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 two 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.
In the Cant, home to the Seguleh, Jan (as Second) is challenged by Enoc, a young Third, in a breach of tradition. When his friends complain, Jan notes Enoc has been arguing lately that the Seguleh have not been “daring” enough. In their pre-challenge conversation, Enoc makes it known that once he defeats Jan he plans to become First. Jan thinks, “How they have all forgotten. One does not claim First… It can only be given. And I — even I — was not judged worthy.” Jan defeats him easily.
Jan has dinner with his friends, discussing the death of Rake (the former Seventh) and if someone will move up. Beru says some think Traveler should be challenged, since his defeat of Rake would make him Seventh. Jan disagrees with such “adventurism,” just as he had opposed sending a trio of Seguleh against the Pannion Seer. Mok was Jan’s older brother and had returned, “changed, broken.” Palla, though, points out he supported “Oru’s venture,” which involved sending out 20 Seguleh (“Our greatest expedition”) based on Oru’s vision to “regain the honour… stolen from them so long ago.” Their conversation is interrupted with a message that they should come see something at the temple.
High Priest Sengen shows Jan a sign (an empty pillar sweating water) that their ancient purpose has come upon them, that which they have been waiting for. Jan tells Lo to seek out the Seventh as they may “have need of him,” and orders Palla to ready the Agatii (the top 1000 Seguleh). As they head off, he thinks of how this is only their “adopted homeland,” and how the First, before dying, had told Jan the name of their true homeland in the north. He is frustrated though, that the First hadn’t told him all, warning him it “is best for all” not to know, and he remembers how the First had sounded like he carried “a crushing grief, a terrible weight of truth.”
Spindle shows up at K’rul’s bar and tells them he has a reconnaissance job for them from their former employers who want to keep things off the books, though he was surprised when Duiker mentions it must have been Aragan, as ambassador, who set it up. Duiker agrees to watch the bar while Picker and Blend and Spindle go check out the burial ground.
Walking down the beach, Leoman and Kiska pass the corpse of a dragon, and then get attacked by a group of deformed creatures, who are joined by a huge one. Leoman and Kiska take refuge in a cave, and then the large creature tells them they are trespassing. When the two ask if they can exit, since it was just a misunderstanding, they’re told no, because they’ve now shown themselves to be hostile, so they can wait in the cave until the creatures decide their fate.
Ebbin meets with Humble Measure at the ironworks in a room filled with ancient maps of the city. He tells Measure he thinks he’s found a tomb vault from the Imperial Age, which Measure notes is considered mythical by most. When Ebbin admits he’s actually found twelve vaults, Measure refers to the stories of the “twelve tormenting demons come to take children away.” Ebbin scoffs at them as old wives’ tales. Measure agrees to fund him some more, saying he’ll add some guards as well, and also that any finds should be brought to one of his warehouses. Measure dismisses Ebbin and looks at the single ancient Deck of Dragons card he was holding when Ebbin arrived—“one of the three major cards of power, rulership, and authority—the Orb.”
Rumors and superstition have grown up around the gorge east of Darujhistan where Karsa and his family live. Local tribes, who fear him, also hope he’ll take out the city (though hopefully not its best brothels).
Fisher worries about how he might break the news to Envy that he’s feeling restless in this relationship. He catches her at the end of a Deck reading, with her cursing about having turned up the Orb card. She decides not to tell him what bothers her about it, saying it might prove “diverting,” then mocks his sense of his own abilities. He says he’ll just ask around, then leaves.
Envy does another Deck cast, having already shown Orb and Obelisk, she hesitates over revealing the card that would “lock the swirling pattern of futures before her.” She turns it over and is shocked, releasing her power explosively. The card was the King of High House Dark.
An old guard, Arfan, is walking his post at the Despot’s Barbican when the air turns moist and chill, the stone begins to weep, a sharp wind rises, and he suddenly sees an image of a huge domed palace on the next hill over, Majesty Hill. He runs to tell “circle-breaker.” Nearby, Hinter, in his ruined tower, looks at Majesty Hill and says, “damn.”
SCENES ELEVEN — TWELVE
Antsy wakes on the beach (he’s the old Malazan guard from Chapter One, now thankfully revealed) and watches the people queuing up for a boat to the Spawns. As he watches a well-armed and well-financed (the boats are ridiculously expensive) board, a tall young woman joins him. She identifies herself as Orchid and says she can read and speak Tiste Andii (when Ansty calls “bullshit,” she resignedly admits that’s what everyone says). He calls himself Red. He heads off to speak to the one taking fees, and when she puts a hand on his wrist to hold him back to ask he take her with him if he gets on a ship, he’s shocked he can’t release himself from her grip. She apologizes, saying she doesn’t know why but she feels she has to go. He says he’ll try, then meets with the Confederate soldier. He shows him a Malazan munition, asking how much he’ll give Antsy for that, mentioning as well it can blow up everyone there. The soldier doesn’t flinch, but suggest he try selling it to Rhenet Henel, governor of Hurly and the Spawns.
Orchid says since he can’t help her, maybe she can do something for him. She brings him to “New Hurly,” where the original residents have been forced to live after getting booted from their town by the hustlers. Orchid mentions she also knows some healing, and Ansty wondering that she hasn’t been picked up as an asset by some group yet, realizes she hasn’t offered herself. When he tells her she’s picked the wrong guy, she replies that she has an “intuition” he’ll get to the Spawns. He sighs and asks where the governor lives.
As they head to the fort where the governor lives, Antsy stops to deal with a man who has been following them. The man says he wants to buy the munition. When Antsy shows it to him and says he knows how to use it, the man offers to hire Antsy on his mission to the Spawns. Antsy says they have to take Orchid too and recounts her abilities. The man says fine, but he’ll leave her there to die if she’s lying.
They return to an inn at Hurley. Orchid tells Antsy she doesn’t trust their employer, and he agrees the man, who calls himself Malakai, is a killer. When Malakai asks how Orchid learned Andii, she says she was raised in a temple monastery dedicated to Elder Night. When asked, she says she cannot call the Warren, but she sometimes thinks she can sense it. At Malakai’s request, she runs through Moon Spawn’s history: rumors it is an old K’Chain Che’Malle construct captured by the Andii or that it was found abandoned in Utter Night, the fact that whatever its origin, Rake brought it with him into this world and flew it at a removed distance overhead, until the rise of the Malazan Empire seemingly convinced Rake to become more involved in worldly affairs, specifically in opposition to the Empire (she mentions one rumor that Dancer and Kellanved made a failed attack on Moon’s Spawn). She then runs through Pale, the Pannion, and Black Coral, telling Malakai if he’d just read this great series of books he’d know all this. Malakai says Rake would have won at Pale had the thaumaturges not betrayed him and joined the Malazans, adding he wanted Rake to win—“I admired his style.” He warns them the Spawns are probably in a state of constant warfare, that the strong have most likely carved out territories and are charging “fees” for passage or worse, enslaving or just killing all newcomers. Nobody has returned in two months, he says. Jallin and two grunts show up to extort “earned” money from Antsy, who warns Jallin to just back off. Malakai interrupts with an impressive display of knife-play and Jallin’s “support” runs away. He grudgingly follows them. Antsy thinks Malakai reminds him of a cross between Quick Ben and Kalam.
This is a wonderful scene with the Seguleh and the challenge. With such a mysterious folk, who have such an unusual structure and way of life, it was bound to bring up even more questions. Such as the business with the First—who grants the position of First? “It cannot be taken. It can only be given?”
We often see the situation with the grave and level-headed senior, versus the younger and more hotheaded junior, who has such grand plans and doesn’t understand why his senior isn’t pushing forwards. I still like it as an idea, though! It is one of those “tropes” that really works for me.
It was clear what would happen to the poor Third, and begs the question why he was put up to it, to be honest, why his uncle pushed the challenge.
Ah yes, Anomander Rake was the Seventh, wasn’t he? So his death has opened up a position for the Seguleh to fill. I therefore approve of Lo saying this: “It is… distasteful… to step up in this manner.”
It seems as though the Seguleh have a fair amount to discover about themselves and what they’re destined for, especially since the old First has concealed a fair amount from even the Second.
Ha, who do Picker and Blend pay their rent to, for them to be so evasive?
I love that Aragan has approached the Malazan vets for surveillance—how perfect.
I think a lot of us could have learnt this from Karsa (obviously the friend that Leoman is referring to): “He simply refused to dwell upon what was out of his control.”
Ahh, love this little flirtatious aside between Kiska and Leoman:
“Are your companions always so extravagant?”
He eyed her sidelong. The edge of his mouth crooked up. “Strangely enough, yes.”
The Kiska/ Leoman plotline is still feeling rather dreamy, not helped by the fact that we have now headed in a circular way back to a point where they are trapped in a cave.
Ha, if I had been Ebbin, I would have been distinctly concerned by the reactions of the various admin-people leading him to the master—the paling faces, the swiftness of passing him along to someone else… Doesn’t really make a person comfortable. “Ebbin edged in past the fellow, who closed the door so quickly he almost caught Ebbin’s fingers.”
Gosh, I’m feeling warmer and warmer about the raiding of this tomb by Ebbin, aren’t you? Especially the fact that he is wilfully hiding details from people who might well understand what they mean, and therefore prevent him from what seems to be a rather lethal mistake ahead of him.
The Orb! A magical MacGuffin of the novel?
I love this look at Karsa, and how he has become the person that people blame for things going wrong—rather like they would the hedgewitch in villages of medieval times. The only part that makes me oddly uncomfortable is the unexplained pregnancies part—I hope that Karsa has willing partners, if those pregnancies are true happenings.
Ouch—imagine telling Lady Envy you don’t want to be with her anymore?!
The King of High House Dark? Who on earth could this be? We’ve never seen him shown before, have we? But it does seem to bring the Tiste Andii into the story, since they are mostly associated with that House.
This stone isn’t the only thing we’ve seen beaded with moisture (in the scene with Arfan). We also saw the sweating altar stone with the Seguleh. Is this a thing in this book? “Up close he saw how condensation beaded the wall, running in drops down the smooth flesh-like stone.”
Orchid is really intriguing right from the get-go—someone who can read Tiste Andii? Odd, as well, that we see this straight after our mention of High House Dark. And strong so that a Malazan vet feels the effect? Yep, she bears watching.
What is great about starting this book so far is that the new characters being shown to us are so damn interesting and jump from the page fully formed. Malakai is another such after Orchid. This particular storyline is properly hooking me.
What on earth does Malakai want over in the Spawns? And why does he need Antsy with the abilities he has?
I like how early on we’re starting to catch some interior glimpses of some of our more mysterious groups in this universe — the Moranth and the Seguleh. Will this continue to feed our curiosity?
Nice little bit of interior monologue to raise some questions in these scenes with Jan. Why was he deemed “unworthy” of being granted First? And will that cause issues down the road? What secrets did the First not reveal? How was the honour of the Seguleh “stolen” from them? What was Oru’s venture? Where was their original homeland? (though I’m thinking this one is less mysterious at this point).
The little asides of how the challenge structure of the Seguleh plays out, as of course it has to, in relationships as well does a nice job of adding some bit of emotional weight to a group so often seen as lacking, or at least, withholding emotion.
I love how Spindle is all “in the know” and all, with his “secret” employer’s offer, and then he’s shocked to learn about Aragan’s position in all this.
One could do worse than Duiker’s line about the past, which echoes that Faulkner line I keep repeating in this reread, if one were searching for a “summation” line about this series: “The past never goes away—we carry it with us.”
So two references to Karsa—one in Leoman’s story about his friend who went off to slay a god and then later the description of how his living area is viewed and the hopes by the local tribespeople that he seeks vengeance on Darujhistan. One would imagine this is setting us up for him playing some sort of role in this book. I do enjoy the wry humor in that descriptive section—the “giant had not actually killed anyone yet” or the “And the woman who was sometimes with him did eventually pay for the animals he took.” And especially the “the destruction of that blot of iniquity was ever the goal of the clan leaders —when they weren’t visiting its brothels at least.” On the other hand, it’s also a less humorous, nicely concise encapsulation of how “the other” so quickly and naturally becomes the repository for so much—becomes the scapegoat, the witch, the bad luck, the bogeyman to scare children with, etc. Karsa as Boo Radley. You know, if Boo had a stone sword taller than most men.
So what are the odds that those twelve “tormenting demons” are something more than an “old wives’ tale”?
Poor Fisher. No fury like a woman scorned and all—think how exponentially worse that trope must be when Envy is involved.
So, is Fisher drinking because he’s annoyed/worried about how to break up with Envy, or is he drinking so she’ll be the one to break up and he can avoid the potentially fatal ugliness?
Two scenes that kind of introduce major cards with organ music in the background: Orb (in the hands of Humble Measure) and the King of High House Dark (in the hands, momentarily at least, of Envy). Who/what might the cards be referring to?
Nice visual scene with that guard, and I really like how the fear and strangeness is counterplayed with Hinter’s “damn”
Glad we can now call Antsy Antsy (and yes, he calls himself Red, but I’m sticking to Antsy—too many aliases… ).
So will we see those five well-armed, well-financed soldiers with their covered shields again?
And who is this mysterious young woman who can read and write Andii (think that might come in handy?), heal (or that?) with a hugely powerful grip, a seeming sensitivity to things, and who was brought up in a cult-dedicated monastery. (How many of those things are there out there anyway?)
I like how not all the Free Confederate folks are painted as wholly scummy/venial—in this case the nicely poised soldier who stares Antsy down despite the big bomb thingie sitting right there.
I guess it has been a while, but it still seemed a little weird to get all that Moon’s Spawn exposition. I guess not all readers have been spending years boring into these books like we have though, huh?
So, odds on Malakai’s predictions re conditions on the Spawns being born out?
That’s a pretty major comparison Antsy makes with regard to Malakai—a combination of Quick Ben and Kalam?
Jallin. Too dumb to live, that one.
Some nice set-ups in this chapter: the Seguleh readying themselves for some big move; Antsy, Orchid, and Malakai heading off to the Spawns; Ebbin about to break into that twelfth tomb, and big powers seemingly arising in Darujhistan (or at least, some really cool cards).
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.