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 four 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.
Antsy, Orchid, and Malakai board a boat to the Spawns, with Malakai paying so much that Antsy realizes whatever he’s seeking, it isn’t riches. The Darujhistan noble who warned Antsy in the inn is already on board and introduces himself as Corien Lim. As they pull away, Antsy sees Jallin on the beach draw his finger across his throat.
As they head out, Antsy thinks of his epiphany that “the goal of existence is to kill you [and] Once you grasped that essential truth it was pretty much everything you need to know… The world always won in the end. The only real question was just how long you could hold out.” As they near the main island, they pass an anchored ship whose hanging shields are decorated. They make a tough landing at a rope ladder leading up to a cave, but before he gets out Antsy holds one of the sailors hostage to find out how they get off the island, but a wave swamps him in to the water before he can get an answer. They decide to wait through the night to continue on.
As she waits inside the cave with Leoman, Kiska nicely summarizes the plot of earlier books that led to her searching for Tayschrenn, though she wonders at her motivation.
Kiska wonders if Leoman is still trying to take down the Empire but decides she can’t kill him in cold blood. The creatures let them go, saying, “Imprisonment is hurtful. We are many victims of cruel imprisonment… Those [mages] who summon us, imprison us, use us cruelly, send us melt us among the Vitr.” When the creatures learn Kiska might take Thenaj away, they tell her not to, since his arrival has pleased the formerly-unhappy Great One. As they head off, Kiska and Leoman debate the idea of voting, with the cynical Leoman arguing that, “When the wishes of the powerful are thwarted they will set aside any communal agreements and pursue their own plans regardless. Because they can.” His argument, at least here, is proven wrong when the biggest creature (the one who was out voted re letting them go) meets them and says while it disapproved of the decision, it will abide by it. Though it warns if they hurt anyone they’ll answer to it.
This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen hints of Malakai’s prowess—with walking silently as a shade and carrying a massive amount of knives. Who really believes him when he says that they’re for show? Antsy did think the name Kalam when he first met Malakai, and we’re not being disabused of that notion.
Hmm, so if Malakai is not after riches out at the Spawns—clearly shown by the gems he uses to pay passage, that could “purchase a title in Darujhistan”—what exactly is he going there for?
A Lim? Corien Lim? We’ve seen other Lims in this series!
Heh, it makes me laugh that Antsy could believe he is travelling without people being aware of the fact that he is a Malazan soldier. Strikes me that they would be recognisable by most these days.
Poor Jallin—no one taking him seriously! “It was Jallin sending doom and destruction upon his head by way of the evil eye. The youth drew a finger across his neck in a universal gesture.” I suspect he is going to be an annoyance later in the book.
Ha, I do love Antsy’s view on life. It’s right, but, man, it’s a bleak way of living!
“The only real question was just how long you could hold out against all the infinite weapons and tools and stratagems at its disposal. The only way he’d succeeded so far was in always expecting the worst.”
How has Orchid survived the world so far? I’m sort of glad she’s now with Antsy because he has more chance of keeping her alive than she does alone, although you can see her losing her innocence about the world already in his company.
Esslemont really does well with sinister scenes and creating atmosphere—here the swelling sea as they approach the Spawns, and the sudden urgency of the sailors to get rid of their passengers.
Malakai really needs what Antsy carries in his pannier, doesn’t he? It’s the first thing he asks of Antsy having rescued him, and you sense that if Antsy hadn’t given the right answer then Malakai might not have ensured he survived.
Politics in the Claw don’t sound like much fun to participate in!
And, ye gods, here is another example of why Esslemont should probably try a horror novel at some point:
“Both had been monstrously tortured. Mauled and carved almost beyond recognition as human. Bound and hanging like meat. Unbelievably, one still lived. Though eyeless, his stomach eviscerated, the innards dangling in loops…”
Man, that is some grim stuff.
It’s interesting to see how Kiska’s morals and beliefs work—that killing and spying and all the things she does as a member of the Claw is fine, as long as it is in the name of a true mission that serves the Empire.
I wonder if this is introducing what is going to happen at a later date in the novels? “Perhaps she was afraid the Claw would eventually come for her. The organization was famous for never forgetting. But no, all that was so long ago and far away.” That just sounds like setting up a storyline to come.
Two references to Jallin in this chapter, which has to make one wonder if we’re done with that character despite leaving him on the beach.
I like how both Malakai and Orchid continue to add to their sense of mystery in this chapter. Malakai with his brace of knives, the way he “moved as silently as a shade… remind[ing Antsy] of certain assassin-types,” and the fact that he obviously isn’t looking to get rich with this trip to the Spawns. And Orchid with her strange body weight, an odd little thing to note. Meanwhile, Corien is just a mystery because we know nothing about him.
It’s a nice bit of tension to have Antsy honing his blade and talking about how the sailors might turn on them—first on the large boat, then on the smaller one. I like how Esslemont draws this out.
I also really like this image of them as they travel into the wreckage of Moon’s Spawn—it’s a great visual.
That’s the second reference to strange shields.
Antsy’s a tough son of a bitch, isn’t he? If he has to do things “the hard way,” he will.
So Corien is from Darujhistan and he has an unguent from an alchemist? Might it be from Baruk?
It’s a nice move when Kiska is talking about her last mission filled with “murder, torture, extortion, blackmail,” which leads the reader down the path to assuming that must have been why she left, only to learn she was fine with all that, it was the office politics that got her down. And what it symbolized—that gone was “any concern or responsibility to their larger mission.”
As in the earlier chapter, not sure I needed this recap of prior events, but it’s hard to judge having been so steeped in this series.
That’s an enjoyable moment when Leoman gets up on his cynical soapbox to denigrate the idea of democracy as mere façade only to have it blow up in his face.
Well, we’re about 20% into the book and still in set-up mode—things moving a bit more quickly in Darujhistan and with the Seguleh and other plot lines just moving into place.
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.