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 thirteen 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.
Note: Bill has been snowed with work and will be adding his comments below.
Antsy is woken by a hammering on the wall of their cell and told to get up. The leader of the detachment is the same fellow with the huge beard. They are led through many tunnels to a room with a table covered in scrolls and sheets of paper. A fat man is in there, studying a document. This man studies them, refers to them as “a Darujhistan dandy, a Malazan deserter, and some rich merchant’s plaything” and asks how they can be of use to him. Antsy suddenly recalls that this chap is called Torbal Loat, and was a man who had territory in the north before the Malazans drove him out.
They are offered a position with him—although Antsy is told sternly that desertion is punishable by immediate execution. They are asked about Malakai, and Antsy is happy enough to hear that Torbal is planning to locate him.
The person who escorts them back to their new rooms is Otan, and is another person Antsy is familiar with. Otan makes it clear he doesn’t like Antsy, and that he’ll be keeping an eye.
The three of them talk quietly in their new rooms. Orchid tells them they are not yet at the top of the Spawn. Antsy says that makes sense, that this lot are likely fighting for control of the place and the most likely candidates for their opponents are Malazans. Antsy asks Orchid if she can provide enough darkness for them to escape through, while still allowing them to see, and she thinks she can. Antsy suggests they make a bid for freedom immediately. When Corien says that he knows what he is doing and calls him Red, Antsy reveals what his true name is.
As they wait in the darkness for their chance, Orchid stands close enough to Antsy for him to smell and he tells himself to get a grip when he thinks on her scent as rare spice. They talk about whether she is part Andii and she says that it feels right. She mentions that there are some things that are strange about her childhood in the temple—like the fact teachers kept arriving as young people and then leaving as old people—and Antsy realises she is probably more than twice his age.
Suddenly a fight breaks out and they try to escape round the settlement, but end up in the thick of what is going on. Antsy hears an argument between a woman and a man, and peers to see who it might be. The woman wears a costume of all shades of red, while the man is a short round ball. As Antsy stares at them he doesn’t notice the thief Jallin running towards him and then shouting ‘kill that man!’
The woman ignores his demands and, as Otan brings out more men, she unleashes flames. Orchid reveals that that is the way out.
Bendan gives his name as ‘Butcher’ to those in the Malazan camp, although the people in his own squad are no longer using it. He felt at his happiest during the march to the camp when they had used it—he’d felt as though he belonged. But now when he says his name he gets funny looks and some laughs. The camp is crowded with the remnants of the Second, Fifth and Sixth from Pale. Bendan doesn’t agree with Fist Steppen’s plan of hiding in the fort—he thinks they should be out taking control of the ground.
Eventually they receive orders to march west. When Bendan sees the force they are facing he thinks there are too many. They are there to rescue other Malazans from these Rhivi horsemen, but Bendan thinks they should just be left. The leader of those they rescue is K’ess and Bendan asks who that is. When he’s told that K’ess is in charge of the whole thing, Bendan thinks it is a bad beginning if they have to first rescue the guy in charge.
They are virtually back to the fort. After a grinding night march back, Bendan finally sees the Malazans from the fort opening crossbow fire on the Rhivi and appreciates the safety of the fort. An alarm is raised and they are told to double time to the fort, and Bendan sees the true extent of the Rhivi forces.
Krute considers the true idea of assassination—that of finding the one fatal weakness of your target and using it. In the case of the Legate he believes that the Seguleh are actually providing the weakness, since the Legate now considers himself to be invincible and leaves himself virtually unguarded. They try again to assassinate the Legate—Krute sends down some colleagues, and is dismayed when they seem to be taking too long. He peers through the window and sees the Legate climbing to his feet, and wonders what they are actually facing.
He returns to the roof and finds that his three baby mages have now vanished as well. Only instinct has him ducking as Taya then seeks to take him down. As she raises her blades again a crossbow bolt takes her in the side. Rallick then throws his crossbow aside and tells Krute to run.
Rallick slips into a place of cover on the roof and waits. In an instant Baruk appears before him, and reminds Rallick that it is Barukanal now. Despite the commands upon him, Baruk manages to give Rallick some hints about what to look out for—the Malazan who has a unique insight into the qualities of the new construction. Rallick reaches out to try and help Baruk, but the latter tells him to stay away.
Just after Rallick leaves the roof another figure shows himself, wearing a cloak that shines almost emerald in the light and observes that “some go in… yet none come out.” He heads off.
Rallick heads back to the Phoenix Inn and takes the seat where Kruppe usually holds court. Disconcertingly the seat is already warm. Rallick studies the crowd. People seemed positive, thinking that the Seguleh had arrived to guard the city. Rallick knows better and wonders what it is the Seguleh are actually here for. The man in emerald suddenly catches his eye from the bar and gestures that they talk out the back. Topper suggests that he and Rallick combine forces and intelligence. Rallick says he isn’t with the guild. Topper tells him that the Claw has information mentioning the Eel in reference to the Phoenix Inn, and that here Rallick is, and Rallick almost chokes when he thinks about telling Topper who he suspects the Eel to be. Topper shows annoyance at Rallick’s reticence and says that he can be found at K’rul’s Bar if Rallick wants to share intelligence.
Barathol receives a knock on the door when Scillara and Chaur are both asleep, and it is a clerk from Majesty Hall telling him he is summoned to the installation immediately. When he tells the clerk that he will do it after his meal, the clerk repeats immediately and gestures to the two Seguleh accompanying him.
Barathol walks with them to the installation, watching the faces of the passers-by. Some of the citizens seemed finally to be asking themselves what the Seguleh are there for, and protecting the ruler from whom. When he arrives, the installation is guarded by Seguleh and the two mages tell him to begin his task. Barathol begins wondering why two such powerful mages are there to advise and assist a “mere Darujhistan aristocrat”. As Barathol begins what he is told is his final pour, the hunched mage tells Barukanal that he goes to deal with the Malazans at K’rul’s, while Barukanal says he will finish things here. Barathol wonders how to get a message to the Malazans. He attempts to get past Barukanal by saying that he can’t do anything while the bed heats; he knows he owes Antsy more than he can repay—but Barukanal won’t let him leave.
As the silver is ready, Barukanal grabs his wrist and whispers that blood from the forger of the links will make it stronger. Barathol tries to free himself and is amazed to find that he cannot budge his wrist from Barukanal’s grasp, considering he thinks himself to be among the strongest of men. Barukanal slashes across his wrist and tells Barathol not to be upset, that Aman would have slashed his throat. Once his work is done Barukanal dismisses him. As he leaves Barathol wonders what this perfect circle is for—what it is meant to keep in or keep out. He decides it is no longer his concern, that his family is his only concern.
Three Seguleh come to visit Lady Envy. The Seguleh woman says that Envy’s enchantments don’t affect them, that now that the Second has knelt they are bound by stronger links. Then she asks where “he” is, the renegade. Thurule enters and she then tells him to choose. He removes his mask, revealing a surprisingly youthful face, and breaks it under his foot. The three Seguleh then relax, turn and leave.
Envy asks what she is to do with Thurule now, and he says whatever she wishes. She says she will have to let him go and he says that is understandable, that he is unworthy. Lady Envy then shows her usual patience and sunny disposition.
Madrun and Lazan Door are visited by four Seguleh, and the former says “our taciturn kin approach”. The Seguleh says that those two are known to them and that if they cause no trouble then they can remain. Madrun and Lazan Door exchange more ‘pleasantries’ with the Seguleh and are interrupted by Studious Lock, who carries a glass sphere containing a dark mist, that will kill the Seguleh, but leave those of Varada’s employ immune. Studious asks if they will still enter, and the Seguleh says not on this occasion but they will return.
Once the Seguleh have left, Studious Lock smashes the orb, revealing there really is no antidote. And then tells them that the spores only work on ants.
At K’rul’s Bar the Malazans keep watch and declare trouble when Aman arrives with several Seguleh. Spindle moans that they are dead and Blend tells him to raise his Warren. When he says it is no use here, she says scornfully ‘your other help’. As the Seguleh approach Duiker says he is unarmed and offers to talk to them. Spindle agrees, saying his other help tells him they’re not alone.
Blend hears a scream from the kitchen and runs to investigate and finds that the pickled Seguleh from downstairs are joining the fray against the living Seguleh.
Spindle watches the fight, in which the living Seguleh look like they are going to cut their undead brethren to pieces, then he retrieves his last cusser and threatens them with it. The living Seguleh flinch back when they recognise it. Aman comes to the doorway to see what is going on and says that they wouldn’t dare wreck the temple. Spindle tells him incredulously that it is a bar. Aman realises that he can’t win on this occasion and waves the Seguleh back. Spindle yells after the Seguleh that they heel really well, and do they roll over as well, and it seems as though the four of them flinch.
Spindle reveals to the others that the cusser is a dud.
Kruppe visits the old woman again. They natter about circles and… flirt. She invites him in. He finds her snoring on the bed. He carries away a bag.
This is strange. I have to confess that I am thoroughly enjoying this novel, in that I like the characters, and, for the most part, I like seeing the storylines unfold. But we are 64% into the story and I still can’t quite see how things are tying together or moving to a climax. Antsy’s storyline seems utterly cut off from everything that is happening over in Darujhistan, and occasionally we get glimpses into other people, like Bendan, who shows us that events are happening elsewhere as well. And we don’t seem to stay long enough with some characters to allow us any time to really appreciate them.
Having said that, I don’t think I would ever want to appreciate Bendan. I am sort of hoping that he is in place to show character development, because otherwise he is just not a nice person to read about, what with his casual attitude to grabbing breasts and his dismissal of the women around him.
The part of this chapter I enjoyed the most was seeing the Seguleh rounding up their own—taking it upon themselves to go and find out their kin who dwell in Darujhistan. And it gave me a chance to hate on Lady Envy more than I already do, with the way that she let Thurule go because he decided to unmask himself. Such casual arrogance and ability to hurt.
And how cool that the pickled Seguleh came to help the Malazans—without them, the Malazans facing four Seguleh is a long way from a fair fight, and would have undoubtedly required the cusser to end it. The cusser that is a dud. I love Spindle’s explanation that he couldn’t tell his colleagues because otherwise they wouldn’t have the right degree of fear in their eyes. I just have this funny feeling that the cusser isn’t actually a dud, though—it might be one of those moments where it saves the day.
I’m curious about Spindle’s ‘other help’—apart from his Warren, that is. Have we seen this before? Or is it something being introduced for the first time?
This chapter had some delightfully humorous moments, not least of which where Studious Lock talks, with an entirely straight face, about the spore only affecting ants. I loved that, especially because of the reactions of Lazan Door and Madrun—and then their insistence that the dice didn’t see.
I’m sort of hoping that Krute now gets the message about the Legate, and stops taking young assassins and guild practitioners to their deaths. That was a spectacularly creepy moment, where he peers through the window and sees the Legate getting to his feet and turning his masked face towards Krute. I would not want to be so marked by the Legate.
And I thought that the moment where Rallick and Topper talk is rather like two alley cats meeting each other—lots of hissing and very large tails, bristling at each other. It did make me laugh realising that Rallick, for all his knowledge of the city, had no idea that K’rul’s Temple was now a bar run by deserter Malazans.
Still seeing some hints that our Baruk is still inside Barukanal, what with him letting Rallick know that he should be trying to find a Malazan who has seen inside the installation, and then not slashing Barathol’s throat but using blood from his wrist and then allowing him to leave. His disobedience is having a dark effect on him though.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.