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 five 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.
Blend, Picker and Spindle get back to K’rul’s bar, all of them feeling the effects of what they had seen. Spindle heads out the back of the bar to relieve himself, and sees something shocking. He calls the other two to have a look, but, when they get there, the ‘huge dome-like thing’ is not there anymore. He tells Duiker it looked like the moon and the historian frowns thoughtfully.
Torvald Nom is woken by the cat, and decides to head out since he is awake anyway.
As he walks through the very quiet streets of Darujhistan, his attention is caught by a sound he has never heard in the city, and joins other citizenry to watch the march of elite heavy Malazan infantry through the city. Torvald Nom sees the direction they’re marching in, and wonders if they are withdrawing. He hurries on so that he can tell Lady Varada. When he arrives Studlock tells him that she is ill, but has left instructions for him, which include the fact that he is now head of House Nom. He goes to challenge Varada but ends up talking to Studlock again, who assures him there is no mistake, and that Bellam is considered the eventual heir. Torvald Nom is not exactly delighted with his new exalted position as council member.
Torvald Nom heads to Majesty Hill to register himself all officially. As he is greeted by the guards and looks at the monuments and plaques, he thinks that this is not the right place for him. He enters the rabbit warren of a building, and manages to stop a functionary, who agrees to register his paperwork and then leads him to the assembling of the emergency steering committee. As two guards try to state that the session is closed, Councillor Coll comes rushing up and is introduced to the new Councillor Nom. They enter together.
And are faced by chaos. Coll drags Torvald into the mass of people. When Torvald expresses thanks to Coll for his help at the door, Coll says he can thank him by swearing his first vote to him.
As the meeting is called to order, Jeshin Lim takes the floor. He says that the withdrawal of both the Moranth and the Malazan infantry must mean that hostilities are about to begin against Darujhistan. Councillor D’Arle sarcastically points out that, if it is the case, there are no troops Darujhistan can marshal against them, and that they’ve had ample chance to annex the city as theirs anyway. Lim proposes that the council votes to invest the ancient position of Legate of Council.
When Coll hears this, he shouts the idea down because of the fact that the position was previously abolished due to people abusing it. The idea is carried by a majority vote of the other councillors, and then D’Arle icily asks if Jeshin Lim proposes that he is the one to take the position. Lim treats this as an official proposal and it is then seconded. So Torvald shouts that he nominates Coll, and it is seconded by Redda Orr, who hates House Lim.
They take a vote on Lim being Legate of Council and there is a majority of forty-two votes, which means the nomination is carried. Coll wonders how much Lim spent to achieve it.
Nom wonders then how much he can expect to receive as a council member and Coll breaks the news that it is very dependent on power and influence, both of which Nom lacks.
Rallick arrives at the Phoenix Inn and is let in by Jess, then he asks where the Eel is. Jess realises that Kruppe has vanished and speaks in horror about the size of the tab he ran up.
Rallick then heads for Baruk’s estate, and is disturbed to find litter in the gardens, since Baruk always keeps it immaculate. He picks up the litter and finds it is a half-burned Crown card from the Deck of Dragons. He enters the house and finds absolute destruction within. He gets out his weapon and studies the carpet in the hallway to try and make sense of those who have come and gone in the house. One set of prints appears to be that of a young woman, slim but hefty, while the other shows wide moccasined feet that slide from side to side and don’t lift. Eventually he finds the demon Chillblais.
Chillblais takes him to the very bottom floor of the huge mansion, to a room with a heavy metal chest against one wall. Rallick manages to lever the lid open with a massive effort. The demon tells him the entire chest is made of otataral. There is evidence that the chest has received another visitor prior to Rallick—a visitor who enjoys food and wine. Rallick asks what the chest contained, and Chillblais tells him, in a very panicked fashion, that it was ‘slivers of death’.
Went, Filless and Scarlon, three cadre mages attached to Aragan’s contingent, are disturbed in the embassy cellar by Taya. She ascertains that they are the last full Imperial mage cadre in the location, and then kills them before they can channel their Warrens.
Aragan picks over the nasty scene of death, furious at the fact that the three mages have been killed. He sees it immediately for what it is—an act of war and a pre-emptive strike to be sure that they are now cut off and can’t communicate with any other Malazans. After ascertaining whether there are any other cadre mages in the other Malazan contingents and hearing a negative, he tells Dreshen to bring him the box.
Dreshen brings the box and Aragan opens it to reveal an Imperial Sceptre. He slams it into the table and speaks into it, reporting what has happened to the cadre mages and the Moranth. He asks for aid. Neither Dreshen nor Aragan know whether anyone will even answer, so Aragan orders the room sealed and guarded. As they leave the room, the orb shows swirls of clouds churning within in.
Spindle wakes with an almighty hangover. When he enters the common room of the inn, he sees Duiker talking with another man, and is introduced to Fisher. Duiker reveals he has been drunk for two days and Spindle runs when he realises he hasn’t reported in to the woman.
As he leaves we’re reminded via Duiker that Spindle is a cadre mage.
Humble Measure is disturbed by the arrival of armed guards, who state that his business is being seized by order of the newly elected City Legate. Humble Measure says that he has been expecting this to happen. He is also anticipating being told that he is to begin manufacturing arms and armour, but the pronouncement is something different—Humble Measure is surprised and says he will take this up with the Legate (told us in a ways that makes it obvious Humble Measure and Lim were in cahoots over the re-emergence of the Legate role).
Scorch and Leff are still waiting out by the tomb, and have another of their insane conversations. A poor shepherd hears their laughter and thinks it the presence of crazy spirits.
Ephren, the fisherman by trade, is fixing his boat when he sees the ships of the Seguleh arrive. He is familiar with the shields they have displayed on the ships, and shivers at the knowledge of who is landing here. Ephren determines to go and warn the people of the hamlet where he lives of their arrival.
Instead of going about their business the people of the hamlet decide to gather and watch the Seguleh arrive. This is the most Seguleh at a time that Ephren has ever seen, and he wonders who could withstand such a force. Once they are landed, the Seguleh set fire to their ships. When Ephren sees the mask of the one who has fired the ships, and sees the single mark upon it, he realises that this is more than just an invasion, and might well be a migration.
This is another entertaining chapter, although it does still feel like slow set-up—considering we are pretty much a quarter of the way through the novel, that feels like a bit too much.
There are some real curiosities in this chapter, including the strange moon that Spindle is convinced that he has seen, along with those slivers of death that Rallick is shown. Plus the fact that the slivers of death have been removed by someone, and they had to be contained in a whole chest of otataral.
That slim but hefty female who went into Baruk’s house—I have no idea who this might be, truly. As soon as it was said, I thought of Orchid and her strange weight, but it’s certainly not her! And it isn’t Taya, who is always said to be very slim but no mention at all of hefty. The moccasined feet, those that slide and aren’t lifted, must belong to Kruppe, since he is wandering the city again, and clearly leaving crumbs of food near the chest.
I quite liked the scene featuring Torvald Nom taking his position in the council, especially because he pretty much straight away guarantees that he has made enemies of those who are determined to make sure that Jeshin Lim takes this ancient and all-powerful position of Legate (thanks to the money he’s been throwing around). But then it seems as though Jeshin is prepared to make enemies of his own, considering one of his first actions is to go against what he and Humble Measure had apparently cooked up together. I wouldn’t like Humble Measure as an enemy, just sayin’.
I really like Aragan here. He seems to have a real grasp of the danger they’re in, and I find myself respecting his actions and his general demeanour.
And I certainly got a strange sort of chill when Duiker reminds us that this hungover and generally humorous veteran is actually a cadre level mage of the Bridgeburners. That certainly tells us that Spindle probably has a large part to play in the coming proceedings.
And Taya manages to take down three cadre level mages, even with giving them a brief warning of her presence, before they are able to unleash their Warrens. I think that gives us a real sense of her abilities.
And finally the landing of the Seguleh and their solemn ceremony as they fire their ships. It is a very deliberate act and is particularly scary because we don’t actually know whose side they’ll be joining when they reach Darujhistan.
This chapter does a nice job of balancing the book with some humor—we’re coming out of scenes depicting horrific deaths down in the tomb, poor Baruk being dragged away, Antsy musing on the whole point of existence is trying to kill you, and the return of the Tyrant. So some humor at this point is welcome and we get it in some nice small doses: the dialog between Picker and Spindle, the “dialog” between Torvald Nom and Tiserra where he bemoans that the claws raking his chest in the morning were the cat’s and not his wife in “an ecstasy of passion,” the drunk who thinks the Malazans are invading and then moves to celebrating their defeat, Studlock’s constant desire to use his concoctions on someone, Torvald’s encounters with the bureaucrats, Scorch and Leff.
In the whole acorn not fall from the tree, it’s hard as readers not to see the family name “Lim” and not think this guy (Jeshin Lim) is not to be trusted (lots of old family names here—Orr, D’Arlice, Lim). Having old friend Coll against him only makes that more clear. And then the whole background of course—a position abolished due to being abused, giving someone absolutist power in a time of “emergency,” so they can respond “authoritatively,” doing so via a parliamentary trick to avoid full discussion—none of this bodes well.
So where is Kruppe? Things must be afoot if he’s wandering about.
And what does Rallick intend to do to “settle accounts”?
I liked this little moment of Rallick as private investigator—noting the not-so-immaculate condition of Baruk’s grounds, pulling on the evidence gloves to extract the Deck card (Crown) from the pond, noting the footprints, etc.
So what “slim but hefty” female was here at Baruk’s? And who else, as her footprints are covering others? We do know what happened to Baruk. And we have at least one possible suspect for the female.
I’m glad Rallick didn’t shoot poor Chillibais.
Nice reminder that Brood is still out there—a big man with a big hammer.
Ahh, here is the clue we need to a few questions—pastry crumbs. That can only lead to one individual.
But the new mystery of course is what was in that cabinet—“little scary slivers of death.” Pieces of what?
Boy, the cadre mages and Claw really are going downhill, aren’t they? Both in quality and numbers (which has to have a major impact on the Empire’s ability to, well, be an Empire). As Aragan thinks, “That the Empire of Nightchill, Tattersail, and Tayschrenn should be reduced to this!”
The Imperial Sceptre.
Duiker’s line about “there goes one of the last remaining Bridgeburner cadre mages” is funny in context, and also brings up good memories of the Bridgeburners, but also I think adds a nice bit of tension, given that we just saw Taya slaughter what she thought were the last three cadre mages in town.
So, Humble Measure and Lim cooked up this whole “Legate” thing between them. Didn’t take long for their plan to work for cracks to appear in that alliance, did it?
The Seguleh have landed! The Seguleh have landed! Uh oh—and they’re firing their ships? Apparently they’re here to stay. A “migration.” Considering what we’ve seen of the Seguleh, considering the “army” they sent to deal with the Pannion Seer, what force will be able to deal with a true army of them?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.