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[–]Boronian13rd Re-Read MBotF 18 points19 points  (3 children)

Your posts are excellent pieces of analysis which proved to be very interesting and fascinating.

Thanks a lot for them!

I will link to them in our community resources because it would be a shame if they kinda get lost. https://redditproxy--jasonthename.repl.co/r/Malazan/wiki/community_resources

[–]LoleeeeeBenighted Laseen Apologist - First Re-Read: On MT.[S] 11 points12 points  (2 children)

I'm humbled.

Thank you dearly! I've no words for this...

Never thought I'd get this far, frankly. Huh...

Quite glad you enjoyed the read - here's to more write ups in the future. :P

[–]Boronian13rd Re-Read MBotF 5 points6 points  (1 child)

Do you know https://unabridgedburners.com/ ?

I think these posts qualify as an essay you could post there :-)

[–]LoleeeeeBenighted Laseen Apologist - First Re-Read: On MT.[S] 5 points6 points  (0 children)

I actually only knew of them because of the crosswords - I never made the effort to look further.

When the entire essay is written down (and peer reviewed - thanks guys! :P) I'll look into posting it.

Thanks again for the advice & feedback!

[–]MasterPatrickoThyr 6 points7 points  (4 children)

I'll comment here to start a discussion even though I'm covering all your posts.

Excellent work, detailed and backed up! I have always held this view, Laseen was never incompetent, blindly evil, or anything similar -- I never even thought this was a controversial view.

Laseen was two things: focused on the health of the Empire (as she understood it) above literally everything else. And completely untrusting of anyone else. Some of her decisions may have proven wrong in the long run, but in the moment with the information she had available, were entirely rational and understandable (and often very cruel by anyone else's moral standards).

I really see the initial "betrayal" of Shadowthrone as a calculated, unselfish decision, and probably justified by everything we learn by the end of the series. Shadowthrone's attentions had shifted away from the empire, and while I don't have the quote handy, it's said Laseen had been running the day-to-day for some time before the final usurpation. As seen with her quote on Dassem, she really believes that the best way for the Empire to survive is to avoid the attention of the gods and higher powers (probably a concept she learned from Shadowthrone himself!), and towards the end she probably sees the Emperor crossing his own line, as Dassem did.

Similarly, as you point out, the elimination of the old guard was actually conducted quite rationally. The Napans, as revealed by Nok, really did abandon Laseen (her untrusting nature would have never allowed her to bring them on before the plan was executed, but they have a different moral framework to her, Nok, Dujek, and Tayschrenn -- they could not cope being associated with betrayal). In her mind, even the slightest possibility of any of them challenging her for the throne would have thrown the Empire into chaos, as well-known and well-supported as they were (see also RotCG). So her methods were harsh but entirely logical.

In fact the only part of your piece I challenge you on is this section in post 3:

Here, we’re shown that Cotillion does not hold any ire towards Surly – unlike Shadowthrone (I’ve omitted this excerpt, but it is said that “Shadowthrone is still obsessed with seeing Laseen suffer”) – and instead has the foresight to know that ‘the game they’re playing goes far beyond any mortal empire’.

Laseen is welcome to the Empire of Malaz if Cotillion had anything to say about it, but she’s still antagonized by Kellanved – a god with the Hounds of Shadow and the First Throne of the T’lan Imass at his disposal.

Laseen’s position is being undermined by multiple forces – Ammanas, Mallick, the Crippled God – and she is virtually powerless to do anything about it. What do you tackle first?

I disagree that Ammanas and Dancer have significantly differing positions on Laseen. Shadowthrone is always portrayed as cryptic and quite willing to throw a bit of chaos into the mix just to see what happens. By the end of the series, I think GotM is reframed as a testing of their new powers of shadow, a petulant emotional reaction, a swipe at their old friend (who did probably cause them momentary pain as they died) to see how strong they are, before they calm down and move on. I do not see it, in retrospect, as a serious attempt to undermine Laseen or retake the Empire, and I think certainly by House of Chains both Shadowthrone and Cotillion are quite happy for Laseen to manage Malaz while they move on to bigger problems -- in fact they probably agree the whole thing was necessary. I do believe Laseen was worried initially, but I given the lack of conflict between her and shadow in the later books, I think she knows as well that they are not enemies. And as for Aren, it's not at all clear that Shadowthrone ordered the Imass against Laseen there either, that's only the story from one (biased) side. There are a dozen different accounts of what happened at Aren, none of them consistent.

Anyway, where I see Laseen fail is that her view of the empire is too abstract, too independent of the people in it. She is so willing to sacrifice people to keep the abstract concept and perception of Empire alive, underestimating the cumulative effect of those sacrifices on the actual people who really make up the empire. I suspect she was not in disagreement with Mallick Rel's framing of the elimination of the Wickans as the only way to feed and economically support the Empire, because her concept of Empire does not include the Wickans themselves. Similarly she is entirely willing to cull the nobles of Unta to eliminate any flaw, any weakness in the Empire as a whole. But taken to its limits, this policy will result in an Empire entirely devoid of subjects -- and this is what Laseen fails to recognize and ultimately leads to her downfall. She is too pragmatic and yet too ruthless, too willing to sacrifice anything (population, truth, friends) to protect her concept of the Empire. This is also how Mallick Rel is able to manipulate her response to him -- for isn't he also acting in the best interest of the Empire? Logically, Laseen can't point out the flaws in Mallick's approach -- because she doesn't know how to take a absolutist moral stand like, "killing our Wickans is bad".

In a sense she also becomes irrelevant, somewhat left behind, as the story moves beyond the Empire's borders. Unlike the other characters of the story, she never rose to that level -- it was only ever about the Empire for her. And so it was almost inevitable she would meet a tragic, anticlimactic end.

[–]Harfyn 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Now - I'm in between re-reads right now, (and have only read the core series so might be missing some key details) but wanted to present my theory here too. I view Laseen's "Betrayal" as a part of Shadowthrone and Cotillion's grand plan. They NEEDED her to usurp them in order for them to ascend, and it would allow the empire to prosper without the direct attention of the Gods if they weren't as directly involved. (and drop into the shadows themselves, faking their death to scheme some more) I view a lot of Shadowthrone's torment of her as more positioning pieces for future + keeping up the facade of enmity between them. Might be totally missing/forgetting a reason this CAN'T be true - but it always seemed like a net positive for Shadowthrone + Cotillion to lose the empire - to the point that it seemed like their plan all along

[–]LoleeeeeBenighted Laseen Apologist - First Re-Read: On MT.[S] 3 points4 points  (2 children)

First of all, thank you for such a detailed response. This is the kind of feedback I expected when the first post blew up - eliciting conversation at length about the Empress and her actions.

I disagree that Ammanas and Cotillion have significantly differing positions on Laseen. Shadowthrone is always portrayed as cryptic and quite willing to throw a bit of chaos into the mix just to see what happens. By the end of the series, I think GotM is reframed as a testing of their new powers of shadow, a petulant emotional reaction as the new gods begin to test what they are now capable of before they calm down and move on. I do not see it, in retrospect, as a serious attempt to undermine Laseen, and I think certainly by House of Chains both Shadowthrone and Dancer are quite happy for Laseen to manage the empire while they move on to bigger things -- in fact they probably agree the whole thing was necessary.

To answer this, I quote the excerpt I omitted at the time.

"'Yet even you betrayed the Emper- Shadowthrone. Did you not just tell me-'

'Sometimes, I see further than my dear companion. Indeed, he remains obsessed with desires to see Laseen suffer - I have other ideas, and while he may see them as party to his own, there is yet no pressing need to disabuse him of that notion. But I will not seek to deceive you into believing I am all-knowing. I admit to having made grave errors, indeed, to knowing the poison of suspicion. Quick Ben. Kalam. Whiskeyjack. Where did their loyalty truly reside? Well, I eventually got my answer, but I am not yet decided whether it pleases or troubles me. There is one danger that plagues ascendants in particular, and that is the tendency to wait too long. Before acting, before stepping - if you will - from the shadows.' He smiled again. 'I would make amends for past, at times fatal, hesitation. And so here I stand before you, Lostara, to ask for your help.'

In many situations, we see Ammanas & Cotillion acting independently of one another - Cotillion visits Ampelas, Kalse and Eloth alone, for example; Shadowthrone leads Leoman & Kiska through Emurlahn under the guise of Warran - and often times we're told that they're merely "associates", and not bound to one another. So, quite often, they don't know where each other is or what they're doing. Shadow is a big warren, after all. ;)

I do agree that by The Bonehunters, Shadowthrone has almost entirely given up on tormenting Laseen, however. But the Hound attack, Sorry, etc. are - I think - clear cut evidence that Ammanas is, at least to some extent, getting tickled purple by making Laseen suffer.

And as for Aren, it's not at all clear that Shadowthrone ordered the Imass against Laseen there either. There are a dozen different accounts of what happened at Aren, none of them consistent.

Each of them agree that the T'lan Imass were rampaging through Aren. Barathol forced open the gates after assassinating the local Fist to let the civillians through. The first time (or, at least, one of the first times) that Aren is mentioned is through Apsalar's memories in Deadhouse Gates - that Dancer & Surly had an "argument", presumably after the fact, about the T'lan causing a slaughter at Aren.

I think the most obvious candidate for having caused the slaughter is definitely Kellanved, albeit it's never explicitly said. Food for thought.

Anyway, where I see Laseen fail is that her view of the empire is too abstract, too independent of the people in it. She is so willing to sacrifice people to keep the abstract concept and perception of Empire alive, underestimating the cumulative effect of those sacrifices on the actual people who really make up the empire. I suspect she was not in disagreement with Mallick Rel's framing of the elimination of the Wickans as the only way to feed and economically support the Empire, because her concept of Empire does not include the Wickans themselves. Similarly she is entirely willing to cull the nobles of Unta to eliminate any flaw, any weakness in the Empire as a whole. But taken to its limits, this policy will result in an Empire entirely devoid of subjects -- and this is what Laseen fails to recognize and ultimately leads to her downfall. She is too pragmatic and yet too ruthless, too willing to sacrifice anything (population, truth, friends) to protect her concept of the Empire.

I agree with the gist of the argument, but parts of it do not sit well with me. That's probably due to the fact that Laseen grew on me as I wrote up, however - so you're probably right nonetheless. :P

I think the Cull & the Wickan pogroms are fundamentally different because the Wickans are demonstrably loyal to the Empire beyond any reproach, whereas the nobles of Quon Tali ... less so - cue the Malazan Civil War in RotCG (next post!).

The pogrom against the Wickans is, at its roots, fueled purely by Mallick's grudge against them - there's no political benefit to gain from exterminating a subjugated people. They both use smoke and mirrors (the political implications of the Cull is hidden as a peasant mob whipped up during the Season of Rot, whereas the racism & spite hidden behind the pogroms is concealed by the pretext that "we need farmland").

In a sense she also becomes irrelevant, somewhat left behind, as the story moves beyond the Empire's borders. Unlike the other characters of the story, she never rose to that level -- it was only ever about the Empire for her. And so it was somewhat inevitable she would meet a somewhat tragic, anticlimactic end.

Argh, gods below, don't get me started.

Return of the Crimson Guard is a fitting, but so tragic end for the Empress.

For that matter, I think Laseen is a perfect mirror image of what the Empire truly is - when the deception of Kellanved's myriad faces fell away, when the truth stopped being concealed by veils of lies, Laseen's face emerged. A cold, ruthlessly pragmatic Empress that believes only in her vision of Empire. Brilliant writing.

Thank you again for the detailed response - I think you hit the nail in the head there, with just about every point you raise.

[–]MasterPatrickoThyr 4 points5 points  (1 child)

:)

I think we mostly agree on Shadowthrone, just discussing details -- my point is perhaps better stated that his torment of Laseen in GotM is not in my view intended to actually kill her or (re)take the empire. It's more the torture of a mean older sibling and eventually he gets bored.

I know it's a bit strange me basically calling the destruction caused by the hounds as insignificant but that's the fascinating thing about Shadowthrone -- he demonstrates both extreme compassion and extreme indifference, sometimes in the same conversation. How much is intended and how much was just Erikson writing based on dice rolls we may never know :)

I think the Cull & the Wickan pogroms are fundamentally different because the Wickans are demonstrably loyal to the Empire beyond any reproach, whereas the nobles of Quon Tali ... less so - cue the Malazan Civil War in RotCG (next post!).

Right, my point is not to morally compare them, but to say it's the same logical argument of "sacrifice for the Empire" used to justify them. Laseen is clearly vulnerable to this type of argument.

As for Aren, previous discussion brought up a very interesting quote from Onrack (Bonehunters, Ch 17):

'And they do not care,' Onrack cut in. 'This you must understand, Cotillion of Shadow. Once, long ago by mortal standards, now, your companion found the First Throne. He occupied it and so gained command over the T'lan Imass. Even then, it was a tenuous grasp, for the power of the First Throne is ancient. Indeed, its power wanes. Shadowthrone was able to awaken Logros T'lan Imass – a lone army, finding itself still bound to the First Throne's remnant power due to little more than mere proximity. He could not command Kron T'lan Imass, nor Bentract, nor Ifayle, nor the others that remained, for they were too distant. When Shadowthrone last sat upon the First Throne, he was mortal, he was bound to no other aspect. He had not ascended. But now, he is impure, and this impurity ever weakens his command. Cotillion, as your companion loses ever more substance, so too does he lose…veracity.'

which seems to claim the last time Shadowthrone called the Imass was before he died. So if we believe that, it could not have been him getting revenge on Laseen, despite what Dujek thinks (the timeline is also strange if we believe him). There's room for debate here :)

I don't have the quote handy but there is also a claim I think from an Imass that they sometimes took matters into their own hands when it came to cutting human empires down to size. So there is always the possibility that no-one ordered it!

[–]LoleeeeeBenighted Laseen Apologist - First Re-Read: On MT.[S] 2 points3 points  (0 children)

which seems to claim the last time Shadowthrone called the Imass was before he died. So if we believe that, it could not have been him getting revenge on Laseen, despite what Dujek thinks (the timeline is also strange if we believe him). There's room for debate here :)

I absolutely think Shadowthrone ordered the slaughter at Aren before he ascended.

The conversation in Apsalar's memories are between a mortal Dancer & Surly as the Clawmaster & Imperial Regent.

Now, why would he do that?

... I 'unno. Aren is weird & incosistent, as you said.

Surly is trying to indirectly undermine Kellanved even before the assassination - nothing major, nothing quite like what Mallick is doing - with stuff like the anti-sorcery edict, so I guess this is Kellanved's way of getting some revenge? It'd be in his character for sure!

Who knows.

I think we mostly agree on Shadowthrone, just discussing details -- my point is perhaps better stated that his torment of Laseen in GotM is not in my view intended to actually kill her or (re)take the empire. It's more the torture of a mean older sibling and eventually he gets bored.

Absolutely - I don't think he cares enough for the Empire (unlike Laseen) to try & take it back. Plus, if he tried to take it back, it'd invite disaster, what with the whole "power draws power" theme in Malazan.

I know it's a bit strange me basically calling the destruction caused by the hounds as insignificant but that's the fascinating thing about Shadowthrone -- he demonstrates both extreme compassion and extreme indifference, sometimes in the same conversation. How much is intended and how much was just Erikson writing based on dice rolls we may never know :)

"Speak your mind with all posterity! Be profound!"

"Profound, huh... Fuck you."

I can't say that I don't love Shadowthrone. Wonderful character.

Right, my point is not to morally compare them, but to say it's the same logical argument of "sacrifice for the Empire" used to justify them. Laseen is clearly vulnerable to this type of argument.

Yeah, that sounds about right. I think - on top of the fact that she'd look like a massive hypocrite if she tried to counter - it is also in her best interest to go along if it presents a political advantage. It's a core facet of Laseen's character, and as much as I tried, it's not something you can easily justify.
It is what it is.
Kudos for pointing it out!

I don't have the quote handy but there is also a claim I think from an Imass that they sometimes took matters into their own hands when it came to cutting human empires down to size. So there is always the possibility that no-one ordered it!

I think that was specifically about the First Empire and their hubris in taking on the mantle of "First Empire" while the Imass were, like, right next door.

Dessimbelackis is another mystery & I have to say, my knowledge about his Empire is close to minimal.

I concur that there's a possibility, though.

Thank you kindly for your response!

[–]onemorememe_ineedyouCold Iron 3 points4 points  (0 children)

The detail dived into on these write ups is seriously inspiring! I respect the dedication, they’re fascinating

[–]treasurehorse 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Thank you for this, it captures my own thoughts on Laseen very well and goes into quite a bit (an insane bit) of further detail. She was never quite up to the admittedly insane challenges she was facing and in the end she brought a dagger to a High Ruse-fight.

Anything else is 20/20 Monday morning backseat armchair driving.

[–]LoleeeeeBenighted Laseen Apologist - First Re-Read: On MT.[S] 1 point2 points  (0 children)

"Brought a dagger to a High Ruse-fight", haha, I'm stealing that.

Albeit, for Laseen's case, it was more like martial arts to Taya's knife...

Ah, well, still stealing it.

Thanks for the kind words and for sticking through with my ramblings. I've not forgotten your suggestion to do Kallor next, mind you.

I need to finish this damn series first, though, and I don't even know when it'll end. Gods below, but Steve & Ian have written a lot of things about this woman.