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 eight 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.
Brood wakes to find the Rhivi leaders decamping based on news that the Malazans have retreated from Pale to the southwest. One of the elders, Tserig, who opposed the Rhivi’s move to war, asks what Brood will do now. When Brood says he thinks tangling with the Malazans is a mistake, Tserig notes how the Malazans “hem us in on all sides. Trespass across our lands. Kill all the animals they find. They are like a plague. Are we to abandon our way of life?” Brood, though sympathetic, points out that will happen anyway, and that the best the Rhivi can do is via a peace treaty, as opposed to being conquered. Tserig argues treaties tend to be ignored by the powerful, but when Brood says he will witness (and, it is implied, enforce) it, Tserig agrees to try.
Scorch and Leff apply for jobs as staff for the Legate and after their references turn out to be “impeccable” (to the utter shock of the guard doing the screening), they are hired and told to report as servants tomorrow.
When Yusek (who is growing ill) tries to avoid trails to the north due to a bloodthirsty bandit named Dernan, the two Seguleh “convince” her otherwise. Two days later, they’re ambushed by a group of Dernan’s bandits and the Seguleh kill all but one, a woman who recognized them for what they were. She tells Yusek to convince the Seguleh to avoid the others, but Sall says they have been challenged and will continue north: “We are the test of the sword … Those who chose to pursue the path of the sword should be prepared to be challenged. And if they should fall … they have no grounds for complaint.” The woman (Lorkal) calls them butchers, but Yusek thinks she understands.
Sall tells Lorkal (well, tells Yusek to tell Lorkal) to go ahead and inform Dernan that if the bandit supplies them with food and shelter the Seguleh will leave it at that. Lorkal refuses. Sall explains why he talks to Yusek and not Lorkal: Yusek is an “outsider with countenance” due to her contract with them, which means, according to Lorkal, that the Seguleh will temporarily consider her a “potential human being.” Sall continues, saying his father Lo had warned him he’d face his “greatest test,” and Sall now understands his father meant not in combat but in “challenges to everything I have been taught.” He emphasizes again that if Lorcal doesn’t do as they ask, more people will die.
Lorcal goes ahead while the others wait. Yusek drifts in and out of consciousness, at one point overhearing the two Seguleh discuss her, with Sall telling his father, who is fine with leaving her, that “How we treat others is the measure of how we should expect to be treated.” Sall carries her and she has fleeting awareness of a battle.
She wakes in Dernan’s former lair—now the Seguleh’s camp—to find herself amongst some slaves, the only people the Seguleh didn’t kill. An old man, Bo, shows her Lorcal’s corpse; she had been tortured to death by Dernan, who didn’t believe her story about the Seguleh. When he asks what they want here, Yusek tells him about the monastery they seek. He reveals himself to be a mage and tells her he believes there are more Ascendants in the world that they know of and that there is a constant struggle “to assert one’s identity” among them, “An eternal reinscribing of what one is […] all vying for what are, after all, in the end, a very limited set of roles or identities.” He refers to the Deck of Dragons and godheads as two possible “expressions of these identities.” He explains he’s telling her all this because rumor has it that an Ascendant has entered the monastery the Seguleh seek, adding he isn’t sure he will tell them where it is. Later, when Yusek asks why the slaves are preparing to leave the little village, the mage points out the Seguleh have left them defenseless. Yusek replies at least they’re free, but the mage responds, “Free to be enslaved. Free to starve. Free to be abused or murdered at a whim. Freedom—rather more complicated in the concrete than the abstract.” She tells them Orben will take them in. He reveals how to get to the monastery, and that the ascendant he referred to is the killer of Rake, adding he can only imagine the Seguleh seek to challenge him.
The Legate, Jeshin Lim, is in council debating news from Pale. Rumors are discussed of some “imposter fomenting hostility.” Lim decides they need to know more and orders that Torvald Nom be sent as an emissary to gather info in the north.
Torvald gets the appointment and is far from unhappy, as it gets him out from dealing with his wife’s irritation at his new “job.”
Barathol works at night for two he thinks are mages, crafting two pins like those “used to hold stone blocks together”, except he was making them of silver, too soft to hold anything he warned, thought he mages paid him no heed. As days pass, he keeps seeing flashes of a huge dome, or of fire over the city. One night he sees one of the mages weeping.
Jehsin is woken by Taya, who tells him he’s played his part well, but now it’s time to move on to the next stage (he has no idea what she means). The masked figure enters and places the mask on Jeshin’s face.
Scorch and Leff are bad guards.
Spindle tells the others in K’rul’s bar about the stones the Tyrant’s people are restoring. As he describes them as marble-like but “smoky,” Fisher reacts strongly. He tells them in Darujhistan, white stone is considered bad luck, a symbol of death. He mentions an old song, Throne of White Stone, that told of “tormented spirits imprisoned in an underworld of white stone ruled by demons and guarded by ….” Duiker notes something odd about Fisher’s face.
Later that night, when it’s just the two of them, Duiker asks about the song, and Fisher tells him it’s from a far-off land. When Duiker asks who guards those “tormented spirits,” Fisher says “faceless warriors,” then leaves for a walk.
Fisher goes to Envy’s home and is let in by Thurule, who makes him uneasy now that he has “fresh suspicions” in his head about the Seguleh. He accuses Envy of having known all along what was going to happen in Darujhistan, and she tells him she’s looking forward to “a proper court at last,” where she can finally “get a decent wardrobe.” He realizes she has no sense of empathy or compassion, and when he calls her a parasite, she mocks him as a “bard who contributes nothing but hot air.” She has Thurule escort him out under orders to never let him in again. Fisher leaves gladly, thinking “there is nothing for me here anyway.”
With how very powerful Brood has been set up to seem in previous novels, it seems foolhardy for the Rhivi to decide to take action without consulting him—is this perhaps because of the way he has been acting since the death of Anomander Rake?
Poor Tserig! “And so your reward is to be the one who has to break the news that my, ah, leadership is no longer required.” Not a role I would relish, to be honest.
You get a sense here from Brood about how he is able to play the long, long, long game, with his perspective on treaties and what they can achieve: “I am not talking about the brief season of war… I am talking about the generations that follow.”
What I like about the Seguleh is how their sense of honour leads itself to compassion, like here where Lo realises that Yusek is ill and needs assistance rather than to just keep pressing on. Yusek’s reaction to this is priceless: “Are you fucking stupid or something?”
Yusek is so very naive, and this is given voice when they are ambushed by Dernan’s people: “They wore battered mismatched armour like the tattered remnants of some defeated mercenary army…An army! An entire fucking army!” It will be amusing when she sees an actual army.
And she shows her naivety again with the Seguleh, and the fact that, even after travelling with them and having watched what they did in her original home, she has no idea of what they can achieve. This is particularly evident when she looks around all the death created by her companions, and then says scathingly to the competent-looking woman, “So you gave up?” I call it sense.
It is painful seeing the Seguleh pressing their own beliefs onto people who have no idea of what they’re facing—here the idea that those carrying weapons follow the way of the sword and therefore are to be challenged by the Seguleh.
I am deeply enjoying seeing more about the Seguleh here. They have been so mysterious, and, thanks to some sterling writing here, they are still impenetrable, but easier to understand. Seeing the laws and rules that govern their lives is very powerful—even if we still know very little about these odd warriors.
Ooh, this is a wonderful question and really challenges the fundamentals of honesty:
“What would you do when no one would ever know of your actions? The easy thing? Shrink away? Bend?” Would you do as you had been told to? Or would you follow your own path?
It also feels as though Yusek is gradually being assimilated into the Seguleh way of thinking, as here, when she thinks of them having ‘won’ by killing a camp of people.
I agree with Bill—who on earth would keep to the lie ‘The Seguleh are coming’ in the face of torture?! It isn’t exactly a common thing to say!
Okay, so the whole Bo is a scholar/mage thing just feels way too convenient. Sure, we get the oddest people in the oddest places in this series, but Dernan’s camp isn’t exactly the place to find someone who is able to explain to Yusek something that she and the readers need to know, all of this about the possibility of the Seguleh looking for a person who could be an Ascendant for this age.
I wonder whether Yusek telling Bo about Orbern and saying they should head to his settlement is part of her developing to be more like the Seguleh—offering them compassion and help because they are not warriors and need protection.
Oh, I do love blanket statements about the Malazans that are going to be proved wrong: “Their star is falling. We have seen the last of those invaders.”
Bless Torvald. He and his relationship with Tiserra is one of the lovely touches in this novel so far. And the warmth of their love—even with Tiserra not approving of his new unpaid position—is so distant from what we see described between Barathol and Scillara. Her lack of caring. Him feeling trapped into this life he was thrust into.
Poor Jeshin Lim—his new guards so busy with their hand of cards that his death goes completely unnoticed…
“A prison of white stone guarded by… faceless warriors.” Faceless—or wearing masks? Seguleh? And isn’t it a little odd that masks are really coming to the fore in this novel, with the gold mask we’ve seen as well?
So the scene with Brood doesn’t just set up possible events in this book (war with the Rhivi, obviously), but I like how Esslemont here reminds us both of prior characters and possible future other book events: “Silverfox has departed. Gone to another land, some say.”
Nigh on impossible I’d think to avoid reading this discussion between Brood and Tserig without seeing it as an analogue for the Native American experience (or other such contacts between two cultures in that mode. You’ve got Tserig describing how “they hem us in on all sides. Trespass across our lands. Kill all the animals they find. They are like a plague,” Brood’s suggestion that peace treaties are the only way to go to mitigate what’s to inevitably come, and Tserig’s repeatedly-proven-by-history point that “Treaties [are] never honoured by the powerful.” Sure Brood offers to guarantee them, but unfortunately in our own history, we were a bit lacking in the Ascendant who can flatten a continent.
I do like this quietly impassioned discussion between old (well, old and really, really, old) men
Seriously Yusek? Telling Lorkal, “So you gave up? Just like that?” Not exactly a quick learner, is she?
The slow reveal of bits and pieces of Seguleh beliefs, language, etc. is nicely done so far in this first nearly-half of the book. And I like seeing Sall with some sense of human obligation here and then finding out this philosophy is taught amongst the Seguleh: “How we treat others is the measure of how we should expect to be treated.”
This scene with Lorkal also does a nice job of creating some ongoing tension/suspense as the reader can’t help but cringe a bit in thinking of what might be coming should Lorkal not convince her leader to submit to the Seguleh and allow them simply to move on.
I do wonder what Dernan thought he’d learn from Lorkal by torture. As in what he thought had really happened. Because it seems the whole “The Seguleh are coming” would be an odd lie to pull out. And he had to have thought something would explain how she returned without anyone else.
Ascendants are “few and far between?” Has Bo not been reading this series? Oh wait, he says there are more out there than most people think. So he has been reading, good. I like his phrasing in that Ascendency is an “a constant effort to assert one’s identity. An eternal rescribing of what one is,” with the Dragon Deck roles as “one expression of these identities.” Only one of many, he makes clear to point out.
It’s also interesting that he is a mage that is not “aspected” to war. We’re so used as readers to seeing the Malazan mages in battle (or pre/post battle), that I at least have never really wondered about what the non-military mages are out there doing. We’ve had mention here and there; it would be/have been interesting to have seen a little of that
I can’t say the “Slayer of Anomander Rake…” is much of a reveal by this point
I do like Torvald—he’s such a great everyman kind of character who just keeps getting dropped into big events from the land of mundania.
“little Chaur” is a nice touch, though the characterization of Scillara is sad
Well, that didn’t last long for Jeshin, did it?
I know we as readers are not buying Blend’s statement, “Not our fight.” But does anyone think the Malazans, or Blend herself, are buying it?
A few more tidbits about Fisher that are intriguing. One of course is the question about where he is from. But perhaps more so is his belief that “even a Seguleh would find in him far from easy challenge.” Bravado? We haven’t seen much of that from Fisher, so perhaps it is mere reality?
I am starting to feel a bit, well, “Antsy” at this point, nearly the half-way point. I’ve had lots of set-up with people being moved about the board, into place, or rising and falling in their personal arc (Jeshin, Ebbin) but feeling like lateral motion in the overall story arc. Here, the Seguleh scene, for example, was distinguished enough from the earlier Seguleh scene, nor did it lead me anywhere I didn’t know we were going (since we were told from early on who Lo seeks). But perhaps that’s just me, as most of you seemed to feel the pace was fine in the last chapter reread.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.