The answers have come in from Ian Cameron Esslemont regarding your Orb Sceptre Throne questions.
All answers include their originating questions. And once again, a big thank you goes to Ian for taking time out of his schedule to engage in depth with fans of the Malazan series!
Question 1 (from HiroProtagonist):
great book, ice. Big fan.
Just started b&b and am really into it.
Question: karsa and Samar Dev. Why didn’t we get onscreen action? I got really excited at the references but then no more mentions. Did you consider them at some point and decide against it? What impact do you think they could have had? Any interactions between them and another character that piqued your interest? Thanks.
HiroProtagonist: (Great name by the way – big fan also)
Karsa and Samar were left nearby with the end of Toll. I couldn’t just ignore them and pretend they didn’t exist, but neither did I feel that OST was ‘their’ story—and Karsa being so larger than life, he would have dominated any narrative he’d become part of—so in all fairness to him and everyone else, I had to let the two of them sit this one out. I just let everyone know that they were there, but were not interested at this time.
Question 2 (from Angel K):
Hey Ian! Just finished Return of the Crimson Guard and am already about 20 pages in Stonewhielder and I would like to tell you that the books are awesome. I don’t know about the next books but would you like to write more about my favourite duo Shadowthrone and Cotillion? Also which is your favourite duo?
Funny you should ask such a question at this particular moment… You may, or may not know, that I am currently documenting the rise to power of these very two characters, who are also my favourite duo. The first MS is due in June, and is titled Dancer’s Lament.
Question 3 (from WeilderOfTheMonkeyBlade):
Firstly, a big thanks for all your books – I’ve read them all (apart from Assail, and that grievous offence will be rectified soon, just some pesky exams to do first… *yawn* :) ), and I’d firstly like to say I really enjoyed them all—I think Return of the Crimson Guard and Stonewielder are some of my favorites in the entire Malazan set. How did you come up with the whole idea of the mask for the Tyrant? I really liked that idea, to be honest. I got goosebumps reading the bit where the Tyrant killed those guards near the beginning – one of the standout scenes from the books for me. Also, how did you feel writing characters that, up until now, had been the domain of Steven? Of course, I don’t know which ones were your own creations and what not, but did you feel any extra pressure writing characters that Steve had been with for 1-3 books? Quite frankly I think you handled them pretty well, especially Scorch and Leff and Torvald (nomiest of noms), some of my favourites from Toll the Hounds. Finally, I’m going to have a fan boy bitch about not seeing enough of Caladan. Unfortunatly, I can’t have a go at you for not putting in more of him, I understand completely why he was in where he was… but still! Caladan Brood is amazing. It is possible I fanboy over him too much… :) Anyway, thank you for helping create the best series out there! And if you could send me a copy of Dancer’s Lament early… I’m not sure I can be so excited for so long. Anyway, next year I’ll be on a Uni budget :(
WeilderOfTheMonkeyBlade: (great name by the way)
The mask came out of various historical traditions and customs referenced and mentioned here and there in the prior books. I wanted to give a cultural background/explanation for the Seguleh masks, and to tie this in with Darujhistan’s own history. Masks also come up elsewhere on the continent, as we see in Capustan, and so I revealed the ancient historical tradition that lay behind the fashion/ritual. As to dealing with characters that had been recently treated by Steve, yes, I feel great fear and trembling there. My dread is to not do them justice, and perhaps I do not do them the full justice Steve would, but many, I must point out, were created my me originally in any case—as we have swapped characters and institutions back and forth with only an eye on what serves the narrative and the greater story arc best.
As to a copy of Dancer’s Lament—sorry, but Bantam would be very mad at me for that!
Question 4 (from TedThePenguin):
I will ask the question we were just discussing in the comments of the epilogue, who are Rallick and Vorcan talking about?
Thank you for all of the work you have put into this series and world. Your books are great! Also, thank you so much for taking the time to read and answer our questions, I say this every time, but it is truly appreciated.
TedThePenguin: (Another great name And you know Steve and I love names!)
Rallick and Vorcan are discussing her daughter.
Question 5 (from Wilbur):
Thank you, Ian, for participating in these Q&A sessions.
The re-read and commentary allowed me to understand for the first time that the Heels from Assail are in Moon’s Spawn in OST. I suppose that I only became aware of them as characters after reading Assail, so I didn’t recognize them when I read OST the first time. Can you elaborate just a little as to what was their purpose in journeying to the Spawn, since my reading of their personalities in Assail is that they are pretty closely tied to their land and water in the continent of Assail? What did they hope to accomplish in the Spawn?
Thank you again!
Great catch, Wilbur! Yes indeed. These were indeed the unfortunate Heels. The reasons were as given: to gather coin or trade goods (or perhaps powerful weapons) with which to deal with the growing presence of the southerners. As Cull says, it didn’t work out for them. You are right, they are tied very closely to the land, yet they left (as so many do), and, of course, they returned.
Question 6 (from David E.)
Hi ice, thanks for agreeing to do this Q&A. I’m reading your books for the first time, entirely out of order (NoK then OST and now RotCG), and I’m enjoying them greatly.
I’ve a question about description. I’ve noticed (and, obviously, feel free to disagree) that you often tend to be quite sparing in describing a new character—that you’ll provide maybe one distinguishing feature or article of clothing, then move on. It strikes me as a quite conscious decision, and I was wondering if you could account for this preference over a more ‘full’, lavish accounting.
As to being ‘spare’ in my character descriptions I beg mea culpa, for certain. I agree that I could squeeze in a few more details there, generally, and am trying to work on that. BUT, what any fantasy writer must avoid at all costs is the dreaded ‘infodump’ where a butt-load of exposition is dropped on the reader in one gigantic paragraph giving a description from head to toe, and throwing in his/her family lineage to boot. Perhaps I err in the opposite direction, but better that direction that the other, to my mind.
Question 7 (from joau lamas):
Thank you for the opportunity. We have a small group of people, on Portugal, that have “stubbled” appon the Malazan word. Currently I re-reading Orb, Scepter and throne and it is making way more scence the second time around. Being such an intricate saga, and writing in the same world you share with Steven, what is your very own favourite character? Also, I have to ask, do you even consider coming to the Portuguese market and eventualy participate in a book signing? Best regards, João Lamas
Frankly, I would love it if my work was translated into Portuguese, and I would consider it a great privilege to come to any signing or con in Portugal (hint, hint). So, get on any local translating publishing house to take on my work!
As to a favourite character, one mustn’t have favourites among one’s work of course, like one’s children, but, coming out of Assail, I am very fond of Shimmer. (And, right now, I’m having a blast with Kellanved).
Question 8 (from Daniel Isaiah Elder):
Thanks so kindly for taking time to answer our questions, and for your books, which have helped paint so much interesting and compelling detail into the portrait of the Malazan universe. I’ve just finished Assail and lament (pun most certainly intended) that I’ll have to wait at all to read about Shadowthrone and Cotillion…but I feel confident the wait will be worth it.
I have a comment and a question.
My comment is simply this: there is a brief scene, perhaps a page in length, in OST, that is one of my favorite stretches of writing, period. It’s when, through the eyes of another of the Hundredth, we see Jan take off through Majesty Hall absolutely demolishing every Moranth he runs into, and ends with the other of the Hundredth catching up to him, breathless. *I* was breathless. I’ve read that passage again and again. It’s the creme de la creme!
My question: I find that one of the greatest pleasures in writing are when, having crafted an outline and knowing where the story goes, during the process of writing you find yourself totally surprised by what you’re writing—you didn’t see it coming. Perhaps it’s a detail that doesn’t change the course of the story, but sometimes you discover something truly staggering – that a character has to die, perhaps, who you thought would survive. I wanted to ask you if you could share any such moments of surprise from your writings in the world of the Malazan Empire? Whether in OST or any of your other books (though I suppose we don’t want to spoil BaB and Assail for any first-timers following along.
Thanks again and have a wonderful time writing the Path to Ascendancy trilogy!
Speaking for myself, the task of writing is only endurable because of those very moments of surprise that, for me, come with every scene and every description. Because, while Steve and I may have the mountain sketched out, every climb is different and one never knows what hold or crevasse might appear in one’s way.
In many ways it is these very surprising moments that I love the most. I shouldn’t spill any details for Assail, but, looking back, in Knives I found that Edgewalker became one such surprise. He was to have been very much a background character, but since then he has grown and has now possesses very great importance (but more of that to come in the remaining books from Steve and I).
Question 9 (from D. Mengerink):
thanks for the wonderfull books! I thoroughly enjoyed the different environments and story structures you used in them to craft the Malazan World. I have a question.
Is T’renn now a god? And will we see him again in the future from either you or Steven?
As to Tayschrenn becoming T’renn—he has now taken up the burden once shouldered by K’rul. Not so much a god, though some may choose to worship him, if they wish. For myself, I don’t see him appearing too much in his current role. However, we will be seeing much more of the younger Tay in the Path to Ascendancy books
Question 10 (from Adrian Gray):
First of all, I love your work, so thanks for that, and thank you for talking to us in this way.
In your early books, you’ve broken the text into Parts, just as Erikson does. However, by B&B and Assail you’ve left this behind, writing uninterrupted novels. May I ask what the point of this was? I can speculate that it was more natural for the story being told, or there was a change on the part of your editors, or you wanted to break the mold a bit, but hopefully you can tell me!
Neither B&B nor Assail came to me in their conception as partitioned, and so I just didn’t consider it. Structure is tricky. Sometimes you just want to give the reader a break, frankly. But, as I said, it I didn’t see either of them as holding such a partitioned structure in the first place.
As to specifics: in RotCG, we learn that the Malazans sent approximately 40,000 soldiers after the Crimson Guard to Stratem, forcing the Diaspora to occur. I wonder why the Malazans didn’t stay and occupy Stratem? Especially given the descriptions of a peaceful, forested land that just seems ripe for colonisation and deforestation!
Good question, Adrian. The empire at this time was quite weak and overextended. The soldiers were needed closer to home on Quon itself to contain rebellious states and as reinforcements for already invaded territories. Statem just had to wait – then, they never got to opening it as a new front as new brush-fires erupted everywhere (at least, that’s how I see it).
That’s it! My special mention from your series goes to the interactions between Murk and Celeste in B&B. A beautiful characterisation of yet another standard Malazan soldier being forced to think for himself. So thank you.
Question 11 (from James Chapman):
I find that in interviews you are often asked about your collaborative gaming experience with Steven, however I was wondering if there were any prominent takeaways from other members of your gaming group, be it noteworthy actions, characters, or narrative decisions, that may have impacted the world of Malaz as we now know it.
As a GM myself, I feel that I have taken something away from every person I have played with, and I was curious if you’d shared any kind of similar experience.
Yes, I have taken away a great deal from many of the guys (and it was mostly guys—sigh) that I gamed with. Perhaps I am lucky, or gaming attracts sharp individuals, but I fell in with some of the smartest and best friends I’d ever made there around the gaming table. I learned so much from them, be it plotting or pacing, or character development or narrative, you name it. Gaming taught me so much of what lies behind ‘good’ writing—at least from a story point-of-view.
My writing is as informed by my interactions there as by my voracious reading of F & SF of the time.
Question 12 (from Bill Capossere):
As always, thanks for taking the time to do this. I have two process questions
1) Rather than ask about what happened in this book, I first wanted to ask about what didn’t happen. I’m wondering if you can tell us something that was cut from the book–a character, a scene, a foreshadow—at what stage it was cut, and why it was cut (obviously because you thought it wouldn’t work, but if you could add a little beyond that… )
2) Several characters are revealed in little dribs and drabs and hints, and for some, even those dribs and drabs and hints don’t add up to a fully clear portrait (which I’m fine with most of the time). I’m curious about how you release those dribs in your writing. Do you have a full portrait of the character in your head and plan out a “time-release capsule” version of revelations? Do you ever go, “Whoops, that’s giving the store away!” and pare back an already written scene to make it more ambiguous? Do you ever rub your hands and cackle maniacally as you imagine readers trying to figure a particular character out?
In a question above I claim Mea Culpa to falling too far on the lean side of character description—a habit I will be trying to work against. And, as to dribbling things out, I am trying to avoid those indigestible ‘info-dumps’ that so clog fantasy writing. The danger, however, of this process—as you rightly point out—is contradicting oneself accidentally! I can and does happen. Things get through now and then.
As to cutting, much gets cut! As the saying goes: many are called, few are chosen. So it should be in any novel writing process. One may have to take several runs as a scene or moment before being satisfied with the chosen POV or approach. I have had to draft several versions of battles before being satisfied with its presentation. Or, similarly, I would have loved to have spent more time with Torvald among the Moranth, but I had to keep things moving along—perhaps that’s another novel entirely!
Question 13 (from Morghus):
I don’t have any questions, I just want to thank you for your books, they’re great, and I look forward to reading more from you!
Well, many thanks for the vote of confidence. I’m very glad you’re enjoying the work to date. Such votes always give me greater energy in turning to the next ones! And I think you will enjoy Lament if you like the flavor and tone of what we’ve established so far.
Question 14 (from Thile):
I missed the end of the OST reread, plunged on into DoD and now tCG along with other extracurriculars. So I just wanted to say thanks, Cam! OST was one of my favourites of the whole series. I read it right after Toll the Hounds and it worked really well following that one up. Really enjoyed learning more of the Moranth and Seguleh, but as always, wanting more.
In the DoD Q&A, Steven mentioned the possibility of their being a Malazan RPG D20 system with supplement(s). Is there any word on that?
When you divided the world/history up for writing, did it just work out the way that the books have been published, so far? In that you wrote 6 whereas Steven wrote 10 (not including Kharkanas and other such).
Steve and I have been in a few negotiations for setting up an RPG based on the Malaz world. So far we haven’t found exactly what we’re looking for, but we remain hopeful.
When we set out the first series we made lists of ‘wanna-write’ novels. His had ten and mine had six. However, with the new series we’re past those totals. I’m in for three more, for example, as part of the history—which had been unofficially handed over to me by Steve anyway (should I have chosen to take it on).
Question 15 (from Bystander):
There has been discussion about the seemingly unrealistic ability of the Seguleh to take on vast forces that greatly outnumber them. Examples being the three Seguleh “punitive” army that faced the Tenescowri in Memories of Ice and the battles in Orb Sceptre Throne against the Rhivi and Malazans. While Envy might have tipped the scales against the Tenescowri, the sheer number of Rhivi (a few hundred Seguleh against 30,000 Rhivi) made some readers skeptical. Do you have any comments on this? Are they the Malazan world’s Spartans?
You’ve pretty much hit it on the head, there. The Seguleh are the Spartans (so to speak) of the Malaz world. As to one-sided battles, or few taking on many, history is replete with such. The famous Spartan moment is but one such.
Frankly, it’s the willingness to die. If battles are approached in that frame of mind, then it gives extraordinary advantage, as ones’ opponents are hampered by the need to keep themselves alive. It is also one particular instance where Steve and I are willing to follow along in the classic genre traditions of the stand of one against many, etc. Or the willingness to take the Alamo stand (and in this case, because of interventions, win). The heroic in Heroic Fantasy.
Question 16 (from Nimander):
thanks for doing this Q&A, my two questions are:
Do you consider “Novels of the Malazan Empire” as a series, and if so what were your goals with it?
How do you approach theme for a single book?
Thank you again.
Thank you for asking. The series is very much one arc of six books. In this case I see Knives as apart, so the arc really begins with RCG and ends with Assail. In many ways these two works are two halves of the same book. When reading Assail, keep Return in mind.
As to theme, the Malaz world overall features a number of main themes. Each novel gets to more fully explore a set of these. It’s not really for me to expound here on what’s going on as that’s mere authorial intent and what do I know anyway? What I will say is that circles of completion feature very highly in Assail.
Question 17 (from worrywort):
So nobody’s gonna ask about K’rul, huh? Good! Me neither!
I do want to ask: So what exactly is so special about the stones used by the T’orrud Cabal to build the circle around Majesty Hill? Is it the same material that the moon-like Orb is made of?
The stone used is modeled on our Alabaster, which has a number of very interesting characteristics (look it up). It’s all taken to magical extremes in Malaz, of course. As to the Orb, not sure what you mean here—the actual physical Orb itself? Very likely, I’d say.
Oh, and as to K’rul. Well, as an Azathani, gender doesn’t really apply. It/he/she can appear as whatever it wants for effect at that moment. Remember, some even chose to appear as physical constructs.
Did Rake go to the Seguleh Isle specifically to take that mask? Rake definitely loomed large throughout this book (very much appreciated and skillfully weaved in), and it makes me think he must have had some sort of foresight (or given his age, firsthand knowledge) about the nature of the Tyrant. Anyway there’s a lot of great imagery regarding the orbs/circles/etc on the one hand and the moon (shattering and reforming) and Moon’s Spawn’s destruction/pillaging on the other, with like Rake dying and the Tyrant rising as the shared middle section of that Venn Diagram. I dunno, I feel like it’s all connected and it’s on the tip of my tongue but just not coming, so my brain is frazzled.
I’m very glad all the related themes and images are coalescing – what it all might amount to isn’t for me to say, really. But I think you are on the right track in seeing the Orbs, the circles, the cycles of creation/destruction, etc, all complimenting and building upon one another (or so I hope).
Rake did not deliberately go to the Isle of the Seguleh. This (yet to be written in any novel) scene is based on Steve and my gaming. Early on Rake was getting pretty cocky and so I ran a game for him in which he arrives at some unknown , unexplored island, and brazenly walks in as the great champion that he was at the time—and barely escapes with his skin! I it was a hilarious night of gaming and allowed me to take Rake down a notch or two.
In all the confusion he took the mask (perhaps meaning to use it somehow regarding the Tyrant) but then probably forgot about it as it got packed away with all the other art objects on the moon’s spawn.
What did you think of the scene in The Crippled God where gods are picking over the Fall of Coltaine? A lot of your Tayschrenn/D’rek/K’rul culmination reminded me of that, as well as some of Dassem’s thoughts on the war of the gods (and maybe his general reluctance to step into the role of Dessembrae), so I was wondering what your insider insight of that scene was, if that’s not too much giveaway.
Here, I think it would be too much of a ‘give away’ to set forth what I think (and it might just be plain wrong in any case). It’s for you readers to think about and reflect upon. Howver, again I’m glad that you see similarities in the scenes and the attitudes. I hope that consistency is sustainable deeper into the implications and thematics.
And one last comment: I’ve noticed that you tend to give your characters sandals while SE gives them boots. I don’t have a question, I just think it’s charming when little differences like that pop up. Kind of like that whole K’rul thing, come to think of it… well, nevermind.
Question 18 (from Midnight):
Thanks for a great book! I just had a couple of questions.
Can you expand on the nature and identity of the Tyrant? Why was the decision made to keep him so anonymous?
I decided that the Tyrant would just be ‘the Tyrant’. One of many such, so to speak. OST was getting so packed I really had to make my choices regarding which paths to fully explore.
What type of demons are the Cabal members? Are they from Aral Gamelon?
Don’t really know. The Tyrant could have drawn them from anywhere. Don’t think they’re necessarily from there. They’re life before was long ago and going into that would have been a departure from the narrative of OST.
Is Kruppe human or a demon who escaped from the Cabal?
Ha, ha, yes. Very good question. I don’t believe there is anything factually preventing such a possibility, and I don’t want to say yes or no because it’s there for active thinking readers to explore. Let’s just say that Kruppe is Kruppe, and he is quite unique.
What happened to Tayschrenn when he became T’renn and how does this relate to K’rul?
K’rul is very old, over-extended, and weakened. In order to respond to the threat of the Fallen One, new blood was needed. Being the best candidate of the age, Tayshcrenn was chosen to take up the burden. K’rul now fades and T’renn replaces him as patron of magery and the Warrens.
Since no one else has I will ask about K’rul :) Why is it stated that K’rul is female while the Malazan Book of the Fallen portrays a male version?
Ah yes. As above, I had noticed (or thought I noticed) that Steve had already set out our precedent that the Azathani can shift gender (and more) and so I decided to depict this more overtly. Perhaps I was mistaken, but I see it as intrinsic to their non-human character in any case. They can be whatever they want, frankly.
Question 19 (from Mayday):
Thank you so much for your work and your time! Two quick questions:
I am a huge fan of the various ground-level stories you tell about different types of grunts and their growth across ROCG, Stonewielder, and OST. It really reminds me of how many filmmakers will make thematic trilogies. Was it a conscious decision you made early in the series to explore how various personalities become integrated into the army? Or was it a theme that you just enjoyed returning to as you tackled each book?
Thank you, Mayday. I think it is both a theme of our world, and a pleasure to depict. We would hope that this very theme would in fact be taken as central to the world, over all (as an emblem of larger such growth in life and character, in fact. )
What drew you to try to humanize and flesh out characters like Mallick Rel, Leoman, and <redacted>? It seems like a very tall mountain to climb :)
Ah yes. Mallick and Leoman. Leoman was in fact my character originally and so I was comfortable taking him on after Steve introduced him. As to Mallick. Well, he (and so many others) is Steve and my walking rebuttal to the unfortunate fantasy cliché of the ‘benevolent ruler’. In High Fantasy one assumption is that those who rule are justified in their position due to wisdom, goodness, etc. This is Tolkien’s treatment of the old Arthurian theme of the ‘True King in hiding’ and such. Our rebuttal is the more noire-ish aesthetic that those who pursue power and rulership are in fact those who shouldn’t have it. Any survey of Greek city state rulers, or Roman emperors shows that the Mallicks of the world very much outnumber the Aragorns (and that Aragorn is in fact the real fantasy here). In any case, we simply had to see Mallick’s rise to power in the empire.
Okay, many thanks for the question! Very happy to talk things over. All best to you high-endurance readers!
Yours, Ian Cameron Esslemont.