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 nineteen 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.
Torvald flies with Galene and the Moranth to Darujhistan. As he flies, he notes how dark the city is and also how close the Jade Scimitar seems and recalls the rumors that it will smash into the land and end the world. Galene warns him the Moranth will suffer a lot of casualties thanks to the Legate’s mages. She asks if he will throw and he says yes.
In the Great Hall, where Coll and his granddaughter Redda are in attendance, the Legate tells Baruk and Taya to “Defend the Circle” and the Seguleh to defend the grounds, then explains to the others they are all safe where they are. Coll slips out to see what is going on.
Yusek wonders where the fabled lights of Darujhistan are. She asks Dassem what he’s going to do, and he admits he has no idea. He suddenly stops and tells them they need to take a different route “in case of panic.”
Raest cheats at cards. The Imass leaves the Azath after smelling ice.
Aragan and K’ess watch as the Moranth fly overhead
Bendan doesn’t want to see the same horror visited upon the Seguleh to happen again here in Darujhistan.
The Moranth near the Orb and prepare their munitions.
The Malazans hear the Moranth overhead and Spindle and Fisher go to check out what’s happening.
Torvald wants to kiss his wife, though he doesn’t know that’s who he wants to kiss (the person who decided to not put the gas on). He spots the Orb—the magical bubble protecting the Legate. The Moranth are struck hard by sorcery. Their munitions seem to have no effect on the Orb.
Coll and Redda realize while the Orb is keeping out the munitions, the ceiling may still come down and usher people into the cellars. Envy leaves.
Stonny realizes what is and is about to happen.
Aragan and K’ess see the flash of munitions and hear their Malazans empathetic response. K’ess tells Aragan they can’t go into the city; they’ll be blamed and Torn agrees. K’ess recalls the horror of Pale and hopes this doesn’t go the same way.
Spindle and Fisher carry Baruk’s alchemical to some of the stone forming the Orb.
Barathol, Scillara, and Little Chaur flee the bombardment.
Studious Lock class up Madrun, Lazan and Thurule (I think this is Thurule and not Topper here Amanda despite the green) and tells them Vorcan’s instructions.
Humble Measure (I assume?) looks ruefully at the Orb card he holds and thinks of himself, “He only wanted to be safe. He only wanted the city to be strong. How could he have been so blind.”?
Rallick and Taya dance. Taya tries to cheat and Rallick wins round one.
Torvald and Galene drop their last of their munitions, then are struck down as they begin to land. Torvald pulls a more wounded Galene from the dead mount. Surviving Moranth begin dropping down for a ground assault.
Jan marvels at the Moranth’s abilities and accomplishments-their alchemy, their winged beasts—and thinks it too bad they are in conflict. Iralt is surprised the Moranth will attack “normally”, but Jan is not, calling them brave. He thinks they will win the battle but the “war” (protection of the city) is already lost.
Yusek realizes her tourist stop in Darujhistan was badly timed.
Spindle and Fisher are interrupted by Taya’s appearance. She tells them she senses a witch nearby, one perhaps sworn to Ardata, and Fisher warns her off, reciting some lines about 12 being dragged from “abyss’s deepest pits.” Spindle threatens her with some of the alchemical and she exits via her “daemonic Warren.”
In Darujhistan’s Shadow Temple, Corien, Antsy, the Seguleh, etc. appear and ask what’s going on. Sordiki Qualm tells them the Moranth and Seguleh are fighting as in the olden days. Everyone leaves.
Antsy, Corien, and the Hells head out following the Seguleh while the Malazans go to join the other ones outside the city.
A large armored creature is run into by a carriage, destroying the carriage (Aman’s statue?)
As Aragan and K’ess watch, more quorl show up carrying double loads, what Torn calls “the alternative,” adding the Moranth are waiting for the signal of success or failure. He tells the two Malazans there will be no terms or truce with the Tyrant, explaining they know the tyrant “of old” and describing how the “lands of Pale were once ours. We had colonies in the lowlands . . . Annihilated. Such are his terms.” Aragan thinks how this feud is to the utter end, and wonders if the Malazans have no part to play.
I find it quite odd having the Scimitar, the green marks in the sky, thrust at us so often. It almost makes me wish we’d read this one prior to The Crippled God, where we saw what this was. As it is, the build-up is rather lost on me because I know where it is going.
Shame the munitions can’t be sent against the Legate in Majesty Hall! Although from comments he made in the previous chapter, it seems as though he is rather smug about his protection from the Moranth munitions, that his circle is going to provide cover.
What is this Orb mentioned? I forget whether we’ve seen it already, or if we’re about to for the first time.
I love seeing the Seventh’s conflict about being here in Darujhistan and his admission about not knowing what he’s there for or what he can do. It fits perfectly with what happened between him and Anomander Rake, and I love that the gravity of that event still reverberates.
Ha, I’m amused by Raest patiently wondering if he has taught the Imass that the game of cards works in turns.
I don’t understand the bit where Fal-ej says ‘it’s very lovely’ and then K’ess says ‘you’ve never seen it?’ What are they referring to, and are they talking to each other? I couldn’t make head nor tail of that bit.
I have to admit that, after sneering at him when first introduced, Bendan is really growing on me.
I guess sometimes a character has to be presented at their worst for the development to show. Here his grim and resigned attitude to having to watch the Moranth commit more slaughter is so far removed from the gauche kid we were first introduced to.
Since Galene knows about the Orb of the Tyrants, it sort of makes me hopeful they have a plan to get round it and so remove the Legate.
This is a bit too obvious for me:
“Picker and Blend were at the bar, leaning together from opposite sides, communicating in their one-word sentences like the veterans who’d spent a whole lifetime campaigning together that they were.”
Feels a bit too much like telling us, and not showing.
The other thing that feels heavy-handed right now is the fact that the lack of blue lights in Darujhistan on this night has been mentioned so many times. It’s as though the author wants that utterly locked into the readers’ minds.
Having said that, knowing who ordered the lights not to be lit this night does make Torvald’s thought quite funny: “He’d like to kiss whoever it was, considering all the munitions now flying over the city.”
Hmm, it seems rather shortsighted for mages to bring down the quorls with magic considering their payload will still be delivered… I guess it will mean that they don’t all hit at once in the same place, but massive damage would still be achieved.
I’m finding Lady Envy’s role in this novel so far rather tiresome. She just has brief scenes where she smiles mysteriously or thinks that she is bored. Even if she ends up with a big climax at the end, the build up has been poor.
You can see why the Malazans would be so goddamn worried and scared about an aerial bombardment after events like Pale and Y’Ghatan have gone down in history with them.
Spindle really is incredibly endearing in this novel: “He didn’t mean to slam down the crate of wine bottles but in the dark he tripped on a root and fell right on top of it.”
Bless Scillara and Barathol. Despite all the issues they seemed to have at the start of the novel, they still seem to be pulling in the same direction here. I like Scillara’s firmness at telling Barathol he is going with them, and not leaving them alone.
Oh ha! Very amusing seeing Topper infiltrating the guards at Vorcan’s place. It’s handy this chap favours green so much, so that we can clock his presence.
Who is the man holding the card showing the Orb of Rulership? Thinking: “he only wanted to be safe. He only wanted the city to be strong. How could he be so blind?” I might be missing clues, but I can’t recall who this is.
I love this fight scene between Rallick and Taya, from the fine descriptions of the swordplay to the fact that Rallick treats her like a trooper with no regard for her sex. And I enjoyed the glance back at the otataral dust that ends up saving him again here from Taya’s magic.
Has Jan got the wrong end of the stick, where he considers the Moranth with admiration and then thinks it is a shame that the Moranth and Darujhistan are clashing? Does he not realise that the Moranth are actually trying to wipe out the Seguleh by doing this?
Why does Fisher talk to Taya about the twelve demons? Trying to scare her away from them and stop her prying into what they’re doing?
So Antsy and the rest have escaped from Darkness into Shadow—I wonder if that was a deliberate choice, to show the relationship.
What is this walking, jeweled automaton that keeps popping up at the moment?
And, finally, we see the Moranth preparing themselves for a final push at annihilation, just waiting for a signal. It feels odd that the Moranth and the Malazans have been presented as sort of allies in the past, because they don’t seem to be working together or co-operating now! You do wonder why the Malazans even have to get involved here, even while knowing they are unlikely to walk away from a situation that doesn’t seem just.
I’m actually OK with knowing where all the green scimitar references are going; I just like the whole unity thing amongst events.
I will never tire of Raest. Never.
I think Fal-ej is referring to the city Amanda, but I’m not sure of course. I think K’ess’ response, “Shame, that” is a reference to the idea that Fal-ej has yet to see the wondrous sight of Darujhistan and the city is about to be destroyed by the Moranth. Any other ideas for that conversation folks?
I know what you mean about Bendan growing on you, and I would agree to an extent. But I would have liked to have spent more time with him and slow that process so as to see it more gradually over more time.
I’m pretty much in agreement with your criticisms here Amanda. I would rather have heard that conversation between Blend and Picker, the lack of lights is a bit too frequently mentioned though to be fair to the author, all these characters would in fact remark on it (though an author can be selective), and I’ve never been a fan of Envy in this book—not in terms of not like “Envy” but just thinking as a character she was a bit off and not adding much if anything.
As I’ve said repeatedly, I love how the past keeps coming back in this series. How many pages ago was it we last heard a reference to Pale, let alone all those pages ago when we were shortly after the actual occurrence. And yet here we are with its echoes still reverberating amongst characters.
I like that little scene with Barathol’s family as well, the way he does what we’ve always seen that character type do, announce their intention to perform heroic/good action, but here Scillara slaps down that idea and makes clear his place is with his family. Nice moment.
These two scenes with the ex-Seguleh and then the figure in the Iron Mongers are more examples of what I think are unnecessarily ambiguous scenes—is there any reason to withhold names here? I can’t really think of any.
This is a nicely cinematic scene with the two assassins and Esslemont does not just a good job with the descriptions and pacing but also I think knows exactly how long to let it go on for (a skill not all authors have).
I may talk more about this later, but I confess I don’t understand all this munition dropping to no effect by the Moranth. You’d think it wouldn’t take all that long before they realize it is doing nothing at all.
The fast shifting POVs do a nice job of quickening the pace and increasing the tension here, and clearly we now have pretty nearly all our players on site (including having merged our Spawns story with our Darujhistan story), so it’s all coming to a head here in the next chapter or two. Lots of questions still be answered—will Baruk’s undermining continue and will he be rewarded for it, will Jan’s doubts strip away the Seguleh or will they continue to follow the Legate, what were the Seguleh doing on the Spawns, what will be the effect of Baruk’s chemical on the stones Spindle and Fisher are digging up, what were Vorcan’s plans Studious told Madrun et. al, will Brood use his hammer, will Dassem fight, does Marcy know that Tony is really Terri, Tony’s long-lost twin brother thought to have been murdered by Mr. Pennyworth?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.