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 twent-one 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.
Aman’s statue crashes into K’rul’s bar. The pickled Seguleh hold it off for only a bit until it destroys them, forcing the Malazans deep into the lowest up-to-now unexplored cellar, where they find what appears to be the entrance to a tomb. At the last moment, Kiska and Tayschrenn appear and destroy the statue. Faced with the hostility despite his rescue, Tayschrenn tells them he gets their anger and admits it is deserved, then apologizes. Asked why he’s there, Tayschrenn points to the tomb and explains he’s there to do something that should have been done ages ago. Duiker warns him if he fails he’ll likely die, adding nobody has been strong enough or willing enough to take the risk before. The marines leave Kiska and Tayschrenn alone, with Kiska angry about Tayschrenn taking a risk he hasn’t told her about.
Tayschrenn reminds Kiska of “all those who nudged and manipulated and plain lied” to place Tayschrenn here now: “Your Aunt Agayla for one. The Enchantress. That priest of Shadow you mentioned—Shadowthrone himself schemed for this. Even D’rek has given me her blessing.” When she asks why none of them do it then, he answers they’re all busy in a larger struggle “that spans the world.” She’s still unhappy and he asks her what Maker would do. She replies he would do his job. Tayschrenn tells her to “love now not for me or any other. But for yourself, “ then says goodbye and heads down.
Upstairs, the other finds Antsy and Spindle and Fisher, along with the Heels, whom Antsy mentions Fisher knows but wasn’t happy to see. Spindle announces he’s heading back south, then Kiska arrives and asks for a drink. Picker mentions to everyone she’s a Claw.
Back at Vorcan’s place, Studious Lock’s study of a bag of potatoes is interrupted by the arrival of Topper and Taya fighting.
Taya flees to where Vorcan is chained and begs for protection. Vorcan frees herself and then Topper tells her Taya must pay for her crime against the Empire (killing Laseen), but when Vorcan tells him to leave Taya to her, he agrees. Vorcan chains Taya.
Rallick finds “his man” Ebbin, who says he could have run but didn’t, adding he doesn’t want to die, and explaining that the Legate is now just a harmless voice in his head now. Rallick apologizes and leads him away.
Rallick takes Ebbin to the Azath House, where Raest bemoans his lack of a “keep of the mounds” sign. Rallick leaves Ebbin there and takes Chaur (now physically if not mentally healed) out with him.
Baruk returns home in bad shape. Chillbais helps him and then has to explain what the hell happened to the place while Baruk was gone.
Envy leaves. Maybe for the Empire. Maybe not.
Barathol and Humble Measure work on firing something in a metal casket (the bolts perhaps?), then say goodbye to each other, hoping not to have to do this again any time soon. Humble Measure thinks “He had his cause now… he would apply all his resources just as ruthlessly as before. He knew where the true threats lay now and he would keep watch. He would await the slips of paper inscribed with the broken circle.
Torvald watches the Moranth leaves, then meets Corien, who tells him he thinks they’ll be seeing more of each other. On his way home, he notes lots of pots that had held water and helped keep the city from burning. Tiserra meets him and demands to know where he’s been. To which he answers he was on a secret mission, then was kidnapped, then saved the city. She is a bit skeptical.
Coll opens up an old room in his house, then heads to Majesty Hall.
Derudan (the old crazy witch) steps out of her hut more lucid (somewhat to her dismay)
Aragan heads to the city. K’ess and Fal-ej lead the Fifth back to Pale. K’ess asks the Captain to tell him about Seven Cities. She happily complies.
Kruppe appears in his usual place at the Phoenix and when Jess questions his ability to pay for his order (for two, as he is expecting someone to join him), he tells her to talk to Meese. Jess returns with newfound respect.
Scorch and Leff arrive and beg Kruppe to get them out of town before they get in trouble for killing the Legate. He tells them he just happens to have a job for them out of town.
The Malazans of K’rul’s bar were never going to get out of this without some sort of action, were they? I confess that it isn’t clear to me what this automaton is actually after—kill the Malazans, kill the pickled Seguleh, break into this weird tomb below the bar? I think it’s the latter, because it doesn’t stop once the Seguleh are down. I confess that I was dismayed at the destruction of these undead Seguleh—it just seemed like such an ignominious end.
Duiker with a big ass sword came as a surprise—he’s so much the historian that a sword feels out of place.
I do love the moment where they use Spindle’s cusser, and end up saying: “How do you like that? […] It really was a dud!”
I’m quite confused by the whole thing about how far down the bar goes, and this hidden tomb—or whatever it is. Is this what has been causing the straining in the bar, and the odd liquid and the other strange happenings?
I like that the meeting between Bridgeburners and Tayschrenn was tense and a little ugly. With what happened at Pale, and his general role within the Malazan army, you can see why this would be—but it’s good that it has been acknowledged, and again shows how events resonate from first book to last.
And again a nod to what is happening elsewhere:
“…right now at this moment all those I just mentioned, and many others, are utterly enmeshed in a struggle that spans the world. All their strength is already committed in a confrontation manifesting across countless fronts.”
I like the meeting between the old Malazans, and their muttered ‘long story’ when asked what has been going on. And then that final exchange is brilliant:
“Who’s the gal?” Spindle asked, his voice low.
“She’s a Claw,” Picker murmured.
Spindle choked on his drink.
It seems Taya has been grounded by Vorcan! I’m not too sure about why Vorcan put herself in chains if she was always able to get out and chose not to as a matter of will. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Ye gods, for a few seconds I genuinely thought that Rallick was going to kill Ebbin! That was some well-written dialogue.
Haha, poor Raest. For a supposedly peaceful existence as the guardian of this Azath House, it’s certainly become a busy little hotel. And imagine having Ebbin in there, with all his questions.
Ah, Baruk is back. I’m so pleased. And his comment to Chillblais, bearing in mind what has happened to his home in his absence, made me snort: “He waved the flask to the surroundings, ‘…what have you done to the place?’”
Bless Torvald—he goes for the truth when telling Tiserra about where he was, and she shows very little desire to believe his story.
This chapter feels so much like an epilogue, wrapping up lots of storylines and flitting from place to place. Some of them I don’t quite understand—Coll’s time in that dusty bedroom, the woman who says ‘wait till I get my hands on that slimy toad’. I’m guessing the first is Coll finally letting his past go, and the latter is the witch who Kruppe was associating with, although I’m not sure what exactly is going on with her.
Aww, K’ess and Fal-ej are having a first date—well, telling each other war stories while they ride. Same thing, hey?
My own read, Amanda, is that this was an assault on K’rul him/herself (I’m assuming that’s the tomb down there). This is a nice bit of personal action coming after the last few scenes, and I like lots of what happens here: the action moments, how Spindle’s munition was a dud after all, the main role Duiker plays, the burying of the hatchet to some extent between Tayschrenn and the others, Tayschrenn’s father-like farewell to Kiska, Spindle’s spit take on learning Kiska is a claw.
My only niggling complaints about this scene are (1) the idea that the Malazans would never have gone down there, if only to make sure there wasn’t some weakness to this place, and (2) the arrival in the nick of time of Tayschrenn and Kiska. But really, those don’t bother me much at all.
I do wonder a little that Tayschrenn isn’t a bit more annoyed at the manipulation that brought him here, though I grant this is the new more Zen Tayschrenn.
As for what this is all about, that is ambiguous, but let’s wait for the Epilogue to speculate on it as we’ll get a little more info there.
Studious Lock is one of my favorite minor running characters in this series. He always adds a nice touch to whatever scene he is in.
I admit, I expected a bit more argument from Topper on just leaving Taya there, considering what she did, but part of me really likes how this is handled.
As for Vorcan, I believe she (like Derudan) had concocted a means to not so much avoid the Tyrant’s Call or compulsion but to ensure when she was in compulsion she couldn’t do anything. Once she was wholly lucid with the Legate’s death, then her own will (key word “own”) allowed her to free herself, while the Vorcan in the grip of the Tyrant’s call could not have. But please, feel free anyone to offer alternative views—I’m not wedded to this.
Ahh, teen daughters and their mothers…
I agree about that scene with Rallick and Ebbin Amanda. Very well crafted and nicely, quietly emotional.
I wonder how good a card player Ebbin is. If this were a TV show, wouldn’t you want a Raest/Azath House spin-off?
I know on my first reading of this I was worried about Baruk—he seemed the perfect kind of character to off: well known enough to have an emotional impact but not so integral that his death would constrict overmuch the future plot possibilities. I was happy to see his resistance throughout was rewarded. And yes, great closing line to that plot thread.
On the other hand, Envy.
I’ve always liked the Torvald and Tiserra as a couple and this is a nice closing scene for them—warm, wry, funny, ironic. Two normal folks who happened to each have a hand in saving a city.
I’m a little unsure myself about Coll Amanda. The only thing I can think of is it’s his ex-wife’s bedroom, he hasn’t stepped foot in it since she turned on him, and now he’s putting it behind him.
The old woman is Derudan, who kept herself away from the compulsion via drugs she was smoking and who gave Kruppe something he needed to deal with the Legate (perhaps the crossbow shafts, seeing as how she was whittling?)
And yes, this does very much have an epilogue feel to it. One could almost call this Epilogue I and the next chapter Epilogue II
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.