Orb Sceptre Throne by Ian C. Esslemont is the most recent book set in the same universe of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson, which Erikson and Esslemont created together, and Esslemont's fourth book in that universe. It is set chronologically after the eighth book in Erikson's series, Toll the Hounds, and picks up on many plot threads from that book and other earlier books, so I would strongly recommend familiarizing yourself with the series before reading this one. Reading Esslemont's previous three books before Orb Sceptre Throne would also be a good idea, but isn't as essential.
As usual, the book is split into a number of different plot threads. The story is set on the continent of Genabackis, focusing on the city-state of Darujhistan and its environs. The region has been wracked by conflict, with much of the continent devastated by war and its northern areas brought under the rule of the Malazan Empire. Moon's Spawn, an ancient flying fortress that recently plummeted into the sea, has become a hot spot for treasure hunters seeking to make their fortunes-including Antsy, one of the deserters from the armies of the Malazan Empire who settled in Darujhistan- and for those who would prey upon them.
On an island to the south, the army of the Seguleh- a mysterious, isolated people whose warriors are swordsmen without compare- set out for the mainland and Darujhistan, in response to a prophecy that they believe is now being fulfilled. They are led by Jan, the Second, who is eager to lead them to what he believes is their destiny and purpose as a people after millennia of exile from their original homeland- not realizing just what has summoned them back and what that destiny is.
Meanwhile, the situation around Darujhistan remains precarious, with many of the formerly independent cities of northern Genabackis and the nomadic tribes of the continent's plains chafing against the continued presence of the Malazans. Torvald Nom has been newly elevated to a seat on Darujhistan's ruling council, and finds himself faced with something far worse than the city's Byzantine and already frequently deadly politics. The region will soon be thrown into turmoil by a discovery made in the ruins outside Darujhistan, remnants of an ancient era when the city was the seat of a great empire. Now the evil that ruled over that empire thousands of years ago is returning, seeking to regain its power, starting with Darujhistan itself.
Orb Sceptre Throne is an enjoyable book that is worth reading for Malazan fans, though I wouldn't place it in the top tier of that series. The main story is quite interesting, though some of the secondary plot threads drag early on.. There's some quite exciting action sequences, including our first look at the Seguleh fighting as an army- previously they've only appeared one or two at a time- and some scenes involving the fully u unleashed power of the Malazan Empire's mysterious allies, the Moranth. The story also ties up some plot threads and answers some questions left by previous Malazan, in what I thought was a very satisfactory way. Parts of the ending were too abrupt and something of an anticlimax, though it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the journey there, and there were also aspects of the conclusion that I quite liked.
I liked the characters, and especially Jan of the Seguleh- the ruler and greatest warrior of an army of the deadliest swordsmen on the planet, and yet trapped and paralyzed by what he believes his duty and the duty of his people to be. The reborn Tyrant of Darujhistan is suitably creepy and ominous, utterly silent behind a blank mask as he holds court while another man speaks as his “voice.” The book also sees the return of some old favorites including Antsy and the other former Bridgeburners settled in Darujhistan, Torvald and Rallick Nom, the mysterious Kruppe, and - my other personal favorite- Traveler, AKA Dassem Ultor, trying to withdraw into quiet anonymity now that his decades-long quest for revenge against Hood, god of death, was made pointless after he was cheated of his chance for vengeance during the events of toll the hounds.
As with his previous book, Stonewielder, Orb Sceptre Throne shows a marked improvement in Esslemont's writing style compared to his first two books, Night of Knives and Return of the Crimson Guard, moving the story smoothly and confidently along without the occasional awkwardness seen in his earlier work. Esslemont's writing style is once again more straightforward less prone to digression than Steven Erikson's; whether that's good or bad is a matter of taste, but for the most part I thought the story benefited from Esslemont's approach.
While it's not at the same level as his previous book, Stonewielder, Orb Sceptre Throne is a solid effort by Ian C. Esslemont that I would definitely recommend it for fans of the Malazan series.