lim shows up in a mask, or that Taya seems to “struggle to keep something in.”
It wouldn’t be Darujhistan if people weren’t scheming, plotting, worried about Council seats, now would it?
Humble Measure at least is a name familiar to us from earlier books. If you recall, he’s the one who hired the assassins to kill the Malazan veterans in K’rul’s bar.
Admit it, you all knew what was going to happen here with Esten Rul, right?
From an old man with a stick to an old woman with a stick. Certainly an old face, but is she as well an “old face”?
A good opening—clearly something major is coming, we’ve got some old hands reintroduced, some possible old hands, and maybe some brand new ones.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.
Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.