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 nine 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.
Just a note that Amanda will be adding her response into the comments as soon as she can.
Leoman and Kiska follow the creatures to the beach of the Vitr and after a long wait see a man coming out of the Vitr. Kiska thinks it’s Tayschrenn, and then from behind here’s a voice agreeing with her. They turn to find Yathengar (“the man who summoned the Chaos Whorl… [that] consumed him and Tayschrenn, flinging them both to this edge of creation.”) Leoman and Kiska attack, but Yathengar uses his sorcery to control them, marching them down to the beach, where the creatures scatter in fear. Yathengar tells Tayschrenn he can’t hide anymore, but Tayschrenn has no idea who Yathengar is. Yathengar attacks with magic, and when the giant demon tries to stop him, tosses it aside easily. Tayschrenn calls Yathengar a mage, saying that means he is Tayschrenn’s enemy and grapples with him. Kiska tells Tayschrenn that Yathengar hasn’t touched the Vitr, so Tayschrenn manages to get him into it and then eventually hold him in it as it consumes him.
Tayschrenn exits the Vitr alone, healed by the substance. Kiska tells him she too is from his past and confirms he also was once a mage. When she adds he is needed, he spurns her, saying he’s done with that life (whatever it was) and he heads off with the giant demon Korus. Leoman recounts his experience as Sha’ik’s bodyguard to try and make the point that some things don’t go as they’re “supposed to,” but she doesn’t care, telling him she’s going after him and mentioning he might get his memory back, which is little comfort to Leoman.
Antsy’s group, with Malakai scouting ahead, comes across another underground city. They feel a sudden quake and Antsy thinks they just lost a piece of the island. They rest at the foot of some stairs heading upward, with Antsy and Corien agreeing that their number one goal has now become getting off the island alive. On watch, Antsy thinks of the how few Bridgeburners are left, recalling how “even Ferret got a proper service and remembrance.” As he recalls him, he thinks he sees Ferret in front of him. Then Ferret asks him, “What the fuck are you doin’ here, Antsy? You’re not dead.” Corien wakes and takes over the watch, with Antsy thinking the place is driving him crazy.
Malakai arrives when they all wake and when he complains about their pace, the three inform him they’ve decided they’re looking for the nearest exit and a way off while they are alive. When Malachi doesn’t seem quite ready to accept it, reminding them of his “investment” in them, Corien points out that if he really thinks, as he apparently does, that the group is slowing him down, then leaving them to go on their own will make his success more likely, thereby repaying his investment. Surprisingly, Malakai agrees and leaves. Before they head on, Orchid says she wants to keep Malakai near because she doesn’t trust him, and she worries about him uncovering some things in Moon’s Spawn that shouldn’t be. Antsy complains about the dark, and Orchid offers to help him see, admitting she’s kept that ability secret because of her mistrust of Malakai. As she works, they congratulate each other on getting Malakai to leave without violence, and Corien says he believes it mostly had to do with Malakai being afraid to tangle with Antsy, pointing out they’d never really seen him do much save take on the cannibals in the village, who were all unarmed, starving, and unable to see much. When Corien describes Antsy as “rather intimidating,” Antsy thinks, “Me? You haven’t met the Bridgeburners, friend.” Orchid finishes and Antsy can now see “as if he was looking at the world through a shard of blue-stained glass.” Corien uses his alchemist’s concoction on his own eyes.
Taya finds Vorcan has imprisoned herself in her lowest room with otataral chains so as to resist the Tyrant’s call. Taya mocks Vorcan and then her guards, but Vorcan warns her Lazan, Madrun, and Studlock have more to them than it appears. Taya leaves, telling her mother “I had come dreaming of killing you, but now I see your suffering pleases me more… Think of me often at the court of Darujhistan’s rightful king reinstated.” Studlock appears and says they let her pass per Vorcan’s order (standing order that an “other” is also allowed to go by). She counsels patience, saying, “His arising will be contested. We will see what form that will take,” adding the contesting will take the same form as before, much to Studlock’s dismay: “Oh dear. Him.”
Kruppe visits the crazy old witch and asks if the objects are ready. She tells them they almost are. Sexual innuendo rears its head.
Aragan has stayed in Darujhistan as a “standing offer of dialogue with whatever was gathering power around Majesty Hill.” The current Mast of the Claw arrives and tells Aragan the Emperor considers Darujhistan integral to control of this continent and so he is here to “watch and wait,” though he also wants to question the man in charge of gathering intelligence for Aragan.
Construction work continues at Majesty Hall. A new worker with a smelly shirt (Spindle) has been hanging around the covered tent. Another worker warns him that the two overseers aren’t to be messed with, and recounts how a former worker, after he dropped a tool on a stone, was struck down with magic by the tall overseer with a staff (Baruk). Spindle, who gives his name as Turner, asks what they’re building, and the others think it’s some kind of protection for the city. Spindle decides to see just what’s up with these stones.
Spindle enters the tent to find it completely dark and when challenged by the hunched mage bent over glowing stones, Spindle says he’s there to report the workers are almost done. He backs out right into Baruk, who grabs him. Spindle’s magic responds and Baruk reacts. Spindle assumes he’s done for, but Baruk instead sends him on, despite it being clear he knows Spindle is a mage. As he works, he wonders at the precision engineering/surveying instruments he saw in the tent.
Coll sits in assembly somewhat shunned by his peers thanks to his resistance to the Legate. He wonders about Lim’s lengthy absence. When he questions one of Lim’s supporters, he’s outraged when the other councilor tells him the Legate will “grant audience in the Great Hall for any official business,” and then insultingly suggests Coll do just that. Coll stalks off and enters the “cursed” Great Hall. He sees a “figure” on the dais and asks Lim what he’s doing. A gold-masked figure, Ebbin, steps out and says he speaks for the Legate, then Baruk moves forward as well, though not the Baruk he knows. Coll has an epiphany that the T’orrud Cabal was real, that Baruk had been part of it, and that the Cabal has not made a move for power. He tells Baruk the Cabal will fail, but Cabal replies, “We’re here now because the Cabal failed.”
An isolated hamlet at the southern edge of the Dwelling Plain is surprised by the appearance of a masked army jogging by, heading toward Darujhistan. One only stops for a drink, one with a single smear on his mask.
I confess that the Kiska storyline does feel a bit too much like spinning wheels to me on this reread. It’s interesting, because it’s a lot of waiting by the two characters, and unless you have some scintillating dialogue, that means it’s a lot of waiting for the reader and that’s a tough thing to pull off as a writer. Here, Yathengar appears literally out of nowhere, announces he’d been trying to keep his being alive a secret (which makes me wonder why he’s appearing), and then there’s a few seconds of a scuffle and that’s it. I suppose it clears up a small loose end, but still.
I think part of the problem I’m having with the Kiska/Leoman plot (beyond reading it at this artificially slow pace of the reread), is that these characters are already wholly familiar, and they’re not really developing in this short little run, nor are they involved in any action. Antsy’s storyline, on the other hand, offers me several completely new characters and so thanks to both the personal mysteries behind each (their background, their motivations), there is also the interest in seeing them develop individually and in concert. So I’m finding myself much more invested/interested in this plot line. Plus, the Spawns is an inherently more interesting setting just physically and in terms of atmosphere, and it has built in suspense—more cannibals. Cutthroat looters. Demons. Spawn-quakes.
Ferret’s appearance and line, “What the fuck are you doin’ here, Antsy? You’re not dead,” is a good reminder to readers who may have forgotten that Moon’s Spawn is home to dead Bridgeburners.
So the separation from Malakai is an example of some of the built-in tension in this group—-for a while there, the reader has no idea how this scene is going to go, violent or not. So far I think this plotline is being handled quite nicely in terms of the rise and fall of suspense.
And I also like Antsy’s obliviousness and modest with regard to how intimidating he can be out of the context of the Bridgeburners
On the other hand, while I do understand Orchid’s desire to not fully reveal herself to Malakai, it’s a little hard for me to accept that leading around an entirely blind guy through all of Moon’s Spawn’s wreckage would be a wise choice. Though is forgetting to open his eyes and being bummed the spell didn’t work is a nice light moment.
I like this running mystery about Lazan, Madrun, and Studlock. It’s one of those small bits of woven story that makes the tapestry so much richer, even if we don’t follow the thread back to the beginning to find out their exact story (just a reminder, we learned in Toll the Hounds the first two are renegade Seguleh, which explains Vorcan’s line about drawing on them)
So, obviously Vorcan doesn’t name the “he” who will contend with the Tyrant. But if you think about the alleged power of the Tyrant and other singular powers in Darujhistan. And you think of some clues that have been dropped here and there like crumbs. And then just listen to that tone from Studlock of that final italicized, “Him.” I think it’s a pretty well drawn arrow.
One that becomes big and bold with the transition into this next section.
So what objects might Kruppe be requisitioning from the old witch? And when can I scrub my mind of the thought of Kruppe’s “battering ram”?
While the Claw is unnamed in this scene with Aragan, we’re given several clues, including his title as Master of the Claw, his green clothing, and Aragan’s obviously being impressed with his abilities since his appearance means the Emperor is taking this seriously. Also, recall that the person gathering intelligence for Aragan is Spindle and the “deserter” Malazans.
One of the things I like about this book is that those Bridgeburners who weren’t really held up quite so much as ones like Fiddle and Hedge, such as Antsy and Spindle, are being shown in their sort of full Bridgeburner capability. Antsy with his intimidation, all-unknowing, of Malakai. And Spindle here wandering in to spy out the tent despite the scary and clearly dangerous possibilities.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Barak’s eyes as revealing a possible battle within himself. The question is, which side will win?
It’s nice to see even an aged, overweight Coll can give a young upstart pause. One hopes he comes out of this OK.
And here come the Seguleh in full force. This will be a bit of a shock to the system, one would think.
There are a lot of “figures” and unspecified pronouns and aliases and new names for old friends and hidden or shrouded or masked folk here. I’ll admit that sometimes, the ambiguity can be a little annoying. But I do think there’s a unification of image working here with that concept of the mask, so it will be interesting to see if that plays out through the book and if so how.