Review: BERSERK 7

BERSERK 7

by Kentaro Miura

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Guts and Caska have been separated from the rest of the Band of the Hawk, swept down river after Caska’s collapse. Being a soldier is hard enough without the added burdens of PMS, and Caska isn’t at one hundred percent. That doesn’t matter as the bellicose lord Guts injured has put out a bounty on the pair.

An company of mercenaries, over a hundred strong, are sweeping through the woods. Caska and Guts will have to fight back to back to survive. Right now, Caska can’t afford to be a woman. She needs to be a soldier. A sword for Griffith. Will they survive?

This manga continues Caska’s story of young girl sold into sexual slavery to warrior who seized her own destiny in hand and defended her virtue from her would-be rapist. Now once again she has to fight to protect not only herself, but the one person in the Band of the Hawks she cannot stand.

The one person in the Band of the Hawks that Griffith cares for.

The character building in this volume is amazing, from showing us the humanity of Griffith as he faces the cost of his dream, to the realization that though he’ll sacrifice even his own body to see it through, he won’t stop. Even if means causing more death and suffering. The parallels drawn by Miura are amazing.

The art as always continues to be great and detailed. The characters all have personality. The violence is gritty but particularly satisfying in this volume. Miura has given us some great characters to loath in Corbowitz and his men while leaving us on a cliffhanger.

BERSKER continues to shine! It is one of the best Fantasy (and definitely among the greats of Grimdark Fantasy) on the market. Even if you’re not a fan of manga (graphic novels), you have to check out this amazing work.

You can buy BERSERK Vol 7 from Amazon.

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Review: BERSERK 6

BERSERK 6

by Kentaro Miura

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Thanks to Griffith’s leadership, and Zodd retreating from the battlefield after delivering his prophecy to Guts, the Band of the Hawk find themselves heroes. Griffith has the recognition of the king himself while attracting the notice of the king’s young daughter, Princess Charlotte. But such rise in station makes enemies.

While Guts just wants to swing his sword and fight, the Band of the Hawk find themselves in lesser guard duty, protecting Griffith from the machinations swirling around them. Griffith has only one person he trusts to carry out his darker deeds.

Guts will have to become more than a swordsman. But so long as his friend Griffith needs him, he’s happy. Content where he is. Can he stay that way forever? Is he truly Griffith’s friend, or does Griffith expect?

Volume 6 brims with political intrigue and poignant moments. Guts clutching the dying boy’s hand is moving and harrowing at the same time, but the most pivotal moment in the entire series, the catalyst for the train of events that leads to the Black Swordsman happens in this book, in a conversation between Griffith and Princess Charlotte. His words to her will spark something in Guts.

Miura continues to develop his characters in this volume, with Caska getting her backstory fleshed out. We get to see another layer to Griffith. He’s a complex character, still possessing his a boyish playfulness that seems at odds with his cold, ruthless tactics. His charisma shines through even when he’s giving orders that lead to more violence and death.

He has a dream, and he won’t let anything stop him from reaching it. Not even the Band of the Hawk, his loyal followers.

If you’re not reading one of the masters of Grimdark Fantasy, you should be! Berserk is no simple tale. It’s not playful and light like many Japanese Manga. It’s rooted deep in Western storytelling and setting, with mature themes that resonate with the truths they tell.

You can buy BERSERK Vol 6 from Amazon.

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Review: BERSERK 5

BERSERK 5

by Kentaro Miura

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Griffith has entrusted Guts with the important rearguard position on their night raid. Feeling true responsibility for the first time, Guts won’t let his new mercenary company down. Though still a loner, Griffith’s trust in him has inspired him. But can his sword be enough to stem the tide of the enemy hunting down the hawk?

Guts skills, while not the level of the Black Swordsman that he will become, are impressive. He’s young, only fifteen, but he’s grown up swinging a sword from childhood. Forced to use weapons sized for adults, it gave him strength. Now he swings a two-handed blade with skill. He will need it all to keep himself alive.

And that’s not the only threat he faces. Because the legendary warrior, Zodd, is rumored to be on the battlefield. Some say he’s a hundred years and unkillable. An immovable object for the indomitable spirit of Gut’s unstoppable will to crash into.

Miura continues to pen an epic story as he tells how Guts found himself with a new family. One that doesn’t abuse and belittle him. One that doesn’t sell his body for a few pieces of silver. He finds respect. Friendship. Admiration. For the first time in his life, he has found something, but will his own inner anger. His own rage at his childhood abuse destroy everything.

Will Guts forever be that helpless child, vulnerable and overpowered despite how skilled he becomes. “Man takes up the sword in order to shield the small wound in his heart sustained in a far-off time beyond remembrance.” BERSKER is a world of cause and effect. That everything is determined because the way you are shaped dictates how any stimuli will cause you to act. We are seeing that chain of causes that lead us to the Black Swordsman.

And to Griffith making the choice to take up his Behelit and sacrifice all to become a member of the Godhand. Miura has baked his philosophy into the very dough of his story, and now he just has to let it rise to its conclusion.

You can buy BERSERK Vol 5 from Amazon.

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Review: BERSERK 4

BERSERK 4

by Kentaro Miura

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Before Guts became the Black Swordsman, he was just a boy raised by an abusive mercenary. Like a beaten dog, Guts doesn’t know any better. However, his life is changed when he learns just how terrible a father Gambino really is. Guts is sent on a path that leads him right into the path of Griffith.

The man Guts is on a mission to kill in the present. The man who became an inhuman demon of such power that Guts, despite all his vaulted strength and prowess as a demon killer, is nothing more than an insect to. Here, in the fateful encounter during the fall of a castle, Guts discovers what he has been searching for all his life.

And what will send him into such anger and hatred when he loses it.

The Golden Age Arc is underway. It is one of the best parts of Berserk. You know that it is going to end badly. You know that the young, charismatic Griffith who has inspired his loyal Band of the Hawk, is going to do something that changes him and brands Guts as a sacrifice. As we learned in the last volume, to become a demon, you have to sacrifice someone you love. What do you have to sacrifice to become the GOD of the demons?

Miura introduces us to the characters that we’re going to love and hate over the next volumes. The brash and surly Corkus, Casca who gave up being a woman to be a soldier, the quiet by gentle Pippin, the joking and intelligent Judeau, little Rickert eager to help support everyone else. And Griffith himself. BERSERK isn’t just about the violence (which there’s plenty of) or the gore (lot of that), it’s about characters. And Miura is a master at not only giving his characters depths through their dialogue and actions, but through his art itself. He brings these characters to life as he lulls you into a world that you don’t ever want to leave.

But in the back of your mind, you remember what is coming and you ask yourself, how did that happen? Miura is about to show us.

You can buy BERSERK Vol 4 from Amazon.

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Book Review: BERSERK 3

BERSERK 3

by Kentaro Miura

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Guts, the Black Swordsman, lies battered and near death at the hands of the transformed, demonic count. Guts’s quest of vengeance might have finally found an enemy he can’t defeated. Battered, many bones broken, he struggles to stand to fight. Only the arrival of the counts young daughter, the one person the monster doesn’t want to see his inhuman form, has saved Guts.

But for how much long will that last?

He’ll have only one chance to defeat the count. He might be broken. He might only be human, but Guts has a will that will carry him through to his desire. He will crush all that stands before him no matter the cost to himself or others.

Miura continues to peel back Guts’s backstory in this one. We finally learn who he wants to destroy and catch a glimpse of his past life with the enigmatic Griffith know turned into one of the demonic Godhand who oversee monsters like the count.

Emotion swirls through this one. Miura explores how love can feed a hate so black it can destroy the person you most love and then show how that same emotion can overcome a fear so profound that it gives even a loathsome monster a chance to do something right. To make one positive choice after seven years of perversion.

This volume is all about revealing the past of Guts, showing us the steps on the road of how he became the near-inhuman monster he is, cloaked in so much rage and hatred that his humanity can only come out in a single moment. As Vargas in the last volume was a mirror of Guts’s physical body, Theresia, the count’s daughter, is a mirror of his soul. That innocence that has been perverted by rage and anger, twisted and destroyed, leaving something else behind.

I would really like for Theresia to make a reappearance in the story.

The manga ends with flashing back to the beginning of Guts. Miura shows us right there in his origin why Guts is still alive. How in a world where “transcendental fate” rules all, that he survived the sacrifice, that he continues to kill the demons. Because Guts side-stepped his fate from the moment of birth.

The manga leaves us eager to read more of how this abused boy grew up into the Black Swordsman.

You can buy BERSERK Vol 3 from Amazon.

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Review: BERSERK 2

BERSERK 2

by Kentaro Miura

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Guts, The Black Swordsman, is on a quest of vengeance that has lead him to a town under the dark grip of a demonic count. A monster of cruelty who butchers and tortures “heretics” in his quest to purify his town. Vargas, a man whose family was consumed by the count before him, begs Guts to slay the count and free the town. Guts will do it, but not for Vargas.

Guts has his own reasons to kill the count. His own vengeful past.

The count, however, won’t sit around and wait for Guts. He has created a monster of his own, an extension of his demonic powers, and unleashed him on the town. Guts will have to use all his skills and wits to survive the machinations.

The second volume shows us the strength in Miura’s writing. While the violence and gore can suck a reader in, it’s the strength of his characters that keep you reading. Guts is a man consumed by hatred. He shows no compassion, even to a crippled character like Vargas. He despises Vargas, and you catch small glimpses why. Guts is in many ways like Vargas. Both are maimed and scared. Both have suffered torture, and the reader is getting an inkling that this torment came at the hands of the demonic entities behind creating the Count: the Godhand.

The characterization is subtle, but great. We have the count, an absolute monster who struggles to hide the truth of his demonic nature from his young daughter. He wants to keep her safe from the ugly realities of this world. You can see glimpses of the man he once was before he summoned the Godhand with the behleit. From his daughter, you start to understand how his quest for killing heretics has mutated into something far, far worse as his demonic nature has corrupted him.

The world of BERSERK continues to be bleak. There is no hope. No chance for any heroics. Like an grimdark story, the hero doesn’t get to be pure good. He has to roll in the mud with the enemies. He has to stand by and let good men die.

Puck continues to be a great foil against Guts. The small fairy, while on the surface just providing comic relief, has a great deal of insight. He has some great moments in this volumes of compassion and empathy, catching glimpses of the true man trapped in the cage of anger and rage Guts is trapped in. The story keeps you reading. You want to find out why Guts is this way, where his weapons came from, how has survived so long with the mysterious “brand” on his neck. Though some questions were answered, more are needed.

If you like grimdark fantasy, you NEED to read BERSERK. If you like good fantasy storytelling, the violence and gore is graphic, but what’s beneath it is full of all those things that make humans great: love, passion, friendship, hope and more. Just in a world this dark, it is buried by the muck and mire and has to be freed once again.

You can buy BERSERK Vol 2 from Amazon.

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Review: BERSERK 1

BERSERK 1

by Kentaro Miura

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The Black Swordsman is a demon in human flesh. A man scarred and battered, is missing an eye, and has an iron hand in place of his right. He wields a massive sword that can shear through an armored knight. He inspires fear where he goes.

And what he fights is far more terrifying.

On a quest for vengeance, consumed by an almost inhuman rage and anger, the Black Swordsman is carving a bloody path through the servants of true demons. Grotesque monsters with preternatural strength. They murder, they rape, they cannibalize those they rule over. Petty despots with inhuman powers clinging to their immortality.

The Black Swordsman arrives in one village where a one demon, Kora, rules. The local village sends women and children to be feasted in a cowardly attempt to protect themselves. The demon’s soldiers drink and whore as they please, knowing their inhuman master’s deadly reputation defends them. But the Black Swordsman doesn’t fear Kora.

He picks a fight and the carnage beings.

The start of BERSERK is a powerful beginning. Miura doesn’t pull any punches in his world. BERSERK is the banner of grimdark fantasy. There are no good choices. Innocent people get caught up in the horrific events, bystanders too weak to survive the growing darkness in the world. Our hero, Guts the Black Swordsman, is so consumed with anger and rage he doesn’t care about anything but but his revenge. He wields a weapon of such size it should be comical, but Guts is drawn with such a deadly grace, at once both lean and powerful muscled, a man who is a veteran of a thousand battles. He thinks, he plans, and he executes without flinching.

All we can do is wonder at the events that produced such a man. It is clear why he is so scarred and hardened. The enemies he fights can transform into towering monsters. They are capricious beings that delight in blood and carnage. Everywhere they go, they bring misery and death as they satiate their own base desires. It is a world without hope. A world on the verge of being swallowed by the darkness.

A world in need of a savior. Can Guts be that for them? Or will his own hatred and anger destroy him?

The art of BERSERK is detailed and fantastic. Miura forgoes the more traditional “big eyes” look of other Manga artist, instead using a very gritty, realistic, and Western style of art that fits well with his fantasy setting. Everything is drawn with care and detail. He has real skill at bringing to life his medieval world in all its sordid details.

BERSERK delivers a visceral punch that leaves you asking so many questions. Who is Guts? What happened to him? Who are these demons? What has happened to this world? You can feel that something has shifted in it. That something has gone very, very wrong.

The only way to find out is to keep reading!

You can buy BERSERK Vol 1 from Amazon.

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Review: Darkblade Seeker (Hero of Darkness 4)

Darkblade Seeker (Hero of Darkness 4)

by Andy Peloquin

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The Hunter’s quest to uncover his past and stop the demons from plunging his world into chaos continues!

Atop Shana Laal, a mighty peak, lies Karak-ket, the twin temples. The abode of the Sage, the entity directing the activities of the demons throughout the cities of the world. Here, the Hunter seeks his next prey, to stop the Sage’s destructive plan, and maybe to find the secrets that will unlock his forgotten memories.

But what the Hunter doesn’t contend with is the scheming machinations between the cold and calculating Sage and the bloodthirsty and psychotic Warmaster. Two foes pitting each other, both seeking to use the Hunter to their own gains. Can he use them both to his advantage, or will he become one of their pawns in their eons-long game. Another piece discarded and broken.

Peloquin continues the story of the Hunter in fashion. From the beginning, we know who the enemy is. Peloquin expertly weaves a story pitting a sociopath against a psychopath with the Hunter caught in the middle. His every move will tilt him towards one side or the other. How long can he walk between the two sides, promising support while plotting treachery?

Darkblade Seeker is a roller-coaster ride full of of twist and turns and stomach-churning loops as one revelation comes after the other. More of the Hunter’s past is peeled back as he grapples with whom he can trust, and what are the lies he’s being told and what are the truth. Everything is uncertain. Every moment fraught with danger, and Peloquin captures that masterfully.

Once again, Peloquin has delivered a fast-paced, grimdark fantasy novel that fans of the genre will love. If you’re not reading Peloquin, you need to give this indie author a try. He’s proof that the big publishers can miss quality talent.

You can buy Darkblade Seeker from Amazon. Check out Andy Peloquin’s website, connect on Linked In, follow him on Google Plus, like him on Twitter @AndyPeloquin, and like him on Facebook.

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Nine

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 9
Joktha

Welcome to Chapter Nine of my reread. Click here if you missed the Chapter Eight!

In the skins of elk I pass over grasses. Rain falls, and I cleanse my face in the sky. I hear the Horse Prayers spoken, but my lips are far away. I slip down weed and still twig—into their palms I pool. Then I am called out and am among them. In sorrow, I rejoice.

Pale endless life. This, I call my own.

—ANONYMOUS, THE NONMAN CANTICLES

My Thoughts

The person speaking sounds like an Erratic to me, though his words were collected by a Human or perhaps humans translated the Erratic’s words into a human tongue. Note the emphasis on what the person is doing. It is all present tense. He lives in the present because the past is fading. The Horse Prayer comes from far away. He is running, searching, but all he finds is sorrow. And he enjoys that, because in sorrow he can remember his past life, those he loved and knew. Immorality is a “pale endless life.”

It is an intriguing quote to start a chapter with. It’ll make us think about the skin-spies. They move like the Nonman, but they don’t even have a past. They leave forever in the present, slipping from one identity from another. There life is endless and not just pale, but colorless.

This is an appropriate quote because, more than anything, this chapter is about the skin-spies.

Early Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Joktha

Cnaiür awakes feeling older. It reminds him of a time he woke one time while out on the Steppes and discovered that someone had, in ancient times, carved a relief into a cliff he slept beneath. It depicted a king celebrating his victory including a captured Scylvendi “from another age.” As Cnaiür comes to, he hears a man (Conphas, though Cnaiür doesn’t realize this) speaking, saying he felt pity at the end of the Battle of Kiyuth. Then he amends and says he felt regret seeing the myth of the Scylvendi destroyed. “The world became weaker.” It lead Conphas to realize he could defeat any obstacle.

Cnaiür realizes he is lying bound on the ground . Cnaiür is still coming out of his concussion from his severe beating. Conphas rants how Cnaiür meant nothing, that only Kellhus should be the “sole object of the Empire’s concern.” Conphas realizes that fixating on Cnaiür was a mistake because “What are the abuses of flesh compared with glory?” Cnaiür thinks there is no glory. Conphas laments all the casualties he took taking Jocktha, knowing Cnaiür was behind the costly tactics of the defenders. He “almost” wished Cnaiür commanded at Kiyuth so Conphas could vanquish him, a god defeating a demon. Conphas says they are kin.

“Are you,” Cnaiür rasped, “a god?”

The man [Conphas] stood, looked at him [Cnaiür]. Points of lantern light rolled like liquid across the figures worked into his cuirass. His voice possessed a shrill edge. “I know you love me… Men often beat those they love. Words fail them, and they throw their fists into the breach… I’ve seen it happen many times.”

Cnaiür rolled his head back, closed his eyes for pain. How had he come to be here? Why was he bound?

“I know also,” the man continued, “that you hate him.”

Him. There could be no mistaking the word’s intensity. The Dûnyain. He spoke of the Dûnyain—and as though he were his enemy, no less. “You do not want,” Cnaiür said, “to raise arms against him…”

“And why would that be?”

Cnaiür turned to him, blinking. “He knows the hearts of men. He seizes their beginnings and so wields their ends.”

Conphas gets mad, accusing Cnaiür of succumbing to the religion. Conpha is angry because he thought he’d found a peer in Cnaiür, admitting he even thought of making Cnaiür his Exalt-General. Cnaiür is still confused as Conphas rants why he couldn’t elevate Cnaiür to such a rank because the army would mutiny, but he thought with Cnaiür he could “eclipse even Triamis.”

Now Cnaiür realizes who is before him. Memories come back to him as he notices a “god with a beaten face.” Cnaiür laughs, stunning Conphas. Cnaiür realizes the man was sincere about thinking Cnaiür was his brother, his equal. This makes Cnaiür laugh more, insulting Conphas, saying, “Your heart is shrill and your soul is plain.” He calls it a stupid idea. Conphas is too weak to be his brother. Conphas kicks Cnaiür in the head. He only laughs as Conphas retreats leaving the tent. Cnaiür feels himself “slipping between immensities—the earth that pressed so cruelly against his battered frame and the commotion of men and their fatal purposes.”

At last, something deep laughed within him. At last it ends.

General Sompas enters and cuts Cnaiür’s bonds, telling Cnaiür his Chorae is on the table. Sompas reveals he’s a skin-spy taking Cnaiür to Serwë. The skin-spy has no problem leading Cnaiür out of camp even though he’s wearing a captain’s uniform. Conphas’s discipline holds, and the soldiers know “Biaxi Sompas was his man.”

“Is it always this easy?” Cnaiür asked the creature.

“Always,” it said.

In the blackness beneath a stand of carob trees, Serwë and another of her brothers awaited them, along with eight horses laden with supplies. Dawn had not yet broken when they heard the first of the horns, faint in the distance behind them.

Conphas, hunting Scylvendi, is feeling terror a “word he had always regarded from the outside.” He doesn’t understand how Cnaiür makes him feel this way. He reflects that his race has an obsession with the Scylvendi despite their hatred, their imagination fired by their mystique. Because the Scylvendi have beaten the Nansur so many times, its made the Scylvendi seem more manly. Conphas sees that in Cnaiür, just like his soldiers who were afraid to fight him earlier at Jocktha. He was like Gilgaöl, the God of War, given flesh.

And now, after wrestling him to the ground like some lunatic bull, after the wonder of capturing him—capturing War!—he had simply vanished.

Cememketri said it wasn’t sorcery, and suggested “Faceless Ones” as they call skin-spies, especially since some soldiers reported seeing Sompas freeing Cnaiür. Learning that one had killed his uncle has caused Conphas to admit that they are not Cishaurim since it made no sense for them to kill their secret ally. However, he can’t quite believe that they’re from the Consult. He wonders if the Second Apocalypse was on them.

Terror. How could he not be terrified?

All this time Conphas had assumed that he and his uncle had stood at the root of all that happened. No matter how the others plotted, they but thrashed in the nets of his hidden-designs—or so he thought. Such errant! All along, others had known, others had watched, and he hadn’t the slightest inkling of their intentions!

What was happening? Who ruled these events?

Not Emperor Ikurei Conphas I.

Conphas’s realization that he isn’t alone, but has men who followed him, thinking that the “ability to cede voice and limbo to the will of another” was mankind’s great genius. To follow allowed them to join together and extend power, and since he was the Emperor, he controlled it. If things are simple, he could handle it. And he would start with Cnaiür. He imagines “killing a son of his ancestral enemy” was the first step to restoring the Emperor. He sees himself as a mighty as the rulers of old.

No wonder the savage had laughed!

Conphas thinks the Gods are behind this, resenting them like you’d resent “children of a different father.” He questions why he spared Cnaiür, struggling to under stand “what vice or vanity” stopped him. He cries for Sompas and asks if he’d like to be the Exalt-General.

The ingrate [Sompas] swallowed. “Very well, God-of-Men.”

How he [Conphas] missed Martemus and the cool cynicism of his gaze. “Take the Kidruhil—all of them. Hunt down this demon for me, Sompas. Bring me his head and that shall be your title… Exalt-General, Spear-of-the-Empire.” His eyes narrowed in menace as he smiled. “Fail me and I shall burn you, your sons, your wives—every Biaxi breathing. I shall burn you all alive.”

Serwë’s “preternatural vision” guides Cnaiür’s party through a woods at night. They need to put as much distance as possible before the sun comes up. Despite his beating, Cnaiür draws on a reserve “as inexhaustible as lust or fear.” His mind wanders and then he realizes Serwë is cradling his head on her lap and tending to his wounds.

She smiled and a ragged breath stole through him. There was such sanctuary in the lap of a woman, a stillness that made the world, with all its threshing fury, seem small instead of encompassing, errant instead of essential. He winced as she dabbed a cut above his left eye. He savored the sense of cool water warming against his skin.

When he reaches up to caress her face, he notices his bloody knuckles. He feels his wound sand coughs up blood. He mumbles that he’s forgetting something. Serwë agrees, saying its the one he hunts. “The murderer.” He then says he’s the murder and rants about how men just “ape their fathers” in an unbroken chain back to the beginning. But he’s free of his people’s customs.

She studied him for a moment, her perfect face poised between thought and moonlight. “Yes… like the one you hunt.”

What were these shallow creatures?”

“You call yourself my lover? You think yourself my proof? My prize?”

She blinked in dread and sorrow. “Yes…”

“But you are a knife! You are a spear and hammer. You are nepenthe—opium! You would make a haft of my heart, and brandish me. Brandish me!”

Another skin-spy asks what about him. At first, Cnaiür thinks the skin-spy is Moënghus, then he realizes it’s Kellhus. The fake-Kellhus asks what he is, and Cnaiür is confused by this madness, now thinking the skin-spy is Moënghus as it presses Cnaiür for an answer. Cnaiür wonders how long Moënghus has been building his power. His hate fills him as they press him for answers.

“The one,” Cnaiür grated, “that I hunt.”

“Yes,” Serwë said from behind. “The murderer.”

“He murdered my father with words! Consumed my heart with revelation!”

“Yes…”

“He set me free.”

Lust for Serwë surges through him. She opens her “fake-face” and reveals her true one. They kiss with her spider-like “fingers” hugging him. “As though within a fist, she held him to her hot mouth.” He lifts her up as “Moënghus” says they must flee. Horns sound.

Cnaiür and his group press their horses hard, knowing Conphas won’t spare him again. Worse, Conphas has already sent troops south to keep any word of Conphas’s resurgence from reaching the Holy War, meaning they had foes before and behind them. As they ride, Cnaiür learns that the skin spies are “the Last Children of the Inchoroi” and are “Keepers of the Inverse Fire” though they grow confused when he asks them what that means. They don’t complain about anything except their lusts for “unspeakable congress” and that they are falling. They trust Cnaiür because the syntheses “made them his slaves,” claiming to be his loyal dogs.

They carried, Cnaiür could see, the spark of the void within them. Like the Sranc.

Cnaiür realized that while men where like tress, capable of branching in many different directions, the skin-spies were “spears concealed in the thickets of human activity.” This gives them a poetic beauty to Cnaiür as he both envies, loves, and pities them. He talks and learns “Serwë” was a Scylvendi two hundred years and has been many people since. He asks who it she now.

“I am Serwë… your lover.”

By the third night, it’s clear Conphas is not giving up. He studies their campfire and is disturbed by the number. It’s a large patrol and he’s worried that the Nansur know he’s not fleeing to Caraskand and Saubon and has to eventually turn east for the Holy War. This means there will likely be soldiers hoping to cut them off. “It would be like shooting arrows in the dark, certainly, but his [the Nansur commander’s] quiver looked deep.” Serwë kills a goatherd who surprised them the next day. Unable to bury him, they are forced to carry his body, tiring their horses more. Soon vultures circle them. That night, they burn the body and keep going for another week, avoiding men save a village which “they plundered for sort and supplies.” One night, Cnaiür makes new swazonds for the men he killed then rants his madness at the skin-spies followed by weeping. The skin-spies don’t judge him, lacking humanity.

The pursuers continue and Cnaiür starts thinking as the Nansur as the abominations, not the skin-spies he rides with. He questions if he is insane, no longer sure what the word even means. The Scylvendi cut the throats of those who went “feral in the manner of dogs and horses,” seeing it in the same way while the Inrithi blamed it on demons. He remembers Achamian’s explanation (early in the Warrior Prophet) about how madness was “a point where the Outside penetrated the world” caused by men breaking from “the trials of the world.”

At the time, Cnaiür had been less than impressed. He had despised the sorcerer, thinking him one of those mewling souls who forever groaned beneath burdens of their own manufacture. He had dismissed all things him out of hand. But now, the force of his demonstration seemed indisputable. Something other inhabited him.

It was peculiar. Sometimes, it seemed that each of his eyes answered to a different master, that his every look involved war an loss. Sometimes it seemed he possessed two faces, an honest outer expression, which he sunned beneath the open sky, and a more devious inner countenance. If he concentrated, he could almost feel its muscles—deep, twitching webs of them—beneath the musculature that stretched his skin. But it was elusive, like the presentiment of hate in a brother’s glare. And it was profound, sealed like marrow within living bone. There was no distance! No way to frame it within his comprehension. And how could there be? When it thought, he was…

Cnaiür understands that he is exactly what Achamian described. Madness came either from something diving, making prophets, or the demonic, making men like Cnaiür. It matches up to Cnaiür’s perceptions. “The problem, of course, was the Dûnyain.”

He contradicted all of it.

Cnaiür had watched Kellhus herd men’s thoughts like sheep, using their emotions to goad and prod them. He did it all with “mundane word and expression.” Kellhus acted like the Outside couldn’t breach the world, that causality couldn’t be violated. With that “elementary assumption” he had dominated the Holy War. Cnaiür reels from the insight as he feels he is in two different worlds, one without the Outside and one with it. It’s comforting to be mad because something from the Outside crept in, but in a world without it, a closed world, the idea is horrifying. Cnaiür rejects that world, clinging to the fact that “there had to be more.”

Besides, he couldn’t be mad, he decided, because he possessed no origins. He had kicked free of all earth. He didn’t possess a past. Not really. What he remembered, he always remembered now. He—Cnaiür urs Skiötha—was the ground of what came before. He was his own foundation!

Laughing, he thought of the Dûnyain and how, upon their fatal reunion, this would overthrow him.

He tried to share his thoughts with the skin-spies but they could only offer “the simulacrum of understanding” because they lack any depths. He’s a bottomless hole. They are just biological machines, not alive, lacking souls. “They dwelt utterly within the world.”

And for no reason, his love of them—his love of her—became all the more fierce.

More days passes and they near the Betmulla Mountains. The sight reminds him of how he abused Serwë in the Hethantas and thinks hew as a fool for hurting her, a “free man trying to make himself a slave of his people.” He never could find the words to speak to her. Now he tells Serwë that they conceived their child in a place like those mountains.

They loose a horse in the rough terrain. They march into the night, the skin-spies preternatural sight guiding them. Cnaiür thinks their pursuers can’t catch up to them at this pace. The next morning, the skin-spies run down a deer and kill it. It proved a mistake to cook it as Serwë warns that men come, smelling them when the wind shifts. Two skin-spies vanish into the trees as he hears the sounds of approaching horses.

Cnaiür sprints at the Kidruhil, knowing Serwë would follow. The skin-spies attack from the trees, lifting men out of their saddles, and throwing their bloody bodies back down, panicking the soldiers. They retreat form them trees and drew their bows, which Cnaiür realizes are similar to Scylvendi and they use the same horsebow tactics as his people. Serwë jumps before Cnaiür, using her body to shield him. Now wounded, Serwë keeps being a human shield as the Kidruhil encircle them.

Somehow, Serwë was in front of him. For an instant she stood, a poised beauty, arms out, flaxen hair gleaming in the mountain sun—

She danced for him.

Shielding, leaping, striking. She kept her back turned to him, as though in observance of some ritual modesty. Her sleeves snapped like leather. Shafts clattered across the platform. Others buzzed about his shoulders and head. She dipped, rolled her arms about. A shaft appeared in the palm of her hand. She kicked, swung her heel down from her raised knee. A shaft jutted from her calf. The fletching of two more materialized in her back. She cartwheeled, kicked an arrow away even as three others thudded into her chest and abdomen. She cycled her hands outward, batted away four in succession, threw her head back, thrust out her arms, caught one in the back of her right hand. Another in her left forearm.

She jerked her head to the left. An arrowhead popped from the back of her neck. She whimpered, as a little girl might.

But she never ceased moving. Blood flew out in beads and lines, flashed in arcs beneath the sun.

Cnaiür can’t look away from Serwë’s dance. “His prize.” The Nansur retreat. Serwë slumps to the ground and stares at him before she pitches forward dead. He rushes to her, crying out in horror. “When he shook her, her perfect face fell apart.” He is numb, the battle over, the other skin-spies wounded but alive.

“We must bury her,” he [Cnaiür] called.

Serwë helped him.

My Thoughts

I’ve said this in the reread before, but it holds true: never meet your heroes. Well, also never meet your mythical enemies either. Reality is never as impressive as story and imagination. There is an illusion that all those people who came before us were stronger, wiser, tougher. And maybe they were, but they were also still human. Still weak and frail and prone to foibles and mistakes as us. But the further removed we are from them in space and time, the more their deeds can shine. It might have to do why the glamour and mystique of pop star has fallen so much in modern time from the glitz and glamour of the golden age of movies to the present where a drunk rich girl can have as much fame. Social Media lets us know people in a different, though equally false, way.

Conphas narcissism has allowed him to internalize his rape at Cnaiür’s hand and turn it back to bolster himself. It’s a rather impressive bit of psychology. He’s sitting at the center of a narcissistic black hole. Once past the event horizon, all paths in a black hole, every directions of travel, bends back to the center. That is why light can’t escape. Conphas is just like that, twisting any criticism or affront to his person back to enhance his own self-inflated opinion of himself.

Okay, Bakker, sometimes you need to look at your pronouns. “The man stood, looked at him strangely” is a sentence where the man appears to looking at himself (the man is Conphas and theNhim is Cnaiür). He’s a little looser with his pronouns then he should be. Just a nitpick that could produce a cleaner prose to read.

Wow. Conphas has interpreted that Cnaiür must love him because he beat him. Narcissistic black hole.

Kellhus brings Cnaiür back into focus. And not even mentioned by name. Just him. He still doesn’t realize he’s talking to Conphas, but he knows the conversation now. Kellhus makes sense to Cnaiür at this moment when his brain is shrugging off a concussion.

Conphas’s delusions have reached a peak. Cnaiür must be an equal. After all, Cnaiür beat him, raped him, dominated him. To preserve his self-importance, Conphas has to pour Cnaiür into the mold of Conphas’s personal reality. He’s convinced himself it is true, that Cnaiür will be thrilled to be his Exalt-General and serve a magnificent god. After all, Cnaiür “loves” him. Petulant, childish anger follows this rejection. First lashing out like a spoiled brat than running away to those who pamper him, his general staff.

Cnaiür is just ready to die. He thinks it’s coming and welcomes it.

Conphas’s disciplined his soldiers so well, they just obey his officers. Those soldiers probably came up with a theory on why General Sompas wore a different uniform, maybe debating it until the uproar happens.

If you wonder about this mystique of the Scylvendi Conphas muses on, just think about Navy SEALs or Spartan Hoplites or Zulu Warriors or Samurai. Groups festishized for their battle prowess until the man who did those acts is swallowed by the myth of them. And when they’re your enemy, when they keep beating you, it makes you feel better putting them at an even higher pedestal. Then it doesn’t harm your ego. This is exactly what Conphas did in miniature with Cnaiür, playing out their race’s history of the Scylvendi raping and beating them over and over, shattering their Nansur pride.

Conphas’s narcissism is stretching to its limits now. This shows us why such powerful people reject the idea of the Consult. Because it is something stronger than them, and their egos, especially a with man like Conphas, can’t allow that. Great characterization from Bakker. As he’s on the moment of panic, Conphas finds a new way to prop up his ego while simultaneously showing off something important: working together is one of the things that helped humans dominate our world. His black hole is working hard to bend everything, even Cnaiür’s mocking laughter, in on his narcissism.

I miss Martemus, too, Conphas.

I just want to add that I love the world preternatural and am always delighted to come across it in a book.

Interesting that lust or fear are shown to be inexhaustible. They are the two most base emotions that push and pull us. It’s another way of saying fight or flight. What’s fighting, if not defending what your existence to pass on your genes. Lust is survival. But so is fear. Both are necessary to see a species, if not an individual, survive.

Cnaiür is noticing that the skin-spies aren’t real people, just very good parrots at mimicking speech. They are like an AI that could pass a Turing Test (which we’ve achieved) even as the computer doesn’t understand the emotions behind it. The skin-spy just has a great deal of understanding on how to fake conversations by drawing on its database to assemble coherent sentences that sound like human speech and responses. Skin-spies only truly understand lust and violence, the most base of emotions. They fake the rest. She can never be Serwë, but will Cnaiür care?

Is this the first mention of the Inverse Fire in the story? What’s interesting is that the skin-spies don’t understand what it means to be the Keeper. They are programmed to say it, repeating their phrases, but they don’t have the knowledge to explain it. They only pretend to be autonomous creatures. They truly are chained by the Darkness that Comes Before.

Interesting that they skin-spies are Cnaiür’s slaves. Perhaps that’s how he survived. We know one is still hanging around him twenty years later.

Two hundred years the Consult has been working to ready the world for the Second Apocalypse and then along comes Moënghus and disrupts centuries of planning. No wonder they leaped at the chance to use the Holy War against him.

They [emphasis mine] plundered the village for sport and supplies.” Cnaiür pillaged that village for fun with the skin-spies. Not the first village he’s massacred, but this time he’s not gripped by his madness.

The explanation that madness is something from the outside possessing a person is interesting. In a way, madness that breaks from the effects of the Darkness that Comes Before. They no longer respond to the world the way they should. Their minds have broken and something new, something alien, has crept in and altered how they work. I watched the movie Shutter Island last night, and a woman who drowned her own kids talked about how she had this bug crawling across her mind, tugging on her wires. She was aware that her madness wasn’t her, that it was something at once external to her core identity but still internal, trapped inside her skull, making her do things she didn’t want to do.

I think Bakker is showing us the true source of Cnaiür’s madness. He “possessed no origins.” Like the Dûnyain, Cnaiür has kicked free of the Darkness that Comes Before. He has made himself other than the rest of his neighbors. Something different. His mind works in different ways, it isn’t directed by the past as much as it should. It makes his thoughts aliens from other humans. Other. Where Kellhus only pretends to be normal at the surface level, Cnaiür does the opposite and tires to shove himself back onto those tracks he abandoned. The pair are foils and opposites of each other, both mad in their own ways, but one embraces logic the other emotion. Order versus chaos.

The skin-spies say they are Cnaiür’s faithful dogs, but they’re more like wolves and he’s their alpha. Bakker shows us this by having them hunt a dear like a pack of carnivores, showing us what they truly are.

Now the skin-spies are like apes, attacking from the trees, as violent as chimpanzees as they kill the Nansur soldiers.

We’ve seen someone catch arrows before. Kellhus did it, but he didn’t get hit. It is a good way to show that Kellhus just edges out a skin-spy on reflexes (though not strength), as we’ve seen in his past fights with them

Though Serwë only mimics being human, something we the reader know now from this very chapter, we are seeing her death through Cnaiür’s eyes. We are seeing his perception of her, so we find ourselves moved by her beauty and dedication to protect him, an almost maternal gesture on her part. The skin-spies claimed to be Cnaiür’s dogs, and she proves it here.

What a way to end the chapter. Cnaiür grieving over one Serwë only for a new one, who was moments before one of Serwë’s “brothers,” helped him bury the old one’s corpse. Identity is meaningless to the skin-spies. They are only surface level, but Cnaiür, in his madness, doesn’t care. It only matters that he has a Serwë with him. He grieves one while welcoming another. Just like he grieved the original and then found solace in her mimic’s arms.

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can check out my short stories on Amazon! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

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Review: The Seeress of Kell (The Mallorean 5)

The Seeress of Kell (The Mallorean 5)

by David Eddings

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Garion and his companions have entered the final stage of their quest to rescue his son from the clutches of Zandramas and foil the Dark Prophecy’s designs to keep the world in stasis. All they need to do is to find out where the High Places of Korim are. A location lost 5000 years ago when Torak cracked the world.

Only the Seeress of Kell, the enigmatic Cyradis, can guide them to the final pieces of their quest. Zandramas desperation only mounts. But she has her last weapons ready to delay Garion and Ce’Nedra from reuniting with their son.

Knights, dragons, curses, and demons await in the conclusion to the Mallorean series.

The philosophy that underpins Eddings’s world comes to the forefront. What does it mean to live in a universe where everything should happen for a reason and then something doesn’t. What are the consequences to causality being violated and how do you fix it. What is better for the world: stasis and order, or change and chaos?

In the finale, all of this comes out as Eddings builds on what the previous nine books (yes, I’m counting the Belgariad) have laid out before him. In the High Places of Korim, all choices are finale, including the fate of the universe.

Eddings ends his two series wonderfully. Everything flows from that confrontation then burst out into the denouement. He doesn’t rush the conclusion to his series. He lets us have one last chance to say goodbye to all his characters while giving us one last chance to expound on the theme of this entire series.

Change is good. We can’t grow if we don’t change. Getting stuck in a loop, repeating bad decisions again and again, doesn’t do the world any good. We need to look to history and learn from the mistakes of those who came before us instead of allowing stasis to hold us in place while the world passes us by. It is a great theme for a fantasy series and a satisfying conclusion to this epic series.

If you’ve never read these two series, then you need to go and buy Pawn of Prophecy. This series has great characters, fun adventure, and even interesting philosophy. From the witty one lines to the exciting action, you will find something to love in Eddings work.

You can buy Seeress of Kell from Amazon!

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