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 fifteen 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.
Antsy’s group meets up with Morn, who has brought all their gear. They continue on, interrupted by a Spawnquake. They run into some Malazans who had been planning to ambush them until Antsy smelled them. The Malazan sergeant tells Ansty he’s got a “damned menagerie o’ mages n’ sorcerers ’n such all ready to kill one another,” and that their captain is dead. He wonders if he can get any help and Antsy says he can’t guarantee anything, adding there’s a whole army behind them. Sergeant Girth scoffs at that army and when Antsy asks what the Malazans want, the sergeant tells him they just want out.
Girth leads them to the Malazan lieutenant (Palal), and Antsy spies the two mages they’d just seen earlier and followed, along with Jallin, and a strange woman Palal calls “the witch”. Palal tells Antsy the army is blocking the way to the Gap and are demanding the Malazans give them munitions to blow a door. Hearing that, Orchid gasps and Antsy laughs. The “witch” calls a meeting and the Lieutenant makes it clear he’s not just going to let Antsy and the others go.
At the meeting, Antsy is surprised to see Malakai. Introductions are made. The old woman and fat man mages are Hesta and Ogule, the tall woman is Seris, the old man is Hemper, and a tall, “elegant” man is Bauchelain (Korbal Broach is “preoccupied”). They tell Antsy they know he has munitions and will let people pass on if Antsy will blow open a set of double doors they show him. They won’t tell him what’s inside, but Hemper says it is “something its master thought destroyed.” Bauchelain tells him it is the “Throne of Night.”
Bendan is unhappy with the state of the Rhivi siege, though he is growing more befuddled by the soldiers around him, the way he is beginning to feel like part of a family, how this family help each other out, even the strong helping the weak rather than dominating them. Though “family” is perhaps not the word, he thinks, based on the families he’s known/seen, including his own. The Seguleh arrive in the Rhivi camp and when Bendan references how three of them wiped out the Pannion army, Hektar says there’s a great difference between the armed and disciplined Malazans and the peasant army of the Pannion.
Hearing that the Legate has sent aid, Tserig is shocked to find it is the Seguleh, what he calls “the fist unveiled. The ancient curse,” and he hopes the Rhivi warleader Jiwan is wise enough to fear them. He arrives to a meeting between Jiwan, a Seguleh, the Third, and Aman. Jiwan is told the Seguleh will deal with the Malazans if Jiwan accepts the Legate’s fatherly offer of “protection” When Jiwan says the Rhivi have no need for such protection, Jiwan tells him he has learned a great lesson from the offer, for “there was one could very easily have claimed such a role. But he possessed the wisdom, the true generosity of soul, to stand aside when we chafed under his hand… I believe I would offer him my apology.” Aman says that’s too bad, and then makes it so by having the Third behead Jiwan. Lots of warriors attack and are slaughtered by the two Seguleh and Aman. Tserig yells to his kin to run from the “ancient curse” and flee north. Aman kills him.
Steppen and K’ess watch the Rhivi slaughter and K’ess orders Captain Fal-ej to begin an immediate retreat west. He tells Steppen he’ll stay with the holding troops, but she says it’s her turn. When he turns to go, she calls him by his first name and tells him to “give them something to remember… Show them what they’ve taken on.” He says they’ll meet again “somewhere narrow.” She looks down and thinks how the stories are true—a few hundred Seguleh are slaughtering 30, 000 Rhivi.
K’ess joins Fal-ej, who realizes Steppen is performing a suicidal act by staying as rear-guard.
In the morning, the Seguleh tell Steppen if she surrenders the Malazans will be allowed to live. She asks for terms and a mediator, and when he says they’ll just pass by the fort, she orders crossbow bolts fired at the speaker. The Seguleh charge and Steppen is killed, thinking they didn’t delay the Seguleh very long.
Torvald is let out of his cell by a silver named Galene and given an apology, since the Blue Moranth have confirmed his story. She tells him their “old enemy,” the Seguleh, have returned, the army of Darujhistan that exiled the Moranth into the mountains.
Barathol meets Kruppe and Humble Measure inside the Iron Mongers and agrees to work with Humble Measure on some forging, using his intent and his “certain quality of circularity.”
Yusek’s group enters the Dwelling Plain, with Sall and Lo referring to Dassem not as “Grief,” the name the gives them, but as the Seventh. They note the movement of armies and when Sall says it might be the Seguleh, Dassem tells him they’re going to Darujhistan.
Two strangers enter the Gadrobi district—one tall and the other bald with a face that seems speckled in metal paint. They decide to let “our ever action, our very appearance, be a constant denunciation and thumb in the eye to our brethren.”
At K’rul’s bar, the roof and wall timbers suddenly split. Spindle returns from checking the cellar and says something “terrible” is going on.
The Spawns give the same sense of claustrophobia and dread as a spaceship or a submarine or something like that in a film, especially with the knowledge that it isn’t quite stable.
I love this, particularly because we’ve been present to watch it all happening: “She opened her mouth to speak but all it took was one glance at his face for her to snap it closed. Good. We’re gettin’ tight now.”
This is too subtle for me—not sure what is being asked or answered:
“Well, I’ll be damned…” he breathed. Then he cocked a questioning eye.
Antsy shook a negative.
You have to wonder about what the Malazans in the Spawn have been facing, considering they went in there for treasure and now all they want to do is get out of there.
See, this is one of the reasons that the Malazans appeal so much to us, I suspect. “It was clear he was rather overwhelmed, but it was also equally clear that he was aware of it and accepted it. No bluster or denial here.” It’s refreshing.
This is a lot of suddenly new names to take on board. It feels like the balance in this storyline has been a bit odd, with having so many characters step in at a point where it felt as though it was running smoothly.
Although one of the names isn’t new, and I did enjoy this!
“My companion, Korbal Broach, is, ah, currently… preoccupied.”
It may have been the poor light, but it appeared to Antsy as if at the man’s words everyone present turned a shade more pale.
The Throne of Night? That is a rather large factor to bring into the equation at this point in the series.
I like this look at Bendan, and seeing that a lot of his attitude comes from trying to translate his previous life to what he’s experiencing now in the military, and not knowing where he fits into the whole equation. “The nobodies, the new hands, once they got bloodied and proved their grit, people helped them out. For the first time in his life he didn’t know where he stood.”
Also, these glimpses into his family life and then his life on the streets do give ample reasons for why he has become this person.
I like seeing the fact that Jiwan’s perspective of Caladan Brood has been affected by never seeing him in action, by growing up with him always around and “knowing him as if he were no more than an uncle.” At least Jiwan has some comprehension of how dangerous the Third of the Seguleh might be. And I do appreciate that, right at the end, he realises that Caladan Brood was of way more value to the Rhivi than the Legate could ever be.
Enjoyed the scene with K’ess and Steppen, especially when they revert to first names as they say their farewells, in the knowledge that they are unlikely to meet again. Although I, like Bill, can’t understand why they would leave a rearguard to ‘slow down’ the Seguleh, when they believe that thirty thousand Rhivi are going to struggle to leave a dent.
And I have to admit I can also see what Bill is saying about suspension of disbelief—I struggled the same with the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae and the idea of them facing down the entire Persian army. I just end up saying… how? Actually, that’s funny—that is the first time I have looked at the Seguleh in the same breath as Spartans, and it fits, doesn’t it? That might be why we’re given the idea of these perfect masked warriors being able to face down armies, because we have been given the same stories from our history as well.
I enjoy spending time with Torvald Nom so much, especially when he expresses such self-mocking as: “Shouldn’t I say something profound like: ‘Let this meeting usher in a new age of accord between our two peoples’?”
It would be a bad time, I think, to be a Darujhistan envoy to a people who have just discovered that their ancient enemy is back at the summoning of the person currently in charge of Darujhistan!
I may be opening my own can of worms here, but in this novel I am just finding Kruppe to be tiresome, and the storylines where he pops in and out are to be endured, rather than enjoyed.
You can’t really imagine the compulsion and strength of will that would lead Traveler, or the Seventh, as we seem to be calling him now, back to Darujhistan, past the barrow where the body of Anomander Rake has been laid.
I wonder if Sall suspects Yusek’s plans for him…?
Yes, agree with Bill—just tell us the names! Why bald figure, big one, thin one, bushy-haired one? Make it clearer, because otherwise the reader will lose interest in a scene and that is a dangerous game to play.
What is going on in K’rul’s bar then?
The outside threat of the Spawns breaking up/sinking is a nice way to ratchet up the suspense and urgency on top of all the internal tension of the Spawns—the armies, bandits, cannibals, etc.
It’s cool enough that Antsy is able to be forewarned by the smell, but I love the fact that he nails the scent of the “damned Falaran fish sauce.” Just as much as I love his introductory line about how his little group has decided to let the ambushers live.
Thinking about the Claw and mages we’ve seen on the Malazan side, this being one of the strangest gatherings Antsy has seen says something.
That’s a lot of characters to throw at the reader at once and so late in the book. I do remember though, how pleased I was to see Bauchelain here, as he is one of my favorite Malazan characters, and I was hoping to see him come into a larger role.
Well, that’s a hell of a prize (if they’re all right)—the Throne of Night. One has to wonder here if Antsy will indeed help them open the doors (his friends are after all hostages). And also wonder what a perhaps part-Andii like Orchid, and a mysterious yet powerful Andii like Morn might think/do about this.
I can’t quite reconcile Hektar’s line about how Bendan will now see “a lesson in butchery from the pros” and his seemingly casual dismissal of how the Seguleh will do against the Malazans (as opposed to the undisciplined/untrained/poorly armed Pannion army). In any case, any reader by now knows that his line about “Let ‘em run around and jump up and down all they want,” was not going to be borne out in quite the way Hektar is thinking.
The shift in POV to Tserig is a smart move by Esslemont, especially with all the personal musings and fear for his people he has, as it makes what happens to him at the end of this scene all the more effective.
This scene feels like Aman as a Godfather kind of scene, making an offer Jiwan can’t refuse of “protection.” I almost expect some henchman to start knocking stuff off shelves as Aman says in faux concern, “we wouldn’t want anything to happen to your merchandise…”
I don’t know if it’s intentional, but it’s a cute play on the whole “circle” thing in Darujhistan when Aman says the Rhivi can come into the “encircling arms of the Legate.”
Poor Jiwan though—the wisdom of his elder comes to him too late. And it is too bad indeed that Brood is not there for him to offer his apology to.
OK, and now I’ll probably open up a can of worms (though perhaps this will come later), but this for me is one of the parts of the book I dislike the most and have the most issue with. As I think I mentioned back with the Pannion—Seguleh, despite this being a fantasy and yes with magic and gods and flying creatures and undead etc. etc. I still just have a basic issue with the super-soldier taking on hordes of attackers. It doesn’t make me stop reading obviously, but I just can’t stand the concept. It takes me wholly out of the story because I. Just. Don’t. Buy. It. I don’t buy two Seguleh taking down a hundred Rhivi, or a few hundred taking down 30,000 on a plain (on an escalator, holding off an army? Yes. On a plain? No). I don’t buy them dodging 15 arrows converging on one small area (and yes, I know he gets hit—once and a graze, but I don’t buy two hits and even then, it seems to me if 15 hit twice, then several thousand would hit 400 times and so how… ). I don’t accept the weight and press of bodies having no impact. I don’t buy the Rhivi not shouldering them with horses that weigh eight times as much, or throwing tents on them or fire or or or. OK, I’ll stop. But still…
All right, moving on…
I do feel bad for Tserig.
And even more so for Steppen. And I love this little quiet scene with her and K’ess in terms of their characterization and understatement and understanding and quiet heroism. All that said, it also doesn’t make a lot of sense to me in that they think 30, 000 Rhivi should flee a few hundred Seguleh (having seen the slaughter) and yet also somehow think that the rearguard action will delay the Seguleh enough. That doesn’t quite connect with me.
Well, if the Rhivi didn’t do much against the Seguleh, perhaps the aerial army of the Moranth, with their alchemicals (more than just the explosives as we’ve been shown) along with their prior experience (assuming they’ve kept their histories a bit better than the Rhivi) might be a tougher test.
We know Kruppe is working his best to do something, so the question obviously becomes what is Barathol forging here to work against the Tyrant—is it a weapon? Or something less obvious/more subtle? Given the “Eel’s” nature, one would expect the latter. And why bee’s wax? Is that like lead shielding for radiation?
I like how Yusek’s response to the Dwelling Plain: “She could not believe that here she was yet again… How many times had she sworn… that once she escaped she would never set foot upon it again?” is a parallel to how this area’s history keeps clawing its way back—the Tyrant, the Cabal, Brood being pulled back, the Seguleh called back (even Raest).
Traveler. Grief. Dassem. Dessembrae. Seventh. Am I missing any names for this guy?
So here is a case, and there have been several, where I think the obscuring of names just doesn’t make much sense to me. So we have the tall one and the fat one who find a third guy. Sure, if you pay attention to the metal paint, and the idea that something bad has happened to the third one and they’re telling him it doesn’t have to be so bad, and the use of the word “brethren,” you can put together who these three are. But I confess I don’t see the point here of making the reader work so hard (and I’m not a guy who minds working hard. Sure, I haven’t finished Finnegan’s Wake, but I did get through Ulysses, not to mention pretty close to all of Faulkner).
Don’t you always worry in this series when people (besides Quick Ben) start making plans?
So shivering timbers in K’rul’s Temple/Bar can’t be good. Or black fluid.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.