Review: Safe and Sound (The Monster Series Book 5)

Safe and Sound (The Monster Series Book 5)

by Amber Naralim

Reviewed by JMD Reid

After the disastrous events of Into the Black, Ellie, her monstrous lover Vincent, and Reese, Vincent’s brother, have returned to the safe house. There they try to settle down with the others who had their lives disrupted by the shady organization breeding new monsters. But Ellie itches to get back out and hunt the other monsters she freed rescuing her brother Edward, chaffing at playing house.

Edward also battles his own demons. He was experimented on, transformed into a deadly version of the monsters, and fights to keep control of his dark impulses with the help of his blind lover Anna. But the urges to kill, to hurt, to cause fear lurk in his depth.

The household tries to heal, everyone of the residents scarred in their own ways. But when women who look like Anna began being murdered, they fear one the monster Delilah has found them and it will only be a matter of time before more pain and suffering are inflicted.

Naralim builds on the foundation of her two previous books, using the characters she has built and nurtured, using that as the strength of this novel. Where the previous two relied on fast-paced action to drive the narrative, Shed Some Light is stationary, rooted in a small house in the remote country of Canada. Here the characters, their relationships, struggles, hopes, and fears drive the plot.

And she pulls of this transition flawlessly. Her writing has never been stronger. The depth of her characters sustains this novel all on their own so when things start getting tense, you’re all the more anxious because you care for these characters.

Naralim blew me away with the depth of her storytelling and the tragedy of the tale she unfolds. If you haven’t read Walking with Monsters, do so. Then read Into the Black, and then read this amazing book!

You can buy Safe and Sound from Amazon.

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Review: Higurashi Cotton Drifting Arc 1

Higurashi Cotton Drifting Arc 1

Story by Ryukishio7

Art by Yutori Houjyou

Reviewed by JMD Reid

“I cannot quench your thirst,

because you who want the truth will not acknowledge it.

I cannot quench your thirst,

because the truth you hope for doesn’t exist.

Even so, I want to quench your thirst,

because I am the one who left you in the desert.”

—Frederica Bernkastel

Once again, the poem starting off this series hints that this Frederica is behind what is going on in the story, but that she feels bad for the people. What is going on?

Good question. Last volume, Keiichi Maebara, a newly transferred teenager to the sleepy mountain village of Hinamizawa, beat his two friends, Rena and Mion, to death when they become demons trying to inject him with a syringe. Shortly after, he died by clawing out his own throat trying to get the truth out.

How does this volume start? Back at the beginning.

Keiichi Maebara just moved to Hinamizawa three weeks ago. He’s made friends with some of the local girls: Rena, Satako, Rika, and Mion. They play games. Have fun. They are close-knit so fast. It plays out so similar to how the story began.

Except this time, while playing a game at store in the nearby town, Keiichi makes a fateful choice. He gives a doll to Rena, thinking the tomboy Mion doesn’t like girly things. That off-handed comment set in a chain of events that leads to a different story than last time.

Soon Keiichi meets “Shion,” a girl claiming to be Mion’s twin sister but is a girlier version of her. Suspecting Mion is pretending to be someone else to act more like a girl, he plays along with it, enchanted by her beauty.

Other than that, things are playing out the same. The Cotton Drifting Festival approaches and Keiichi learns about the annual murder/disappearance, known as Oyashiro’s Curse. One person is killed, and the other is demoned away. As a glowing dread builds, Keiichi and his friends look forward to the festival with “Shion” eager to join the fun.

After the end of the last arc, I had so many questions. Where would it go? Would it follow new characters, or would it track one of the survivors as they struggled to uncover what happened to Keiichi, Mion, and Rena. What I didn’t expect was for everything to reset.

The summer of 1983 in Hinamizawa is playing groundhogs day. Keiichi and his friends have no idea that it’s going on. But there are differences playing out. How will that effect it? What is causing it to happen? Is it part of Oyashiro’s Curse? Or is something else at play.

The questions are dancing in your mind. A mystery is begging for answers, driving you to keep following the story to find out what is going on. That is the beauty of Higurashi. Even better, as the story unfolds, it’s clear that the creator thought of these questions. He had answers for them when he created it. This isn’t an empty mystery box, but a story with substance.

So just keep with it and know that answers will come, eventually. And until then, speculate away and try to figure out what is going on.

You can buy Higurashi Cotton Drifting Arc 1 from Amazon.

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Review: BERSERK Vol 16

BERSERK 16

by Kentaro Miura

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Jill has learned the truth of what her friend Rosine has become, but the idea of becoming an “elf” still appeals to her. Growing up abused, like Rosine, she doesn’t want to return to her village. She hates her father and fears becoming a weak woman like her mother. If she allows Rosine to transform her, she can be free of that.

But Guts, wounded, driven by his rage, shows her the truth of Rosine’s transformation. Her friend has become a demon. That sweet girl she used to play with as a child has become a monster. And even this inhuman monster is scared of Guts.

Rosine will have to reveal her true form to defeat Guts. But will it be enough? Or will she be the next demon slain by the Black Swordsman?

This arc is more about Jill and her loss of innocence as she sees the brutality of the world and what it takes for a man like Guts to survive in it. Her transformation over these pages as she survives these terrible events gives us a glimmer of hope that this world isn’t wholly lost. Even as Miura makes us feel pity for the monstrous Rosine, he shows us that Jill might have the strength to do something good in this world.

Either way, Guts continues on only now he’s hunted by the Holy Chain Knights led by Farness. After two years of following his trail of destruction, they have finally caught up to Guts. He’s wounded form his fight with Rosine. Will he escape, or will they take him prisoner?

BERSERK continues to impress. Miura shows us how the cruelties we inflict on each other can create new monsters. Because that’s the true essence of this series: all the evils, all the atrocities, all the demonic entities are just humans who have given into their selfish natures. Whether it’s Rosine who wants her childish paradise or Wyld who wants to be powerful again, the evil in BERSKER is spawned by human weakness.

So can there be any hope in such a bleak and nihilistic world? Maybe. There’s Puck the Elf. There’s Jill. And maybe even Guts can find his way out of his darkness before the beast of rage inside of him consumes him.

This is why BERSERK is one of the greatest works of fantasy literature and art produced in the world. If you’re not reading it, you should be!

You can buy BERSERK Vol 16 from Amazon.

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Review: Higurashi Abducted by the Demon Arc 2

Higurashi Abducted by the Demon Arc 2

Story by Ryukishio7

Story by Karin Suzuragi

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Keiichi Maebra, a teenage boy who recently moved to the sleepy village of Hinamizawa in the mountains of Japan, fears he might be murdered. The village has a dark reputation. Beneath it’s picturesque exterior, rumors of a man-eating demon lurk. A demon the villagers aid in its mission of protecting their villagers.

Outsiders have to be sacrificed to it, and Keiichi’s new friends, the girls Mion and Rena, might not be humans like he thought. They might be demons wanting to murder him. He’ll have to find the evidence to prove what is going on and defend his life before he’s the next person demoned away.

The paranoia and fear escalate. Rena especially seems to transition from her normal, cute girl persona to a demonic, cat-eyed demon. She goes from taunting Keiichi to wanting him dead, demanding to know his secrets. The art gets crazy, capturing Keiichi’s terror along with transforming the young Rena into something monstrous and terrifying.

And when you know the secret of the series, these scenes only become more tragic. The clues are there, little speckles at the true story, but that first time you read it, you’re left stunned. How did this happen? It all started so fun, so light-hearted. Keiichi, Mion, and Rena were such good friends. They were playful and innocent.

And then syringe and the baseball bat.

At the end, you’re wondering how this series can continue? Where could it possibly go after this ending. Where it goes only makes this series more intriguing. The story may seem over, but it is far, far from complete.

You can buy Higurashi Abducted by the Demon Arc 2 from Amazon.

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Review: BERSERK Volume 15

BERSERK 15

by Kentaro Miura

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The “elves” have come to the village, and they are not the little sprites of legend like Puck. As the villagers flee, Guts takes a stand. The Black Swordsman quest for vengeance has lead him to another demon. Rosine may look cute and innocent, a young girl who has transformed into a butterfly-wind fairy, but evil lurks inside of her.

As her “elves” raid through the town for their sick version of play, Guts does what he can to stop her. Seeing them chasing a child, he uses the kid as bait. But killing the elves learns the truth of what they really are. All the children that have gone missing have been transformed into demonic creatures. To defeat this next demon, Guts will have to further destroy his soul.

Wounded, hated by the villagers he just saved, Guts ventures out into the woods to find the lair. Jill, the girl he saved, wants to come with him. She realizes that the elf queen is her missing friend Rosine. Wanting to know the truth, she’s about to witness the true horrors of the world.

BERSERK doesn’t flinch from the harshness of this world. Even a young girl can sacrifice those she loves and becomes a demon. She has a twisted version of “play.” It’s adult style, where her children-demons fight each other, kill each other, and more. We get a glimpse into the dark psyche of a child raised by abuse manifested in the innocent and heartless way her demonic powers have manifested.

Miura’s story continues on. But is Guts on the right path? Is he doing the right thing, or just making the world worse? Can this world even be saved when so much evil pervades it? Miura delves into such deep themes.

If you’re a fan of amazing fantasy, especially the grimdark variety, then you need to read this graphic novel!

You can buy BERSERK Vol 15 from Amazon.

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Review: Higurashi Abducted by the Demon Arc 1

Higurashi Abducted by the Demon Arc 1

Story by Ryukishio7

Story by Karin Suzuragi

Reviewed by JMD Reid

“Please don’t be sad,

Even if the world doesn’t forgive you, I will forgive you.

Please don’t be sad,

Even if you don’t forgive the world, I will forgive you.

So please tell me,

What shall I do so that you’ll forgive me.”

—Frederica Bernkastel

If you know the story the above poem that opens the series is stunning. Who is Frederica Bernkastel? What is going on in his series? You’ll have to read to find out.

Keiichi Maebara is newly transferred to the sleepy mountain village of Hinamizawa in the summer of 1983. He’s quickly made friends with some of the local girls, Rena, Satako, Rika, and their leader, Mion. He feels like he has a new life. A new start from living in the city of Tokyo.

But there is something dark lurking beneath the surface of Hinamizawa, a dangerous past that his new friends are hiding from him. Why don’t they want him to know the truth of the village? What are the concealing from him?

As Keiichi discovers more of the village, can he truly trust his new friends? Are Rena and Mion wanting to protect him, or are they setting him up to be the next victim?

Higurashi is a rather interesting story. IT starts out light and fun, the characters introduced well. They have a fun atmosphere, hyper-competitive but in a good-hearted way. You can see that they know each other and are welcoming the newcomer Keiichi.

And then he hears rumors about the village’s past. Suddenly his friends are acting weird. A sense of unease slowly pervades the story. Paranoia steps in as things grow more and more dire. The story has a mystery that keeps you reading while the characters keep you engaged. What is going on? What will happen? Are Rena and Mion truly his friends, or are they something else?

These questions will be begging to be answered over the course of this manga.

The art is great, bouncing between the playful to the tense with skill. The artist captures both with ease. If you’ve played the doujin visual novel this is based off of, you’ll see the story is being faithfully adapted.

Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni is one of the best mystery series in Japanese pop culture. Whether it’s the anime, the original doujin novels, or this manga series, it’s worth checking out!

You can buy Higurashi Abducted by the Demon Arc 1 from Amazon.

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Eleven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 11
Holy Amateu

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

Of all the Cants, none better illustrates the nature of the soul than the Cants of Compulsion. According to Zarathinius, the fact that those compelled unerringly think themselves free shows that Volition is one more thing moved in the soul, and not the mover we take it to be. While few dispute this, the absurdities that follow escape comprehension altogether.

—MEREMNIS, THE ARCANA IMPLICATA

As a miller once told me, when the gears do not meet, they become as teeth. So it is with men and their machinations.

—ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

My Thoughts

What we see about the cants just reinforces what was discussed in the previous chapter about the soul. Free will is an illusion. It is the Darkness That Comes Before that manipulates us, and the Cants seize the soul and provide it with a new “past” of circumstances that then allow it to behave in a different way. But the soul can’t recognize that it’s been changed. That the circumstances that preceded it have shifted because it cannot stand apart from those circumstances. Everything in Bakker’s works follows the belief that in a materialistic universe, there can be no “self-moving soul.”

Then he adds the supernatural, the Outside, to it and plays with the premise of violating causal with something from behind it. As he does here with Compulsion.

When gears teeth don’t meet the they aren’t working properly. They don’t do what they’re supposed to do. I’m not sure Bakker’s analogy is as good as he thinks or I’m missing something from it (since gears have teeth on them that interlock and allow them to work properly), but he appears to be implying that men and their machinations only cause problems to the world. They disrupt things.

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

Two years ago, the Shriah had called the Holy War. From across the three seas, the men came. Now they march from Gerotha through a “subdued land.” None in Xerash defy them. The peoples all submit, offering their food stores, and their daughters, willingly to appease the “Lords of the Holy War.” Newcomers join the Holy War from the sea, shocked by the changes to their kinsmen’s “strange garb and implacable stares.” The Holy War takes few casualties and the soldiers “recalled their old humour” as their burdens lessened.

Unlike other places, there were few atrocities committed since Kellhus made it clear that the “Inrithi either kept or betrayed his word with their actions.” He doesn’t need the Xerashi’s love, only their trust.

While the Kianene have abandoned Xerash, Athjeäri is fighting them in Holy Amoteu. He’s discovering that the Kianene are burning all the wood to deny Holy War siege engines. Athjeäri does what he can, but he’s taking causalities with every raid. “Though he possessed daring in excess, he lacked the manpower required to secure his position.” He writes letters asking for help while Kellhus tells him to be patient and urges the Holy War to march faster.

Ten days after Gerotha’s fall, something “peculiar” happenes. Though accounts varied, all agreed Kellhus spoke with an “old blind man” that somehow was missed by the Hundred Pillars who kept away any who might harm Kellhus. Esmenet feared he was a Cishaurim. Proyas wrote his own eyewitness account in a letter to his father, describing Kellhus dismounting to talk with the man, asking who he is. The man answers, “One who has something to whisper into your ear.”

This provokes alarm as Kellhus asks why the man has to whisper only to him. The man says his words are a doom and Kellhus will kill him. People shout that it’s a Cishaurim trick, but Kellhus listens, kneeling to let the old man whisper. When the man finishes, Kellhus beheads the old man and orders the Holy War to make camp nearby. When pressed, Kellhus would not explain what he was told.

What did the old fool whisper? [wrote Proyas.]

The Inchoroi Aurang reflects on when he was spear bearer for Sil, who led the Inchoroi after they crashed on this world, and the other might deeds he’s done, like riding on Wutteät (Father of Dragons), and their great wars with the Nonman culminating in the Womb-Plague. He was young thing before all his grafts had “sapped his monumental frame.” He thinks they would have won, but Sil was impatient. It led them to being scattered and hunted. It was to men that gave the Inchoroi their “second age of glory.” Men figured out how to “resurrect their aborted designs” leading to him being Horde-General to the No-God. He remembers burning the Great Library of Sauglish. He butchered the Norsirai.

So how had it come to this? Bound to a Synthese, like a king to a leper’s robes. Frail and fugitive. Skulking about the fires of a roused enemy. There had been a time when the screams of thousands had heralded his coming.

He circles a compound surveying the land. He stares to the east where Shimeh, “the very heart of the mannish world” lay. He sees the signs of past countries in the compound, the “furtive mark of their [men’s] generations.” He reflects that he’s older than all of it. He lands in the courtyard where the skin-spies, his children, had left their horses. They come to him and grovel “their groins slick form their victims.”

He reflects how the Consult once thought the strange metaphysics of Psûkhe allowed the Cishaurim to unmask the skin-spies. It Is why they needed the Holy War to succeed. They couldn’t allow half of the Three Seas to be “immune to their poison.” It was why they acted against Xerius, trying to stop his plan to betray it. Now Aurang knows it is the Dûnyain, Anasûrimbor Moënghus, responsible for it all. He sees more in Kellhus’s than a son “hunting for his father.” Even if the Mandate didn’t have their prophecy, Aurang hated the Anasûrimbor bloodline. He fears what Moënghus has done in Shimeh the last thirty years when Kellhus claimed the Holy War in one.

Despite the rank disorder of his soul, the Scylvendi had been right about one thing: these Dûnyain had seized too much already. They could not be allowed the Gnosis as well.

Aurang, his hoary soul wrenching at the seams of the Syntheses that house him, smiled an odd, bird-twitching smile. How long since his last true contest?

The skin-spies gather, unveiling their true faces. He tells them to prepare this place, and one named Ûssirta how he can be certain that Kellhus will stop here. Aurang explains how Kellhus will pause here before entering the plain, learning from Cnaiür that Kellhus won’t be over-eager to march into the plain so close to his goal like a normal man. He will take time to plan.

Men. They had been little more than packs of wild dogs during the First Wars. How had they grown so?

A skin-spy named Maörta asks if “it” approaches. Aurang considers his skin-spies then says that he’s already made a sacrifice to lull Kellhus into thinking he’s uncovered their plot so he won’t be suspicious. They will catch him unaware because “there is treachery in his wife’s heart.”

They would test the limits of this Prophet’s penetration. They would deny him the Gnosis.

The skin-spy gurgles as Eleäzaras says to Esmenet they found him by probing his face with pins. He doesn’t like how clever she is, that she has power over him. He drinks from his wine bowl. Nor is he pleased that she’d learned so fast that the Scarlet Spire had found a skin-spy. He wouldn’t underestimate her again, realizing she’s more than a whore and has true skill at organization.

She was attractive, though. Well worth rutting… To do to her what they had done to that thing’s face. Yes, very attractive

He reflects that they had hardly begun studying the skin-spy when Esmenet had “just walked in” accompanied by Werjau (Eleäzaras thinks, but he was pretty drunk and isn’t sure) and four of the Hundred Pillars, all of them with Chorae. She does it like she has no idea that they’re the Scarlet Spires and they answered to know one especially not a woman. Iyokus says they would have shared once they finished their interrogation.

Whether this was true or false, of course, depended entirely on the information extracted.

Esmenet is doubtful that they would have share, which Eleäzaras isn’t happy she realized and is reminded Shimeh is only days away. He feels the weight of fear at facing the Cishaurim and Shimeh. He’s upset because serving Kellhus wasn’t what he agreed to with Maithanet. That the Mandate being right wasn’t part of the bargain.

How could they have been so deceived? And now to be bent upon murder, to have their knife drawn, only to discover that they had no motive… except self-preservation.

What have I done?

The Scarlet Spire’s privy council has argued over whether they should abandon the war or continue. They are shocked to learn about the Consult and the fact that a skin-spy ruled High Ainon “in their [the Scarlet Spires] name.” They can’t agree and need “decisive leadership—something that their present Grandmaster clearly lacked.” He feels their destruction is coming. Even Iyokus is arguing with him despite the blinded man keeping his position as Master of Spies at Eleäzaras’s insistence. Iyokus doesn’t want to submit to Kellhus, but Eleäzaras doesn’t see how he can treat with Kellhus from a position of strength because “He reads our souls in our faces.” Kellhus can deduce what Iyokus has told Eleäzaras just by asking a question. Iyokus is dismissive of that fact.

There was strength in ignorance, Eleäzaras realized. All his life he had thought knowledge a weapon. “The world repeats,” the Shiradic philosopher Umartu had written. “Know these repetitions, and you may intervene.” Eleäzaras had taken this as his mantra, had used it as the hammer with which to pound cunning into his wit. You may intervene, he would tell himself, no matter what the circumstance.

But there was knowledge beyond hope of intervention, knowledge that mocked, degraded… gelded and paralyzed. Knowledge that only ignorance could contradict. Iyokus and Inrûmmi even believe simply did not know what he knew, which was they though him castrate. They didn’t even believe.

Perhaps it was inevitable that the Intricati appear here and now. That the Warrior-Prophet intervene.

Esmenet, the Intricati, demands to know why she wasn’t summoned. Iyokus says it’s a school matter. She questions that, and Eleäzaras says they are the ones who will face “the Snakeheads,” implying the skin-spy is connected to the Cishaurim. She has “the temerity to step closer” and snap that the skin-spies aren’t Cishaurim and implies the Scarlet Spire is being treacherous. He gets mad, demanding why he’s even speaking to a woman. That infuriates her and he feels fear draining away his contempt. He feels hopeless and apologies.

He wonders what has happened to him. “When would this nightmare end.” He hates how a “caste-menial whore” smiles in triumph, outraging Iyokus. He realizes he’s losing his position as Grandmaster if he doesn’t act like one.

What did I do wrong? something churlish cried within.

She orders the skin-spy handed over since it has no soul for Cants to compel. It’s a royal command. He realizes Iyokus won’t obey. To maintain power, he has to act. He thinks how sweet it would be to fuck the warrior prophet’s woman. As she continues speaking in Kellhus’s name, he asks if she used to be Achamian’s woman. He knows the truth, but wants to hear her say it.

The room goes silent, save for the skin-spy’s dripping blood, as she stares in shock. He points out the irony since he ordered Achamian’s kidnapping which lead to Esmenet achieving her high position. She responds with, “More men should take credit for their mistakes.”

Eleäzaras tried to laugh, but she continued, speaking as though he were nothing more than a creaking pole or a barking dog. Noise. She continued tell him—the Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires!—what he had to do. And why not, when he so obviously had abandoned decisions?

Shimeh was coming, she said. Shimeh.

As though names could have teeth.

Esmenet is caught in a downpour, running to reach the safety of her tent. In the warmth, Kellhus and Achamian await her, though Achamian turns back to the skin-spy she claimed from Eleäzaras. It is chained to the central pole, nude. Signs of torture mars its skin. She shudders, realizing how much damage Iyokus inflicted on the creature and realizing Achamian suffered the same for longer.

It mutters Chigra and other words in its language with Achamian talking about its curling face-fingers a reflex caused by being captive. She faces the skin-spy, trying to look tough while feeling foolish, thinking everyone sees through her act.

Was this how it was for others of high station? Perpetual fear? From everything, every word, every act, the consequences hung so heavy, swung so far and deep. The Consult is real.

Kellhus admonishes Achamian, saying he’s thinking of the skin-spies as men when they’re not. They don’t have a “self to hide.” They steal their personalities, and thus are only shells. “The mockery of souls.” Achamian implies that’s enough o replace a human. Kellhus agrees, his words foreboding. Suddenly, Esmenet goes to Kellhus, making sure he’s between her and Achamian. She’s feeling dizzy.

Kellhus asks who the skin-spy impersonated. She says a Javreh slave soldier, one of their Chorae archers (who are reputed to be the best shots in the world). She reveals the skin-spy was exposed by his lover, another Javreh. The Scarlet Spire used pins to probe the face, which Kellhus says is effective but impractical method to implement on everyone. As Kellhus moves from her, she feels naked beofre Achamian.

Achamian speculates they thwarted an assassination attempt. Esmenet realizes that this fear of making mistakes is never going to leave people like her. She says the Consult knows he’s vulnerable to Chorae now. Achamian adds that it this was a gamble, since the Scarlet Spire will scrutinize their Chorae archers the most. Kellhus says it implies the Consult is desperate.

She’s reminded living back in Sumna when Achamian and Inrau were discussing Maithanet’s alliance with the Scarlet Spire. That was the first time men had listened to her. So she adds to the present conversation, saying the Consult would do anything to keep him from gaining the Gnosis.

Chigraaaaaaaa,” the thing wheezed. “Put hara ki zurot…”

Achamian glanced at Kellhus before turning to her with uncommon boldness. “I think she’s right,” he said, gazing with open admiration. “Maybe we can breathe easy, or maybe not. Either way, we should probably keep you cloistered as much as possible.” Though the patronage of his look should have offended her, there was apology in it as well, a heartbreaking admission.

She could not bear it.

The skin-spy, chained up in the tent, knows it was a pawn sacrificed for the “Old Father’s” plan. Despite this, it also knows it won’t be abandoned, that it would be saved despite the air-tight security Kellhus has implement. These two contradictions it could “mull in what passed for its soul without any offense to consistency.”

There was but one measure, one Truth, and it was warm and wet and bloody. The mere thought of it sent spasms through its member. How it yearned! How it ached!

At the right moment, it cries out in its language at a pitch higher than any “mannish ear” could hear. A signal that lets his brothers know that the plan is succeeding.

The Holy War leaves Gim and enter Holy Amoteu. They walk in a land whose names and peoples they grew up reading about in the scriptures. They felt like they’d “come home. At the Anothrite Shrine, seven drown in the mad press to bathe in the holy waters. Every day’s march brought them closer and closer to their goal.

Shimeh, it seemed, lay impossibly near. Shimeh!

Like a shout on the horizon. A whisper become voice in their hearts.

A few days to the east, Fanayal leads his men to hunt Athjeäri, knowing his numbers dwindle. He plots an ambush with a full group of Cishaurim, which disgusts the High Heresiarch Seökti. They attack and though outnumbered, Athjeäri fights head on. “Despite the ferocity of the Inrithi, the situation was hopeless.” Athjeäri is killed by a youth. The Galeoth manage to retrieve Athjeäri’s body from the Fanim at a large cost of life and flee. They find reinforcements only a few hours away led by Lord Soter. Only twenty survived.

The nobles are somber. Kellhus declares Athjeäri Battle-Celebrant and speaks the rite without practice. He then gives a sermon how Inri Sejenus came after the Apocalypse to heal the world while he came before the catastrophe to prepare the world for it. They burn Athjeäri’s body with full ceremony.

The dirges of the Galeoth echoed long into the night.

Finally, the Holy War has crossed the Jarta Highlands but their mood is somber. But they are soon heartened to walk through the lands of Inri Sejenus’s birth. Only Shimeh lies before them. They arrive at an abandoned Nansur villa. Though there is daylight left, Kellhus calls a halt while the others are eager to march on to Shimeh.

Denying them, he took up residence behind the fortified walls.

Esmenet and Kellhus are making love, her on top, “welded to him in singular bliss.” She’s happy for this and thanks him after they climax since she doesn’t get to touch him much anymore. She watches him pant but knows he is not winded. “He was never winded.” She admires his body as she savors the memory of their passion.

As she lies in this room, she thinks back to when the Nansur ruled here, thinking that a long dead Patridomos had coupled here, too. She wonders what he would think of the Kianene, “an obscure desert people,” ruling so much of the world. “Not just individuals but entire ages, she realized, could be innocent or dreadful.”

She thought of Serwë. The perpetual anxiousness returned.

How had the joy of her new circumstances become so elusive? In her old life, she had often quizzed the priests who came to her, and in her darker moods she had even presumed to school them in what she saw as their hypocrisy. With some, those unlikely to return, she had asked what could be missing from their faith for them to find solace in whores. “Strength,” they sometimes answered; several had even wept. But more often than not they denied missing anything at all.

After all, how could they be miserable, when Inri Sejenus had claimed their hearts?

“Many make that mistake,” Kellhus said, standing at the side of the bed.

As he stands over her, she wants him to take her again. But he continues saying that they think you can’t be miserable if you have faith, so they fake that they aren’t, thinking that the others look happy, but they’re the only ones who are weak. “In the company of the joyous they become desolate” then blame themselves. She protest saying she has him, his child. He says he’s the answer not the cure. She starts crying, confused. She clutches him begging for him to take her again.

This one thing I can give…

“There’s more,” he said, drawing back the sheets and placing a shadowy hand upon her belly. “So much more.”

His look was long and sad. Then he left her for Achamian and the secrets of the Gnosis.

Esmenet can’t sleep after Kellhus leaves, catching “fragments of arcane voice that surfaced from the stonework around her.” She drowses, thinking about her pains, like Achamian’s “death” and Mimara’s “death.”

Nothing stayed dead in her life. Her past least of all.

“Walking between Wards is easy,” a voice hummed, “when their author practices other arcana.”

She bolts awake and sees a tall, handsome man over her. She feels a stirring of lust then notices that his shadow “had hooked wings.” She bolts from the bed and presses to the wall as he says he thought paying twelve talents was an outrage, referencing their last encounter in Sumna. Before she can scream, he presses his naked body against her naked back while covering her mouth.

He wanders why some “peaches” are better than others, asking if “the bruises can be swayed away?” He wonders if it’s the peach or the “vendor,” implying his skill is what makes her more enjoyable. She feels a surge of lust, wants him to be in her even as she knew his form is an illusion.

“My children,” he said, “only imitate what they see…”

She whimpered into his suffocating hand—tried to cry out even as her legs slackened to the touch of his probing fingers.

“But me,” he murmured in a voice that ran tickling over hers skin, “I take.”

My Thoughts

Kellhus’s actions at Gerotha, though brutal, have achieved the results he wanted so long as the Holy War doesn’t commit atrocities. A ruler above all must be trusted. Whether love or hated, a ruler who can’t be trusted is one to be feared. A capricious man like Xerius, whose mercurial whim dictated his actions, engendered much terror in his people. They couldn’t trust him to do more than brutalize them. A hard ruler, like Kellhus, can be trusted to keep his word. If he says you won’t be harmed, you won’t. If you break his rules, you can trust him to punish you just as he said. In the end, people prefer predictability over justice.

Doesn’t sound good for Athjeäri. His boldness is catching up to him. He penetrated too deep too many times. His luck is running out.

Interesting to have this quote from Proyas’s letter. These broad, 3rd person omniscient scenes always feel like you’re reading the historical account of the events years later, and having Proyas’s letter quoted in it only reinforces that. It’s an interesting choice on Bakker’s part.

Aurang has grafted his real body so many times he can’t move. Interesting. It’s an insight into the Inchoroi and how they work. They can modify their bodies through grafts. It’s how they gained sorcerery and how they can even talk. They didn’t have mouths before meeting the Nonmen. We get some names dropped here that we’ll see in The White-Luck Warrior, too.

All his great deeds, and he’s stuck as a tiny bird, a glorified messenger serving men who had figured out all their old tech and activated it. Resurrected the No-God once, created the skin-spies. Done things with Tekne Aurang never knew how to do.

Good to see Aurang is finally listening to Cnaiür. He’s using Kellhus’s own logic against him. The problem with doing the shortest, most efficient action is if your opponent can figure that out, he can use it against you. Will it be enough.

Aurang, of course, knows Esmenet is “treacherous.” She gave up Achamian to him without any hesitation back in book 1. Of course, Aurang didn’t know that Achamian told Esmenet to cooperate with any who came asking. He did that to protect her, knowing if she played the whore, they wouldn’t bother hurting her. It worked.

What will Aurang do to her this time? Nice bit of tension here.

Eleäzaras is drinking again even as he wants to hate-fuck Esmenet. He clearly doesn’t like a woman this clever. He’s never encountered it before, and it’s one more thing pressing in on his crumbling world. Nothing is at all as he planned. He’s led his school on a path that may destroy them and he doesn’t have the fortitude to withstand the pressures. It’s an interesting story line. The master manipulator and schemer, so powerful and confident at the start. Another archetype, like Xinemus, broken by the events of the Holy War.

Nothing like showing Esmenet’s power to have her walk into the heart of the Scarlet Spire with only four guys with her. All Eleäzaras can do is fume in humiliation at how low his school has fallen with the advent of Kellhus.

Eleäzaras unraveling is continuing. He is drowning in despair. He sees no way out but to press on and hope they don’t die. He knows he can’t challenge Kellhus. Iyokus doesn’t understand, like anyone else who hasn’t been before Kellhus and been stripped bare. It’s an interesting character arc to explore, the pressure of leadership and how it can destroy a person.

That bitterness pervades Eleäzaras. He doesn’t want to face the consequences of his actions, not even bending before Esmenet’s authority, let alone the greater consequence of dragging his school into this war.

Now he’s lashing out, asking about Achamian. He doesn’t have any power over her other than wounding her soul. So that’s what he does. He’s too weak to submit, his pride too great. His fear too strong. So he hurts her the way his own pride is wounded.

Nice come back from Esmenet, and an interesting one. Since she sees it a mistake that landed her there. Is she wondering what her life would have been like if it didn’t happen?

Well, Eleäzaras, you tried to have balls, but you’ve lost all your confidence. You are so shaken by events, by the fear of catastrophe that you might have lead your school to, you’re crushed.

A nice note of pity from Esmenet for Achamian and what he’s suffered while he was captured. Her walls holding back her true feelings are crumbling more and more.

Esmenet realizing that people posture, even when they have power, while inwardly they wonder if their frauds. If people see through them. Worse, if she appears weak, there could be real consequences. She has to force herself to act like something she’s not. And if you force yourself to do something, soon your brain adopts to it and it’s no longer an act. You can grow accustomed to anything.

Esmenet smiled when Kellhus chided Achamian. For a moment, I believe, she was feeling those days at camp when they sat around the fire. When she was still Achamian’s wife. Now she’s feeling that attraction to Achamian and is afraid, fleeing to Kellhus to shield her.

Weeper is a nice pejorative for Chorae bowmen. We’re seeing the start of Aurang’s plan here. This skin-spy was supposed to be caught. It was supposed to make Kellhus aware of this vector of assassination, skin-spies using Chorae. Note how the skin-spy was exposed by his lover. It wasn’t a good enough mimic.

That was a good moment for Esmenet, back in book one when men listened to her. And it’s so heartbreaking. She’s an intelligent woman. Maybe that comes to why she loves Achamian. He listened to her. And so does Kellhus.

And then we get confirmation from the skin-spy that this was a ruse. While it’s nice to get a skin-spy POV, and we learn about their ability to hear ultrasonic sounds and use that as communication, it might not be a needed seen. A careful reader would have guessed he was supposed to be captured from Aurang’s POV. Either way, it’s well written.

Damn, Athjeäri finally goes down. His exploits have been fun to read. He’s bold and wild and reckless, and it finally caught up with him. Killed by a youth, but then he himself wasn’t that old to begin with. A young man, Saubon’s nephew, eager for conquest and glory. He found glory, the sort of immortalization only youth can give through death.

Just like Aurang predicted, Kellhus waits at the villa to survey the plains instead of rushing headlong into the plains. The problem with always doing the most logical thing, following the shortest way, is its predictability.

Kellhus doesn’t have much time for Esmenet. He has impregnated her. Though he does love her in his own stunted way, he doesn’t need the physical intimacy she does. He just needs her on his side and be willing to be his breeder. I doubt he cares if she takes lovers (which she does) so long as she doesn’t have children. I doubt he’s even jealous that she loves Achamian.

Esmenet is not getting attention and she has Achamian back in her life. She’s starting to feel the difference between the two men. She’s aching to find what she’s missing. Kellhus, of course, reads her like an open book, telling her what he has to.

The hand on the belly. What he wants her for. What the Dûnyain use women for: breeding. He could soothe her tears, but that won’t help him with his mission. He loves her, but he can’t keep her happy. Trying to do that, ultimately, leads to Kellhus’s failure.

Nothing stays dead in her life then… Hey, it’s Aurang, the syntheses, back again. Her life as a prostitute back from the dead.

As we seen in the other times the Inchoroi interact, they give such pleasure with their touch it overwhelms the mind. We also learn that this body is an illusion, but one with substance. Esmenet has been told about this, how else did she know that this was an illusion. She can’t fight it though. No human can.

One of the best cliffhangers in the entire series. Bakker often doesn’t end chapters on such powerful hooks. His chapters are almost like short stories, telling complete arcs that then flow into another instead of cutting so swiftly in mid-scene like this.

Click here for Chapter 12!

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can pre-order my first fantasy novel, Above the Storm, from Amazon or purchase my short story collection! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

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Reveiw: Darkblade Savior(Hero of Darkness 6)

Darkblade Savior(Hero of Darkness 6)

by Andy Peloquin

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The Hunter has finally reached Enarium and he has finally found his wife. The mysterious woman who has haunted his memory, vestige of life he lived before his memory was repeatedly whipped for the last five thousand years.

But is Taiana the same woman he loved. Can he trust the woman who plunged a dagger into his chest despite what he feels for her? Does he have much choice? Because the world is about to end. The demonic Sage has also arrived in Enarium. His forces hold the city. The energy gathers in its bowels.

Soon, it will be unleashed along with the Destroyer.

The Hunter will have to figure out what is going on, how to save the young boy Hailien, and stop the Sage from unleashing the embodiment of entropy onto the world? After all the Hunter has learned, he’s about to discover he knows nothing.

This concludes the first arc of the Hunter’s story. And it is amazing. The story flows form twists and turns, peeling back the obscuring millennia that has hidden the truth of the story. The characters are great. Peloquin has already made you care for the Hunter and Hailien, now he has new characters to flesh out. You ache for the Hunter and his wife to have their reunion, but not even you the reader can trust her. It gives a sense of impending doom looming over everything. That one false step, and it will all come crashing down.

This series was a satisfying read. It hurtled you along, carrying you from one breathless action piece to the next. Each one built and built towards the epic conclusion. It was a great ride, and I’m glad that the Hunter story isn’t over. I’m eager to see where the story goes next!

Fans of fantasy, you have to check out one of the up and comers in the indie fantasy market! Andy’s works are astounding!

You can buy Darkblade Savior 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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Review: BERSERK 14

BERSERK 14

by Kentaro Miura

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Newly recovered from his injures suffered from the eclipse, Guts has to face his new life living in the boundary between life and death. Thanks to the brand he received when Griffith offered him a sacrifice, evil spirits seek to devour his soul.

And he’s not the only one branded.

Caska, her mind reduced to that of a child after being raped by the demonic Griffith, has no idea the danger she’s in. Guts has to race to her fast to protect her from the demons. But will it matter? Even if he saves her, she now fears and hates him, so traumatized by her experience. Her mind is broken. Nothing is ever the same.

All that is left for Guts is vengeance. The Black Swordsman we met at the beginning of this series is born.

Volume 14 also jumps us to two years later, putting is after the events of the early volume. Guts, now traveling with Puck, is about to find another one of the demonic apostles. He has another chance to find vengeance.

Miura’s epic continues. For those who watched the original anime, this volume carries it beyond what that started. From here on out, the story isn’t known. We don’t know if Guts will survive his vengeance. We don’t know if Caska will ever regain her sanity. All we can do is march with Guts ever on, trying to defy fate in a world that has lost all hope and given in to evil.

You can buy BERSERK Vol 14 from Amazon.

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Review: BERSERK 13

BERSERK 13

by Kentaro Miura

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The demonic horde has been unleashed upon the Band of the Hawk. Griffith has sacrificed his former followers to achieve his dream. While he incubates to become a dark god, Guts, Caska, and the rest battle for their survival.

But the odds are against them. Nightmarish monsters abound. They are all hungry for the feast. The hundreds of soldiers, the best trained army in Midland, are no match for their foes. One by one they fall. Familiar faces we’ve come to love perish one by one until it’s only Guts and Caska left.

Guts’s fury carries him far, but even he has finally found his limits here. In the nightmare, forced to watch as Griffith is reborn and comes to ravish Caska. Pinned by demon, his arm ripped off, his eye blind, we finally see the moment that births the Black Swordsman.

A man impotent to save the woman he loves from being destroyed by the man he once thought of as his friend. Thirteen volumes have built up to this moment. We have finally arrived at what shaped Guts into that cold, murderous beast at the start hunting demons, searching for Griffith to enact his vengeance.

Everything good in Guts’s life was snuffed out in a moment. By the selfish choice of one man. And now Guts only has his rage to fuel him. Though he’ll survive the eclipse, he’ll be forever trapped in the boundary between life and death. Can he ever get vengeance?

Can he ever move on with his life?

Will his rage destroy him?

BERSERK continues to astound and amazed. The depth of the characters and writing shines here. It’s powerful to witness it all come undone. How it flows towards this one moment. It feels almost inevitable. Fate has made its decree and though Guts has defied it for now, can he defy it forever. As Slan says, “A fish jumping out to the fiver does little more than ripple the surface.”

If you’re not reading BERSERK, you should be. This story is breathtaking in its scope and themes.

You can buy BERSERK Vol 13 from Amazon.

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