Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Two

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The Sorcerer
Chapter 2
Atyersus

Welcome to Chapter Two of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter One!

I write to inform you that during my most recent audience, the Nansur Emperor, quite without provocation, publicly addressed me as “fool.” You are, no doubt, unmoved by this. It has become a common occurrence. The Consult eludes us now more then ever. We hear them only in the secrets of others. We glimpse them only through the eyes of those who deny their very existence. Why should we not be called fools? The deeper the Consult secretes itself among the Great Factions, the madder our rantings sound to their ears. We are, as the damned Nansur would say, “a hunter in the thicket”— who, by the very act of hunting, extinguishes all hope of running down his prey.

—Anonymous Mandate Schoolman, Letter to Atyersus

My Thoughts

This reminds of a quote from the Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” Apparently the consult saw that movie. If it wasn’t for our expectations of fiction, and Fantasy in general, we know the consult is out there. Of course, we had something very strange in chapter one happen with the abomination. Perhaps we are glimpsing why the Consult has eluded the Mandate for so long.

Late Winter, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Atyersus

Achamian stands before the Quorum, the ruling council of the Mandate. The Quorum studies Achamian for a long while before Nautzera, a member of the Quorum, speaks. Nautzera explains that since Maithanet has become the Shriah (Pope) to the Thousand Temples, he has stirred something up and cannot be ignored. All of the Cults support him without the usual political machinations.

“But surely we’ve seen his kind before,” Achamian ventured. “Zealots holding out redemption in one hand to draw attention away from the whip in the other. Sooner or later, everyone sees the whip.”

Nautzera disagrees. Maithanet moves faster and with more cunning. He uncovered two assassination plots and exposed agents of the Emperor. Achamian finally understands why he was summoned. Maithanet is rocking the boat, or as the Nroni put it “pissed in the whiskey.” Nautzera then tells Achamian there is to be a holy war. Achamian asks if it is against the Fanim. However, in the history of the Three Seas there had been only two other holy wars, both against the Schools (like the Mandate). These wars were known as the Scholastic Wars and were costly to both sides. Nautzera says the Cultic Priests are again calling sorcerers Unclean.

Unclean. The Chronicle of the Tusk, held by the Thousand Temples to be the very word of the God, had named them thus—those Few with the learning and the innate ability to work sorcery. “Cut from them their tongues,” the holy wards said, “for their blasphemy is an abomination like no other …” Achamian’s father—who, like many Nroni, had despised the tyranny exercised by Atyersus over Nron—had beaten this belief into him. Faith may die, but her sentiments remain eternal.

Simas, Achamian’s mentor and friend, explains that a holy war against the Fanim is doomed to failure. Kian, the only Fanim nation, also possess the Cishaurim. The Thousand Temples and Inrithi allies could field ten thousand soldiers equipped with Chorae, making them immune to sorcery. Chorae are the only check on the power of the Schools and the sorcery. Achamian points out those Chorae are equally effective against the Cishaurim. Simas, however, disagrees.

“Because between those men and the Cishaurim would stand all the armed might of Kian. The Cishaurim are not a School, old friend. They don’t stand apart, as we do, from the faith and the people of their nations. While the Holy War struggled to overcome the heathen Grandees of Kian, the Cishaurim would rain ruin upon them.” Simas lowered his chin as though testing his beard against his breastbone. “Do you see?”

Achamian, like all Mandate, remembers the dreams of the Fords of Tywanrae where the Consult used sorcery to annihilate their enemies. Nautzera comments that Maithanet is not an idiot and will know he cannot win a war against the Fanim. Achamian asks why he was recalled. The Quorum need Achamian to travel to Sumna and find out the target of the Holy War. Achamian lies and says he no longer has any contacts in Sumna, though his thoughts turn briefly to Esmenet, a whore he knew and one other.

Several years ago, Achamian had a student named Inrau who he was training to be a Mandate Sorcerer. However, Inrau was to innocent to survive becoming a Mandate and wanted to be a Shrial Priest. He had, however, learned to much to be allowed to leave. Achamian loved his student, however, and faked his death and allowed Inrau to leave. Achamian only confided in Simas about his betrayal. Nautzera reveals that he knows of Inrau’s defection and that he is a Shrial Priest in Sumna. Achamian is stunned by Simas’s betrayal.

Nautzera wants Achamian to turn Inrau into a spy for the Mandate against the Thousand Temples. Achamian refuses, believing it would be to much for Inrau to handle. Nautzera accuses Achamian of sedition. Nautzera points out that the Consult may be behind Maithanet and that the life of Inrau would be worth it to find out. Achamian concedes the point only if the Consult really has returned.

“Ah, yes. I’d forgotten that you numbered yourself among the skeptics. What is it you say? That we pursue ghost.” He [Nautzera] held the word in his mouth, as though it were a morsel of questionable food. “I guess, then, you would say that a possibility, that we’re witnessing the first signs of the No-God’s return, is outweighed by an actuality, the life of a defector—that rolling the dice of apocalypse is worth the pulse of a fool.”

Achamian is prepared to face Sanction for allowing Inrau to defect. Nautzera continues his rant against the skeptics, reminding Achamian that the Mandate are not the other schools. While they spy and perform political machinations, it is to support their war against the Consult not to increase the Mandate’s power. “You [Achamian] confuse us with the whores.”

Simas steps in, and points out the Dreams have become more intense. What better vehicle for the Consult to seize power then through the Thousand Temples? Use it to destroy the Mandate through a Holy War. Achamian is wracked with doubts. Nautzera points out that Inrau may understand the stakes. That it would be possible to convince him without using Cants to compel him. Finally, Nautzera says if Achamian won’t go, another less sentimental Mandate spy would be sent.

Later, Achamian stands on the battlements of Atyersus and looks out at the sea and broods on the meeting. The Quorum meeting went on longer after Achamian agreed to the mission. Nautzera continued to berate Achamian, asking if Achamian forgot that the Old Names still resided in Golgotterath. Achamian wanders if the concerns of the present crowded out the portents of the past. Nautzera, on the other hand, dwelt in the horrors of the past and the threat of the future. The present was a mere formality.

And why not? The anguish of the Old Wars was beyond description. Almost all the great cities of the Ancient North had fallen to the No-God and his Consult. The Great Library of Sauglish ransacked. Trysë, the holy Mother-of-Cities, plundered of life. The Towers of Myclai pulled down. Dagliash, Kelmeol … Entire nations put to the sword.

To Nautzera, Maithanet was signification because he might be the start of the Second Apocalypse. Achamian is troubled by the idea the Shriah could be an agent for the Consult and lead a Holy War against the Schools.

Achamian reflects on his relationship with Inrau. Inrau had reminded Achamian of the first student he loved, Nersei Proyas. However, Proyas had grown proud with the knowledge that he would become King someday. Inrau, however, remained Inrau. Achamian loved Inrau because he was good. Inrau was open like a child or a fool, possessing an innocence of wisdom instead of ignorance. Inrau saw beauty in all things and forgave men their blemishes.

Achamian was dismayed and relieved when Inrau chose to abandon the Mandate. Achamian knew the Mandate would eventually destroy his innocence. Achamian remembered the night he touched Seswatha’s Heart and his world was transformed by the tragedy of history.

How could such innocence, any innocence, survive the terror of Seswatha’s Dreams? How could one find solace in mere sunlight, when the threat of the No-God loomed across every horizon? Beauty was denied victims of the Apocalypse.

Achamian considered securing Inrau’s escape the only good act he did in his life. Achamian wanders how long the Quorum knew of his betrayal and if Simas had truly betrayed him. Nautzera message to Achamian was plain, Inrau was a defector and deserved to die. Inrau knew enough of the Gnosis for another School to capture and torture him, eventually discovering the secrets. Then the Mandate would then be condemned to being a Minor School.

Had he done the right thing? Or had he simply made a wager?

Was the pulse of a good man worth rolling the dice of Apocalypse?

Nautzera had argued no, and Achamian had agreed.

The Dreams. What had happened could not happen again. This world mus not die. A thousand innocents—a thousand thousand!—were not worth the possibility of a Second Apocalypse. Achamian had agreed with Nautzera. He would betray Inrau for the reason innocents are always betrayed: fear.

Achamian reflects on how long it had been since he had been to Sumna. Five or more years, and wonders if Esmenet still lived. She always eased his heart. And to see Inrau, to warn him of his failure. Achamian yearned to see those two people he loved again and longs to be just a man.

Later, Nautzera watches Achamian leave Atyersus on ship from the battlements. Nautzera sees storm clouds in the distant and knows it will be a rough voyage to Sumna. But he knew Achamian would survive thanks to the Gnosis. Nautzera heads back inside and goes to the library were he finds Simas reading by lantern light. Nautzera is jealous that Simas eyesight hasn’t failed him in old age. Nautzera, like others his age, needs an acolyte to read for him these days.

Nautzera confronts Simas, saying they should have told Achamian they already know who Maithanet has called the faithful to war against. Nautzera knows the deception as necessary to motivate Achamian to betray his student, but it doesn’t sit well with Nautzera. Simas disagrees, saying the Consult has taught him that ignorance is a powerful tool. Nautzera counters that knowledge is more powerful. Achamian may run into trouble because he will not be alert. Simas is dismissive, saying Achamian will be careful at the heart of the Thousand Temples.

Simas then asks Nautzera if he has heard the new report. Simas had an uncanny ability to read what troubled Nautzera. Nautzera answered that Parthelsus’s primary informant in Tydonni vanished. Someone is hunting Mandate agents. Simas thinks its the Consult. Nautzera says it could be the Scarlet Spires or the Thousand Temples. Nautzera thinks Achamian should be warned.

Simas points out that their enemy is to timid or canny to strike directly at them. Achamian befriends his agents. He is weak. If he knew that Atyersus has been infiltrated and his contacts may be hunted, he would hesitate. Nautzera agrees that Achamian is weak, but it is Mandate policy to give autonomy to field agents, to trust their judgment. It doesn’t sit well with Nautzera denying Achamian knowledge that could save his life.

Simas answers that they have struck the right balance of with Achamian and points out he was right that Inrau’s defection would be useful. Simas asks Nautzera to trust him and says they have arduous tasks. Despite the Dreams, a Mandate Schoolman had turned traitor.

My Thoughts

Achamian doubts of his abilities are revealed through how self-conscience he is of his appearance. Because of the hardships of travel he has the appearance of a lowborn laborer instead of a noble sorcerer.

Unlike the Scarlet Spire which are ruled by a Grandmaster, the Mandate have a Quorum of presumably elder Schoolman. This gives a more democratic feel to the Mandate. Achamian stands up to the Quorum and only risks censure for his crime of allowing Inrau to defect, but not for objecting against the leadership.

Achamian loyalty to Inrau, his student, is one of Achamian’s best trait. Being a teacher is what Achamian is best suited for, he loves it. The Quorum uses Achamian’s love to compel him to turn Inrau to a spy is a low blow on their part.

The shadow of the Apocalypse covers everything the Mandate do. Like all fanatics, they will do reprehensible acts for the greater good. Achamian yearning to be just a man is understandable with the looming mission of turning innocent Inrau to spy on his own religion.

The scene between Nautzera and Simas is interesting. During the Quorum scene Simas is presented as Achamian’s ally and friend, Nautzera as the enemy. Yet all the decisions to lie to Achamian about his mission, to warn him that someone is murdering their informant, come from Simas. Despite his dislike of Achamian, Nautzera doesn’t want him going into a serpent’s nest unprepared. However, Simas reasoning appears sound, but there is something sinister about the old man. Maybe the fact that his caring routine is just subterfuge. Nautzera puts it as “the man [Simas] was as shrewd as he is devoid of sentiment.”

Also, interesting that Simas eyesight has not diminished with age.

This chapter does a great job setting up Achamian’s arc for the book. We saw in the last chapter the abomination killing Achamian’s newest recruit. And now we learn this is going on everywhere. The Consult, or another faction, has dangerous servants working for them. Something supernatural. And they war with the Mandate. Worse, they have a spy. Someone is feeding them information. Someone on the Quorum of which we only met two—Simas and Nautzera. And we had a POV from Nautzera.

It’s suspicious from a literary position. It is always possible an unnamed traitor is responsible or the Consult has another way of divining the Mandate’s agents. Until then, I would keep my eye on Simas.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Three!

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Review: Voices in Crystal (Children of Stone 1)

Voices in Crystal (Children of Stone 1)

by Mary R. Woldering

Reviewed by JMD Reid

B00OIYF39M.01.LZZZZZZZIn the 2500s BC, two men of drastically different background, separated by culture and geography, are linked by one event. The arrival of the Children of the Stone. Marai, a Semetic shepherd living in the shadow of Mount Sinai, prays to the Goddess Inanna like he has done every night since the death of his wife in childbirth many years ago. To the west, the the Land of Kemet (Ancient Egypt), Hordjedtef, one of the sons of Pharaoh Khufu (the guy who was buried in the Great Pyramid at Giza) studies with a wise priest, his bid to become the next Pharaoh failed.

Falling from another world, the consciousness of powerful beings arrive to the bronze age Middle East. Though Hordjedtef and his master sense the arrival of the Children, they are not the ones chosen to bear their knowledge. That falls to humble Marai. Called out of his prayers, Marai finds the fallen rock. When he enters it, he will never be the same.

Marai is charged to bring the knowledge to Hordjedtef by the Children. But will Hordjedtef respect the power or will he crave it for himself. Marai, joined by three women each broken in their own way, travels west to Kemet where he hopes he will find his destiny.

Voices in Crystal is a Historical Fantasy. It is set in our world, amid the mythology of the Akkadians, Sumerians, and Ancient Egyptians but with real, supernatural powers. It is well researched, illuminating the often harsh way of life of the bronze age near east along with the esoteric splendor that Kemet (Egypt) achieved. Though the novel took me a while to read (I kept being distracted by other books) the tale of Marai and the three women called me back over and over.

I greatly enjoyed the book, and while it has flaws, it kept me reading to the end, eager to find out more. And the ending left had me on the edge of my seat. I will definitely read book 2. If you’re a fan of mythology, Ancient Egypt, the bronze age, the mystery religions, or looking for a different story then what gluts the fantasy and historical markets, pick up Voice in Crystal.

You can buy Voices in Crystal on Amazon!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter One

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The Sorcerer
Chapter 1
Carythusal

Welcome to Chapter One of my reread. Click here if you missed the Prologue!

There are three, and only three, kinds of men in the world: cynics, fanatics and Mandate Schoolmen.

—Ontillas, On the Folly of Men

The author has often observed that in the genesis of great events, men generally posses no inkling of what their actions portend. This problem is not, as one might suppose, a result of men’s blindness to the consequences of their actions. Rather it is a result of the mad way the dreadful turns on the trivial when the ends of one man cross the ends of another. The Schoolmen of the Scarlet Spires have an old saying: “When one man chases a hare, he finds a hare. But when many men chase a hare, they find a dragon.” In the prosecution of competing human interests, the result is always unknown, and all too often terrifying.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

Thoughts

Cynicism and fanaticism are opposite sides of the coin of belief. Mandate Schoolmen straddle both sides. Fanatical in their belief of the consult. Because the greater Three Seas ridicule them and their mission, cynicism has set in. Like the old saying that every cynic is a disillusion romantic.

History is full of examples of the consequences of actions. The assassination of Duke Ferdinand set off WWI. The Serbian separatist that assassinated him just wanted independence from Austria. WWI ended the German Empire (the Second Reich), caused the downfall of the Romanovs, and the rise of the Soviet Union. I absolutely love the quote from the Scarlet Spire (who were about to meet in the story). Humans by themselves can be rational and intelligent, but in groups we feed upon each other, echoing each others thoughts. Groupthink can be a dangerous beast.

Midwinter, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Carythusal

We are introduced to Drusas Achamian: Mandate Schoolman (sorcerer) and spy. He is in the city of Carythusal, capital of High Ainon, and home of the rival sorcerer school, the Scarlet Spires. In a tavern in Carythusal, he is slowly recruiting Geshruuni, Captain of the Javreh. The Javreh are the warrior-slaves of the Scarlet Spire. Out of the blue, Geshruuni states he knows Achamian is a spy.

Achamian tries to bluff Geshruuni but his momentary hesitation when he is called a Schoolman betrays him. Geshruuni speculates on what School had sent Achamian. The Imperial Saik, the Mysunai, or the Mandate. Geshruuni wagers of Achamian of being a Mandate. Achamian, now terrified of being caught by the Scarlet Spire, prepares to unleash his sorcery, not caring of the consequences. Geshruuni reaches into his tunic and Achamian realizes it is too late to use sorcery. Geshruuni produces his Chorae. All sorcerer’s could feel a Chorae’s unnatural presence, and Achamian had used Geshruuni’s to identify him as the Javreh Captain.

Chorae. Schoolmen called them Trinkets. Small names are often given to horrifying things. But for other men, those who followed the Thousand Temples in condemning sorcery as blasphemy, they were called Tears of God. But the God had no hand in their manufacture. Chorae were relics of the Ancient North, so valuable that only the marriage of heirs, murder, or the tribute of entire nations could purchase them. They were worth the price: Chorae rendered their bearers immune to sorcery and killed any sorcerer unfortunate enough to touch them.

Geshruuni grabs Achamian’s hand and holds the Chorae over it. Geshruuni calls the Scarlet Spires as ruthless and cruel to their enemies and servants alike. Achamian asks what Geshruuni wants and he answers “What all men want, Akka. Truth.”

Death poised between the callused fingers of a slave. But Achamian was a Schoolman, and for Schoolmen nothing, not even life itself, was as precious as the Truth. They were its miserly keepers, and they warred for its possession across all the shadowy grottoes of the three Seas. Better to die than to yield Mandate truth to the Scarlet Spires.

Achamian sees no Schoolmen in the crowd. Sorcerers can see other sorcerer’s by the bruise of their crimes against reality. Realizing Geshruuni is playing his own game, Achamian confesses to being a spy for the Mandate School. Geshruuni releases Achamian and agrees to spy for the Mandate against his masters.

Achamian muses on being a spy. As the son of a poor Nroni fisherman he never even knew the word spy. As a youth he was identified as one of the Few (a sorcerer) and taken to Atyersus by the Mandate School for training. Chosen as one of their spies, Achamian has crisscrossed the Three Seas and seen many things. Far away places were no longer exotic to Achamian. Nobles, Emperor and Kings seemed as base as lesser men. He had educated princes, insulted grandmasters, and infuriated Shrial priests. Now in his middle years, Achamian has grown weary of being a spy and sorcerer.

Achamian is perplex and dismayed by his meeting with Geshruuni instead of feeling elated at recruiting such a well-placed spy. Geshruuni, motivated by vengeance, told him potent secrets of the Scarlet Spires. Geshruuni penetrated Achamian’s disguise because he was to free with his money, unlike the merchant Achamian pretended to be.

Achamian is alarmed to find out the Scarlet Spire has been at war. The schools skirmished with spies, assassinations, and diplomacy all the time. However, this war was different. Ten years ago, Grandmaster Sasheoka was assassinated in the inner sanctums of the Scarlet Spire. Despite possessing the Abstraction of the Gnosis, the most powerful school of sorcery, the Mandate School could not have succeed at the task. Geshruuni reveals the Cishaurim, the heathen school of the Fanim, were responsible.

There was a saying common to the Three Seas: “Only the Few can see the Few.” Sorcery was violent. To speak it was tot cut the world as surely as if with a knife. But only the Few—sorcerers–could see this mutilation, and only they could see, moreover, the blood on the hands of the mutilator-the “mark,” as it was called.

Not so with the Cishaurim. No one knew why or how, but they worked events as grand and as devastating as any sorcery without marking the world or bearing the mark of their crimes.

Unable to see the Cishaurim as one of the few, they would easily be able to enter the Scarlet Spire. Now hounds trained to smell the dye of Cishaurim robes patrol the halls. Achamian is confused what would possess the Cishaurim to declare war on the largest, most powerful School. Geshruuni can only shrug. No one knows.

Geshruuni questions his decision to betray the Scarlet Spire as we walks home. He finds gossiping like a woman did not satisfy his desire for revenge. He laments his status as a slave and wishes he could be a conqueror. Despite being drunk, Geshruuni realizes he is being followed and beings plotting “scenario after bloody scenario” for the presumed thief.

Geshruuni ambushes his stalker, and is surprised to see a fat man from the tavern and not a footpad. Thinking it is a Scarlet Spire Schoolman, Geshruuni throws his Chorae to kill the man. The man catches the Chorae and doesn’t die. The fat man reveals he was following Achamian and berates Geshruuni, repeatedly calling him slave and ordering him to heel like a dog. Geshruuni grabs the man and pulls a knife, threatening to kill him. The next thing Geshruuni knows is pain in his arm and he drops the knife. Geshruuni goes for his sword and the fat man slaps him hard. The fat man continues slapping and berating Geshruuni, his voice sounding more and more inhuman. Finally, Geshruuni is struck so hard he falls to his knees.

“What are you?” Geshruuni cried through bloodied lips.

As the shadow of the of the fat man encompassed him, Geshruuni watched his round face loosen, then flex as tight as a beggar’s hand about copper. Sorcery. But how could it be? He holds a Chorae—

“Something impossibly ancient,” the abomination said softly. “Inconceivably beautiful.”

After meeting with Geshruuni, Achamian returned to the hovel he stayed at, went to bed and dreamed. Every night, Mandate Schoolmen dream scenes from the life of Seswatha. Seswatha fought the No-God during the Apocalypse and founded that last Gnostic School, the Mandate. In the dream, part of Achamian knows he witnesses events 2000 yeas old, but part of him was Seswatha. The Mandate call this particular dream the Death and Prophecy of Anasûrimbor Celmomas.

Anasûrimbor Celmomas, the last High King of Kûniüri, has fallen before a Sranc chieftain. Seswatha kills the Sranc with sorcery and goes to the dying king’s side. In the distant, a dragon flies over the field of battle. Seswatha knows Kûniüri has fallen. With the help of a Trysë knight, they drag the dying king from the battlefield.

Seswatha pleads with Celmomas not to die. Seswatha believes without the High King, the world will end and the No-God will win. As Celmomas dies he has a vision. The gods have not abandoned men to the No-God, his darkness is not all encompassing. The burden to defeat him falls to Seswatha.

Celmomas asks Seswatha to forgiven him for being a stubborn fool. For being unjust to Seswatha. Seswatha forgives him. Celmomas asks if he’ll see his dead son in the afterlife. “As his father, and as his king.” Seswatha answers. With pride, Celmomas talks about the time his son stole into the deepest pits of Golgotterath. Celmomas’s vision continues, and he sees his son riding through the sky. Celmomas’s son speaks to him.

“He says … says such sweet things to give me comfort. He says that one of my seed will return, Seswatha—an Anasûrimbor will return …” A shudder wracked the old man, forcing breath and spittle through his teeth.

“At the end of the world.”

The bright eyes of Anasûrimbor Celmomas II, White Lord of Trysë, High King of Kûniüri, went blank. And with them, the evening sun faltered, plunging the bronze-armored glory of the Norsirai into twilight.

Achamian awakens and weeps for a long dead king. In the distant he can hear a dog or a man howling.

Geshruuni has been tortured by the abomination. He told the abomination everything and now the thing drags him towards the river. He panics. Geshruuni asks why, he told the abomination everything. The abomination answers: “the Mandate have many eyes and we have much plucking to do.” The abomination throws Geshruuni into the river where he drowns.

The next morning, when Achamian awakes, he writes in his dream journal about the latest Seswatha dream. He dreamed of the Ford of Tywanrae (the same), the Burning of the Library of Sauglish (different, he saw his face not Seswatha’s in a mirror), and the Prophecy of Celmomas. At first he rights same, but scratches it out and writes, “Different. More powerful.”

Achamian questions his own fixation on recording the dreams. Men have been driving mad trying to decode the permutations of Seswatha’s dreams. For a moment, Achamian has a panic attack of still being on the battlefield. Despite the defeat of the No-God, Seswatha knew the conflict wasn’t over. The Sclyvendi and the Sranc still existed. Golgotterath remained and the Consult, servants of the No-God, still ruled there. So that the memory of the Apocalypse would never fade, Seswatha’s followers would get to relive it.

Achamian next uses the Cants of Calling to communicate with Atyersus, the citadel of the Mandate. His handlers are disinterested in the secret war and instead summon Achamian home. Achamian is surprised and ask why. They answer it involves the Thousand Temples. Cynically, Achamian thinks of one more meaningless mission as he packs up his belongings.

Unlike the other Great Factions of the Three Seas, who vied for tangible ends, the Mandate warred against the Consult. But for 300 years, no sign of the Consult had been found ,and the Mandate waged a war without a foe. This has made the Mandate the laughingstock of the Three Seas. Now the Mandate was adrift without purpose, filling the time with pointless actions like spying of the Scarlet Spire. Achamian is hopeful that this sudden mission to the Thousand Temples will have real purpose.

My Thoughts

Achamian is an unusual protagonist in the genre of fantasy. Middle-aged and burned out at his job. He is world weary instead of the fresh-eyed youth (which Kellhus in the prologue almost is until you realize he is a man without emotions). We meet Achamian just as he underestimates the intelligence of Geshruuni. This is not the first dangerous situation Achamian has been in and it shows. While he panics internally, externally he continues his ruse as a merchant out drinking. We even see Achamian resolve when he thinks faces death or betrayal of his order and he chooses death.

When Geshruuni instead spares Achamian, Bakker compares being a spy to being a whore. Bakker uses this analogy a lot with Achamian. To be successful both must play a role. They have to adapt quickly, putting on the right performance to manipulate. Both must be good judges of character. Grave misjudgment can end badly for both the spy and the prostitute, particularly when no legal or social conventions protect them.

Achamian is unnerved by his underestimation of Geshruuni. By no skill of his own, Achamian uncovered powerful knowledge. But had Geshruuni been loyal to his masters, Achamian would be facing torture and death. Achamian has questions and worries about both his ability and his mission that will continue to haunt him going forward.

And poor Geshruuni. The abomination strips Geshruuni of his bravado with a few slaps. And for nothing. The Mandate aren’t really interested in his grand secret. They care so little, they have summoned Achamian away for a more important mission.

I’ll have more to say on the abominations when we learn more about them. Clearly, they are enemies of the Mandate. But if the Consult hasn’t been active for 300 years, maybe its because they were working on new, devious plans to continue their ancient war.

The Seswatha dreams are some of my favorite parts of the series. I love the glimpse Bakker gives us of the Apocalypse, showing us the consequences if the Mandate’s war against the Consult is lost. It wouldn’t be epic fantasy without apocalyptic prophecies. After Achamian awakens, he fanatically writes in his dream diary while cynically questioning the purpose in deciphering those dreams. He walks that line of fanaticism to follow and understand Seswatha’s life and the cynicism brought along by years of pointless, frivolous busy work.

Bakker drops such interesting tidbits about his world, seeding both the backstory and the past. At once he sets up the political maneuvering that will dominate the rest of the book and explains how his sorcery works, the differences between the schools, and why the Fanim Cishaurim are so feared by other sorcerers. He is building the foundation that the entire Prince of Nothing Series rests upon. Why did the Cishaurim assassinate Sasheoka? What are the Consult up to? Who are the abominations? And what is so important about the Thousand Temple?

The prophecy is very interesting. An Anasûrimbor shall return. But which one? We know Moënghus went ahead of Kellhus. He lurks somewhere in the three seas. Is he the one prophecy speaks of, or is Kellhus who is even know making his way across the sranc-infested wilderness.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Two!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Prologue

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Prologue

The Wastes of Kûniüri

If you missed out on the introduction to the series, click here.

Section 1

It is only after that we understand what has come before, then we understand nothing. Thus we shall define the soul as follows: that which precedes everything.”

—Ajencis, the Third Analytic of Men

My thoughts

darkness-that-comes-beforeBakker opens every chapter with quotes from various fictitious philosophers, historians, or folk sayings of his world. To me, Ajencis is saying the cause of man’s actions is the soul. To understand men’s actions we need to understand the soul. Another reference, I believe, to the title of the book. The cause that comes out of the “darkness” is the soul.

Bakker is a philosopher in the field of human consciousness (read his treaties on thought, they are dense and make my head spin), in his series the soul is a very real phenomenon that he will explore over the course of the books.

2147 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Mountains of Demua

 The prologue begins in the citadel of Ishuäl. Months earlier, High King Anasûrimbor Ganrelka II fled here with the remnants of his household. Here they thought they would be safe and survive the end of the world. They were wrong.

“The citadel of Ishuäl succumbed during the height of the Apocalypse. But no army of inhuman Sranc had scaled its ramparts. No furnace-hearted dragon had pulled down its might gates. Ishuäl was the secret refuge of the Kûniüric High Kings, and no one, not even the No-God, could besiege a secret.”

Ganrelka was the first to die of plague. Followed by his concubine and her daughter. It burned though the fortress, claiming the lives of mighty knights, viziers, and servants. Only Ganrelka’s bastard son and a Bardic Priest survived.

The boy hid from the Bard, terrified of his strange manner and one white eye. The Bard pursued the boy and one night caught him. Crying and pleading for forgiveness, the Bard raped the boy. Afterward the Bard mumbled, “There are no crimes, when no one is left alive.” Five nights later, the boy pushed the Bard from the walls. “Was it murder when no one was left alive?”

Winter came and wolves howled in the forest beyond the walls. The boy survived alone in the fortress. When the snows broke, the boy heard shouts at the gate and found a group of refugees of the Apocalypse. The refugees scaled the walls and the boy hid in the fortress. Eventually, one of the refugees found him.

With a voice neither tender nor harsh, he said: “We are Dûnyain, child. What reason could you have to fear us?”

But the boy clutched his father’s sword, crying, “So long as men live, there are crimes!”

The man’s eyes filled with wonder. “No, child,” he said. “Only so long as men are deceived.”

For a moment, the young Anasûrimbor could only stare at him. The solemnly, he set aside his father’s sword and took the stranger’s hand. “I was a prince,” he mumbled.

The boy was brought to the refugees and together they celebrated. In Ishuäl they had found shelter against the end of the worlds. The Dûnyain buried the dead with their jewels and fine clothes, destroyed the sorcerous runes on the walls, and burned the Grand Vizier’s books. “And the world forgot them for two thousand years.

Thoughts

“One cannot raise walls against what has been forgotten.” Bakker opens the book with a warning about the need to remember. The importance of keeping and remembering history is a prevalent theme in the series. From the Dûnyain deliberately forgetting about the outside world, to the world forgetting about the Apocalypse. And, of course, the world forgetting about the Dûnyain for two thousand years.

Bakker then starts to give us hints of the Apocalypse that dominates the rest of the series. Of cities burning, dragons, and inhuman Sranc. This Apocalypse is so terrible that not just any king, but a High King has fled it and written off the world as lost. Now just hopes to survive. And finally the sadness that even in this refuge, they almost all die anyway.

Bakker displays in this section his ability to paint events in a historical context. His books change from the tight focus, limited third person POV common in most of Fantasy today, allowing you to get into the thoughts of a single character in any scene to vast, more omniscient third person sections where he tells the events of the story almost as a bard reciting the story of history. Not a dry text book, but a vibrant story that keeps you interested.

In the description of Ganrelka’s retainers as they die, we get hints about the world and the Apocalypse. Bakker doesn’t dump his world building on us, but teases us with names that are almost familiar. The five Knights of Tyrsë who saved Ganrelka’s after the catastrophe on the Fields of Eleneöt. The Grand Vizier who dies upon sorcerous text. Ganrelka’s unnamed uncle, “who led the heartbreaking assault on Golgotterath’s gate.” Golgotterath resembles Golgatha where Jesus was crucified. When I read this name, I always picture something like the Black Gate of Mordor with skulls.

Bakker is skilled at using the familiar trappings of Fantasy, whose modern roots extend from Tolkien It roots the reader in the familiar while his style and story clearly deviates from anything you would read in Lord of the Rings.

Without showing us a single scene of the Apocalypse, Bakker still conveys the horror of it. After showing large scale horror, Bakker narrows his focus to the Boy. Left alone, he is preyed upon by an adult. Nietzsche’s philosophy at work here. Humans are selfish creatures who pursue their own desires and its only the fear of the consequences that keep us from acting upon all of them. Whether fear of a higher power, fear of a temporal power, or just the fear of the opinion of others. Once those are removed, there are no crimes any longer.

And finally, the Dûnyain arrive. Another group of refugees who fled the Apocalypse. The Dûnyain have rejected the gods. They deliberately destroy there history and anything connected to the supernatural. They bury all the wealth and trappings of power. They have survived the Apocalypse and decide to reject the former world they come from. As they say, “Here awareness most holy could be tended.”

Section 2

Nonmen, Sranc, and Men:

The first forgets,

The third regrets,

And the second has all of the fun.

Ancient Kûniüri nursery rhyme

This is a history of a great and tragic holy war, of the mighty factions that sought to possess and pervert it, and of a son searching for his father. And as with all histories, it is we, the survivors, who will write its conclusion.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My thoughts

These two quotes began the second, much longer part of the prologue. Nonmen is one my favorite names for the “elf” race in a fantasy series. It also informs us about the most important part of a Nonman, they forget. Regret is definitely a large part of being human. And of course, Sranc just want to have fun—and by fun I mean murder and brutal rape.

The second quote is from a book written after the events of the Prince of Nothing trilogy and gives us a plot summary of what the overt plot Prince of Nothing series is about. The First Holy War is the obvious story, the one on which the true story hides in the shadows. The Compendium is written by Achamian, one of the main characters, and often a segment is before each chapter, teasing you about events that are up coming. The downside is you never can believe Achamian is in real danger because he has to survive the Holy War to write about it. But it does serve to keep you reading.

Now who is the son? Well, we’re about to find out.

Late Autumn, 4109 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Mountains of Demua

The section begins with dreams coming to a group of men. Dreams of clashes of culture, glimpses of history, and of a holy city—Shimeh. A voice “thin as though spoken through the reed of a serpent, saying ‘Send to me my son.‘” The dreamers follow the protocol they established after the first dream and meet in the Thousand Thousand Hall and decided that such desecration could not be tolerated.

The narrative shifts to Anasûrimbor Kellhus, transitioning to a limited, third person POV. He is on a mountain trail looking back at the monastic citadel of Ishuäl. He sees the elder Dûnyain abandoning their vigil. These Elders have been polluted by the dreams sent by Kellhus’ father. The Elders would die in the great Labyrinth beneath Ishuäl.

Kellhus has been sent alone on a mission. As he descends into the wilderness of Kûniüri, he wonders how many vistas he would cross before seeing his father at Shimeh. As he enters the forest he finds himself unnerved. He attempts to regain his composure using “ancient techniques to impose discipline on his intellect.” He wonders if this is the first trial. Kellhus is awed by the beauty of the natural world. “How could water taste so sweet. How could sunlight, broken across the back of rushing water, be so beautiful?

What comes before determines what comes after. Dûnyain monks spent their lives immersed in the study of this principle, illuminating the intangible mesh of cause and effect that determined every happenstance and meaning all that was wild and unpredictable. Because of this, events always unfolded with granitic certainty in Ishuäl. More often than not, one knew the skittering course a leaf would take through the terrace groves. More often than not, one knew what another would say before he spoke. To grasp what came before was to know what would come after. And to know what would come after was the beauty stilled, the hallowed communion of intellect and circumstance—the gift of the Logos.

This mission was Kellhus’s first surprise. His childhood was strict ritual, study, and conditioning. Out of Ishuäl he is constantly barraged by new sights, sensations, and creatures. His mind, trained to drink in stimuli in the controlled environment of his home, is overwhelmed by the chaos of the natural world. For more than a month he wanders south through the foothills of Demua. He stops talking care of himself or his gear as the endless walk continues. On his 43rd day he comes across an immense valley dotted with ruins.

Kellhus explores the ruins. They are ancient, overgrown by the forest. Kellhus wanders who were the men who built this place. Bending to drink from a pool, he sees his unshaven face reflected in the water

Is this me?

He studied the squirrels and those birds he could pick from the dim confusion of the trees. Once he glimpsed a fox slipping through the brush.

I am not one more animal.

His intellect flailed, found purchase, and grasped. He could sense wild cause sweep around him in statistical tides. Touch him and leave him untouched.

I am a man. I stand apart from these things.

As evening waxed, it began to rain. Through branches he watched the clouds build chill and gray. For the first time in weeks, he sought shelter.

Kellhus continues his journey but his supplies begin to dwindle. He set out with as much as he could carry. Hunger and exposure begin to take their toll of Kellhus. The snows come and Kellhus could finally walk no farther. “The way is to narrow, Father. Shimeh to far.”

Kellhus is found by a trapper named Leweth and his sled dogs. Kellhus is half buried by the snow and barely alive. Leweth takes Kellhus to his home and cares for him through the winter.

Neither Kellhus or Leweth speak the same language. Kellhus picks up the basics and begins to communicate with Leweth. Kellhus learns he is the lands of Sobel, the northernmost province of the ancient city of Atrithau. Sobel has been abandoned for generations, but Leweth prefers the isolation.

Though Leweth was a sturdy man of middle years, for Kellhus he was little more than a child. The fine musculature of his face was utterly untrained, bound as though by strings to his passions. Whatever moved Leweth’s soul moved his expression as well, and after a short time Kellhus needed only to glance at his face to know his thoughts. The ability to anticipate his thoughts, to re-enact the movements of Leweth’s soul as though they were his own, would come later.

A routine forms between the two men, with Kellhus helping with chores to “earn his keep.” Kellhus studies Leweth during this time and learns that through small labors Leweth learned patience. The only times his hands were still was when he slept or was drunk. Leweth would drink all day, and by the end become drunk. While Kellhus learned much from observing drunk Leweth, he decides a sober Leweth would be more useful. While Leweth is passed out, Kellhus dumps out all his whiskey.

After Leweth’s painful detox, they discuss old pains. Leweth came to the wilderness after the death of his wife in Atrithau. Kellhus observes that Leweth pretends to morn to secure pity. Leweth lies to himself about why he came out here. That Atrithau reminds him or his wife. He even believes his family and neighbors secretly hated her and are glad she is dead. This forced Leweth to flee to the forest.

Why does he [Leweth] deceive himself this way?

“No soul moves alone through the world, Leweth. Our every though stems from the thoughts of others. Our every word is but a repetition of words spoken before. Every time we listen, we allow the movements of another soul to carry our own.” He paused, cutting short his reply in order to bewilder the man. Insight struck with so much more force when it clarified confusion. “This is truly why you fled to Sobel, Leweth.”

Leweth fled Sobel so he could hold onto the ways his wife moved his soul—he fled to remember. Kellhus confronts Leweth with this truth. Kellhus does this to posses Leweth, but lies and says its because Leweth has suffered enough. They argue, but because Kellhus can predict Leweth’s reaction, he guides the argument in his own favor. In the end, Leweth breaks down and cries.

“I know it hurts, Leweth. Release from anguish can be purchased only through more anguish.” So much like a child …

“W-what should I do?” the trapper wept. “Kellhus … Please tell me!”

Thirty years, Father. What power you must wield over men such as this.

And Kellhus, his bearded face warm with firelight and compassion, answered. “No one’s soul moves alone, Leweth. When one love dies, one must learn to love another.”

Once Leweth regains his composure, the continue their conversation. Through his Dûnyain training, Kellhus could control the “legion of faces” that live within him. He can fake any emotional response with the same ease he can craft words. Pretending to happy and compassionate, Kellhus continues his cold scrutiny of Leweth.

Kellhus is disdainful of Leweth’s superstitions of gods and demons. To Leweth, finding Kellhus was fate. Leweth asks Kellhus why the gods sent him. Kellhus tells him of his mission to find his father Anasûrimbor Moënghus. Moënghus left when Kellhus was a child and has now summoned him to Shimeh. Leweth asks how that is possible since Shimeh is so far away and Kellhus answers through dreams. Leweth thinks sorcery explains the dreams. Kellhus doesn’t think that is possible. He dismiss Leweth’s talk of sorcerers and priests, of witches and demons.

Superstition. Everywhere and in everything, Leweth had confused that which came after with that which came before, confused the effect for the cause. Men came after, so he placed them before and called them “gods” or “demons.” Words came after, so he placed them before and called them “scriptures” or “incantations.” Confined to the aftermath of events and blind to the causes that preceded him, he merely fastened upon the ruin itself, men and the acts of men, as the model of what came before.

But what came before, the Dûnyain had learned, was inhuman.

There must be some other explanation. There is no sorcery.

Leweth tells Kellhus about Shimeh. It is a holy city far to the south in the Three Seas. Leweth doesn’t know much about the nations of the Three Seas since the Sranc controlled the lands of the north save for Atrithau and Sakarpus. What Leweth knows is they were young lands when the north was destroyed by the No-God and the Consult. The only contact between Atrithau and the Three Seas is by a yearly caravan. Shimeh is holy city in the hands of heathens. In Atrithau, Kellhus could secure the means of reaching Shimeh. Only after the trapper tells Kellhus everything, does he let him sleep.

Near the cabin, Kellhus finds an ancient stone stele with runes upon it. In Kellhus’s own language it records the deeds of Anasûrimbor Celmomas II. Kellhus had dismissed Leweth’s talk of the apocalypse as superstition, but the stone proves the world is far older the Dûnyain. On one of these trips he notices strange tracks in the snow.

Kellhus informs Leweth of the tracks, and in horror, Leweth says they are Sranc. Leweth is amazed the Kellhus can be from the north and not no what those tracks mean. Leweth explain the Sranc will eat anything, but they enjoy to hunt men to “calm the madness of their hearts.” The Sranc have found them, and Kellhus and Leweth flee.

A small group Sranc catch them. Kellhus stays to fight the Sranc and tells Leweth to keep fleeing. In amazement, Leweth watches Kellhus charge the Sranc and kill them “like a pale wraith through the drifts.” Then Leweth is injured by an arrow.

Another group of Sranc are killing Leweth’s dogs. Leweth wants to save them but Kellhus grabs his arm and half drags Leweth. Eventually, Leweth’s strength fails him and Kellhus questions him on the way to go to get to safety. Leweth answers and Kellhus abandons Leweth to the Sranc. Leweth sobs in disbelief as he watch Kellhus, a man he has come to love and worship, disappear into the woods. But for the calculating Kellhus, the decision to abandon Leweth is simple—he has no further use for him.

Kellhus leaves the forest and climbs a hill. The Sranc have caught him. Before the ruins of a wall and gate, Kellhus makes his stand. They fired arrows at him. Calmly, he plucks one out of the air and examines it. In a rush they come at him and he “speared the ecstasy from their inhuman faces.”

They could not see that circumstance was holy. They only hungered. He, on the other hand, was one of the Conditioned, Dûnyain, and all events yielded to him.

The Sranc fall back. For a moment they surrounded him and Kellhus faces their menace with tranquility. They flee. One dying on the ground hisses something in an unknown language. Kellhus wanders what these creatures are.

More Sranc come, led by a figure on a horse. The figure wears a cloak stitched with abstract faces. In Kûniüric, the figure praises Kellhus and asks his name. Anasûrimbor Kellhus, he answers. The figure thinks he is being mocked, but then sees the resemblance in Kellhus’s face.

Kellhus studies the figure and realizes the cloak is made from skinned faces, stretched flat and sewn together. The figure is powerfully built, heavily armored, and unafraid. “This one was not like Leweth. Not at all.”

The figure is surprised that a mortal is not afraid of him. Fear is what separates the figure from humans. Kellhus mocks the figure, trying to bait him and is surprised by the figures reaction.

Kellhus’s provocation had been deliberate but had yielded little—or so it seemed at first. The stranger abruptly lowered his obscured face, rolled his head back and forth on the pivot of his chin, muttering, “It baits me! The mortal baits me … It reminds me, reminds …” He began fumbling with his cloak, seized upon a misshape face. “Of this one! Oh, impertinent—what a joy this was! Yes, I remember …” He looked up at Kellhus and hissed, “I remember!”

And Kellhus grasped the first principle of this encounter. A Nonman. Another of Leweth’s myths come true.

The Nonman points to a dead Sranc and says this one was his elju (book). He laments the Sranc’s death, although they are vicious creatures, they are “most…memorable.” Kellhus sees an opening, and presses the Nonman. The Nonman reveals that while the Sranc are their children now, before humans were. He was a companion to the great Norsirai kings and enjoyed the humans childish squabbles (wars). But as time passed, some Nonmen need more exquisite brutality than humans can provide to remember. This is the great curse of the Nonman.

“I am a warrior of ages, Anasûrimbor … ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury.”

“Then why,” Kellhus asked, “raise arms now, against a lone man?”

Laughter. The free hand gestured to the dead Sranc. “A pittance, I agree, but still you would be memorable.

They fight, trading blows. Kellhus fends off the Nonman blows, but his weapon own cannot penetrate the Nonman’s armor. The Nonman is surprised at Kellhus ability. Kellhus sword slashes the Nonman’s chin open. The Nonman is disarmed, on his back, Kellhus sword at his face. Kellhus begins to interrogate the Nonman.

The Nonman speaks a word and Kellhus is thrown back by incandescent. The Nonman rises up into the air. Confronted with sorcery, Kellhus flees into the forest. Behind him are explosions and fire. An unearthly voice yells his name. “RUN, ANASÛRIMBOR! I WILL REMEMBER!” Kellhus runs faster than he had before the Sranc and wonders if sorcery is one of the lessons from his father.

My Thoughts

When we first meet Kellhus he seems like a traditional hero of a fantasy journey. The quintessential character to go on the Campbellian Heroic Journey. A young man leaving home for the first time on a quest who is the unknowing descendant of kings. However, there are differences between Kellhus’s and the Hero’s Journey. While Kellhus has answered the Call of Adventure, he never Refuses the Call. Kellhus upbringing and training have left him with no doubt. This is his mission, and he will accomplish it.

The wilderness is not kind to Kellhus. The isolation and toil reduces Kellhus to a beast with only one thing on his mind: reaching Shimeh. Eventually, Kellhus realizes this and overcomes the Crossing of the First Threshold and becomes a man again.

Kellhus’s time with Leweth is where we see the products of Dûnyain training. They have embraced Nietzsche’s philosophy. These are the übermench he wrote of. They have trained their bodies and minds past the normal human limits. They have made of study of passions and have learned how to control their emotions. Kellhus listens to Leweth’s story about his dead wife and never once feels anything. Neither pity or compassion. Kellhus uses truth to make Leweth his slave and once Leweth is of no further use, abandons him to death without a second thought. The Dûnyain embody the Will to Power and have no morality to temper their methods. Kellhus will do anything to accomplish his mission.

Kellhus is a sociopath. To contrast Leweth and Kellhus: when Leweth first finds Kellhus in the snow, he thinks food for his dogs. Meat was scarce in the north. However, Leweth’s humanity cause him to show Kellhus compassion,. Leweth cares for Kellhus, using his own scarce resources.

We seen more of Kellhus’s abilities against the Sranc. He reminds me a lot of Bene Gesserit of Frank Herbert’s Dune series. Their bodies are so under their control and their ability to read the movement of their enemies makes them almost invincible. Kellhus has a lot similarities to Paul Muad’dib. However, Paul’s abilities was tempered with emotions.

When Kellhus plucks the arrow out of the air, I recognized him as a D&D Monk (it’s a common ability the player class monks get). The setting of these books were originally Bakker’s D&D campaign he created. The Nonmen are elves, the Sranc are orcs, etc. Bakker also draws a lot on Tolkien. I read somewhere on the internet that the Second Apocalypse is Tolkien done with Nietzschean philosophy, and that is not far off. But only in the broad strokes does this series follow the Lord of the Rings. Take the sexual imagery that is used to describe the Sranc. It is the first hint about the nature of their creators.

Finally, Kellhus confronts the Nonman. A race so long lived, they forget, only remembering the bad stuff. No wonder the Nonman (revealed by Bakker to be Mekeritrig) seems slightly mad. You can see the delight the Nonman has at finding such a memorable man as Kellhus. He is really looking forward to the fight.

Bakker’s description of sorcerery is always very minimal and ethereal. He uses phrases like “petals blowing from a palm” and “pale watery light.” The Dûnyain rejection of the supernatural have left Kellhus without the training on how to deal with it. There is no pride that holds back Kellhus decision to flee. It is instantaneous. He has determined he has no chance of winning and the only option is flight. Even then, his mind is still working normally, cataloging the event and shifting his world view. Kellhus has almost died and no fear assails him.

Kellhus is the reason I love this series. He is so different from any character I have read. Everyone of his POV’s is fascinating to read. As you shall see, he is our prophesied hero and his appearance ushers in the end of the world.

But will Kellhus be the one to save it or cause its destruction?

Click here to continue on to Chapter One

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Intro

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Intro

darkness-that-comes-beforeMore than a few years back, I was in the Borders (yep, that far back, I miss you Borders) at the SeaTac Airport killing time before my flight. While browsing the fantasy section, the Darkness that Comes Before caught my eye. I read the description on the back with talk of an apocalyptic past and a gathering crusade. The book promised a mysterious traveler named Anasûrimbor Kellhus. I was hooked. I bought the book on the spot and devoured it on my trip. I have since come to love the Prince of Nothing Trilogy and its sequel the Aspect Emperor Trilogy. Together these two series plus a third as yet written series form the greater Second Apocalypse meta-series.

R. Scott Bakker is a controversial author. His books are deep in the genre of modern fantasy called Grimdark. And that is what it is. He has created a world whose roots mankind struggles to rise from. It is not a pleasant place. Very few people are allowed the luxury of agency, and those tend to be men. Like most of human history, women hold little power in his series. He is accused of misogyny. There will be no female character bootstrapping feminism and rising above the shackles placed upon her.

But calling his books misogyny is missing the point. R. Scott Bakker is showing just how bad humans can get. He is also writing this towards men, not to show them treating women is bad but to illuminate some of the darker aspects of male fantasy and thoughts while at the same time showcasing the misery most of human kind has toiled under through most of our history. If anything, I would say the books are more misandrist. The every man a rapist trope is almost a reality in this series.

But there is still hope and light to be found.

With the third book of the Aspect Emperor Trilogy, the Great Ordeal (formally titled the Unholy Consult), release approaching in July I felt the need to reread the series in preparation. Of course, there is no way for me to even hope to catch up before the release, but I’ll give it a valiant try. This is a repost of a blog series I never finished from four years ago on my original blog, the ReReid blog (see, I was trying to be clever). But no one ever visited my blog so after several months, well, my interest wained.

So without further ado, let’s dive into the Darkness that Comes Before.

SPOILOR WARNING: Please read the book before any of these posts. This is intended for those who have read the books. I will discuss both the events of the chapter and even their ramification for future events.

Bakker opens the book with a quote. Not a fictitious quote from his own setting, but a quote of the German philosopher Nietzsche.

“I shall never tire of underlining a concise little fact which those superstitious people are loath to admit—namely, that a thought comes when ‘it’ wants, not when ‘I’ want…”

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

My Thoughts

Philosophy is a large part of the Second Apocalypse and Bakker starting the series with a quote of Nietzsche informs us of one of the major themes he will explore in the series. Nietzsche was an atheist who promoted the philosophy that without God there is no moral authority upon man. Nietzsche believed in ideas like “self-consciousness,” “knowledge,” “truth,” and “free will” were inventions of moral consciousness. Nietzsche believed the “will to power” explained all human behavior.

According to Nietzsche, the will to power illuminated all human ambition—the drive to succeed, and reaching the highest position in life. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche writes, “Even the body within which individuals treat each other as equals…will have to be an incarnate will to power, it will strive to grow, spread, seize, become predominant—not from any morality or immorality but because it is living and because life simply is will to power.”

The quote that Bakker opens his book is quite clear that we human have no control over the origin of our thoughts. This idea is directly related to the title of the book and one of the overarching themes of the series—the Illusion of Free Will.

If you haven’t gotten bored yet, click her for the Prologue

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Sailing over the Skyrift

Sailing over the Skyrift

by JMD Reid

 

Here’s is my addition to the Story Hop Blog Tour. Sailing over the Skyrift is a short tale taken from the history of my Above the Storm Fantasy series. It is a world of floating islands and flying ships over an ever churning storm. Join Xostrial, a scholar and member of a bird-like race, as she seeks to discover the secrets of the skyrifts. If you want to read more entries, click here!

The Neta Skyrift, 313 VF (1874 SR)

TheStoryHopLogoXostrial stood on the stern deck as the Uastraes hurtled towards the Neta Skyrift at full sail, the fierce winds propelling the wooden sky ship at breakneck speeds. The sleek, Soweral rake’s crimson sails billowed behind the combined force of two Windwardens. A third Windwarden stood ready to ward the Uastraes from the violent winds of the skyrift. The trio of Windwardens, individuals blessed by Riasruo the sun goddess with the Blessing of Major Wind, were tied securely to the railing of the stern deck of the Uastraes near Xostrial, their beaks tight with concentration.

And fear.

Xostrial buzzed with excitement. Like the rest of the crew, she was a bird-like Luastria of the Soweral flock. She stood shorter than a human, her delicate, gray-feathered body cloaked in a thick, brown robe. Two ropes bound her waist, cinching her robe and irritating her feathers beneath. The scholar held a wax writing slate in one wing. The distal feathers—five prehensile feathers found in a Luastria’s wings between their flight feathers—gripped a bone writing stylus, ready to scrawl her notes into the impressionable wax as the Uastraes flew over the skyrift.

No one in the history of the skies had ever flown over one.

Sensible captains avoided skyrifts, giving them a wide berth as they sailed over the Storm Below. The Storm was far below. The Uastraes flew at the height of her altitude ceiling, the air thin, increasing Xostrial’s light-headed excitement. Xostrial hoped the high altitude would counteract the sucking winds found at the edges of a skyrift. Her heart fluttered in her chest, and her talons dug into the iron oak planks.

“Brace,” chirped Captain Dwaifeed, her head snapping around in quick jerks as she scanned the deck of her sailing ship. Her eyes twinkled with excitement. Captain Dwaifeed was not a sensible captain. “Every hen and drake stay secure. We make history today.”

It had taken Xostrial three years to find a captain willing to entertain her proposal. Xostrial studied the mysterious skyrifts. They were strange anomalies. Only five were known to exist in the entirety of the skies. They were breaks in the ever-churning Storm, the vast blanket of angry clouds created two thousand years ago by the Goddess Theisseg to cover the world and block her sister’s sun from the mythical ground.

But Riasruo had raised the skylands and created a new way of life for her chosen children to live above the Storm, thwarting Theisseg’s petty cruelty.

But in these five rare spots, rifts had formed, sucking air down into the Storm. The skyrifts were surrounded by dangerous winds. Clouds were drawn in, forming vast walls of boiling gray rushing down into the Storm. The rifts could be leagues wide. Xostrial’s careful measurements had shown they were widest in their centers and then tapered into points at their edges.

What caused them? Xostrial hoped today’s flight would answer that question.

“We’re almost there,” she chirped, staring at the gray cloud wall.

“Windwardens, ready,” Captain Dwaifeed sang.

The Windwardens were crucial. They not only charged the Uastraes engine, allowing the ship to fly, but they conjured the breezes that propelled the ship. A Windwarden could also protect a ship, deflecting winds away from it.

But could a Windwarden stop the force of the descending column of air ahead?

Fear and excitement warred in Xostrial’s gizzard as the skyrifts roar grew louder and louder. A tumultuous cacophony of sounds assaulted her ears, drowning out Dwaifeed’s commanding chirps. Xostrial, on the corner of the stern, leaned over the railing to peer down the side of the ship.

The Storm Below was a vast carpet of dark gray striated with ever-changing patterns of near-blacks and paler ash. The clouds boiled and crashed together. But at the edge of the skyrift, the Storm’s clouds undulated almost like waves washing on the shore of a lake.

The wall of gray rushing down approached. Soweral rakes were the fastest ships in the sky, and this one flew without cargo. Xostrial hoped the speed and altitude would allow them to punch through the narrow edge near the end of the Neta Skyrift.

She trembled, clutching onto her wax writing board. She took in a final breath through her beak. Every feather on her body stood up. Her talons dug deeper into the planks. The captain would be angry at the damage, but Xostrial was too scared by their impending clash with nature to fear the captain’s chirps.

The wall loomed over the ship. It filled Xostrial’s vision. Her gizzard churned around her stone. She wanted to retch it up. The bow of the ship knifed for the wall. The roar was so loud it threatened to crush her.

The edge of the Windwarden’s influence struck the skyrift. The gray clouds parted like a stone outcropping jutting through the flow of a waterfall. Hope relaxed Xostrial’s gizzard for one moment as the spar of the ship entered the skyrift. The bubble widened, clearing space for the ship’s two masts and wide spars to enter.

And then the ship shuddered. The winds hammered at the bubble of calm. The clouds pressed in on it. In heartbeats, the entire ship had penetrated the skyrift. Around Xostrial, angry winds reached for the ship. The masts waved and the hull groaned beneath her talons.

The cloud wall was thick. She glanced up at the masts. They waved and flexed. The rigging creaked and the sails snapped. Downdrafts burst through the Windwarden’s controls, crashing across the ship and sending errant gusts swirling across the deck and the crew.

Captain Dwaifeed chirped at Xostrial, but the words were lost. The ship shuddered again, and then Xostrial’s gizzard swam up her throat. She let out a frightened chirp as the ship dropped several ropes in altitude. She stumbled forward and then was jerked short by the ropes about her waist.

The violent downdrafts slammed over and over into the ship. Wood snapped above. A spar collapsed on the foremast. The middle sail fluttered as half of it dangled towards the deck. The ship rocked again, pitching Xostrial forward.

And then they dropped again.

Her talons rose from the decking. Xostrial released her wax tablet in her panic. It tumbled in the air beside her as she sang in fear. The ropes went taut, keeping her hovering above the deck. She spread her wings wide.

The driving wind caught them and spun her about. Wing feathers ripped off, points of pain pricking down her wings. Her torso burned as the rope dug deep into her flesh. She closed her wings and fell hard to the deck.

The ship had stopped falling. Her tailbone ached as she gained her feet.

“Don’t try to fly with a wind that strong behind us,” chided the Captain, her voice audible over the roar.

The skyrift’s roar had diminished.

Excitement burst through Xostrial. She rushed to the railing and peered down. The clouds roaring down around the ship thinned. Her gizzard twisted. “Is it the edge? Are we through to the interior?”

She gripped her stylus, eager to write down her estimate of the cloud wall’s thickness. Her wax tablet was gone. Pieces lay shattered across the decking. Xostrial chirped in disappointment, but she had her memory.

The clouds thinned more, and then they were through. Her eyes widened. The noon sun shown down overhead. She stared at the ground. The world went silent around her. Xostrial’s heart hammered in her chest as she stared at a dark, glistening muck. Pools of water reflected sunlight as their surfaces rippled. The ground rose to her right towards the center of the skyrift. She let her gaze follow along it. A sluggish river wound through the murk, flowing down an outcropping of stone.

“Beautiful,” she chirped to herself. It may have been a brackish swamp, but once her ancestors had lived far below. “Why didn’t we fly lower? We could see more details. I can’t tell if anything lives down there. Are those brownish-red patches more dirt? Or vegetation? And is that a mountain rising to our right, or just a large hill?”

The ship’s bow pitched down, knocking Xostrial out of her thoughts. The front of the ship had reached the other side already. She clutched to the railing with her distal feathers, her vision absorbing everything she saw as the ship struggled to gain level flight.

The roar grew louder again. The winds slammed down. The ship creaked and flexed beneath her talons. The masts swayed over her head. Xostrial ignored it all, twisting her head to look behind the ship. She had a final glance at the ground below and what may have been a peak rising up into the heart of the skyrift before the gray clouds engulfed the stern of the ship. The ship dropped as she stared in awe.

“I saw the ground. It does exist.”

A loud, booming snap crashed across the deck. Xostrial jump and chirped in surprise. She whirled and her gizzard clenched. The main mast teetered. Wood splintered where the mast had cracked near the base. It swayed, the rigging almost holding it upright.

And then it crashed towards the stern of the ship.

Canvas sail smacked into Xostrial, driving her to the decking. Her world became crimson. She panicked, crushed beneath its weight. Her wings tried to lift the heavy canvas. Her legs kicked, her talons scraping along the fabric. The ship plummeted again. She rose from the decking, pressed into the canvas. It wrapped about her, cocooning her.

“No,” she chirped as she crashed back into the decking. “Please, no. Help, help.”

Only the roar of the skyrift answered her. She strained with her wings to break free. Her sharp talons caught the fabric. Canvas ripped and her foot broke through to free air. She chirped in relief, using her feet to rip the canvas apart. The tear surged up her body and then broke through to her face.

Gray boiled above her. The ship rocked and shuddered. She stood up through the tear and gripped the railing. The ship dropped again, driven down by the powerful force of the skyrift. Her gizzard rose into her throat. It clenched and rebelled, and she coughed out her small stone. It spun in the air before her, wet and rounded smooth before it crashed to the deck along with her.

Xostrial ached. Fear hammered her heart. Her plan had failed. The rake wasn’t fast enough to penetrate the skyrift. She had killed all forty members of the crew along with herself. She closed her eyes, remembering the ground, wanting to take the image up with her to Riasruo’s sun.

The ship stopped shaking. Sunlight beamed down. Xostrial sat up and let out a chirp of relief.

The Uastraes had broken free. She sang for joy, praising Riasruo Above as she stood up. Other members of the crew, the captain included, unburied themselves from the collapsed sail and rigging. The ship groaned and creaked.

“We did it,” chirped Captain Dwaifeed. She spread her wings wide as the Uastraes drifted to a halt.

Xostrial turned and looked at the Neta Skyrift. They had penetrated it. They were on the eastern side now. The Storm was far closer. They had dropped over three thousand ropes in altitude. Another few hundred, and they would have been lost to the Storm.

The scholar kept singing out her fear as she stared at the skyrift. She had seen the ground and it was beautiful. The risk to their lives had been worth this insight into the natural world. She had glimpsed a peak.

Theories formed in her head. She unknotted the ropes and rushed to find quill and parchment.

THE END

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