Tag Archives: Fantasy

Review: A Bard’s Lament by Poppy Kuroki

A Bard’s Lament

by Poppy Kuroki

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Ella and her sister Lucinda are trapped by crushing debt, forced to earn coin to pay off their dead mother’s bills. Luckily for Ella, she has a talent. She’s a bard.

Unlucky for Lucinda, she has only her body.

As Ella sings her songs, she struggles to take care of her sister while plotting their escape from their plight. But every day things grow worse and worse and worse.

Will all Ella have left is a lament?

Kuroki’s return to fantasy is amazing. This novelette is a powerful, emotional, and tragic tale of two sisters trapped in a prison of an uncaring society. Crushed beneath inequity, they are doing what they can to survive.

The prose is lyrical and moving. Kuroki slowly ratchets up the tension until you’re desperately tapping on the side of your eReader to read what happens next. With such a short space, she brings Ella and Lucinda to life, makes you care for them, and takes you on the journey of their lives.

Though a short read, it’s an impactful one!

You can buy A Bard’s Lament from Amazon.

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Review: Someday I’ll Be Redeemed (The Chronicles of Lorrek 1)

Someday I’ll Be Redeemed (The Chronicles of Lorrek 1)

by Kelly Blanchard

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The Chronicles of Lorrek is a fantasy/sci-fi epic (yes, it is both). Ten years ago, Prince Lorrek vanished defeating a technological monstrosity attacking his kingdom with his magic. His brother, wracked by guilt, has given up inheriting the throne to search for him.

Then one night, Lorrek appears at the castle of another kingdom, a place where magic is frowned upon. That’s a problem for Lorrek since he’s one of the most skilled mages in the world. How has he survived? Where has he been? And what does he need?

Beneath a snarky and abrasive exterior, Lorrek is a man searching for redemption. He has made mistakes that wrack him with guilt. Now he seeks to do what he can to undo it, but is there ever enough to make up for his mistakes.

Lorrek’s story begins.

Someday I’ll Be Redeemed is all about loss. Each of the characters is dealing with someone missing in their lives. Whether it’s Lorrek brothers believing he’s dead, or other characters missing their dead sister, mother, or husband. They are all grieving in their own way. They are all trying to find their own way.

This story is an epic. Multiple kingdoms and royal families that all interact and conflict. Multiple wars threaten to erupt and those who seek to take advantage to seize power. The book moves fast, using magic to transport the characters across the world in heartbeats.

It also mixes in science fiction with one kingdom having advanced tech. It’s an interesting series. The characters are endearing. And once you’ve finished reading it, Blanchard has you aching to read the next book.

You can buy Someday I’ll Be Redeemed from Amazon.

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Author in Focus Podcast Episode 2 – Interview with Kelly Blanchard

Hi! Welcome to this episode of the Authors in Focus Podcast. I’m James Reid, a fantasy author publishing as JMD Reid. This podcast is all about getting to know writers, their books, and what makes them tick.

We all have a storyteller inside of us. Join me as we find out what the rising stars and established voices in publishing have to say about their craft and inspiration.

I am excited to say that my second fantasy series, Secret of the Jewels, is being published. Diamond Stained is available from Amazon and is free in Kindle Unlimited. On May 5th, Book Two, Ruby Ruins, will be out.

In this episode, I’m interview Kelly Blanchard, the author of the fantasy/scifi series, The Chronicles of Lorrek. She has just relaunched her series with Fallbrandt Press and has a lot planned for her story universe with many series already written and many more in the works!

Facebook Group: www.facebook.com/groups/MusesRealm

Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/AuthorKellyBlanchard

Twitter: www.twitter.com/kellannetta

Instagram: www.instagram.com/kellannetta

Website: www.kellannetta.com

Want to listen to more indie writing podcast, you can find them at Fantasy-Focus.com

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Author in Focus Podcast Episode 1 – Interview with Andy Peloquin

Hi! Welcome to this episode of the Authors in Focus Podcast. I’m James Reid, a fantasy author publishing as JMD Reid. This podcast is all about getting to know writers, their books, and what makes them tick.

We all have a storyteller inside of us. Join me as we find out what the rising stars and established voices in publishing have to say about their craft and inspiration.

I am excited to say that my second fantasy series, Secret of the Jewels, is being published. Diamond Stained is available from Amazon and is free in Kindle Unlimited. On May 5th, Book Two, Ruby Ruins, will be out.

In the inaugural episode, I’m interviewing Andy Peloquin. A veteran of indie fantasy, he’s now taking the plunge into Sci-Fi with Assassination Protocol

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/andyqpeloquin/

Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/andypeloquin/

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Interview: Robert Cano

Today we’re getting to know Robert Cano. He is the author of The Dark Archer, an intriguing fantasy book!

1. If you were stranded on a desert island, what three books would you want with you.

Three books, huh?  That’s a tough one.  I think I’d have to go with The Silmarillion, Hannibal, and The Vampire Armand.

Those are some interesting choices. I’ve read two of these and maybe the last one. I don’t remember those Ann Rice novels that much any more and how far I got. I know I got through Queen of the Damned.

2. What animal best describes your personality?

Bald eagle.  Or dolphin.

Fascinating. Such different animals.

3. If there was one place in the world you’d love to visit, where would it be?

Just one?  Ouch.  I think I’d have to go with either Iceland or China.

And like any good writer, you managed to slip in a second choice, LOL!

4. Are you a cat or dog person?

Is both acceptable?  I think cats more closely resemble my attitude toward life.  But dogs are always so kind and loving and excited.

I suppose both are!

5. If you could have a dinner with one historical person, who would it be?

Probably Alexander the Great.  The man was a tactical mastermind.

That would be interesting. He had some great ideas. Love how he dealt with war elephants.

Now let’s get down to brass tacks and find out about Robert’s writing.

1. Besides writing, what are you passionate about?

Reading!  I also love spending time with my family (although with recent events I’ve discovered that there can be too much of a good thing), and I love movies and video games.

All great things!

2. What drew you to the craft of writing?

At first it was poetry.  I began writing poetry in earnest when I was around 19 and in college.  Trying to impress the girlfriend or some such craziness.  Thankfully, me, and my poetry, grew out of that…

Awesome. It’s so interesting where life can lead us.

3. When writing a novel, are you a detailed planner or do you fly by the seats of your pants?

I am definitely a pantser.  The strange part about it is that I have had the world in my head for so long that it sometimes feels like it’s already happened, I’m just chronicling it now.

It’s always interesting to hear about other author’s processes. That’s how Steven King often describes it.

4. Tell us why we’ll love reading The Dark Archer

Life and what it means, the chase for redemption, for hope.  And all with something as dark as a wraith to find these things.  In my book, as with Fae lore, the wraith is a soulless entity, frightening to all in the world, for it must feed off of the life of those in the world, always searching for completion…  I think we can all relate to that.  There are some pretty heavy topics within it as well, for my characters deal with the concepts of PTSD and depression.  In the end, however, there is always hope.

This sounds like a really interesting book!

5. Inspiration is such a fascinating phenomenon. Where did the inspiration for The Dark Archer come from?

I had written a short story to submit to an anthology, and although it was turned down, I was told that the story was not only good, but merited a longer telling.  That story is currently on ice, but my novella, The Suffering (which comes chronologically before The Dark Archer) gives the background to a character I introduced in that short story.  The Dark Archer is a spinoff of The Suffering.

That’s how my current series came about. I created a short story called the Assassin Remorse, the first complete fantasy story I ever finished, and I created this jewel-based magic system. I never planned on going anywhere with it, but people really liked it and I started thinking of it and it blossomed into a large series of books.

6. The concept is fascinating. A character trapped between life and death. Were there any particular challenges in writing this series?

I think my main challenge was having to be careful as to how I navigated the MC.  Bene is incredibly powerful, and his power only grows throughout the next book as well, but to balance all of this, I gave him both physical and mental/emotional limitations to what he could do, or would be willing to do.  That internal struggle is indicative of any of us throughout every day life.

Yeah, you have to watch out with a character that’s too powerful.

7. What is your favorite character from the Dark Archer?

I think my favorite character would be Feorin.  He is a satyr war hero who was stripped of his honor and exiled when he decided to walk away from the war he had known all his life.  The Great War was all he had ever known, and he was a high ranking official, but all he wanted was peace, and for his actions in war, redemption.  The only reason he wasn’t killed upon abandoning the war, was because of his heroism…

He sounds fascinating. This really does sound like a great book.

8. What is next for you and writing?

Well, later this year, the sequel to The Dark Archer comes out.  This new novel picks up a few months after the end of The Dark Archer, and then sweeps us off on a whirlwind of an adventure.  Our favorite characters must discover the origins of The Shadow Cult, and then figure out how to survive it.  In the process, they also discover a far more sinister enemy, one that may be coming back in the distant future.

I bet your fans are eager to read it! You really have something that feels special here.

9. Last, do you have any advice for a new or aspiring author?

Run away!!!!  Just kidding.  My biggest piece of advice is to learn learn learn.  Read, learn, apply.  Repeat.  Take what works for you and apply it in your own way into your work.  We must never stop learning.   But what I think might be the biggest thing is find your voice.  Don’t be another author.  Be you.  And then become the best you you can be.

That’s the best word. Authenticity sales. People are good at sniffing out the fakes.

Thanks for the chat, Robert! 

All he wanted was the safety of his princess. What he received was eternal torment. Bereft of a soul, a wraith who should have no ties to humanity, Bene wants nothing more than release from his twisted existence. Trapped between life and nothingness, he hopes to reclaim his soul and find the death he so desperately desires. Bene finds rare solace in the company of Feorin, a satyr war hero who chose exile over continuing the centuries long war with the Fae. He doesn’t look at Bene with fear or contempt, but rather hope. If a wraith can find a path to redemption, perhaps he could as well…

To purchase Rober’s works, you can find him anywhere, but Amazon is probably easiest.

The Dark Archer:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/1950722309

For my reader group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/620898828753102

Twitter and Instagram: @shadowyembrace

My blog: shadowyembrace.com

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Map of Kash

I love maps!

So when I write my own fantasy series, I have to have my own maps! I need to know the worlds that I am bringing to live fit together. It sparks my imagination. Seeing blank spots on a map makes me want to fill them in.

My upcoming Secret of the Jewels Epic Fantasy series takes place mostly in the City of Kash. It’s a large city that has slums that have sprawled past its original walls. A city swollen with the poor and immigrants all flocking to the city to find a new life and new work. A rainy, foggy, crowded city that is about to explode in riots.

The king is weak. Crime is rampant. Corruption festers. Into this muck steps Obhin and Avena. Both are searching for their own redemption. Can they find it in Kash?

Diamond Stained (Secret of the Jewels 1) comes out 4/28 and is available for preorder!

 

 

 

Autumn M. Brit made this map for me! And here’s what I sent her!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Eleven

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Eleven

The Osthwai Mountains

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

Since all men count themselves righteous, and since no righteous man raises his hand against the innocent, a man need only strike another to make him evil.

—NULL VOGNEAS, THE CYNICATA

Where two reasons may deliver truth, a thousand lead to certain delusion. The more steps you take, the more likely you will wander astray.

—AJENCIS, THEOPHYSICS

My Thoughts

So Cynicata makes me think of cynic. And that is certainly a cynical view of people. And it’s so true. We are all the heroes of our own story, and we are all too quick to look at someone else and “strike” them. Make them evil. We’ll use bigot, or racist, or homophobic. Quick labels to let us feel comfortable in our moral superiority so we can maintain the fiction that we’re not just as evil as the man we labeled.

This leads us into the second quote which is about following delusional ideas. Going too far down the path of an idea can lead to so many problems. Look at any philosophy embraced by a nation-state or a tribe or a religion and see where it can go.

If you believe what we do, you’ll be saved. It’s moral for us to save unbelievers. So it’s moral for us to force them to believe so we can save them.

Currently, the Skin Eaters think they’re going to find riches at the Coffers. They need to reach the Coffers by midsummer. To do that, they have to get over the mountains now. But the passes are snowed in. So let’s go through the haunted and cursed Nonman mansion that scalpers disappear in all the time. We’re the Skin Eaters. We’re better than other Scalpers. We’ll be fine.

A bad idea leading to disaster combined with their moral superiority that they are better Scalpers than others. We see this at the end of the chapter with Sarl asking why the Skin Eaters hadn’t come to Cil-Aujas.

Early Spring, 19 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), the Osthwai Mountains

The Scalpers have named the mountain ahead Ziggurat. They don’t know its real name. Cleric might have even forgotten that it is called Aenaratiol (Smokehorn), but Achamian remembers. Beneath it lies Cil-Aujas, the Black Halls. At the time, Achamian was willing to do this out his desperation to reach Sauglish by midsummer. But now he’s remembering that it’s a dangerous place. Only Golgotterath is worse.

The Skin Eaters have their own theories about the Black Halls, making up their own tales to explain Cil-Aujas had fallen. Achamian knows the truth and begins telling him that it was refugees who caused its downfall. He has the Bitten listening with the intensity of children, especially Xonghis. More than the Bitten join them. Even Sarl and Kiampas gather. Mimara sits beside him while the fire burns bright before them.

He talks about the Nonmen and how great they were back when Men were savages. Before the Tusk had been written. Back then, Cû’jara-Cinmoi had been their greatest king. But the wars with the Inchoroi left him broken, unable to resist the Five Tribes of Men who entered the world. Then he speaks of the First Apocalypse.

“If you want to look at the true ruin,” he said, nodding to the barren knoll where the Captain sat alone with his inhuman lieutenant, “look no further than your Cleric. Reduced. Dwindled. They were once to us as we are to Sranc. Indeed, for many among the Nonmen, we were little more.”

He talks about the Meöri Empire, the White Norsirai kingdom that ruled the wilderness on the other side of the mountains. What the Scalpers called the Long Side. Crushed by the No-God, their hero Nostol led his people to Cil-Aujas ruled over by its king, Gin’yursis. They join together and the two made a stand at Kathol Pass and stopped the Consult form crossing the mountains for a year. Despite their alliance, Nostol and his Meöri people came to hate the immortal and angelic Nonman. They coveted the Nonmen’s glory and used scriptures from the Tusk to justify their greed.

There are three versions of the tale. In one, Nostol and his thanes seduced the Emwama concubines, human slaves used by the Nonman as substitutes for their dead wives. He hoped this would spur the Nonmen to retribution. A pretext he could use to attack them back. Nostol was said to have personally impregnated sixty-three of them.

“Talk about farting in the queen’s bedchamber!” Pokwas exclaimed.

“Indeed,” Achamian said, adding to the chorus of laughter with the mock gravity of his tone. And there are no windows in the deeps of Cil-Aujas…”

In the second version, Nostol merely seduces Weyukat, the Nonman King’s favored concubine. She had twice gotten pregnant with Gin’yursis’s child but miscarried. Still, that was better than most. So when she comes up pregnant, he thinks it’s his. If she has a daughter, it could mean the salvation of the Nonman race. Instead, she gives birth to a child named Swanostol. The king killed the babe and Nostol had his outrage.

In the final version, Nostol ordered his men to seduce the Nonmen nobility and create friction and passion. Achamian thinks this one is the correct version since all this happened in a year, and that’s not feasible for all these pregnancies and births to occur. He also has seen scraps from Seswatha’s dream that bears it out. However, they all end in the same way.

War.

In the darkness of the underground mansion, the Nonmen sorcerers unleashed their Gnosis on men bearing Chorae. It was a bloody fight. At the end, drenched in gore, Nostol and slain Gin’yursis and sat on the dead king’s throne. He wept and laughed at his deed.

“With courage and fell cunning,” Achamian said, his face hot in the firelight, “Men made themselves masters of Cil-Aujas. Some Nonmen hid, only to be found in the course of time, but hunger or iron, it mattered not. Others escaped through chutes no mortal man has ever known. Perhaps even now they wander like Cleric, derelict, cursed with the only memories that will not fade, doomed to relive the Fall of Cil-Aujas until the end of days.”

Galian says he’s heard this story. It’s why Galeoth are “cursed with fractiousness” since they’re descendants of Nostol’s people. However, Achamian says that Gin’yursis cursed all men, blaming them all for what happened.

“We are all Sons of Nostol. We all bear the stamp of his frailty.”

The next morning, they continue on with little conversation. They are approaching the Ziggurat with trepidation. They follow the hilly Low Road around the mountain’s base, the trees growing more and more scraggly. By noon, the Ziggurat dominates the sky. “They tramped onward in a kind of stupor.” Not even Mimara is drawing eyes as the weight of that height presses on them. The mountain is impossible to ignore. “The Skin Eaters, each in their own way, seemed to understand that this was the prototype, what tyrants aped with their God-mocking works, mountains into monument, migration into pageant and parade.” The mountain is too old and vast for any word to capture it.

The mountains proclaim that they are small. They keep advancing and soon, as noticed by Sutadra, they are walking an ancient road. Instead of being good news, it only troubles them more. The weight of history rises around them. “There was comfort in a simple track, Achamian supposed, an assurance that the world they walked did not laugh at them.”

After a few hours, they round a bend and see the entrance. A tall wall gouged into the mountain. They have reached the Obsidian Gate. They gather beneath it, dwarfed by its size. They are not prepared for the stories. They stare at it “like emissaries of a backward yet imperious people trying to see past their awe.”

Nothing bars the way into the abandon mansion. Every bit of the walls is carved with images of the Nonmen. From warriors fighting beasts to captives. Even in ruins, the scale of the carvings, its grandeur and detail, beggars them. This is something beyond human skill.

For the first time, Achamian thought he understood the crude bronze of Nostol’s betrayal.

Mimara asks what they are doing. Achamian thinks they are reflecting on mankind. Then Xonghis points to one pillar carved with the markings of other scalper companies. They gather around and see which companies have braved it. The most recent one belongs to the Bloody Picks who left a fortnight ago. They remember the member of that company they passed on the way here.

The following silence persisted longer than it should. There was a heartbreak in this furtive marks, a childishness that made the ancient works rising about them seem iron heavy, nigh invincible. Scratches. Caricatures with buffoonish themes. They were so obviously the residue of a lesser race, one whose triumph lay not in the nobility of arms and intellect, but in treachery and the perversities of fortune.

Kiampas spots the High Shields sign and says he’s right, they did die in there. Sarl disagrees, saying they died on the Long Side. Then Sarl scratches the Skin Eaters’ sign on it. Sarl then asks why they waited so long to come here. The Skin Eaters were legends as was this place. It was fate they should meet. “Such was the logic.”

His [Sarl’s] face pinched into a cackle. “This is the slog of slogs, boys!”

Cleric just enters the gate and starts turning before yelling, “Where are you.” He is disgusted no one guards the gate. He seems old and frail, confused. Only the strength of his Mark reminds Achamian of his power. Ironsoul claps a hand on Cleric’s shoulder.

“They’re dead, you fool. Ancient dead.”

The cowled darkness that was his face turned to the Captain, held him in eyeless scrutiny, then lifted skyward, as though studying the lay of illumination across the hanging slopes. As the gathered company watched, he raised two hands and drew back, for the first time, his leather hood. The gesture seemed obscene, venal, a flouting of some aboriginal modesty.

He turned to regard his fellow scalpers, smiling as if taking heart in their astonishment. His fused teeth gleamed with spit. His skin was with and utterly hairless, so much so that he looked fungal, like something pulled from forest compost. His features were youthful, drawn with the same fine lines and flawless proportions as all his race.

The face of a Sranc.

Cleric acknowledges reality. He’s crying and laughing.

Night falls. There’s not much fuel for a fire here, so the entire company shares one. It’s a miserable night with only Sarl’s mad declarations rising above muttered conversations. Fear is palpable, especially when some claim that the carved images are changing in the flickering camp light. Sarl mocks them by claiming he saw one turn into something sexual. This makes them all laugh as Sarl ensures dread is kept at bay.

Achamian keeps glancing at Cleric, realizing that the ruined mansion and the Nonmen are the same. Both as “old as languages and peoples.” Mimara leans against him unlike her mother who liked to hold his hand. She speaks with Soma. Achamian starts listening to their conversation. Soma says she acts like a lady of noble birth, but she replies that her mother was a whore. Soma shrugs, not caring. He’d burned his ancestor list. She asks, mockingly, if that frightens him. He asks how. She points to the others and says they’re vicious men who have some record of their fathers, an unbroken line of fathers. He asks why that should be frightening.

“Because,” Mimara said, “it means they’re bound to the unbroken line of their fathers, back into the mists of yore. It means when they die, entire hosts will cast nets for their souls.” Achamian felt her shoulders hitch in a pity-for-the-doomed shrug. “But you… you merely wander between oblivions, from the nothingness of your birth to the nothingness of your death.”

“Between oblivions?”

“Like flotsam.”

“Like flotsam?”

“Yes. Doesn’t that frighten you?”

Achamian starts scowling at the Nonmen friezes. The hundreds watching them. It’s like proof of souls. That sends him to stare at Cleric again. Nonman returns the stare. It’s sparked by an exhausted kinship and is broken without “rancour or acknowledgment.” Then he hears Soma admit it does frighten him. Mimara says of course it does. Soon, all taking dies down. Men find their bedrolls.

Few slept well. The black mouth of the Obsidian Gate seemed to inhale endlessly.

In the morning light, the ruins are more sad than scary. Still, they ate in silence. They force a semblance of normalcy to calm their nerves. The fire burns out, forcing Achamian to boil water for his tea with sorcerery. Xonghis speaks with Kosoter than they enter the “Black Halls of Cil-Aujas with nary a commemorating word.”

Achamian, with Mimara at his side, gives a final glance at the sky before he follows the others in. He spots the Nail of Heaven which “twinkled alone in the endless blue, a beacon of all things high and open…”

A final call to those who would dare the nethers of the earth.

My Thoughts

Smokehorn does not fit with a mountain that’s a flat top like a Ziggurat. Horns are pointy. It makes me wonder why the Nonman would choose that. Is it a shield volcano that blew its top off and the nonman saw that? A smoking horn and now it has crumbled to a flat top? Maybe the story will explain it and I’m speculating needlessly.

Wonder if we’ll ever find that missing tribe. Norsirai, Ketyai, Satyothi, and Scylvendi. One, I believe, is missing. Some think they stayed over on the other side of those mountains in Eänna and didn’t enter Eärwa.

We get a very classic tale, two races coming together to stand up against the darkness. They prevail, but instead of ending in a great and enduring friendship like in many fantasies, Bakker turns it to the dark. To the twisted ambitions and frailty of the human soul. Men are ever jealous of those greater than them and scheme to pull them down into the muck. We see it all the time in our world under the guise of “progress.”

The story also reminds me of the Fall of Gondolin in the Silmarillion. An underground city betrayed and destroyed out of jealousy. Though it was an elf jealous of a human. Still, we see that same sort of tragedy that was common in the ancient tales and has fallen out of favor in modern times.

I think it’s clear why the last story survived. What warrior wants to be remembered as a seducer of other men when they could boast of cuckolding their enemy and stealing their future as well as their lives.

Some great description to the lead up to the Obsidian Gate and then its carving. Bakker really captures the epicness. As someone who lives in the sight of Mount Rainier, which looms the way the Zigurrat does, I understand what he’s describing.

It always does feel like what the people did before us is more impressive than today. More grand. More profound like each generation of man has grown more buffoonish. And now you have these men faced with the works of a long-lived race. Even before the Womb Plague, the nonman had long, long lives. They had the time and patience to build such monuments.

And all the scalpers can do is shitty graffiti.

Hubris is something you have to watch out for. Sarl is full of it. The Skin Eaters are the best, so they’ll do what all these other companies failed to do.

Erratics are Nonmen with Alzheimer. In that moment, Cleric was in the past. He can’t tell the difference. It’s sad. He’s losing himself. The only problem, he has a young body and powerful sorcery. That’s what makes the Erratics so dangerous.

The description of Cleric is haunting. Especially that last part: the face of a Sranc. It’s one of those parallels with Lord of the Rings. The orcs were elves twisted into monstrous beasts. The Sranc were based on the Nonmen. We also get hints that the nonmen are some sort of fungal-based life. Not mammalian at all. Not sure if that’s true. They can reproduce with humans. In the real world, that would mean they were very close genetically. Even if the breeding is rare, it can happen. But this is fantasy where you get cross-species reproduction all the time.

Interesting that Soma, our skin-spy, talks about destroying his ancestor list. Mimara explains to us that it means for their culture. That your ancestors look out for you in the afterlife and make sure you’re not lost. But the Consult wants oblivion. That is what they want there to be when they die. They don’t want to suffer for eternity. In fact, it’s the same goal that Kellhus will be working for. But he just doesn’t want to destroy the world to do it. My theory, anyway.

It’s so anticlimactic as they finally enter the ruins. After a night of stress, the reality of their worries is underwhelming. Almost a disappointment. Little do they know…

Okay, the Nail of Heaven is bright enough to be seen in daylight. I really, really want to know what this is.

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

You’ll love this beautifully creative dark fantasy, because James Reid knows how to create characters and worlds you’ll grow to adore.

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

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Sneak Peak: Diamond Stained (Secret of the Jewels One)

Diamond Stained (Secret of the Jewels One)

Available for Preorder!

Chapter One

Nineteenth Day of Compassion, 755 EU

The black gloves creaked. The dyed-sable minx leather gleamed. Ōbhin examined them, searching for the crimson stains he always expected, even dreaded, to find on them.

Every morning, he oiled the gloves, keeping them flexible. He never found the blood.

He could still feel the hilt of the dagger in his hand. Feel the impact of blade against flesh. Niszeh’s Black Tones, will it ever leave me? Continue reading Sneak Peak: Diamond Stained (Secret of the Jewels One)

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Ten

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Ten

Condia

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

Look unto others and ponder the sin and folly you find there. For their sin is your sin, and their folly is your folly. Seek ye the true reflecting pool? Look to the stranger you despise, not the friend you love.

—TRIBES 6:42, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

My Thoughts

You are not better than you’re enemy or someone you dislike. You have all the same flaws and issues they have. You’re not as good as you think you are. If you want to understand yourself, the darkness you’re capable of, you have to look at others and realize that you are just as capable of the acts they commit as they are.

This quote fits this chapter because in a complete stranger, Sorweel finds his reflection. He and Zsoronga are both atheists when it comes to Kellhus. They don’t believe in him. They both share the same sin. We see Sorweel getting reprimanded and warned against this by Kayûtas in their meeting.

Early Spring, 19 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), Condia

The Istyuli Plain sprawls across the center of Eärwa. Long ago, it once held the White Norsirai tribes, men who looked down on their western cousins who built the great Norsirai Nations. “The fewer the roads the harsher the codes,” was a proverb of the Kûniüric peoples. The Sakarpi people still remember those tribesmen and call this plain in honor of them: the Cond.

There is no hint of the Cond remaining. They didn’t build cities but destroyed them. In the Three Seas regions, people in antiquity rose and fell and were replaced by other men. Not here. The Cond was replaced by Sranc. The army finds vast heaps of bones and tracts of grown torn up in search of grabs, but their enemy is not to be found. The Great Ordeal starts believing these lands can be reclaimed King Hoga Hogrim (nephew to King Gothyelk from the last series) has a stone Circumfix planted in the Condian earth and builds it into a ring fortress the height of three men.

Afterwards, the Aspect-Emperor himself walked amount the exhausted men, remitting their sins and blessing their distant kith and kin. “Men make such marks,” he said, “as their will affords them. Behold! Let the World see why the Tydonni are called the ‘Sons of Iron.’”

The Great Ordeal has not broken apart like an army of their size should. They’re too large to march effectively together. They need to spread out to forage for food and to feed their study horses on the grasses of the plain, but there’s a sloth that holds them. They want to stay together and stretch out the supply train from Sakarpus as far as possible. A stream of wagons travels behind them, struggling to catch up each day with the host and deliver the food. Going slow, for now, is a benefit. Besides, the Imperial Trackers say the Cond couldn’t support them even if they did break up it on hundreds of smaller forces. They need to reach the richer lands of eastern Kûniüri to forage properly. So they creep forward, making at best fifteen miles a day. Rivers are the worst obstacle, but their fords were mapped and their flooding behavior studied for years. Still, those fords are bottlenecks. Some rivers take three or four days to cross “banks no more than a stone’s throw apart.” But these delays were planned.

In the councils, it is worried that the Consult might poison the rivers. This is a real threat along with the consult massacring all the game. Both King Saubon and King Proyas, the Exalt-Generals, know how terrible running out of food and water will be after the First Holy War. Things could go bad for the army in days. For the regular soldiers, they just wonder about the absence of Sranc. They aren’t worried that this is a trap, because who could trick Kellhus, but are eager to kill them. Gossip is traded about the outriders who have killed Sranc already. Though they complain the way all soldiers do about the conditions, they haven’t forgotten they march to save the world and protect their loved ones.

And the God himself marched with them, speaking through the mouth, glaring through the eyes of Anasûrimbor Kellhus I.

They were plain men—warriors. They understood that doubt was hesitation, and that hesitation was death, not only on the field of war, but on the field of souls as well. Only believers persevered.

Only believers conquered.

Doubts plague Sorweel every time he stares at the Great Ordeal. He feels his people are nothing compared to the purpose. That he’s “the son of another Beggar King.” He stares out at the host as it encompassed the entire plain they crossed. So many people it appears as if the ground moved.

The Great Ordeal. A thing so great that not even the horizon could contain it. And for a boy on the cusp of manhood, a think that humiliated for more than it humbled.

What honour could dwell in a soul so small?

Though the Company of Scions that Sorweel belongs to is officially the elites of the Kidruhil, but in reality, it’s a ceremonial unit. It is made up of sons of foreign kings sent as hostages or as observers. These are not Men of the Ordeal or even soldiers. Belong to them conflicts Sorweel. Part of him is eager to fight, but he feels like he’s betraying his people by riding beneath their conqueror’s banner. He feels pride at times in his uniform which leads to more guilt.

For as long as he could remember, Sorweel had always thought betrayal a king of thing. And as a thing, he assumed, it was what it was, like anything else. Either a man kept faith with his blood and nation, or he didn’t. But betrayal, he was learning, was far too complicated to be a mere thing. It was more like a disease… or a man.

It was too insidious not to have a soul.

He feels it’s like spilled wine seeping through the cracks of his soul. Even a small betrayal leads to more and more while it deceives with reason, urging him to pretend to be a Kidruhil. It seems wise to do, but it’s a trap that leaches resolution from him. Pretending turns into being. He tried to be strong and cling to his guilt, but it’s hard.

Though the Scions are the smallest of the Kidruhil’s companies, barely a hundred, they stand out like silver amid the others. Their lack of faith makes them anathema to the others. They receive contempt from the troopers

But if the Scions were an outcast within the Kidruhil, then Sorweel was even more an outcast within the Scions. Of course everyone knew who he was. How could any Son of Sakarpus not be the talk of the Company, let alone the son of its slain king? Whether it was pity or derision, Sorweel saw in their looks the true measure of his shame. And at night, when he lay desolate in his tent listening to the fireside banter of the others, he was certain he could understand the questions that kept returning to their strange tongues. Who was this boy who rode for those who murdered this father? This Shit-herder, what kind of craven fool was he?”

On the sixth day, a black-skinned man comes into Porsparian’s tent. He is Obotegwa, the Senior Obligate of Zsoronga, who is the Prince-Successor of High Holy Zeüm. The man prostates himself. Sorweel is shocked, both from seeing a dark-skinned Satyothi in person and by how the man acts. Sakarpus never trained him on how to handle foreigners and their customs. Even more bewildering, Obotegwa speaks Sakarpic. “So he [Sorweel] did what all you men did in such circumstances: he blurted.” Sorweel asks what the man wants. Obotegwa is delivering an invitation to visit Zsoronga.

Sorweel agrees. He doesn’t know much about black men other than they come from Zeüm. He had noticed Zsoronga, the man standing out in his retinue of other dark-skinned men. Zsoronga holds himself with the power of his position, but he didn’t need to shout it out. He has a natural nobility that others respond to.

Porsparian seems agitated by the invitation, but Sorweel is too nervous to ask why. He has another unfamiliar circumstance to navigate. He doesn’t know what to expect or even how he will react. He feels like a coward, wondering how his amazing father could have given birth to “a boy who would weep in the arms of his murderer!”

I am no conqueror.”

Worry piled on recrimination. And then, miraculously, he found himself stepping through the canvas flaps into the bustle of the camp. He stood blinking at the streaming files of passers-by.

Obotegwa turned to him with a look of faint surprise. After leaning back to appraise the cut of his padded Sakarpic tunic, he beamed reassurance. “Sometimes it is not so easy,” he said in his remarkable accent, “to be a son.”

The pair moved through the bustling camp. It’s overwhelming. Prayer calls echo around them. Banners hang limp in the dead air. Obotegwa comments that it is “a thing of wonder.” Sorweel asks if it is real. Obotegwa laughs and says Zsoronga will like him. As they walk, Sorweel glances south to Sakarpus. They have ridden beyond the lands of his people into the Sranc Wilds. He tells Obotegwa his people never would come this far. Obotegwa tells him he has to speak in his Master’s voice. Sorweel points out he spoke as himself earlier.

A gentle smile. “Because I know what it means to be thrown over the edge of the world.”

Sorweel realizes Sakarpus is no longer an island in the wild but an outpost at the edge of the world. They are no longer special. His people have lost so much. These are weighty thoughts for the short walk and soon are at Zsoronga’s pavilion. It’s large and elaborate. He sees what he later learns are the Pillar of Sires, what Zeümi pray to.

Prince Zsoronga is relaxing and Obotegwa introduces Sorweel. He has to communicate through Obotegwa translating. Zsoronga welcomes Sorweel and tells him to appreciate the luxuries. These stand in defiance of Kellhus’s orders for spartan living in the field. Sorweel sits down stiffly and is told to relax. Despite the language barrier, he and Zsoronga start bonding and laughing.

They chat but soon run out of small pleasantries. Zsoronga tries to gossip about the other Scions, but Sorweel doesn’t know anyone. The only thing they share is the Aspect-Emperor. Through Obotegwa, Zsoronga describes the first time emissaries from Kellhus came to his father’s court. Zsoronga was a child and watched in awe. He had heard rumors of Kellhus, and Sorweel comments that was the same at his court. This gives them more to bond over.

Zsoronga says how he grew up on tales of the First Holy war and the Unification Wars. It always felt distant until Nilnameshi fell. That southern country is Zeüm’s gateway to the Three Seas. He talks about how a fortress called Auvangshei was rebuilt. It once guarded the Ceneian Empire against Zeüm a thousand years ago

All Sorweel knew about the Ceneian Empire was that it ruled all the Three Seas for a thousand years and that the Anasûrimbor’s New Empire had been raised about its skeleton. As little as that was, it seemed knowledge enough. Just as his earlier laughter had been his first in weeks, he now felt the true gleam of comprehension. The dimensions of what had upended his life had escaped him—he had foundered in ignorance. The Great Ordeal. The New Empire. The Second Apocalypse. These were little more than empty signs to him, sounds that had somehow wrought the death of his father and the fall of the city. But here at last, in the talk of other places and other times, was a glimmer—as though understanding were naught but the piling on of empty names.

Zeüm, as Zsoronga explains, only worries about Sranc. They have no other enemy since the Ceneian Empire fall. He then talks about how his people worship events and keep detailed ancestor lists, with each person having their own book revered by their descendants, that chronicle their mighty deeds in the afterlife. “Mighty events, such as battles, or even campaigns such as this, are what knot the strings of our descent together, what makes us one people.”

There was wonder here, Sorweel realized, and room for strength. Different lands. Different customs. Different skins. And yet it was all somehow the same.

He was not along. How could he be so foolish as to think he was alone?

Zsoronga then realizes the same thing since Sakarpus has stood unconquered for three thousand years like Zeüm. Like Sorweel, the name ‘Aspect-Emperor’ is carved on Zsoronga’s soul. It’s hard to believe one man can be so powerful. In this moment, Sorweel realizes it was ignorance, not his father’s pride, that had caused their defeat.

Zsoronga resumes his story about how the fortress Auvangshei being rebuilt had affected High Holy Zeüm. Some are eager for the coming war, wanting their own glories, while others are afraid of being conquered. Zsoronga’s father had been the former until the emissaries came. Sorweel asks what happened, feeling a kinship with Zsoronga. Three men came, two Ketyai and a Norsirai. Zsoronga’s father, the Satakhan, glares at them. In unison, they say, “The Aspect-Emperor bears you greetings, Great Satakhan, and asks that you send three emissaries to the Andiamine Heights to respond in kind.” The Satakhan asks what they mean.

The Prince held the moment with his breath, the way a bard might. In his soul’s eye, Sorweel could see it, the feathered pomp and glory of the Great Satakhan’s court, the sun sweating between great pillars, the galleries rapt with black faces.

“With that, the three men produced razors from their tongues and opened their own throats!” He made a tight, feline swiping motion with his left hand. “They killed themselves… right there before us. My father’s surgeons tried to save them, to staunch the blood, but there was nothing to be done. The men died right there”—he looked and gestured to a spot several feet away, as though watching their ghosts—“moaning some kind of crazed hymn, to their last breath, singing…”

Three suicides were the Aspect-Emperor’s message, daring the Satakhan to prove he has that same power. Sorweel asks if he did. Zsoronga says he had been hard on his father but understands his choice now. Even if his father could have found three fanatics willing to do that barbaric act, would they have stayed true or would they have balked at the final moments? Then his father would look weak. Even if he didn’t send the men, it would make him appear unfit to rule. Sorweel suggests Zsoronga’s father should have marched to war.

Zsoronga says he thinks it was a trap. That was why Auvangshei was rebuilt to put his father in this bind, pointing out that Kellhus broke Sorweel’s people, who survived the Second Apocalypse, in a morning. It’s not an accusation of weakness, just a statement. Sorweel realizes that Zsoronga, and all other unbelievers, ask the same question.

Who was the Aspect-Emperor?

After that, treaties were signed, his father was seen as weak, and Zsoronga became a hostage “pretending that I ride to war.” Sorweel asks if the prince would prefer his people’s fate. Zsoronga says no, but when he’s angry, he sometimes envies those who died fighting.

For some reason, the hooks of this reference to his overthrown world caught Sorweel where all the others had skipped past. The raw heart, the thick eyes, the leaden thought—all the staples of plundered existence—came rushing back and with such violence he could not speak.

Prince Zsoronga watched him [Sorweel] with an uncharacteristic absence of expression. “Ke nulam zo…”

“I suspect you feel the same.”

Sorweel does

He finds friendship with Zsoronga. Company to soothe his loneliness. He can acknowledge this, bunt not the fact he felt such relief just sharing with another. “A true Horselord, a hero such as Niehirren Halfhand or Orsuleese the Faster, viewed speech with the high-handed distaste they reserved for bodily functions, as something men did only out of necessity.” His people found strength in solitude, hence their nickname the Lonely City. Sorweel had emulated it, but it had only led him to depression since his father’s death. He had been so lonely keeping his thoughts to himself. It had almost driven him mad and then speaking with Zsoronga had saved himself. His only fear was that Zsoronga would see him as a crude Norsirai.

That he would be returned to the prison of his backward tongue.

But that didn’t happen. He rides with Zsoronga the next day. They trade banter and he joins the Brace, as Zsoronga’s bondsmen are called. It’s Sorweel’s first good day in weeks. Or would have been if not for their commander, Captain Harnilias (or Old Harni). He delivers a summons to Sorweel to see Kayûtas as the camp is erected. This is the first time Sorweel’s spoken with Kayûtas since their first meeting, though he’d glimpsed him often. He always found himself eager for Kayûtas’s attention instead of acting aloof or sneering. Kayûtas should be like any other man.

Only that he wasn’t. Anasûrimbor Kayûtas was more than powerful—more even than the son of the man who had killed King Harweel. It was as if Sorweel saw him against a greater frame, a background deeper than the endless emerald sweep of the Istyuli Plains.

As if Kayûtas were more an expression than an individual. A particle of fate.

Sorweel realizes Kayûtas can see through his “mask of pride.” How can he fight that if all his secrets are known? Panic swells through him know. He doesn’t want to be noticed now. He is quickly in the command tent. It’s austere, holding only what is necessary. Kayûtas sits at his table, his sister sitting beside him. Moënghus lurks behind them. Serwa studies him with a look of amusement. She says something to Moënghus behind her, a comment about Sorweel. Moënghus glares while Kayûtas snorts in laughter. Sorweel grows embarrassed. He feels like a boy and wonders if they make everyone feel this way.

Kayûtas asks how Porsparian is working out. Sorweel says it’s fine, feeling like they know he’s holding back. Porsparian’s praying over the mouths in dirt unnerves him. Kayûtas says that’s good and explains that a Mandate named Eskeles will be his tutor in Sheyic, teaching Sorweel as they ride. He agrees and asks if there’s anything else. Serwa and Moënghus are studying him, making him feel so self-conscious.

He was a king! A king! What would his father say, seeing him like this?

He laughs and says something in Sheyic. Then tells Sorweel that’s it. He also adds that there are those people who watch for those who take insolence into sacrilege. This jerks Sorweel’s faze up from his feet to stare at Kayûtas. Serwa studies him. Kayûtas admonishes him, saying that while Sorweel is a king, in the army, he’s a soldier and he’ll follow the rules. He says you’ll kneel before him and his siblings, though as a king, he can look them in the eye. But with his father, he has to bow his forehead to the ground. “All men are slaves before my brother.” Though the words are gentle, it’s a reprimand. Sorweel says he understands.

“Then show me.”

Before he can stop himself. He kneels while begging his father for forgiveness. Kayûtas is pleased, adding he knows it’s difficult. Then he lets Sorweel stand. He does but keeps looking down. Kayûtas then, off-handily, mentions he’s made a friend with Zsoronga.

The young King’s shock was such that he paid no heed to his expression. Spies! Of course they were watching him… Porsparian?

“I have no need of spies, Sorweel,” the Prince-Imperial said, snatching the thought from his face. He leaned back and with a gentle laugh added, “My father is a god.”

My Thoughts

Men have to leave their mark where they go. On the pioneer trails, like the Oregon Trail, that settlers used to travel to the Western United States over a hundred years ago, you’ll find places where they carved their names into rocks, graffiti to mark that they passed here. That they lived. Why wouldn’t the Great Ordeal do the same?

In the last series, Bakker talked about how war is about belief. So long as your soldiers believe they’re winning, they will suffer horrendous casualties. When that changes, they break and there is nothing you can do about it. So only believers conquer. And these men believe in Kellhus. They believe in their mission.

Life is never simple, Sorweel. We all do things that we feel terrible about but can’t help ourselves. We know we should be better, but it’s so easier to just go with the flow. It’s hard to be the rock thrusting out of the warrior.

So two chapters ago, Achamian meets his new companions. They are men that have friendship only on a skin level. Sorweel is about to meet two true friends in Obotegwa and Zsoronga. Especially Zsoronga.

Sons are always measuring up to their father. Most of the time, you feel like you can never measure up. It’s escaping the shadow of your father that is stepping into adulthood. But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes fathers cast an exceptionally long shadow. Sorweel lost his before he had made that transition and under circumstances that are outside of his control.

Obotegwa comes off as genuine. I like the character. RIP.

Having your own idols at odds with the rest of the Great Ordeal is a big statement that Zsoronga is no believer. We’ve had comments that believers persevere. They conquer. Sorweel is not a believer. He’s cast adrift. Zsoronga isn’t a believer in the Great Ordeal’s task. It makes me wish I could remember Zsoronga’s fate in the Unholy Consult. Either way, it’s foreshadowing that Sorweel is not going to succeed.

Zsoronga’s people revere history itself, which is what binds a people together. This probably explains a lot why they have existed as one country, mostly. The Chinese have always revered philosophy more than religion. Sorweel recognizes this truth. His people have had their shared history of being survivors of the Second Apocalypse, outlasting everyone else.

That history has now been shattered. What does that mean for Sakarpus?

Sorweel’s realization that strangers are just like him is how in-group/out-group preference is shattered. Humans are humans. Our customs might differ, but at our core, we’re all the same. It’s a powerful moment to realize it. The foundation of two friends who can’t even speak the same language.

Who is the Aspect-Emperor? That’s the central question of Achamian’s storyline. And here we are with Sorweel asking the same questions.

Yes, Sorweel, the Dûnyain makes everyone feel his way.

We see ample evidence of Kayûtas ability to read Sorweel in this chapter. The admonishment about him crossing the line because he’s a king comes right after he gets mad at himself for acting so submissive. Then the ending with the spy. The whole point of this conversation is to put fear in him. The tutor is merely the excuse to dress him down.

He also meets Serwa. He’s noticed her, but he hasn’t started his infatuation with her yet. He sees her as an aunt, an older woman instead of someone his own age.

Click here for Chapter Eleven!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Nine

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Nine

Momemn

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

A beggar’s mistake harms no one but the beggar. A king’s mistake, however, harms everyone but the king. Too often, the measure of power lies not in the number who obey your will, but in the number who suffer your stupidity.

—TRIAMIS I, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

So, pretty self-evident. Rulers’ mistakes (or politicians passing ill-thought-out laws) cost their people. This is an Esmenet chapter, so it primes you to watch what she does. What decisions will she make in this chapter that will cause others to suffer?

Let’s read and find out!

Well, I read this chapter and I thought this was referring to Esmenet. But the only decision she makes is to leave Kelmomas in favor of her audience with Sharacinth. It’s hard to call that a mistake. She doesn’t know he’s a homicidal homunculus pretending to be a little boy. Whether or not Sharacinth lived or died, would not stop Nannaferi cementing her control over the Yatwerians via such a blatant demonstration of the Dread Mother’s power.

So is it Nannaferi the leader? No. She doesn’t make a decision. She’s just Yatwer’s puppet. So is this a critique on Yatwer? A lot of people are about to suffer from her actions. And she is making a mistake in opposing Kellhus.

Kellhus doesn’t appear to make any mistakes here, either.

Honestly, the only mistake is Esmenet with Kelmomas and trusting him. It’s going to lead to him becoming the No-God. That’s a lot of people suffering.

Of course, there will be real mistakes that are made in this storyline ending in Esmenet and Maithanet feuding. Either way, this is a quote that we should pay attention to.

Early Spring, 19 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), Sakarpus

Her face seemed numb for tingling.

Kelmomas asks his mother if Samarmas hears them. She’s clutching tight to his hand as she says, yes because he’s a god’s son. She has her cheeks marked with a line of her dead son’s ashes. She would do this every full moon until she no longer wept.

Even now, she could feel his residue across her cheeks, burning, accusing, as though transmuted, Samarmas had become antithetical to his mother, a kind of poison that her skin could not abide.

As though he had become wholly his father’s.

She has to wear these because the tradition goes back thousands of years as she inters her son’s ashes in the High Royal Ashery in the Temple Xothei. She doesn’t get to keep him in her household’s shrine. This makes her grief public and not “tender and private.” The mobs have gathered to watch her procession to the temple. It’s a “seething carnival of mourning and anticipation.” Even in the bowels of the temple, she can hear them.

What would they say when they saw that her cheeks were dry? What would they make of an Empress who could not weep for the loss of her dearest child?

They pass niches for those interred here, including Ikurei Xerius and Conphas. Theirs are unadorned. She finds it ironic to put her son’s ashes by Conphas. She ignores the offerings left before his urn.

Someday, she thought, all her children would rest in this immobile gloom. Static. Speechless. Someday, she would reside here, cool dust encased in silver, gold, or perhaps Zeümi jade—something cold, for all the substances that Men coveted were cold. Someday the heat of her would leach into the world, and she would be as dirt to the warm fingers of the living.

Someday she would be dead.

She feels relief at the thought and is shocked by it. She sways and is on the floor before she realizes it. Kelmomas watches. She tries to smile. He seems vulnerable like his dead brother. Then he spoke and asks her if Samarmas hears them. She sees her dead son lying broken on the spear he’d landed on every time she sees Kelmomas. The boy clarifies that he means when he thinks things, does Samarmas hear them. He starts crying and she hugs him. She feels like her soul has been split in half, one half grieving with Kelmomas, the other numbed and confused.

How could she protect him? And if she could not, how could she love him?

She laid her head across his scalp, blew at the hairs stuck to the seal of her lips. Her cheeks were wet, but whether the tears were her own she could not tell. No matter. The mob would be appeased. Her Exalt-Ministers would be relieved, for the Yatwerian matter had become far more than a Cultic nuisance. Who would raise voice or hand against a bereaved mother? And Kellhus…

She was so tired. So weary.

“The dead hear everything, Kel.”

Iothiah…

A life lived, no forgotten.

And in its place…

A man in a small room is confused as he stares at a young woman nursing an infant. She grows concern at him and calls him love, asking if he’s fine. She says he looks like he’s dreaming. He gets up and heads to an open doorway and walks outside. He reaches the gate. The baby is crying now as the woman rushes after him, asking what he’s doing. She keeps asking if she did something wrong. He batters her from him and keeps walking.

Two hundred and fifty-seven years before, a Shigeki builder had saved twenty-eight silver talents by purchasing brunt brick form farther up the River Sempis, where the clay was riddled with sand. Aside from the tan hue, the tenement he raised was indistinguishable from the others. Over the course of the following centuries, the flood-waters had twice risen high enough to lave the southernmost pylons. Though the damage appeared minimal, sheets of material had fallen from the base of outermost support, lending it a gnawed looked, which for some reasons, seemed to attract urinating dogs.

It toppled exactly when it should, drawing with it an entire quadrant, collapsing four floors of apartments and crushing all the unfortunates within. There was a roar, a collective peal of screams punched into silence. Afterwards, dust sweeping out and up. The earthen clap and tinkle of raining bricks. The streets packed with shouting passers-by

The woman and her infant were gone.

A life forgotten…

The man walks away, threading through a crowded market place without ever once jostling someone, taking the perfect path. He spots an old woman begging and marches up to her. She looks no different than the other wretches in the temple’s shadow. A poorly thrown coin at the beggar causes her to look up at the right moment and see the man. He helps the old woman stand. She has childish awe on her face and identifies herself as Nannaferi.

The pulse and fork of blood. A voice so close the speaker could not be seen. The pulse and fork of blood behind this place…

“I am the White-Luck… I walk. I breathe.”

Nannaferi says they are siblings while quivering like a girl just past menarche. He wipes away her tears for “a life forgotten.” He calls her beautiful.” She sheds more tears for “what stood in its [a life forgotten’s] place.”

Momemn…

Esmenet, gazing at her stand mirror, glimpses Kelmomas lurking in the corner of her room. She’s thinking about plans, hardly noticing her reflection. She’s gazed at herself too many times for her appearance to hold her attention. She is about to meet with Hanamem Sharacinth, the Yatwerian Matriarch. Kelmomas is spying on her and she pretends not to see him. She remembers how Samarmas and Kelmomas had played this game before. Grief grips her. Finally, she acknowledges her son. He doesn’t answer her right away and she dismisses her body-slaves. Then she asks him where his nursemaid Porsi is before remembering that the woman had been scourged and fired. When he still doesn’t answer, she turns back to her appearance, making sure her clothing is perfect.

“I c-can be Sammy…”

She heard these words more with her breast it seemed than her ears. A flush of cold about the heart. Even still, she continued to face the mirror.

“What do you mean? Kel, what are you saying?”

Our children are so familiar to us that we often forget them, which is why the details of their existence sometimes strike us with discomfiting forces. Either because she watched him through the mirror or in spite of it, Esmenet suddenly saw her son as a little stranger, the child of some unknown womb. For a moment, he seemed too beautiful to be…

Believed.

Kelmomas cries that if Esmenet wants him to be Samarmas he will be. Heartbreak fills her, and she realizes she’d been selfish in wallowing if she was truly mourning Samarmas or not. She tries to speak but is too choked as Kelmomas continues that he looks just like his twin. She rushes to him and sees how her “circles of self-pity” had let her ignore Kelmomas’s pain. Though she grieved, she also knew the truth that children died in a cruel world. She had an internal strength to weather it, but she realizes that Kelmomas has lost himself and doesn’t understand.

I’m all he has left, she thought, stroking his fine, golden hair.

Even still, something dark in her recoiled.

Children. They wept so much.

Esmenet is in the Imperial Audience Hall. It hasn’t changed, other than the banners, from when Xerius was emperor. She remembers something Kellhus told her: “Monuments were as much prayers as they were tools, overreaching arrested in dwarfing stone.” It proves the men like to look strong especially when dealing with Gods. Esmenet is going to need this for her audience with Sharacinth.

She sits on her throne in the center of all the frozen pageantry. Behind her, the sunlight streamed over her, forcing people to see her against the bright sky, especially at sunset when the sun is setting behind her. It makes her feel more powerful as they squint to stare at her. Above, birds fluttered. Some would get caught in a net to keep them from nesting in the rafters. They would struggle to escape, their shill shouts hurting the ears and not inspiring compassion. Sometimes, at night, she would let Samarmas help free the trapped birds.

Orisons (an archaic word for prayer) rise from the galleys, singing praise to Kellhus. This announces the Matriarch’s arrival. Thinking of Samarmas now makes her think of Kelmomas whom she left sobbing and begging her to stay while promising he would be Samarmas.

We l-love you, Mom-mommy… So-so m-much…”

Hearing him use “we” still makes her emotional. But she can’t afford this as Hanamem Sharacinth, the figurehead of the Cult of Yatwer, approaches. Despite custom saying Sharacinth should dress in poverty, she has wealth on her. Maithanet is accompanying her. As the orisons fade, the pair reach them. The Matriarch kneels and addresses her. Esmenet tells her to rise, saying they’re all “children of the Ur-Mother.” The Matriarch agrees and rises. For a moment, she glances at Maithanet as if questioning why he’s not helping her stand then remembers who he is. She’s used to being around subordinates and has trouble showing deference. She acts defensively.

Esmenet bluntly asks about the White-Luck Warrior. Sharacinth isn’t surprised that this is why she’s here. She says she’s heard the rumors. Esmenet calls it treason and Sharacinth agrees. Esmenet is annoyed that Sharacinth speaks to her as an equal. The Matriarch didn’t even offer condolences. Esmenet swallows it and presses Sharacinth for information.

A calculated pause. Sharacinth’s eyes seemed bred to bovine insolence, her lips to a sour line.

Esmenet struggled to draw breath around her outrage. Arrogant ingrate! Treacherous old bitch!

Was this what she had imagined all those years ago, sitting on her sill in Sumna, enticing passers-by with a glimpse of the shadows riding up and down her inner thighs? Knowing nothing of power, Esmenet had confused it with its trappings. Ignorance—few things were so invisible. She could remember staring at the coins she had so coveted, those coins that could ward starvation or clothe bruised skin, and wondering at the profile of the man upon them, the Emperor who seemed to stand astride her every bounty and privatization. To hated. Not feared. Not loved. These were passions better spent on his agents. The emperor himself had always seemed… far too far.

She remembers her life as a whore as she tried to imagine what I was like for Ikurei Xerius III to sit here and she can’t quite understand how she got here. She thinks once when she showed Samarmas a silver coin and asked who was on it. He couldn’t even though it was herself on the coin. She feels grief now. It’s easy picking at her wound to find the pain. She hopes her makeup hides it as she presses Sharacinth for what she’s heard about the White-Luck Warrior. She answers that she’s heard many rumors.

It’s obvious that the plan of honoring the prideful Sharacinth with an audience to swell her ego and make her pliable is not working. Esmenet changes tactics and rebukes Sharacinth, and receives a sneer in answer. This sends terror through her, one only someone with a position of power can feel. A reminder that one day someone else will be in charge. Sharacinth has reminded Esmenet that power “came down to recognition.”

It was all naked force otherwise.

Maithanet roars at Sharacinth with the force of his position. She begins to talk back to him when she is seized by fear. She wheezes as a bright light appears above her. It spirals outward, too bright to look at. Esmenet shields her eyes with her forearm. When she looks again, Kellhus has appeared just as she remembers him, the two demon heads dangling from his belt. He descends to the ground, his presence almost shaking the building. Sharacinth stands stunned while Maithanet kneels. Esmenet doesn’t stare at her husband as he takes his place to her right. She projects confidence like she knew this would happen. She can’t let anyone know it surprises her.

With a mild rebuke that carries the penalty of death, Kellhus asks why she’s standing. She throws herself sobbing to the floor, begging for his forgiveness. He asks if she’ll oppose the sedition and blasphemy. She wails yes.

“For make no mistake, I shall war against you and yours.” The grinding savagery of his voice swallowed the entirety of the hall, battered the ear like fists. “Your deeds I shall strike from the stones. Your temples I shall turn into funeral pyres. And those that still dare take up breath or arms against me, I shall hunt, unto death and beyond! And my Sister, whom you worship, shall lament in the dark, her memory no more than a dream of destruction. Men shall spit to cleanse their mouths of her name!”

The old woman shook, arched back as if gagging in terror.

“Do you understand what I say, Sharacinth?”

Yessssh!”

He tells her to obey Esmenet and Maithanet and to stop being a figurehead but claim the leadership of the Cult then root out the faction opposed to him. It seems like the entire world is behind Kellhus as he orders Sharacinth to hunt down Psatama Nannaferi and end her. Sharacinth begs for Nannaferi. He roars at her demanding if she would offend him in his house. She shrieks and pisses herself. The world seems to return to normal and Kellhus moves to Sharacinth and tells her to taste the air, for her every breath is at his mercy. He tells her not to embrace humiliation and the “shrill poison” of conceit. He tells her to embrace the life he offers her.

Esmenet had heard these words so many times they should have seemed more a recitation than something meant, an incantation that never failed to undo the knots of pride that so bound men. And yet each time, she found herself sinking through the surface, floating utterly submerged. Each time, she heard them for the first time, and she was frightened and renewed.

Over the years, her husband had ceased being many things to Esmenet. But he was a miracle still.

Sharacinth begs forgiveness over and over. Kellhus asks Maithanet to comfort her. He does while Kellhus turns to Esmenet and holds out his hand. She takes them, And he teleports them from the throne room to their quarters where he immediately collapses in exhaustion. She barely gets him to their bed. He calls her wife as he rolls onto his back. She asks how many times he teleported. He can only travel to where he can see, from horizon to horizon. “Many,” he answers.

Simple, her soul whispered. I must make things simple.

“You came…” she began, shocked to find she was already crying. “You came as s-soon as you heard?” She knew this could not be true. Each and every night Mandate Far-Callers spoke with him in his dreams, appraised him of all that happened on the Andiamine Heights and elsewhere. He had come because of the situation with the Yatwerians, because of Sharacinth. Not because of his idiot son.

There were no accidents with Anasûrimbor Kellhus.

She cries in his arms that they’re cursed. He catches her eyes and says it’s only misfortune. She finds his words to be a drug. She protests that the White-Luck is just that then adds Mimara has run away and can’t be found and now Samarmas is dead. She adds people celebrated his death. Kellhus cuts her off to tell her to do no reprisals over that. The Yatwerians are not a people who can be massacred. They are spread across the entire Three Seas, impossible to root out. He says only the Great Ordeal and conquering Golgotterath matters. He talks about how other problems might seem important. She cuts him off to protest their son is dead.

Her voice pealed raw across the polished stone hollows.

Silence. Where for others the lack of response augured wounds scored or truths too burdensome to ignore or dismiss, for her husband it meant something altogether different. His silence was always one with the world about it, monolithic in the way of framing things. Without exception it said, Hear the words you have spoken. You. It was never, ever, the mark of error or incapacity.

Which was why, perhaps, she found him so easy to worship and so difficult to love.

He then speaks her name with such warmth and compassion that she starts crying. He tells her that he doesn’t expect her to take comfort in the Great Ordeal’s importance but to know that it has taken precedence over even the collapse of the New Empire or the death of their son. For a moment, staring into his eyes is liking staring into her own. She understands this. He knows her better than herself and, in fact, had already known the words he told her. “His tone had told her so.”

She asks how much tragedy must happen and he says all of it so long as the world isn’t destroyed. She beats on his chest and asks why the Gods hunt Kellhus. Why they want to stop him unless they want toe Second Apocalypse.

She had chosen Kellhus over Achamian. Kellhus! She had chosen her womb. She had chosen power and sumptuous ease. She had chosen to lay her hand upon the arm of a living god… Not this! Not this!

Kellhus has knows Maithanet has explained this to her, but she is still confused. He talks about how they are different from others, thinking about the future and walking the Shortest Path through the Thousandfold Thought. The Gods are jealous Kellhus has this task. She hears his inhuman voice that had conquered not only the entire world but “first her thighs and then her heart.”

She thought of that final afternoon with Achamian, the day that Holy Shimeh fell.

She sobs that she doesn’t have the strength for this and asks him to put Maithanet in charge. He’s half-Dûnyain. He can handle it. Kellhus says she is strong and Maithanet has his task as Shriah. She demands why her.

“Esmi, you have my love, my trust. I know that you have the strength to do this.”

He says the White-Luck will break against her. She asks how he can know. He cups her face in a haloed hand. He says her fear and grief and regret makes her pure.

Iothiah…

“Cursed!” Nannaferi cried. “Cursed be he who misleads the blind man on the road!”

All old voices failed in some manner; they cracked and they quavered, or they dwindled with the loss of the wind that once empowered them. But for Psatama Nannaferi, the breaking of her voice, which had once made her family weep for its melodic purity, seemed to reveal more than it marred, as though it were but paint, hoary and moulted, covering something furious and elemental. It struck over the surrounding clamour, reached deep into the packed recesses of the Catacombs.

The Charnel Hall is packed with hundreds and lit by torches. Smoke ripples across the ceiling. She curses the thief who steals from those and causes starvation. As she speaks, she’s standing naked and wrinkled, her body covered in white sigils. She’s covered in sweat. Before her on a “slave’s chair” sits the White-Luck Warrior. She then curses the murderer who kills his brother as she parts her legs. Period blood runs down her thighs. She stands proud, showing off the strength of her womb. She is fertile once more. People weep at the miracle. Everyone is roaring as she next curses the whore for choosing “gold over seed, for power over obedience, for lust over love!” She smears her palm in period blood and raises it before the crowd.

“Cursed be the false—the deceivers of men! Cursed be the Aspect-Emperor!”

There are pitches of passion that are holy simply for the intensity of their expression. There is worship beyond the caged world of words. Psatama Nannaferi’s hatred had long ago burned away the impurities, the pathetic pageant of rancour and resentment that so often make folds of the great. Hers was the grinding hatred, the homicidal outrage of the betrayed, the unwavering fury of the degraded and the dispossessed. The hatred that draws tendons sharp, that cleanses only the way murder and fire can cleanse.

And at long last she had found her knife.

She approaches the White-Luck warrior and marks him with a line of period blood across each cheek. These are the wurammi, the counterpart to the lines of ash mourning mothers wear. She preaches about how those in the shadows are always giving because they are weak. But Yatwer knows why the weak are the ones abused. Why the strong do “everything save kill!” She mounts the White-Luck Warrior and impales herself on his penis.

“Because without Givers,” she shouted in a voice hoarse for passion—doubly broken, “there is nothing for them to take! Because without slaves, there can be no masters! Because we are the wine that they imbibe, the bread that they eat, the cloth that they soil, the walls that they defend! Because we are the truth of their power! The prize they would conquer!”

And she could feel it; he the centre of her, and she the circumference of him—an ache encircled by fire. Hoe and Earth! Hoe and Earth! She was an old crone splayed across a boy, her eyes the red of blood, his the white of seed. The crowd before them bucked and heaved, a cauldron of avid faces and sweat-slicked limbs.

“We shall stoke!” she moaned and roared. “We shall foment! We shall teach those who give what it means to take!”

It’s important that he’s young and the father of only one child. He was not yet broken by the world but not at his full strength either. She says that they will no longer just be the “sea that drowns” but the “knife that cuts.” The White-Luck is their knife. As she rides him, the earth kicks like an unborn child in the womb. As she does, she feels his strength filing him. She’s growing young while he becomes older. His youth is transformed into a man worn by the years while she becomes firm and fair. The pair reach their climax.

Beaten and battered she had been tipped in libation. And now the dread Goddess raised her, a bowl cast of gold.

A vessel. A grail. A cup filled with the Waters-Most-Holy. The Blood and the Seed.

“Cursed!” she shrieked in a singer’s heart-cutting voice, high and pure, yet warmed by the throngs, a never-diminishing pool that was passed from palm to palm. She watched the Ur-Mother’s children mark their cheeks with the red line of hatred…

“Cursed be he who misleads the blind man on the road!”

My Thoughts

Esmenet’s guilt is on full display. It’s why she can’t stand having her son’s ashes on her because it reminds her that she was too busy running the kingdom and not paying attention to her son like a mother should have. Now Samarmas has become like Kellhus, something she rebels against. It’s one of the biggest insights into just how much she has come to hate Kellhus over the years.

Who is leaving offerings to Conphas’s ashes? No idea. But it’s also very East Asian. Leaving food is a common thing in Japan and China. I was at the temple where the Forty-Seven Ronin are buried with their lord and his wife. Though they died in 1702, their descendants are still leaving offerings to this day. Cans of Asahi Beer, lit incense, and canned salmon from Hokkaido. If you ever go to Japan, visit the Sengakuji Temple.

Esmenet’s going to outlive most of her children. By the end of this series, Samarmas, Theliopa, and Inrilatas are dead. Serwa is badly wounded. No idea if Kayûtas is alive or dead. Kelmomas is the No-God. Is there anything left of him?

If the dead hear everything, then she must feel even guiltier for feeling this revulsion to Samarmas. In death, he’s become a Dûnyain. No longer human. What she’s always feared. Now she’s afraid Kelmomas will suffer the same fate. He’ll stop being human become something inhuman.

And with that, we switch to the White-Luck Warrior. A young man with a young wife and a new child who has just forgotten everything. He’s about to die with his wife. His life is about to be over, but now Yatwer has possessed him. She has stolen everything from him to make him into the perfect warrior. Beyond a mere Narindar.

We see how the gods see the world. They know the history of everything at once. The history of the building, the man who throws the coin badly, are all known to Yatwer at once. She can guide him through the marketplace because she knows where everyone is going to move because, to her, it’s happened, is happening, and will happen all at once. She delivers the White-Luck Warrior to Nannaferi. At this point, the readers have to understand the Gods are real and are moving against Kellhus.

“Our children are so familiar to us that we often forget them, which is why the details of their existence sometimes strike us with discomfiting forces.” Bakker is addressing the reader using present tense with this sentence before turning it back to Esmenet. He’s including himself in it. This is probably something he’s realized with his own children (I suspect he’s a father, but I do know he’s married).

Kelmomas plays Esmenet like his fiddle. He gets her out of her inward grief and gets her to channel it to him so he can be at the center of her world again. After all, he killed Samarmas to have her all to himself. He can’t let her own pain steal her away either.

Even still, she finds his grief a burden “Children. They wept so much.” She can’t find herself morning for Samarmas because he feels to Dûnyain to her know that he’s dead. It’s like Kellhus has stolen another of her children.

Monuments are like prayers and both overreach. They both seek to go beyond the mortal life. A monument will outlast the man who erected it. A prayer reaches to the Outside to sway a divine being into intervening on this world. They’re both grasping beyond our reach.

Kelmomas failed to capture her attention. He sprung on her right before her audience. This is a test. But she goes with obligation and goes to see Sharacinth. Is it any wonder that the little shit murders her next. He’s killed one person for her love. It’s so much easier to kill the next.

Esmenet is a reminder that the people we see in power, the politicians and presidents and prime ministers, and even the famous actors, might seem remote. Might seem wise and authoritative. But they’re just people. They’re no different than you save, “A beggar’s mistake harms no one but the beggar. A king’s mistake, however, harms everyone but the king. Too often, the measure of power lies not in the number who obey your will, but in the number who suffer your stupidity.”

Remember that lesson. They get mad. Angry. They get offended. They make mistakes. They’re not savors. They’re not mighty. This is the very lesson the Frank Herbert wanted to show with Dune and Paul Atreides over the first three books. He’s a good man. Heroic, even. He’s the sort of man that you want to be your leader. And he couldn’t stop the results of his actions. He could barely keep the ship going straight.

Not surprisingly, Samarmas couldn’t recognize his mother on a coin. The parts of his brain that lets humans see images in patterns might not work with him. He might be able to tell faces apart (yes, that is something that can happen to you where all faces are the same to you because our brains spend a lot of time processing other’s expressions and if that gets damaged this happens). This might also be a hint at the theory that the Anasûrimbor line has nonman blood in it. Nonman cannot see two-dimensional, frozen images. Their art shows things blurring through motion and always has some level of three dimensions to them. Their brains just do not work like ours.

Power is an illusion. You have it because people give it to you. When they stop giving it to you, you either use actual power (violence) to force them to capitulate or you reveal just how empty it truly is.

As ever, Kellhus knows how to make an entrance. This both sets up the end of Book 3 when he returns to her as well as the fact that he can teleport. We’ll see this used greatly in the next books. It also reminds of his planning. He has anticipated when things will happen. When they’ll go wrong. When he needs to act.

Even hating Kellhus, even knowing the truth of him, Esmenet still worships him.

And poor Sharacinth. She got a brute force lesson in dealing with a Dûnyain. No time to pussyfoot around. Break her, remake her, and send her on her way to root out the cult plotting against him. And if it wasn’t for one crazy child, it might have done something.

Probably not since the White-Luck Warrior is already born and hooked up with Nannaferi and she’s about to find her tool in Fanayal.

For one moment, Esmenet wants to believe she’s married to a human. That her husband came because their son is dead. But then she remembers, he doesn’t love. Well, he does, but so weakly as not to matter. He cares for her, but their children, there appears no evidence of that.

Kellhus is never wrong the God is never wrong. How can you love something that isn’t human? That doesn’t make mistakes. That you can’t affect emotionally. She said those words to hurt him because he’s not showing pain. He should be grieving with her, but he can’t. How can she love something like him?

She chooses her children, power, and prestige over Kellhus and is learning how this hasn’t worked out. All her children are not human save Mimara who hates her. She has the power but realizes how hollow it is. The ease comes at the stress and fear of ruling. What seemed luxurious from the outside only reveals more problems. The idyllic life she wanted for herself and children was a lie. Now she has the Gods wanting to kill her family.

It’s clear she regrets not going with Achamian, that she thinks she’s made the wrong choice. Of course, Kellhus never would have let her go. He needed her womb.

“Esmi, you have my love, my trust. I know that you have the strength to do this.” I think these are true words from Kellhus. He does love and trust her. He rescued her from the collapse of the New Empire. I do not think he faked the fatigue. Teleporting all that way is tiring. Serwë, half-Dûnyain and a prodigy with the Gnosis herself, could only teleport a single time without needing rest. To come fetch her at the end of the Great Ordeal, he had to travel four or five times as far. He then spared Kelmomas for her. Love is both what lets Kellhus choose to save the world over stopping his damnation and what also causes him to fail because he could never love enough. He put his all into saving the world and ignored his family. His sons who were of no use to him.

You can tell Esmenet still worships Kellhus because she still sees the halos.

So the White-Luck Warrior sits on the slave chair. He’s here to be bound to Yatwer’s will. She has stolen him from his life, wiped it from his memory, and made a perfect warrior out of him. It is the feminine dominating the masculine in this ritual. The woman’s sexuality conquering the males with her talk of “gluttonous Phallus Eater.” We also see the beginning of her fertility returning to her. Once again, her womb is being washed clean by her menstrual blood to prepare for another egg to be released and another chance of creating life.

Nannaferi rails about slavers who take even as she is taking from the White-Luck Warrior on the chair. He is giving her his seed, his youth, so that she can be young again. She is conquering him with her sexuality.

Knife that cuts is martial force. The power of the few that dominates the many. The sea that drowns is the multitude that sweeps over and no amount of force can stop the tide of sheer numbers. The poor and abused have always been the later, only able effect change through mass riots instead of precise use of force. The White-Luck Warrior changes this. He’s their knife.

If you want to keep reading this, click here for Chapter 9!

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

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To save the skies, Ary must die!

If you love the works of Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, R. Scott Bakker, and Steven Erikson, then check out my first ever Fantasy novel!

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