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 seventeen 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.
Scorch and Leff investigate themselves into the Phoenix drink with Kruppe. Incomprehension ensues.
Yusek and Sall overpay for a boat ride
Tayschrenn takes Kiska through a warren shortcut, and they spot a gathering of dragons. He moves into another one but tells her he’s being “deflected.” She senses “something awful” stirring, and as Tayschrenn debates what to do, Ardata appears. She hails Tayschrenn with some respect, but scorns Kiska as a tool of the Queen of Dreams. She asks him if he’ll stay, noting the “opportunity” that may arise, but he tells her he’s already made his choice and will lend his aid where he thinks it can help the most. When he says his choice may lead to his “inevitable dissolution,” she scoffs at the idea he’d allow that, but he warns her he has “found purpose. One far beyond the mere amassing and hoarding of power.” Ardata, surprised, asks if Kiska had something to do with his change, and when he answers yes, Ardata tries to detain them in her realm, but Tayschrenn gets them away into Tellann. When Kiska asks if Ardata is an enemy of his, Tayschrenn explains she and the Queen of Dreams are “bitter rivals” because Ardata held the title of Enchantress first, describing her as “ancient. The greatest power of her age. Eclipsed now in this time of Warrens and their mastery.” He also warns Kiska she wears the mark of the Queen of Dreams on her. Tayschrenn is surprised by Kiska’s knowledge and asks why she never tried magery, but she says it was too much effort for too little acting, which he considers a less than wise attitude. Their conversation is interrupted by a passing herd of beasts being stalked by wolves, and Tayschrenn says the “wolves. The gods are restless. They are charging now to their destiny.” He leads her toward what he calls a “reunion.”
An anonymous figure shows up at K’rul’s and tells Spindle to “consider the peculiar qualities of the white stone.” He and Duiker head off to take a good look at them. On the way, Spindle considers his magic, and thinks he prefers to think of it as bringing a kind of “mental chaos” rather than being “the guy who scares rats and cats.” Duiker asks him about events down south, and Spindle tells him it was an ugly mix of power-grabbing that “came out all right in the end.” When Duiker asks if he’d had enough of it, Spindle says he’s actually considering going back. The find one of the stones, which Duiker identifies as alabaster, a rare substance which makes him wonder how someone collected so much of it. He also wonders how it survived in the lake, since it usually dissolves in water, and also how they can use such a soft mineral for construction. He decides it’s somehow been magically and/or alchemically altered, which makes him think suddenly of Baruk’s place. He tells Spindle they have to go there immediately. Chillbais jumps out when they enter Baruk’s, Spindle knocks out one of his teeth, pays the “price” of a white stone snack for the demon, then Chillbais leads them to Baruk’s workroom.
Aragan and Dreshen meet the battered Rhivi army, who tell them the Seguleh, not the Malazans, did this to them, and that the Seguleh are now hunting the Malazans, adding that the Rhivi are regrouping to attack again. Aragan heads north with Rhivi planning to follow.
Bendan and the others await the Seguleh attack. Bendan’s attitude toward the Seguleh—“blowhards good at milking a reputation” has undergone some revision thanks to the past days. The Seguleh charge and tear up the Malazans, with Bendan getting badly wounded, including losing an ear. Rhivi cavalry attack and the Seguleh continue slaughtering both sides. Sergeant Hektar was blinded in the first attack, so Bendan describes what’s happening, then leads him as the retreat farther up into the mountain valley.
With a host of Moranth, Galene lands her and Torvald on a high ridge and Torvald, able to see the slaughter, begs her to do something. She tells them they’re too close together for the Moranth to act yet, but soon they will show the Seguleh “We are not the same people we once were. Now we have much less patience for this [the Seguleh form of slaughter].”
Aragan joins the Malazans with Dreshen and speaks to Fist K’ess, who tells him they’ve lost fifty percent to wounds or death. Aragan suggests withdrawal into the valley and K’ess agrees.
The Seguleh wait and Aragan, thinking the Seguleh want the Malazans to stew in fearful anticipation, rallies the troops with a speech of how they are still standing despite all the stories about “how these Seguleh have never been beaten. How they’ve slaughtered everyone who’s ever faced them.” As the Malazans clash shields in response and the Seguleh still don’t react, Aragan realizes the Malazans are bait to call out the Moranth.
The Seguleh charge.
Galene dives her quorl with Torvald riding along, and she tells him to open the satchel and prepare to drop the munitions in there on the Seguleh. He refuses. The Malazans, many weeping in pity and horror (including Torvald from his mount), watch as the Moranth aerial bomb the Seguleh.
Hektar, crying, tells Bendan, “Ain’t right… What was done here. Ain’t right. It’s a fucking tragedy is what it is.” As the cloud of dust and smoke clears, the soldiers are horrified to see surviving, mangled Seguleh still coming at them. When a few Malazans beg them to stop or try to help, they are cut down. Hektar dies killing one, and Bendan remains holding his body, refusing to give it up.
K’ess, as horrified as the others, is just as disturbed by the utter silence from the Seguleh, noting all the cries and curses and weeping comes from the Malazans. Galen and Torn land and meet with K’ess and Aragan. Torn, Torvald, and Aragan (holding the Imperial Sceptre) head off to negotiate. K’ess says the Malazans will hold the Seguleh prisoners until they can be “repatriated,” and Galene agrees, though she doubts that will happen. The Malazans fan out to bury the Seguleh bodies with gentle respect. Watching, K’ess thinks, “No one should die like that. If this is war then I want no more to do with it.” Captain Fal-ej wonders what negotiations are taking place, and K’ess tells her he thinks Aragan is trying to stop the Moranth from bombing Darujhistan. Fal-ej says the idea is “unforgivable,” saying they can’t allow that, and K’ess agrees.
I’d certainly be interested how the rest of you regard Scorch and Leff. For me, they are getting tiresome and have rather overstayed their welcome. In this first scene with Kruppe, nothing happens. They seem to be comic relief without providing any particular humour. I know a lot of people enjoy the various humorous duos that people the Malazan world, but so far I’m not getting any story progressing with Scorch and Leff—they sort of just bumble around the city. Heh, they’re going to be the ones who somehow save everybody, aren’t they?
I love the fact that Yusek is constantly learning and growing as a character while she travels with the Seguleh, like here when she observes the fact that they would never just steal what they need, but “had these conceits of honesty and honour.” Although she still remains a diamond in the rough, doesn’t she, with her anguish over having to hand over actual gold to hire a boat from “these stinking hamlet-dwellers.”
This marshaling of dragons that Kiska and Tayschrenn witness—I’m guessing this is what occurs on the run-up to the events in The Crippled God?
Ardata—Queen of Spiders, Elder God? Been a long while since she has stepped onto the page. What does Ardata mean as she dismisses Kiska by saying: “One of her creatures, I see. The strings are plain to me”? Is this in reference to the fact that Kiska has been recently guided by the Queen of Dreams?
It’s lovely when I get my own questions answered a few lines later—I’m clearly more used to Erikson, where the answers may not come until a couple of books’ time! So, yeah, Ardata has this enmity towards the Queen of Dreams because she took the title of Enchantress. It’s a reminder that, even with our small part of the story, there is SO much more happening in this world—this is a moment when it all feels so vast, considering what we’re reading now is a fraction of what we already saw in the main ten novels of the series. Different continents, different worlds colliding, different gods rising and falling in power—yep, that was a rather breathless realisation once again of just what these two authors accomplished.
I do enjoy the touches of humour whenever the Malazans are on the page, although sometimes they are presented as so inept that you honestly wonder where their fearsome reputation came from—like her where Picker is so startled by a knock on the door that she drops her crossbow and wakes Spindle from his nap. This is amusing, but it feels a little too slapstick. Much more “Malazan” is this exchange:
“I have a message that I think is for the sapper here,” he answered.
“All’s we got is this fella,” Picker said.
“Barely,” she grumbled beneath her breath.
I like the fact that, in each scene in Darujhistan featuring our characters, we’re given little snapshots of how life is changing in Darujhistan—the curfews, the shanty towns developing in certain places, the fact that the city wardens are not doing what they used to do. It shows a city in flux, one that is not being looked after by the Legate. So, if his focus is not the city, it must be elsewhere.
Isn’t it handy that Duiker knows all this stuff about this stone, alabaster? I mean, yeah, he’s a historian, but how does that really translate into him knowing more about minerals and rocks than a sapper?
Oh, poor Chillbais! He’s really going through the wringer while he waits and guards Baruk’s house—I’m hoping that he gets rewarded for his loyalty at the end!
It’s very interesting to hear that the Seguleh wounded many of the Rhivi, rather than killed them, in order to slow the Rhivi down and burden them. I think back to Bill’s comments from Wednesday’s post, in which he talks about how the Seguleh might be considered executioners during battles, because they are so quick and effective compared to their opponents. Here we see them not even killing the people they are fighting.
Ha, I love this exchange, as the Malazans face the Seguleh:
“We should encircle them, hey?”
The old saboteur looked astonished. “Are you an idiot? We want them to run away.”
Although it does beg the question how the Malazans are going to make the Seguleh run away. It strikes me that running from battle is not in the Seguleh’s understanding.
I’m sincerely glad that we didn’t see Bendan manage to somehow put a wound on the Seguleh he faced. That would have been so beyond the realms of possibility that I couldn’t have borne it. In fact, seeing the battle—such as it is—from Bendan’s point of view is incredibly effective: the speed of the approach of the Seguleh, the staggering back of wounded while he waits his turn to try and face them, and then his swift removal from the battle with wounds that will burden him and prevent him going back in.
So… the Seguleh were facing the Malazans at the front, and then the Rhivi charged from the rear, and they end up being the ones to charge down the Rhivi? They ARE too effective. I mean, if this is what they are able to achieve, then why on earth have they not been courted by every empire/country/city states in the lands to be on their side in battles?
Oh heck, there is a lot of emotion here as Aragan joins the Malazans—the moment when he gives his speech and the troops respond is excellent, especially when Aragan thinks: “There’s your Malazan answer.” Still standing, still willing to fight against these Seguleh who have more-than-decimated their force (and I like that I can use decimate there in the way it actually should be).
Well, I read the last part of the chapter—from where the Moranth begin their flight and Torvald realises what they intend to do to the Seguleh—in a long breathless rush. This was some brilliantly-written action. I think I know that Bill is going to mention the unfeasible abilities of the Seguleh to still be fighting on with most of their body destroyed, so I will leave that to him.
The thing that stood out most for me is the reaction of the Malazans—the tears for what has happened to the Seguleh, the fact they still weep as they try to take down the survivors, the graves they dig for their fallen enemies. This is exactly the reaction I want from my Malazans—it’s perfect.
And finally that chilling thought that the Moranth are going to do anything to get rid of the remaining Seguleh—up to and including destroying the city of Darujhistan…
I’m with you on Scorch and Leff, Amanda. Especially at this point, I either need them moving plot along more fully or need them to have a much bigger comic impact. Neither is occurring for me in this scene.
On the other hand, I do appreciate the humor of having to bail a boat you just paid a thousand times its value for.
I also, like Amanda, enjoy how we get glimpses of other stories going on in the background or off to the side, some connecting with things we’ve seen and others not (though whether that means we never will see those stories we don’t know yet). This scene with is Tayschrenn and Kiska is deftly handled I think. We get a glimpse of those dragons and the wolves reminding us of what is (was) going on in the Erikson books; we get a scene with Ardata, who will play a role later on; and we get confirmation that this is a new and different Tayschrenn.
Yes, I can agree with you on the slapstick crossbow moment Amanda, and also on the better use of humor via the sarcasm that follows.
Esslemont does a nice job of using the walk across town to serve a few purposes. One, it’s nice to get some more personality and insight from Spindle. Here is very human, very normal desire to be known as more than he is, to have what he’s good at seen as something worthwhile, something of value to be respected. So I love this little in his head moment as he muses about his magic ability. And yes, a “mental chaos force” does sound more impressive than “the guy who scares rats.”
And as Amanda has pointed out, the walk also does a nice efficient job of continuing to show the changes in the city since the novel began.
As far as Duiker, I like this character but it does seem a bit of a stretch that he recognizes this stone from studying the writing of “ancient natural philosophers,” not just because that’s a nice coincidence, but mostly because all it seems he’s noted so far is it is white. I mean, if it were soft, or dissolved in water, then maybe yes, identifying it by its known properties would make sense. But since the point is this isn’t really the alabaster he studies (it’s a lot harder, it’s used in construction, it does fine in water), it seems a little odd.
Oh Rhivi. Why can’t you just ride away north? Must every insult be answered? Sigh.
I too love Bone’s line about Bendan’s crazy idea that the should encircle the Seguleh. Oh you poor dumb child.
OK, I’ve made my general feelings known about the Seguleh, so I think I’ll hold off on coming back to the topic until the full end of the book. I’ll just say this is more of the same to me (and I really, really didn’t care for the post-bombing Seguleh “attack”). But moving on…
Aragan comes off great in these scenes, his perseverance in finding them, his standing with them, and his realization (even if mistaken) that the Seguleh are trying to torment/weaken the Malazans by waiting, and then his speech.
I’ll be looking forward to the discussion on the Malazan response. On the one hand, I’m with you Amanda on the emotionality of it. On the other hand, while I get the scale difference, it does seem a bit odd of a response from a force that has regularly employed both munitions and sorcery. On the other other hand, we have seen hints of this reaction before, such as (I think) from Paran, in the aftermath of a particularly large use of munitions. On the same other other hand, I also like the way this mirrors what I assume the response was at the close of WWI as mechanized warfare began to be fully realized in all its horrors, with the introduction of aerial bombing, machine guns, tanks, etc.
My favorite part of this is not the reaction to the bombing, which has some issues as noted above for me, but the burial part, which I found profoundly moving and well in Malazan character. Bendan’s scene with the sergeant came a close second.
And of course, having seen this, that’s a strong close at the end, with the fearful possibility that Darujhistan may witness the same.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.