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 seven 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.
Leoman suggests giving up on finding the strange mage on the shore. As they talk, they notice the whorl is shrinking, and when Leoman suggests they might exit through it before it closes completely, Kiska says it just means they have to find the mage sooner. Leoman submits, and suggests they keep an eye on the locals and sooner or later they should lead them to the man.
Barathol is conscripted into construction work. Scillara asks why he didn’t fight, and he says he won’t risk being on the streets or getting arrested with the kid, “Only thing worthy martyring for, I’d say.”
Leff and Scorch, looking for Kruppe, meet Rallick at the Phoenix Inn. They tell him they’re looking for Ebbin and there might be something in it for Kruppe. They leave.
Kenth is a member of a Hand tasked to assassinate Jeshin Lim. He discovers all the Hand dead and tries for Lim himself (Lim is asleep on his bed). Before he can strike, a slim girl grabs him and tosses him out the window, telling him to take a message to his superiors. He limps off.
Rallick tallies up his information: Baruk missing and Vorcan hiding away, both supposedly part of the T’orrud Cabal; a Legate back in power; Vorcan warning him not to do anything; and Raest’s words, “Bluff. It’s a game of bluff.” He realizes it’s a power struggle of some sort and it all reminds him of one person. Krute shows up and tells him they lost all but one of a Hand tonight, and that one came back with a blade “exactly like those commissioned by only one person he knew.” Krute thinks Vorcan is backing the Legate and maybe Rallick too. The strong smell of gas interrupts, and Krute warns off the others he brought with him, telling them to make for the roof. Rallick is mystified, then sees a crêpe on the table where one hadn’t been there before.
Leff and Scorch tell Lim they drove off the assassins. Lim tells them to hire as many guards as they want, and, thinking it must have been Humble Measure who hired the assassins, decides he needs to retaliate.
Torvald and Tiserra discuss his recent elevation to the Council.
Fist K’ess wakes to the noise of alarm in the barracks. Captain Fal-ej tells him there’s a fire. The barracks is a loss, and they decide it was sabotage. K’ess orders the staff, which had been held, let go, saying the culprit is probably already gone and he doesn’t want to “stoop” to subjugation and brutality. A report comes of a mob at the gate, and K’ess apologizes for not taking Fal’ej’s advice to withdraw to the mountains. He orders an evacuation south to join up with the 22nd. They march out, crushing some of the mob under the gates.
The Lord Mayor of Pale, horrified at the slaughter at the gate, asks Hinter what they’ve done (by setting the fire), and Hinter replies it was all the Mayor; all Hinter had done was assure him he’d be rid of the Malazans and they are. The Mayor tells him Darujhistan won’t do any better with the Malazans than Pale did. When Hinter leaves, the Mayor is shocked, saying Hinter had said they’d protect Pale against “the Rhivi Raiders? Barghast war bands? The Moranth.” But Hinter has already disappeared.
“The last under-strength legion of the Second Army was left behind [after the Pannion Seer war] . . . to maintain order.” The commander was Fist Argell Steppen, in charge of “these last fragments of the Second, Fifth, and Sixth Armies” which some thought “shattered.” She withdrew to a more remote area and built a fortress. Everyone thought she was crazy, until the raids began.
On the coast a bit north of Coral, Bendan (also called “Butcher”), along with the rest of his Malazan squad watch several ships near the area where the raiders had been landing. This is the Malazans’ last chance to deal with some raiders before they abandon their fort and march out as per Aragan’s orders. Bendan fights well, despite his terror.
Bit and pieces of lucidity come to Ebbin, much of which involves his torment by the masked figure. He knows the Tyrant is not wholly confident though: “The stones are important. He is worried about the stones. Will there by enough to complete the base?” He has been compelled to do various tasks, such as hiring workers. He wonders what it is these people have planned for so long (since their long-ago internment): “Why the elaborate charade? Why wait to declare their return? Why the mask?”
Ebbin is nearly shocked out of his compulsion when at work one day Barathol asks if he’s OK. Ebbin is nearly (perhaps) about to be able to speak when Taya suddenly appears, and he’s back under.
Antsy’s group heads out of Pearl Town and up the stairs in complete darkness. Antsy worries about the warm air rising around them and also about the fact that Corien appears fevered, probably due to his wound being infected. As they move toward an area to rest, Malakai explains why he thinks much of what Panar had told them was a lie. He thinks there’s no way those villagers had anything to trade for food or water with the Confederation soldiers; instead he says they’ve turned to cannibalism. Orchid doesn’t believe him, but Antsy does.
As they rest, the noises of the Spawn remind Antsy of something from his childhood, though he can’t remember what. Corien is even worse in the morning, but they have to head out. They stop to rest and Antsy lights his lantern. Antsy explores the chamber a bit, confused as to why it hasn’t been completely looted. He comes across a pile of eaten bodies and thinks Panar sent them into the lair of the demon. He tells the others to get going, but the demon is blocking the doorway. Malakai calls it a “creature of Elder Night.” Orchid speaks to the creature and is answered. After some back and forth, the creature leaves. Malakai wonders which way they should go now, and Orchid tells him what he seeks (the Gardens) is up. When Antsy thanks Orchid for saving their lives, she tells him his life was never in danger; the creature called him “Honoured Guest.” He asks what it called her, but she doesn’t answer. She uses an Andii healing spell on Corien. When Malakai returns from scouting, he wonders why Antsy seems so happy, and Antsy replies, “I’m always in a better mood when the squad has its cadre mage.” To himself, he thinks this party is no longer Malakai’s, but Orchid’s.
So, Bill opens his first part of reaction to this chapter by talking about pacing. For me, the rest of the novel is building up pretty nicely, although I would be keen to see the main part of the plot kicking in. However, these damn sections with Kiska and Leoman are just… something else. So slow, so dreamlike, so… nothing. I just can’t relate them. I can enjoy them somewhat objectively—like the interplay between Kiska and Leoman—but the scenes don’t seem to be going anywhere.
In this scene I enjoy the way that Kiska thinks about Leoman:
“A murderous, self-interested callous prick? Yet didn’t there seem to be something more to the man? He did appear to have a surprising gentleness. A kind of unpredictable fey compassion.”
I like it, but I’m not sure what it adds at this point.
Yep, the Barathol thing does just feel like set-up—and I know that Scillara has reasons for her behaviour, but she just seems very cold here when she talks about him having no spine.
Gosh, how cynical Rallick is:
“And so it is for men. What we lust after almost kills us yet we always return for more… we never learn.”
Eh, the pacing in the Scorch and Leff scene is pretty bloody slow as well. Yep, I’d agree with Bill that we’re still in the set-up phase, and, while it is cool to see certain things, I’d love to see it all move along a bit more speedily. In the Scorch and Leff scene, I love their warning about Taya that Rallick just doesn’t know what to make of: “Look out for that dancing girl, though! That minx. Got a temper like a she-devil.” Especially because she is probably responsible for some of the dead bodies he has been finding.
Ha, the crepe. Kruppe just can’t resist, can he?
And a really lovely scene between Torvald and Tiserra—I really do enjoy their exchanges. The warmth and love is evident in the way that he acts.
Even more amused by Fal-ej gently reminding K’ess he needs to be clothed, and then this:
“facing the adzed wooden slats Captain Fal-ej let out a silent breath of awe and headed down the hall on weak knees. By the great stallions of Ugarat. This puts the man into a different perspective.”
This is a strong sentence from the Malazan commander: “It seems we’re always underestimating Pale.”
Wow, I was getting to like K’ess when suddenly he decides to crush the mob outside the gates in order to get the garrison free of the fire. Sure, make sure your own are safe, but surely it could be achieved without this slaughter, this wholesale murder? I found that quite shocking, especially because it seems like such a throwaway event.
Heh, with Hinter here we get a sense of someone who should have been more specific in their request:
“All I assured you was that you would be rid of the Malazans. And behold—am I not good to my word?”
Oh bless. Butcher sounds so young in this:
“He’d given that name when asked. And surprisingly, they used it. Only when they said it they used the same tone they used for arse, or idiot. And somehow there was no way he could call them on it.”
This is utterly terrifying:
“But the moment he contemplated such rebellion his mouth and throat constricted as if throttled. Not even his hands would cooperate to scrawl a plea for help. And so, like a prisoner within his own skull, he could only watch and speculate.”
Malakai does present a grim picture of those cannibals in the dark. That is pretty damn terrifying as well.
After speaking of slow pacing, I love this section as they ease through the dark, and then Antsy goes exploring with a small amount of light. It’s so tense and you just feel as though something is about to jump out on you. Very haunted house… “The shadow of alien blossoms streamed down upon a mass of human carcasses. Many still wore their helmets.”
Well now… Orchid is of even more interest after that little scene with the daemon. Who is she?
Huh. So it seems that Antsy is meant to be here, with the whole “Honoured Guest” thing?
I admit, sometimes a reread can get in the way, ironically, of analysis. I’m thinking particularly of my response to the pacing. Reading each chapter, summarizing it scene by scene, then rereading it for commentary makes it more than a little difficult to offer up a fair judgment on pace (OK, sure, I could read the whole book straight through, make notes on pace, then do the chapter-by-chapter thing, but I’m hoping you guys won’t hold my not doing so against me. I mean, you’ve seen the size of these books, right? You know how many years this is taking, right?) So I’m looking at this little number in the corner of my Kindle telling me we’re right at the third of the way through point, and I’m wondering if this is going slow or not? The Kiska storyline certainly hasn’t moved much. And here we are with a few more small set-up sort of scenes—Barathol being moved into place at the work area so he can run into Ebbin and maybe more (reminding us too he has a family now). Rallick connecting with Leff and Scorch (reminding us that Kruppe is up and about still). A random Hand getting their butt kicked (reminding us someone isn’t very happy about Lim) by Taya. Rallick thinking and directly reminding us of a few points we’re already aware of re Baruk, Vorcan, Kruppe, the T’orrud Cabal (we actually know a bit more than Rallick about some of these). Though I do love that crêpe. Torvald and Tiserra reminding us that Torvald is on the Council and Lim is building stuff. I’ll be interested in Amanda’s viewpoint on pace here, as well as any other first-time readers we have.
We do get some out and out action with the firing of the Malazan barracks. The Empire’s soldiers are clearly being moved around and set up for the future events, and you should have picked up by now (I think I even mentioned this earlier) that along with having them moved around the board, we’re getting a whole lot of references to their poor state of military readiness, at least by the usual Empire standards. That’s probably setting us up for something as well.
In this scene, I do have to ask if anyone else thought K’ess’ action of dropping the huge gate on the crowd and marching over them was just a little bit at odds with his letting the prisoners go because he didn’t believe in “subjugation” or “brutality”? Maybe a warning or two? A spear thrust or three? A bluff with some munitions? Seems like they didn’t really need to march out over mangled bodies. Anyone else have a thought?
So, is the list of possible belligerents from the Mayor a Chekhov’s gun? Will the Rhivi, Barghast, or Moranth make an appearance later?
I like the mention of the Tenescoweri in Bendan’s section—I’ve said before how I appreciate the way this series doesn’t have amnesia about events that occur in earlier books.
I think I’ve said before that Esslemont does a nice job with more horror-like aspects of this series, and I think Ebbin is a good example. I mean, trapped in one’s own mind has got to be a horrific feeling and it’s conveyed nicely in these scenes (well, if “nicely” is the word). And so close with Barathol. So close!
What is it about these stones though? What is the Tyrant worried about?
That switch of power (at least in Antsy’s mind) in Antsy’s group is nicely emphasized by how Orchid is portrayed early in this section. She’s naïve about the cannibalism of the Pearl Town people, she says she’s done all she can about Corien’s wound (though not sure why she didn’t try the invocation earlier; perhaps she just needed the confidence of the demon encounter), she cuts herself by foolishly grabbing a sword by the blade (remember, she can see the blade clearly). So early on she’s pretty helpless, which makes her scene with the creature of Elder Night more of a shift. Suddenly she’s conversing with an Elder Night creature, she’s pulling up old knowledge, she’s healing Corien, and, Antsy notes, she looks like a priestess. Hmmm. And what indeed, as Antsy asks, did the creature call her?
And why does it refer to Antsy as an “Honoured Guest”? For that one, recall who (or what) he is, and what we’ve seen inside Moon’s Spawn before (we haven’t been much inside this place). We’ve also had a hint in an earlier scene with him and Orchid.
Another nice bit of horror with Antsy’s discovery of this being the creature’s lair—the darkness, the slow reveal, the bones, the rush to try and get out, the blocking of the door. All nicely handled for suspense.
So, is this the last we see of this creature of Elder Night?
I like the ending of this scene, particularly Antsy’s relief/joy at having a cadre mage in the group. Just like old times…
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.