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 six 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 dreams of the battle in Black Dog Woods when he “pulled a Hedge,” throwing munitions at an adversary with magical armor while he was too close.
Orchid wakes Antsy and tells him Malakai went in to explore and Corien down to the water. As she bandages his wound, she asks about the Bridgeburner tattoo (she thinks its glowing/moving, but Antsy doesn’t see it). They spar a bit about the Malazan—Free Cities war, with Orchid disgusted by the Empire’s use of munitions. When she calls them “an army of invading murderers and bullies,” Antsy simple salutes and says “Yes, ma’am.”
Corien returns with material for a fire. While Orchid disrobes to dry her clothes, Antsy and Corien move down the corridors into utter darkness. Antsy asks why Corien came to the Spawn, and he replies that although the Lim family has “old respect” in Darujhistan, not to mention a council seat, his uncles have bankrupted the family through a series of disastrous schemes over the years. Corien wants to move his family in a different direction but needs some leverage, which he’s hoping to find here. When asked for his own motivation, Antsy keeps the real reason to himself (“it’s personal”) and just says he needs a retirement nest egg. Malakai appears and says the whole nearby area has been completely scavenged, then leaves again.
Orchid says she’s all done, and they all return to the fire. Tired of waiting for Malakai, they decide to head out since Orchid can see fine.
They come across Malakai, who wonders if perhaps he and Orchid should just dump the two “useless” members. When Antsy says if there’s not going to be any light he’ll just leave on his own, Malakai explains how pick-ups are at a completely different place called the Gap of Gold, and he has no idea where that is. He goes on to say he’s found a group of people with some lights, and they decide to check them out, carefully. They find a small village cut into the rock with at least 20 people milling around, and Antsy and Orchid agree to parley for information.
The spokesman for the village, Panar, tells them they are all stranded on the island, which has been completely looted. After some back and forth, the villagers attack. Antsy and Corien get separated in the fighting, with each finding refuge in a different building. As Panar is telling them to give up, the lights suddenly start going out and someone asks, “Is it the fiend?” Malakai whispers directions to Antsy on how to join Corien and Orchid in the dark. Corien says he took a bad wound, and the three of them head out through the village and into another building, with Orchid startled on the way by some “dark shape.” They hear screams from the villagers (not caused by Malakai), and then are joined by Malakai, who has brought along Panar for rough questioning (much to Orchid’s disgust). Panar tells them how the Spawns had been a treasure hoard, how groups started to band together and carve out fiefdoms. He says the Malazans controlled about a third of the island, and once he’d bribed his way past them his group was attacked by more looters. He’d barely escaped and gotten to the Gap, where he gave over all his treasure to the pick-up crew, then was told it wasn’t enough, and he had to go back and get more; the whole thing was a form of forced slavery. When his tale is interrupted by more screams from outside, he tells them the Spawn is “full of inhuman spirits and sorcery” and he thinks “the fiend,” which comes every few days to feed on them, is an escaped demon. When Malakai informs him the group will go on, Paran wonders what they could possible be seeking. When Malakai replies, “the gardens of the moon,” Paran just laughs crazily while Orchid gasps.
The various Malazan governors of the Genabackis cities separately receive a visit from an emissary of the new Legate of Darujhistan demanding an oath of allegiance. Those that refuse immediately are killed by magery. The last city is Pale, where the Mayor asks for some time to think about it and is given two days. Once the “apparition” leaves, Fist K’ess, who had been at dinner with the Mayor, leaves. The Mayor tells his other guests they will wait to see which is stronger—the Malazans or this new Legate. K’ess sends messengers to Aragan and orders his own troops to stay in barracks and prepare. He also considers a withdrawal to the Moranth in the mountains if it becomes necessary.
Brood’s people sense something is troubling him amidst the rumors of war against Malazans and shaman castings predicting “blood and violence to come.” As he stands out one night on the hillside, Baruk appears, now called Barukanal, “restored and reborn.” Barukanal says he brings “the truth of power… that power will always be used.” Brood warns him that if “the presence I sense makes any efforts to reach beyond Darujhistan, I will not hesitate to remove the city from the face of the continent.” Barukanal wonders how many more people Brood will kill, then disappears, leaving Brood to ruminate on the tears he’d seen on Barukanal’s face and the possible look of horror he might have seen in his eyes. The shamans tell him they have “amazing news from the north.”
Rallick enters the Azath house, stepping over a large man snoring in the hallway. He’s interrupted Raest in the midst of playing cards with an Imass (whose leg bones are not his own)—a “game of bluff. Bluff on both sides.” When the Imass plays a card, Raest tells him “she’s out of the game. For now. Raest refers to Rallick as a “servant of Hood,” and when Rallick responds that Hood is gone, Raest answers, “the paths remain.” Rallick leaves.
Humble Measure and Jeshin Lim meet in Lim’s new Legate office and then argue over what to do now that their plan to put Lim in power has come to fruition. Humble Measure wants them to create an arsenal, but Jeshin plans to rebuild the walls first.
On the way back to his office, Measure thinks he needs to deal with Lim.
In the Mengal mountains on the west coast of Genabackis, Yusek scouts for Orbern, the self-styled “Lord of the Western Mountain.” She spots two travelers on the trader road and tells them Orben-town is not far for shelter and food. They ask if she knows of a monastery in the mountains, and she says she does not but some in the town might. They agree to let her lead them there. On their arrival at Orben-town, the settlement’s thugs (it’s basically a bandit town) laugh at these travelers’ obliviousness. When Orben “asks” for a “contribution to Orben-town’s future,” the travelers reveal themselves to be Seguleh, though not all (including Yusek) recognize them as such. One such, Waynar, challenges them despite Orbern’s warning to shut up, and the spokesman Seguleh kills him in a flash. Orben sends them on with Yusek as a guide, adding he has heard something of a temple to the north. When Yusek says she has no intention of going, the spokesman asks if she is defying/challenging authority. She reconsiders.
As they prepare for the journey, Orbern warns Yusek not to challenge the Seguleh, but also says she’ll be more safe than she’s ever been while she travels with them, adding it’s best she get out of this collection of murderers and potential rapists. She hates to admit it, but knows he’s right.
On the trail, the spokesman introduces himself as Sall of the Three Hundreth and his companion as Lo, the Eighth, adding Lo will never speak to her. Yusek tries to ditch them by running as fast as she can through the woods and is shocked when they have no problem staying with her, and don’t even seem to notice she was trying to leave them behind. When she asks what they are, Sall says, “We are the Seguleh, Yusek. And all these lands will soon come to know us again.”
Spindle wonders at the lack of contact from the cadre mages. His thoughts are interrupted by a Dessembrae cultist. After the fop leaves, a Malazan agent appears and tells him someone’s been hunting Imperial mages and Claws. Spindle tells him about the “spook” they saw come up from the tomb and how it has inhuman servants. The agent tells him to track the spook, reminding him he and the others are still on the books for desertion. Spindle mocks the bluff, pointing out he and the others are the Empire’s only assets in the city, but the agent replies they have an Imperial Sceptre, and it’s “awakened.” Spindle knows he and the others are stuck.
Aman and Taya find his shop in shambles. Aman deduces the statue tried to protect his premises from someone who’d gotten past all his wards. He finds a grubby handkerchief, and says it was “an old friend. Slipped greasily away yet again.”
I like how Antsy’s dream shows us hints of what a hellhole Black Dog Woods was—we’ve heard hints about his particular campaign and how nasty it was before. And I agree with Bill—hearing ‘pull a Hedge’ just makes me laugh.
I wonder what is happening to the Bridgeburners at this point in time to make Antsy’s tattoo glow and move? Although perhaps it is just something that Orchid can see, because of her peculiar abilities?
I feel like sometimes with Esslemont’s work Bill and I often keep mentioning the same things from scenes—here I also want to pick up how much I liked seeing Orchid’s disgust at the Malazans and the way the Bridgeburners conducted their wars, with Moranth munitions. We spend so long with the Malazans that our sympathy is so strongly with them, so it is a timely reminder to see that there is a strong effect.
Well, this says an awful lot about Antsy at this point in time: “He felt as disheartened as he could ever remember. And for him, a career paranoiac, that was saying something.”
The Spawn seems a really tenuous new direction for the Lim family, considering the amount of information that isn’t available about the place and what is present there. Trying to build leverage by hunting out something on a strange set of islands, from which no one seems to return, seems like a very slim plan.
Ha, I love this exchange:
“You don’t think there’re any spooks ‘n’ such, do you? Here in the dark?”
“Well, now that you mention it, Red… of all the places I can imagine being overrun by your spooks ‘n’ such, this would have to be it.”
Not so sure why Orchid is annoyed at the idea of Antsy and Corien waiting for Malakai, who is, after all, their employer. And completely understand Antsy thinking “Tongue like a whip dipped in tar and sand.”
I might be dumb, but, considering that Orchid is the one who can see in the dark, not sure why Antsy has her bringing up the rear.
This again is a tight little fight scene, in the dark and with Antsy not knowing whether he has been thrown out as a member of the team and just left to die. Gives a real hint about what it must be like to operate as a mercenary and the lack of trust you have about your employer. Not the same as having a team around you, who are all there to achieve the same thing and watch each others’ backs.
“Questioned” and “tortured”—just shows how we manipulate language to make ourselves feel better. Two sides of the same coin.
This picture we’re given of treasure hunters being relieved of all their treasure in order to “pay passage” and then being told it isn’t enough and they have to bring more—this feels like a more real representation of everything that has happened on the Spawn.
Gardens of the Moon? Not just a book title, then!
Looks like that old abuse of the position of Legate is starting again, as we see the demands for all the people of this area to swear allegiance to Darujhistan. And it seems as though, rather than approach the Tiste Andii in Black Coral, they have decided to simply cut them out of the equation.
It’s very clear that the Malazan position on Genabackis isn’t what it was. Under-powered garrisons, not enough mages… Considering the amount of time and manpower and effort it took to take this continent, it is a surprise to see that the Malazan Empire isn’t holding onto it. Why is this happening in this way?
This is a scary moment, seeing what has happened to Baruk. Will we ever get the old Baruk back? And, gosh, a timely reminder of what Caladan Brood is capable of, no matter how full of sorrow he might be:
“If the… presence… I sense makes any effort to reach beyond Darujhistan, I will not hesitate to remove the city from the face of the continent.”
It’s a great scene with Raest—nice touches of both humour and horror, which is a mix that Esslemont does particularly well. I especially like:
“Besides, Fluffy here would be devastated.”
Fluffy? Please be referring to the cat—my sanity won’t survive otherwise.
An Imass without his own leg bones? Now that sounds familiar…
I especially love this scene with the Seguleh, where it is clear that some of the men know exactly what those masks mean, while some have absolutely no idea and continue to act as if these two visitors are just men.
“Defying the hierarchy”—doesn’t matter what sort of person is in charge, if they are top of the hierarchy, then the Seguleh will respect them as leader. I feel as though that needs to be kept in mind. Although the scene between Yusek and Orbern, where he explains his reasons for sending her with the Seguleh, shows that, whatever his background, this is a man who has some morals and might be deserving of the term ‘leader’.
I love that “pull a Hedge” is a term.
I’m going with Orchid on the whole “is the tattoo burning” question.
It’s nice to get different perspectives on the Malazans to their face, in this case Orchid’s anger and disgust at the Malazan use of munitions.
So is this a contrast between rival Lim “visions” for the family—one the Legate, continuing with schemes and alliances, and one we’re not sure of with Corien trying to go in another direction? Or is Corien not telling the truth and is actually here on one of the Lim schemes?
One of the things I really like in this early going with Antsy is the way in which we see how a soldier carries his soldiering experience with him always. In his dreams. In his response to being abruptly woken. His common sense about pragmatics, like not having wet feet. His sensory reaction to a simple village:
“To Antsy is was like a veteran’s homecoming: the pungent miasma of an old encampment. Smoke, the stale stink of long unwashed bodies… snatches of exchanged words, echoes of footsteps, wood being broken and chopped.”
I’d say the scatterings of excrement all over the place are a good sign this parley is not going to go well. And after the parley goes poorly, I’d say, “Is it the fiend?” is not a question you want to hear.
This sort of forced servitude makes a lot of sense to me, and seems a logical outgrowth of the Spawns and the treasure-hunters. Though I’m a bit skeptical there are no rumors of this going on apparently.
So is the fiend/escaped demon just a background bit of atmosphere, or will we see it later?
Is Malakai telling the truth about his goal? Are there really Gardens here and if so is there something valuable in them? Or is he searching for a signed first edition? And what does Orchid know about them, if anything?
I like the concision of the Legate’s assault on the ex-free cities. And the wry nature of its description. And how Pale comes in at the end and their sneak smarmy plan, as this fits in so nicely from what we know of Pale. I also appreciate that Black Coral is not forgotten. And the unwillingness to tangle with the Andii there tells us something about the constraints of power here I’d say.
Lots of references in this first quarter of the book to a diminished Malazan power here. Think that will be important?
Anybody else think of Airplane when K’ess thought it was the wrong week give up sniffing glue? Um, drinking?
That’s a great short little scene between Baruk-that-was and Brood, with a nice suspenseful bit of ambiguity about whether Baruk is truly “burned away.”
And speaking of great scenes. As I’ve always said, just send more Jaghut. I so love Raest’s dry humor. We’ve seen this Imass before by the way. And who is the “she” that is out of the game “for now”? There are a few powerful woman in the area.
Remember what Lo is looking for here? Or who, to be more precise? We’re given a little indirect reminder later on in the chapter with Spindle’s little encounter.
It’s so nice on those occasions when you feel smart in this series—like in the scene when Yusek and some of the others of Orbern’s band don’t know what they’re facing and you as a reader are thinking, “Seguleh, people! These are Seguleh!” and “No, don’t defy the hierarchy!” (Smart decision of Yusek’s to have learned that lesson via the pile of entrails sliding her way after Waynar’s blunder.)
And even though you knew it was coming, it was still a chuckle when Lo and Sall meet up with Yusek and call it a “fair first day’s travel.”
I like how Taya’s “I know it all” attitude gets turned around by her complete misreading of what happened in Aman’s shop. The old man shows wisdom of age still sometimes is better than the vigor of youth.
And you had to know who it was in the shop with the getting by all the wards and the “breathtaking insolence” and the “effrontery” even before you got to the handkerchief. What is Kruppe doing with all these visits?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.