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Laseen [lah-seen][1] was the Empress of the Malazan Empire beginning in 1154 Burn's Sleep.[2] Laseen was Napan and had the dusky blue skin of her race.[3] Prior to her taking on the role of Empress, Laseen was known as Surly.[4] She was the creator of the Claw,[3] and held the rank of Clawmaster for some time before becoming Imperial Regent during the absence of Emperor Kellanved and his companion, Dancer.


  • A small woman with thin and unmemorable features, mousy hair kept short[3] who preferred to go bare-foot.
  • Hair short and fair above the blue tint of unmemorable features and brown eyes.[5]
  • Signature plain slippers, straight trousers, and green silk tunic with no symbol to indicate her rank or stature.[6]

Some characterised her as humourless with an obsession for details.[7]

In Gardens of the Moon[]

In 1154 BS, a young Ganoes Paran encountered Whiskeyjack and Imperial Regent Surly in Mock's Hold after she had issued an edict against unsanctioned sorcery, leading to riots in the city.[8]

Ganoes met her again in 1161 BS, after returning from a posting in Itko Kan. The Empress surprised him by revealing that she remembered him from that day in Mock's Hold, noting he ignored that commander's (i.e. Whiskeyjack's) advice about not joining the military.[5]

In 1163 BS, just prior to the final battle of Pale, Topper told Paran that Laseen wanted Darujhistan. He also told Paran that Laseen wanted Dujek to be disarmed due to him having a following and because many believed him to be Emperor Kellanved's rightful heir. Paran dismissed the latter as Laseen being paranoid.[9]

From an agent's thoughts it became clear that there had been more than one assassination attempt on Laseen.[10]

Spoiler warning: The following section contains significant plot details about Laseen.

In Deadhouse Gates[]

Laseen by Shadaan
Depicted in the background clockwise from left: Tayschrenn, Possum, Topper and Lorn

Kalam Mekhar traveled to Malaz City to make the Empress pay for a list of crimes which included her betrayal of Dujek and the Bridgeburners. When he finally confronted her in Mock's Hold, the Empress informed the Bridgeburner assassin that the revolt of the 2nd Army had been a ruse orchestrated by Dujek himself. The Fist recognized the growing threat of the Pannion Domin but knew his troops could not handle the problem alone. So the outlawing of Dujek provide him an opportunity to make allies of his enemies in order to fight the common foe. The Empress admitted that High Mage Tayschrenn's efforts in Genabackis had been misguided, but he was a participant in the greater plan, serving as Dujek's "Shaved Knuckle in the Hole". The decimation of the Bridgeburners had not been part of her intentions.

The Empress admitted to having Dassem Ultor killed, but justified her actions as having prevented a civil war led by an ambitious man sworn to Hood, the god of death. She had no regrets on that account, but did confess that the deaths of Kellanved and Dancer had been committed with reluctance and anguish. But "an empire enforces its own necessities, makes demands in the name of duty", and she had "answered a necessity I could not avoid."

Kalam's reasons for wanting to assassinate her were not altogether assuaged, but they were swallowed up as she showed him the problems in the context of the empire as a whole. Moreover, Kalam realized that she was not physically present and he had been speaking to her through the medium of an animated corpse. By the time he left, he had decided not to kill her.[11]

In Memories of Ice[]

Interpretation of Laseen by dejan-delic

During the Pannion War, Dujek Onearm tried to put Empress Laseen's recent actions into context for Whiskeyjack. The average Malazan soldier believed that Whiskeyjack had been stripped of his rank to eliminate a potential rival to the throne.[12] But Laseen had purposefully inverted the command structure so that "the right people would be there at ground level when Shadowthrone and Cotillion made their move." It was Dujek's belief that Quick Ben knew this when he sent Kalam after the Empress. Kalam would only ever come to believe Laseen's true stance if he spoke to her in person.[13]

Laseen and Dujek knew the Crippled God was ready to make his move, but had not suspected he was related to the expansion of the Pannion Domin or that Elder Gods would become involved. Her belief in the value of tactical placement meant that the Bridgeburners were in the right place at the right time to make contact with the Crippled God at the time he created High House Chains.[14]

Tayschrenn had been grooming Tattersail to be the Master of the Deck, but their plans began falling apart when the Bridgeburners were decimated at Pale. The High Mage had positioned the Bridgeburners in the tunnels to protect them, never guessing they would collapse. Further, it was Nightchill who proved to be the traitor. She killed A'Karonys as part of her own ambitions and Tayschrenn killed her in turn. The deaths of Tattersail and Bellurdan further rattled the Empress and miscommunication led to the "mess" at Darujhistan.[15]

The Empress' plans for the Pannion War were now for Dujek's forces to challenge the Crippled God to buy Caladan Brood time to find another solution besides destroying the world with his hammer. Additionally, they might be called upon to face the T'lan Imass. Dujek revealed that the T'lan Imass slaughter at Aren by the Logros T'lan Imass had not been what it seemed. It was not Laseen who ordered the massacre, but Emperor Kellanved who was not quite as dead as it was believed. Dujek claimed the insane former Emperor had returned to the First Throne and ordered the slaughter to "wreak vengeance on Laseen, to shake her grip on the Empire."[16]

Dujek also admitted that after the Pannion Domin's defeat, Laseen hoped to place Whiskeyjack in command of Onearm's Host to tame the Whirlwind rebellion on Seven Cities. Whiskeyjack knew the territory and of the two, Dujek was more expendable.[17]

In House of Chains[]

Interpretation of Laseen by Corporal Nobbs aka Luktarig

Laseen sent Adjunct Tavore Paran with the Malaz 14th Army to Seven Cities to retake the sub-continent and destroy the Army of the Whirlwind. At Aren, the Adjunct confided to Admiral Nok her curiosity as to why so many of the Empire's founders had abandoned the Empress. Nok explained that many had been Napans. Since the Empress was of the Napan royal line, to continue to serve after the Emperor's betrayal and assassination would have linked them to the plot.[18]

Cotillion recruited Lostara Yil to complete some tasks that would assist Laseen and the Malazan Empire. When the Red Blade proved suspicious of his motives regarding the woman who had assassinated him, the god shrugged. While Shadowthrone remained obsessed with seeing Laseen suffer, Cotillion professed to take the longer view. The game he played was far larger than his control of any mortal empire, and Laseen had her appointed tasks. The Malazan Empire's success was crucial to their goals and Laseen's control of the throne was tottering.[19]

Onrack revealed that the Empress had not retained control over the T'lann Imass after Kellanved's death because she never sat on the First Throne and did not know where it was located.[20]

In The Bonehunters[]

Laseen by enolezdrata

The Empress' Claw, Pearl, remained in Adjunct Tavore's camp as the 14th Army followed Leoman and the remnants of the Army of the Whirlwind to Y'Ghatan. Fiddler and Kalam thought this showed the Empress lacked trust in her Adjunct.[21] When Hellian joined the 14th she brought rumours that Laseen had ordered the few remaining veteran companies still on Quon Tali to report to Malaz City and Unta. At the same time, the Empress was pulling the Claw in "close and tight" to her.[22]

The Claw by this time was severely infiltrated by Mallick Rel's agents and Laseen was powerless to stop the organization from being subverted by them. Very few remained loyal to her, and she was forced to declare the Wickans as enemies of the empire, presumably to assuage Mallick Rel, who held an inexplicable vendetta against them. Laseen offered Kalam the position of Clawmaster after the disappearance of Topper, when Kalam, Tavore, and T'amber came to see her in Mock's Hold. When Kalam refused, not by words but by deeds by siding with T'amber and Tavore and facilitating their escape, she offered the position to Pearl, who accepted it.

In Reaper's Gale[]

Banaschar thought Laseen's predicament with the Empire was predictable. Launching her reign as Empress through betrayal and blood, she had quickly lost her most able governors and military leaders. Those who remained were far less reliable and capable. Their corruption and incompetence led to the Seven Cities rebellion, which grain shortages and the prospect of famine to Quon Tali. At the time, she did not seem to recognise that someone could infiltrate and compromise her Claw much as she did the same to Dancer's Talon. Banaschar thought the decimation of the Claw at the time of the 14th Army's visit to Malaz City was like Dancer's revenge.[23]

Meanwhile there existed suspicion about the events at Malaz City among some members of the Bonehunters. Fist Keneb pondered whether the Empress and her cherished Adjunct really had a fatal disagreement that night--most of the witnesses to their meeting were now dead. Perhaps the Empress had planned for yet another Malazan army to "go rogue", but he concluded the Adjunct would never have agreed to T'amber's murder.[24]

Hedge cast doubt on the Bridgeburners' belief that the god-possessed Sorry had been placed among them as part of Shadowthrone and Cotillion's plans for revenge against the Empress. He called the idea insane.[25]

In Night of Knives[]

Surly by Sarinjin

During the Siege of Y'Ghatan, on Surly's orders, the Claw tried to assassinate Dassem Ultor by injuring him in the back with a javelin at a critical juncture, when he was dueling with the champion of Y'Ghatan. Four of Dassem's bodyguards died protecting him in the engagement. As he lay recuperating, she ordered Possum, Jade, and two other Claws to kill him and his two remaining guards Temper and Ferrule. The Claws failed and the three managed to escape. In the process Dassem killed Jade and the other two Claws, leaving Possum seriously injured. Dassem was declared dead, leaving Surly as next in the line of succession.[26]

When Kellanved and Dancer returned in the same year, she organized a trap for the two at Mock's Hold using otataral powder and they were both assassinated, or so it was generally reported.[27]

In Return of the Crimson Guard[]

Laseen by Poi

Several long thought dead members of the Old Guard, including Amaron, Toc the Elder, Ullen Khadeve, and Urko Crust, returned to Quon Tali to lead the Talian League in rebellion against Empress Laseen. Urko claimed that Laseen was letting the Empire they built slip away and that she did not "understand how the machine we built must run."[28] Meanwhile, the Empress seemed to suspect some trouble was on the horizon, eliminating Old Guard members Janul and Janelle and closing the Imperial Warren.[29]

When the Crimson Guard invaded Unta, the Imperial capital, she dressed as an anonymous Claw and faced off against one of the Guard's original Avowed. As witnessed by Possum, she used her bare hands and feet to incapacitate the Guardsman by breaking his elbow and knee, before crushing his windpipe and killing him.[30]

Afterwards, Laseen led the Malaz 4th Army to Li Heng to face the Talian League and the Crimson Guard. On the first day of the Battle of the Plains her soldiers narrowly defeated the League and captured their commanders. Laseen used threats to the safety of their troops to turn Urko and the other League leaders to her side.[31] Then the combined armies faced the Guard on the following day.

Laseen made a big show of her Imperial command tent, but this was an otataral-laced trap designed to murder enemy mages and demons.[32] In reality, Laseen walked the field in disguise killing at least five of the Avowed.[33] The Guard was ultimately defeated by a combination of Malazan soldiery, unexpected arrivals, and their own internal division. In addition, most of Laseen's Old Guard rivals lay dead at the battle's end.

In that moment of triumph, Laseen faced two assassination attempts. The Crimson Guard mage Cowl's attempt was first interrupted by Possum then thwarted by Topper, but Taya Radok managed to get through during the distraction and kill Laseen from behind.[34] Mallick Rel took her place as the new Emperor.[35]

Significant plot details end here.

In Deadhouse Landing[]

(Information needed)

In Kellanved's Reach[]

(Information needed)


Laseen by Corporal Nobbs

Surly was a Napan refugee who arrived on Malaz Island after her homeland was annexed by the Kingdom of Unta.[36] Although of the Napan royal line,[36] she found employment as a serving-wench in the Old Quarter,[3] and was later employed by Emperor Kellanved as an assassin. Surly had been a member of Kellanved's family, the group of people who had coalesced around Kellanved and Dancer to conquer Malaz Island from Mock the pirate and form the Malazan Empire.[37]

Surly ruled the Empire as Imperial Regent and Master of the Claw[38] whilst Kellanved and Dancer explored the Azath houses. According to Dancer's recollection (as spoken through Apsalar), around 1152/1153 BS she ordered the Logros T'lan Imass to put down a revolt in Aren, leading to the slaughter of many citizens. After the slaughter was over Dancer was sent to investigate resulting in an argument between the two.[39]

About the time of the Mouse Quarter riots in 1154 BS, Surly changed her name to Laseen, a Napan word meaning "Thronemaster".[40] A few months later it was generally believed she had orchestrated a bloody coup, assassinating Kellanved and Dancer before assuming the Imperial Throne.[41][42]

The T'lan Imass refused to acknowledge Laseen as the new Empress and disappeared into the Jhag Odhan.[43]

Spoiler warning: The following section contains significant plot details about Laseen.

Author's comments[]

  • In a 2020 interview, author Steven Erikson revealed that Laseen "knew, or was fairly certain, that she failed in killing Kellanved and Dancer [at Mock's Hold]. Not only that, a lot of the main individuals who were part of that formation/creation of the Empire, people like Urko and Crust and others, were anticipating being wiped out by Laseen and faked their own deaths." So while the Malazan Army believed she eliminated the Old Guard, "she doesn't know where they are, she knows she didn't kill them, which then fosters a lot of fear and paranoia. What are they up to? And so...those initial impulses on her part to wipe the slate clean because [she doesn't] know...who's involved in [or] if there is any kind of conspiracy." And the Itko Kan Massacre in the opening of Gardens of the Moon involving the Hounds of Shadow "just feeds into her fears." Additionally, Tayschrenn complicated things by acting on assumptions of what Laseen wanted done, taking "too many things into his own hands."[44] When Laseen eventually sat on the First Throne and failed to claim control of the T'lan Imass she knew that Kellanved still lived. If the T'lan Imass followed her orders, it was only because Kellanved found it expedient to allow them to. "Imagine...taking control of an empire and your most formidable military force is not under your control. That's a pretty shaky throne to be sitting on."[45]
  • Laseen's willingness to make common cause with Mallick Rel and Korbolo Dom in The Bonehunters is the subject of an interview with A Critical Dragon.
Significant plot details end here.


Laseen: "You appear to hold to the childish notion that some truths are intransigent and undeniable. Alas, the adult world is never so simple. All truths are malleable. Subject, by necessity, to revision. Have you not yet observed, Tavore, that in the minds of the people in this empire, truth is without relevance? It has lost its power. It no longer effects change and indeed, the very will of the people – born of fear and ignorance, granted – the very will, as I said, can in turn revise those truths, can transform, if you like, the lies of convenience into faith, and that faith in turn is not open to challenge."
Tavore: "In challenging, one commits treason."
Laseen: "I see you grow older with every heartbeat, Tavore."
―Empress Laseen explaining her version of 'truth' to Adjunct Tavore Paran[src]
"Your silence tells me all I need to know, Possum. You stand distant, close by the door. Am I that terrifying a tyrant?"
―Laseen, as Possum prepared to deliver bad news[src]

Notes and references[]

  1. Gardens of the Moon - Chatting with Steven Erikson, part 1 - As pronounced by Steven Erikson at 40:10
  2. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 1, UK MMPB p.12
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Gardens of the Moon, Prologue, UK MMPB p.7
  4. Gardens of the Moon, Dramatis Personae, UK MMPB p. xiii
  5. 5.0 5.1 Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 1, UK MMPB p.42
  6. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 1 Chapter 4, US HC p.173
  7. The Bonehunters, Chapter 4, US SFBC p.171
  8. Gardens of the Moon, Prologue, UK MMPB p.6-8
  9. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 3, UK MMPB p.96
  10. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 3, UK MMPB p.98
  11. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 23, US HC p.578-580
  12. Memories of Ice, Chapter 15, US SFBC p.523
  13. Memories of Ice, Chapter 21, US SFBC p.770
  14. Memories of Ice, Chapter 21, US SFBC p.770-771
  15. Memories of Ice, Chapter 21, US SFBC p.771-772
  16. Memories of Ice, Chapter 21, US SFBC p.771-772
  17. Memories of Ice, Chapter 23, US SFBC p.813
  18. House of Chains, Chapter 5, US SFBC p.247-248
  19. House of Chains, Chapter 8, US SFBC p.328
  20. House of Chains, Chapter 20, US SFBC p.655
  21. The Bonehunters, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.99
  22. The Bonehunters, Chapter 6, US SFBC p.244-245
  23. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 16, US HC p.466
  24. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 13, US HC p.364
  25. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 21, US HC p.657
  26. Night of Knives, Chapter 3, UK HB p.90
  27. Night of Knives, Chapter 5, US TPB p.203-209
  28. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 3, Chapter 4, US HC p.58
  29. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 1 Chapter 2, UK MMPB p.31-36
  30. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 2 Chapter 2, US HC p.300-302
  31. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 2 Chapter 6, US HC p.520-522/528-531
  32. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 3 Chapter 2, US HC p.582-583
  33. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 3 Chapter 4, US HC p.661
  34. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 3, Chapter 4, UK MMPB p.662-664
  35. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 3 Chapter 4
  36. 36.0 36.1 House of Chains, Chapter 5, US SFBC p.247-248
  37. House of Chains, Chapter 5, US SFBC p.247-248
  38. Night of Knives, Chapter 1, UK HB p.38/39
  39. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 5, US HC p.129
  40. Gardens of the Moon, Prologue, UK MMPB p.6
  41. Gardens of the Moon, Dramatis Personae
  42. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 2, US HC p.59
  43. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 2, UK MMPB p.73
  44. Gardens of the Moon - Chatting with Steven Erikson, part 1 - See 40:00
  45. Gardens of the Moon - Chatting with Steven Erikson, part 1 - See 1:09:00
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