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 chapter one 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.
The setting is the Spawns on the south coast of Genabackis, where the last bits of Moon’s Spawn crashed into the sea, creating a new industry of treasure-seekers and preyers-upon of treasure-seekers where the fragments created new islands. Jallin “the Jumper” spots a new mark he’s planning to kill and rob, an old Malazan veteran. He tells the vet he can get him a boat for a price, and offers to stand him to a drink at the local inn.
At the Inn, Jallin has a momentary second thought when he sees the vet’s scars, but dismisses it, thinking he’s dealt with similar, plus knowing the innkeeper and “guards” are in on the plot with him. A young noble is there as well with a trio of other local thugs. The noble is overheard complaining that it appears the islands have been picked clean and that nobody who has gone out has returned. Jallin tries to assuage the vet’s concerns, and mentions that a Malazan warship pushed through recently but hasn’t been seen since. The vet refuses Jallin’s offer of “help,” and a fight breaks out. The noble warns the vet of Jallin’s attack from behind, and the scene ends with Jallin knocked out or killed.
In Darujhistan, Ambassador Aragan of the Imperial Malazan delegation meets with Commander Torn, the Moranth attaché. Torn tells him that the Moranth Silvers—akin to mages or mystics—have a bad feeling about the burial grounds and want the Malazans to use their soldiers to take them over. Aragan tells him that would be tantamount to an occupation attempt and he can’t, but he agrees he’ll look into it. After Torn leaves, Aragan calls up some troops to be stationed nearby and asks his aide who they have around to do some “off the books” sneak work.
Kiska and Leoman, now lovers, found themselves spat out from the Chaos Whorl (of Stonewielder) onto the “Shores of Creation.” They go in search of the giant they’d seen earlier and find him down the strand. He calls himself Maker and tells them it as been ages since someone last visited and he’s happy that more are coming—one like them (Then-aj-Ehliel) and one not. He leads them to the constructed guide that had let them on back in Stonewielder with Warran. Maker tells them its animating essence is gone but “an even greater potentiality remains.” He tells them the other, a man, came out of the “Vitr—that from which all creation comes… All distills out of the Vitr. And all returns to dissolution.” She asks if it’s really “all” he means—questioning whether it includes the dragons, Tiste, or Jaghut, but at the last one, Maker gets furious and tells her not to speak of the “meddling Jaghut.” He apologizes for his rage, saying, “They have done me a great wound.” As for the Eleint, he tells them he “assisted beings who emerged fully formed from the Vitr. Some took that form. I do not know whether they were the first of their kind, or if others came into existence elsewhere.” As for the Tiste, he says yes, they “emerged from eternal night,” but he believes the “vital essence which animates” comes from the Vitr, or “First Light.” He warns them Then-aj doesn’t remember his prior existence, since he’s passed through the Vitr. He explains Then-aj has been helping him support existence’s edge against the Vitr’s constant erosion. They head down the beach, Kiska hoping Then-aj is Tayschrenn.
Ebbin has spent a month digging and has just opened a tomb with twelve smaller side chambers broken open—all but one of them. Inside he finds lots of skulls and in the center a corpse wearing a golden mask. He needs more tools to try to open the remaining side chamber, and leaves to go ask his backer—Humble Measure—for more money.
Caladan Brood has been camping east of Darujhistan, where emissaries have been coming (from the Free Cities, the Rhivi Plains, and others) asking him to settle various issues. He tells his aide Jiwan he’s worried about a “stirring” he feels. Jiwan thinks he means the Malazans, but Brood tells him that’s not his concern, adding Rake’s absence and what that hole means also worries him. Jiwan leaves, still concerned about “the hated Malazans” and decides to order more warriors to gather just in case.
Rallick Nom stands at the spot where Hood and Rake met their ends. He meets Krute, another assassin, and the two discuss guild news. Rallick tells him Vorcan’s not interested in running things since she’s now on the Council. Krute mocks the Rallick Nom cult, then takes Rallick to show him a pair of assassinated guards. Krute suggests Rallick and Vorcan are on the very short list of people who could have killed them, and Rallick warns Krute Vorcan’s out of his league. Krute tells Rallick the same holds for him.
Rallick goes to see Kruppe, who goes on (and on) about Rallick and Kruppe sitting in a tree (or atop a roof) until Kruppe interrupts to ask if Cutter is in town. Kruppe says no and Rallick, relieved, leaves.
Ebbin meets with Aman to show him some of what he’s discovered. He tells him he’s discovered a sealed room and Aman says he can get some specialized tools and materials to try to open it, including Moranth alchemicals and otataral chisels.
After Ebbin leaves, Aman speaks to Taya, telling her he’s annoyed at her “intrusion” into his affairs. She warns him the house is watched, but he says that’s nothing unusual. She adds she’s killed them, and he complains that now the one who hired the watchers will know he/she is close to something important. Taya merely says she’ll just kill that person too. Aman says another mystery is who the “circle-breaker” is, and he wonders if it might be Taya’s mother (Vorcan). She warns him not to mention her mother again. He points out a statue in his shop, a stone soldier from Jacuruku, “not quite” an automaton he says. He tells her to stick close to Ebbin, saying he’s very close and nothing can happen to him now. She wonders why he doesn’t go down himself, and he scoffs, pointing out the wards won’t allow someone like him—someone who has killed, someone who lusts for personal gain, etc.
Barathol Mekhar looks on the still-sleeping Scillara (now his wife) and then their baby and thinks, “life was better than he’d ever hoped it could be.”
I like the part about the Spawns, in terms of seeing how trade routes and things like that can be established by just a few entrepreneurs seeing a possibility and exploiting it. Here we see wreckers and pirates being the first to arrive, and setting up concessions that become a stable and prosperous trading agent over the course of a couple of years.
Of course, we are then immediately given a rather more grim view of the situation: “The one-time flood of fortune-hunters had thinned to a trickle of ragged men and women no better off than those who’d already clawed out a spot in the festering town.” Doesn’t sound quite like what I wrote in that first paragraph!
Well, Jallin is certainly being presented as a sterling young chap, to be admired: “It could make a man think twice about giving them trouble. But despite this he’d gone ahead and robbed, cheated, rolled, and even murdered some. All from behind, or from a position of trust, of course.”
Hmm, I just get this sense—a spidey-sense, if you will—that Jallin’s plan isn’t going to go quite as he intends…
Jallin is sure giving his new Malazan friend a nice lot of details about how things work, isn’t he? A Malazan warship? Sounds strange to ask about that if there were no good reason for it.
I like the way that Esslemont builds with ease the sense of desperation out here on the frontier, and the way that everyone is just scratching to try and get what they can.
So it sounds as though the Moranth really need something from this Malazan representative, if they’re willing to raise the whole alliance thing again after not keeping their side of it for a year. And here it is: “We request that you press the Council into interdicting the burial grounds to the south of the city.” Got to question the importance of these burial grounds in that case—and wonder at the wisdom of those who are digging around out there, if even the Moranth would rather they were left undisturbed.
Hmm, history between the Council and the Moranth—I’m sure we’ll see more about that.
Ha, this detail about the Moranth Silvers is not just more than what Aragan has ever heard, but probably us readers as well! The Moranth have never really taken center stage! I love this: “There were scholars in Unta who could establish careers on the information he’d just been afforded on these ferociously secretive people.”
And a lovely little call back to what happened in this area, and what is still sending shudders through the magical activity—the death of Anomander Rake.
Hee, I love when ‘training exercise’ is used as a military excuse for troop movement—reminds me of Iron Man, where the Airforce have to use that reason.
Kiska makes a fair point: “Populating the land was one thing, but what about the second generation? I suppose if you’re all for polygamy and incest in the first place it wouldn’t strike you as a problem…”
The problem for me with the Kiska/Leoman sections is due to the nature of where they are—it affects the pacing because it is so dreamlike. Even Leoman says it: “Something tells me there’s no hurry, Kiska. If there’s any place to abandon haste, this is it.” It doesn’t really make for much active storytelling.
Except, having just pointed all that out, it becomes pretty damn active, what with the communication with Maker, and his visceral reaction to the ‘meddling Jaghut’ (what on earth happened there?)
And the introduction of the Vitr: “All that exists. All distils out of the Vitr. And all returns to dissolution. You, I. All life essence. All sentience.” We’re fourteen bloody books into this series, and this is the first damn time this Vitr stuff has been mentioned!
Hmm, so the spark that animated the guide has gone, and, at the same time, Then-aj is created from this primordial soup Vitr stuff. Connection?
Oh, I’m so delighted that Ebbin’s discovery involves skulls, and a horribly creepy gold mask! That sounds like something we want to see more of, and not to run away from swiftly! Honestly, I feel like I’m watching the girl in a horror movie creeping into the cellar without putting on a light to investigate a noise…
Poor Caladan Brood. He has lost his vitality in this scene, where we see him gazing at the dark sky and contemplating the absence of Anomander Rake, and what that might mean.
Again, I love seeing how people and locations have reacted to what happened with Hood and Anomander Rake—here being told that the intersection where it happened is gradually being deserted, and reclaimed by weeds. It feels fitting that something so monumental has had a ripple effect like this, on a micro level as well as a huge epic, macro level.
So, we have some unusual deaths going on in Darujhistan as well, and executed (ha.ha) particularly well. Assassin politicking sounds like it is going to happen. Taya? From the next scene Rallick obviously suspects Cutter/Crokus, so we know it is someone with a fierce talent.
Heh, I always find myself shaking my head at some point when Kruppe is on-page.
Haha! “Soon a brood of baby killers to follow. I see it now. Knives in the crib and garrottes in the playpen.”
So, we know full well that beauty does not equal good person, but it’s hard to look fondly on Aman when he is described as “looming like some sort of gangly bird of prey.”
Taya in league with Aman? Interesting.
“Life was better than he’d ever hoped it could be”? Jesus, Barathol Mekhar… Way to jinx it!
See now, this is one of the reasons I love this series. Events don’t just happen in the plot and then get dropped when they’ve served their immediate purpose. They reverberate, they ripple, they continue to have an impact, just as in real life. So it’s been a while since we’ve seen Moon’s Spawn wandering off, but something that big and that important can’t just disappear. So here we go with the Spawns and a wiped out village and a new geography and a new economy and political/military moves. That’s why I so like these guys.
So one would hope that Jallin’s friends don’t use his nickname while he’s picking up marks.
“So why do they call you Jumper, anyway?”
“Oh that? It was a dare when I was a kid. Yeah, tried to jump over a bull and well… .”
So a Malazan vet with a mustache. We seem to be focused on Daru folks.
Even though you knew just where this scene was going with Jallin and the vet (c’mon—you knew, admit it), it still is satisfying
So is that Malazan warship on Chekhov’s mantle?
It’s been a while, so let me just say quickly since Aragan brought him up, god I hate Mallick Rel.
It appears that along with the readers, the Moranth also have a bad feeling about folks digging up old burial sites where Tyrants once roamed. Huh.
What might be that “history between us” with regard to the Council and the Moranth?
I love when Aragan starts surreptitiously calling up troops once Torn leaves. Good, smart guy. And that’s such a nice ending to the scene, with the “who do we have to sneak around for us” and “we keep a list.” In a movie, you can see the immediate cut to the folks who don’t yet know they’re about to be called in.
One has to wonder what “great wound” the Jaghut did to Maker. And why he calls them “meddlers.” That a nice bit of mystery to have hanging out there.
And speaking of mystery—some pretty big ontological questions being raised here in this scene with regard to the Vitr, to the Tiste, the Eleint, etc. Anyone want to lay wagers on whether the answers get spelled out nice and neat and complete?
Well, we wondered a little in the prologue who that Then-aj guy might be, though the setting, method of arrival, and first letter might have sent us in one particular direction. Now it’s more explicit with Kiska hoping it’s Tayschrenn. Odds?
OK, yes we had some discomfort with the burial tomb thing. Ebbin seems to have ignored our worries (and the Moranth’s), but at least there’s nothing at all ominous about the carpet of skulls, the creepy smirking gold mask that whispers it’s only for particular people, and the single undisturbed chamber. Time to run off to the creepiest purveyor of tomb-robbing goods this side of old man Igor just round the corner.
Esslemont is certainly piling up the omens/bad feelings pretty early on here. But I like as well that besides the folks being creeped out kind, or the obviously horror movie kind (buried tombs), we get some a concrete reason as well to think things might get dicey—two troops movements—the Malazans and Brood’s troops—massing near each other. That sort of thing could always turn into an accidental/misunderstood flashpoint.
Among all this heavy foreboding, good to have Kruppe lends us some comic relief.
Speaking of Igor, hello Aman… A few odd points about him (well, besides the obvious):
- The way he looks at the ancient sample “nostalgically.”
- His sort of weird response to Ebbin saying what Darujhistan was like during the Imperial age has been “conjectured.”
- His crippled hands as if “caught within some mangling instrument.”
- The way he cocks his “shapely hip” Oh wait, never mind, that was Taya.
After all these omens, when Barathol ends the chapter with “Life, it seemed to him, was better than he’d ever hoped it could be,” you just want to go ‘No! Call it back! Take that back!”
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.