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 eleven 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.
Barathol has been sleeping in his work tent and checking in on baby Chaur because of Scillara’s lack of a maternal instinct (which he doesn’t hold against her). Working at night, he hears a noise and investigating it, has a quick fight with an assailant who turns out to be Blend. As he talks to her, Topper comes up behind him with a dagger and tells Barathol it’s time for him to choose between the Legate and the Empire. Blend warns Topper off, then when she mentions Barathol’s name, Topper makes the connection to him being Kalam’s brother and almost kills him. Blend warns him off again, calling Barathol a friend, and when Barathol says he’s just trying to feed his family, Topper promises him coin for looking the other way. Barathol returns to the forge, spars a bit with Baruk, and begins working on melting silver into bars. Baruk dismisses him and as he’s moving away, there’s a big explosion. He heads back.
He arrives to find Baruk and the other mage, Aman, examining the blocks, which seem relatively undamaged. He’s ordered to see if the links are OK, which they seem to be. He’s dismissed again.
Back at the bar, the marines wonder if Barathol said anything to anyone, but Blend says Topper had warned him not to. They hear the explosion and assume the blocks were destroyed.
The next morning, the bar is attacked by Aman, who tells them they were too obvious the night before. While the others battle Aman, Spindle is about to launch a munition when Baruk grabs him and tells him, “Do not make me do what I might otherwise avoid doing, Bridgeburner.” Taya appears and attacks Fisher, unsuccessfully much to her great surprise (and others’) and dismay. Hinter grabs Blend and Picker, and things appear to not be going well, when K’rul appears in the form of an old woman and dismisses Hinter (to his shock). Taya and Aman leave, with Aman saying they’ll tell the Tyrant on K’rul. Baruk says it’s foolish to “make things so clear,” but K’rul says “I am taking no one’s side but my own.” Baruk tells Spindle their attempt on the stones failed, emphasizing the Moranth (“their alchemy”) is warded against. He leaves and K’rul disappears.
Tiserra looks in Torvald’s hiding spot and finds out he took the “strange Moranth items” with him,” and she wonders why. She anticipates a time of “great shattering.”
Antsy and his companions run into another hostile group and get closed in an immense room Orchid says might be a temple of sorts. They’re approached by guardians who tell Orchid her group needs to be cleansed as they are polluting sacred ground. A Tiste Andii appears, though his eyes are “more lifeless looking, being black on black. His hair was dark as well and very long. He wore it braided . . . He was also rather heavier-set than most Andii.” He tells Orchid he had been “saying his goodbyes,” when he’d sensed someone speaking the True Tongue, adding it has been a “very long time.” He has some curt words with the guardians, and Antsy notices a sudden chill in the air. The guardians bow to the stranger and withdraw. The Andii identifies himself as Morn. When Orchid gives her name, Morn informs her it is an Andii name, and then tells her if she stays rather than goes to the gap, she can learn more of “her inheritance,” calling her “Child of the Night.” Orchid faints.
Later, Antsy and Corien hang out while Orchid and Morn talks, Morn trying to persuade her to stay. Antsy isn’t sure he buys that Orchid is part-Andii. As they spar, Antsy asks Corien why those of Darujhistan are often so good with the sword, and Corien replies the city has a long tradition of swordsmanship. Morn offers to guide them to the Gap. Orchid tells Antsy she too is unsure if Morn is right about her, adding she’s not fully ready to trust Morn, calling him “more than he pretends to be,” explaining the wraith guardians called him “lord.”
They pass by a tapestry of Darujhistan, the city dominated by a huge blue dome. Morn says it’s an image from 2000 years ago during the age of the Tyrant Kings. Antsy asks how Morn knows all this, and Morn admits to having been “away for some time” in a place where “there was little else to do” but question everyone he met for news. They run into some Seguleh, who tells Morn they “do not fear ancient shades,” then inform the others they can pass to the upper halls so long as they vow to give the Seguleh “a piece of artwork stolen” from them long ago if they come across it. They think “Blacksword” (Rake) took or acquired a plain white mask. Everyone but Antsy swears, but he asks why the Seguleh themselves aren’t looking for it. Enoi (one of the Seguleh) scoffs at the idea of Seguleh rooting like “common thieves” through the rubble. Instead, they say they’ll just take it from whoever eventually finds it, which Antsy points out sounds a lot like stealing. The Seguleh say they’re not stealing; they’ll pay richly for the mask with gems they’ve collected while waiting. Antsy swears. They move on.
Shortly afterward, they’re captured by a group of ambushers (one of whom looks “vaguely familiar” to Antsy), though Morn seems to have disappeared. One of them refers to Antsy as a “Malazan spy.”
They’re brought past a big camp, with about 50 armed men and women and slaves and put in a cell.
Chaur really drew the short straw with his mother, didn’t he? I am wondering if the mentions about Barathol stepping up to the plate as the father are to help cement his position as a ‘good guy’ in this story, or if something is going to happen with Scillara leaving, or betraying him, or something at a later stage.
We also see the fact that Barathol is weak where Chaur is concerned: “He wasn’t the type to go quietly and he almost moved rather than just stand and be slaughtered but the thought of little Chaur stopped him and he froze.” I think this might be important in the future.
Although he’s certainly not afraid to then cheek the angular mage watching the process of the forge, including questioning him about why there is a timetable to these blocks being dealt with. What timetable could that be?
I’m amused by Barathol’s commitment to his subterfuge: “Damn! Now I have to go back for a look—it would be strange if I didn’t.”
Love the scene where the Bridgeburners are ambushed by the mages. Methinks Spindle won’t be forgetting that short sword again in a hurry. And who the hell is Fisher really? Taking on Taya so easily, when she has cut a swathe across Darujhistan?
Shouldn’t have read Bill’s scene summary before reading the chapter—I would have liked to not know immediately this woman was K’rul. I mean, it is made obvious fairly quickly, sure, but that little mystery would have been a treat. Look at that—a rookie mistake. Except I’m four and a half years into this, so rookie probably isn’t the right word!
It’s nice to see Baruk so conflicted in some ways—it makes it seem as though we can get ‘our’ Baruk back later in the novel.
Why does Torvald think he will need those Moranth items where he is going?
Ha! Amused by Orchid pausing to look at the majesty of a hall in Moon’s Spawn, thinking over which hall it might be, and Antsy just cutting her off with ‘fine’. No imagination!
I know that some of the readers don’t really get on with the wandering group about Moon’s Spawn storyline, but I am very fond of it. I like the characters, I like the tenseness. I even like the feel of a dungeon campaign in D&D or something like that, with the blocked entrances and the sudden encounters in the dark. It feels very traditional fantasy, but has enough of the Malazan series touches and history to lend it added richness.
Is Orchid really of Tiste Andii blood? I mean, she has that curious weight to her, she’s suddenly developed mage-like/healer abilities, she is described as suddenly looking like a priestess. She could be, but I don’t want to just believe this Morn.
Speaking of Morn, strange character, non? Those eyes—black on black—sound like the eyes of Draconus. And he’s been away a very long time, in a… prison… Dragnipur?
I like what is expressed by Antsy and Corien as they talk—that Antsy has become accustomed to forming lines and taking orders, and Corien says that is where the Darujhistans seem to fall short. That actually defines really well the differences we’ve seen between the Malazans and those who live in Darujhistan.
Still enjoying these reactions by people on meeting Seguleh—here, both Orchid and Corien recognising them as such before Antsy knows it. They truly are walking legends. And all of this must be building up to us seeing them in action as a combined force. Can’t wait! Also love Antsy’s thought when he hears that they are Seguleh: “Everyone says just three of them defeated the entire Pannion army. Not true, of course.”
When the Seguleh says that Anomander Rake either took or acquired the mask, does this mean that there is some doubt as to whether he truly held his position in the Thousand?
Who is this man that Antsy thinks looks familiar, and who recognises in his voice the tones of a Malazan? I agree with Antsy: “Malazan spy. He didn’t like the sound of that.”
That’s our second reference to Scillara’s poor parenting, which is both sad and also makes one wonder if that storyline between Scillara and Barathol is going someplace bad.
Barathol is painted in a pretty good light (no surprise) in this scene in a nice bit of characterization. His willingness to investigate the noise and his bravery in doing so, his silence afterward, his quick realization of what the marines were probably doing there.
Sure, they needed help from K’rul in the end, but I love the great choreography of response from the Malazans with the mage attack—Picker and Blend tossing the table over, waiting for Spindle to yell clear before tossing munitions, Fisher with the crossbow immediately afterward. There’s a reason the Empire did so well, and why these folks are the survivors.
We’ve had several hints in eyes and expressions that Baruk is fighting the compulsion, or trying to at least, and here we see him actively trying to avoid killing the marines, apparently trying to do the minimum of his orders. And then of course, his praise of their attempt and his seeming hint to do something else all would seem to add up to him trying to undermine the Tyrant despite the compulsion.
We also get more of an interesting look at Fisher, who takes on Taya and wins. And we know what Taya is like.
Helps to have an Elder god in your back pocket, eh? (Though it is hard to keep track of his/her genders.)
So Torvald has some alchemicals with him. Hmm. And what might be the “great shattering” Tisarra anticipates? We do know violence seems to be in the air and impending.
The visuals are quite nicely done in these scenes with Antsy’s group. I like that we get to see some of the majesty of Moon’s Spawn, even in its wrecked and pillaged state.
So we have yet another mysterious character to add to the list—Morn. Obviously, we’ll have to pay close attention to him to see if a) he’s really a stranger or not and b) who/what he really is, since we’re obviously introduced to him with some doubt/suspicion. But the fact that the Andii guardians call him, “Lord”, and more impressively back that up by clearly deferring to him places him obviously in a pretty elite, and one would imagine, small group.
And what about that name. Is it a play on “morning”? On “mourn”? Or is it connected to the site of Morn?
And is he even really there? At one point Antsy thinks of him as “the shade, or Andii, or whatever he was,” and later the Seguleh say they are not afraid of shades (and that’s a nice touch, that Morn responds with a “ghost” of a smile).
A few more clues—he’s been away a “long” time. And think about that word “long” from the Andii perspective for a moment. And he was somewhere where there wasn’t much to do. In our world, if someone said they were gone for a long time in a place where they had nothing they could do, we might think they were in prison. We do have a version of “prison” in this world. Is that the reference?
We also have to wonder if he’s telling the truth about Orchid being part Andii.
It’s interesting phrasing from the Seguleh that Rake either “took” or acquired it, knowing what we do about how Seguleh masks are generally transferred.
I absolutely love Antsy in this scene. His keeping up the crossbow until it’s fully explained, his curiosity, his refusal especially to take the vow, the way he charges them with being hypocrites, and then his immediate willingness to swear once he sees the gems.
So who is this guy who has taken them prisoner that Antsy thinks he looks a bit familiar? Someone who recognizes a Malazan accent?
I like the added suspense in this chapter—Barathol placed in the midst of things, Baruk shown as a wild card, the mysterious Morn and then the mysterious kidnapper. It’s a nice job of adding tension to the storyline.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.