Review: Son of a Kitchen Witch

Son of a Kitchen Witch

by Tim Hemlin

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Bobby Hawthorne is the son of a witch. His mother, a chef who owns a restaurant, has a secret she hides from her Texan neighbors. She can whip up more than one kind of magic in the kitchen. But Bobby, he’s normal. Just another teenage boy, going to high school, crushing on the new girl Angelina, joining his own garage band.

Normal. Nothing out of the ordinary. His life no different than any other teenage boy even with a witch for a mother.

But all that changes when Skip Macintosh walks into his life. He’s the new business partner for his widowed mother’s restaurant and Bobby’s not happy. He’s sure Skip’s up to no good. With Angelina’s help, he’ll delve into the truth and discover just what happened to his father.

Oh, and stumble across a centuries old war between the fundamentalist Blackthornes and the witches they want to exterminate. Bobby and Angelina will have to learn fast about the hidden world of magic around them if they want any chance of surviving the darkness rising about them.

Son of a Kitchen Witch is a phenomenal YA story. Hemlin has crafted a rich world of colorful witches living beneath the noses of normal people. Magic and wonder lurks around every corner. The characters are fun and populated by personalties that will keep you reading. Bobby is a solid character and has great chemistry with Angelina. The pair work well together.

It was refreshing having the main character just no about his mother’s secret powers. It’s all so upfront in the beginning. I’m Bobby, my mom’s a chef, and she’s a witch sort of thing. To him, it’s nothing special.

This is a great, fun read that puts a very American spin on the story of witches living among us in the real world, blending Texan culture and Native American mythology together into something unique and enjoyable. If you’re a fan of fast-paced, YA stories, then you need to give Son of a Kitchen Witch a read!

Son of a Kitchen Witch is available from Amazon!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Ten

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 10
Atsushan Highlands

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

Love is lust made meaningful. Hope is hunger made human.

AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

How does one learn innocence? How does one teach ignorance? For to be them is to know them not. And yet they are the immovable point from which the compass of life swings, the measure of all crime and compassion, the rule of all wisdom and folly. They are the Absolute.

ANONYMOUS, THE IMPROMPTA

My Thoughts

Love is what this chapter is about. Achamian’s love for Esmenet, her love for him, and Serwë’s love for Kellhus. And we see how the Dûnyain manipulates them all with it. Each of the three find hope in their love. Hunger and lust, the drives of these characters, given purpose, made less soiled by their emotions.

They are the Absolute.” This quote stands at the exact opposite of Dûnyain philosophy. Innocence and Ignorance are the things they strip away from themselves. They destroy their innocence with reason, bury ignorance with logic. Therefore, they have no measure for crime or compassion. They simply have their mission and what it takes to achieve it as they search for their “Absolute.” Now we know that The Imprompta is Kellhus’s sermons. So he is preaching this, using these lies to mold his followers.

I don’t know why Bakker has this credited as anonymous. I bet it’s to hide that Kellhus is the speaker at the start of the chapter. Also, I believe Achamian is the one who wrote the Imprompta, and if you know the events of the end of Prince of Nothing, there might be a good reason that the author of the Imprompta isn’t remembered, officially anyways.

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Gedean interior

Achamian, thanks to his dreams and his life, has seen so much war. But marching with the army is a new experience for him. Despite that, he finds peace in his life. And that’s despite Kellhus’s presence. His guilt at not telling the Mandate about Kellhus has vanished. He didn’t understand why it had departed, the threat of Kellhus as the Harbinger remained. The No-God’s rise would come and the Second Apocalypse would spill across the world. And then he understands. Like a man driven mad in combat, rushing at the ranks of the enemies alone, Achamian had become “the fool who dashed alone into the spears of thousands” for Kellhus.

He still teaches them, now accompanied by Esmenet and Serwë, though they spend most of the time chatting. He has exhausted all he knows of the Three Seas and has moved onto the Ancient North. Achamian soon realizes he will only have the Gnosis to teach. But he’s glad believing that “the Gnosis was a language for which the Prince possessed no tongue.”

The host marches day after day, reaching the dry Atsushan Highlands. At night, they pitch tents and gather about Xinemus’s fire. More often, Achamian ate with the women and slaves as Proyas summoned Kellhus, Xinemus, and Cnaiür to council meetings. Proyas, thanks to Cnaiür, was obsessed with planning tactics. On a rare night where Kellhus eats with them, they laugh as Kellhus tells jokes, doing an exaggerated impression of Cnaiür. But when Cnaiür arrives, he gets angry and spits in the fire, staking off.

Kellhus stood, apparently stricken with remorse.

“The man’s a thin-skinned lout,” Achamian said crossly. “Mockery is a gift between friends. A gift.”

The Prince whirled. “Is it?” he cried. “Or is it an excuse?”

Achamian could only stare, dumbstruck. Kellhus had rebuked him. Kellhus. Achamian looked to the others, saw his shock mirrored in their faces, though not his dismay.

“Is it?” Kellhus demanded.

Achamian felt his face flush, his lips tremble. There was something about Kellhus’s voice. So like Achamian’s father’s…

Who’s he to—

Kellhus begs for Achamian’s forgiveness suddenly, saying he was “twice the fool.” Achamian, too, apologizes. Kellhus touches Achamian and it makes the sorcerer feel numb. The scent of Kellhus always flusters Achamian. Xinemus makes a joke, and they began joking again. This wasn’t unusual. Routinely, someone would say something that made another mad. Achamian reflects on how men are like merchants, always trading “backbiting, petty jealousies, resentments, arguments, and third-party arbitrations.” But Kellhus stood outside the market. He was the judge, the “head of the fire.” Everyone in their group understood this. Kellhus says, “what the poet Protathis claimed men should strive for: the hand of Triamis, the intellect of Ajencis, and the heart of Sejenus.”

After dinner, men and women from every nation would gather around the perimeter and just watch them. It started out small, just a few, but soon there were dozens. Xinemus had to start pitching his tent in the center of larger clearings to give them room. For a week, everyone at the fire, even Kellhus, tried to ignore them. But they didn’t. Their numbers just grew.

One night, Achamian joins them. He watches his friends, trying to understand. He watches the men of the Tusk as they stare entranced by what, to Achamian, seems so mundane and familiar. He asks the man sitting beside him why he does this. The man doesn’t look away, not shocked Achamian doesn’t see him. He says Achamian is too close to see. Achamian asks what?

He touched me once,” the man inexplicably replied. “Before Asgilioch. I stumbled while marching and he caught me by the arm. He said, ‘Doff your sandals and shod the earth.’”

Achamian chortled. “An old joke,” he explained. “You must have cursed the ground when you stumbled.”

So?” the man replied. He was fairly trembling, Achamian realized, with indignant fury.

Achamian frowned, tried to smile, to reassure. “Well, it’s an old saying—ancient, in fact—meant to remind people not to foist their failings on others.”

No,” the man grated, “it’s not.”

Achamian paused. “Then what does it mean?”

Rather than answer, the man turned away, as though willfully consigning Achamian and his question to oblivion of what he couldn’t see. Achamian stared at him for a thick moment, bewildered and curiously dismayed. How could fury secure the truth?”

He stood, slapped dust from his knees.

It means,” the man said from behind him, “that we must uproot the world. That we must destroy all that offends.”

The hatred in the man’s words shocks Achamian. He’s too dumbfounded to argue. Achamian realizes these people will never leave. He further realizes he’s just like them, only he sits “closer to the fire.” Like Achamian, they are waiting for something to happen.

As the nights pass, even Kellhus starts to be affected by the watchers, his humor “seething.” Xinemus finally gets annoyed and asks Kellhus why he doesn’t just go talk to them. This stuns everyone. Kellhus answers. “Because they make more of me than I am.” Xinemus, still annoyed, doesn’t care and tells him to go. After a few moments, Kellhus does. And this begins the “The Imprompta,” his nightly sermons. Often, Achamian and Esmenet would join the sermons, which Kellhus appreciates, claiming it is easier to bear with the two of them watching saying, “So often when I speak I don’t recognize my voice.”

By the time the Holy War neared Shigek, the dozens had become hundreds. Achamian feels the need to write the Imprompta’s down after last night’s sermon where Kellhus talks about the fur trapper, his devotion to his dead wife, and how he transferred that love to his dogs, saying “When one love dies, one must love another.” Achamian believes these words must be written.

Even high ranking nobles, including Martemus, are present. Proyas even “sat in the dust with the others, though he seemed troubled.” Akka is ready to write as Kellhus searches the crowd, spotting a Conryian knight looking haggard. He asks the man what happened. The knight talks about how three days ago, his lord lead him and other men on a village raid. They didn’t find it, instead coming across a dead girl with her throat cut.

“What happened next?” [asked Kellhus.]

“Nothing… I mean, we simply ignored her, continued riding as though she were nothing more than discarded cloth… a-a scrap of leather in the dust,” he added, his voice breaking. He looked down to his calloused palms.

“Guilt and shame wrack you by day,” Kellhus said,” the feeling that you’ve committed some mortal crime. Nightmares wrack you by night… She speaks to you.”

The man’s nod was almost comical in its desperation. He hadn’t, Achamian realized, the nerve for war.

“But why?” he cried. “I mean, how many dead have we seen?”

“But not all seeing,” Kellhus replied, “is witness.”

The knight doesn’t understand what Kellhus means. And he explains that to witness is “seeing that testifies.” The knight then judged that she was murdered. The knight agrees, but he doesn’t understand why it make shim suffer. “She’s not mine. She was heathen!” He explains that though we are surrounded by good and bad, our hearts grow calloused, like hands from work. But all it takes is for one thing to strike and “our heart is torn.” Then a human feels something. The man asks what he should do.

“Rejoice.”

“Rejoice? But I suffer!”

“Yes, rejoice! The calloused hand cannot feel the lover’s cheek. When we witness, we testify, and when we testify we make ourselves responsible for what we see. And that—that—is what it means to belong.”

Kellhus suddenly stood, leapt from the low platform, took two breathtaking steps into their midst. “Make no mistake,” he continued, and the air thrummed with the resonance of his voice. “The world owns you. You belong, whether you want to or not. Why do we suffer? Who do the wretched take their own lives? Because the world, no matter how cursed, owns us. Because we belong.”

Someone challenges if they should “celebrate suffering.” Kellhus answers that you wouldn’t be suffering, but instead to celebrate its meaning, that “you belong, not that you suffer.” He quotes the latter prophet and the knight sees the wisdom of Kellhus’s words, but wants to know what to gain. Kellhus doesn’t want them to see, but witness. “To be one with the world in which you dwell. To make a covenant of your life.” The Mandate’s promise to Achamian echoes in his mind: “The world… You will gain the world.” Achamian is so moved, he forgot to write. Lucky, Esmenet remembers.

Of course she did.

Esmenet. The second pillar of his [Achamian] peace, and by far the mightier of the two.

It seemed at once strange and fitting to find something almost conjugal in the midst of the Holy War. Each evening they would walk exhausted from Kellhus’s talks or from Xinemus’s fire, holding hands like young lovers, ruminating or bickering or laughing about the evening’s events. They would pick their way through the guy ropes, and Achamian would pull the canvas aside with mock gallantry. They would touch and brush as they disrobed, then hold each other in the dark—as though together they could be more than what they were.

A whore of word and a whore of body.

As they days go by, he thinks less of Inrau, the Consult, and the Second Apocalypse, focusing on his new life with Esmenet, and Kellhus. The Dreams still come, but Esmenet’s touch when he awakes banishes them. For the first time, he lives in the moment, treasuring all the details of their relationship, the good and the bad.

One night, after they finish making love, Esmenet says everyone knows Kellhus is a prophet. Panic seizes Achamian and asks what she is saying. “Only what you need to hear,” she answers. He presses her, and she says because you think it and fear it and because you need it. “We are damned, her eyes said.” He’s not a mused and she asks him how long since he contacted the Mandate. She says he’s waiting “to see what he becomes.” And she is sure he is a prophet.

Achamian reflects on how Esmenet has always seemed to know him, even recognizing him as a sorcerer, leading to him to think she’s a witch. She knows him so well, and he finds it strange to be “awaited rather than anticipated.” And he knows her, too. All the little details that made up her life. “A mystery that he knew…” He wonders if that is love. “To know, to trust a mystery…”

During a Conriyan festival, Achamian is drunk with Kellhus and Xinemus, the only three still awake. He asks Kellhus how he loves Serwë. Kellhus replies in the same way Achamian loves Esmenet. Achamian presses, asking how he loves Esmenet. “Like a fish loves the ocean?” Xinemus crocks jocking answers, which annoys Achamian. He wants Kellhus and demands for it angrily.

Kellhus smiled, raised his downcast eyes. Tears scored his cheek.

“Like a child,” he said.

The words knocked Achamian from his feet. He crashed to his buttocks with a grunt.”

Kellhus explains that Achamian asks no questions. His love has no reserve. That Esmenet has become his ground. And Achamian realizes she has become his wife. He’s elated, but somehow, he found himself making love to Serwë.

He was just lying, half drunk, staring up at the sky, when Serwë hikes up his robe, stroking him hard. He wants to stop this, but when she undresses, she is beautiful. She mounts him and he realizes she is pregnant. She rides him, shouting “I can see you.” He looked away, shocked and in pleasure, and sees Esmenet watching. He blinks and she’s gone. After he orgasms, he passes out. He’s hungover the next morning. Feeling guilty, he watches Esmenet sleep. When she wakes up, he looks into her eyes, studying her. But she doesn’t seem any different, only chastising him for drinking. By the next evening, he had convinced himself it was a dream.

When he told Esmenet, she laughed and threatened to tell Kellhus. Afterward, alone, he actually wept in relief. Never, he realized, not even the night following the madness with the Emperor beneath the Andiamine Heights, had he felt a greater sense of doom. And he knew he belonged to Esmi—not the world.

She was his covenant. Esmenet was his wife.

The Holy War marches closer to Shigek, and Achamian continues shirking his duty to the Mandate. He realizes all his excuses were meaningless of why he was avoiding them. Because, for once, he was happy and had found peace.

Serwë sits by the fire, tired after the march, and glad Cnaiür was off scouting for the last four days. She didn’t have to put up with him watching her, raping her. She prays for him to die, “but this was the one prayer Kellhus wouldn’t answer.” She stares at Kellhus’s face as he talks with Achamian, not caring for the words spoken. She can only stare at the beauty of his face, how godlike it was. She touches her belly, still believing the child is his and not Cnaiür’s, and that brings her joy.

So much had changed! She was wise, far more so, she knew, than a girl of twenty summers should be. The world had chastened her, had shown her the impotence of outrage. First the Gaunum sons and their cruel lusts. Then Panteruth and his unspeakable brutalities. Then Cnaiür and his iron-willed madness. What could the outrage of a soft-skinned concubine mean to a man such as him? Just one more thing to be broken. She knew the futility, that the animal within would grovel, shriek, would place soothing lips around any man’s cock for a moment of mercy—that it would do anything, sate any hunger, to survive. She’d been enlightened.

Submission. Truth lay in submission.

“You’ve surrendered, Serwë,” Kellhus had told her. “And by surrendering, you have conquered me!”

The days of nothing had passed. The world, Kellhus said, had prepared her for him. She, Serwë hil Keyalti, was to be his sacred consort.

Because of this, she can endure Cnaiür’s rape and abuse. He was the demon to the god she found in Kellhus. She thinks the others who share the fire are stupid for not realizing that Kellhus is god in flesh. But she realizes they couldn’t know. How could they? They didn’t sleep with Kellhus, they weren’t taught by the world to be his. She loves watching him instruct. He is always doing that.

While talking with Achamian about how caste-nobles and sorcerers are different from regular people (one because of their blood, one because of their ability), Kellhus disagrees with Achamian’s assertion that those distinctions are inviolable. Kellhus reveals he is one of the Few. He can see the Mark. Achamian grows nervous as Kellhus explains now they are the same when before Achamian thought they were different. Achamian doesn’t believe it. He demands proof. Achamian is unnerved even as Xinemus shrugs it off, remarking that many of the Few never speak blasphemy. But Achamian doesn’t want to believe it. Serwë realizes Achamian sees Kellhus as something more. Just like she does. She remembers making love to Achamian, but to her, it was really Kellhus she slept with wearing Achamian’s appearance.

Achamian knows a way to prove in and races off into the dark. Esmenet sits down by Serwë, handing over tea to the girl, and remarks if Kellhus has wound Achamian up again. Serwë agrees, studying Esmenet, and realizes that the woman is almost as beautiful as she is. But Esmenet is also so bold, able to talk with men and joke with them. It makes Serwë feel insecure. Despite that, Esmenet is always so kind to her because Esmenet likes to care for those more vulnerable than her. Serwë objects that she is not a whore or vulnerable. “We’re all whores, Serchaa…” They chat, but Serwë senses something off about Esmenet and realizes that Esmenet knows she slept with Achamian and sees anger. She wants to protest that it was Kellhus she really slept with, not Achamian.

Then Achamian returns with the Wathi Doll. It scares Serwë. Esmenet asks if Achamian scares her and she says no, thinking Achamian is too sad to be scary. Esmenet promises Serwë will be scared after this while Xinemus mocks Achamian for bring a toy. Kellhus recognizes it as a sorcerer artifact, brining a sharp look from Achamian.

Achamian explains about the Wathi Doll, something he purchased from a Sansori witch. It contains a soul. Xinemus grows uncomfortable, but Achamian begs to allow him to continue. This is a way to test Kellhus without him damning himself and gaining the Mark. Achamian draws two words in the sand, tells Kellhus to repeat them. It’s not a cant, but the cipher to the doll, so it won’t Mark him. But if he is one of the Few, he will activate it.

Kellhus speaks the words. Serwë watches in horror as the doll comes to life. She can see a tiny face straining against the fabric, the soul trapped inside struggling to escape. It moves and staggers, but not like a puppet. No strings control it. Everyone watches in fearful awe. It plays with a coal from the fire.

Achamian muttered something unspeakable, and it collapsed in a jumble of splayed limbs. He looked blankly at Kellhus, and in a voice as ashen as his expression, said, “So, you’re one of the Few…”

Horror, Serwë thought. He was horrified. But why? Couldn’t he see?

Without warning, Xinemus leapt to his feet. Before Achamian could even glance at him, the Marshal had seized his arm, yanked him violently about.

“Why do you do this?” Xinemus cried, his face both pained and enraged. “You know that it’s difficult enough for me to…to… You know! And now displays such as this? Blasphemy?”

Stunned, Achamian looked at his friend aghast. “But Zin,” he cried. “This is what I am?”

Zin snarls that maybe Proyas was right and stalks off into the darkness. Esmenet goes to Achamian, whispering to him that Kellhus would show Xinemus his folly, make it all better. Serwë looks at Kellhus, praying for that. She knows she can speak to him just with her face. “Nothing was hidden.” But his look says no, he has to reveal himself to them slowly. “Otherwise they’ll turn against me…”

Later that night, Serwë awakens to an argument between Kellhus and Cnaiür. She fears he means to abuse her again and tenses for it. All her confidence at being a god’s sacred consort has vanished. They are arguing over Cnaiür breaking form their purpose, abandoning Kellhus and heading to Proyas’s camp. He’s only here for Serwë. She’s scared now, waiting for three heart-beats for Kellhus to answer. No. He won’t let Cnaiür have her.

Relief sweeps over her. She finally has mercy. She doesn’t hear their argument. When Kellhus enters, she kisses hi, braces him. She is giddy with excitement and falls asleep in his arms, feeling safe. “A God touched her. Watched over her with divine love.”

Its back to the canvas, the thing called Sarcellus crouched, as still as stone. The musk of the Scylvendi’s fury permeated the night air, sweet and sharp, heady with the promise of blood. The sound of the woman weeping tugged at its groin. She might have been worth its fancy, were it not for the smell of her fetus, which sickened…

What passed for thought bolted through what passed for its soul.

My Thoughts

Achamian has found peace with the illogical decision. He’s resigned himself to what’s coming. And now it doesn’t matter. It lets him do something so folly. It’s that moment when you just don’t care any longer. When circumstances have defeated you and you just say “Fuck it” let’s see what happens.

So, interesting that Esmenet has joined their lessons. I wonder who arranged that. Kellhus? He has the women befriending each other, too, paving the road for his future plans for Esmenet.

Kellhus’s impression of Cnaiür and Proyas is hilarious. Right down to spitting in the fire. Bakker does a good job with the camaraderie of this scene, the way people bond over the mocking of others when they’re not around. But what is Kellhus’s purpose in this mockery? I think it’s manipulating of Achamian. Kellhus needs two things from the sorcerer: the Gnosis and his wife. Kellhus impersonates Achamian’s father, after all. This is deliberate. He’s diving deeper into Achamian’s psyche, finding the scars we know his father left on him. Just re-read The Darkness that Comes Before. Achamian spends some time reflecting on his father’s abuse in that book.

Achamian (and Bakker’s) insight on human interaction is so very petty and yet rings very true. Even close friends have these little annoyances with each other, dumb things that they say under the guise of jocking mocks.

The Protathis quote about what men should strive for is a great way to describe Kellhus in universe. And Bakker trust us, the reader, to understand who these three men are after all those chapter epigraphs we’ve been reading. The strong warrior, the intelligent philosopher, and the compassionate preacher.

I love the description of the watchers as “little brothers” tagging along. I had a brother four years younger than me. And he used to do that with me and my friends, following us around. I found it so annoying. I was, sadly, mean to him when he did that. Something I regret now.

The fanatic Achamian talks to (no doubt a future Zaudunyani), interpretation of a simple joke into divine revelation is something you see in any form of belief. Look at any conspiracy theories, how they’ll latch onto anything to twist it to their theory, to make it proof in what they believe. It’s irrational. But human decisions usually are. We like to think we make rational decisions, weighing options, but the reality is we make snap judgments and then try to rationalize our irrational decisions. It what makes it hard to change people’s minds on politics, religions, and other philosophical ideas. The fanatic believes the world must be uprooted, and he has twisted his new prophet’s words into a special message just for himself.

Kellhus’s “seething humor” is the perfect tool to get someone else at the fire to broach talking to the gathering people. Like Kellhus is just innocent of their growing presence. It’s out of his control and he doesn’t want to make it worse. But, it won’t go away and he’ll just have to deal with it, reluctantly. Because he’s not a prophet. Yet.

And notice how Kellhus continues his manipulation of Achamian and Esmenet at the same time with his lie that their presence makes giving his sermons less terrifying.

Martemus has begun Conphas’s plan of becoming one of Kellhus’s “followers.”

I see Kellhus left off the part of his story with Leweth about how he abandoned the man to be raped and killed by Sranc once he had no further use of them. That’s definitely a trust betrayed there.

The knight’s story about finding the dead girl and just riding on, abandoning her, is so sad. It haunts this man. Achamian is dismissive, saying the man isn’t cut out for war, but I would disagree. Is any human really? For this man, that dead girl was the limit of what he could handle.

Witnessing… Once you witness something, it’s hard to forget it. Not just seeing, but noticing, having compassion and understanding for what you’re really seeing. She wasn’t just a dead body, on object, but a person to this knight.

Kellhus’s description of how easy it is to be callous, how just living can harden our hearts, enduring us to the terrible things around us, ignoring bad things when we come across it until one day, something happens that breaks through it. It’s so sad what the world can do to us, to make it so hard to be Human so we can avoid pain, suffering, like this knight is experiencing. Despite Kellhus saying the things to move his audience, his words were still beautiful. These are the chains that he binds their hearts to him. These beautiful words telling truths that he knows will make them weak.

This is how cults work. They do what’s called love-bombing, letting you know that despite your suffering, you have a place where people care. They make you feel like you belong, they open up your heart. And once you’re in, it’s hard to escape because you’ve come to care for these people. Kellhus is working on the crowd, leading them down the path of following him as their prophet. To belong with him. To be united to him so that they can become one with the world. To make something meaningful out of their life. To not just live. So seductive. It flatters the ego, which is the best way to win converts.

This section of the series is probably my favorite. Just for lines like “Esmenet. The second pillar of his peace, and by far the mightier of the two.” It’s nice to see these two characters have such peace because you know what’s coming.

Just reading about their domesticity, living amid the Holy War, carving something so normal in the midst of the abnormal, is very human. We crave that stability. In Babylon 5, the character Dalenn once remarked that “Humans build communities.” And that is an important statement. Even in the worse conditions, in terrible prisons, in abject poverty, humans still form communities. They may be dysfunctional, ruled by tyranny or apathy, but they still existed. A way to try to make their lives have some amount of normalcy to cope, to live, to survive.

Damnation is a huge theme in the Second Apocalypse. I have never read a series that has such a bleak soteriology as Bakker’s work. It’s even worse than the sort of depressing afterlife you see in Mesopotamia, where everyone just goes to the underworld and just exists. Damnation is easy to attain. There are rules, set for by the Hundred Gods, and they don’t care. Even “salvation” may not be a good thing as you learn in latter books. And the reason is horrifying. It also is the motivation for most characters. Escaping eternal torment. What greater motivation is there.

Why, you might even be willing to genocide whole planets to avoid it. To close the Outside once and for all. And how will Kellhus, a Dûnyain, react when he learns the truth?

Esmenet’s not one of the Few, but her mother might have been. She did divine by stars but refused to teach her daughter any of it. Witches aren’t really delved into, but women who are the Few exist with a some amount of sorcerers knowledge. Esmenet’s even has a talisman charmed by a witch to prevent contraception (her whore shell). And, of course, the Wathi doll Achamian has is another witch artifact. It’s a shame Bakker doesn’t have the opportunity to delve into what witches know and how they use sorcery.

Achamian’s musing on love is poignant. For such a dark, bleak series, it is peppered with such touching moments. Bakker really has a pulse on human behavior. These moments of humanity stand out in such contrast to the barbarism around it.

Achamian is knee-deep in Kellhus’s manipulation now. First, Kellhus makes Achamian realize just how much he loves and needs her, then he sends Serwë to sleep with him, maybe even arranging for Esmenet to find them. This puts Achamian right into the guilty frame of mind Kellhus needs for his next goal—the Gnosis.

We like to tell ourselves we would never go so far to survive. We would never degrade ourselves. We would never bow and surrender. But the truth is, we want to live. Most humans, when given that choice between death and life, will find themselves doing anything to survive. It takes a resolve, a commitment to something they believe greater than themselves, to push down that survival instinct. Belief in a religion, in a philosophy, in justice. And it’s vastly easier when you believe there is a reward waiting for you beyond. That you will, in fact, keep living and find something better.

Kellhus’s words on her conquering him through surrendering are merely the lies he needs to tell to flatter her ego, to transform her suffering into something that she can embrace to belong. Just like with the knight during his sermon.

The world hasn’t prepared Serwë for Kellhus. He is preparing her for his own ends. And her blind faith ends with a slit throat.

Well, everything Serwë was moaning while riding Achamian makes sense. She saw Kellhus in him, believed she was making love to him in a guise. It was probably how Kellhus got her to sleep with Achamian. “You must know me Serwë, in all my guises,” she remembers him saying to her. Probably followed up with, “So go sleep with Achamian and see if you recognize me in him.”

Esmenet’s kindness to vulnerable, young women is probably a manifest of her guilt over Mimara, her “dead” daughter. And she clearly blames Serwë for what happened.

The description of the doll moving is seriously creepy. Bakker does a great job with the mood and atmosphere in this passage, capturing the horror of a human soul trapped in a body, wanting to escape and being unable to. Our first proof in the series that souls are real, and they can be manipulated after death. Abused.

Serwë is pretty good at reading Kellhus’s expressions. Or, I should say, Kellhus knows how to frame his face so Serwë gets the exact message he wants her to get. Kellhus could, of course, patch things up, but he is manipulating Achamian, getting the man to open up to him. Of course, the plan ends up backfiring in the short term thanks to the Scarlet Spire’s interference.

Serwë’s self-esteem crashes the moment the Scylvendi appears. “Nothing could kill Cnaiür urs Skiötha, not so long as Serwë remained alive.” She had four days of freedom, and now he’s back to hurt her again. And now, finally, Kellhus intervenes. But not for Serwë. This is all part of his manipulation of Cnaiür. As we’ll see come the next major battle.

Interesting fact about the skin-spy Sarcellus being sickened by the scent of Serwë’s child. The Consult do not want humans reproducing. When the No God walked the world, every child was stillborn. They need to exterminate almost all life to end the cycle of damnation and free themselves from it.

Sarcellus and the Consult plot. Achamian is about to have is domesticity destroyed. Serwë has found happiness, but it only ends in death. Esmenet is about to embark upon a new journey.

Click here to continue onto Chapter 11!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Nine

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 9
Hinnereth

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

One can look into the future, or one can look at the future. The latter is by far the more instructive.

AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

If one doubts that passion and unreason govern the fate of nations, one need only look to meetings between the Great. Kings and emperors are unused to treating with equals, and are often excessively relieved or repelled as a result. The Nilnameshi have a saying, “When princes meet, they find brothers or themselves,” which is to say, either peace or war.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

The first quote is talking about the difference between predicting the future and planning for it. Many claim to “predict” the future through various means of prognostication, especially in the setting of this book. Achamian alone is relying on one of these predictions. Normally, planning for the future based on lived experience is often a prudent thing.

It is interesting that Xerius nods to three people as he rides his chariot out of the Imperial Precinct: his mother (of course, he is a mama’s boy), General Kumuleus (a man whose political support gave him the throne), and Arithmeas, his augur. Xerius has not read Ajencis or didn’t took the man’s lessons to heart.

Kellhus is looking at the future at the end of the chapter when suddenly he is looking into the future. But not in a fake way like the augurs and astrologers that Ajencis is critiquing. As we see in this series, the Outside can break causality. The future truly can be glimpsed.

When nations are led by men, you have to expect them to do acts that are as illogical and emotional as any act a human alone can commit. Xerius, again, is keen to give us an example of Achamian’s quote in action.

Early Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

Xerius is fuming having been summoned by Maithanet, the Shriah. He ponders his new Grand Seneschal Ngrau, trusting the man’s judgment in selecting the right person to hand Xerius his chariot’s reins, a ceremonial act of great significance and must be selected carefully. Thinking of his trust of Ngrau opens the wounds of Skeaös betrayal. He wonders how long it will hurt him.

As he rides, Xerius nods at a select few individuals, bestowing his imperial attention. He has learned from his mother and the bloody history of his past emperors that a balance had to be struck, not to be too trusting, too wasteful, too cruel. She had told him: “The world doesn’t constrain us, so we must constrain ourselves—like the Gods…” Xerius believes himself to be disciplined.

His chariot enters the city where people gather. Xerius believes Maithanet has let the city know of their meeting, to make it public. At first, he thinks they wave and salutes back, but then realizes they’re jeering and shouting. He’s shocked, embarrassed that they mocked his waves. The crowd grows. His perfumed censors cannot keep their odor at bay. He reminds himself to be disciplined, believing Maithanet provokes him. Xerius realizes the Momemnites hate him.

But this would change, he reminded himself. When all was finished, when the fruits of his labour had become manifest, they would hail him as no other emperor in living memory. They would rejoice as trains of heathen slaves bore tribute to the Home City, as blinded kings were dragged in chains to their Emperor’s feet. And with shielded eyes they would gaze upon Ikurei Xerius III and they would know—know!—that he was indeed the Aspect-Emperor, returned from the ashes of Kyraneas and Cenei to compel the world, to force nation and tribe to bow and kiss his knee.

I will show them! They will see!

Xerius’s chariot and escort of soldiers reach Cmiral’s plaza, the large temple complex of Momemn. It is choked with people. His escort forces there way through with clubs while the people chant “Maithanet!” over and over. Xerius fears the Shriah has whipped the mob into a frenzy to assassinate him in a riot. But the crowd surges, forcing the swords to be drawn and men to die.

The Charioteer steaded his team, glanced nervously at him [Xerius].

You look an Emperor in the eye?

Go!” Xerius roared. “Into them! Go!”

Laughing, he leaned from the runners and spat upon his people, upon those who cried another’s name when Ikurei Xerius III stood godlike in their midst. If only he could spit molten gold!

Slowly, the chariot trundled ahead, lurching and throwing him forward as the wheels chipped over the fallen. His stomach burned with fear, his bowels felt loose, but there was wildness in his thoughts, a delirium that exulted in death’s proximity. One by one, the torch-bearers were pulled under, but the Kidruhil stood fast, battling their way ever forward, hacking their way among the masses, their swords rising and falling, rising and falling, and it seemed to Xerius that he punished the mongrels with his arm, that it was he who reached forward and chopped them to the ground.

Laughing maniacally, the Emperor of Nansur passed among his people, toward the growing immensity of temple Xothei.

The emperor’s decimated party reached the safety of the temple. He orders a captain to butcher the square, wanting his “chariot to skid across blood.” His fury dies when he hears the crowd mocking him more and hastily enters the temple in fear. He collapses the moments the doors close. He feels like a fool, glad Conphas wasn’t here to witness this. He can still hear Maithanet’s name being shouted. He spots the Shriah kneeling alone in the cavernous temple and walks to them, straightening his clothing. He reaches the Shriah, angered that Maithanet doesn’t rise and face him. Maithanet is pleased Xerius has come, and the Emperor demands to know why.

The broad back turned. Maithanet was wearing a plain white frock with sleeves that ended mid-arm. For an instant he appraised Xerius with glittering eyes, then he raised his head to the distant sound of the mob, as though it were the sound of rain prayed for and received. Xerius could see the strong chin beneath the black of his oiled beard. His face was broad, like that of a yeoman, and surprisingly youthful, though nothing about the man’s manner spoke of youth. How old are you?

Listen!” Maithanet hissed, raising his hands to the resonant sound of his name. Maithanet-Maithanet-Maithanet…

I am not a proud man, Ikurei Xerius, but it moves me to hear them call thus.”

Xerius finds himself awed but he ignores it, saying he doesn’t want to play games. Maithanet says he’s here about the Holy War. He has to look into Xerius’s eyes. This disconcerted Xerius despite him knowing this meeting would be high stakes. Then Maithanet asks straight out if Xerius has conspired with the Heathens to destroy the war. Xerius lies, answers no.

No?”

I’m injured, Shriah, that you would—”

Maithanet’s laughter was sudden, loud, reverberant enough to fill even the hollows of great Xothei.

Xerius fairly gasped. The Writ of Psata-Antyu, the code governing Shrial conduct, forbade laughing aloud as carnal indulgence. Maithanet, he realized, was giving him a glimpse of his depths. But for what purpose? All of this—the mobs, the demand to meet here in Xothei, even the chanting of his name—was demonstration of some kind, terrifying in its premeditated lack of subtlety.

I’ll crush you, Maithanet was saying. If the Holy War fails, you’ll be destroyed.

Maithanet apologies, saying the holy war “may be poisoned by false rumors.” Xerius believes Maithanet is trying to cow him, and grows angry to cover his panic. He reflects how he can hate far more than Conphas, his nephew capable of it but too easily slips back into his “glassy remoteness.” Hatred never left Xerius. The Shriah then invites Xerius to listen to the crowd, and Xerius realizes how the man gained such power: “the ability to impart sanctity to the moment, to touch people with awe as though it were bread drawn from his own basket.”

But over the course of this brief exchange, the sounds of thousands chanting Maithanet’s name had transformed, hesitantly at first, but with greater certitude with each passing moment. Changed.

Into Screams.

Obviously, the nameless Captain had executed his Emperor’s instructions with blessed alacrity. Xerius grinned his own winning grin. At last he felt a match for this obscenely imposing man.

Do you hear, Maithanet? Now they call out my name.”

Indeed they do,” the Shriah said darkly. “Indeed they do.”

Later Summer, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Hinnereth, on the coast of Gedea

After weeks of preparation, the Siege of Hinnereth has begun. The Holy War has constructed great siege machines to take the city. Bakker gives a history of the city, how it has always been a tributary, changing hands as the fortunes of nations wax and wane. The first assault begins and it is a disaster. A delegation is scent to the Scarlet Spire asking for their help, but they won’t fight short of reaching Shimeh or to engage the Cishaurim. The Great Names ask for just a breach, but Eleäzaras vehemently refuses. So another assault is prepared.

While the siege happens, bands of knights range the coast, raiding villages and towns. Athjeäri is very effective, routing a small army and taking a garrison. He kills any who surrendered but refused to denounce Fane and embrace Inrithism. The rest are sold as slaves. Other fortresses also fall.

On the eve of the second assault, the Holy War wakes up to find the Nansur fleet in the harbor and the city gates are open, the Nansur flag flying over the walls. “Hinnereth had fallen, not to the Holy War, but to Emperor Ikurei Xerius III.” Conphas, at first, refuses the Council’s summons. When he does arrive, he explains how he negotiated with the Gedean Sapatishah. After the brutality of the Holy War raiders, he decided to surrender to the Nansur to spare his people. “In matters of mercy, Martemus said, a known enemy was always more preferable than an unknown.” The Holy War isn’t happy that they are barred from looting the city, but those were part of the surrender terms. Saubon is furious. He claims that Hinnereth was his, “just spoils of his victory on the Battleplain.” He had to be restrained from assaulting Conphas. They placate Saubon, telling him Gedea is poor lands. Better prizes in Shigek await.

After a council among Proyas’s nobles, joined by Kellhus and Cnaiür, Proyas asks Xinemus is stay behind by Proyas. Once alone, Xinemus asks what troubles his prince. He has questions and hesitates when pressed before admitting about Kellhus.

Xinemus raised his eyebrows. “He troubles you?”

Proyas hooked a hand behind his neck, grimaced. “In all honesty, Zin, he’s the least troubling man I’ve ever known.”

And that’s what troubles you.”

Many things troubled him [Proyas], not the least of which was the recent disaster at Hinnereth. They’d been outmaneuvered by Conphas and the Emperor. Never again.

He had no time and little patience for these…personal matters.

He asks Xinemus opinion of Kellhus, and the marshal admits he’s terrified of Kellhus, explaining that though he’s eaten and gotten drunk with Kellhus, he can’t explain how the man effects him, makes him better. Proyas agrees he has that effect. Xinemus studies Proyas, making the prince feel like a boy lying about being a man. Xinemus continues, commenting that Kellhus, by his own admission, is still a man when Proyas interrupts him to ask after Achamian. Xinemus is shocked. Proyas had forbidden Achamian’s name in the past. Proyas is curious. Warily, Xinemus tells about his relationship with Esmenet, how he’s happy and in love. Proyas has heard of the former whore, and Xinemus is quick to defend her. Xinemus continues about Achamian, saying he’s not even talking about the Consult or his dreams. Proyas would approve.

So he’s in love,” Proyas said, shaking his head. “Love!” he exclaimed incredulously. “Are you sure?” A grin overpowered him.

Xinemus fairly cackled. “He’s in love, all right. He’s been stumbling after his pecker for weeks now.”

Proyas laughed and looked to the ground. “So he has one of those, does he?” Akka in love. It seemed both impossible and strangely inevitable.

Men like him need love… Men unlike me.

Xinemus further says Esmenet is fond of him. Proyas mentions Achamian is a sorcerer and that sobers the conversation. Proyas’s faith rears up, annoyed by Xinemus’s mulish acceptance of Achamian being a sorcerer. Then Proyas asks if Achamian still teaches Kellhus. Xinemus says yes, then says that Proyas wants “to believe Kellhus is more.” Proyas burst out he was right about Saubon down to the details.

And yet,” Xinemus continued, frowning at the interruption, “he openly consorts with Achamian. With a sorcerer…”

Xinemus mockingly had spoken the word as other men spoke it: like a thing smeared in shit.

Proyas turns away, and asks Xinemus’s opinion. He says that Kellhus is like him, and Proyas once upon a time, seeing Achamian as good despite his sin. Proyas grows angry, interrupting, quoting the Tusk which says to burn them for being Unclean. He accuses Kellhus and Xinemus of consorting with an abomination. The Marshal doesn’t believe that.

Proyas fixed him with his gaze. Why did he feel so cold?

Then you cannot believe the Tusk.”

The Marshal blanched, and for the first time the Conriyan Prince saw fear on his old sword-trainer’s face—fear! He wanted to apologize, to unsay what he’d said, but the cold was so unyielding…

So true.

I simply go by the Word!

If one couldn’t trust the God’s own voice, if one refused to listen—even for sentiment’s sake!—then everything became skepticism and scholarly disputation. Xinemus listened to his heart, and this was at once his strength and his weakness. The heart recited no scripture.

Well then,” the Marshal said thinly. “You needn’t worry about Kellhus any more than you worry about me…”

Proyas narrowed his eyes and nodded.

After sunset, Kellhus sits on a cliff staring down at the Holy War, Hinnereth, and the Meneanor Sea. He didn’t see any of it with his eyes. He is in the probability trance, exploring his options, thinking about Eärwa and how it is “enslaved by history, custom, and animal hunger, a world driven by the hammers of what came before.” He thinks on Achamian, the Apocalypse, politics, factions, and wars. He thinks about the Gnosis and “the prospect of near limitless power.” He thinks of Esmenet and her “slender thighs and piercing intellect.” He thinks of a wary truce fashioned with the Consult “born of enigma and hesitation.” Of Saubon and his lust for power. Of Cnaiür, his growing madness and threat. He thinks of the holy war and asks his father what he should do.

Possible worlds blew through him, fanning and branching into a canopy of glimpses…

Nameless Schoolmen climbing a steep, gravely beach. A nipple pinched between fingers. A gasping climax. A severed head thrust against the burning sun. Apparitions marching out of morning mist.

A dead wife.

Kellhus exhaled, then breathed deep the bittersweet pinch of cedar, earth, and war.

There was revelation.

My Thoughts

Of course Xerius is acting like a petulant child when he has to go see the Shriah. After all, Isn’t Xerius a god? Of course Maithanet would disagree and it is a brutal reminder to Xerius just how weak his political power is compared to the church, especially since his gambit to indenture the Holy War has failed.

Skeaös may have been the closet thing Xerius had to a friend. Of course he’s hurt by his betrayal. It’s a touch of humanism for the emperor. Bakker has great skill riding the line between intelligence and foolish, competence and failure with Xerius. He’s always on the edge of one or the other, just not quite there.

Xerius’s ego is on full display on the ride from his palace, first assuming that the shouting throng is waving to him, cheering him, happy to see their emperor. He so badly misreads them, that he allows himself to be mocked. Then when he realizes they hate him, well, his

Xerius loses his discipline at Cmiral. His ego overrides his fear of sparking a riot as he orders his chariot to trample the fallen. I mean, he laughs maniacally as his soldiers switch to swords to kill their way through the mob. Too much cruelty, Xerius. Remember your mother’s lessons.

Wow, Xerius’s ego is great. He has to have a wooden walkway for him to use so he can walk higher than “mere men.” And then he thinks butchering his people is discipline. But it is the exact opposite. He has lost control of both his people through his terrible rule and himself by reacting emotionally to them. Now he’s only going to make them hate him more to satiate his ego.

We see that Maithanet is young but doesn’t carry himself with youth. He’s experienced. It’s a very important detail that fits with what we learn about the man’s origins in the next book. Xerius finds himself awed by the man, reacting the way Maithanet wants him to. It’s skillful manipulation of Xerius. He’s off-balanced by the mob hating him and loving another, a direct attack on his ego.

See the lies Xerius tells himself after his realization of Maithanet’s threat to destroy him should the Holy War fail. Xerius can’t accept the truth that his plans have been unveiled. But it’s obvious to the reader, Maithanet knows. How? What do we know about him? He came from Fanim lands. He has blue eyes. He’s a manipulator. And he can see the Few. Very interesting character.

Interesting that Xerius uses Conphas to measure his own heart’s emotions. Xerius doesn’t get it, but he knows Conphas wants the throne, and he is staving off the day when his nephew becomes Emperor. He has to keep himself convinced he’s better than Conphas, smarter, hates more. More importantly, he needs his nephew to believe that, too, to forestall any coup attempts like we saw in Book 1.

And now Xerius thinks that butchering a crowd is at all equal to inspiring the fervor in that giant crowd to chant your name. He has propped up his ego once more and it only required hundreds to die. Achamian’s quote at the start of his chapter on display.

And now we jump some weeks to the siege of Gedea. Time can be hard to follow sometimes in Bakker’s book. We went from Early Summer to Late Summer. Maybe a month or longer has passed since Mengedda.

The opening paragraph is great prose describing the terrain as it funnels the Holy War to the city. We have switched once again from the personal, close 3rd Person POV that characterizes the majority of the book to the more remote, almost historical, 3rd Person Bakker uses to unfold his world building or describe battles. It is an effective technique.

Eleäzaras holds true to his promise to hold back the Scarlet Spire until the end. Not even a single breach of the wall. He won’t risk the Few to take one city.

We get a taste of the brutality of a holy war as Athjeäri only spares the Fanim that convert. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from selling them as slaves and making some money.

Great move on Conphas’s part to capture Hinnereth, even if it was probably just to spite Saubon. After all, Conphas was furious that Saubon was declared Battle-Celebrant after his reckless actions almost doomed the Holy War. And it also is a show to the Fanim that the Empire will be trusted to uphold their word and betray the Holy War.

I like the fact that Proyas wants to be focused on the war and it annoys him that his “personal matters” with Kellhus are a distraction. And it’s interesting that he’s troubled by how he’s not troubled by Kellhus being a prophet, he’s ready to accept that, but because he consorts with Achamian.

Proyas and Xinemus laughing over Achamian’s love life is a very touching moment. Proyas has been very remote, under so much pressure that he hasn’t really relaxed. But now he is. And over Achamian of all people. Proyas hides it, his zeal for his faith beating down his love for his teacher. “Stumbling around after his own pecker” is a great phrase.

And then it gets somber as Proyas believes he doesn’t need love. He’s hardening himself against his need to be loved by Achamian. He’s still that boy, as Xinemus makes him feel, and he wants that relationship back with Achamian.

And then we see what stops him. His faith. That cold, unbending believe in the Tusk’s scripture. He can’t relax it even as it destroys his relationship with his other mentor. He claims he doesn’t need love at all. And he’s just lost another man who could give it to him.

So, Kellhus, in the probability trance, thinking about many things (including the possibilities that Esmenet has towards breeding Dûnyain sons and his desire to gain the Gnosis from Achamian) when he has a revelation. (And if you’re not convinced, just remember their’s a book in the bible called The Revelations of the Apostle John, where visions of the future are revealed to John).

He doesn’t see a possibility. No, he has a vision of the future. It’s hidden by Bakker as a probability trance, but the key word is there at the end of the chapter. Revelation. He has been shown something. By what or whom… my money is on the No God. After all, he’s passed through Mengedda, a place that affects people.

For the first time, the Outside has touched him. He is given a glimpse of the future. He sees what happens at the end of the novel. Can’t remember what the Nameless Schoolman references, but I suspect the “nipple pinched between fingers” and “gasping climax” refers to his seduction of Esmenet. A severed head thrust against the burning sun would be Cnaiür killing Sarcellus and revealing skin spies to the Holy War. Apparitions marching out of morning mist is how the novel ends, the starving, beleaguered host marching out of Caraskand and falling upon the Fanim.

A dead wife… Serwë. Kellhus saw her death was coming. He knew he would lose a wife. And he made sure it wasn’t Esmenet because he needed her to breed sons and Serwë was just a pretty face. I personally think this one act, sacrificing Serwë, breaks Kellhus completely and comes to define his actions in the second series. (The revelation about Serwë’s fate in the afterlife from The Great Ordeal). Well, have to wait for July and the conclusion of the Aspect Empire to know if I’m right.

I’m going to keep an eye out for the Nameless Schoolman and a gravely beach going forward. I believe I’m write on the other things he sees.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Ten!

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