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 eighteen 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: Amanda will be catching up in the comments as soon as she is able.
Ebbin, who shifts between moments of lucidity and surreal dreams, recalls a recurring nightmare of the Legate standing atop Majesty Hill looking over the destruction of Darujhistan. In the dream, the Legate tells him “I seek to avoid a paradox… to complete the circle without suffering its fate.” Ebbin suggests things have ended this way repeatedly, “so many would-be tyrants,” and the Legate tells him, “Still you do not understands… I have failed countless times… Each time it has been me, scholar. In truth, there has been but one Tyrant.” When Ebbin asks about Raest, the Legate says he (the Legate) has “refined and perfected his [Raest’s] tools.” The Legate then tells Ebbin to surrender; “there can be but one outcome.” The dream ends with Ebbin refusing and running.
Jan can’t stand the trendy style in Darujhistan of wearing miniature copies of the Legate’s gold mask, so many seeming challenges he must ignore. He and Palla (the Sixth) note the lack of news from the mountains, but are interrupted by Ebbin, who speaking for the Legate order him to send a messenger to all the Seguleh in the south to have them relocate to Darujhistan for reeducation. Resisting the urge to strike the Legate, Jan agrees, then tells Palla they need to talk.
Palla and Jan agree they cannot allow their people to be brought to Darujhistan, and Jan admits it was a mistake to come: “We do not belong here.” Palla tells him it was not his fault for doing what any Second would have; “It is this place… Darujhistan. It is no longer worthy of us.” Jan, hearing this, worries about hubris, and wonders if instead the Seguleh are merely “obsolete.” He tells Palla he will reinstate the Exile, and when she worries Gall will challenge Jan, and possibly win, Jan responds it is after all how they do things.
Antsy wakes spitting up water and finds himself in a forest meadow with Orchid, Corien, the Heels, some Malazan marines, and a half-dozen Seguleh. Orchid tells him the mages fled, adding the meadow is in Kurald Galain. Morn kind of joins them—“I am barely here at all… I am very committed elsewhere”—and suggests they go to Darujhistan. Before leaving, he tells Orchid “it was a pleasure, this time I spent with you. I found it renewing.” A group of female Tiste Andii appears, dressed like priestesses Antsy thinks, and call Orchid “Daughter,” saying, “We have lost a Son of Darkness. Ye behold, we rejoice! For just as precious and rare are the Daughters of Tiam.” The title shocks Orchid, and she explains to Antsy she is part Andii but also Eleint. She agrees to go with the priestesses to learn more, though she warns them she has conditions, especially involving her companions.
Yusek, Sall, and Lo, and Dassem land and rest then travel through the Dwelling Plain. Yusek thinks recalls her time as a refugee of the Pannion War, the way that horrible experience had scarred her psyche as well as her body. She notes the contrast between Sall and the others in comparison to the men she’d known who had been “forced too early to become men [and] had ruled through muscle and viciousness, the fist and the club.” She appreciates and desires the Seguleh’s sense of discipline, their clarity of rules and behavior.
Gall leads a small contingent of Seguleh into the Great Hall, where he tells Jan the Moranth slaughtered their troop using alchemicals, saying it was different in intensity and scale to their prior use of such weapons. Jan tells him the error was his in rushing to engage the Moranth. The Legate, via Ebbin, says when the rest of the Seguleh arrive they will send out a second army to deal with the Moranth, but for now the Seguleh have to control Darujhistan’s populace. Jan warns the Moranth may follow up their success with an attack, but the Legate tells him not to fear, the Circle is impregnable. Jan though thinks, “Fear? This creature thinks I fear? Great Ancestors! The gulf between our thinking… beyond belief. If I fear at all, it is for the future of my people.”
Tiserra’s nephew Bellam comes to ask if she wants to go with him and others out to the Gadrobi Hills as they flee what they fear will be some trouble in Darujhistan. She thanks him but says no; she’ll be OK as she waits for Torvald. When he leaves, she goes to warn the Greyfaces not to use the gas tonight.
Tayschrenn brings him and Kiska out at Kartool for a “long delayed reunion.” When they enter a cave temple of D’rek, she points out the god has tried to capture Tayschrenn before, but he answers that despite the previous attempt to imprison or even kill him, “a new crossroads has been reached,” add the time for grudges has past. He jumps into a pit and when Kiska screams, an old woman appears and tells her not to worry—all the strong ones do that; “he’ll be back. Or he’ll be dinner for the Worm.” She describes the god as “coiling and churning eternal. The Worm of the Earth. A worm of energy it is. Fire and flame, molten rock and boiling metal. Ever restless. And a good thing too! Else we’d all be dead.” The crone complains about how in the day it used to all be about “service” but now it’s all about “gathering—influence and power and whatnot… the only way to sustain anything, to build anything, is to give… give of yourself till there’s nothing left! Only then can you have something! If you take, you diminish things till there’s nothing left . . Everyone’s greedy these days. It’ll only diminish the pot till there’s nothing left!” She also points out how lousy music has gotten, recalls walking to school in snow over her head back when school was actually taught you something, and then tells Kiska to get off her lawn.
Kiska awakes to a jovial Tayschrenn. When she complains about the old woman, he tells her there is nobody else there, then asks what the old woman said.
In Baruk’s workshop, Duiker has been testing samples of chemicals on the chip of alabaster to no desired effect. They rest and as Spindle watches, he thinks how the city is one edge. He also finds it strange that the city that has welcomed everyone does not want the Seguleh.
Spindle, with a little help from Baruk’s demon, discovers a sealed amphora and after some back and forth and an attempt to get Chillbais to explain it, they open it from outside the room via a Spindle-built remote bottle opener. Dropping a chip into some of the amphora’s liquid causes an “impressive” (and stinky) reaction. They carry the liquid to K’rul’s bar in wine bottles.
Envy is Envy. She and Taya have a non-physical catfight.
Aragan calls a halt to the Malazan army just outside Darujhistan and they build a defensive trench. Emperor Mallick Ral (grr) had negotiated a compromise plan with the Moranth, but if it failed, the Moranth made clear they would unleash full munition hell on Darujhistan, the idea of which makes Aragan think of Y’ghatan. He wonders what he will do if that happens—will he risk his people by ordering them in to help, or just sit and watch thousands die, a concept he imagines he, nor the others, could live with.
Brood senses something in the night and straps on his hammer, thinking, “Enough is enough. Not after all we’ve fought for. Have to put an end to it before it all gets out of hand. And frankly, better if I take the blame than anyone else.”
Yusek gawks at the skyscrapers of Darujhistan. Dassem tells them the Seguleh have stirred up trouble he’s not sure he can help with, though after Sall’s plea, he continues on, though “My record isn’t that encouraging.”
Spindle panics when he thinks the others are drinking the “wine” he and Duiker brought over (they weren’t). Fisher tells them all the Seguleh were defeated by the Moranth out west, possibly working with the Malazans, and that the Seguleh expect and attack and have withdrawn to Majesty Hill, not contesting the city, though the others think they’re simply relying on the mob to do that. Blend wonders if maybe they aren’t just waiting for reinforcements from their island home, a thought that drives Spindle to food.
Aman’s statue begins to move.
While I really like this revelation that the “Tyrants” have really been one Tyrant each time, it’s still not quite clear to me, though possibly I’m not recalling all the details (and thus any help would be appreciated from those who remember better). I like the idea of a cyclical rise and fall, of creation and destruction, but that doesn’t quite seem to jibe in my head with the idea of an “Age of Tyrants,” which seems to imply not a constant ending in destruction but a continuous run of Tyrants, though perhaps we just haven’t had the details on that Age so my assumption is just false. But it seems this could be a bit clearer. Adding to the confusion is the use of Tyrant for the Jaghut and for the, well, “Tyrant,” but that can be explained away by going to school so to speak on Raest and using the same title.
Not only have we had more frequent examples of Jan’s chafing in his role under the Legate, but it seems the moments are also getting more intense. Here, he thinks about actually killing (if possible) the Legate.
It’s good to see one of the Seguleh worry about their hubris—a bit of maturation on their part perhaps? Also nice to see some warmth, some emotion from them.
Well, yet another clue perhaps to Morn’s identity, his reminder he is “committed” elsewhere. And apparently to an important endeavor.
That’s a big revelation concerning Orchid. One has to wonder if we’ll be seeing her again, if not in this book (we’re 85% of the way through at this point), in a future Malazan book. Or will she be one of those many examples of stories beyond the story?
This is a nicely concise and efficient dip into Yusek’s mind, giving us an easy understanding for her attraction to the ways of the Seguleh. It’s also another example of one of my favorite aspects of this series—the way past events have repercussions far down the road and don’t just end when the “scene” ends.
Again, I’d like a bit more time spent on this “difference” Gall notes about the Moranth usage of munitions. It seems unnecessarily ambiguous here and being such a key plot point, not to mention an insight into culture/history, it’d be nice to know some more about prior usage.
I really like this imagery surrounding D’rek the Worm, though it doesn’t quite mesh with my earlier feeling about her. Every now and then we get these little traces of science in these books, of the veneer, or perhaps shared-reality might be better? —being stripped away to reveal a more “modern” view of the universe. I find these snippets wholly intriguing and endearing.
Ahh Spindle, a perfect stand-in for the fantasy reader here—why are these wizard workshops always at the top of “an endless narrow circular stairway?” These scenes I think are a little too drawn out, though I do like Spindle’s device.
Once again, Aragan comes off well in one of his scenes. I know he’s painted as torn here about what to do if Darujhistan burns, but I just can’t fully buy him as being torn if that moment arrives. And once again, we see how the past does not remain dead in these books, as he cannot help but think of another city aflame—Y’Ghatan, as any Malazan would (though I think most books would have never mentioned it here, so many thousands of pages after the fact)
I like Brood’s sense of responsibility here, his willingness to be the scapegoat, though I wonder whom he is trying to protect—just everyone else?
These short, quick-moving shifts in scene and POV are a nice way to ramp up the sense of urgency and convergence here at the end, and also a good reminder of all the power that is with now just outside the city or inside the city, such as Dassem, Brood, Aragan’s troops, Envy, etc. And that’s a great image to close with—those ponderous, weighty steps of the stone statue.