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 twelve 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.
Coll wanders his house drunk and waiting to be assassinated, recalling his lost love. A hooded man shows up, whom Coll thinks is there to kill him, but it turns out to be Rallick, who tells him it’s unlikely he’s been targeted for assassination because he is “old and ineffectual, useless, unimportant…” Rallick upbraids him for not remarrying and getting himself an heir, saying maybe he’ll make a wiser choice this time. Eventually he admits to being under the guild’s death sentence himself, and then says he wants to get rid of the Tyrant. Coll notes their employer, Baruk, has been taken or failed and wonders what they can do then, but Rallick replies that just means the burden falls to them and Kruppe. When Coll scoffs, saying Kruppe is long gone, Rallick corrects him, saying Kruppe is in hiding but still with a hand in the game. In fact, he confesses, he’s beginning to think Kruppe is a lot more than they’d thought, pointing out that besides having an “eye” on all parts of Darujhistan via him, Coll, Crokus, and Murillio, he also managed to face down Brood. Rallick also informs Coll he thinks the guild has retaken the contract to kill the Legate, though he doubts they’ll succeed. Coll, though, starting to consider the whole thing, isn’t so sure, saying if they’ve learned anything, it’s that anyone can be killed. They agree to have Rallick watch the guild and Coll the Council.
As Topper wanders the hills outside Darujhistan, he thinks how all this recent chaos, including prior recent events such as Rake’s death, the loss of Moon’s Spawn, etc. are pretty good deals for the Empire, opening up doors for further imperial expansion. Though he worries about Mallick’s competency (particularly his “adventurism in Korel.”
He drops into the burial chamber Ebbin discovered, seeking further information about the Legate in case he needs to move against him. Which he hopes it does, as the news about the Tyrant’s young girl reminds him of someone he very much wants to face.
He examines the one corpse remaining down there, wondering why “this one alone resisted, or failed, reconstitution and escape. It seemed a puzzle. A trap within a trap. Subtle weavings. Yet who was trapping whom?”
Sensing the spells around it, he eliminates human, Tiste, K’Chain, Forkrul, thinking that left the Jaghut, though he wonders if the Jaghut Tyrants are really returned. He exits, still unsure of too many things, too many players, and decides to wait, “at least until the inevitable frantic recall to the capital.”
Torvald’s ship docks at Dhavran, and he says goodbye to Brood and the Rhivi elder Tserig, who laugh and tell him there’s nothing at Pale for him; he’s therefore going with them to talk to the Rhivi and try to talk them out of invading and fighting the Malazans. A bit taken aback, Torvald agrees.
After a few days, the first Rhivi begin arriving. When they bow before the “Warlord,” Torvald realizes who his traveling companion is. Brood says he wants to treat with Jiwan, as does Torvald as an official emissary from Darujhistan. They agree to pass the message on.
Later, Jiwan arrives and when Brood asks him not to fight, Jiwan “respectfully “says Brood was once a wise leader but is now old and grieving over Rake like “a mourning elder who looks at life only to see death.” He adds such a vision is not for one wishing to lead a people who “seek life, who look to the future.” Brood mocks the idea of going to war “seeking life” and says he will block the bridge. When Torvald agrees with Brood, Jiwan informs them the Legate has promised to assist the Rhivi against the Malazans. Jiwan leads the Rhivi around the bridge and once they’ve passed, Brood says he will deal with the Legate. When Torvald fears for Darujhistan, Brood tells him his anger is only at the Legate, adding he believes Lim is being controlled by something else. Brood asks Tserig to go with Jiwan as a voice of wisdom should things go wrong. Torvald rejects the idea of returning, saying he will seek out the Moranth. Brood warns him nobody has ever found them in their mountain holds, saying only Kellanved and Dancer managed to find a way into the Cloud Forest. But Torvald says he is sure they’ll speak to him.
Leoman and Kiska have spent several days watching Maker and Tayschrenn and the creatures rescuing other beings from the Vitr. Kiska says he can leave, and when he replies he can’t just go back to the Queen of Dreams empty-handed, she reassures him the Queen is not vindictive. She adds he’s making her uncomfortable, and he points out to her great annoyance that her watching the rescuers probably has the same effect on them. She heads off.
We wonder why the wacky witch weirdly whittles while she watches and waits, wheezily wafting some weed.
An exhausted Barathol is making a crib for Chaur. Scillara tells him she’s worried about his new job and scared she’ll lose him. He says she’ll always have him in Little Chaur, but she admits all she sees in the baby is hungry need. She suggests leaving town, but he says it’s all almost done.
The Seguleh slaughter some turnips.
The Seguleh enter the city.
Harllo never gets to enjoy any invasions ever. Instead his mean old mom pulls him inside and like all moms, pulls out her crossbow after barring the door.
The Seguleh jog past the Phoenix Inn.
The Seguleh continue to jog, despite not having a parade permit.
As he marches, Jan notes all the differences between the Darujhistan of today and the Darujhistan of their histories and legends, especially how the Dwelling Plains were now “dust and desolation” rather than a “verdant” land of plenty and how all the great buildings of the city were gone, “destroyed in the Great Shattering and Fall.” He worries about how the last First had been “reluctant” to discuss “the fulfillment of the long-held dream of his people.” He recalls how one Second, angered or frustrated at the First’s silence, had quit, calling them all “slaves to tradition,” and how rumors later said he has “taken up a sword in the service of true slavery.” Jan and his escort of 20 enter the Great Hall. He is surprised at the mask on the figure on the throne; it is not the “he had come all this way to meet.”
The Tyrant welcomes him, saying, “You have answered the call of your master. Soon all shall be restored to what it was. The Circle of Perfect Rulership is near completion.” Jan is stunned: “The golden Father? First guide me! Was this the source of your silence? Ancestors forgive me, which do I choose? The knee or the blade? … Am I not Second? And did not the last First ever instruct — the Second had but one task. The Second follows.” He kneels, as do all in his escort.
This is some very effective writing as we hear about some of Coll’s innermost thoughts—that he has never got over the one woman whose presence is still very much around in his house, that he would rather die to the quick assassin’s knife than have someone challenge him to a duel that he would almost certainly lose. I like the way that this warrior’s age and mental condition are shown like this—it reminds us that heroes get old and have to find a new life. And clearly some of them struggle to adjust more than others.
It would have been a singular cruelty if Rallick was the one sent to assassinate Coll!
Ah, to have your own gloomy thoughts verbalised at you by someone else who is able to see it all: “Because you’re old and ineffectual. Useless. Unimportant. Marginalized and sidelined…”
Heh, love how Coll castigates Rallick for possibly leading members of the guild to his estate, and Rallick rather dryly replies: “I thought you were expecting them.” It goes to show that, despite his gloom, Coll really isn’t ready for death.
Oooh, Rallick getting rather close to realising how very important and central Kruppe is: “I wonder now if all along I was nothing more than his hand and ear in the guild. As Murillio was among the aristocracy, and young Crokus may be been on the streets. While you were a potential hand and ear in the Council.” Coll is rather too quick to dismiss the idea, considering how much evidence starts pointing that way.
Topper really is a grumpy individual—or perhaps cynical is a better word. He is one of those rare characters where I actually prefer to see him from the perspective of other people—his biting sarcasm, his grins. Seeing inside his head and hearing his thoughts takes away a lot of the mystery and attitude.
It seems really odd to me that they are dealing with a Tyrant and that the Jaghut Tyrants continue to be mentioned. This can’t just be an awkward error in using the same term, surely?
Hahahahaha! Love that Torvald is referring to Caladan Brood as Cal and thinks “…had once been some sort of military commander far in the north.” That’s brilliant. Equally, his reaction to finding out the truth is pitch perfect: “He heard a roaring in his ears and his vision darkened, narrowing to a tunnel.”
And doesn’t this sentence bring up an interesting possibility… “For an instant he had a flashback to another of his travelling companions, one similarly large and abstruse.” Imagine that little encounter between Karsa and Caladan Brood.
Yeah, the attitude of Jiwan towards Cal, so dismissive, grates on me as well as Torvald, especially when Cal says things like: “…all those foolish enough to follow anyone hypocritical—or inexperienced—enough to speak of life while going to war.” He just speaks such sense.
The end of this scene is great, from the moment where Torvald Nom doesn’t know exactly how to ask Caladan not to level his city, to the intrigue about how/what exactly Nom has/knows about the Moranth that will allow his passage to treat with them.
And then……. oh, another Kiska/Leoman scene. How… exciting.
A tiny bit of warmth from Scillara here—makes me wonder if we’re seeing postnatal depression represented here in this fantasy world. She’s scared of losing Barathol, so she clearly has warm feelings still, but can’t see Chaur as anything but a drain on her. Sounds like postnatal depression.
Oh, bless Harllo—no Seguleh for him!
And did Kruppe steal that fifth plate of food?
Some wonderful moments as the Seguleh enter the city. I particularly like this one:
“Warn them! Warn the Council!”
The man slammed the wooden stopper home. “I’ll just trot along behind, shall I?”
Poor Jan. So much changed on his way into Darujhistan and then the person he comes before is not the one he expected. Here is where the Seguleh respect for procedures and order falls down, if the Second must always follow. Because Jan has just handed the Seguleh to someone who shouldn’t have them.
It’s a pretty common storyline, but one I almost always enjoy—the character who was once of action who now, through age or jadedness or pain or grief etc. seems to be done with living who gets pulled into caring one more time. Thus with Coll, a character I’ve always liked anyway.
Topper’s observation that “logic rarely guided such choice. History and precedent ruled. His names for such forces in human activity were laziness and inertia” is pretty smack on. I suppose that’s part of what makes us human.
Topper’s tomb visit is one of those frustrating scenes where you feel you should be getting a lot more information than you are. Though certainly we’re being pointed to curiosity about the one creature left down there—who is the trapper and who is the trappee?
Beyond the Darujhistan stuff, I find it interesting, his lack of confidence in Mallick Rel as emperor, who as much as I can’t stand the guy, seems to be pretty on the ball (damn him).
Have I mentioned how much I like Torvald? He’s such a normal guy, who gets caught up in so many non-normal events and hooks up with so many non-normal people. Even when he doesn’t know it, as with the humor in him not knowing he’s hanging out with the Brood, and the extra humor of him calling him “Cal.” A guy who surprisingly knows a lot about history. Huh.
Lotta wheel spinning with Kiska and Leoman. I’m just sayin…
I do like Grisp Faluant and his turnips though. Poor Grisp, always in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you recall, we saw him in Toll the Hounds lose both his home and dog Scamper to the Hounds.
Jan’s “double-vision” of how his legends and stories don’t match the present Darujhistan (as expected) might be a bit of foreshadowing. What else might not match?
Note that reference to the Second who threw down his sword but then took up another. We have seen a Seguleh in long service to another…
That’s a nice tense moment with Jan before the throne, and I wouldn’t actually have minded it being a bit more drawn out personally—more of his thoughts, more tension perhaps from the Tyrant, maybe seeing Baruk there and his reaction.
The Tyrant with an army of Seguleh—that can’t be headed toward anything good…
So now we have one army in place—the Seguleh. We still have the Rhivi moving and the Malazans moving—so they must be close but not there yet. And we have Torvald going to get the Moranth, so they might still have a part to play (and remember they can move more quickly). Things should be picking up a bit.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.