Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: Orb Sceptre Throne, Chapter Twenty


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 readers. In this article, we’ll cover chapter twenty 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 drags the wounded Galene toward hoped for safety on Majesty Hill. They run into a pair of Seguleh but are rescued by some Moranth who saw Galene’s mount fall. They head for the main complex, passing lots of dead as well as continuing fierce battle. Baruk is off to the side, so far not intervening. Galene, surveying it all, deems the Moranth cannot win, and saying,” he cannot be allowed to succeed,” is about to call in their last resort, when Torvald convinces her to wait a moment.

Spindle’s digging is interrupted by a several Seguleh, one of whom are driven away by a Moranth munitions drop and the others by Madrun and Lazan Door.

Jan watches the fighting, noting unsurprised that the Moranth munitions have gotten much more effective and deadly since the last time their two people fought. He is horrified by the deaths among the Seguleh, and thinks himself at fault. He goes to close a breach at one end.

Another Seguleh, Horul, watches with amazement as Jan carves his way through untold Moranth. When he stops, she is surprised to catch a look on his face of “Horror. Horror and soul-lashing pain.” He is surprised he was not killed and tells her to bind tight his wound.

Scorch and Leff guard.

The Imass that had been playing cards with Raest (Harlo’s friend Dev’ad Anan Tol) is trying to get to the Legate through the Seguleh, and Palla challenges him to stop him from killing more Seguleh.

Ebbin returns to sudden lucidity and realizes his actions led to all that he has witnessed. Ebbin tells the Legate he’s lost, but the Legate responds the Moranth are finished and while his attack didn’t succeed, it’s just a lesson learned. Ebbin argues the Legate has still lost by having been revealed as the true “monster nightmare of our childhood,” but the Legate merely laughs. Their conversation is interrupted when the Legate senses enemies nearing he hadn’t expected.

Scorch and Leff wonder how this strange bolt appeared in Scorch’s crossbow. As they scuffle over it, the crossbow fires the bolt into the Legate, who turns in surprise and readies an attack. Leff, finding a similar bolt in his own crossbow, fires it at the Legate, who keeps coming. They keep shooting more of the strange bolts that have mysteriously appeared in their sacks.

Envy is so overcome with joy at an unexpected reunion with her father Draconus that she faints. It was joy, right?

Galene and Torvald watch as Aman contorts in agony then disappears. Torvald tells Galene the Moranth have won, but she merely tells a soldier to find out what’s happening from one of the wing commanders.

Dev’ad beats Palla by cheating via the whole already-dead thing, then knocks her out and continues on.

From above, Rallick watches Scorch and Leff exhaust their bolts and then run, leaving the still standing Legate with over a dozen bolts in him. Ebbin enters and Rallick hears a one-sided conversation where Ebbin says he has no reason to flee as he has done nothing, but then yells, “No—they wouldn’t. They mustn’t!” and rushes from the chamber. The Legate laughs. Rallick leaves.

Dev’ad strides into the throne room and grabs the Legate, saying, “Now I take your head, Jaghut.” He takes a closer look, realizes the Legate is human(ish), says, “my bad,” and exits, walking by Palla who takes a look at the Legate pincushion on the floor and takes off herself.

Kruppe enters and taunts the Legate.

Spindle’s digging reaches stone and he and Fisher dump Baruk’s chemical on it to larger-than-expected effect.

Palla tells Jan the Imass killed or nearly killed the Legate and left. Jan wonders why, then orders all the Seguleh back to the inner halls.

Spindle and Fisher emerge from the smoke of the reaction, and when Spindle tries to go back in to finish the job, Madrun tells him he can’t—it’s poisonous. Spindle calls up his warren. Animal antics ensue.

The Legate refuses to die. Or stop laughing. Kruppe considers this more annoying than not having eaten a pastry in the past hour.

Galene is told the Moranth have lost about 700 of their thousand, while seventy or so remaining Seguleh have retreated deeper into the hall. Torvald suggests someone asks them why. Galene has someone in mind.

Coll and Redda head up to check out the strange quiet. He schools her in old man tricks. Two Seguleh at the top of the stairs send them back down.

Spindle comes out of the smoke to say it’s all one, but the stones are still in one piece. Lazan, Madrun, and Thurule say they’ve done their master’s bidding and, looking at the forest run off. Spindle and Fisher turn to see Caladan Brood, holding a cat, emerge from the trees. He tells Spindle to cut his warren, and when Spindle does, hands him the spitting cat, which decides it has other places to be. When Brood asks Fisher what he’s doing there, the bard says he like to “witness” things, and Brood tells him one day that may get him in trouble. He strolls into the poisonous smoke to inspect the stone, then splits it with two blows (not using Mjolnir. Oh wait, This isn’t the Avengers movie), saying “I warned the creature.” He leaves while Spindle points out they must have already loosened the lid on the peanut butter jar. Fisher says sure we did.

Jan enters the throne room and finds the Legate on the floor. The Legate tells him to take the mask and wear it, saying he will live forever—“I have been banished from this flesh—but accept the mask and together we shall live again.” Jan refuses and walks out, telling him “Our slavery is long over .We have found our own way… I consign you to the past.” He passes Taya, clutching her body in agony, and to her question of what has happened, he tells her he “is as dead.” She enters the room.

Taya sees the Legate, winces and says, “Please not that anything but” (implying the same offer given to Jan probably), and then Topper appears. She admires his choice of green, he admires her choice of blades, music swells, and they meet for a passionate kiss over the Legate’s body like two kooky krazy assassins in young love. Or they attack each other and disappear.

Torvald and Galene meet with Jan and Palla (she speaks for Jan) to parley. The Moranth and Seguleh each demand the other surrender. Galene says she will reduce the hilltop to rubble, and when Torvald says Darujhistan would consider that an act of war, she answers that cost would be acceptable. Palla suggest the Moranth merely let the Seguleh return home. Galene says that would be fine so long as the Seguleh leave their swords behind. Palla says “I’ve got your abandoned sword right here, “ and Galene says, “You wanna piece of this?” and Palla says, “Bring it, bi—” and then Torvald interrupts the bonding to ask about the hostages. Palla says they’ll be released, and Galene says, “release this” and Palla says “Oh, I’ll relea…” Torvald sighs. The two separate to reconsider.

As Spindle and Fisher watch the parley end, sudden munitions go off and a group of Seguleh make for the entrance, chased by Moranth and another group behind them. Spindle spots Antsy in that final group and whistles him over. The two happily reunite, as do Cull Heel and Fisher, with Cull telling Fisher the bard’s been gone from home too long. They’re surrounded by Moranth.

Oru, leaders of the Seguleh from the Spawns, meets with Jan and gives him a wrapped object they call, “the Unmarred.” Jan calls for all the Seguleh to assemble.

Before the fewer than one hundred survivors, Jan announces Oru has found the “Mask of our Ancestors. The Pure One crafted by the First who led us on our exile… which was in truth a deliverance. A flight from slavery and a flight from our shame. Crafted in the hope of an eventual redemption, a cleansing of our past.” Oru reveals an unmarked mask carved from the same stone of the Legate’s throne. The Seguleh bow and Jan tells them it is, “A sign… A promise… One we hope to one day be worthy of… [and] must be returned to await that future safe in the temple at Cant.” Gall, the Third, says instead that Jan should don the mask and lead them to wipe out the Moranth. Jan, though, says it “must not be taken up in anger or bloodshed. That would taint it beyond redemption.” When he adds they will do what the Moranth ask, Dassem, entering, says he supports that decision. Jan, looking at him, “knew him for what he was, and what he could be… [and] knew then what he must do.” Gall says they cannot abandon their swords, but Jan replies, “I propose it because I have seen what we could all too easily become—what we must never become.” Gall, unhappily for both, challenges.

Galene tells Torvald though she might reconsider on her own, her people cannot allow the Seguleh to leave and thus remain a threat, even if it means more destruction and war between Darujhistan and the Moranth. She is only waiting for the Darujhistan citizens in the cellar to be released. A group tells them they let some Seguleh through and when she asks the Master Sergeant (the oldest Moranth Torvald thinks he’s seen) why, he replies they were with Dassem, First Sword, whom he’d recognized. He adds that their treaty with the Malazans was signed by Dassem and thus, “if he lives, then contrary to what we had assumed, that treaty is not void.”

Sall explains to Yusek that it is rare for anyone to be truly hurt in a challenge, but if someone is, Dassem will be even closer to Second (an idea that doesn’t thrill Dassem).

Palla asks Jan not to fight, knowing he is wounded. She agrees to stand second when he says he has no choice. Horul too tries to stop it, saying it should wait until they return to Cant, but Oru says challenge must be answered and Jan agrees. Gall looks for the next highest rank to second him and Dassem reluctantly steps forward, with the crowd murmuring at the sight of Grief (Rake’s old sword) on his back. As they prepare, Palla warns Gall quietly she will challenge him if he defeats Jan, and he says she, like him, must do what she must.

Jan, against his nature and history, starts by taunting Gall., asking what Gall “has planned this time, “ referring to previous fights won easily by Jan. Palla is confused by this out-of-character action, but Dassem sees immediately that Jan is “setting him [Gall] up.” Jan knows he must enact his plan soon due to his wound, and wishes there was another way, thinking how Gall is “in so many ways… the most honourable of all of us.” Yusek is agog at the grace and beauty. Jan arranges it so Gall stabs him.

Palla is shocked, as is Gall. Devastated, he tells her, “I didn’t,” and she says she knows. Jan tells Oru his last request is for the mask to be offered to Dassem. Dassem says no, but Jan with his last breath says he must take it and lead the Seguleh home. Oru reminds the others of his vision years ago that he would find the First’s mask, and that by tradition the First cannot be taken but must be offered. He explains he did in fact offer it to Jan, but the Second refused it, and then repeats what Jan had said about offering it to Dassem. He announces, though, that rank is paramount, and so offers it to Gall and Pall, each of whom refuse it. When it is offered to Dassem, he points out someone may dispute that, and Lo (the Eighth) steps forward. Dassem asks him what he would do if he were given the mask. Lo says, “Challenge has been issued. It must be met,” and Dassem sighing, says, “They say never gamble with the Seguleh and now I know why.” He whispers he’s half willing to call Lo’s bluff, but Lo knows he won’t. Dassem pulls his sword around and belts it onto his front, then accepts the mask, though he admits he is not “unmarred.”

Galene is told the Moranth captured a mixed group (Antsy’s). She orders them released. Dassem leads a small party out and tells her he plans to lead the Seguleh to Cant and never return. She agrees to not challenge their departure and tells him she is “relieved,” to which he answers he is too. Galene gives the stand down signal.

With the Malazans, Torn informs K’ess, Aragan, and Fal-ej about the order and says they will now extract the Moranth in Darujhistan.

Bendan’s group notes that hostilities appear to have ended and speculate about where they’ll go next. Bendan says, “Don’t matter. All the same to us.” Little agrees.


Amanda’s Reaction

I find the idea of the Seguleh and the fact that they only challenge those who bare weapons to be extraordinarily civilised—and surely it makes encounters more respectful. Here consider: “But then, neither of them had weapons drawn so he imagined at worst they’d only be captured.” And compare that to the way that the Moranth approach their encounters with the Seguleh—running in and determined to rid themselves of the Seguleh using cussers. Not so civilised.

I wonder if renegade Seguleh remain as sharp and talented as Seguleh—Madrun and Lazan Door here manage to drive off a few Seguleh, and it just made me wonder if they would have the same abilities. On the one hand, I’m guessing they don’t train as much as those still in the fold, but then I guess renegades would not just stick to the recognised ways of fighting. Or perhaps this tells us what we need to know about the Seguleh—that their abilities are more supernatural than mere training, since renegades can still do the same?

This is a really unusual way of looking at fallen comrades from Jan: “How many possible Seconds cut down before they could display their mastery?” It’s as though he wants to see someone with the ability take his position away. Also, it must be difficult when your people are so small in number that every one fallen is a name you know.

Hmm, if I knew the Second of the Seguleh was coming my way, and letting loose all his emotions of fury and sorrow, I think I would make damn certain I was elsewhere! Just think about the potential there for destruction…

I probably should save this sort of thing for the book wrap up, but Jan is by far my favourite character in this book. He is so noble, yet broken by the knowledge of what he has brought upon himself and his people. The “soul-lashing pain” he bears makes him feel so tragic. And this exchange was pitched perfectly (apparently Bill and I had very different perspectives on this particular scene):

“I… live,” he uttered, wonder in his voice.
“Yes. You live.”
“Not… today, then.”
“No. Not today.”
“Tomorrow, then.”

I actually like this timely reminder that the Seguleh can be taken out by others in the Malazan world. They were starting to seem too all-powerful to me, so having an Imass stride in and create havoc is a good thing. And I like the Imass understatement here:

“Sixth? I met the First. Long ages ago. Then I wouldn’t have dared face any of the champions. Let us see how things proceed—now that I have had ample time to practise.”

Poor Ebbin. So driven in the first few scenes of the book, and here knowing that he unleashed this horror on the world.

Wait, what? Scorch and Leff are the ones who take down the Legate? I presume these bolts were those made under Kruppe’s careful eye? Oh man… They’re such utter buffoons and I’ve just not enjoyed their wandering around and causing accidental mayhem. And here—why would they be the ones given the bolts? Why not someone more reliable? I don’t buy this at all. And it’s an accident as well! Sure, that is quite amusing, but not really what I expected or wanted to solve how to get rid of the Legate. I wanted something more… well, epic.

And Lady Envy’s entire role in the book was to faint? What point did she have? Unless she is appearing in a full role in the next chapter, I see absolutely no reason for her to be in this novel. Nothing she has done has affected the plot in any way.

And then the Imass, after killing Seguleh and practically taking down their Sixth in combat, just wanders off again, once he finds out there is no Jaghut present? This has been a big old flurry of anti-climax so far in this chapter! All the build up and no real pay off.

And then there is the odd moment that do provide delicious pay off. “Madrun was thumping the other on the back. Then he raised his head to peer about. “Am I mad, or do you hear horses screaming?” That made me giggle a great deal. Poor Spindle.

Ha, I love Coll’s trick on Redda, in order to prove her utter naivety.

Madrun and Lazan have history with Caladan Brood, don’t they? I did enjoy their rather panicky withdrawal upon seeing him. “Come Thurule […] We have fulfilled our mistress’s instructions—now is the time to withdraw!”

So Caladan Brood knows Fisher? That’s interesting!

In fact, after the disappointment about some scenes, I love this one with Cal. His quick destruction of the stone, his quiet ‘I warned the creature’ and his quick exit, and then Spindle’s “Well—you know, we must’ve weakened it for him…” Lovely stuff.

Ah, Jan. Now this is pay off and provides great satisfaction:

“No. Our slavery is long over. We have found our own way. We are our own masters now. I consign you to the past. I turn my face from you. You no longer exist.”

What does this mean for the Seguleh now?

I also enjoy Torvald’s reaction to being in the same parley as Jan—it just seems exactly what someone should be thinking in that situation:

“Torvald felt almost dizzy standing this close to the highest living ranked of them. He couldn’t imagine what it must take to occupy such a position—let alone have all the others accept it as fully justified.”

Wait, the Heels know Fisher as well? And he comes from the same place as them? Ha, it would be good to learn this mysterious bard’s history.

“His side was completely numb and he was weak from loss of blood, but if he could just avoid any further exertion he believed he might yet live to see this through.”

Uh oh.

Hmm, does Jan see in Dassem the future First of the Seguleh? That seems to be what is implied in the way he looks at him and sees what he could be. I like the fact that Jan won’t take the mask of the First, it adds to my respect for him, especially when he must know it will lead to Gall’s challenge and his possible death, considering what I wrote in the last paragraph.

Dassem fits very naturally into this part of the story now, even being able to see what Jan intends when Palla (someone who has been with the Second for a great deal of time) is not able to realise the same.

And poor Gall. Sure, Jan believes this is the true way, but he leaves Gall desolate. Although that condition is the one that leaves him unable to accept the Pure Mask of the First, even though he challenged in order to try and take it.

For me, the ending to this chapter, as Dassem accepts the First mask, is very powerful because of how the vast vision of this series is once again brought home. He was only in a position to take this role because of what happened with Anomander. What happened with Anomander was only able to take place thanks to a crazy amount of steps that put them on a collision course. This series bewilders in its scope.


Bill’s Reaction

See now, was it all that hard to give us Madrun and Lazan’s names in that scene where they rescue Fisher and Spindle?

I’ve decided I’m just going to save my comments re the Moranth—Seguleh fight scenes for the wrap-up rather than just comment each time such a scene arises.

When Jan wonders how he could possibly atone, it’s probably nigh on impossible for a reader to start thinking about that—kill the Legate? Make peace with the Moranth? It’s just another piece to add to his ongoing motivation for him to break with the Legate, though we have no idea if he will or not. I do wish we hadn’t the lines about his wonder at being alive, because it makes it hard for me not to see his leap into the fray as an attempt at suicide. Effective help for his people perhaps in terms of killing lots of the enemy, but suicide no less. And that makes it a cop-out, and I’d rather not think of Jan that way.

I also wonder why there was no discussion amongst the Seguleh of the Moranth munitions and preparation for it. Clearly there are records that the Moranth uses those weapons as a matter of course, and clearly here Jan is painted as not being surprised that the Moranth have greatly improved on those weapons’ efficacy over time, so you’d think the Seguleh would have at least had a chat or two about that likelihood, or the Legate might mention it.

Now, I’ve complained several times, even just above, about the lack of name and unnecessary ambiguity in this book. Here, with Ebbin, is an example of what I consider necessary (or at least, useful) ambiguity. In the beginning he’s referred to as Ebbin, then he is referred to as “the mouthpiece” or not by name at all (I believe—I confess I did not seek out every single scene with him for this thesis, so feel free to correct me), and here, when lucidity returns, he is referred to as Ebbin again. This makes sense to me as the middle “Ebbin” is not himself; he has lost his past identity—had it taken from him, and so to call him by his name is incorrect. Not using his name is not only more accurate, but it clarifies for the reader, or helps the reader understand, what his position is, his mental/personal state. This is where this kind of ambiguity works.

So now we see what Kruppe, Humble Measure, and Barathol were forging. I’ll talk more about this in the wrap up, so I’ll just say here I’m not sure the pay off for that whole storyline—the scenes with the three forgers and the scenes meant to put Scorch and Leff into place—were worth the payoff here. And I’m not a big fan of those plans leading to an accidental random firing that makes the Legate turn on them so they have to fire the rest of the bolts (and if that firing wasn’t accidental but was Kruppe’s magic, I wonder why we needed them in the first place).

I wish De’vad hadn’t killed however many Seguleh he did in arriving, but I do like how this is built up to be a big confrontation, and then he’s like, “What the? Never mind.” And then just leaves. I almost wish he’d said something as he turned about getting back to his card game or about Raest probably cheating.

Hmm, is Draconus’ appearance here meant not only to take Envy out of the game (another character, like Scorch and Leff, whose appearance didn’t work much for me), but to serve as a hint to another character’s identity?

I guess we’ll never know if Spindle’s work did weaken the stones enough for Brood to break the circle (I think it’s implied no, and that’s the way I lean), but I do like how this big deal—all the investigation, the risk, the searching of Baruk’s place, the identification of the substance, the digging, Madrun and Lazan, Spindle’s warren raising—all the things that are supposed to lead to a big impact, apparently just, well, don’t (if you lean the way I do). Because the impact doesn’t matter so much as the attempt, and I’m glad Spindle gets to come off as he does here. And of course, I love the picture of Brood walking out trying to cradle an angry cat.

Good for Jan refusing the mask. Though really, was anyone worried he’d take it? In any case, we’ve been set up for this moment all the way through, though I confess I’d wished it had happened with the Legate not quite so helpless.

The negotiation scene is so stupid, so stubborn, so lacking on common sense on both sides. And so realistic. Who honestly could have expected with the history—ancient and recent—between these two that a parley would go well?

More hints to Fisher’s past (recognized by both the Heels—who are from his home—and by Brood as if they’re old friends).

So will we learn why the ancient mask of the Seguleh was on Moon’s Spawn?

Jan’s development throughout has been one of my favorite aspects of Orb, and actually, outside of the their fighting scenes, the Seguleh in general were one of my favorite storylines as we see them a bit more on the inside and see them learning about themselves and thus, if they can, beginning to change. Here we have Jan being very introspective—seeing the dangerous path that lies before them, a path he refuses to put them on. But I also like how Gall is shown not to be an idiot or a jerk or power-hungry, but is deeply pained, as is Jan, by what their “way” tells him, in his mind, what he must do. And we see that again when Palla says she’ll take him on herself if he wins—and rather than get upset, he just sort of resignedly and I like to think somewhat sadly says it is what it is.

And then the fight scene, which is an interesting parallel to another such fight, and its aftermath is I think very moving and again, shows the Seguleh in a compelling light.

I like as well how Dassem has now been woven into the Seguleh story, thinking it provides a good path of healing/growth for him. And the Seguleh could do worse for a leader.

This was a great chapter I thought for the most part here at the end, a nice mix of suspense and action and emotion, with the quick shifts from scene to scene handled very deftly. I do wish a few things had gone differently, but the major threads involving the Seguleh and Spindle outweigh the negatives.

Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for


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