Review: Gateway to the Past (The Last Bucerlari 3)

Gateway to the Past (The Last Bucerlari 3)

by Andy Peloquin

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The Hunter’s quest for the truth of his forgotten past leads him to the desert of Adavast. To find the answers and reach the twelve kingdoms on the other side, he’ll have to cross the parched wasteland. Now accompanied by the innocent Halien, a young boy whose presence helps to banish the murderous demon living inside him.

For the Hunter is Bucelari, half-human/half-demon. Possessed of a deadly dagger called Soulhunter and driven to kill by the demonic voice inside him. But every time he slays with the dagger, though it strengthens and heals his body, he brings the dark god Kharna one step closer to reviving and destroying the world.

But to find the answers of his past and protect Halien’s life, the Hunter will be forced to use the dagger to satiate his driving need and protect the innocent child.

The Hunter’s war with his nature only intensifies in the third book in the series. He tries so hard not to kill, not to feed his addiction. He knows the cost, he doesn’t want to see the world end, and yet time and time again circumstance and the whispering voice drives him to use what will one day doom the world.

Unless he finds the answers in his past.

Peloquin peels back more of the Hunter’s past as well as the activities of the Demons. The world grows larger, and the Hunter’s goals ever sharper in stopping their plans and finding out just who he truly is. Even if that person is someone he may not like.

The setting maintains the Grimdark ascetic with Halien providing a glimmer of hope in the dark tale about addiction and redemption. The Hunter struggles hard to fight his need, and Pelonquin does phenomenal job translating that battle to the page along with keeping the story moving at a high-neck speed that keeps the pages turning.

If you’re a fan of Grimdark Fantasy, Pelonquin is an author you have to read, and the Last of the Bucerlari is a phenomenal entry. I can’t wait for book four!

I was given an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.

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



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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twelve

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 12

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

…the ends of the earth shall be wracked by the howls of the wicked, and the idols shall be cast down and shattered, stone against stone. And the demons of the idolaters shall hold open their mouths, like starving lepers, for no man living will answer their outrageous hunger.


Though you lose you soul, you shall win the world


My Thoughts

We get Fanim theology to start us off. The “demons” are the hundred gods of the Tusk. Whenever you hear a Fanim speak about demons, that is who they mean. Now most of this is just the Fanim’s goal, to destroy them because they follow the Solitary God. But it is interesting that “outrageous hunger” is mentioned. We learn in the second series just what the gods hunger for and why it’s outrageous. The Hundred feed on human souls. It’s very possible that damnation exists because the Hundred require it to be fed. Even those that are saved may still be gnawed on by their patron god. I am eager for the Unholy Consult to shed more light on the matter of Damnation and the role the gods play in it.

The Catechism is to remind us both what the Mandate gain by condemning themselves to damnation. If the Mandate lose the Gnosis, they lose their power, their ability to defend the world. And then in this chapter, Achamian realizes that they don’t have to lose their souls because of Kellhus. It is that promise that will seduce even the sorcerers to follow Kellhus before this is all over.

Because when you know you are damned, it is a powerful motivator. Just ask the Consult.

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shigek

Xinemus is not pleased to be cornered by Therishut, a Conriyan baron from the frontier with High Ainon. He finds the man to be untrustworthy, but Xinemus is too polite to be rude and ignore him. Xinemus is known to love books and Therishut seeks to flatter by telling him the famed Sareotic Library was taken intact in Iothiah by the Galeoth. This confuses Xinemus. He hard the Ainoni took it. But Therishut is adamant. Xinemus’s patience is tried as Therishut continues, saying a friend of his found a manuscript speaking on the Gnosis was found in the library, questioning what that is.

This brings Xinemus up short. He asks what interest Therishut’s friend has in the matter. Therishut reveals his friend is a caste-merchant who is cataloging the library since it is rumored Saubon will sell it off to raise money. Xinemus tells Therishut to heed his station and not consort with caster-merchants.

But rather than take offense at this, Therishut smiled wickedly. “Surely, Lord Marshal,” he said in a tone devoid of all deference, “you of all people.”

Xinemus blinked, astonished more by his own hypocrisy than by Baron Therishut’s insolence. A man who sups with sorcerer castigating another for currying favour with a merchant? Suddenly the hushed rumbled of the Conriyan camp seemed to buzz in his ears. With a fierceness that shocked him, the Marshal of Attrempus stared at Therishut, stared at him until, flustered, the fool mumbled insincere apologies and scurried away.

Xinemus heads to his pavilion, pondering his friend of many years, and the difference in their caste. He wonders how many others thought of this. And since his friendship with Achamian has been strained, her thinks Achamian heading to this library “studying blasphemy” would be a good thing.

Esmenet is not happy that Achamian is leaving, feeling that he’s abandoning her. He’s packing to leave to the library. They’re arguing over it, Esmenet not understanding why he’s leaving. He says it’s a library, but she doesn’t care. And he admits he needs time to think, to be alone.

The desperation in his voice and expression shocked her into momentary silence.

“About Kellhus,” she said. The skin beneath her scalp prickled.

“About Kellhus,” he replied, turn back to his mule. He cleared his throat, spit into the dust.

“He’s asked you, hasn’t he?” Her chest tightened. Could it be?

He doesn’t answer right away, then feigns ignorance, repeating her question back at her. She responds “To teach him the Gnosis.” And then Esmenet realizes why Achamian has been haunted since the Wathi Doll incident. It wasn’t his fight with Xinemus. Days ago, she had spoken with Xinemus, trying to patch things up, speaking of Achamian’s dreams and fears about Kellhus. She realizes that for Xinemus, things had broken in their friendship. So instead, she tried to cheer Achamian up with little things. “The hurts of men were brittle, volatile things.” Achamian always claimed men were simple, only needing women to “feed, fuck, and flatter them.” She knew that wasn’t true of Achamian. So she waited for their friendship to mend. It hadn’t occurred to her that Kellhus was the problem. After all, he was holy. And sorcery wasn’t. Achamian had once said Kellhus would be a god-sorcerer.

She asks how that’s possible, how can a prophet speak blasphemy. He faces her “his face blank with hope and horror” and says he asked him that. Kellhus denies being a prophet, offended and hurt by Achamian’s claim.

A sudden desperation welled in Esmenet’s throat. “You can’t teach him, Akka! You mustn’t teach him! Don’t you see? You’re the temptation. He must resist you and the promise of power you hold. He must deny you to become what he must become!”

“Is that what you think?” Achamian exclaimed. “That I’m King Shikol tempting Sejenus with worldly power like in The Tractate? Maybe he’s right, Esmi, did you ever consider that? Maybe he’s not a prophet!”

Esmenet stared at him, fearful, bewildered, but strangely exhilarated as well. How had she come so far? How could a whore from a Sumna slum stand here, so near the world’s heart?

How had her life become scripture? For a moment, she couldn’t believe…

Esmenet asks Achamian what he thinks. He doesn’t answer, only repeats her question. She stares at him, though losing her anger. He sighs and says the Three Seas are not ready for the Second Apocalypse. The Heron Spear is lost, there are more Sranc now than in Seswatha time, and most of the Chorae are lost. “Though the Gods have damned me, damned us, I can’t believe they would so abandon the world…” He thinks Kellhus is more than the Harbinger, that he’s their savior. But she objects to her prophet learning sorcery.

“Is blasphemy, I know. But ask yourself, Esmi, why are sorcerers blasphemers? And why is a prophet a prophet?”

Her eyes opened horror-wide. “Because one sings the God’s song,” she replied, “and the other speaks the God’s voice.”

“Exactly,” Achamian said. “Is it blasphemy for a prophet to utter sorcerer?”

Esmenet stood staring, dumbstruck.

For the God to sing His own song…

She begs him not to go, and he says he needs to think. She feels they think so well together. “He was wiser for her counsel.” She doesn’t understand why he’s abandoning. Then she remembers seeing him with Serwë, thinking he’s “found a younger whore.” She demands to know why he does this. Why he opens his up the labyrinth of his thoughts to her but refuses to guide her through it. He laughs at that. And she presses that he does hide because he’s weak, but he doesn’t have to be. She urges him to reflect on Kellhus’s teachings.

He glanced at her, his eyes poised between hurt and fury. “How about you? Let’s talk about your daughter… Remember her? How long has it been since you’ve—”

“That’s different! She came before you! Before you!”

Why would he say this? Why would he try to hurt?

My girl! My baby girl is dead!

“Such fine discriminations,” Achamian spat. “The past is never dead, Esmi.” He laughed bitterly. “It’s not even past.

“Then where is my daughter, Akka?”

For an instant he stood dumbstruck. She often baffled him like this.

Self-loathing fills her, driving her to cry. And then she grows angry, blaming Achamian for it. He apologizes for his words. And then says that she doesn’t understand what the Gnosis is to the Mandate. He would forfeit more than his life if he shared it. She begs him to teach her, to make her understand. To do this together. But he can’t tell her because he knows what she’ll say. But she says he doesn’t. He keeps packing. He looks so poor and lonely, and she thinks of Sarcellus handsome and perfect, making her feel guilty. Achamian continues that he’s not leaving her. He could never do that.

“I see but one sleeping mat,” she said.

He tried to smile, then turned, leading Daybreak away at an awkward gait. She watched him, her innards churning as though she had dangled over unseen heights. He followed the path eastward, passing a row of weather-beaten round tents. He seemed so small so quickly. It was so strange, the way bright sun could make distant figures dark…

“Akka!” she cried out, not caring who heard. “Akka!”

I love you.

The figure with the mule stopped, distant and for a moment, unrecognizable.

He waved.

Then he disappeared beneath a strand of black willows.

Achamian reflects on why intelligent people are less happy. They are better at arguing away at truth than accepting them. It’s why he’s fleeing both Kellhus and Esmenet. As he walks along the Sempis, he reflects. It hurt Achamian that his friend is essentially banishing him from the fire with this talk of the library, even if it’s temporary. He tries to swallow it, remembering the Tusk saying “There is no friend more difficult than a sinner.” Achamian, unlike other sorcerers, rarely thought about damnation.

He reflects on his training, where he would embrace any blasphemy because he was damned, particularly mocking the Tractates with his friend Sancla (who died three years later). They would quote passages, making fun of them. They read a passage about doing good deeds. If you do good deeds in exchange for something, they’re not good deeds. You have to give without expecting to receive anything back. You can’t be selfish. And if you do, you get salvation. Which Sancla rightly points out is a reward. “Essentially Sejenus is saying, ‘Give without expectation of reward, and you expect a huge reward!’” He then goes on further, the best thing is to never give then you’ll never be selfish. This means that the Mandate, who have condemned themselves to damnation to save the world, are the only true selfless ones.

Everything had changed because of Kellhus. Achamian thinks about his damnation a lot. He had doubts before, tormenting himself because he believed that the many contradictions in scripture proved the prophets were just men. He could go round and round on different ideas without an answer.

But then of course the question could never be answered. If genuine doubt was in fact the condition of conditions, then only those ignorant of the answer could be redeemed. To ponder the question of his damnation, it had always seemed, was itself a kind of damnation.

So he didn’t think of it.

But now… Now there could be an answer. Every day he walked with its possibility, talked…

Prince Anasûrimbor Kellhus.

He didn’t think Kellhus could actually tell him the answer if he ever had the courage to ask. He didn’t think Kellhus “embodied or exemplified the answer.” Achamian knew his damnation depended on “what he himself was willing to sacrifice.” Only his actions would answer the question. It both horrified him and filled him with joy. Because he knew the possibility of salvation was real for him. The Mandate catechism said he would lose his soul, but he didn’t have to. He realizes how his life had lacked hope before. “Esmenet had taught him how to love. And Kellhus, Anasûrimbor Kellhus, had taught him how to hope.” And he would hold them both tightly.

Last night, Kellhus had come to Achamian and asked for the Gnosis. Achamian balked at it. It was unthinkable to each someone outside his school. He wasn’t sure he could teach it, that the Seswatha controlling his sleeping soul would let him. He wonders if the Seswatha in him knows what is going on. Never in his school’s history had a sorcerer of rank betrayed the Gnosis. It was what allowed them to survive, kept them from being a minor school. His brothers would fight to extinction to prevent it and he would be cursed for sharing it.

But what was this other than greed or jealousy? The Second Apocalypse was imminent. Hadn’t the time come to arm all the Three Seas? Hadn’t Seswatha himself bid them share their arsenal before the shadow fell?

He had…

And wouldn’t this make Achamian the most faithful of all Mandate Schoolmen?

Achamian knows Kellhus is special. In months, the man had learned a lifetime of knowledge. He spoke more truths than Ajencis and preached better than Sejenus. He drafted new logics. And in his hands, the Gnosis would be even more powerful.

Glimpses of Kellhus, striding as a god across fields of war, laying low host of Sranc, striking dragons from the sky, closing with the resurrected No-God, with dread Mog-Pharau…

He’s our savior! I know it!

But what if Esmenet were right? What if Achamian were merely the test? Like old, evil Shikol in The Tractate, offering Inri Sejenus his thighbone scepter, his army, his harem, his everything save his crown, to stop preaching…

Kellhus would be a Shaman, a sorcerer and prophet, if Achamian surrenders the Gnosis. And now he feels it is madness to even do it. Two thousand years none of his brethren had. “Who was he to forsake such tradition?” He watches young boys playing, so innocent and wonders when that would end or if they would meet Kellhus. Then he spots a corpse nailed to a tree above the boys. He flinches, debating cutting it down. Remorse hits him and he thinks of Esmenet, wishing her to be safe. Achamian continues on and “wrestled with impossibilities.”

The past was dead. The future, as black as a waiting grave.

Achamian wiped his tears on his shoulder. Something unimaginable was about to happen, something historians, philosophers, and theologians would a argue for thousands of years—if years or anything else survived. And the acts of Drusas Achamian would loom so very large.

He would simply give. Without expectation.

His School. His calling. His life…

The Gnosis would be his sacrifice.

Achamian reaches Iothiah and finds lots of Ainoni around. He even senses Scarlet Spire sorcery in the distance. But then he meets Galeoth horsemen, to his relief, and they give him directions to the Sareotic Library and said it was in their people’s hands. By noon, he is at the library, nervous. He fears that the same rumors that have brought him have brought the Scarlet Spire. He fears bumping into them during his search.

The possibility, Achamian reflects, of Gnosis scrolls being in here has merit. The Library was ancient, and during the Ceneian Empire all books brought into Iothiah had to be surrendered to the library so a copy could be made. And, since the Library was run by priests and then later controlled by the Fanim, no sorcerers had been allowed in before. Other scrolls had been found over the years, scrolls the Mandate jealously seized. Achamian questions searching here because Kellhus has changed everything.

He speaks to the guards and learns no one has entered, very few have even cared except for a “few thieving merchants.” But Achamian says he is a chronicler for Proyas and they let him in. He leaves his mule outside, gathers his belongings, and heads in. As he enters, ignoring a Galeoth racial slur, he feels excited. He’s eager to discovered more than just the scrolls but other works of lost antiquity.

Achamian searches through the “warren of pitch-black hallways that smelled of dust and the ghost of rotting books.” It saddens him. The Fanim had spared the library but not maintained it. The vast majority ruined. He does find new books, including a lost Dialogue of Ajencis, as he searches. He grows tired after awhile, taking a break to eat, thinking of Esmenet and missing her.

He did his best not to think of Kellhus.

He replaced his sputtering candle and decided to read. Alone with books, yet again. Suddenly he smiled. Again? No, at last…

A book was never “read.” Here, as elsewhere, language betrayed the true nature of the activity. To say that a book was read was to make the same mistake as the gambler who crowed about winning as though he’d never taken it by force of hand or resolve. To toss the number-sticks was to seize a moment of helpless, nothing more. But to open a book was by far the most profound gamble. To open a book was not only to seize a moment of helplessness, not only to relinquish a jealous handful of heartbeats to the unpredictable mark of another man’s quill, it was to allow oneself to be written. For what was a book if not a long consecutive surrender to the movements of another’s soul.

Achamian could think of no abandonment of self more profound.

He read, and was moved to chuckle by ironies a thousand years dead, and to reflect pensively on claims and hopes that had far outlived the age of their import.

He wouldn’t remember falling asleep.

Achamian dreams of the dragon Skuthula dueling Seswatha. The fires are just washing over his wards when suddenly the dream becomes the “blackness of open eyes.” He comes awake, struggling to remember where he is for a moment. And then he realizes what has woken him up—his Wards of Exposure. He knows the Scarlet Spires has come from him.

He launches into action, feeling them closing in from various directions. He wonders why. For the Gnosis? He thinks it is folly of them to abduct him during the middle of the Holy War. Then he thinks of skin-spies and realizes this is a trap. He was lured here. “This was actually happening!” He hides his satchel beneath scrolls then retreats into his alcove and sets his words “Luminescence sheeted the air before him, like the glare of sunlight across mist.”

Dark muttering from somewhere amid the teetering queues—skulking, insinuating words, like vermin gnawing on the walls of the world.

Then fierce light, transforming, for a heartbeat, the shelves before into a dawn horizon… Explosion. A geyser of ash and fire.

The attack hits him. He feels the heat, but his wards hold. Eleäzaras commands him to yield. Achamian calls him a fool, asking how many times the Scarlet Spire have tried to steal the Gnosis. Eleäzaras repeats he is doomed and should surrender. Achamian pleads for him not to do this, thinking of the stakes for the world.

“It’s already—”

But Achamian had whispered secrets to his first attacker. Five lines glittered along the gorge of blasted shelves, through smoke and wafting pages. Impact. The air cracked. His unseen foe cried out in astonishment—they always did at the first touch of the Gnosis. Achamian muttered more ancient words of power, more Cants. The Bisecting Planes of Mrseor, to continuously stress an opponent’s Wards. The Odaini Concussion Cants, to stun him, break his concentration. Then the Cirroi Loom…

Dazzling geometries lept through the smoke, lines and parabolas of razor light, punching through wood and papyrus, shearing through stone. The Scarlet Schoolmen screamed, tried to run. Achamian boiled him in his skin.

The Scarlet Spire hasten to coordinate their own attacks into a Concert. Achamian asks Eleäzaras how many more he’s willing to lose trying to capture him. Achamian is attacked. His wards groan as fire and thunder assault him.

He struck back with Inferences and Abstraction. He was a Mandate Schoolman, A Gnostic Sorcerer-of-the-Rank, a War-Cant Master. He was as a mask held before the sun. And his voice slapped the distances into chair and ruin.

The knowledge of the library is destroyed as Achamian fights with the Scarlet Spire. There are seven of them. Storms fire lightning bolts and dragon heads breath fire at him. He fights the Great Analogies “shining and ponderous” with Abstractions. He kills another Scarlet Spire, crumbling his “ghostly ramparts.”

As Achamian sings to strengthen his wards, the floor beneath him collapses from the “cataracts of hellfire.” He tries to keep fighting, but the jarring impact sends him reeling. They are above him now “Hanging as though from wires”, hammering his wards. “Sun after blinding sun set upon him.”

On his knees, burned, bleeding form the mouth and eyes, encircled by heaped stone and text, Achamian snarled Ward after Ward, but they cracked and shattered, were pinched away like rotten linen. The very firmament, it seemed, echoed with the implacable chorus of the Scarlet Spires. Like angry smiths they punished the anvil.

And through the madness, Drusas Achamian glimpsed the setting sun, impossibly indifferent, framed by clouds piled rose and orange…

It was, he thought, a good song.

Forgive me, Kellhus.

My Thoughts

Therishut lands border on High Ainon. This is a very subtle red flag that I am sure most readers missed on the first read through. He’s chumming the waters for the Scarlet Spires to bait and trap Achamian. And then we get another red flag with Xinemus believing Ainon captured Iothiah. And now a lost manuscript on Gnosis is found. It’s quite the trap the Scarlet Spire has baited.

Xinemus has pushed down his convictions long enough, ignoring the “sin” of his friend for as long as he could. It was easier when Achamian didn’t flaunt it, and then we had the Wathi Doll. And now…things have changed. And here is the perfect way to get rid of him, even for only a few days. It’s natural. We all have our prejudices in some form, finding certain activities or behaviors distasteful, but also not wanting to ruin friendships, so we ignore them. But they can build, fester, cause us to distance ourselves from our friends.

And here is the end of the honeymoon period between Achamian and Esmenet. The world is separating them just like she feared. He’s leaving her behind. Of course she fears abandonment. She can’t understand why she couldn’t go with him. After all, just because she’s illiterate doesn’t mean she can’t learn anything from a library.

And then Esmenet realizes why. She knows Achamian well.

Esmenet has completely bought into Kellhus’s lies. He’s ensnared her well. It’s sad watching Kellhus manipulate the lives of these characters with such cold calculation. They think he’s their friend, their prophet even, but he’s none of those things.

So why are sorcerers automatically condemned? I really can’t tell you. Maybe the Hundred don’t like sorcerery or the power it represents. Or maybe damnation is based off the belief of all the humans living, shaped by the Hundred through prophets (and those are real, we’ll meet people in the next series definitely under the influence of the Hundred able to perform miracles). Maybe it’s because of the Tusk. It says sorcerers are blasphemers. And we know that before the Tusk there were prophets who were sorcerers called Shamans. And there are good indication that the Tusk was written by the Inchoroi to get the humans to cross the mountains into Eärwa and destroy the Nonmen. Maybe they added that sorcery is blasphemous to weaken humans when it came time to destroy them. Hopefully, Bakker will answer these questions. I have a feeling he will. His metaphysics are well thought out.

We have our first real hint that Esmenet’s daughter is still alive. That she didn’t die of famine, that’s just the delusion guilt has driven Esmenet to embrace. Achamian clearly knows the truth and usually tiptoes around it.

Achamian disappears under black willows. He heads into darkness. So much will have changed for the both of them when he reemerges.

Achamian’s own doubts are sabotaging his relationship with Esmenet. He lied to her. If he truly wanted to think only on Kellhus, he would take her with him. But he needs more than that. His slip up with Serwë is still weighing on him. Especially with Kellhus twisting that dagger to prod him to surrender the Gnosis.

Achamian and Sancla’s talk about doing good deeds to be saved from damnation is a selfish act that would negate the good deed. Humans are rarely truly altruistic. We all do nice things, yes, but we do them because we get some reward from them, something we value. We help a friend out because we want to maintain the friendship. We give to our significant others because it gives us pleasure to see them happy. We sacrifice for our children because we take pride in seeing them grow up and succeed. And, thus, any theology that promises you salvation in exchange for doing good has major problems.

Doubt is a horrible, pernicious thing sometimes. It can gnaw away at you. But it also makes you question things, and that’s important to. Faith needs doubt to temper it, to keep it from becoming zealotry. But there are limits to how good it is. And now poor Achamian is suffering from it worse than usual.

As the philosopher David Hume said, desire rules our reason, so our reason is slave to our desires. We can justify anything, making excuses for what we do what we want. Achamian has found a reason to betray his school by being an even better Mandate. It’s not a betrayal now, but an expectation. Something Seswatha would want him to do. And thus, guilt has been assuaged. His reason has been enslaved to his desire and provided him justification to teach Kellhus.

And then doubt hits Achamian again. Just when his faith in Kellhus is swaying, doubt gnaws at him, forcing him to ask questions, to temper and answer them.

Interesting how Achamian equates the innocence of the two boys holding hands, wondering how long before they would be pressured to see that as weakness as they grow up, then equating Kellhus to guarding such innocence. To preserving it.

And then thinking about Esmenet dying is the final thing that compels Achamian to surrender the Gnosis. Kellhus should not let him go on this journey. But Kellhus knew Achamian needed to leave. And our Dûnyain can’t see all outcomes. He has no idea to suspect a Scarlet Spire trap. The Scarlet Spire hasn’t even entered into any of Kellhus’s true plans.

Tension builds as Kellhus enters the library. You can just feel it building. The trap is closing. This section of the story is one of my favorite in the entire series.

I’m trying to remember what ever happened to Daybreak the mule. I assume someone claimed him after Achamian’s capture.

Achamian wants to cackle when he enters. He is someone that values knowledge, and there is so much here. What happens next is such a tragedy on so many levels. Makes me think of ISIS over in the Middle East blowing up historical sites.

Sometimes Bakker, like all authors, inserts his own beliefs into his writing. And why not, it’s his. Achamian’s musing on literature and not just the gamble you take on it being good but the fact you are sinking into the works, letting someone else’s ideas take root in you, is something profound. Something Bakker clearly enjoys. Not surprising, I’ve yet to meet an author that didn’t love to read.

He wouldn’t remember falling asleep.” This line struck me as something so profound and so mundane at the same time. Because when he awakes, everything will change for Achamian. His life will never be the same. He will lose that love and hope he vowed to hold onto earlier in the chapter. And not because he let it go, because it was taken from him.

Achamian launches into action. For all his self-doubt and constant questioning, when his Wards of Exposure trip, he prepares himself for battle. We have heard Achamian think in his head that he could, basically, kick everyone’s ass but was holding back. We see this is no idle threat. For the first time in the series, Bakker shows us what his sorcerery really is. We’ve gotten glimpses before. No longer.

Bakker’s sorcery is as poetic and beautiful as it is violent and destructive.

We see now the difference between sorcerers. Achamian’s attacks are direct. He doesn’t have to create “analogous” that then perform spells. He doesn’t have to create a small storm to fire lightning or make a dragon’s head to breath fire. He just reaches into the mathematics of the universe, harnesses it, and attacks them directly. He uses the Abstract idea of fire or lightning. Or light. His wards are ethereal instead of actual walls like the Scarlet Spire. They sent eight to capture him, and he kills one before they are even able to fight back properly. He holds them off, killing more. And he only looses because the floor collapses beneath him, failing from the heat and attack of the Scarlet Spire.

And Bakker really makes you think Achamian dies here. And his last thoughts aren’t of Esmenet, but of Kellhus. He had vowed to sacrifice the Gnosis to give Kellhus what he needs to save the world, and the Scarlet Spire have destroyed that possibility. They have doomed the world in Achamian’s mind. “The stakes” he thought about they first attack him. They don’t understand the stakes. They don’t understand what their meddling will cause.

All I can say, Achamian, you put up one helluva a fight. For a book and a half, he thought himself weak. But he was strong here. As Kellhus predicted, he needed shaping. And the Scarlet Spire are the smiths wielding that hammer.

If you want to keep reading, click here for Chapter Thirteen

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Eleven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 11

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

If all human events possess purpose, then all human deeds possess purpose. And yet when men vie with men, the purpose of no man comes to fruition: the result always falls somewhere in between. The purpose of deeds, then, cannot derive from the purposes of men, because all men vie with all men. This means the deeds of men must be willed by something other than men. From this it follows that we are all slaves. Who then is our Master?


What is practicality but one moment betrayed for the next?


My Thoughts

So both these quotes are clearly about compromise and how you do not get what you want. The first quote comes at it from a predestined point of view, in that events have purpose and are not random chance, and therefore our acts have purpose, and since we have to compromise our desires against the desires of other humans, something else is driving things. From a deterministic universe, in one in which all events will happen the way they happen tracing back all causes to the beginning of everything, we do not have free will. We only think we do. Why am I writing this paragraph? Because the events in my life have shaped me to the point where I’m obsessed with R. Scott Bakker’s works and am compelled to write my analysis of his stories.

Thus, I am a slave to cause like all of us. Or, in other words, I am a slave to the darkness that comes before.

Now, Memgowa is not talking about that sort of determinism, or so I’d guess based on the title of the book. He surmises that the divine, the Outside, is what directs events And that we are therefor slaves to the divine. That the gods will our actions and influence them. Now this is a true statement in the Second Apocalypse. There is plenty of evidence in later books about this. This causality stands in violation to the Dûnyain philosophy and Kellhus, like all Dûnyain, has the goal of being a self-moving soul. One unchained from cause-and-effect. He will have to deal with this new wrinkle interfering with events.

The other quote is less about determinism and more about just how no one is happy for compromise. That we betray our goals to get something. Because it’s better than nothing. It’s how humans have to interact. If we didn’t, we would be killing each other left and right. And yet for a man like Triamis, a great conquering emperor, compromise must be so hard for him. He is so powerful, and yet even he has to betray his vision for the present.

And, of course, we have Martemus in this chapter, “the soul of practicality” (to quote David Eddings description of Durnik from the Belgariad). A man who has allowed practicality to make him a slave to Conphas’s ambition. A willing slave. But he has betrayed his own future for Conphas’s. And, we shall see, he has a new will he has to compromise with in this chapter.

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, southern Gedea

The chapter opens with Bakker describing how abrupt the rugged Gedean interior ends at the floodplains of the River Sempis and the city of Shigek. Coithus Athjeäri is the first scout to find it. Bakker gives us the history of the city, how it once was the capital of an empire in far antiquity. But to Men of the Tusk, she’s a cursed place. Athjeäri learns that Skauras has abandoned the north bank of the Sempis and burned every boat he could find. Two weeks later, the Holy War arrives at the floodplains.

At first, there is little fighting, the Men of the Tusk in awe of the beauty around the river. The villagers found living on the river do no resist. Though they are Fanim, they are used to be conquered and give food and drink and even women to the conquerers, which bemuses the Men of the Tusk. Though the Tractate described Shigek as home to a tyrant, the place is vastly different, peaceful.

But then one small city, Chiama, bars its gates to a Tydonni earl. They want to negotiate, their grain stores low after a blight last year. But Earl Cerjulla doesn’t want to negotiate. He storms it and butchers the town. More massacres follow, such as a garrison of Fanim soldiers who mutineered and surrendered their fortress to a Ainoni Palatine only to be executed themselves. Uranyanak could tolerate heathens but not traitors.

Then, as though murder possessed its own unholy momentum, the Holy War’s occupation of the North Bank degenerated into wanton carnage, though for what reason, no one knew. Perhaps it was the rumors of poisoned dates and pomegranates. Perhaps bloodshed simply beget bloodshed. Perhaps faith’s certainty was as terrifying as it was beautiful. What could be more true than destroying the false?

As word spreads, the Fanim take refuge in their tabernacles only for the Inrithi to massacre them, the tabernacles destroyed. Anything Fanimry was destroyed. And those Inrithi faithful who had lived among Fanim rule, called Kerathotics, rose up, getting revenge on generations of persecution at the hands of their neighbors. The bloodshed became so frenzied, Men of the Tusk attacked each other by mistake. Shigek tried to surrender to Conphas to avoid bloodshed, but then mistakenly opened their gates for a Thunyeri force. Conphas tried to intervene, but were driven out after Yalgrota Sranchammer killed General Numemarius under a parley flag. The Fanim priest suffered the worse, tortured to death while their wives and daughters were raped.

Two weeks passed, then suddenly, as though some precise measure had been exacted, the madness lifted. In the end, only a fraction of the Shigeki population had been killed, but no traveler could pass more than an hour without crossing paths with the dead. Instead of humble boats of fishermen and traders, bloated corpses bobbed down the defiled waters of the Sempis and fanned out across the Meneanor Sea.

At long last, Shigek had been cleansed.

Kellhus climbs a ziggurat to survey the land, seeing another ancient land. He wonders if his father had seen this. Meanwhile, Achamian labors to climb the ziggurat and Kellhus tells a joke, asking why he’s taking so long. As Achamian continues his climb, Kellhus studies the ruined ziggurat.

Faith. Faith had raised this black-stepped mountain—the belief of long dead men.

So much, Father, and all in the name of delusion.

It scarcely seemed possible. And yet the Holy War wasn’t so different. In some ways it was a far greater, if more ephemeral, work.

Kellhus reflects on his own ziggurat he is building, the foundations laid. He has assumed the role of prophet after letting others thrust it on him. He is moving faster than he wants, but after Sarcellus almost killed him, he realizes he has to go faster. He needs to seize the Holy War before the Consult loses patience. “He had to make a ziggurat of these men.”

Kellhus wonders if his father had seen the skin-spies and that is why Kellhus was summoned. He sees all the thousands moving in the distance. Any could be a skin-spy. Achamian reaches the top, and Kellhus wonders how the sorcerer would react to learn about Kellhus’s war with the Consult. But Kellhus can’t let the Mandate get involved until he had power to equal there’s.

Kellhus turns to manipulating Achamian, bringing up Serwë’s name, making Achamian feel shame after his drunken tryst with the girl. Kellhus feigns suspicious that she might be unfaithful. Achamian pretends disinterest, but Kellhus reads the terror in the man.

Of all the souls Kellhus had mastered, few had proven as useful as Serwë. Lust and shame were ever the shortest paths to the hearts of world-born men. Ever since he’d sent her to Achamian the sorcerer had compensated for his half-remembered trespass in innumerable subtle ways. The old Conriyan proverb was true: no friend was more generous than the one ho has seduced your wife…

And generosity was precisely what he needed from Drusas Achamian.

“Nothing,” Kellhus said with a shake of his head. “All men fear their women venal, I suppose.” Some openings must be continually worked and worried, while others must be left to fester.

Achamian complains about his back, mentioning Esmenet. Kellhus has plans for her. “She too had a part to play.” Kellhus reflects on how Xinemus and Esmenet, those who love Achamian best, see him as week, even fragile. They often blunt their words towards him. Even Achamian think himself weak, but Kellhus sees differently. Achamian is the type of man who needs to be “hewed by the crude axe of the world. Tested.”

Kellhus asks Achamian how much a teacher has to give, flattering Achamian’s ego since he likes to think of himself as a teacher. Achamian gives a vague answer about it depending on the student. Kellhus presses and gets an contradictory answer. Unlike most men, Achamian likes “revealing the complexities that lurked beneath simple things.” Most men would rather see things as simple than to have to live with uncertainties. They begin talking about Proyas and how Achamian had hoped to teach him doubt and tolerance, lost to faith. Kellhus makes a quip to put Achamian at ease.

Kellhus laughed Xinemus’s laugh, then trailed, smiling. For some time he’d been mapping Achamian’s responses to the finer nuances of his expression. Though Kellhus had never met Inrau, he knew—with startling exactitude—the peculiarities of the young man’s manner and expression—so well that he could prompt Achamian to thoughts of Inrau with little more than a look or a smile.

They talk about fanaticism with Achamian claiming not all fanaticisms are equal. By bringing up Inrau, Kellhus has reminded Achamian about the duty the Mandate has put upon him and suggesting to Achamian that the Mandate and the Holy War are not different. Achamian says Truth distinguishes fanaticism even if the consequences (men die or suffer) are the same. It’s what they suffer or die for.

“So purpose—true purpose—justifies suffering, even death?” [asks Kellhus.]

“You must believe as much, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.”

Kellhus smiled as though abashed at having been exposed. “So it all comes to Truth. If one’s purpose are true…”

“Anything can be justified. Any torment, any murder…”

Kellhus rounded his eyes the way he knew Inrau would. “Any betrayal,” he said.

Achamian stared, his nimble face as stony as he could manage. But Kellhus saw past the dark skin, past the sheath of fine muscles, past even the soul that toiled beneath. He saw arcana and anguish, a yearning steeped in three thousand years of wisdom. He saw a child beaten and bullied by a drunken father. He saw a hundred generations of Nroni fishermen pinioned between hunger and the cruel seas. He saw Seswatha and the madness of war without hope. HE saw ancient Ketyai tribesmen surge down mountain slopes. He saw the animal, rooting and rutting, reaching back to time out of memory.

He didn’t see what came after; he saw what came before…

“Any betrayal,” the sorcerer repeated dully.

He is close.

Kellhus asks about Achamian’s cause, if it is Truth, asking if there is any act or betrayal Achamian will commit. Achamian doesn’t respond the way Kellhus expects, saying how what can sound so sure to one can sound outrageous when repeated by another. Kellhus sees this as good, a shorter path to manipulate Achamian.

“It troubles you,” Kellhus said, “because it shows that conviction is as cheap as words. Any man can believe unto death. Any man can claim your claim.”

So you fear I’m no different from any other fanatic.”

Wouldn’t you?”

How deep does his conviction go?

“You are the Harbinger, Kellhus. If you dreamed Seswatha’s Dream as I did…”

“But couldn’t Proyas say the same of his fanaticism? Couldn’t he say, ‘If you spoke to Maithanet as I did’?”

How far will he follow it? To the death?

Achamian acknowledges that is the dilemma of faith. Kellhus pressing, asking who’s dilemma’s his or Achamian’s. The world’s dilemma. Kellhus pushes, mimicking Inrau, asking what that means for him if he his the Harbinger, that he predicts mankind’s extinction. Pushed to the limit, Achamian cries out that Kellhus has come for a reason, for a purpose. This Kellhus knows to be false, since it would mean something had to begin the world, had to cause it to happen, and that’s impossible to the Dûnyain. No effect could precede a cause. Not even sorcery appears to violate that law. Kellhus keeps pressing, asking what his purpose is. Achamian thinks it is to save the world.

Always it came to this. Always the same delusion.

“So I’m your cause?” Kellhus said incredulously. “I’m the Truth that justifies your fanaticism?”

Achamian could only stare in dread. Plundering the man’s expression, Kellhus watched the inferences splash and trickle through his soul, drawn of their own eight to a single, inexorable conclusion.

Everything… By his own admission, he must yield everything.

Even the Gnosis.

How powerful have you become, Father?

Without warning, Achamian stood and started down the monumental stair. He took each step with weary deliberation, as though counting them. The Shigeki wind tousled his shining black hair. When Kellhus called to him, he said only, “I tire of the heights.”

As Kellhus had known he would.

“See. Appraise. Act.” These are the words General Martemus lives by. The man believes in being clearheaded and practical. He lived his life by it. So his orders to watch Kellhus and gain his confidence appeared easy. He just had to fake a crisis of faith. But Martemus was learning it wasn’t so easy. He had to attend a dozen Imprompta before he was noticed.

Of course, Conphas, who always faulted his executors before his assumptions, had held Martemus responsible. There could be no doubt Kellhus was Cishaurim, because he was connected to Skeaös, who was indubitably Cishaurim. There could be no way the man knew that Martemus was bait, since Conphas had told no one of his plan other than Martemus. There, Martemus had failed, even if Martemus was too obstinate to see this for himself.

But this was merely one of the innumerable petty injustices Conphas had foisted on him over the years. Even if Martemus had cared to take insult, which was unlikely, he was far too busy being afraid.

Martemus now believes Kellhus to be a true prophet. He doesn’t believe this intellectually, being too practical, but the dichotomy of his thoughts has unnerved him. And the more he debated it, the more he questions if he can be loyal to Conphas. If Kellhus is a true prophet, how can he stay loyal to the man plotting against him? This is what scares him.

Martemus ponders his problem as he listens to Kellhus’s first sermon since the butchering in Shigek ended. As he waits, he realizes those around him are avoiding looking at him, frightened by his general uniform. He wants to say something to ease their fears, but can’t think of anything. He feels suddenly lonely.

Kellhus approaches and he wonders what he says. At first, Martemus assumed Kellhus would preach heresy, but he didn’t. He quotes sermons and nothing he says contradicts anything Martemus has heard preached. “It was as though the Prince pursued further truths, the unspoken implication of what all orthodox Inrithi already believed.” Martemus understand why Kellhus is called He-who-sheds-light-within.

His white silk robes shining in the sunlight, Prince Kellhus paused on the ziggurat’s lower steps and looked over the restless masses. There was something glorious about his aspect, as though he’d descended not from the heights but from the heavens. With a flutter of dread Martemus realized he never saw the man ascend the ziggurat, nor even step from the ruin of the ancient godhouse upon its summit. He had just…noticed him.

The General cursed himself for a fool.

Kellhus starts talking about Angeshraël the Burned Prophet and how, in his eagerness to bow down to the god Husyelt, knelt before a fire. Kellhus making a joke about it young men making errors out of eagerness. Husyelt commands Angeshraël to bow despite the fire. And he does, pressing his face into the flames. Martemus has heard the story, but this time he feels it Kellhus continues that they are like Angeshraël and are before the fire.

Truth!” Prince Kellhus cried, as though calling out a name that every man recognized. “The fire of Truth. The Truth of what you are…”

Somehow his voice had divided, become a chorus.

You are frail. You are alone. Those who would love you know you not. You lust for obscene things. You fear even your closest brother. You understand far less than you pretend…

You—you!—are these things. Frail, alone, unknown, lusting, fearing, and uncomprehending. Even now you can feel these truths burn. Even now”—he raised a hand as though to further quiet silent men—“they consume you.”

He lowered his hand. “But you do not throw your face to the earth. You don not…”

His glittering eyes full upon Martemus, who felt his throat tighten, felt the small finishing-hammer of his heart tap-tap-tap blood to his face.

He sees through me. He witnesses…

Kellhus asks why they don’t kneel. God lies in the fire’s anguish. He tells them they each hold the key to their redemption. They kneel, but don’t bow because they are afraid, alone. Because they lust, they pretend. Martemus realizes Kellhus speaks of him. People weep as Kellhus asks for any to deny these truths. None answer. Kellhus accuses them of denying it anyways because they cheat their hearts, they lie about the fire, saying it’s not truth, that they’re not strong enough to endure. They deceive themselves.

How many times had Martemus lied thus? Martemus the practical man. Martemus the realistic man. How could he be these things if he knew so well of what Prince Kellhus spoke?

“But in these secret moments—yes, the secret moments—these denials ring hollow, do they not? In the secret moments you glimpse the anguish of Truth. In the secret moments you see that your life has been a mummer’s farce. And you weep! And you ask what is wrong! And you cry out, ‘Why cannot I be strong?”

He leapt down several steps.

Why cannot I be strong?”

Martemus’s throat ached!—ached as though he himself had bawled these words.

Because,” the Prince said softly, “you life.”

And Martemus thought madly: Skin and hair… He’s just a man!

Kellhus continue preaching about their self-deception. The tragedy of of it. How scripture urges me to be better than then frail, envious liars they are. “Men who remain frail because they cannot confess their frailty.” That one word changes everything for Martemus. He realized he is in the presence of the God. He finds it to be a miracle to be here, to finally truly be himself before the God. Kellhus screams at them to kneel before the fire, and Martemus cries out with the multitude, weeping with them.

Martemus is in a daze, vaguely remembering the rest of the sermon, as Kellhus talks about was as fire and “the very truth of our frailty.” He teaches them a song he learned in his dreams. “For the rest of his days, Martemus would awaken and hear that song.” Then Martemus joins the masses kneeling to kiss the hem of Kellhus’s robe. Now no one cared that he wore a general’s uniform. Kellhus says he has awaited the general. This excites the others. Kellhus says Conphas sent him but things have changed.

And Martemus felt a child before his father, unable to life, unable to speak truth.

The prophet nodded as though he had spoken. “What will happen to your loyalty, I wonder?”

Suddenly, a man tries to kill the Prophet. But Kellhus snags the attacker’s arm with “golden-haloed hand” and stops the knife from plunging into his flesh. Martemus is unconcerned as he realizes Kellhus cannot be killed. As the mob beats the assassin to death, Kellhus says to Martemus: “I would not divide your heart. Come to me again, when you are ready.”

Conphas is meeting with Proyas in private, warning him that Kellhus must be dealt with. Proyas seems amenable, and Proyas says they need to call a council and bring charges under the “auspices of the Tusk.” Using the Old Law. Proyas asks under what charge. For being a false prophet, but Proyas only grows angry.

Conphas laughed incredulously. He could remember once—long ago it now seemed—thinking he and Proyas would become fast and famous friends over the course of the Holy War. They were both handsome. They were both close in age. And in their respective corners of the Three Seas, they were considered prodigies of similar promise—that was, until his obliteration of the Scylvendi at the Battle of Kiyuth.

I have no peers.

Proyas won’t hear it, considering Kellhus his friend. Conphas demands if he’s heard of the sermons while at the same time berating Martemus for being a fool in his mind. Martemus acting like a fool when he isn’t one has Conphas worried about Kellhus. He presses, pointing out that the soldiers call Kellhus the Warrior-Prophet. Proyas does not care because Kellhus doesn’t claim to be a prophet. Conphas points out they march for the Latter Prophet of Inri Sejenus, but if Kellhus gains power, they will march for a new prophet.

Dead prophets were useful, because one could rule in their name. But live prophets? Cishaurim prophets?

Conphas debates telling Proyas about Skeaös while Proyas asks what Conphas expects him to do about Kellhus. Proyas believes the man is special, that he has dreams, but points out he doesn’t claim to be a prophet. Conphas says that doesn’t change him from being a False Prophet. Proyas asks why Conphas’s cares since he’s not pious. Conphas says that doesn’t matter, but Proyas disagrees. He talks about the time he’s spent with Kellhus, their talks on scripture, and nothing he says is heretical. He calls Kellhus “the most deeply pious man I’ve ever met.” He is disturbed that people call him a prophet, but Kellhus isn’t doing it. People are just weak.

Conphas felt sweet disdain unfold across his face. “Even you… He’s ensnared even you.”

What kind of man? Though he was loath to admit it, his briefing with Martemus had shook him deeply. Somehow, over a matter of weeks, this Prince Kellhus had managed to reduce his most dependable man to a babbling idiot. Truth! The frailty of men! The furnace!

What nonsense! And yet nonsense that was seeping through the Holy War like blood through linen. The Prince Kellhus was a wound. And if he was in fact a Cishaurim spy as dear old Uncle Xerius feared, he could well prove mortal.

Proyas is angry, attacking Conphas’s lack of faith and his ambition. But Conphas believes he has planted doubt into Proyas. Conphas turns to leave, done dealing with idiots, when Proyas stops him and asks about the assassination attempt. Conphas gives a flippant answer when Proyas says that the man was one of Conphas’s officers.

Conphas stared at the man blankly, realizing he’d been duped. All those questions… Proyas had asked them in order to implicate him, to see whether he had motive. Conphas cursed himself for a fool. Fanatic or not, Nersei Proyas was not a man to be underestimated.

This is becoming a nightmare.

“What?” Conphas asked. “You propose to arrest me?”

“You propose to arrest Prince Kellhus.”

Conphas grinned. “You would find it hard to arrest an army.”

“I see no army,” Proyas said.

Conphas smiled. “But you do…”

Conphas leaves, knowing Proyas can’t do anything. The Holy War needs his soldiers. He reflects on his aphorism that war is intellect, and he would teach Kellhus that. He joins his waiting cavalrymen, he brought two hundred for an escort since the Holy War remains scattered and there were Fanim raiders running about. He spots Martemus with his soldiers, wondering what happened to the man as Martemus watches without expression. He spits at the hooves of Martemus horse “like a Scylvendi” then glances back at Proyas’s pavilion.

He turned back to his wayward General.

“It appears,” he said in a fierce voice that wouldn’t carry, “that you aren’t the only casualty of the spy’s sorcerery, Martemus… When you kill this Warrior-Prophet, you will be avenging many, very many.”

My Thoughts

Once again, Coithus Athjeäri is leading the scouts. Bakker does a great job making you excited to read about his adventures, often through the remote third-person POV of the historical sections of the novel. Athjeäri could almost have his own series about his adventures completely oblivious to all the political machinations and plotting and Dûnyaininess (yes, I made that word up, and I don’t care if it sounds silly) going on in the main story.

The River Sempis is very Nilesque (another word I made up, probably). A good trick for world building, take something already familiar to readers and use it as the foundation to build upon, to evoke a certain feeling in them.

So, as we can see, men vied in Shigek and it did not end well. A few misunderstandings, some impatient men, and then destructive rumors. Suddenly, the Holy War lost their discipline. Only the Imperial columns maintained theirs while everyone else was raping, pillaging, butchering, punishing their enemies, doing “gods” work. As much as Conphas is a slimy snake, he’s the guy I would surrender to over any of the other Inrithi. These sort of atrocities are common in warfare. It’s a dark thing. Humans have to put themselves into an us versus them mentality and stop seeing the other side as humans. And once that happens, it’s very easy to kill and brutalize. Unless, like that knight from the last chapter, you witness their humanity and it knocks you out that mindset.

Bakker does a good job giving plausible reasons for his characters to explore philosophy, in this case Kellhus musing on the irrationality of faith while standing atop a stone structure that would have taken decades to build and thousands of men working in concert to raise.

If we never had a POV from Kellhus, he would be the most likable character ever. Imagine this scene of Kellhus bringing up the possibility of Serwë’s infidelity from Achamian’s point of view, the feeling of shame and betrayal, wanting to make up for it even while to terrified to ever admit the truth. Because Kellhus is such a good man. An honest man. One who knows the truth and preaches it. He makes everyone around him better. And what did Achamian do? Slept with his wife. And now he sees the pain in Kellhus as the man wonders if Serwë might be unfaithful. How it must twist Achamian’s guts. We, the readers, would have all our sympathy with Kellhus.

But we don’t. It’s all with Achamian as we watch him being manipulated, played with. His life nothing but a tool for Kellhus to manipulate.

Kellhus, as always, is right about Achamian’s character needing to be hewn. As we see as the story goes forward, Achamian is “hewed by the crude axe of the world” and finds strength. He does what only one other character in series does later on.

Humans love simplicity. It’s why stories with such archetypal characters always resonate. The ones so different from our real lives with people acting how we wish the world was. Black and white. No complexities, no gray areas, no weakness of actions. We don’t want to really think about how things work, just accept them and move on. It takes a certain degree of freedom from everyday struggles to even get this mindset. If you can spend your time studying all day, pondering questions, it’s easier to shake off these illusions. When your day is spent waking up, doing the backbreaking labor to survive another day, and going to bed, well, you really don’t have the energy to think about complex things.

And here we see how Kellhus manipulates Achamian, and others, to think about past relationships by imitating vocal cues and expressions (Inrau and Xinemus), becoming a chameleon to provoke the responses he needs.

Anything can be justified when you believe you’re actions are moral. When you think you’re on the right side of history. You can persecute people for race, sex, beliefs, creeds, and more when you think you have the moral authority because you’ve found the Truth. It’s happening right now in our world.

Kellhus is salivating for the Gnosis. Not literally, obviously, he doesn’t have enough emotions for that, but you can tell as he uses Inrau’s death to prod Achamian down the path to surrendering the sorcery to make him equal to the Mandate so he could finally negotiate with them.

The conversation between Kellhus and Achamian on faith and fanaticism is engrossing. Kellhus needs to know how far Achamian will go in his dedication to the Mandate’s cause. He’s not sure if Achamian is a true fanatic. He’s experimenting right now, pushing him to go farther and farther, finding the line in his convictions, seeing if Achamian will betray the Mandate and give Kellhus the Gnosis.

And there it comes, Kellhus has manipulated Achamian to blurt out his beliefs about Kellhus himself, the reasons that Achamian found to support his passions to protect Kellhus. By making Kellhus not only the Harbinger, but also the Savior of the World, Achamian has found a reason to hide him from the Mandate. And now that he as acknowledged this Truth while at the same time having Kellhus remind him that any act in service of the Truth is a just act, like betraying the Gnosis to the Warrior Prophet.

Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” David Hume, On Reason. According to Hume, we come up with reasons to satiate our passions. And we can see this philosophy in action with Achamian rationalizing his protection of the Harbinger.

Conphas identifies that Kellhus knows Martemus is bait and yet blames Martemus instead of his obvious plan. Conphas is a brilliant strategist, but his ego can get in the way. Everyone knows Martemus is his right hand man and that he opposes Kellhus. Even an idiot had to know why Martemus is there. But, of course, the great Conphas can never be wrong. His ego defeats his intellect time and time again.

I can hear Conphas’s condescending lecture to Martemus echoing through the prose of the text.

Martemus has one of the most fascinating character arcs in the series. At the start, you would never believe him capable of betraying Conphas. The man knows that Conphas is a narcissistic asshole, but also knows him to be a military genius, the man he was destined to support, to aid, the great Emperor who would save Nansur. And then a little bit of doubt enters his mind. It poisons him bit by bit. Once, he told Conphas he would save the Concubine, Conphas’s standard, over the Tusk, and now he is confronted with that choice in reality, with choosing the words of the gods over his earthly commander, and his prioritizes are shifting. It is easy to boast in the abstract but when confronted by circumstances, it can be so much harder.

Martemus is more a soldier than a noble. I bet he would fit in with the common people he sits among. But they are afraid of him. We’ve seen how nobles act in this world. Who wouldn’t be afraid of this man?

Martemus struggle is great, at one moment awed then his intellect reminding him that it can’t be true, calling himself a fool. He’s a war with himself.

Preachers often make jokes at the start of sermons like Kellhus does. It’s a good way to relax your audience before you get into the deep stuff. Get the crowd warmed-up, make sure you’re listening, then you hit them with the truths you have to tell. It can be powerful, and Kellhus is the master of it. His sermon is spoken for all and just for one man tonight. Martemus.

Humans do love their self-deception, and Kellhus is peeling it away to make martyrs. To make the sort of men that will die for him out of faith. It’s a mindset if you can achieve will get people to do anything for you.

Martemus is trying so hard to hold onto rational fact in the face of Kellhus’s sermon. As Kellhus truths. Doubts are assailing Martemus over and over. He’s fighting as hard as he can, but Kellhus wants him. Kellhus has plans for him. He is, after all, second-in-command of the Nansur columns.

Martemus is no longer alone after embracing Kellhus’s divinity. People want to belong. No one likes feeling alone. It can bind us to groups even when doubts make us question why we’re there. It can hold us in place, drive us to do acts just to fit in.

Kellhus knows Martemus is a loyal man. He can’t ask Martemus to betray Conphas. He needs Martemus to realize fully where his loyalty is. To the god or his earthly master. Of course, Kellhus knows this act will only bring Martemus back to him. Martemus is seeing him as divine, seeing the haloed hands.

The haloed hands is a much discussed topic. They are only seen by true believers in Kellhus’s divinity. Serwë sees them first, but now we have Martemus seeing them. There is nothing in the text that shows people who have seen them telling others about haloed hands to spark off a mass hallucination, and yet that’s how it appears. But this is a world where the Outside, the supernatural is real. Maybe the haloed hands are born out of a belief in the Three Seas that prophets must have them, or maybe when you believe in him, one of the Gods of the Outside lets you see it. It might be a mass delusion, but I am leaning towards something intrinsic into this world’s metaphysics, like the Judging Eye we meet in the second series, or topoi. The Outside is bleeding into the world around Kellhus’s hands. This might explain how Kellhus pulls Serwë’s heart out of his chest at the end of the novel.

Oh, Conphas, you could never be friends with anyone. You were just deluding yourself, believing that Proyas would be this perfect companion to only enhance your prestige without even considering his agency.

Dead prophets are useful for the powerful. But there’s nothing like a man taking away the loyalty of the common folk and undermining your power base to get you scared, eh, Conphas? Especially when your only confidant, the most solid man you know, is transforming into a fanatic before your eyes. We’re also seeing the groundwork laid in for the novel’s climax here. So long as Proyas has faith in Kellhus, Conphas can’t enact his False Prophet Trial. But if Kellhus was careless (like that happens) and allows Proyas to see something disturbing…

Conphas’s hatred of Kellhus is rooted in both fear of losing his power and fear of his enemies destroying them. Yes, he’s wrong that Kellhus is a Cishaurim spy, but he’s not wrong that Kellhus is a threat to the Holy War. Kellhus is transforming it, and he can see it. And he’s maddened that no one else can or cares. That would drive a normal person nuts, let alone a narcissist like Conphas.

And once again, Conphas’s ego gets in his way. He truly thought he could convince the pious Proyas, a man who has Kellhus staying in his army’s camp, who sponsored him to the other Great Names, would turn his back on him just because Conphas has concerns he’s a false prophet. And instead, he walked into a trap. I think Conphas needs to stick to the battlefield.

And now Kellhus is having another secret war with Conphas. Well, to Conphas it is a war, to Kellhus, I imagine, it’s an annoyance. Unlike his war with the Consult. Sadly for Conphas’s ego, everything he does ends up furthering Kellhus’s plan. As we’ve seen, Kellhus has either anticipated the Circumfix (the result of a trial by Tusk) or was granted a vision of it (which I lean towards). But Conphas’s actions will have consequences. And for a first time reader, this is exciting. Will Martemus betray Kellhus or Conphas? Who will win his loyalty?

And since we like Martemus and hate Conphas, we’re all rooting for Kellhus’s success. I suspect Kellhus seduces every first time reader. We’re predisposed to root for the “heroic” archetype Kellhus superficially occupies. It’s only after it’s over, when we look back on the story, can we see how Bakker manipulated us.

I think it’s why I love this series.

Want to read more, click here for Chapter Twelve!

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