Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Eleven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Harlot
Chapter 11

Welcome to Chapter Eleven of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Ten!

Reason, Ajencis writes, is the capacity to overcome unprecedented obstacles in the gratification of desire. What distinguishes man from beasts is man’s capacity to overcome infinite obstacles through reason.

But Ajencis has confused the accidental for the essential. Prior to the capacity to overcome infinite obstacles is the capacity to confront them. What defines man is not that he reasons, but that he prays.

—Ekyannus I, 44 Epistles

My Thoughts

Spirituality is what separates men from beasts. Intelligent mammals, such as chimpanzees, can use reason to overcome obstacles. Yet you never see chimpanzees build shrines, paint pictures, or sculpt statues. Though Ajencis point that reason is the capacity to overcome obstacle to gratify desires. Humans can use reason to commit any act, especially if that reason is used to self-deluded and find excuses for the acts you are committing.

Late Winter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna

Prince Nersei Proyas is being rowed ashore in heavy seas to the coast of the Nansurium. Awaiting him is Xinemus. Proyas is excited to finally reach the Holy War and fearing he is the last Great Name to arrive. Though Proyas was the first to kiss Maithanet’s knee, politics in his home land had delayed his arrival.

Politics, he thought sourly. It was not, as the philosopher Ajencis had written, the negotiation of advantage within communities of men; it was more an absurd auction than an exercise in oratory. One bartered principle and piety to accomplish what principle and piety demanded. One sullied himself in order to be cleansed.

The voyage across the Meneanor was plague with storms. Proyas’s fleet was blown off course, almost as far south as Shimeh. Proyas did not appreciate that bit of irony when he learned how close he was. In the end, five hundred of his men were lost to the storms. As Proyas rowboat approached shore, a wave upturns the boat and dumps Proyas and his men into the ocean. Soaking wet, Proyas steps onto the shore and falls onto his knees in and prays for success in the Holy War.

Proyas warmly greets Xinemus and from his marshal’s dower disposition, Proyas knows the Emperor has caused some grief. Proyas asks why Calmemunis isn’t here to greet him and is stunned to learn that Calmemunis is dead as are all those who marched with him. Proyas fears the Holy War is doomed if the heathens could wipe out 100,000 men. Xinemus explains Xerius’s price for his Indenture and apologizes for not being able to stop Calmemunis.

“But still,” Xinemus said, “I cannot help feeling there’s more I could’ve done.”

Proyas shrugged. “Saying ‘I could have done more,’ Zin, is what marks a man as a man and not a God.” He snorted ruefully. “Actually, it was Achamian who told me that.” Xinemus smiled wanly.

“And me as well . . . A most wise fool, that Achamian.”

And wicked . . . a blasphemer. How I wish you’d remember that, Zin.

“A wise fool, indeed.”

Proyas questions Xinemus on everything that has happened as his soldiers begin to unload from the fleet. Soon, an imperial delegate approaches led by Conphas. Proyas tries not to be awed by Conphas’s appearance and reputation. Conphas and Proyas exchange pleasantries and Conphas wants Proyas to understand the Empire is not responsible for Calmemunis foolishness.

Conphas then invites Proyas to meet with Xerius on the Andiamine Heights to speak of the Indenture. Proyas insist on speaking with Gotian, Grandmaster of the Shrial Knights and Maithanet’s representative in Momemn. Proyas and Conphas verbally spar on the subject of the Emperor’s Indenture with Conphas’s taking the position that his ancestors died for that land and Proyas arguing that his men will die taking it back.

Proyas feels he lost his argument with Conphas. Without the Empire, the Holy War may be doomed. Conphas departs, leaving Proyas to oversee the disembarkation of his men. Xinemus then tells Proyas one last news, “Drusas Achamian is here.”

Achamian awaits Xinemus’s return at the camp fire, alone. Since arriving, Achamian had been spying on the Scarlet Spire. He located the Scarlet Spires camp, and hired children to keep on eye on it for him. His attempt to ingratiate himself with merchants who supply the Spire failed.

Achamian’s grief for Inrau drives him to strong drinks and drugs to “deaden his heart.” However, the drugs blur the edges between trances and the Dreams, so he stops that. He spends his days reading the few books Xinemus brought or wandering through the camps or Momemn. Eventually, he would find the whores and tried not to think of Esmi as he lies with them. In the evening, he passed the time with Xinemus and his officers, joking and gossiping.

That morning, Xinemus rode out to meet Proyas, promising to tell the prince that Achamian need to speak to him. As the day drags on, Achamian starts drinking and remembers Proyas as a child. Finally, near dusk, Xinemus returns and sadly informs Achamian that Proyas refuses to ever see Achamian.

A few days later, Achamian is in the Kamposea Agora, a famous market in Momemn shopping for supplies to cook dinner, and thinks he is being followed by, thinking the man is a Scarlet Spire spy or possibly the College of Luthymae. Achamian debates leading his shadow to an alley to confront him and decides he wants some answers.

Achamian leads the shadow through the market, passing animals for sacrifices, and a women in a window who reminds him of Esmenet. Between two mud, bricked building, is a narrow alley. Achamian enters and prepares a Cant to capture the man.

Time dragged, and there was no sign of the man and Achamian gives up his plan and stalks out of the alley, angry. Achamian heads back to the marketplace to continue his shopping.

He had learned nothing of the Scarlet Spires, even less of Maithanet and the Thousand Temples, and Proyas still refused to meet with him. Since he could find no new books to read, and Xinemus had taken to upbraiding him for his drunkenness, Achamian had decided to revisit an old passion of his. He would cook. All sorcerers had studied alchemy to some extent, and all alchemists, at least those worth their salt, knew how to cook.

Xinemus thought that he degraded himself, that cooking was for women and slaves, but Achamian knew different. Xinemus and his officers would scoff until they tasted, and then they would accord him a quiet honour, as they would any other skilled practitioner of an ancient art. Finally Achamian would be more than the blasphemous beggar at their table. Their souls might be imperiled, but at least their appetites would be gratified.

After buying his supplies, he spots the shadow again and drops everything, literally, to follow him. Achamian follows the man through the crowd, preparing Cants of Compulsion. He finally reaches the man, grabs him and turns him around only to see a different face. Achamian is dumbstruck, certain he followed the right man. Achamian doesn’t see the bruise of sorcerery on the man and thinks he made a mistake.

For a nightmarish moment Achamian could only stumble along with the crowd. He cursed himself for dropping his food.

No matter. Cooking was for slaves anyway.

The story jumps to Esmenet sitting at Sarcellus’s fire at his Holy War camp outside Momemn. Sarcellus was second in command of the Shrial Knights after Incheiri Gotian, and as such he had a large pavilion for his camp. Two slave girls now attended Esmenet. They cook, bathe, and dress her in fine clothing.

Esmenet still has trouble believing her good fortune. Sarcellus was showering her with gifts, and it made it hard for her to remember why she really set out for Momemn. Esmenet is falling love with her new lifestyle. She learns he is inquisitive man, more even than Achamian, and seemed to find “her tawdry life as exotic as she found his.”

Without warning, Sarcellus stepped from the darkness. He possessed, Esmenet had decided, a disturbing affinity to the night, as though he walked with rather than through it. And this despite his white Shrial vestments.

He paused, stared at her wordlessly.

“He doesn’t love you, you know. Not really.”

Esmenet ignores the statement, and asks if he found Achamian. Sarcellus tells her where his camp is, near the Ancilline Gate. Sarcellus asks Esmenet why she still wants Achamian. For the first time, Esmenet saw cruelty in the handsome features of Sarcellus. Esmenet says she loves Achamian.

It took Esmenet days to understand Sarcellus. What she finally realized is that he was a caste noble (kjineta) not caste menial (suthenti) like her and Achamian. As a noble, he was never impoverished, never lived in fear of famines, seasons, others, and thus possessed a self-assurance that Achamian lacked. “Where Achamian was ignorant of the answers, Sarcellus was ignorant of the questions.”

There was a time on the journey to Sarcellus that she feared she was falling in love. But she realized she loved feeling safe. She couldn’t tell Sarcellus this, he wouldn’t understand. Sarcellus presses her, explaining that Achamian could never love her, he’s a Mandate Schoolman. She protests, saying Sarcellus doesn’t understand. Sarcellus asks her what role she plays in his delusions.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re his tether, Esmi. He’s fastened on you because you bind him to what’s real. But if you go to him, cast away your life and go to him, you’ll simply be one of two ships at sea. Soon, very soon, you’ll lose sight of shore. His madness will engulf you. You’ll awaken to find his fingers about your throat, the name of someone long, long dead ringing in your—”

“I said enough, Sarcellus!”

Sarcellus accuses her of believing Mandate nonsense about the Consult and the Second Apocalypse. When he realizes she does, he calms a down and asks her what her plans are. Mandate Schoolmen are forbidden wives and mistresses. Esmenet knows that she could only ever be his whore. Sarcellus points out that eventually he will be called away, forced to leave her.

She looked to the fire. Tears traced burning lines across her cheeks.

“I know.”

The POV shifts to the thing mascaraing as Sarcellus. His mind is full of disturbing images of sex and violence, and he fakes a tender apology to Esmenet for making her cry. He desire nothing more than to have sex with her, the same place the “Architect” had been. Sarcellus starts to drag her into the pavilion, but she protests, saying she needs to think. He relents, enters alone, and fantasizes about what he would do to her.

“Ah, yes,” a small voice said. “The promise of release.” A breath, as though drawn through a reed. “I stand among your makers, and yet the genius of your manufacture still moves me to incredulity.”

The Synthese is in the pavilion and Sarcellus calls it both father and architect, asking if the time has come. The Synthese says soon, calling Sarcellus, Maëngi. The Synthese wing caresses Maëngi’s chest and he shudders in pleasure. The Synthese asks if Esmenet revealed anything about her night with the Synthese. Maëngi says no and this confirms to the Synthese that she’s a “student of the game.”

The Synthese orders Maëngi to continue to watch her and not to kill her as long as she doesn’t run to Achamian. Maëngi then tells the Synthese what another skin-spy, Gaörtha, told him. That Achamian spotted Gaörtha tailing him in the market and almost caught him, but Gaörtha was “able to shift skins.”

The Synthese hopped to the mahogany lip of the table. Though it seemed as light as hollow bones and bundled papyrus, it bore the intimation of something immense, as if a leviathan rolled through waters at right angles to everywhere. Light bled from its eyes.


Roared through what passed for Maëngi’s soul.


Shattering whatever thoughts, whatever passions he might call his own.


Crushing even the unquenchable hunger, the all-encompassing ache . . . Eyes like twin Nails of Heaven. Laughter, wild with a thousand years of madness.


Wings fanned before him, blotting the lanterns, leaving only a small white face against black, a frail mouthpiece for something terrible, mountainous.


The thing called Sarcellus sensed the fist of his expression slacken then part…

Like Esmenet’s legs.

Spring arrived, and all the talk in the Holy War camps is on the Emperor’s Indenture and the fate of the Vulgar Holy War. The longer it drags out the more Men of the Tusk speak of the Indenture as it was nothing but a piece of paper, of no consequence if signed. It would gain them provisions and the great Ikurei Conphas to lead them. Why, then, did Maithanet hesitate unless he feared the heathens?

My Thoughts

Meneanor’s heavy seas have robbed Proyas of his dramatic arrival to the Holy War, standing upright at the prow of his boat, like Washington crossing the Potomac. In the end, the Meneanor had different ideas. Poor Proyas, not a good start to your Holy War. And then he discovers the fate of the Vulgar Holy War. Things are not starting off good. This is a very post-modern scene, turning a traditional, heroic poise on its head, showing how nature has no concern with pomp and theatrics. It also shows us, as we see in Proyas’s thoughts, that the holy war is anything to aspire to.

As Proyas has come to realize, to do something “holy” requires doing a lot of unholy things to get people to cooperate. Politics ever dirties those that participate, even reluctantly like Proyas. We also see a different side of Conphas. Not trying, outwardly, to dominate. He treats Proyas as an equal.

Achamian is drowning in his guilt, still. Without anything really to occupy him, he turns to self-destructive vices. It is sad reading this. The irony is that Inrau wasn’t killed for being a mandate spy, just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As we later learn, the Consult would have wanted to know what Inrau had discovered about Maithanet. We are led to believe that Maithanet is a Consult ally, but is that the case?

Apparently, Proyas likes to draw phallus when he was a boy. I still know guys that draw dicks on everything. I like what Bakker does with that paragraph, it starts with Achamian telling Proyas that he should read more and ends with him finding Proyas in the library drawing phallus in boredom.

Achamian cooking plan sound like the plot to romantic comedy. He’s going to win their love with cooking but then an obstacle happens and then his chasing the wrong man through a crowd like a crazy person, forgetting his food, and ruining his chance. Achamian’s boast about cooking also calls back to something Conphas observed on the march back from his victory over the Scylvendi that sorcerers always fancy themselves better mathematicians than the mathematicians and better geographers than the geographers.

Achamian was using a brass plate as a mirror to watch the spy. Clever technique. Being followed is very routine thing for Achamian. Shame Achamian doesn’t know about skin-spies because he almost caught one.

Achamian sees Xerius new obelisk from Chapter 7 being installed at the temple-complex of Cmiral and notes its smaller than the older obelisks. Come on, Xerius. How are you going to pull of your plan if your phallic symbol isn’t the biggest. I’m very disappointed.

Esmenet is also in a very traditional story that is twisted by Bakker. “She had journeyed to find a sorcerer, only to be rescued by a knight.” Of course, this knight isn’t the virtuous and heroic knight of tales, but a creature of lusts and murders. When we switch to his POV he’s thinking about killing then raping Esmenet.

Esmenet catches the slave girls giving her fearful glances and she both loves and hates that they do that. Who doesn’t love power over others or are hurt by being excluded. This sounds like the Three Seas equivalent of white people problems.

I do love this observation she makes of Sarcellus: “Where Achamian was ignorant of the answers, Sarcellus was ignorant of the questions. No certitude, she [Esmenet] thought, could be greater.” Asking questions is never a sign of folly.

Esmenet’s exchange with Sarcellus is heartbreaking. She knows if she ever finds Achamian, he will just leave her for the Mandate. She’s growing older and knows her beauty will fade and no one will want to pay for old whore. It’s terrible. No wonder she stays with Sarcellus. There is apparent safety with him.

Just apparent safety, though, as Sarcellus–Maëngi POV shows him thinking of raping her decapitated head. That is dark. The Consult really out did themselves in the Serial Killer skin-spy program. Some creepy and disturbing stuff.

Pleasure is a very strong motivation, just look at drug addicts. The Consult has harnessed this technique to make their skin-spies tractable. Just look how Sarcellus acts around the Synthese. He’s in ecstasy when the Synthese speaks directly to his soul.

Again, more reference to the Nails of Heaven. What is it? A star? The moon?

The last section is just a sort of day-to-day vignette of what the Holy War is like for the average joe. Lot of going to crazy religions ceremonies and then sitting around and gossiping about who’s wife is uglier, or why Nansur soldiers march in such tight formation (they like buggery is the consensus). Sentiments are turning towards the signing the Emperor’s Indenture. Time is Xerius’s great ally. The longer they sit around doing nothing, the more boredom will drive them to sign. And with that we come to the end of Part 3.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Twelve!

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Book Review: Walking with Monsters (The Monster Series Book 1)

Walking with Monsters (The Monster Series Book 1)

by Amber Naralim

Reviewed by JMD Reid

B01GHNIB68.01.LZZZZZZZEllie, a young woman, is hunting for her brother. Months ago, a shady, quasi-governmental organization kidnapped her brother and is experimenting on him. With the help of Reese, an escape test subject and man with a dark beast lurking inside him, she is on a quest do what it takes to free Edward.

To do so, she has to trust Reese. And she does, but she doesn’t trust the monster lurking with in him. Reese is a man who has a literal monster in him waiting to burst out and kill anyone, even her. She needs Reese’s monster to save her brother, but each time he unleashes it, the monster, as personified by Reese’s alter-ego Vincent, stays in control longer and longer.

But as much as Vincent scares Ellie, he also attracts her. Dark, powerful, and deadly. Every moment around Vincent is walking a tight-rope with death. But Ellie needs to save her brother, and if that means walking with a man-eating monster, she’ll do it.

Walking with Monsters is a roller coaster of a novel. It plays with many of the tropes we see in modern vampire and werewolf romances, the woman in love with a man who has a dark, predatory beast bursting to come out. But Reese/Vincent’s beast isn’t lovable or tamable. It is out of control. It is murderous. Naralim does not shy away from the destructive power or uncontrollable hungers of the beast and how it affects Ellie.

But Ellie is driven. Bad people have her brother, and she grows more and more calloused the more violence she sees. She’ll do what it takes to save him. She’ll become a monster herself if that’s what it takes.

The story hops between Ellie and Reese/Vincent, delving deep into the complexity of their relationship as they travel as fugitives across the US, hunted by the police and shady organization’s mercenaries, and then to other characters, including the chief scientist behind the experiments, an investigative reporter, and the FBI Agents tracking down Ellie and her monster.

The story is great, fast paced, with the evolving relationship of Ellie and Reese/Vincent at its heart, keeping you reading through the twists and turns. Naralim pulls out a few surprises. My only gripe is the constant POV shifts in a scene, but that did not diminish my enjoyment of this amazing book one bit. Walking with Monsters is a gem in the Indie publishing world and the paranormal romance/urban fantasy genre.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

You can buy Walking with Monsters from Amazon.

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Ten

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Harlot
Chapter 10

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

 How should one describe the terrible majesty of the Holy War? Even then, still unblooded, it was both frightening and wondrous to behold, a great beast whose limbs were composed of entire nations—Galeoth, Thunyerus, Ce Tydonn, Conriya, High Ainon, and the Nansurium—and with the Scarlet Spires as the dragon’s maw, no less. Not since the days of the Ceneian Empire or the Ancient North has the world witnessed such an assembly. Even diseased by politics, it was a thing of awe.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My Thoughts

“Even diseased by politics, it was a thing of awe,” is a great line. A nice passage to set up the Holy war and I do love the “dragon’s maw” line since one of the greatest Angogic Sorceries practiced by the Scarlet Spires is the Dragon’s Maw.

Midwinter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna

It is night now since Esmenet left Sumna on her journey to Momemn. At times she is intoxicated by the journey, running through grass and twirling “beneath the Nail of Heaven.” Other times she remembers the nauseating horror of the stranger and his black seed. Shame filled her, not the shame of betraying Achamian (who would understand), but the shame of enjoying her violation.

But not that night. The pleasure had been more intense than any she’d ever experienced. She had felt it. Gasped it. Shuddered it. But she had not owned it. Her body had been notched that night. And it shamed her to fury.

She often grew wet at the thought of his abdomen against her belly. Sometimes she flushed and tensed at the memory of her climaxes. Whoever he was, whatever he was, he had taken her body captive, had seized what was hers and remade it not in his own image, but in the image of what he needed her to be. Infinitely receptive. Infinitely docile. Infinitely gratified.

Esmenet realized that the stranger knew about Inrau and concluded that Inrau did not kill himself. Achamian almost broke thinking Inrau killed himself and this is the most important thing Esmenet needs to tell him. The Consult has appeared and murdered Inrau.

In the morning, she joins a group setting out from a hostel. A short time latter, the band on her sandal snapped and slowed her down. She’s forced to take off the sandal and walk with just a sock on. Soon, her sock is worn ragged and her foot pains her, forcing her to limp and fall farther and farther behind her group until she is alone.

Esmenet was talking the Karian Way to the Pon Way which lead to Momemn. Despite never looking at a map, Esmenet knew from her customers the best way to Momemn. As a prostitute, she sought out clients that had experienced the world, mostly soldiers, so that she could vicariously live through their experiences. She always questioned them, both flattering them and cajoling them to speak. Only Achamian ever saw the truth behind her questions.

“You do this with all your custom?” he [Achamian] once asked without warning.

She wasn’t shocked. Others had asked as much. “It comforts me to know my men are more than cocks.”

A half-truth. But true to form, Achamian was skeptical. He frowned, saying, “It’s a pity.”

This had stung, even though she had no idea what he meant. “What’s a pity?”

“That you’re not a man,” he replied. “If you were a man, you wouldn’t need to make teachers of everyone who used you.”

She had wept in his arms that night.

Thanks to her studies, she knew it was safest for a lone woman to take the Karian Way to the Pon Way to get to Momemn and that she would need to stay with a group. With her sandal broken, Esmenet could not keep up with her group and was becoming more frightened as she fell farther and farther behind.

Esmenet spies a village and hopes she can get her sandal repaired here. Esmenet hobbles into the village and starts looking for a cobbler. A group of five boys spot her and one walks up to her and asks if she is a whore, spotting the tattoo on her hand that marked her as one from Sumna. Esmenet tries to scare the boy off with soldier curses and strikes the boy when tries to grab her hand.

The boy she struck grabs a stone and throws it at her, and the other four boys follow suit. Esmenet, being pelted by stones, grabs her own and returns fire, hitting a fat boy in the face and drawing blood. The local village priest walks up to her and asks if she’s a whore. Esmenet sees the look in his eyes and realizes she’s in trouble. She lies, saying she’s not, and walks away.

“Do not walk away from me!” the old priest howled. “Do not walk away from me!”

She continued walking with what dignity she could muster.

“Suffer not a whore to live,” the old priest recited, “for she maketh a pit of her womb!”

Esmenet halted.

“Suffer not a whore to breathe,” the priest continued, his tone now gleeful, “for she mocks the seed of the righteous! Stone her so that thy hand shall not be tempt—”

Esmenet whirled. “Enough!” she exploded.

Stunned silence.

“I am damned!” she cried. “Don’t you see? I’m already dead! Isn’t that enough?”

A stone hits her in the back of the head, and a crowd forms around her and begins to stone her. Esmenet curls up, weeping, and tries to protect herself. She cries for help and then realizes the stones have stopped. A Shrial Knight has ridden up, demanding what is going on.

The priest starts to explain and the knight strikes him in the face. The priest protests and the knight begins to beat him. Esmenet struggles to her feat, bruised and bloodied and calms down. Finally, the knight finishes beating the priest and turns to Esmenet, introducing himself as Cutias Sarcellus, First Knight-Commander of the Shrial Knights.

The story jumps to Achamian as he moves through the camp of the Men of the Tusk and is amazed by how many men are gathered. He had climbed hills in the midst of camp and saw their campfire spread across the entire landscape. Achamian finally finds Krijates Xinemus’s camp, his old friend and Marshal of Attrempus. Xinemus and Achamian greet each other, hug, and joke with each other.

Xinemus helps Achamian set up his tent and care for his mule. The two exchange small talk and Achamian is a little embarrassed meeting his friend while on a mission and unsure if his presence in Xinemus camp will be a problem seeing as he’s an unclean sorcerer in the midst of a holy war. Xinemus doesn’t have a problem with it.

Xinemus asks about the Dreams, and Achamian changes the subject to the Scarlet Spire. Xinemus tells Achamian where the Scarlet Spire is camped and asks if he’s worried about them. Achamian explains how they covet the knowledge of Gnosis, saying “the Gnosis is iron to their bronze.”

Xinemus figures out that Achamian is here to spy on the Scarlet Spire and sees the pain in Achamian’s face about Inrau. Achamian wants to tell Xinemus everything, but can’t bring himself to. They return to Xinemus’s fire where three men waited. Two are captains, Dinchases and Zenkappa, and the third is Iryssas, Xinemus’s Majordomo.

Iryssas is uncomfortable with Achamian’s presence and Xinemus points out that the Scarlet Spire are part of the Holy War. Iryssas drunkenly insults Achamian and Xinemus kicks the fire at the man. The other two men apologize the Achamian for Iryssas behavior.

Iryssas scrambled back to his seat, his hair askew and his black beard streaked with ash. At once smiling and frowning, he leaned forward on his camp stool toward Achamian. He was bowing, Achamian realized, but was too lazy to lift his ass from his seat. “I do apologize,” he said, looking to Achamian with bemused sincerity. “And I do like you, Achamian, even though you are”—he shot a ducking look at his lord and cousin—“a damned sorcerer.”

Zenkappa began howling anew. Despite himself, Achamian smiled and bowed in return. Iryssas, he realized, was one of those men whose hatreds were far too whimsical to become the fixed point of an obsession. He could despise and embrace by guileless turns. Such men, Achamian had learned, inevitably mirrored the integrity or depravity of their lords.

Jokes are shared and for the first time in a while, Achamian laughs.

The next morning, Achamian joins Xinemus in a chess-like game called benjuka. The pair talk about the Holy War and Achamian reveals he was at the Hagerna when it was announced. Xinemus appeared annoyed that Achamian had been in the Hagerna and Achamian remembers how benjuka always causes the pair to bicker like “harem eunuchs.”

Achamian makes a bad move and Xinemus mocks him. Then he brings up Proyas and the disaster of the Vulgar Holy War. Achamian has heard of the march of the Vulgar Holy War but not its disasters end. Xinemus explains how Calmemunis feared Proyas’s arrival, knowing he would just be Proyas’s lapdog. Calmemunis was still angry that Proyas had him whipped for impiety at the Battle of Paremti a few years ago. Achamian is stunned, asking how far Proyas’s fanaticism has gone.

“Too far,” Xinemus said quickly, as though ashamed for his lord. “But for a brief time only. I was sorely disappointed in him, Akka. Heartbroken that the godlike child you and I had taught had grown to be a man of such . . . extremes.”

Proyas had been a godlike child. Over the four years he had spent as court tutor in the Conriyan capital of Aöknyssus, Achamian had fallen in love with the boy—even more than with his legendary mother. Sweet memories. Strolling through sunlit foyers and along murky garden paths, discussing history, logic, and mathematics, and answering a never-ending cataract of questions…

At the time, Xinemus was Proyas’s sword trainer. Achamian and Xinemus became friends through their tutelage of Proyas. Xinemus continues his story, explaining that he left the court in disgust over what Proyas had done. Proyas tracked him done and rebuked him for abandoning him. Proyas was in trouble, Calmemunis had protested his punishment. Achamian points out the Proyas just wanted his approval.

Xinemus continues, saying that after listening to Proyas’s rant, he gave Proyas a training sword and told Proyas to punish him. Proyas fought tenaciously and Xinemus soundly defeated him.

“The following morning he said nothing, avoided me like pestilence. But come afternoon he sought me out, his face bruised like apples. ‘I understand,’ he said. I asked him, ‘Understand what?’ ‘Your lesson,’ he replied. ‘I understand your lesson.’ I said, ‘Oh, and what lesson was that?’ And he said: ‘That I’ve forgotten how to learn. That life is the God’s lesson, and that even if we undertake to teach impious men, we must be ready to learn from them as well.’”

Achamian stared at his friend with candid awe. “Is that what you’d intended to teach him?”

Xinemus frowned and shook his head. “No. I just wanted to pound the arrogant piss out of him. But it sounded good to me, so I simply said, ‘Indeed, my Lord Prince, indeed,’ then nodded the sage way you do when you agree with someone you think isn’t as clever as you.”

Proyas returned to court and before his father, the king, offered to allow Calmemunis to whip him as compensation. Calmemunis agreed, and “lashed away his last shreds of honor.” This is the reason that a hundred thousand men are dead. Achamian makes a good move on benjuka plate and wonders if the death of the Vulgar Holy War was someone’s move.

Xinemus explains how the Emperor is capitalizing on the Vulgar Holy War’s destruction, pointing out the folly of marching without Ikurei Conphas. Achamian asks Xinemus his opinion on the politicking surrounding the Holy War. Xinemus is worried about Proyas’s reaction. All know of Proyas’s close relationship with Maithanet and the pious men are waiting to see how he’ll react. Xinemus fears that the Emperor will provoke Proyas into something rash.

Whether the Holy War fights for Inri Sejenus or Ikurei Xerius III depends on whether Proyas will be able to outmaneuver the Emperor. Achamian realizes how difficult it will be to tell Proyas that his beloved Shriah plays “some dark game.”

The chapter ends with Esmenet, sore from riding, in Sarcellus’s tent, sharing his bed. She sits up and Sarcellus asks if she’s thinking of Achamian.

“What of it?” she asked.

He smiled, and as always she found herself at once thrilled and unsettled. Something about his teeth maybe? Or his lips?

“Exactly,” he said. “Mandate Schoolmen are fools. Everyone in the Three Seas knows this… Do you know what the Nilnameshi say of women who love fools?”

She turned her face to him, fixed him with a languid look.

“No. What do the Nilnameshi say?”

“That when they sleep, they do not dream.”

He pressed her gently to his pillow.

My Thoughts

Not sure what the Nail of Heaven is. I think its a star like the North Star. The point in the sky where the stars seem to rotate about. Like the North Star, it would always be in the same place, I guess like a nail holding in the roof of the heavens. Other times, it is described as shining bright enough to give light. So maybe it’s not a star. The moon? A spaceship in orbit (and that’s not that crazy given the Inchoroi are aliens who crash-landed on the planet and Golgotterath is the ruins of their crashed ship).

Why, Nansur Empire, is it illegal for women to wear boots? To force them to stay home? It also outlaws pants for men to wear.

We see Esmenet’s keen intellect again. As she dissects what happened to her in Sumna (“But where her body groped, her intellect grasped.” She realizes the significance of the Consult syntheses coming to her. It means Achamian was right and Inrau found out something important. He did not kill himself and Achamian could alleviate the guilt of believing he drove Inrau to suicide.

And then there is her selfishness. She hates how she acted and blamed Inrau for Achamian leaving her. We are all selfish creatures. And now, in light of her new knowledge, she feels such guilt for how she acted. Someone I knew online once died and my first thought was, “He promised to do X, how’s that going to happen now.” I felt so guilty the second afterward.

As she walks, Esmenet “styled herself a character from The Sagas, like Ginsil or Ysilka, a wife mortally ensnared in her husband’s machinations.” How true this will be over the course of the series.

Esmenet’s fears of being left alone turn out not to be unfounded. Teenage bullies exist everywhere. It was nice to see Esmenet nail one of the boys with a rock. And then the adult bully wonders out. What a shitty guy.

While I’m not in favor of legal prostitution, stoning a woman for it is really wrong. Especially in this world where women have very few ways to support themselves. If they’re not married, and not a priestess (which apparently just makes you a legal prostitute), how is Esmenet supposed to survive when society denies her any other way to make a living?

Cutias Sarcellus, the Consult abomination, just happens to run into Esmenet the day after her encounter with the syntheses. Coincident, I think not. Why is he rescuing her? The Consult must think they have some use for her still. After all, she was compliant.

The hand gesture Esmenet gives to the boys who started everything, implying the one that bullied her had a small penis was hilarious.

Achamian reunion with his friend was great. Xinemus is one of my favorite characters in the series. A great guy. He doesn’t put up with his men talking shit to Achamian. And the way they all end up laughing afterwards was great.

Benjuka is an interesting game with the rules changing based on the players actions, mimicking life more than other games. I’m not surprised Achamian isn’t good at the game. He’s not that great at life, either.

We learn a lot learned about Proyas. He sounds like a pretty immature guy, but hopefully Xinemus’s lesson has stuck with him. Especially since the fate of the Holy War is now riding on his shoulders. Fanaticism and politics is not a good combination. Fanaticism rarely allows for any sort of comprise and that is at the heart of politics.

The last scene with Esmenet in bed with the abomination Sarcellus is not a story development I liked. Not cool, Consult. Haven’t you done enough to Esmenet?

I do like this little observation Esmenet has of Sarcellus. “He smiled, and as always she found herself once thrilled and unsettled. Something about his teeth maybe? Or his lips?” Yeah, because he’s a skin spy, Esmenet. But good on you for noticing something off.

If you want to keep reading, click here for my reread of Chapter Eleven.

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Nine

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Harlot
Chapter 9

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

And the Nonman King cried words that sting:

Now to me you must confess,

For death above you hovers!”

And the Emissary answered ever wary:

We are the race of flesh,

We are the race of lovers.”

—“Ballad of the Inchoroi,” Ancient Kûniüri Folk Song

My Thoughts

Our first mention of the Inchoroi, the race behind the Sranc, the Second Apocalypse, and the other horrors. This poem describes the first meeting between the Nonmen and the Inchoroi. We learn the most important aspect of the Inchoroi: they are the race of flesh and lovers. Sex is everything to them. They use it as a weapon, they use it to interrogate, and they motivate their creations with it. Back in the prologue, Leweth tells Kellhus how Sranc hunt men for other hungers.

Inchoroi seems derived from inchoate, a word that means (from Merriam-Webster online dictionary) “being only partly in existence or operation; especially imperfectly formed or formulated.” This implies that the Inchoroi, or their creations, are flawed (probably both). Bakker is always adding to my vocabulary.

Early Winter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna

Esmenet has just finished with a client, a priest named Psammatus, who tells her this will be his last visit. Esmenet tells him he’s found a younger whore and he apologizes. Esmenet responds, “No. Don’t be sorry. Whores know better than to pout like wives.” As he dresses, Esmenet thinks that she’s becoming old, and that is one of the reasons Akka left her.

Inrau’s death had broken Achamian and he left Sumna. She had begged him to take her with him or to stay with her. She doesn’t want her life to return back to the drudgery. She was enamored with greater events.

And this was the irony that held her breathless. For even in the midst of enjoying that new life through Achamian, she’d been unable to relinquish the old. “You say you love me,” Achamian had cried, “and yet you still take custom. Tell me why, Esmi! Why?”

Because I knew you would leave me. All of you leave me . . . all the ones I love.

Esmi,” Psammatus was saying. “Esmi. Please don’t cry, my sweet. I’ll return next week. I promise.” She shook her head and wiped the tears from her eyes. Said nothing.

Weeping for a man! I’m stronger than this!

Esmenet wipes her tears and asks Psammatus if he knew Inrau. Psammatus answers that he’s the priest who killed himself in the Hagerna, causing a scandal. She asks if he’s sure, and he answers yes. Psammatus leaves, and Esmenet lies in her bed, depressed. She thinks of Inrau, Achamian, and her daughter. Esmenet notices someone at her door.

The man is handsome and richly dress. Esmenet tells him her price, twelve silver talents, and the man strikes her hard, telling her she’s not a “twelve-talent whore.” He tells her relationships should not begin with lies and reveals he’s after information on a Mandate Schoolman, Achamian.

Before Achamian left, he warned her that someone might come, that she would need to play the whore and not ask questions. So she agrees to sell both herself and the information. The pair negotiate the price and the man pulls out a single, gold coin. Esmenet agreed, staring at the coin with greed. The man begins to caress her and Esmenet instantly realizes something is wrong, something inhuman.

Pleasure floods Esmenet, more than she’s ever felt. She is willing to tell the man anything as he interrogates her in the midst of their coupling. She just wants the “nightmarish ecstasy” to continue. She realizes she would do anything to keep feeling this pleasure. She tells him everything about Achamian. Finally, as dawn approaches, the man finish, spilling his seed on her belly.

The golden coin fluttered in his hand, bewitching her with its glitter. He held it above her and let it slip between his fingers. It plopped onto the sticky pools across her belly. She glanced down and gasped in horror.

His seed was black.

Shush,” he said, gathering his finery. “Say a word of this to no one. Do you understand, whore?”

I understand,” she managed, tears now streaming. What have I done?

Esmenet is trying not to throw up as the man opens the shutters. She hears a flap of wings and the man is gone. The man leaves an inhuman stench behind and Esmenet vomits on the floor.

When she finally recovers, Esmenet washes and leaves her room, knowing she can never return. She wanders to the Ecosium Market. It is busy in the morning, and Esmenet is drinking in the sights. She loves Sumna but she had to leave.

She remembers that Achamian told her this might happen. That she would have to barter with whoever comes and be compliant. She would have to sell him out and tell them the truth and she’ll survive. She asks why they would spare her. Achamian answers, by hiding her strength and being useful, they will hope to use you again. She asks if that won’t put him in danger.

I’m a Schoolman, Esmi,” he had replied. “A Mandate Schoolman.”

At last, through a screen of passing people, she saw a little girl standing barefoot in dusty sunlight. She would do. With large brown eyes the girl watched Esmenet approach, too wary to return her smile. She clutched a stick to the breast of her threadbare shift.

I survived, Akka. And I did not survive.

Esmenet stooped before the child and astounded her with the gold talent. “Here,” she said, pressing it into small palms.

So like my daughter.

Achamian is ridding on a mule through the valley of Sudica on his way from Sumna to Momemn. Achamian is taking a longer route to avoid people. The valley, once inhabited in the days of Kyraneas, is no mostly abandoned thanks to Scylvendi raids. Achamian makes his way up to the ruined Fortress-Temple of Batathent and absently wanders through the ruin until nightfall, making his camp in the ruins.

In his sleep, he dreamed of that day when every child was stillborn, that day when the Consult, beaten back to the black ramparts of Golgotterath by the Nonmen and the ancient Norsirai, brought emptiness, absolute and terrible, into the world: Mog-Pharau, the No-God. In his sleep, Achamian watched glory after glory flicker out through Seswatha’s anguished eyes. And he awoke, as he always awoke, a witness to the end of the world.

Achamian is suffering from guilt and depression, fearing that if Inrau really committed suicide then Achamian murdered his student. Achamian tried to find the truth of Inrau’s death but got no where. He was relieved when Nautzera and the Quorum ordered him to Momemn to join the Holy War, to watch the Scarlet Spire.

After Inrau’s death, Achamian relationship with Esmenet deteriorated. He wanted her to distract him from his problems while she endlessly asked him questions, debated the meanings of what he learned. She also continued to see clients. When Achamian offered to pay for her exclusivity, she cried. Esmenet does not want to be Achamian’s whore. Achamian thinks about why he fell in love with her.

Often, in his soul’s eye, she was inexplicably thin and wild, buffeted by rain and winds, obscured by the swaying of forest branches. This woman who had once lifted her hand to the sun, holding it so that for him its light lay cupped in her palm, and telling him that truth was air, was sky, and could only be claimed, never touched by the limbs and fingers of a man. He couldn’t tell her how profoundly her musings affected him, that they thrashed like living things in the wells of his soul and gathered stones about them.

Regret fills Achamian, and he realizes he has become overwhelmed by circumstances and decides to try to make sense of things. He pulls at a sheet of parchment and writes Maithanet’s name in the center, whom Achamian suspects of murdering Inrau. He writes Holy War to the right, “Maithanet’s hammer.” Below, he writes Shimeh, the objective To the right of Shimeh he writes, Cishaurim. He writes Scarlet Spire and traces a line from Cishaurim through Scarlet Spire to the Holy War. Achamian again wonders how Maithanet knew their secret war. Adjacent to Holy War, he writes the Emperor, based on rumors of Xerius’s Investiture.

In the upper, right corner, he adds the Consult. Achamian ponders the Consult, wandering where they were and if they were involved. Finally, he writes Inrau below Maithanet. Achamian shakes away thoughts of guilt, he could not avenge Inrau if he wallowed in self-pity. The answers were on this map.

Achamian often made such maps—not because he worried he might forget something, but because he worried he might overlook something. Visualizing the connections, he found, always suggested further possible connections. Moreover, this simple exercise had often proved a valuable guide for his inquiries in the past. The crucial difference this time, however, was that instead of naming individuals and their connections to some petty agenda, this map named Great Factions and their connections to a Holy War. The scale of this mystery, the stakes, far exceeded anything he had encountered before . . . aside from his dreams.

His breath caught.

A prelude to the Second Apocalypse? Could it be?

Achamian is certain the Consult is involved They could never stay out of something this large. Achamian fixes on Maithanet and ponders how to learn his secrets. And then it comes to him—Proyas. Achamian writes Proyas’s name between Maithanet’s and the Holy War. Proyas, his former student, was a confident of Maithanet. If Achamian could mend his relationship with Proyas, he could learn more of Maithanet. “He needed answers, both to quiet his heart and, perhaps, to save the world.”

Achamian breaks camp and continues his lonely journey.

Esmenet walks through the Gates of Pelts and leaves Sumna. She pauses, looking out over the landscape, fearful. She told herself that everything would be fine. She would “sell peaches” as the soldiers say. “Men mights stand midway between women and the Gods, but they hungered like beasts.”

The road would be kind. Eventually, she would find the Holy War. And in the Holy War she would find Achamian. She would clutch his cheek and kiss him, at long last a fellow traveler.

Then she would tell him what had happened, of the danger.

Deep breath. She tasted dust and cold.

She began walking, her limbs so light they might have danced.

It would be dark soon.

My Thoughts

The Synthese returns, in the guise of a man, and know we have a name to call this abomination—an Inchoroi. As the folk song at the start of the passage says, they are a race of lovers. His interrogation is a hard part of the book to read. The Inchoroi violates her and makes her enjoy it more than anything she’s ever felt.

My heart breaks for Esmenet.

The Inchoroi has polluted her home and Sumna. Even the gold coin, a lot of money for Esmenet, was tainted. And as always with Esmenet, her thoughts turn to her daughter. She’s trying to have some good come out of that terrible encounter.

The Inchoroi embodies sex and yet his seed is black: death. This informs why they make creatures the Sranc, dragons, and the abominations like Sarcellus. They are a the race of flesh and they seem masters forming new things. His very touch stirs pleasure. We’ll learn later that this is a sorcerous glamor.

Achamian has been deeply depressed since Inrau died. And as often happens, it creates a rift between Achamian and Esmenet. He wants to forget his problems and she, I believe, is trying to help Achamian move past his hurt. Achamian, however, was not ready. He needed more to time to grieve.

Finally, sitting in these ruins, Achamian takes action. He realizes he has been wallowing in self-pity and to avenge Inrau, he needs to stop being overwhelmed. The map he draws is a great way to do this. Putting everything on paper, drawing lines, trying to see how everything connects. Achamian has a plan for the first time in the book.

We learn more about the horror of the No-God. The fact that once it was created, every child was stillborn. That is horrible. It goes back to the Inchoroi and what really makes them flawed. While they are creatures of sex and thus of creation, all they create is death. Achamian fears that the first steps of the Second Apocalypse have begun.

And we come back to Esmenet, who like Achamian is also making her own plans, seizing her own actions. She knows the Consult is involved and she is going to track Achamian down and tell him. I’m concerned that she doesn’t appear to have supplies. She is putting a lot of trust into her fellow travelers. Esmenet, you need to be careful. This world is terrible to women, watch your back.

I also hope that Esmenet thoughts on “men stand midway between women and Gods” as lies that men tell women as opposed to actual scripture. Though, in this world, it might be actually in there. And, of course, there is a clear that beliefs shape the metaphysics of this world which is why there is a theory that the Tusk, the old testament of this world, came from the Inchoroi. As Esmenet rightly points out, men are no more holy then women.

Below is a scan of Achamian’s map from the end of the book. I edited out the changes Achamian adds later on in the story. I really like the script that Bakker came up with. Similar to Arabic in its cursive style, but written top to bottom like many Southeast Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean).

Click here to go onto Chapter 10


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Blog Tour – A Whisper of Rage

A Whisper of Rage

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You can buy Whispers of Rage from Amazon!

And check out the never before publish prequel, If Wishes were Horses, also available from Amazon!

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Tim Author Promo photoTim Hemlin is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, having studied with poets Charles Simic and Mekeel McBride. He has published in poetry journals, anthologies, and magazines–most notably in Ellery Queen. Currently he has six novels out. Finds the links to his books and social media sites at the end of this book.

By day he is an educator; however after teaching ELA for 22 years he decided to put his master’s degree to work and is now a high school counselor. In addition, he is an avid marathoner, fly-fisherman, and outdoorsman. He lives just outside Houston, Texas with his wife Valerie, two dogs and a cantankerous cat.

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Eight

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Emperor
Chapter 8

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

 Kings never lie. They demand the world be mistaken.

Conriyan Proverb

When we truly apprehend the Gods, the Nilnameshi sages say, we recognize them not as kings but as thieves. This is among the wisest of blasphemies, for we always see the king who cheats us, never the thief.

Olekaros, Avowals

My Thoughts

Not much to say on Kings never lie. Many rulers with to much power become egotistical and self-centered. We have seen as much with Xerius so far, and you could apply this saying to any politician.

The second one is a very cynical and disillusioned. The final lines of the novel illuminate this quote, Conphas musing on his role in the destruction, finds it erotic how his actions led to so many dead. He feels like a thief because he did in the dark where no one saw his actions. It makes him feel like a god, hidden and safe from the scrutiny of mere mortals.

Autumn, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Northern Jiünati Steppe

Yursalka, the Utemot who betrayed Cnaiür, is awoken in the night by the sound of something tapping at the hide of his yaksh. He hopes its his young son, Ogatha, who had been missing since yesterday. The taps continue and Yursalka hopes its Ogatha playing a prank, but times have been rough since Kiyuth, and he draws his sword and cautiously heads out into the darkness.

Yursalka spots what had been hitting his tent, not a rock but a piece of a child’s finger. Through lightning, Yursalka spots a figure and yells out, “Murderer!” The figure boasts of finding his son on the steppe and returns him, throwing Ogatha’s severed head at him. Yursalka attacks, but is thrown down by Cnaiür and disemboweled.

A brief flutter of white light, and Yursalka saw him crouching above, saw deranged eyes and a famished grin. Then everything went black.

Who am I?” the blackness asked. “

Nnn-Cnaiür,” he gasped. “M-man-killer . . . M-most v-violent of all men . . .”

A slap, open-handed as though he were a slave.

No. I am your end. Before your eyes I will put your seed to the knife. I will quarter your carcass and feed it to the dogs. Your bones I will grind to dust and cast to the winds. I will strike down those who speak your name or the name of your fathers, until ‘Yursalka’ becomes as meaningless as infant babble. I will blot you out, hunt down your every trace! The track of your life has come to me, and it goes no further. I am your end, your utter obliteration!”

The fight awakens the Utemot, who are stunned to see Cnaiür alive after a year. Cnaiür proclaims himself chieftain and tells them to, “Challenge me or witness my justice!” Cnaiür proclaims Yursalka’s crimes, his betrayal of Cnaiür and the other Utemot who charged with him. Yursalka protests, saying it was to free the Utemot from Cnaiür. Yursalka is outraged, he betrayed his chieftain for honour, not the love of another man. Cnaiür demands to know who objects to his judgment.

While everyone looks on in awe and terror, a “half-Norsirai mongrel Cnaiür taken wife” flung herself at Cnaiür and hugs him. Cnaiür greets Anissi tenderly. Cnaiür then turns to Yursalka’s family, starting with his youngest daughter, and killing all his children and wives until only Omiri, the daughter of Xunnurit is left. He spares her to watch Yursalka suffering before paying for the sins of her father.

Surrounded by his dead and dying family, Yursalka watched Cnaiür loop his bowel like rope about scarred arms. He glimpsed the callous eyes of his tribesman, knew they would do nothing.

Not because they feared their lunatic chieftain, but because it was the way.

My Thoughts

Wow! That’s a little overkill, Cnaiür. Yursalka surely deserved to die like the spineless traitor he was, but to make him watch as you murder his entire family. And god only knows what he did to Omiri after he tortured Yursalka slowly to death. Yursalka believed he did the right thing and is horrified how there is no justice. “Where was the justice in this? He’d [Yursalka] betrayed his chieftain, yes, but for honor. Cnaiür had betrayed his chieftain, his father, for the love of another man! For an outlander who could speak killing words! Where was the justice in this?”

And “killing words” is a great way to describe the Dûnyain.

Cnaiür is half-mad in the section. He is suffering from starvation and has been surviving somehow on the steppes for a year. Not sure why it took him that long to get home. Perhaps there was a lot of dodging other tribes, going slow on foot, and just taking care of the necessities of survival, but it seems long. Then again, I’ve never trudged across the steppes before on foot.

Cnaiür ferocity is softened around Anissi. He clearly cares for her and shows the affection publicly, which Yursalka found to be shameful. Just another reason for the tradition-bound Scylvendi to hate Cnaiür.

Late Autumn, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

In the year and a half since the Holy War was called, thousands have reached Momemn. Rumor has it, the Shriah was surprised by how many of the low caste joined the Holy War. Freeman were selling wives and children into slavery to pay for passage. Hundreds of atrocities are committed in the name of Holy War and Maithanet was said to weep for all of them.

All these incidents palled in comparison to the Vulgar Holy War led by Calmemunis, Tharschilka, and Kumrezzer. All three signed Xerius Indenture and marched with all the low born that had so far gathered. Maithanet tries to stop the march, but Calmemunis ignores him. Calmemunis and the other Great Names led the host in name only, but most of the host was sworn to no one. At first, they kept the host in line but by the time it reached the frontier, may of the fanatics turned bandits.

General Martemus, shadowing the host, had to fight several battles against them to protect Nansur citizens. Martemus is driven back into the fortress of Gielgath, unable to fight the vast host numbers with two columns. Calmemunis blames the emperor for stopping the supplies, but that was done by Shrial edict. The Shriah then issued Censor on the Vulgar Holy War, and this stopped them for a day. The bulk of the host almost turned back when, by “accident,” an imperial supply train fell into their hands.

The Vulgar Holy War pressed on, looting, massacring and raping as they went. They reached the last obstacle before the heathen lands, the fortress of Asgilioch where three Fanim invasions had been stopped. Prophilas, commander of the fortress, invited the Great Names into the fortress. Calmemunis demanded hostages, received them, and agreed to enter and was promptly captured with the other Great Names. Prophilas had a Shrial Warrant and told them they would be held here until they commanded the Vulgar Holy War to return to Momemn. He assures Calmemunis that they have no hope of defeating the Kianene.

Calmemunis, however, replied with laughter. He admitted that sinew for sinew, weapon for weapon, the Vulgar Holy War was likely no match for the Padirajah’s armies. But this, he claimed, was of no consequence, for surely the Latter Prophet had shown that frailty, when suffused with righteousness, was unconquerable. “We have left Sumna and the Shriah behind us,” he said. “With every step we draw nearer Holy Shimeh. With every step we draw closer to Paradise! Proceed with care, Prophilas, for as Inri Sejenus himself says, ‘Woe to he who obstructs the Way!’”

Prophilas released Calmemunis and the other Great Names before sunset.

The Vulgar Holy War passed into heathen lands and Maithanet retired to prayer until he learned of their fate.

In Momemn, Conphas is being led by Skeaös to Privy Chamber. The Ainoni have arrived early, an old trick by the Scarlet Spire. They had arrived the previous morning and it seemed as if all High Ainon had marched with them. Xerius was hopeful that they would sign his Indenture. At the least, he expected the Ainoni to be civil since they were fellow Ketyai not Norsirai like the Thunyeri and the Tydonni that had already arrived and refused to sign the Indenture. Ainoni were civilized.

Conphas asks if they intentionally showed up early to throw them off balance and Skeaös agrees. The pair hike up Andiamine Heights to the Privy Chamber and Conphas wonders if Skeaös, like many older courtiers, would die of the “clutch” making the climb. Curious, Conphas quickens his pace and Skeaös is able to keep up and shows no sign of strain. Skeaös even continues their conversation, and Conphas grows board with his game.

Skeaös begins briefing Conphas on Eleäzaras, Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spire. When Sasheoka died he was a Subdidact and somehow became the Grandmaster in two years. Skeaös reveals that Conphas was to be excluded from this meeting but that Eleäzaras had requested him. Conphas is reluctant to believe Skeaös, and wonders what game he is playing with him.

Conphas demands to know why, if he’s the linchpin of the plan, did his uncle want to exclude him from the meeting. Conphas realizes Skeaös lied, and forces the old man to admit it. Skeaös reveals that he is troubled by Xerius plan to destroy the Holy War. Skeaös fears for his soul. Conphas is shocked, and asks if Skeaös if Maithanet has “ensnared you as well?” Skeaös say no, saying Conphas is to young to understand. He is to old to make amends before he dies. Conphas realizes Skeaös has been conspiring with his grandmother, hoping to drive a wedge between Conphas and Xerius and have Conphas come running to his grandmother.

Conphas is surprised that Skeaös would do something so close to treachery and rebukes him. Conphas likes his uncle’s plan, as much as it galls him to admit, and tells Skeaös that his soul is a small price to pay to restore the Empire.

In the Privy Chamber, Conphas takes a seat next to his uncle. Skeaös and Cememketri stand by the Emperor and the galleries are filled with Eothic Guardsmen and Imperial Saik. Xerius asks Conphas his opinion on how to handle Eleäzaras. Conphas replies that since they do not know why Eleäzaras joined the Holy War, it will be hard to get him to support the Indenture. Instead, they should bargain in good faith. Xerius agrees.

While Chepheramunni, King-Regent of High Ainon, was announced first, he followed Eleäzaras into the room revealing who really ruled Ainon. Pleasantries are exchanged and Xerius asks why they Scarlet Spire joined the Holy War. Eleäzaras answers they were purchased. Eleäzaras refuses to divulge the details of the contract. Conphas thinks it is a lie, not even the Shriah could afford to purchase them.

Eleäzaras says that Chepheramunni will sign the Indenture gladly in exchange for some concessions. Xerius feigns outrage and begins to explain why those lands belong to Nansur but is interrupted by Eleäzaras. The sorcerer dismiss that as dross and asks if they know what truly is at stake. Conphas answers, “power.” Eleäzaras agrees and asks why Xerius provisioned Calmemunis. Xerius gives the official answer, to end their depredations. Eleäzaras disagrees, revealing he knows the truth.

Xerius protests, asking what he would gain by destroying them. Eleäzaras responds, you would gain the Holy War. Eleäzaras admires their plan, saying the Indenture is a splendid idea.

This small flattery was Xerius’s undoing. For a brief instant his eyes flashed with jubilant conceit. Stupid men, Conphas had found, tended to be excessively proud of their few brilliant moments.

Eleäzaras smiled.

He plays you, Uncle, and you cannot even see.

Eleäzaras then threatens Xerius should he betray the Holy War, and thus, by extension, betray the Scarlet Spire. Not even the Imperial Saik will save him from their wrath. Cememketri rebukes Eleäzaras, pointing out they are in Momemn not Carythusal. Eleäzaras ignores Cememketri and turns to Conphas and asks after the battle, complementing him.

Conphas smiled, deciding the Grandmaster would lick his ass as clean as a cat’s if given the opportunity. For all his penetration, Eleäzaras had misjudged him.

It was time to set him straight. “What Cememketri said just now is true, you know. No matter what your deal with Maithanet, you’ve delivered your School to its greatest peril since the Scholastic Wars. And not just because of the Cishaurim. You’ll be a small enclave of profanity within a great tribe of fanatics. You’ll need every friend you can get.”

For the first time something like real anger surfaced in Eleäzaras’s eyes, like a glimpse of coals through a smoky fire. “We can make the world burn with our song, young Conphas. We need no one.”

The negotiations continue successfully. Chepheramunni signs then Indenture in exchange for all the intelligence the Empire had on the Cishaurim. Conphas notes the hatred in Eleäzaras voice when he said Cishaurim. Conphas realizes the Scarlet Spire already warred with the Cishaurim. Xerius dismissed Conphas theory until Skeaös and Cememketri agreed, and then the Emperor reveals he already had the same suspicions. Conphas wonders if Maithanet knew about this secret war. “Maithanet. What game did he play? For that matter, who was he?”

Days later, news of the Vulgar Holy War’s annihilation reached them. Survivors reported they were destroyed on the Plains of Mengedda. Two courtiers arrived from Kian bearing Calmemunis and the other leader’s severed heads and a secret message for Conphas from Skauras.

We cannot count the carcasses of your idolatrous kin, so many have been felled by the fury of our righteous hand. Praise be the Solitary God. Know that House Ikurei has been heard.

Conphas is stunned, realizing for the first time they had sacrificed an army. “Only the Gods dared such acts.” Many would suspect House Ikurei, but it would not be recorded in the annals. Conphas felt great pride in his secret manipulation of events.

For an instant, Conphas felt like a thief, the hidden author of a great loss. And the exhilaration he felt almost possessed a sexual intensity. He saw clearly now why he so loved this species of war. On the field of battle, his every act was open to the scrutiny of others. Here, however, he stood outside scrutiny, enacted destiny from a place that transcended judgment or recrimination. He lay hidden in the womb of events.

Like a God.

My Thoughts

It is terrible to sell you family into slavery so you can go crusading, but fitting with Bakker’s theme of exposing humanity in all its terrible flaws. It sad how so many of these “Men of the Tusk” end of killing their fellow Inrithi. From the band of Galeoth freebooters to King Nrezza Barisullas of Cironj, high and low take advantage of the Holy War.

Even the Vulgar Holy War, the most faithful and fanatic, turn to rape and plunder on their fellow Inrithi on the march south. I can understand the need to forage for supplies, but to massacre the men and rape their women is over the pale. And Calmemunis and the other, so greedy for land and power, they don’t care. Nothing deters their monumental stupidity. Prophilas is so stunned by his stupidity he just releases them. Not sad to see their severed heads show up after leading so many men to their needless deaths, even if these same men were raping and pillaging and deserved to hang for their crimes.

The Vulgar Holy War is a parallel to the People’s Crusade. When the First Crusade was called, a German priest rallied peasants and mercenaries then marched east to the holy lands. Along the way, the pillaged Christian lands, including sacking the city of Belgrade. Eventually, the People’s Crusade crossed the Byzantine Lands and were destroyed by the Turks.

Conphas self-centered narcissism leads him to attempt murder Skeaös via heart attack just to satisfy his morbid curiosity. Boy do I hate Conphas. This entire chapter shows just what a tool this guy is. At the end of the chapter, he thinks he just like a god, manipulating events from outside the lives of men, and he gets off on it. He is stunned, not by how many deaths can be laid at the feat of House Ikurei, but by the fact that only gods would dare to it.

Skeaös conspiring with Istiya is interesting. Conphas is surprised that the old man has problems with the plan. Religion does strange things to people, and Skeaös is seeing the end of his life approaching. I can see how that leads you to re-prioritize. And the prospect of damnation is not a pleasant one. He’s also in great shape. He climb up all those stairs, kept up with young, in shape Conphas, while talking. Wish I was in that great of shape.

Eleäzaras is so focused on revenge against the Cishaurim, he doesn’t care at all about the Indenture. Conphas is not shaken by Eleäzaras‘s threat, believing the men of the tusk won’t protect the Scarlet Spire well and they will be destroyed in the war and thus will be unable to retaliate against House Ikurei once they betray the war.

More speculation on Maithanet and his mysterious origins and strange ability to know hidden secrets. Conphas is right to have misgivings about the Shriah and whether House Ikurei is actually going to be able to seize the Holy War from the man or not.

The pieces are moving into place, setting the stage for the stage for the novel’s climax as we finish Part 2.

Click here for Chapter Nine!

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Review: The Darkness That Comes Before

The Darkness That Comes Before (The Prince of Nothing 1)

by R. Scott Bakker

Reviewed by JMD Reid

darkness-that-comes-beforeThe Darkness that Comes Before is the start of R. Scott Bakker’s metaseries The Second Apocalypse. Here he unfolds the rich, grimy world of the Three Seas and beyond. I was hooked with this series right from the beginning reading about refugees fleeing the end of the world and the founding of the Dûnyain. I was intrigued by the history teased before me and glad I found this book in the SeaTac Airport’s Borders.

What follows is a Fatnasy series unlike any I had read. Its roots are firmly in the heroic fantasy that developed over the twentieth century, including Tolkein. There are many illusions and parallels to the Lord of the Rings, but make no mistake, Bakker isn’t copying, he’s twisting, bending, creating a world that is grimy, filthy, myriad in the perversity of human lust, greed, envy, and religious fervor.

When a young man name Kellhus, who unknowingly carries the blood of ancient kings sets out on a quest inot the greater world, it is a familiar story. But Kellhus is a product of two thousand years of breeding by his secretive group the Dûnyain. His intellect is beyond normal men. He has been trained to understand the source of men’s passions. To us world-born, we are but children before him. With cold logic, Kellhus will do anything to accomplish his mission—even dominating an entire Holy War.

In the average Fantasy, Kellhus would be our protagonist. But he’s not. That is Achamian, the middle-aged sorcerer and spy, an overweight man prone to drink, drugs, and prostitutes. A man whose decades working as a spy has made him cynical of the world. He has drunk with kings and beggars and realizes not much separates them. He is on another mission for the Mandate, his order of sorcerers, to discover if the Consult has any role in the Holy War called by the new Shriah (Pope). Achamian will return to the holy city of Sumna, and to Esmenet the Whore, perhaps the only person who truly knows him.

Politics and maneuvering dominate this book. While there is warfare and action, much of the book is a contest between men seeking to dominate their circumstances, from Emperor Ikurie Xerius who plans to harness the Holy War to restore the glory of his waning Empire to Cnaiür urs Skiötha who seeks to prove himself the best of his nomadic people. And at the heart, Kellhus, the Prince of Nothing and harbinger of the Apocalypse, arriving out of the wastelands. He is one of the conditioned and all will yield before him.

Intrigue, politics, cryptic prophecies declaring the end of the world, philosophy, faith, sin, sorcererous battles, warfare and the battered souls who strive to make sense of their world. The Darkness that Comes Before is both sweeping and historical at the same time is it deeply personal as R. Scott Bakker delves into human nature in all its vagaries, the good and the ill. This series has a rich cast of flawed characters.

You can buy The Darkness that Comes Before on Amazon!

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