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 fourteen 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.
Jan thinks of how nothing is as he had thought it would be, and how the other Seguleh had their own doubts, but decides as Second his job is to obey, and thus not to worry about “complications.” Such as the appearance of Scorch and Leff, after all the guards have been let go. Ebbin, the mouthpiece of the Legate, informs Jan the two work for him, which settles that. Jan’s attention then turns to Envy, whom he considers the only true threat in the room. The Tyrant, via Ebbin, tells him that the Seguleh are to crush their enemies to the west and when Jan mistakes that to mean the Malazans, the Tyrant says no, it’s the Moranth—“this city’s eternal enemy.” Jan points out the Moranth Wars ended long ago, but the Tyrant says, yes, when last of the Tyrants fell and the Circle was broken, but now it’s time to deal with them. Jan wonders, even as he bows, if this “was what we were forged to accomplish, our noble purpose”—to defeat the Moranth and bring “low an entire people.” Recalling the First’s reticence, he thinks this must have been the burden the First carried alone so as to spare Jan, and he now understands why, and also understands the masks: No wonder we hide our faces. That burden is shame.”
Captain Dreshen reports to Aragan that most of the Seguleh have headed west. Aragan decides to take a boat out and when Dreshen asks about reinforcements, Aragan says there are none; the Empire has committed itself elsewhere. They take ship.
Brood sits at Rake’s barrow and um, broods over what to do abut the Legate, since he knows he can’t use the hammer and kills thousands. He muses on how all think of him as “The Warlord,” but war was not something he enjoyed or desired to engage in: “That was the field of cold-hearted weighers of options such as Kallor. Or the oppose, those who inspired from all-embracing hearts, such as Dujek.” He thinks he, on the other hand, inspires by example. He decides therefore to wait until there’s a need for someone to “settle things one way or the other. That was what he did best. Have the last word.”
Yusek has been training with Sall for several days while Lo watched the priests at their daily exercises. Lo suddenly picks out one man and challenges him, but the response is no, even though Lo strikes Dassem’s neck with his sword—under complete control, but enough to draw blood. Sall tells Yusek they’ll leave as no one can be forced into a challenge, adding that Lo can claim the role of Seventh if he wants, though he thinks his father will not do so. When Yusek asks if they’ll talk to Dassem before leaving, Sall doesn’t understand what the point would be. She says she will then, and he thanks her. She wonders if all this seeming stupidity was “just posturing taken so far no one could back down any more.” She goes to talk to Dassem, and he tells her he’s just “tired of it all […] of being used […] I did what I thought was right […] I don’t even know what the right choice is any more. I don’t even know if one exists.” She replies that if everything he does is used somehow, then he shouldn’t even worry about it; it’s out of his control so he should just do whatever he feels is right.” He agrees that’s what one to think about it. Before she leaves, she adds that though she heard he killed Rake, she doesn’t think you can “just kill someone like that,” an Ascendant.
Dassem feels the tug of the west where another “gathering” (convergence) is soon to happen, an even he feels so much because he is “close himself. Close, if not already there. But fighting. Refusing.” He wonders if he had been wrong thinking it was all about choice; maybe instead it was all about doing. But doubts still gnaw at him.
The next morning Yusek meets Sall and Lo, who are there with Dassem. Sall says he and Lo are leaving and asks where she’ll head, and she answers Mengal probably. Dassem steps forward and even Sall nods to him, meaning he accepts him as of higher rank. Dassem tells them he’s sorry they came all this way for nothing, but tells them to give his regards to their Second when they return to Cant. Sall answers they are heading to Darujhistan, not Cant, to rejoin the other Seguleh, called there by the First. Horrified, Dassem begs them not to go, not to be made into a weapon, like he was. When Sall says it is their duty, what makes them Seguleh, Dassem replies that the Seguleh have really “backed yourselves up to the very Abyss,” adding he will join them on their journey.
The Malazans are holed up in the fort with the Rhivi outside. Bendan learns some things.
That night, Bendan’s squad works to deal with the Rhivi’s fire arrows.
Torvald arrives in the mountains and misses Tiss. He tosses one of his Moranth globes into the stream to get their attention and is surprised when its effect is to freeze the stream solid for some distance. He’s surprised when a Moranth Silver (one of the aristocracy) arrives. He introduces himself as an emissary of the Legate, and the Silver wonders at him showing up alone with stolen alchemicals and linked to this Legate. He replies his alchemicals were a gift, though he refuses to say from whom, saying he is there to negotiate. The Moranth takes him via her quorl to a walled settlement where he’s told he’s to be imprisoned as a spy and thief. As he objects, he is knocked unconscious.
Aman and Taya go to his shop, with Taya saying they should just let her go in and kill the Malazans and Aman explaining that K’rul is too much of a risk. He’s impressed at how the marines had planned ahead, setting up undead Seguleh as a reserve. He begins to prepare his automaton to send after them and Taya leaves.
Kruppe appears at Barathol’s and after a discussion of food, a reference to Barathol being “favoured by Burn,” food, the manner in which two Kruppe’s would “contravene fundamental laws of creation,” and more food, Kruppe offers him a villa plus benefits to forge something for him.
Kiska frets over having failed to bring Tayschrenn back, thinking how she and Leoman could perhaps force him, but then she’d have to kill the creatures and that she decides she cannot do. She tells Leoman it’s time to go. They go to say farewell to Tayschrenn and she gives him the last remains—some sticks and cloth—of their guide. To her surprise, it has a major effect on him; Tayschrenn begins to convulse and scream and then goes still. Korus hits her and they are taken to the caves.
I’m so glad that we get to see here that the Seguleh beneath Jan are feeling doubts about their service to the Legate and what is going on in Darujhistan (especially because they find themselves being used as guards and keepers of the peace). It’s just concerning that he feels he needs to prove that everything is okay—I don’t feel good about where that is going, that he thinks the Second can only follow.
In fact, Jan’s state of mind is generally not brilliant—missing his homeland, knowing that he will soon be challenged by Gall and welcomes the idea of none of this being his concern anymore.
So the Moranth are the target of the Tyrant, not the Malazans! I feel silly for not realising that, considering their departure from the city was well-documented in this novel. I guess this is an unfortunate side effect of getting back a ruler who was once in place millennia ago—they insist on bringing back old wars.
I can entirely understand Jan’s feeling of shame if this is indeed why the Seguleh were originally brought into being—to attack and bring low an entire people.
I love this brief look into Caladan’s mind, especially the revelation that, as Warlord, he doesn’t actually appreciate the way of war and is here willing to wait to see what way he needs to lean. I think I always appreciate someone who carries a weapon of mass destruction—Anomander was the same—who will carefully consider whether it should actually be used.
What I like about seeing Yusek training with Sall is that, even with her constant talking back, she is clearly open to giving this a try. When she walks the field with the shortened gait and feels uncomfortable, her thoughts are: “But then, she’d been standing however she damned well pleased all this time. No one had ever shown her any techniques. She must have all kinds of bad habits.” All evidence she wants to learn and isn’t the complete hothead she’s seemed so far.
I’m really enjoying the Yusek/Seguleh segments of this story. I love here that Yusek determines to go and talk to Dassem and Sall says thank you—it does seem as though the Seguleh are often stymied by their own way of life in terms of being able to achieve what they need to.
I also like the idea that Yusek is learning that the most powerful does not necessarily equal the loudest or most brash.
I don’t like the idea of Anomander Rake not being dead. I really don’t. That entirely cheapens everything that I went through when I watched him fall and mourned his passing. I would hate it.
The whole “tugging” thing with Dassem—is this because he is now essentially an Ascendant? Or going that way? Means he gets called into events? “He felt its call because he was close himself. Close, if not already there.”
It’s actually quite gratifying to see Bendan gradually come to more understanding about how war works—not using crossbow bolts to no effect, experiencing surprise attacks, realising that his commander actually knows what is probably coming and is planning ahead. It’s like Battle 101.
This does appear to be the novel where we get to really delve into two of the most mysterious people of the Malazan series—first the Seguleh, and now it seems we’ll be hearing much more about the Moranth.
Ha, I love that Aman believes that the Malazans have somehow been planning for the appearance of the Seguleh for so long that they gained the pickled Seguleh to combat them. That is SO not what the Malazans are all about—certainly not down at sapper level. It feels like they barely plan from hour to hour!
Barathol is favoured by Burn? As is Caladan—might these two be drawn together before the end of the novel?
Gosh, that is a long-winded scene featuring Kruppe and Barathol. I don’t know… At times Esslemont gets Kruppe, but at other times he just feels tiresome to read in these novels—he seems to be missing the childlike joy, and says things in a more forced manner under the pen of this author.
This line of Jan’s early on—“Nothing in the shining stories of service to the First in their songs and stories had prepared him for the truth to be found here”—is one of those recurring themes in this series, the way we constantly forget/rewrite the past. A theme one can argue pretty strongly I’d say is based in our own experiences—how often do our “histories” after all fully match the reality of events?
So we already have Baruk clearly trying to undermine the Tyrant’s plans. Are we being set up for Jan to maybe do the same? Or simply to abdicate one way or the other, as he muses on the relief of giving it all up if he is challenged? Certainly he is finding his ethics/sense of morals challenged here with this decision to go after the Moranth.
Or maybe Ebbin will undermine? Is his acceptance of Scorch and Leff a remnant of Ebbin’s own mind, or is it all the Tyrant?
Of course, if you don’t have the Tyrant weakened from within, there’s always Brood’s hammer. The hard thing here for readers I think, and something I’ll be talking about at the end, is at this point, the Tyrant is so amorphous that I’d say it’s hard to have any sense of perspective on the threat, and what that threat really is, so we don’t know if Brood’s hammer is a reasoned response or gross overkill.
I like that scene with Lo and Dassem, that Ascendant-level of will and discipline that allows Dassem to simply not react despite the sword coming down at his neck.
And I love Yusek’s frustration and her decision to go talk to Dassem herself. You can just feel her eyerolls. I don’t think any reader really thought Dassem was going to stay in this monastery, and when Yusek refers to it as “hiding,” and then offers up her philosophy of “do what you think is right” and damn the whole “being used” thing if you get used no matter what you do, I think it’s pretty clearly pointing us to an imminent departure, if not necessarily with Sall and Lo, at least a rejoining of events.
Her last lines though are a bit of a rude tease for the reader, implying that perhaps Rake is not truly dead (and perhaps even more cruel of a tease given a mysterious Andii/shade in Antsy’s storyline).
Is Dassem’s stamp of approval re Jan—“I’ve heard good things about him”—a further hint Jan might turn on the Tyrant?
And so that imminent departure is now. And that convergence Dassem sensed is beginning, what with Brood there, and the Seguleh, and the Cabal, and now Dassem, and Kruppe, and perhaps others? (don’t forget Leff and Scorch!”
And thus the education of Bendan continues…
That’s a cool effect of Torvald’s globe—nice to see the Moranth have some variety, and of course, it whets the curiosity—what else can their alchemicals do that we haven’t seen?
Perhaps when he realized he was being shown something “no traveler had ever penetrated” to, Torvald should have wondered about the sudden “openness” of the Moranth.
I enjoyed Aman thinking the pickled Seguleh were some long-in-the-making plan of the Malazans. You’d think Picker’s scream might have been a tip-off.
That was a long way to go for an order of some forging in that scene with Kruppe and Barathol. Just saying. Though I do like the way Esslemont uses Kruppe in this book, flitting here and there, always just a glimpse, but you know he’s building something big.
I’ve decided, after taking about it a few times, that my impatience (a growing impatience at that) with the pace of some of this is mostly an unfortunate result of the reread structure. I looked back at my old review and turns out I specifically mentioned that pacing was “not at all an issue” (in comparison to some of his earlier books). But I also noted that I’d read it in two sittings over consecutive nights. Doing it this way, I feel like the whole Kiska storyline is doing little but spinning its wheels in the sand (character wait, dialogue, wait some more, dialogue, wait), and that so much time is being spent moving characters into place—Leff and Scorch into the Great Hall, Torvald into the mountains, the Malazans out in the hinterlands. It all seems to be happening in super slo-mo reading this over weeks, but clearly it caused me no problems at all reading it in two nights. So I think this will be my last mention of it unless something strikes me particularly hard.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.