Review – Orb Sceptre Throne

Orb Sceptre Throne (Malazan Empire #4)Orb Sceptre Throne by Ian C. Esslemont
Synopsis from GoodReads:
Darujhistan, city of dreams, city of blue flames, is peaceful at last; its citizens free to return to politicking, bickering, trading and, above all, enjoying the good things in life. Yet there are those who will not allow the past to remain buried. A scholar digging in the plains stumbles across an ancient sealed vault. The merchant Humble Measure schemes to drive out the remaining Malazan invaders. And the surviving agents of a long-lost power are stirring, for they sense change and so, opportunity. While, as ever at the centre of everything, a thief in a red waistcoat and of rotund proportions walks the streets, juggling in one hand custard pastries, and in the other the fate of the city itself.

Far to the south, fragments of the titanic Moon’s Spawn have crashed into the Rivan Sea creating a series of isles… and a fortune hunter’s dream. A Malazan veteran calling himself ‘Red’ ventures out to try his luck — and perhaps say goodbye to old friends. But there he finds far more than he’d bargained for as the rush to claim the Spawn’s treasures descends into a mad scramble of chaos and bloodshed. For powers from across the world have gathered here, searching for the legendary Throne of Night. The impact of these events are far reaching, it seems. On an unremarkable island off the coast of Genabackis, a people who had turned their backs upon all such strivings now lift their masked faces towards the mainland and recall the ancient prophesy of a return.

And what about the ex-Claw of the Malazan Empire who now walks the uttermost edge of creation? His mission — the success or failure of which the Queen of Dreams saw long ago — is destined to shape far more than anyone could have ever imagined.

Well that’s a bit of a misleading summary.  Especially that last paragraph, since I definitely wouldn’t call that particular character an ex-Claw.  Oh well, I’m getting used to misleading or just flat out wrong summaries, and with Malazan novels, at least, I don’t really care because there’s always going to be confusion and multiple views of what exactly something means.

This is ICE’s fourth Malazan novel – I also believe it’s his fourth published novel overall? – and he continues to improve, both in terms of craft and in terms of that Malazan feel.  That second is perhaps an unfair judgment since this ‘verse has, from the beginning, been a shared ‘verse between ICE and Steven Erikson, starting off as a tabletop RPG and growing from there.  Nonetheless, to me – and, I believe, to a lot of other fans – it is Erikson’s books that set the tone and feel of what a Malazan novel should be, partially because his were the first published but also, I suspect, because most if not all of us readers started with Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon.  So, again, potentially unfair, but reviews are matters of opinion, and, in my opinion, ICE is still inconsistent in nailing the Malazan feel.

I say this for a couple of reasons.

The first is the comedic duo.  This is a common trope across Malazan novels, although the comedic aspects vary largely between duos, and people can legitimately argue over whether those aspects work or don’t work.  The main comedic duo in OST is arguably Scorch and Leff, and almost none of their scenes worked for me.  I didn’t labor through them the way I did certain other plotlines, but they weren’t funny and the ultimate conclusion of their plot fell completely flat.

The second reason is that I don’t think this book is long enough to encompass everything ICE was attempting to convey.  Most of Erikson’s Malazan novels are over 1000 pages, with tiny font.  ICE’s tend to be larger font and closer to 500-600 pgs.  Now, this might make them seem more reader-friendly, but it also means less time with characters, less seeing of the growth and more telling of it, etc.

The third reason I think ICE is still struggling ties into the above point – there remained pacing issues.  Some story lines/scenes were too long and dragged out – way too much time with Kiska and Leoman, for instance – while others were over too quickly, without any payoff – i.e. the handling of the Tyrant.

That’s not to say this book is all bad.  Far from it.  The majority of the battle scenes were very well-written and excellently paced, thanks partially to the changing perspectives.  The scenes in the Spawns were amazing – ICE is clearly very gifted with horror, in terms of setting, atmosphere, and characterization.  There was a real richness of character – not uniform across the board, unfortunately, but a definite improvement.  I learned a lot more about some reoccurring characters, and both some new and old characters were opened up, emotionally speaking, in fascinating ways.

There were some other pluses and minuses for me, but I don’t want to give away too many spoilers in case anyone reading this is like ‘I’m gonna go pick up this series’ – or if anyone reading this is reading the series but hasn’t gotten to OST yet.

Overall, this one was a solid 3.5 stars for me.  I really liked a lot of it, but there were too many issues to rate it higher, IMHO.

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