Tag Archives: The Second Apocalypse

Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Seventeen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 17
Shigek

Welcome to Chapter Seventeen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Sixteen!

In terror, all men throw up their hands and turn aside their faces. Remember, Tratta, always preserve the face! For that is where you are.

THROSEANIS, TRIAMIS IMPERATOR

The Poet will yield up his stylus only when the Geometer can explain how Life can at once be a point and a line. How can all time, all creation, come to the now? Make no mistake: this moment, the instant of this very breath, is a frail thread from which all creation hangs. That men dare to be thoughtless…

TERES ANSANSIUS, THE CITY OF MEN

My Thoughts

Both these quotes are on the importance of the mind, on thinking, one written by the conquering emperor Triamis who puts it in a very physical and literal way by saying how it is our very instinct to protect our brains and that is important. Because our brains, our thoughts, are who we are.

The second is lamenting on how men squander the potential of their mind. And while poets are trying to describe this seeming contradictory that our lives follow a line and yet at the very moment you read this sentence you have the illusion that it is a point. That the present is all that matters. But the future is what comes next, and what you think, what you do, determines what happens. And if you’re not thinking about it, well, it is a thin thread, so easy to snap.

Proyas didn’t think when he sacrificed Achamian. He traded his present view of himself, as righteous, and allowed him to die. And now he learns that Achamian is important to the head of his faith. That if he had truly been a good person, helping his friend even if he were a blasphemer, the man wouldn’t be dead.

Ultimately, this chapter is about having brains and using them to think. Not to just live, not to just have faith in something else and accept what it tells you, but to use the mind that god or evolution or space aliens or whatever you believe in gave you.

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

As Esmenet walks back from laundering clothes, she reflects on the next phase of the Holy War. She knows that the Kianene have killed all the camels before retreating and so far scouts have only found poisoned wells in the desert, hoping to make a barrier out of the desert. But the Great Names plan to march along the coast, using the Imperial Fleet would carry their water, keeping them alive to Enathpaneah. She reflects on Kellhus making a joke about Serwë carrying everything, including his child. His manner is warm, teasing and one “Esmenet had learned to love long ago.”

Esmenet had laughed, at the same time realizing she’d be traveling even farther from Achamian…

She wants to ask Kellhus if there was any news from Xinemus even while fearing what it would be. She doesn’t, knowing Kellhus would have told her. That night, they cook dinner, Kellhus sitting between the two women while he continues teasing Serwë about the upcoming march through the desert. As he does, Kellhus accidentally brushes Esmenet’s breast.

The tingle of inadvertent intimacy. The flush of a body suddenly thick with a wisdom that transcended intellect.

For the remainder of the afternoon, Esmenet found her eyes plagued by a nagging waywardness. Where before her look had confined itself to Kellhus’s face, it now roamed over his entire form. It was as though her eyes had become brokers, intermediaries between his body and her own. When she saw his chest, her breasts tingled with the prospect of being crushed. When she glimpsed his narrow hips and deep buttocks, her inner thighs hummed with expectant warmth. Sometimes her palms literally itched!

Of course, this was madness. Esmenet needed only to catch Serwë’s watchful eyes to recall herself.

That night, while Kellhus is gone and she’s lying down beside Serwë, the pregnant girl says she would share Kellhus. Esmenet becomes nervous while protesting the girl has nothing to fear. No Serwë says she’s not afraid of losing him. “All I want is what he wants.” Esmenet asks if Kellhus wants her, but Serwë laughs that off. She suddenly feels guilty, thinking of Achamian, and says it will never happen.

Kellhus is gone until the next night when he returns with Proyas. Esmenet hates him, and tries to avoid him, knowing he refused to help Achamian and stripped Xinemus of his rank for wanting to. But then she hears him speak and realizes he, too, suffers in grief for Achamian and she feels a kinship with him. “That, she knew, was what Kellhus would say.”

As they eat, Esmenet studies Proyas and Kellhus as they talk, noticing how Proyas acted, the way he deferred and yet remained aloof. She understands why Kellhus doesn’t allow his followers around, knowing Great Names like Proyas would be disturbed. “Those at the centre of the things were always more inflexible, always more invested, than those at the edges.” Kellhus was starting a new center.

During a silence, Esmenet asks after Cnaiür. Proyas says he doesn’t see him much. The barbarian was no longer giving counsel. He even rejected being declared Battle-Celebrant after the victory, Kellhus having given him all the credit of saving the day. Proyas thinks Cnaiür finds it unbearable liking Inrithi. He then leaves. Esmenet feels ashamed for driving off Proyas. She finds shame to be “her characteristic stink.” She apologizes to Kellhus and questions why she is even here. She is polluted and yet is staying with Kellhus. Her whore tattoo permanently marks her. It will never go away. “The seed she could rinse away, but not the sin!” She flees to Achamian’s tent.

Kellhus comes to her tent, and she hates that she hoped he would. She tells him she wished she were dead. “So do many.” Kellhus was always honest and she wishes she could follow. She goes on to say she’s only loved two people, both dead.

“You don’t know my sins, Kellhus. You don’t know the darkness I harbour in my heart.

“Then tell me.”

They talk for hours and she grows calm, emotionless as she tells him about the many men she’s been with. “All of them punishing her for their need.” How it was so monotonous. One man after another. She was first whored out by her father at eleven or twelve, the start of her punishment. And then she turns to her daughter.

And her daughter… How old had she been?

She had thought her father’s thoughts, she explained. Another mouth. Let it feed itself. The monotony had numbed her to the horror, had made degradation a laughable thing. To trade flashing silver for milky seed—the fools. Let Mimara be schooled in the foolishness of men. Clumsy, rutting animals. One need only pay with little patience, mimic their passion, wait, and soon it would be over. In the morning, one could buy food… Food from fools, Mimara. Can’t you see child? Shush. Stop weeping. Look! Food from fools!

Kellhus asks if that was her name, Mimara. And she realizes she could say it to him, but never to Achamian. Then she begins crying. She is hugged to Kellhus’s chest. “They were dead. The only ones she’d ever loved.” When her crying subsides, she realizes her hands on her on his lap and feels him harden. For a moment, everything is silent. Then she jerks her hand away.

Why would she poison a night such as this?

Kellhus shook his head, softly laughed. “Intimacy begets intimacy, Esmi. So long as we remember ourselves, there’s no reason for shame. All of us are frail.”

She looked down to her palms, her wrists. Smiled.”

She thanks him and he leaves. She masturbates afterward, cursing the entire time, until she falls to sleep.

Proyas receives a message from the Shriah. Proyas is truck by how even the scroll-case, covered in tiny Tusks, is a message that this is sermon. He ponders what Maithanet wants before he breaks the seal and reads it. When he sees it’s about his last letter, guilt strikes him. Achamian had begged him to write Maithanet to inquire about Inrau’s “suicide.” It shocked Proyas he had even did it, but he felt kinship with Inrau. “How could he not pity him, a good man, a kind man, hunting fables and wives’ tales to his everlasting damnation.” Proyas never expected a reply, but he was the heir to Conryia.

Shame feels him as he reads for sending such a “trivial” matter to the Shriah. And shame for feeling ashamed of doing Achamian a favor. Maithanet’s letter says that Inrau was a suicide and they believe because of his association with Achamian. Maithanet quotes scripture to reinforce his position that Achamian is to blame. He was still perplexed, and says his response will also baffle Proyas. He explains that since the Holy War has allied with the Scarlet Spire to defeat the Cishaurim, it is important that Proyas assists Achamian, compromising his piety for the greater good like Maithanet did when striking his deal with the Scarlet Spire.

Proyas is stunned, wondering what was so important about Achamian. And then that it was too late to do anything now that Achamian is gone.

I killed him…

And Proyas suddenly realized that he’d used his old teacher as a marker, as a measure of his own piety. What greater evidence could there be of righteousness than the willingness to sacrifice a loved one? Wasn’t this the lesson of Angeshraël on Mount Kinsureah? And what better way to sacrifice a loved one than by hating?

Or delivering him to his enemies…

He thinks of Esmenet’s grief, feeling guilty, and uses anger to deflect. This leads him to pondering sin and how a man’s actions either elevate or condemn him. And Achamian had been a sorcerer. He damned himself, just like Esmenet had by being a whore. He tries to rationalize it’s not his judgment but the Tusk. But the shame doesn’t go away. Doubt creeps in. Doubt had been Achamian’s main lesson.

Doubt, he would say, set men free… Doubt, not truth.

Beliefs were the foundation of actions. Those who believed without doubting, he would say, acted without thinking. And those who acted without thinking were enslaved.

That was what Achamian would say.

Proyas recalls a time when he told Achamian he wanted to be a Shrial knight. Why asked Achamian. Proyas wants to kill heathens. Achamian calls him foolish, asking him how many faiths are there are and condemning him for murdering someone on “the slender hope that yours is somehow the only one?” Proyas is certain his is. Achamian challenges Proyas that it’s not a choice between two faiths but between faith and doubt.

“But doubt is weakness!” Proyas cried. “Faith is strength! Strength!” Never, he was convinced, had he felt so holy as that moment. The sunlight seemed to shine straight through him, to bathe his heart.

“Is it? Have you looked around you, Prosha? Pay attention, boy. Watch and tell me how many men, out of weakness, lapse into the practice of doubt. Listen to those around you, and tell me what you see…”

Proyas did as Achamian asked, watching men from soldiers to priests to ambassadors. And while he saw them hesitate, he never heard them say those three difficult words: I don’t know. Proyas had asked Achamian why they are so hard to say.

“Because men want to murder,” Achamian explained afterward. “Because men want their gold and their glory. Because they want beliefs to answer to their fears, their hatreds, and their hungers.”

Proyas could remember the heart-pounding wonder, the exhilaration of straying…

“Akka?” He took a deep, daring breath. “Are you saying the Tusk lies?”

A look of dread. “I don’t know…”

Those words got Achamian banished from teaching Proyas. Achamian knew it would happen, but did it anyways. Proyas is confused about that, why he would “sacrifice so much for so few words.” And then he realizes why. Achamian thought it worth the cost to teach Proyas this lesson because he loved Proyas. He loved Proyas enough to lose his position and reputation. “Achamian had given without hope of reward.” To make Proyas free.

And Proyas had given him away, thinking only of rewards.

The thought was too much to bear.

He tries to rationalize it, saying he did it for Shimeh and the Holy War. But the letter from Maithanet makes that much harder. The Shriah wants him supported. And then he remembers Achamian arguing that the Holy War wasn’t what it seemed. Something that now concerned the shriah. Proyas wonders if it has to do with Kellhus. He had meant to write the Shriah about him, but couldn’t He wasn’t sure if fear or hope caused him to wait. But Proyas finds it ridiculous that the Holy War for the Latter Prophet would birth the “Latter Latter Prophet.” So Proyas thinks it must be something else. “Something the Shriah thought beyond his [Proyas] tolerance of his ken.”

Could it be the Consult?

Proyas remembers a conversation with Achamian at Momemn where he talked about the intensity of his dreams, that something was happening. Proyas finds it absurd, reasoning that if the Mandate couldn’t find the Consult, how could the Shriah. He turns his thoughts to the Scarlet Spire, knowing Achamian was watching them. He grows frantic, pulling at his hair, demanding to know why.

Why couldn’t this one thing be pure? Why must everything holy—everything!—be riddled by tawdry and despicable intent.

He sat very still, drawing breath after shuddering breath. He imagined drawing his sword, slashing and hacking wildly through his chambers, howling and shrieking… Then he collected himself to the beat of his own pulse.

Nothing pure… Love transformed into betrayal. Prayers bent into accusations.

This was Maithanet’s point, wasn’t it? The holy followed upon the wicked.

Proyas realizes he isn’t the moral leader of the Holy War. He’s just another piece on the benjuka plate and he doesn’t know the rules. He doesn’t know anything. Despite the recent victory, he feels so weak.

Tired, wanting to rest, he instead composes a reply to the Shriah. Tomorrow, the Holy War marched into the desert. He feels like a boy as rights, remembering good times as Achamian’s student. He cries as he completes the first sentence of his “baffled reply”

…but it would seem, Your Eminence, that Drusas Achamian is dead.

Kellhus watches Esmenet as the camp prepares to arch into the Khemema Desert. With Kellhus are his fourteen senior Zaudunyani (the Tribe of Truth, his followers) to remind them of their purpose as they set out on their mission. “Beliefs alone didn’t control the actions of men. There were also desire, and these men, his apostles, must shine with that desire.” Esmenet knows he watches, laughing with two of the Zaudunyani.

He watches everyone, each “a riotous font of significance.” He sees Ottma fumbling before Serwë’s beauty, Ulnarta’s faint racism to black-skinned Tshuma, the way three others defer to Werjau. He notes how Werjau asserts his dominance over the others.

Kellhus calls out Werjau, asking to what he sees in his heart. Werjau answers joy while Kellhus knows he “sees, and he doesn’t see.” Then Kellhus asks what them what he sees. Werjau looks down. A Galeoth answered with Pride. Kellhus then makes a joke to cut through the anxiety and relax them with laughter. Kellhus would not let Werjau, or others, posture in the group. Kellhus knows they enjoy his presence because “the weight of sin was found in secrecy and condemnation.” By stripping that away, taking away their self-deception and shame, they “felt greater in his presence, both pure and chose.”

Kellhus flashes back to his training in Ishuäl with Pragma Meigon. They are deep beneath Ishuäl within the Thousand Thousand Halls. The room is exceedingly well lit, the only place in the labyrinth that is, and it is full of shackled men, each naked and bound to boards in a circle, the skin flayed from their faces to reveal their muscle structure. This is the Unmasking Room.

Kellhus is feeling fear despite Meigon reassuring him they’re harmless. He asks what they are. Exemplary defectives retained for the “purpose of education” for young Dûnyain. He leads Kellhus to one, telling him to study and memorize their faces, then draw them. He explains how the face has forty-four muscles that work together to produce every “permutation of passion.” Each figure shows different emotions, using neuropuncture to keep them locked in their expressions. Something the Dûnyain learned centuries ago.

“Neuropuncture,” the Pragma continued, “made possible the rehabilitation of defectives for instructional purpose. The specimen before you, for instance, always displays fear at a base-remove of two.”

“Horror?” Kellhus asked.

“Precisely.”

Kellhus felt the childishness of his own horror fade in understanding. He looked to either side, saw the specimens curving out of sight, rows of white eyes set in shining red musculatures. They were only defectives—nothing more. He returned his gaze to the man before him, to fear base-removed two, and committed what he saw to memory. Then he moved on to the next gasping skein of muscles.

“Good,” Pragma Meigon had said from his periphery. “Very good.”

Back in the present, Kellhus studies Esmenet and “peeled away her face with the hooks of his gaze.” He notes how she has twice found excuses to walk to her tent and draw his attention. She keeps glancing at him, making sure he’s watching her. Though they hadn’t had sex yet, Kellhus knows she wanted him and wooed him. “And she knew it not.”

For all her native gifts, Esmenet remained a world-born woman. And for all world-born men and women, two souls shared the same body, face, and eyes. The animal and the intellect. Everyone was two.

Defective.

One Esmenet had already renounced Drusas Achamian. The other would soon follow.

The next morning, Esmenet watches the Holy War march into the desert on a rise. She stands beside Serwë. The host of soldiers and camp followers stretches out of her sight. She looks to Shigek and says goodbye to Achamian in her thoughts. Then she strikes out, walking among the strangers, ignoring Kellhus calling after. She ignores the looks and muttered words, the men who see her as a whore. “She sweat and suffered and somehow knew it was only the beginning.”

She rejoins Kellhus and Serwë that evening around a meager fire. Kellhus asks about her walk, and she immediately feels shame and apologizes. But he says she doesn’t have to, she’s free to walk where she wants. Then asks again.

“Men,” she said leadenly. “Too many men.”

“And you call yourself a harlot,” Kellhus said, grinning.

Esmenet continued staring at her dusty feet. A shy smile stole across her face.

“Things change…”

Kellhus then asks her why “God holds men higher than women?” She shrugs, women are in men’s shadows who are in Gods’ shadows. He asks her if she thinks that. She replies, Some men, indicating Kellhus. She then realizes only Kellhus. She never stood in anyone else’s, not even Achamian. So Kellhus asks her if all men are overshadowed, why is she less than a man? She laughs, certain he plays a game and says that’s just how it is everywhere. “Women serve men.” She then says most women are simple, like Serwë while more men are educated. Wise.

“And is this because men are more than women?”

Esmenet stared at him, dumbfounded.

“Or is it,” he continued, “because men are granted more than women in this world?”

She stared, her thoughts spinning. She breathed deeply, set her palms carefully upon her knees. “You’re saying women are…are actually equal?”

Kellhus asks why men pay gold to have sex with women. She answers out of lust. Kellhus then says is it legal. She says no, but they can’t help themselves. Kellhus responds that they have no control over their desires and she makes a joke about being a “well-fed harlot” to prove him right. He then asks why men herd cattle. She’s confused and begins answering so they can slaughter them and then she realizes what he is saying.

“Men,” Kellhus said, “cannot dominate their hungers, so they dominate, domesticate, the objects of their hunger. Be it cattle…”

“Or women,” she said breathlessly.

The air prickled with understanding.

He then sites the example of a tributary race, like Serwë’s, speaking the language of their conquers just like women speak the language of men. This is why Esmenet fears growing old, because she sees herself as men see her. It’s why she preens and postures, molds herself to please men. She becomes so motionless as she listens to him talk about how she has degraded herself to please men, how she does things for coins. How the fact she knows she’s damned, that she has no dignity, lets her keep doing these acts. He asks, “What love lies beyond sacrifice?” She’s crying now.

“You speak the tongue of your conquerors…” Kellhus whispered. “You say, Mimara, come with me child.”

A shiver passed through her, as though she were a drumskin…

“And you take her…”

“She’s dead!” some woman cried. “She’s dead!”

“To the slavers in the harbour…”

Stop!” the woman hissed. “I say no!”

Gasping, like knives.

“And you sell her.”

Esmenet tells Kellhus everything as he holds her, how a famine had swept through Sumna, how she was so hungry that she was giving men blowjobs just to eat their seed. How she came to hate her daughter, “the filthy little bitch,” who cried and begged for food, sending Esmenet out into the street “all because of love.” And how the slavers were growing fat and the coins she received. Coins that lasted less than a week. She weeps in his arms, in his absolution.

“You are forgiven, Esmenet.”

Who are you to forgive?

“Mimara.”

She wakes up confused, lying beside Kellhus. She’s conflicted about that, part of her guilty part of her excited though she reminds herself they didn’t have sex. She only cried. For a while, she lies beside him, feeling his heartbeat. He wakes up and they feel the intimacy growing. Serwë sleeps beside them, and Kellhus tells Esmenet to be quiet so not to wake her. Then he’s on her, his hand sliding up her thighs, and she exults that finally he was taking her.

No one would call her harlot any more.

My Thoughts

What does Esmenet fear learning from Xinemus now? That Achamian is dead, or that he is alive and she’s been moving on, abandoning him? That she’s beginning to love again.

Notice the power of a simple “accidental” touch on behalf of Kellhus, bringing Esmenet one step closer to her seduction. First he was a prophet, then he was her friend, and now he’s a prospective lover. All done by his friendly banter, his comforting presence, and his constant presence around her.

We see more of Esmenet’s intelligence as she dissects the interaction between Kellhus and Proyas. She has picked up on a lot of Kellhus’s teachings about human behavior and is using them, understanding the political dynamics that what Kellhus has begun, being a prophet, will eventually lead to a problems with those at the current “center” of everything.

Kellhus gives Cnaiür credit for figuring out the trap. He can’t let Cnaiür’s skill as a tactician get undermined. He needs to keep him propped up for now. Kellhus has risen along with Cnaiür, and Proyas, Kellhus’s best ally, has sponsored them both, become their patrons. If Cnaiür is embarrassed or shown to have failed, it would look poorly on Proyas and thus Kellhus.

Poor Esmenet. While shame can be a good motivator when there’s cause, when you’ve done something wrong, she hasn’t. She’s just been told that what she’s done to survive is wrong while the men who pay her are absolved. They’re not condemned, just her. And it is to Achamian’s tent she flees. Someone else who is a sinner that cannot be absolved.

It’s sad she finds Kellhus always honest.

When Esmenet talks about how she whored her own daughter out, the way her father had done to her, is one of the most heartbreaking things in the world. How she had rationalized it. How years of being a whore had so degraded her that she no longer felt the horror her daughter did. How she’s so pragmatic about it. “Food from fools.” And now the guilt, combined with the other thing she did with her daughter. She knows it was wrong in the wake of her daughter’s “death.” How it eats at her.

The irony of Esmenet saying all those she loved are dead is that neither Achamian or Mimara are dead.

And notice how Kellhus uses this moment of comfort to add another bit to his seduction, creating that deep intimacy between them then taking advantage of her absent movement to bring the physical, the sexual, to the front.

Maithanet is good at manipulating with a scroll-case.

Proyas is such an interesting character. His faith has warped him, forcing him to destroy his relationship with Achamian even as he doesn’t want to. He loves Achamian, truly, but he also fears for his own soul. Too much virtue is itself a vice. (I’m paraphrasing a quote from someone here, can’t remember who.) And Proyas displays that with his piety causing destructive problems.

Notice how Proyas feels guilty for causing Esmenet grief then immediately rationalizes it away with that emphatic “She’s just a whore!” Using his piety to shift his guilt away, to alleviate his own pain. Very common thing for humans to do. But then he runs smack into Achamian being a sorcerer and uses that same reason justify sacrificing him, which he is now learning was a bad call.

Doubt, skepticism, is very important. This is why science uses the peer-review process to evaluate discovery. Any properly motivated researcher can find the facts to support his goal. You need someone who is properly motivated in disproving (doubting) the result to discover whether or not real truth was uncovered or just results that flattered the researcher’s own bias. Truth without doubt leads to orthodoxy. It leads to religion, even if it’s not called that.

Wonder what happened to Proyas’s older brother? He must have died to make Proyas the heir.

Faith untempered by doubt is a very dangerous thing. And it doesn’t have to be faith in a religion, but faith in a political belief, in a scientific truth, faith in a perspective on power dynamics in society. Any of those are dangerous and destructive. We have brains. Use them.

The recollection Proyas has with Achamian talking about doubt is amazing. Such truth found in there. Confirmation bias is ingrained in all of us. We cherry-pick everything in our lives to conform with our own beliefs. And thanks to social media, it’s getting worse. When you can block people whom you disagree with, when you can only visit blogs or follow people on twitter that believe what you do, then you don’t even hear those contradictory statements. You can curate the information you receive to prop up your beliefs, to receive the answers you want instead of the truth.

Proyas has got some nice line of reasoning on Maithanet’s support for Achamian. What else could it be but the Consult? But why would the Shriah believe in the Consult. Everyone in the Three Seas are sure they are gone. How could he know?

How did Maithanet know about the Scarlet Spires secret war with the Cishaurim? Maithanet lurks in the background for so much of the books, with little hints and clues sprinkled here and there, a great mystery that quickly is forgotten because more immediate things are happening in the book. It’s well done. It all makes sense when you learn the truth, and that’s important with mysteries. They have to hold up to scrutiny or they’re a cheat.

Why can’t anything be pure, Proyas? Because the actions of humans are involved.

Proyas was so close to the truth, and then he just couldn’t believe it. He had to go with something familiar, something that confirmed to his own beliefs on how the world worked, and rejects the Consult idea.

It’s sad watching Proyas grapple with the grief and guilt of his part in Achamian’s death. His illusions are shattered. He knows he’s not a moral person like he always believed. Achamian had given without hope of reward, Proyas had done the opposite. He took to get his reward.

So we see the Zaudunyani know. They have a name. A shared purpose. The start of Kellhus’s cult and his temporal power.

Werjau… His first mention. Remember this asshole for later. Not how he’s the one that some of the others are already deferring to. Bakker is setting him up to be a leader in the Zaudunyani right from the beginning. Note how Kellhus doesn’t want Werjau posturing, but we’ll see he never quite learns that lesson. Something Kellhus will lament. If he’s not on top of people, they backslide.

It is, perhaps, Kellhus greatest weakness. He doesn’t have the time to micromanage everyone.

We get our first taste of the true horror of the Dûnyain next in the Unmasking Room. Such a mundane place for such a horrific spot. Here we see those Dûnyain who didn’t succeed, lobotomized and kept alive to let students study facial expressions. We’ll learn more Dûnyain horrors (whale mothers) in later books. This is a brutal illustration that the Dûnyain purpose is dehumanization, to strip out emotions, to make “men” devoid of passions.

And then how Kellhus puts aside his own “childish” horror (because feeling emotions is childish for the Dûnyain) and understands. This is his fate if he can’t learn to control his passions. So he does. He rationalizes that the man is defective, therefore worthless, and his emotions fade. He’s turned a human being into an object.

And then he peels back Esmenet’s face, seeing her as nothing more than those tortured men he studied as a child. Defective. But a defective he needs. One he needs to seduce. One he can “rehabilitate” to a new purpose. And already the “animal” part of her is eager for the seduction. Now her intellect just had to abandon her love for Achamian and surrender to Kellhus.

Last time Esmenet stared at the Holy War, Achamian was with her. And now she admits it. He’s gone. She has to move on, literally and figuratively. She’s hit acceptance in the grieving process.

For anyone who thinks Bakker is not a feminist or is a misogynist should read Kellhus comments about men domesticating women like they have cattle. Kellhus often speaks Bakker’s own beliefs. Bakker, frankly, is more of a misandrist than he is a misogynist. He has a low opinion of men. We all mold ourselves to please those around us. Women make themselves look beautiful to attract a mate while men work for status and power for the same reason—women are valued for the beauty, men for their wealth. Kellhus is leaving that part out either on purpose, to aid in his molding of Esmenet, or because Bakker is espousing his own beliefs here.

That revelation that Mimara didn’t die of a disease, but that Esmenet sold her to the slaves while they were both starving is heartbreaking. Starving people start to lose compassion. They become driven to do things they would never do while fed. They abandon people. Their survival instincts kick in, driving them to do what it takes to live. And it gets harder and harder to fight that selfishness. And then you’ll do something you can never forgive yourself for.

If you’ve ever hard of Grave of the Fireflies, original a novel and then made into a movie by Studio Ghibli, it’s a true story about a brother and sister, just children, orphaned in Japan by World War II. At the end of the war, they are living with an abusive aunt. They runaway and live in the woods. At first, they’re happy. But soon the starvation sets in. The older brother, who is maybe 10, tries hard to keep them alive. But, first the sister dies and then he dies. Or that’s how the novel goes. In the real story, the brother lived. And the guilt he felt for getting them in this mess, for not saving his sister when they were starving and for living when she died, compelled him to write their story and symbolically kill himself by having his own character die.

Esmenet wakes up feeling guilty and excited for lying next to Kellhus, the last vestige of her relationship with Achamian and her excitement to start a new one. If Achamian were truly dead, this would be healthy. But he’s not, and it’s only been a few weeks. On top of that, she’s being manipulated. So it’s really the opposite.

Then it happens. Kellhus makes his move. He has welded an intimacy between them, he has guided her through the process of grieving for Achamian, making room for her to love another, and then he takes advantage of her. And as she has sex with him, she think she won’t be a harlot ever again. That he sees her as an equal. That she doesn’t have to be his whore.

Instead, she’s his broodmare. As we see in his POV, she is defective. But good thing you can find a use for defectives. He’s rehabilitating her.

This is a powerful chapter, from seeing Esmenet’s true guilt, the thing that has haunted her all this time, revealed. How her guilt for Mimara has made her feel motherly towards Serwë even as she fought her own jealousy towards the girl’s beauty. And even though Esmenet did this monstrous thing, you understand why. That desperation. That horrible circumstances. “Let her feed herself.” How many parents have thought similar thoughts, when angry, when tired, when weary but still having to attend to their children. Those small, dark flashes that pop up in all of us. None of us, I’d dare say, have been as starving as Esmenet.

And the sad part, Kellhus using it to seduce her. Even forgiving her in Mimara’s name. And, for those who’ve read the next series, you know Mimara has not forgiven.

And with that, we’re done with the Holy War’s second march. The third, and hardest, march is before it. The desert awaits. That’s a very symbolic place, the desert. A place where men are transformed into prophets in our own mythologies.

Click here for Chapter Eighteen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Sixteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 16
Shigek

Welcome to Chapter Sixteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Fifteen!

Men never resemble one another so much as when asleep or dead.

OPPARITHA, ON THE CARNAL

The arrogance of the Inrithi waxed bright in the days following Anwurat. Though the sober-minded demanded they press the attack, the great majority clamored for respite. They thought the Fanim doomed, just as they thought them doomed after Mengedda. But while the Men of the Tusk tarried, the Padirajah plotted. He would make the world his shield.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

The first quote is talking about the equalization that death brings. Because all men must die. And what is sleep, but the dress rehearsal? The surrendering to the darkness? In sleep, as Esmenet notes as she gazes on Serwë, the real person comes out. And that real person is the same flawed human being as everyone else. Equals in sleep and in death.

First, this quote reminds us that Achamian isn’t dead. He’s still in this story. He must be because he survived to write about these events. The next is just a commentary on humans (and the readers) who like to see things in simple terms. We conquered the Fanim. They must be crushed this time. But they’re not. They’re still plotting. Just remember that in these days of partisan politics, one side declaring victory forever over the other. It’s never that simple.

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

Achamian suffers the dreams of Seswatha’s life. He is before the gates of Golgotterath, armies of Sranc and Bashrag drawn up before it. He thinks it is about to yield, to be defeated. A horn is sound. The Sranc attack like “a tide of spiders.” They clash against the armies of the Northern Norsirai, the might of High Kûniüri accompanied by Nonmen from Ishterebinth. Seswatha is certain of their victory.

Achamian would relive all eighteen years of that delusion.

Dreams drawn from the knife’s sheath.

And when he awakened, to the sound of harsh shouts or the patter of cold water across his face, it would seem that one horror had merely replaced another. He would blink against torchlight, would dully note the bite of chains, a mouth stuffed with rank cloth, and the dark, scarlet-robed figures that surrounded him. And he would think, before succumbing to the Dreams once gain, It comes… the Apocalypse comes…

Iyokus and Eleäzaras stand around him, talking about how easy it is to render men so helpless. Iyokus points out so can schools, which brings a sharp question from Eleäzaras. They notice Achamian watching them and Iyokus says he needs time to recover before questioning can begin again.

Esmenet cries when she sees Kellhus and Serwë, both haggard, approach her. She runs towards Kellhus, hugging and kissing him. She sobs that she is going mad, but he says it is only grief. Kellhus “seemed a pillar of comfort.” Then she hugs a crying Serwë, who she has missed her.

Esmenet regarded the girl with sorrow. Her left eye was bruised black and cherry and an angry red cut poked from beneath her hairline. Even if Esmenet had the heart—and she had none—she would wait for Serwë to explain what had happened. With such marks, asking demanded lies, and silence afforded truth. That was the lot of women—especially when they were wanton.

Serwë appears healthy beside that, and Esmenet has many questions about how her pregnancy is progressing. She remembers her own “joyous terror” at being pregnant. Esmenet says Serwë must be hungry, which she denies which only makes Esmenet and Kellhus laugh—she was always hungry these days “as a pregnant woman should be.”

For a moment, Esmenet felt the old sunshine flash from her eyes.

Esmenet is happy to see them, missing them as she mourns Achamian. Kellhus notes that she is at the same fire in Shigek as when the army left. Serwë realizes it, shocked. Esmenet is silent, feeding the fire, which she had been obsessed over.

She could feel Kellhus’s gentle scrutiny.

“Some hearths can’t be rekindled,” he said.

“It burns well enough,” Esmenet murmured. She blinked tears, sniffled and wiped at her nose.

“But what makes a hearth, Esmi? Is it the fire, or the family that keeps it?”

“The family,” she finally said. A strange blankness had overcome her.

Kellhus says that he and Serwë are that family. She protests she has to say here and wait. He repeats that “we are that home.” And that ended it.

Over dinner, Kellhus talks about the events of the last week. She finds herself lost in his story about the battle. She is struck by how this great prophet could concern himself with a whore. She smiles, which makes Kellhus happy. He finishes the story and everyone falls silent. She stares at the sky, frightened by its “murderous indifference.” Her thoughts turn to Achamian. Kellhus has heard from Xinemus who still searches.

“So there’s hope?” [asked Esmenet.]

“There is always hope,” he said in a voice that at once encouraged and deadened her heart. “We can only wait and see what he finds.”

Esmenet couldn’t speak. She glanced at Serwë, but the girl avoided her eyes.

They think he’s dead.

She has tried not to hope, but she can’t think him dead. She struggles with it and Kellhus changes the subject, offering to teach her how to read. That makes her cry because it is the one thing she has always wanted to do.

Achamian transitions from dreaming of Seswatha’s torture at Dagliash into his present torment at the hands of the Scarlet Spire. The face of Mekeritrig becomes Eleäzaras, disorienting him. Eleäzaras is happy Achamian is conscious and aware. They feared they killed him. Eleäzaras laments the Library’s destruction.

Achamian realizes he is naked and chained, suspended in the air by his wrists to the ceiling and ankles to the floor. It is at that moment, he realizes that he is dead, the Scarlet Spire has captured him. He pisses and shits himself, which only makes Eleäzaras laugh and quip. The laughter from the others is uneasy. Achamian panics and fights against his chains, thinking about Esmenet.

Eleäzaras laments that “there is too much certainty here.” Achamian knows he’ll be tortured for the Gnosis, and Eleäzaras knows that he won’t surrender it and will rather die. “We’ll be left with yet another useless Mandate corpse.”

Achamian knows it is true. It is his duty to die to protect the Gnosis. The Angogic Schools, like the Scarlet Spire, were never tutored by the Nonmen Quya, so don’t know the more powerful Abstractions, but only the weaker Analogies. Achamian remembers he is stronger, a philosopher while they were merely poets. “I will see you burn!” he promises.

Eleäzaras says this time is different. Events are tumultuous. To prove his point, he removes Achamian’s gag and let him speak without using Compulsion. He does point out the Uroborian Circle drawn around Achamian. It will keep any sorcery from being cast in it by causing pain. Achamian has seen it, too. “The Scarlet Spires, it seemed, possessed many potent poetic devices.” Achamian asks where they are. They are still in Iothiah before. Then he studies the Uroborian Circle.

It didn’t seem a matter of courage, only a giddy instant of disconnection, a willful ignorance of the consequences.

He said two words.

Agony.

Achamian shits himself again as agony shots through him. His blood burns. And then passes out into Seswatha’s nightmares.

Eleäzaras stares at Achamian and though he’s naked, chained, and unconscious, finds him threatening. Iyokus calls Achamian stubborn, implying it was to be expected. Eleäzaras agrees, angry at the delay. And though he would love to have the Gnosis, he needed to know the truth of the Cishaurim skin-spy and Achamian’s connection to them. Worse, because of Achamian, the Scarlet Spire had lost their advantage in numbers gained after the Cishaurim’s casualties at Mengedda. He killed two and then six more fell at Anwurat. It was because of Proyas’s threat of avenging Achamian that Eleäzaras had sent in his sorcerers. He can’t afford to bleed his school.

Eleäzaras can’t help but remember fighting Achamian, lusting for the Gnosis and hating the Mandate for hoarding it. Once he had information on the Cishaurim, he would have Achamian tortured for the Gnosis. Maybe it would work this time, a gamble as significant as destroying the Cishaurim.

That, Eleäzaras decided, was Iyokus’s problem. He could not fathom the fact that certain rewards made even the most desperate gambles worthwhile. He knew nothing of hope.

Chanv addicts never seemed to know anything of hope.

Esmenet crosses the river with Serwë, both sharing a saddle on the same horse. Esmenet is impressed by Serwë’s horsemanship, but she shrugs and says she’s Cepaloran. “She’d been born astride a saddle.” Esmenet bitterly thinks it means born with her legs spread wide. On the other side, she peers across the river and realizes she won’t return, the river is a barrier even though she can swim. Kellhus tells her “The world looks south.”

They return to the Conryian cap and she’s shocked to find Kellhus accepting people calling him the Warrior Prophet. Serwë finds it wonderful, and so does she. He is the Warrior Prophet. She suddenly feels jealous that Serwë is Kellhus’s woman, not her. She instantly feels shame for those thoughts, reminding her Kellhus is helping her for Achamian’s sake.

Esmenet had told herself she feared returning because it would stir too many recollections. But losing those recollections was what she truly feared. Her refusal to leave their old camp had somehow rash, desperate, pathetic… Kellhus had shown her that. But remaining had fortified her somehow—or so it seemed when she thought about it. There was the clutching sense of defensiveness, the certainty that she must protect Achamian’s surroundings. She’d even refused to touch the chipped clay bowl he’d used for his tea that final morning. By describing his absence in such heartbreaking detail, such things had become, it seemed to her, fetishes, charms that would secure his return. And there was the sense of desolate pride. Everyone had fled, but she remained—she remained! She would look across the abandoned fields, at the firepits becoming earthen, at the paths scuffed through the grasses, and all the world would seem a ghost. Only her loss would seem real… Only Achamian. Wasn’t there some glory, some grace in that?

Now she moved on even though it means abandoning Achamian. That makes her cry as she pitches his tent next to Kellhus’s much larger pavilion. She feared things would be awkward, but Kellhus is to generous and Serwë innocent for that. She is welcomed. They make her laugh or share her sorrow. Serwë bounces between obliviousness that Esmenet is grieving to being devastated that Achamian is gone. Partly it’s her pregnancy causing mood sings, but it also makes Esmenet wonder if Serwë and Achamian were together more than that one night. It makes her bitter towards Serwë, which makes her feel guilty thinking Achamian would be disappointed in her. She can’t sleep remembering things she said to Serwë.

On her third night, she’s awoken by a crying Serwë and, feeling like a tired mother, hugs her. Serwë begs Esmenet not to steal Kellhus from her. She says Esmenet is so beautiful and smart. She can’t speak to him like Esmenet can. Esmenet protests that she loves Achamian and she has nothing to fear.

Esmenet had thought herself sincere, but afterward, as she nestled against Serwë’s slender back, she found herself exulting in the thought of Serwë’s fear. She curled the girl’s blond hair between her fingers, thinking of the way Serwë had swept it across Achamian’s chest… How easy, she thought, would it yank from her scalp?

Why did you lie with Akka? Why?

Guilt hits her the next morning, remembering a proverb: “Hatred was a rapacious houseguest, and lingered only in hearts fat with pride.” But her heart is thin. Esmenet watches Serwë sleep, so innocent and beautiful. She realizes that in sleep she saw Serwë’s true face. And her vulnerability. “The sleeping throat was easily cut,” according to a Nilnameshi proverb.

Was this not love? To be watched while you slept…

She was crying when Serwë awoke. She watched the girl blink, focus, and frown.

“Why?” Serwë asked.

Esmenet smiled. “Because you’re so beautiful,” she said. “So perfect.”

This makes Serwë happy and the pair start laughing and joking while Kellhus shakes his head “as perhaps a man should.” Now Esmenet treats Serwë nicer, their friendship deepening even as she wonders what Kellhus sees in Serwë. It had to be more than her great beauty because he saw “hearts, not skin.” And Serwë’s heart seems flawed.

But now Esmenet wondered whether these very flaws held the secret of her [Serwë’s] heart’s perfection. For she’d glimpsed that perfection while watching her sleep. For an instant, she’d glimpsed what only Kellhus could see. The beauty of frailty. The splendour of imperfection.

She had witnessed, she realized. Witnessed truth.

Kellhus acknowledges her insight without words. Later, he helps her with her reading. He gave her The Chronicle of the Tusk as a primer. Holding it filled her with dread. She could feel her own judgment. She told him she doesn’t want to read a book that condemns her and calls her filthy. He responds with “What does it say, Esmi.” So she struggles to read it.

That night, she falls asleep without crying for Achamian. She wakes up alert and too early, moonlight flooding through her open tent. Then she realizes Sarcellus is lying beside her. She is surprisingly calm, wondering how long he had been watching her. He asks her if she ever told Achamian and she says no. She asks what you want, which is her. He then tells her Kellhus is a fraud. At that moment, she realizes she meant nothing to Sarcellus, she was just a thing and not his lover. It hits her hard as fear grows in her. She orders him to leave. But he says he has gold. She says she’ll scream.

He clamps a hand over her mouth and places a knife at her throat. He warns her that just like Achamian has died, so to will the prophet. He asks whom she will bed next for food, calling her an old whore. Out of fear, she pisses herself, crying. He only mocks her for it.

Sarcellus smirked, removed his hand.

She shrieked, screamed until it seemed her throat must bleed.

Then Kellhus is holding her and takes her to the fire. She explains what happened while crying. The commotion dies down while Kellhus says he’ll complain to Gotian but doubts anything will happen. He was a Knight-Commander “and she was just a dead sorcerer’s whore.” Esmenet feels so week and pathetic, wondering how that happened, then gets angry at Achamian for leaving her.

In her tent, Kellhus promises Sarcellus won’t return. It’s here that she confesses that she lied to Akka about what happened to her in Sumna, how the Consult came to her and that she knew Inrau hadn’t killed him. And now she can’t tell him. Kellhus asks what this has to do with Sarcellus and she doesn’t know. Kellhus explains that she thought she loved Kellhus, even compared him to Achamian.

“I was a fool!” she cried. “A fool!” How could she be such a fool?

No man is your equal, love! No man!

“Achamian was weak,” Kellhus said.

“But I loved him for those weaknesses! Don’t you see? That’s why I loved him!”

I loved him in truth!

“And that’s why you could never go to him… To go to him while you shared Sarcellus’s bed would be to accuse him of those very weaknesses he couldn’t bear. So you stayed away, fooled yourself into thinking you searched for him when you were hiding all the while.”

She asks how he knows this. Because no matter how much she lies to herself, she knows the truth. It’s why she hid the truth from Achamian, because you feared he would hate you. She feels so dirty, and knowing Kellhus sees it feels her with shame. She tells him not to look at her. But he does and “it fills me with wonder.” Those words stilled her. He leaves her, but she can still feel his touch.

The next evening, Esmenet is reading from The Chronicle of the Tusk while Kellhus cooks in her place. She was reading the old “Tusk Laws,” many replaced by the Latter Prophet, when she comes across a difficult word. She sounds it out and realizes it is whore. “Suffer not a whore to live, for she maketh a pit of her womb.” Anger surges through her as she spits the verse at Kellhus.

Kellhus gazed back, utterly unsurprised.

He’s been waiting for me to reach this passage. All along…

Give me the book,” he said, his tone unreadable.

She does. And with his knife, he scraps away the ink of the passage. Esmenet is stunned, barely able to understand what he had done. Then he hands it back, asking if it were better “as though he’d just scraped mould from bread.” She can’t touch the book now, saying he couldn’t do that. It’s holy scripture. It’s the Tusk.

“I know. The warrant of your damnation.”

Esmenet gawked like a fool. “But…”

Kellhus scowled and shook his head, as though astonished she could be so dense.

“Just who, Esmi, do you think I am?”

Serwë chirped with laughter, even clapped her hands.

“Wh-who?” Esmenet stammered. It was the most she could manage. Other than in rare anger or jest, she’d never heard Kellhus speak with…with such presumption.

“Yes,” Kellhus repeated, “who?” His voice seemed satin thunder. He looked as eternal as a circle.

Then Esmenet glimpsed it: the shining gold about his hands… Without thinking, she rolled to her knees before him, pressed her face into the dust.

Serwë’s hiccups and Kellhus laughing draws her up and tells her it is time for dinner. But she is still shaken. She realizes that everything now comes from him. That he is everything, everywhere. A god. And then it hits her what he had done. He had freed her from damnation. He had redeemed her.

He scraped the passage clean!

Then she thought of Achamian.

Cnaiür is wondering through the alleys of Heppa haunted by the voices of his people accusing him of being a weeper. A faggot. A Galeoth spots him, saying he is the first disciple of the Warrior-Prophet. He doesn’t know who the man is talking about. Cnaiür has forgotten about the Dûnyain. Flashes of his seduction at Moënghus’s hands shake through him. He reminds himself he is of the people even while wondering how he ended up where he was. Memories assault him. He is a child running from his father’s hut holding something broken he tries to put back together.

Someone. He was forgetting to hate someone.

My Thoughts

In Achamian’s dream of the Great Ordeal, notice how Seswatha thinks Golgotterath is about to yield, the Consult’s defeat at hand. That same arrogance that the Inrithi felt after Anwurat and Mengedda.

The eighteen years of delusion was how long the Great Ordeal (the original, and not the one in the sequel series) besieged Golgotterath before the No-God was unleashed.

Sad quote about being abused from Esmenet. She suspects that Kellhus must have beaten her, for being wanton, implying that Kellhus must have found out that Serwë had seduced Achamian months back. There is no outrage from Esmenet, just acceptance.

We see Kellhus’s seduction of Esmenet begin. First by convincing her that he and Serwë are her family, too, and that she should be with them. Then he begins to undermine her hope in seeing Achamian alive, convincing her he is lost, dead, so she’ll let go of him. All under the guise of a comforting friend. But Kellhus needs her intelligence. He has plans forming, plans that go beyond killing his father.

Achamian, you could have really made her happy by teaching her to read.

Then we caught to Achamian’s interrogation. Brilliant transition from the torment of the Consult against Seswatha into what he knows he’ll face here. Of course he panics. Anyone would.

I do love how Bakker uses language to explain the differences in sorcery. The Angogic Sorcerers can’t just make something burn, they need to summon a flame first. But the Gnosis understand the essence of something, can conjure it in abstraction, and just immolate you. There’s an interesting analogy, poets versus philosopher. A poet seeks to describe emotions, to conjure its effects in his reader while the philosopher seeks to understand the very existence of the emotion, its essence.

We see our first indication that magic can be drawn to cause effect. I imagine an Uroborian Circle has some connection with the branch of sorcery that creates the Chorae, the Aporos.

I love Achamian testing the circle. It’s like, fuck it, might as well try. It’s going to suck. Let’s get it over with. Because, maybe, they didn’t do it right.

Oh, Eleäzaras. Maybe you should have cut your loses with Achamian and given him back to Proyas. Eight dead so far because of this mad plan of yours. But Eleäzaras is under a great deal of stress. He’s one of the most powerful men in the world, and we’re seeing him cracking under the weight of actions, gambling the very future of his school to get vengeance.

Chanv, the mysterious drug that lets you live longer, sharpens your intellect, and makes you infertile. Oh, and it kills hope. And no one knows where it comes from. My bet is the Consult created it. Killing hope is certainly a giveaway, and the infertile part. That’s how they destroyed the Nonmen.

The world looks south.” Another subtle nudging from Kellhus for Esmenet to forget Achamian. He’s to the north, across the river that is now a barrier to her.

Esmenet is a lot like Leweth from the first book prologues. He had retreated from the world to hold to the remembrance of his wife, to not let others change how he feels. Esmenet wanted the same, to hold onto Achamian. Now thanks to Kellhus’s help, she’s moving on. Of course, Achamian isn’t dead. There is still hope for him. It’s only been a few weeks after all.

So, what did Kellhus do or say that put such a fear in Serwë that Esmenet would steal Kellhus? Because it is this conversation that lays the foundation for the two women sharing Kellhus. The next step in his seduction. Remember, Kellhus will come at you wearing the face of your friend, your spouse, your enemy, or even a stranger.

Oh, Esmenet, everyone’s heart is flawed. You are all those things you think of with Serwë. You are vain about your appearance. You can be petulant and peevish, and you make dirty jokes with the best of them.

So Sarcellus was testing Esmenet, finding out how committed she was to Kellhus. Maybe she could be a spy. But she screamed, so he learned very committed considering he held a knife to her throat. She will not betray Kellhus. He thinks she did betray Achamian because she sold him out back in book 1. But Achamian told her to do that to protect herself.

Achamian cared about her.

She know is thinking about Achamian as dead. She no longer cries in grief before falling asleep. Now she’s moving into the anger stage of grief. She is moving on, guided by Kellhus. It’s tragic because we know Achamian, through the book he later writes about the holy war, isn’t dead.

Shame and fear can be such a destructive emotions when they keep you from trusting in the person you loved. And now Esmenet gets to have the guilt of never telling Achamian that Inrau didn’t kill himself. (Though she might later on, I can’t remember)

Suffer not a whore to live, for she maketh a pit of her womb.” The exact words the priest cried back in book 1 before Esmenet was stoned.

Telling someone they are not damned in a world where that is a very real thing is powerful. And here’s the real horribleness about the soteriology of Bakker’s world: there is no way to keep yourself from being damned for some people. Being a whore, damned. Being a sorcerer, damned. Being a murderer, damned. There is no chance to change it. Achamian can never change his own damnation. There is no redemption for him, for Esmenet. As we learn, even Serwë is damned when she dies. That sweet, innocent girl. Bakker’s religion draws on the Judeo-Christian tradition, but departs in it in some extreme ways when it comes to damnation.

So it is hard not to feel the joy Esmenet feels even knowing it is a lie. Because he is not a prophet. And she is not saved just because he declared it. Otherwise, Serwë wouldn’t have been damned when he died. And, as we learn in the sequel series thanks to the judging eye, that sorcerers are still damned.

Next, notice she thinks of Kellhus as an eternal circle. And then she can see the halos about his hand. At this moment, she truly believes he is a prophet to her core. The halos are manifestation of that eternal circle. I think this is a crucial clue to the mechanism that produces these halos in the world.

And now Cnaiür is having a complete mental breakdown. He must have some form of schizophrenia because he is having auditory and visual hallucinations. That final paragraph is interesting, Cnaiür as a boy fleeing from his father’s yaksh and his wrath. He has something broken. He tries to put them together. But it’s someone sad and beautiful. Is this Serwë? He wants to save her and can’t. And, of course, he’s forgetting his hatred of Moënghus. He’s completely lost right now, drowning in the scars of his past.

Click here for Chapter Seventeen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Seven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 7
Mengedda

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

Sleep, when deep enough, is indistinguishable from vigilance.

SORAINAS, THE BOOK OF CIRCLES AND SPIRALS

My Thoughts

Reading Bakker makes me think more than any other books I’ve read in years. And doing this reread only makes me work harder. Why did Bakker include this quote at the start of this chapter? We see the title is all about curving thoughts. Nothing straightforward, nothing linear. Sleep and vigilance would be two opposite ends of a line, but if everything moved in circles, eventually you would slip from one side to the other. We have Kellhus pondering if cause and effect works like this. That the future could bend and branch and spiral back to the beginning. That though cause and effect should also be on opposite sides of a line, they can instead circle each other if someone bends the line.

Early Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, near the Plains of Mengedda

The Synthese flew over the Battleplain in the wake of the Holy War’s victory over the Fanim. Dawn approaches as it flies across corpse-strewn fields. As the sun rises, it feels a nostalgic pull towards home out across the “black void.” It was hard not feeling nostalgic after being back in “the place where it had almost happened, where Men and Nonmen had almost flickered out forever.” It feels that it will happen soon.

It searches the dead of the battlefield, studying the patterns their corpses left, and sees symbols prized by his species “back when they could actually be called such.” The vermin called them Inchoroi. Finally, it finds the scent it was searching for an “otherworldly fetor” encoded in the skin-spies in case they died.

So Sarcellus was dead. Unfortunate.

At least the Holy War had prevailed—over the Cishaurim, no less!

Golgotterath would approve.

Smiling, or perhaps scowling, with tiny human lips, the Old Name swooped down to join the vultures in their ancient celebration.

Achamian dreams of the No-God’s defeat. He, as Seswatha, stares at the horizon boiling with Sranc. They gouge themselves blind as the whirlwind of the No-God roars through them. Like a tornado, it picks them up as debris. The Great King of Kyraneas clutches Seswatha, but his words are lost as a hundred thousand Sranc all speak, their throats “flaring like bright-burning coals packed into his skull.”

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

See? What could he…

I MUST KNOW WHAT YOU SEE

The great King turned from him [Seswatha], reached for the Heron Spear.

TELL ME

Secrets… Secrets! Not even the No-God could build walls against what was forgotten! Seswatha glimpsed the unholy Carapace shining in the whirlwind’s heart, a nimil sarcophagus sheathed in choric script, hanging…

WHAT AM—

Achamian woke with a howl, his hands cramped into claws before him, shaking.

Esmenet is beside him, trying to sooth him. She holds him as he shakes, telling him that she’s been thinking of Kellhus. He asks if she dreamed him, trying to tease her. But as he tries, the No-God’s words intrude on his thoughts like “a shrieking chorus, sharp and brief.” He apologizes, asks what she said. She tries to talk about how Kellhus speaks, but the memory of the No-God’s voice intrudes again. He’s distracted as she talks about Kellhus and his words to Saubon and realizes that Kellhus words are either “near or far.” He asks what she meant, his bladder full.

Esmenet laughed. “I’m not sure… Remember how I told you how he asked me what it was like to be a harlot—you know, to lie with strange men? When he talks that way, he seems near, uncomfortably near, until you realize how utterly honest and unassuming he is… At the time, I thought he was just another rutting dog—”

WHAT AM I?

The point, Esmi…”

There was an annoyed pause. “Other times, he seems breathtakingly far when he talks, like he stands on some remote mountain and can see everything, or almost everything…” She paused again, and from the length of it, Achamian knew he had bruised her feelings. He could feel her shrug. “The rest of us just talk in the middle somewhere, while he… And now this, seeing what happened yesterday before it happened. With each day—”

I CANNOT SEE

“—he seems to talk a little nearer and a little farther. It makes me—Akka? You’re trembling! Shaking!”

Achamian says he can’t stay here in this place. She hugs and tells him that the army will move away from the dead and the “chance of vapours.” Achamian struggles to hold onto his wits and asks where the army will move. She says something about ruins. He says that’s worse. He has to leave. He’s feeling echoes of the No-God’s death here. The ruins would be the city of Mengedda, where it actually happened. He thinks this place recognizes himself or Seswatha in him. He says they need to leave and wait in the hills for the others.

Five days after the battle, Kellhus muses on a Nilnameshi saying Achamian had told him: “With the accumulation of power comes mystery.” Achamian explained it meant the paradox of power. “The more security one exacted from the world, the more insecure it became.” Kellhus had dismissed it as a “vacant generalization.” Now he was having second thoughts.

The Holy War is whole again. This afternoon, the Nansur and Ainoni host had filed across the plains to join the others camped at the ruins of Mengedda. The first Council of the Great and Lesser Names since Momemn has been called and Kellhus chose to sit with the soldiers watching instead of with the Names.

He studies the soldiers, noticing the startling contrast between their faces. Some are wounded. Others had no injuries. Some are celebratory, and some are suffering from PTSD. “Victory on the Battleplain, it seemed, had carried its own uncanny toll.” People have been having terrible nightmares while camping here, claiming they were fighting in ancient wars and even fighting Sranc and dragons. At the ruins, the nightmares intensified. “It was as though the ground had hoarded the final moments of the doomed, and counted and recounted them each night on the ledger of the living.” Some, like Achamian, fled, others tried to stop sleeping, and one man was found dead. Then relics of past battles appeared “as though slowly vomited from the earth.” People insisted they were fresh, found in spots they had trod over and were no signs of before.

Kellhus had dreamed nothing. But he had seen the relics. Gotian explained to him about how the Battleplain was cursed after imbibing so much death over the millennia. But Gotian believes faith will protect them. Proyas and Gothyelk also suffer no dreams and wanted to stay. Saubon, despite having the nightmares, also wanted to stay for his own motivations.

Somehow, the very ground of battle had become their foe. Such contests, Xinemus had remarked one night about their fire, belonged to philosophers and priests, not warriors and harlots.

Such contest, Kellhus had thought, simply should not be…

Kellhus is beset with “questions, quandaries, and enigmas” once he learned how desperate the battle was and how kind fate had been to Saubon because he had punished the Shrial Knights. That charge saved the Norsirai host from destruction. And it had happened just as Kellhus had predicted. But he hadn’t made a prediction. He had said what was need to “maximize the probability” of Sarcellus dying.

It simply had to be coincidence. At least this was what he’d told himself—at first. Fate was but one more world-born subterfuge, another lie men used to give meaning to their abject helplessness. That was why they thought the future a Whore, something who favored no man over another. Something heartbreakingly indifferent.

What came before determined what came after… This was the basis of the Probability Trance. This was the principle that made mastering circumstance, be it with word or sword, possible. This was what made him Dûnyain.

One of the Conditioned.

But the fact the earth spat out bones makes Kellhus question cause and effect. The ground appeared to answer the “tribulation of men.” And if the earth wasn’t indifferent, what about the future? Kellhus questions if an effect could determine the cause. Could the future violate cause and effect? Could he be the harbinger?

Is this why you’ve summoned me, Father? To save these children?

Kellhus pushes his thoughts on “primary questions” aside. He had more immediate problems to deal with. Such questions will have to wait until he sees his father. He wonders why Moënghus hasn’t contacted him. He concentrates on the council and though he doesn’t sit with them, he knows he has a position among them by the fact they all keep glancing at him. He could read all their faces, giving brief insight into various persons sitting at the council. Of note is General Martemus, Conphas’s confidant and second-in-command, whom has heard of Kellhus but has too many pressing concerns to care about a prophet.

A steady fixed look from among Gotian’s diminished retinue…

Sarcellus.

One of what seemed a growing number of inscrutable faces. Skin-spies, Achamian had called them.

Why did he stare? Because of the rumors, like the others? Because of the horrific toll his words had exacted on the Shrial Knights? Gotian, Kellhus knew, struggled not to hate him…

Or did he know that Kellhus could see him and tried to kill him?

Kellhus matches Sarcellus’s gaze. Kellhus has grown better at understanding their physiognomy, seeing their faces made of fingers. He had found eleven so far, and expected there to be more. He nods to Sarcellus who keeps watching. Kellhus is certain the Consult suspects him.

Then Earl Athjeari arrives, summoning Kellhus to see Prince Saubon after the meeting. Kellhus knows that Saubon’s growing more anguished and fearful. He had avoided Kellhus for six nights. Something had happened during the fight that disturbed him. Kellhus sees an opportunity.

The council opens with a religious ritual and sermon from Gotian, preaching on the Inrithi’s duty to follow Inri Sejenus to Shimeh. His sermon brings triumphant cheers from the Men of the Tusk. Kellhus is silent, studying Sarcellus, noticing small discrepancies in his features. The Men of the Tusk begin singing a hymn.

Words uttered through a thousand human throats. The air thrummed with an impossible resonance. The ground itself spoke, or so it seemed… But Kellhus saw only Sarcellus—saw only differences. His stance, his height and build, even the lustre of his black hair. All imperceptibly different.

A replacement.

The original copy had been killed, Kellhus realized, just as he’d hoped. The position of Sarcellus, however, had not. His death had gone unwitnessed, and they’d simply replaced him.

Strange that a man could be a position.

After the rite, the Gilgallic Priests appear to declare the Battle-Celebrant, “the man whom dread War had chosen as his vessel.” It is a matter of a great deal of betting to predict who would get it as though “it were a lottery rather than a divine determination.” But before Cumar, High Cultist Priest of Gilgaöl, Prince Skaiyelt demands they must discuss leaving. To flee. An outrage burst out but is quieted with Skaiyelt uncovers an ancient skull. Kellhus wonders how this could be possible. He pushes that aside, he has to stay focused on “practical mysteries.” A debate is held, some look to Kellhus, then Proyas announce the Holy War would leave Mengedda tomorrow morning. The soldiers are relieved.

Then Saubon is declared the Battle-Celebrant, though he protests saying it should go to Gotian for leading the charge. Silence falls as Saubon is crowned with a circlet of thorns and olive sprigs. People cheer and Saubon is stunned, then looks at Kellhus while crying.

Why? his anguished look said. I don’t deserve this…

Kellhus smiled sadly, and bowed to the precise degree jnan demanded from all men in the presence of a Battle-Celebrant. He’d more than mastered their brute customs by now; he’d learned the subtle flourishes that transformed the seemly into the august. He knew their every cue.

The roaring redoubled. They’d all witnessed their exchanged look; they’d all heard the story of Saubon’s pilgrimage to Kellhus at the ruined shrine.

It happens, Father. It happens.

Conphas calls everyone a fool for praising Saubon since his decision to march almost doomed the Holy War. He reminds everyone that those who die here never leave. Saubon is dumbstruck. And then Cnaiür walks out calling Conphas craven for seeing folly everywhere, equating prudence with cowardice. Kellhus is surprised that Cnaiür had seen the danger of Conphas’s words. A discredited Saubon would be useless. Conphas’s laugh~s at being called a coward.

Since defeating the People,” the Scylvendi continued, “much glory has been heaped upon your name. Because of this, you begrudge others that same glory. The valour and wisdom of Coithus Saubon have defeated Skauras—no mean thing, if what you said at your Emperor’s knee was to be believed. But since this glory is not yours, you think it false. You call it foolishness, blind lu—”

It was blind luck!” Conphas cried. “The Gods favour the drunk and the soft-of-head… That’s the only lesson we’ve learned.”

Cnaiür uses his answer to praise the Holy War for learning how to fight the Fanim and the tactics that work well against them, like charges by Inrithi knights, or that their footman can withstand Fanim charges. This brings cheers from the crowds. Conphas stands stunned, realizing he was so easily defeated by the barbarian. Kellhus recounts the problems with dominating Conphas—the man’s pride, his “pathological” disregard of other peoples opinions, and he believed Kellhus connected to the Cishaurim. Kellhus is aware that Conphas plans disaster for the Holy War.

Proyas wants the Holy War to send riders to seize the fields around the city of Hinnereth to keep the Fanim could harvest them and bring them into the field. Conphas argues that the Imperial Fleet can keep the Holy War provisioned. The other Great names decide not to rely on the Empire and agree to seize the grains. Then it turns to the Ainoni and their slow marches. But Proyas supports the Ainoni and says the Holy War needs to travel as separate contingents. But not even Cnaiür’s support stopped the fighting. The arguments go on while the soldiers get more and more drunk on looted wines. Kellhus continues his study of Sarcellus. And Kellhus realizes the Consult know he can see their skin-spies.

I must move more quickly, Father.

The Nilnameshi had it wrong. Mysteries could be killed, if one possessed the power.

Conphas lounges in his pavilion plotting ways to kill Cnaiür with Martemus, how said little. Conphas knows his general secretly admires Cnaiür, but it doesn’t bother Conphas. He knows he has Martemus’s loyalty.

And so, feeling magnanimous, he decided to open a little door and allow Martemus—easily the most competent and trustworthy of his generals—into some rather large halls. In the coming months, he would need confidants. All Emperors needed confidants.

But of course, prudence demanded certain assurances. Though Martemus was loyal by nature, loyalties were, as the Ainoni were fond of saying, like wives. One must always know where they lie—and without absolute certainty.

Conphas asks Martemus if he ever stared at “the Concubine,” the nickname for the Over-Standard. so named because it has to say in the Exalt-General’s quarters. Conphas liked that, and had even ejaculated on it, which he found to be delicious defiling the sacred. Martemus answers yes, he stares at it often. Then Conphas asks if he’s seen the tusk. Another yes, which surprise Conphas. It was back when Martemus was a boy. Conphas asks what he thought. Martemus thinks awe. It was a long time ago. Conphas asks Martemus if had to choose between dying for the Concubine or the Tusk, which would he pick? He doesn’t hesitate: the concubine.

And why’s that?”

Again the General shrugged. “Habit.”

Conphas fairly howled. Now that was funny. Habit. What more assurance could a man desire?

Dear man! Precious man!

Conphas asks Martemus’s opinion of Kellhus. “Intelligent, well spoken, and utterly impoverished.” Conphas hesitates in telling his plans, but remembers that Martemus cares about impressing him. Which made his opinion priceless. He confides that Skeaös was a Cishaurim spy and that he is connected to Kellhus. Martemus is shocked and Conphas further explains about his skin-spy nature, believing it is caused by Cishaurim sorcery. Martemus wants to know what Conphas has learned of Kellhus’s movements, associations, etc. Conphas tells what he knows, which isn’t much, though finds it disturbing that he’s with Achamian, who was also present at Skeaös’s unveiling.

Martemus doesn’t like a man of such growing power with a connection to the Cishaurim in the Holy War. Conphas thinks his purpose is to destroy the Holy War and that Saubon’s march was an attempt that failed. He plays the prophet to lead the holy war to its doom. But Martemus has heard Kellhus denies being a prophet.

Conphas laughed. “Is there any better way to posture as a prophet? People don’t like the smell of presumption, Martemus. Even the pig castes have noses as keen as wolves when it comes to those who claim to be more. Me,on the other hand, I quite like the savoury stink of gall. I find it honest.”

Martemus asks why Conphas is telling him all this. Conphas believes that Prince Kellhus collects followers, like Saubon, and expects Martemus to be a juicy plum. Martemus is to play disciple. The general asks why not just kill him. Conphas is disappointed in Martemus, who while intelligent isn’t cunning. He is reminded of his time as a hostage in Skauras’s court and remarks that he feels so young.

My Thoughts

The Synthese feels nostalgic for its home planet, out there in the void. Achamian talked to Esmenet about this a few chapters ago, explaining space and stars to her, and how the Inchoroi came from space and crashed here. Now the Synthese, one of the last surviving Inchoroi, wishes to go home.

Soon enough.” Here is confirmation that the no-god’s birth must be approaching. That the Synthese believes the Second apocalypse is coming soon (in the scale of a being millennia old, it’s not happening next week). It’s not a coincidence that an Anasûrimbor has returned.

Inchoroi minds also have pareidolia, the phenomenon that allow us humans to see patterns in chaos, like shapes in clouds. This is something the Nonmen appear to lack. They have difficulty with abstract images as we learn in the sequel series when we delve into Nonmen a lot more.

We also get our first confirmation that the Consult wants the Holy War to defeat the Fanim. And not just the Fanim, but the Cishaurim. We had inferred this from the behavior of the skin-spy posing as Skeaös, Emperor Xerius’s court. Now we have confirmation. The Consult wants the Cishaurim destroyed for a very important reason.

The image of the Sranc clawing out their eyes as the No-God asks what they see. This question “What do you see?” is at the heart of the No-God’s purpose. I believe the No-God is asking a woman with the Judging Eye what she sees. He can’t see what she can. We won’t learn anything about the Judging Eye in this series, but it allows certain people to see if a person is damned. I think that’s what is going on. The No-God’s purpose is to end the cycle of souls and shut out the Outside and the Cycle of Damnation. So it has to know what the woman with the Judging Eye sees. Bakker has this series plotted out well. The Unholy Consult cannot come out fast enough.

WHAT AM I? Am I damned?

And this is what the Consult seeks to do. Why the Inchoroi came to his world. To escape damnation. If you knew you were doomed to suffer an eternity of torment and there was nothing you could do to change it save committing genocide, would you have the courage to face that fate instead of making the choice the Consult has?

Achamian wakes up, hands twisted into claws. What was he about to do? Claw out his own eyes?

Esmenet’s insight is on display here as she talks about Kellhus. She recognizes how he use language, though she doesn’t realize how manipulative it is switching from the remote to the intimate.

We see in Achamian how time echoes in the topoi of the Battleplain. It’s like a singularity, warping reality around it, pulling things towards the center. Souls who die here are said not to escape. And even those who leave might never truly get away (anyone who’s read The Great Ordeal will know what I speak of). Past and present are bleeding together for Achamian. Poor guy.

The nightmares are an interesting way for Bakker to both show you the effect of time warping the topoi has on reality here but also to showcase the history of the place. We get a glimpse of the various struggles here. Note the stirrup-less Scylvendi from the past. The stirrup revolutionized cavalry warfare. It allowed for heavy lance charges and better horse archery. Stirrups give you a platform to stand on, allowing you to use your body’s weight better in conjunction with the horse.

Kellhus is once again confronted by violations of causality and other strange phenomenon at the Battleplain. His Dûnyain training has not prepared him for a reality where a place could be a topoi or the chain of cause and effect could be twisted. Now he has to deal with this new reality, understand it, and adapt the Logos to it. If he can.

I believe when Kellhus begins wondering if his father summoned him to save these people is the start of his mental break. He doesn’t seem broken to us, but this is the start of the madness that severs him from being a true Dûnyain as we learn in climax of the third book. It starts this early, before even the Circumfix because he is questioning cause and effect, the very foundation of the Logos and Dûnyain philosophy.

Interesting how Kellhus sees tackling a mystery as interrogating it. Interrogation is the most forceful form of questioning. It implies an antagonistic stance, that the subject is resisting giving answers.

I winced at the slaves burning scrolls to feed the bonfire for the Council of Great and Lesser Names. They were pulled from the ruins, so I wonder what knowledge was just lost?

So a new skin-spy has replaced Sarcellus and Kellhus. The Synthese scoured the Battleplain not only to locate Sarcellus’s corpse and ensure it wasn’t discovered, but this also allowed the position of Sarcellus to remain alive so they could simply replace him with another of their creations. (Also, it is implied the Synthese ate Sarcellus.)

Kellhus sees an opportunity in Saubon’s pain. I love Kellhus’s POV’s. I would be interested in having someone read this series without ever once getting one of Kellhus’s POV’s (or Cnaiür). Just to see how they would react to Khellus. He’s so charismatic and warm from others perspectives. And then you get his and its all cold calculation.

Kellhus is one step closer to his plan to fake being a prophet. His gamble has paid off even better than he expected. So much so it is shaken him, as much as a Dûnyain can be shaken. We see thoughts of the supernatural keep intruding on him when he should be focused on more “practical mysteries.”

Love the play between Cnaiür and Conphas. Even Kellhus can underestimate people. An important thing to remember. Conphas makes a great foil to Kellhus. A man so narcissistic that he is immune to Kellhus’s greatest weapon to chain people—shame, guilt, inadequacies. If Kellhus had only Conphas to deal with, he could find the shortest path, but with all the others, Conphas will remain out of reach. Even mocked by all the Holy War, Conphas felt no shame or embarrassment.

Martemus… Got to like a guy who says he would die for his country over his faith because it would be out of habit. Conphas really likes the guy. He’s as close to a friend as Conphas can have.

Martemus’s first questions to Conphas upon learning of Kellhus supposed connection to the Cishaurim is for more information. Intelligence. Who are his allies? Where can he be found? Etc. Great character writing from Bakker. Martemus doesn’t question the justifications behind the war against Kellhus, he just wants the information he would need to fight it, trusting Conphas to have answered those questions already.

Conphas guesses the heart of Kellhus’s plan, if not the motivations behind it. He’s smart enough to recognize that Kellhus is posing as a prophet for gain, but his ego keeps him from examining his own assumptions—that Skeaös was a Cishaurim spy. After all, Skeaös argued against sabotaging the Holy War and allowing the Fanim to survive. If he truly were a Cishaurim spy, wouldn’t he support the Emperor’s plan to sabotage the Holy War? But Conphas has made his decision, and he won’t even consider if he’s wrong. Arrogance and intelligence are dangerous combinations. They often think they are wise, but mistake certainty for truth.

I had to ponder that last line of this chapter. Why would Conphas, a man who is quite young, say he feels young. Because his plotting against Kellhus, this dangerous life-or-death struggle of politics for the control of the Holy War, reminds him of being in Skauras’s court as a hostage. Hence why he felt so young. He’s excited. He has an opponent that will be a challenge to defeat and a victory that will be so sweet.

Conphas plots and schemes. The Consult plots and schemes. Kellhus’s plots and schemes. All three of these storylines, happening in the background for the other characters, will drive The Warrior Prophet to its climax at the Circumfix.

Click here to continue onto Chapter 8!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Two

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The Sorcerer
Chapter 2
Atyersus

Welcome to Chapter Two of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter One!

I write to inform you that during my most recent audience, the Nansur Emperor, quite without provocation, publicly addressed me as “fool.” You are, no doubt, unmoved by this. It has become a common occurrence. The Consult eludes us now more then ever. We hear them only in the secrets of others. We glimpse them only through the eyes of those who deny their very existence. Why should we not be called fools? The deeper the Consult secretes itself among the Great Factions, the madder our rantings sound to their ears. We are, as the damned Nansur would say, “a hunter in the thicket”— who, by the very act of hunting, extinguishes all hope of running down his prey.

—Anonymous Mandate Schoolman, Letter to Atyersus

My Thoughts

This reminds of a quote from the Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” Apparently the consult saw that movie. If it wasn’t for our expectations of fiction, and Fantasy in general, we know the consult is out there. Of course, we had something very strange in chapter one happen with the abomination. Perhaps we are glimpsing why the Consult has eluded the Mandate for so long.

Late Winter, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Atyersus

Achamian stands before the Quorum, the ruling council of the Mandate. The Quorum studies Achamian for a long while before Nautzera, a member of the Quorum, speaks. Nautzera explains that since Maithanet has become the Shriah (Pope) to the Thousand Temples, he has stirred something up and cannot be ignored. All of the Cults support him without the usual political machinations.

“But surely we’ve seen his kind before,” Achamian ventured. “Zealots holding out redemption in one hand to draw attention away from the whip in the other. Sooner or later, everyone sees the whip.”

Nautzera disagrees. Maithanet moves faster and with more cunning. He uncovered two assassination plots and exposed agents of the Emperor. Achamian finally understands why he was summoned. Maithanet is rocking the boat, or as the Nroni put it “pissed in the whiskey.” Nautzera then tells Achamian there is to be a holy war. Achamian asks if it is against the Fanim. However, in the history of the Three Seas there had been only two other holy wars, both against the Schools (like the Mandate). These wars were known as the Scholastic Wars and were costly to both sides. Nautzera says the Cultic Priests are again calling sorcerers Unclean.

Unclean. The Chronicle of the Tusk, held by the Thousand Temples to be the very word of the God, had named them thus—those Few with the learning and the innate ability to work sorcery. “Cut from them their tongues,” the holy wards said, “for their blasphemy is an abomination like no other …” Achamian’s father—who, like many Nroni, had despised the tyranny exercised by Atyersus over Nron—had beaten this belief into him. Faith may die, but her sentiments remain eternal.

Simas, Achamian’s mentor and friend, explains that a holy war against the Fanim is doomed to failure. Kian, the only Fanim nation, also possess the Cishaurim. The Thousand Temples and Inrithi allies could field ten thousand soldiers equipped with Chorae, making them immune to sorcery. Chorae are the only check on the power of the Schools and the sorcery. Achamian points out those Chorae are equally effective against the Cishaurim. Simas, however, disagrees.

“Because between those men and the Cishaurim would stand all the armed might of Kian. The Cishaurim are not a School, old friend. They don’t stand apart, as we do, from the faith and the people of their nations. While the Holy War struggled to overcome the heathen Grandees of Kian, the Cishaurim would rain ruin upon them.” Simas lowered his chin as though testing his beard against his breastbone. “Do you see?”

Achamian, like all Mandate, remembers the dreams of the Fords of Tywanrae where the Consult used sorcery to annihilate their enemies. Nautzera comments that Maithanet is not an idiot and will know he cannot win a war against the Fanim. Achamian asks why he was recalled. The Quorum need Achamian to travel to Sumna and find out the target of the Holy War. Achamian lies and says he no longer has any contacts in Sumna, though his thoughts turn briefly to Esmenet, a whore he knew and one other.

Several years ago, Achamian had a student named Inrau who he was training to be a Mandate Sorcerer. However, Inrau was to innocent to survive becoming a Mandate and wanted to be a Shrial Priest. He had, however, learned to much to be allowed to leave. Achamian loved his student, however, and faked his death and allowed Inrau to leave. Achamian only confided in Simas about his betrayal. Nautzera reveals that he knows of Inrau’s defection and that he is a Shrial Priest in Sumna. Achamian is stunned by Simas’s betrayal.

Nautzera wants Achamian to turn Inrau into a spy for the Mandate against the Thousand Temples. Achamian refuses, believing it would be to much for Inrau to handle. Nautzera accuses Achamian of sedition. Nautzera points out that the Consult may be behind Maithanet and that the life of Inrau would be worth it to find out. Achamian concedes the point only if the Consult really has returned.

“Ah, yes. I’d forgotten that you numbered yourself among the skeptics. What is it you say? That we pursue ghost.” He [Nautzera] held the word in his mouth, as though it were a morsel of questionable food. “I guess, then, you would say that a possibility, that we’re witnessing the first signs of the No-God’s return, is outweighed by an actuality, the life of a defector—that rolling the dice of apocalypse is worth the pulse of a fool.”

Achamian is prepared to face Sanction for allowing Inrau to defect. Nautzera continues his rant against the skeptics, reminding Achamian that the Mandate are not the other schools. While they spy and perform political machinations, it is to support their war against the Consult not to increase the Mandate’s power. “You [Achamian] confuse us with the whores.”

Simas steps in, and points out the Dreams have become more intense. What better vehicle for the Consult to seize power then through the Thousand Temples? Use it to destroy the Mandate through a Holy War. Achamian is wracked with doubts. Nautzera points out that Inrau may understand the stakes. That it would be possible to convince him without using Cants to compel him. Finally, Nautzera says if Achamian won’t go, another less sentimental Mandate spy would be sent.

Later, Achamian stands on the battlements of Atyersus and looks out at the sea and broods on the meeting. The Quorum meeting went on longer after Achamian agreed to the mission. Nautzera continued to berate Achamian, asking if Achamian forgot that the Old Names still resided in Golgotterath. Achamian wanders if the concerns of the present crowded out the portents of the past. Nautzera, on the other hand, dwelt in the horrors of the past and the threat of the future. The present was a mere formality.

And why not? The anguish of the Old Wars was beyond description. Almost all the great cities of the Ancient North had fallen to the No-God and his Consult. The Great Library of Sauglish ransacked. Trysë, the holy Mother-of-Cities, plundered of life. The Towers of Myclai pulled down. Dagliash, Kelmeol … Entire nations put to the sword.

To Nautzera, Maithanet was signification because he might be the start of the Second Apocalypse. Achamian is troubled by the idea the Shriah could be an agent for the Consult and lead a Holy War against the Schools.

Achamian reflects on his relationship with Inrau. Inrau had reminded Achamian of the first student he loved, Nersei Proyas. However, Proyas had grown proud with the knowledge that he would become King someday. Inrau, however, remained Inrau. Achamian loved Inrau because he was good. Inrau was open like a child or a fool, possessing an innocence of wisdom instead of ignorance. Inrau saw beauty in all things and forgave men their blemishes.

Achamian was dismayed and relieved when Inrau chose to abandon the Mandate. Achamian knew the Mandate would eventually destroy his innocence. Achamian remembered the night he touched Seswatha’s Heart and his world was transformed by the tragedy of history.

How could such innocence, any innocence, survive the terror of Seswatha’s Dreams? How could one find solace in mere sunlight, when the threat of the No-God loomed across every horizon? Beauty was denied victims of the Apocalypse.

Achamian considered securing Inrau’s escape the only good act he did in his life. Achamian wanders how long the Quorum knew of his betrayal and if Simas had truly betrayed him. Nautzera message to Achamian was plain, Inrau was a defector and deserved to die. Inrau knew enough of the Gnosis for another School to capture and torture him, eventually discovering the secrets. Then the Mandate would then be condemned to being a Minor School.

Had he done the right thing? Or had he simply made a wager?

Was the pulse of a good man worth rolling the dice of Apocalypse?

Nautzera had argued no, and Achamian had agreed.

The Dreams. What had happened could not happen again. This world mus not die. A thousand innocents—a thousand thousand!—were not worth the possibility of a Second Apocalypse. Achamian had agreed with Nautzera. He would betray Inrau for the reason innocents are always betrayed: fear.

Achamian reflects on how long it had been since he had been to Sumna. Five or more years, and wonders if Esmenet still lived. She always eased his heart. And to see Inrau, to warn him of his failure. Achamian yearned to see those two people he loved again and longs to be just a man.

Later, Nautzera watches Achamian leave Atyersus on ship from the battlements. Nautzera sees storm clouds in the distant and knows it will be a rough voyage to Sumna. But he knew Achamian would survive thanks to the Gnosis. Nautzera heads back inside and goes to the library were he finds Simas reading by lantern light. Nautzera is jealous that Simas eyesight hasn’t failed him in old age. Nautzera, like others his age, needs an acolyte to read for him these days.

Nautzera confronts Simas, saying they should have told Achamian they already know who Maithanet has called the faithful to war against. Nautzera knows the deception as necessary to motivate Achamian to betray his student, but it doesn’t sit well with Nautzera. Simas disagrees, saying the Consult has taught him that ignorance is a powerful tool. Nautzera counters that knowledge is more powerful. Achamian may run into trouble because he will not be alert. Simas is dismissive, saying Achamian will be careful at the heart of the Thousand Temples.

Simas then asks Nautzera if he has heard the new report. Simas had an uncanny ability to read what troubled Nautzera. Nautzera answered that Parthelsus’s primary informant in Tydonni vanished. Someone is hunting Mandate agents. Simas thinks its the Consult. Nautzera says it could be the Scarlet Spires or the Thousand Temples. Nautzera thinks Achamian should be warned.

Simas points out that their enemy is to timid or canny to strike directly at them. Achamian befriends his agents. He is weak. If he knew that Atyersus has been infiltrated and his contacts may be hunted, he would hesitate. Nautzera agrees that Achamian is weak, but it is Mandate policy to give autonomy to field agents, to trust their judgment. It doesn’t sit well with Nautzera denying Achamian knowledge that could save his life.

Simas answers that they have struck the right balance of with Achamian and points out he was right that Inrau’s defection would be useful. Simas asks Nautzera to trust him and says they have arduous tasks. Despite the Dreams, a Mandate Schoolman had turned traitor.

My Thoughts

Achamian doubts of his abilities are revealed through how self-conscience he is of his appearance. Because of the hardships of travel he has the appearance of a lowborn laborer instead of a noble sorcerer.

Unlike the Scarlet Spire which are ruled by a Grandmaster, the Mandate have a Quorum of presumably elder Schoolman. This gives a more democratic feel to the Mandate. Achamian stands up to the Quorum and only risks censure for his crime of allowing Inrau to defect, but not for objecting against the leadership.

Achamian loyalty to Inrau, his student, is one of Achamian’s best trait. Being a teacher is what Achamian is best suited for, he loves it. The Quorum uses Achamian’s love to compel him to turn Inrau to a spy is a low blow on their part.

The shadow of the Apocalypse covers everything the Mandate do. Like all fanatics, they will do reprehensible acts for the greater good. Achamian yearning to be just a man is understandable with the looming mission of turning innocent Inrau to spy on his own religion.

The scene between Nautzera and Simas is interesting. During the Quorum scene Simas is presented as Achamian’s ally and friend, Nautzera as the enemy. Yet all the decisions to lie to Achamian about his mission, to warn him that someone is murdering their informant, come from Simas. Despite his dislike of Achamian, Nautzera doesn’t want him going into a serpent’s nest unprepared. However, Simas reasoning appears sound, but there is something sinister about the old man. Maybe the fact that his caring routine is just subterfuge. Nautzera puts it as “the man [Simas] was as shrewd as he is devoid of sentiment.”

Also, interesting that Simas eyesight has not diminished with age.

This chapter does a great job setting up Achamian’s arc for the book. We saw in the last chapter the abomination killing Achamian’s newest recruit. And now we learn this is going on everywhere. The Consult, or another faction, has dangerous servants working for them. Something supernatural. And they war with the Mandate. Worse, they have a spy. Someone is feeding them information. Someone on the Quorum of which we only met two—Simas and Nautzera. And we had a POV from Nautzera.

It’s suspicious from a literary position. It is always possible an unnamed traitor is responsible or the Consult has another way of divining the Mandate’s agents. Until then, I would keep my eye on Simas.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Three!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter One

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The Sorcerer
Chapter 1
Carythusal

Welcome to Chapter One of my reread. Click here if you missed the Prologue!

There are three, and only three, kinds of men in the world: cynics, fanatics and Mandate Schoolmen.

—Ontillas, On the Folly of Men

The author has often observed that in the genesis of great events, men generally posses no inkling of what their actions portend. This problem is not, as one might suppose, a result of men’s blindness to the consequences of their actions. Rather it is a result of the mad way the dreadful turns on the trivial when the ends of one man cross the ends of another. The Schoolmen of the Scarlet Spires have an old saying: “When one man chases a hare, he finds a hare. But when many men chase a hare, they find a dragon.” In the prosecution of competing human interests, the result is always unknown, and all too often terrifying.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

Thoughts

Cynicism and fanaticism are opposite sides of the coin of belief. Mandate Schoolmen straddle both sides. Fanatical in their belief of the consult. Because the greater Three Seas ridicule them and their mission, cynicism has set in. Like the old saying that every cynic is a disillusion romantic.

History is full of examples of the consequences of actions. The assassination of Duke Ferdinand set off WWI. The Serbian separatist that assassinated him just wanted independence from Austria. WWI ended the German Empire (the Second Reich), caused the downfall of the Romanovs, and the rise of the Soviet Union. I absolutely love the quote from the Scarlet Spire (who were about to meet in the story). Humans by themselves can be rational and intelligent, but in groups we feed upon each other, echoing each others thoughts. Groupthink can be a dangerous beast.

Midwinter, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Carythusal

We are introduced to Drusas Achamian: Mandate Schoolman (sorcerer) and spy. He is in the city of Carythusal, capital of High Ainon, and home of the rival sorcerer school, the Scarlet Spires. In a tavern in Carythusal, he is slowly recruiting Geshruuni, Captain of the Javreh. The Javreh are the warrior-slaves of the Scarlet Spire. Out of the blue, Geshruuni states he knows Achamian is a spy.

Achamian tries to bluff Geshruuni but his momentary hesitation when he is called a Schoolman betrays him. Geshruuni speculates on what School had sent Achamian. The Imperial Saik, the Mysunai, or the Mandate. Geshruuni wagers of Achamian of being a Mandate. Achamian, now terrified of being caught by the Scarlet Spire, prepares to unleash his sorcery, not caring of the consequences. Geshruuni reaches into his tunic and Achamian realizes it is too late to use sorcery. Geshruuni produces his Chorae. All sorcerer’s could feel a Chorae’s unnatural presence, and Achamian had used Geshruuni’s to identify him as the Javreh Captain.

Chorae. Schoolmen called them Trinkets. Small names are often given to horrifying things. But for other men, those who followed the Thousand Temples in condemning sorcery as blasphemy, they were called Tears of God. But the God had no hand in their manufacture. Chorae were relics of the Ancient North, so valuable that only the marriage of heirs, murder, or the tribute of entire nations could purchase them. They were worth the price: Chorae rendered their bearers immune to sorcery and killed any sorcerer unfortunate enough to touch them.

Geshruuni grabs Achamian’s hand and holds the Chorae over it. Geshruuni calls the Scarlet Spires as ruthless and cruel to their enemies and servants alike. Achamian asks what Geshruuni wants and he answers “What all men want, Akka. Truth.”

Death poised between the callused fingers of a slave. But Achamian was a Schoolman, and for Schoolmen nothing, not even life itself, was as precious as the Truth. They were its miserly keepers, and they warred for its possession across all the shadowy grottoes of the three Seas. Better to die than to yield Mandate truth to the Scarlet Spires.

Achamian sees no Schoolmen in the crowd. Sorcerers can see other sorcerer’s by the bruise of their crimes against reality. Realizing Geshruuni is playing his own game, Achamian confesses to being a spy for the Mandate School. Geshruuni releases Achamian and agrees to spy for the Mandate against his masters.

Achamian muses on being a spy. As the son of a poor Nroni fisherman he never even knew the word spy. As a youth he was identified as one of the Few (a sorcerer) and taken to Atyersus by the Mandate School for training. Chosen as one of their spies, Achamian has crisscrossed the Three Seas and seen many things. Far away places were no longer exotic to Achamian. Nobles, Emperor and Kings seemed as base as lesser men. He had educated princes, insulted grandmasters, and infuriated Shrial priests. Now in his middle years, Achamian has grown weary of being a spy and sorcerer.

Achamian is perplex and dismayed by his meeting with Geshruuni instead of feeling elated at recruiting such a well-placed spy. Geshruuni, motivated by vengeance, told him potent secrets of the Scarlet Spires. Geshruuni penetrated Achamian’s disguise because he was to free with his money, unlike the merchant Achamian pretended to be.

Achamian is alarmed to find out the Scarlet Spire has been at war. The schools skirmished with spies, assassinations, and diplomacy all the time. However, this war was different. Ten years ago, Grandmaster Sasheoka was assassinated in the inner sanctums of the Scarlet Spire. Despite possessing the Abstraction of the Gnosis, the most powerful school of sorcery, the Mandate School could not have succeed at the task. Geshruuni reveals the Cishaurim, the heathen school of the Fanim, were responsible.

There was a saying common to the Three Seas: “Only the Few can see the Few.” Sorcery was violent. To speak it was tot cut the world as surely as if with a knife. But only the Few—sorcerers–could see this mutilation, and only they could see, moreover, the blood on the hands of the mutilator-the “mark,” as it was called.

Not so with the Cishaurim. No one knew why or how, but they worked events as grand and as devastating as any sorcery without marking the world or bearing the mark of their crimes.

Unable to see the Cishaurim as one of the few, they would easily be able to enter the Scarlet Spire. Now hounds trained to smell the dye of Cishaurim robes patrol the halls. Achamian is confused what would possess the Cishaurim to declare war on the largest, most powerful School. Geshruuni can only shrug. No one knows.

Geshruuni questions his decision to betray the Scarlet Spire as we walks home. He finds gossiping like a woman did not satisfy his desire for revenge. He laments his status as a slave and wishes he could be a conqueror. Despite being drunk, Geshruuni realizes he is being followed and beings plotting “scenario after bloody scenario” for the presumed thief.

Geshruuni ambushes his stalker, and is surprised to see a fat man from the tavern and not a footpad. Thinking it is a Scarlet Spire Schoolman, Geshruuni throws his Chorae to kill the man. The man catches the Chorae and doesn’t die. The fat man reveals he was following Achamian and berates Geshruuni, repeatedly calling him slave and ordering him to heel like a dog. Geshruuni grabs the man and pulls a knife, threatening to kill him. The next thing Geshruuni knows is pain in his arm and he drops the knife. Geshruuni goes for his sword and the fat man slaps him hard. The fat man continues slapping and berating Geshruuni, his voice sounding more and more inhuman. Finally, Geshruuni is struck so hard he falls to his knees.

“What are you?” Geshruuni cried through bloodied lips.

As the shadow of the of the fat man encompassed him, Geshruuni watched his round face loosen, then flex as tight as a beggar’s hand about copper. Sorcery. But how could it be? He holds a Chorae—

“Something impossibly ancient,” the abomination said softly. “Inconceivably beautiful.”

After meeting with Geshruuni, Achamian returned to the hovel he stayed at, went to bed and dreamed. Every night, Mandate Schoolmen dream scenes from the life of Seswatha. Seswatha fought the No-God during the Apocalypse and founded that last Gnostic School, the Mandate. In the dream, part of Achamian knows he witnesses events 2000 yeas old, but part of him was Seswatha. The Mandate call this particular dream the Death and Prophecy of Anasûrimbor Celmomas.

Anasûrimbor Celmomas, the last High King of Kûniüri, has fallen before a Sranc chieftain. Seswatha kills the Sranc with sorcery and goes to the dying king’s side. In the distant, a dragon flies over the field of battle. Seswatha knows Kûniüri has fallen. With the help of a Trysë knight, they drag the dying king from the battlefield.

Seswatha pleads with Celmomas not to die. Seswatha believes without the High King, the world will end and the No-God will win. As Celmomas dies he has a vision. The gods have not abandoned men to the No-God, his darkness is not all encompassing. The burden to defeat him falls to Seswatha.

Celmomas asks Seswatha to forgiven him for being a stubborn fool. For being unjust to Seswatha. Seswatha forgives him. Celmomas asks if he’ll see his dead son in the afterlife. “As his father, and as his king.” Seswatha answers. With pride, Celmomas talks about the time his son stole into the deepest pits of Golgotterath. Celmomas’s vision continues, and he sees his son riding through the sky. Celmomas’s son speaks to him.

“He says … says such sweet things to give me comfort. He says that one of my seed will return, Seswatha—an Anasûrimbor will return …” A shudder wracked the old man, forcing breath and spittle through his teeth.

“At the end of the world.”

The bright eyes of Anasûrimbor Celmomas II, White Lord of Trysë, High King of Kûniüri, went blank. And with them, the evening sun faltered, plunging the bronze-armored glory of the Norsirai into twilight.

Achamian awakens and weeps for a long dead king. In the distant he can hear a dog or a man howling.

Geshruuni has been tortured by the abomination. He told the abomination everything and now the thing drags him towards the river. He panics. Geshruuni asks why, he told the abomination everything. The abomination answers: “the Mandate have many eyes and we have much plucking to do.” The abomination throws Geshruuni into the river where he drowns.

The next morning, when Achamian awakes, he writes in his dream journal about the latest Seswatha dream. He dreamed of the Ford of Tywanrae (the same), the Burning of the Library of Sauglish (different, he saw his face not Seswatha’s in a mirror), and the Prophecy of Celmomas. At first he rights same, but scratches it out and writes, “Different. More powerful.”

Achamian questions his own fixation on recording the dreams. Men have been driving mad trying to decode the permutations of Seswatha’s dreams. For a moment, Achamian has a panic attack of still being on the battlefield. Despite the defeat of the No-God, Seswatha knew the conflict wasn’t over. The Sclyvendi and the Sranc still existed. Golgotterath remained and the Consult, servants of the No-God, still ruled there. So that the memory of the Apocalypse would never fade, Seswatha’s followers would get to relive it.

Achamian next uses the Cants of Calling to communicate with Atyersus, the citadel of the Mandate. His handlers are disinterested in the secret war and instead summon Achamian home. Achamian is surprised and ask why. They answer it involves the Thousand Temples. Cynically, Achamian thinks of one more meaningless mission as he packs up his belongings.

Unlike the other Great Factions of the Three Seas, who vied for tangible ends, the Mandate warred against the Consult. But for 300 years, no sign of the Consult had been found ,and the Mandate waged a war without a foe. This has made the Mandate the laughingstock of the Three Seas. Now the Mandate was adrift without purpose, filling the time with pointless actions like spying of the Scarlet Spire. Achamian is hopeful that this sudden mission to the Thousand Temples will have real purpose.

My Thoughts

Achamian is an unusual protagonist in the genre of fantasy. Middle-aged and burned out at his job. He is world weary instead of the fresh-eyed youth (which Kellhus in the prologue almost is until you realize he is a man without emotions). We meet Achamian just as he underestimates the intelligence of Geshruuni. This is not the first dangerous situation Achamian has been in and it shows. While he panics internally, externally he continues his ruse as a merchant out drinking. We even see Achamian resolve when he thinks faces death or betrayal of his order and he chooses death.

When Geshruuni instead spares Achamian, Bakker compares being a spy to being a whore. Bakker uses this analogy a lot with Achamian. To be successful both must play a role. They have to adapt quickly, putting on the right performance to manipulate. Both must be good judges of character. Grave misjudgment can end badly for both the spy and the prostitute, particularly when no legal or social conventions protect them.

Achamian is unnerved by his underestimation of Geshruuni. By no skill of his own, Achamian uncovered powerful knowledge. But had Geshruuni been loyal to his masters, Achamian would be facing torture and death. Achamian has questions and worries about both his ability and his mission that will continue to haunt him going forward.

And poor Geshruuni. The abomination strips Geshruuni of his bravado with a few slaps. And for nothing. The Mandate aren’t really interested in his grand secret. They care so little, they have summoned Achamian away for a more important mission.

I’ll have more to say on the abominations when we learn more about them. Clearly, they are enemies of the Mandate. But if the Consult hasn’t been active for 300 years, maybe its because they were working on new, devious plans to continue their ancient war.

The Seswatha dreams are some of my favorite parts of the series. I love the glimpse Bakker gives us of the Apocalypse, showing us the consequences if the Mandate’s war against the Consult is lost. It wouldn’t be epic fantasy without apocalyptic prophecies. After Achamian awakens, he fanatically writes in his dream diary while cynically questioning the purpose in deciphering those dreams. He walks that line of fanaticism to follow and understand Seswatha’s life and the cynicism brought along by years of pointless, frivolous busy work.

Bakker drops such interesting tidbits about his world, seeding both the backstory and the past. At once he sets up the political maneuvering that will dominate the rest of the book and explains how his sorcery works, the differences between the schools, and why the Fanim Cishaurim are so feared by other sorcerers. He is building the foundation that the entire Prince of Nothing Series rests upon. Why did the Cishaurim assassinate Sasheoka? What are the Consult up to? Who are the abominations? And what is so important about the Thousand Temple?

The prophecy is very interesting. An Anasûrimbor shall return. But which one? We know Moënghus went ahead of Kellhus. He lurks somewhere in the three seas. Is he the one prophecy speaks of, or is Kellhus who is even know making his way across the sranc-infested wilderness.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Two!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Prologue

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Prologue

The Wastes of Kûniüri

If you missed out on the introduction to the series, click here.

Section 1

It is only after that we understand what has come before, then we understand nothing. Thus we shall define the soul as follows: that which precedes everything.”

—Ajencis, the Third Analytic of Men

My thoughts

darkness-that-comes-beforeBakker opens every chapter with quotes from various fictitious philosophers, historians, or folk sayings of his world. To me, Ajencis is saying the cause of man’s actions is the soul. To understand men’s actions we need to understand the soul. Another reference, I believe, to the title of the book. The cause that comes out of the “darkness” is the soul.

Bakker is a philosopher in the field of human consciousness (read his treaties on thought, they are dense and make my head spin), in his series the soul is a very real phenomenon that he will explore over the course of the books.

2147 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Mountains of Demua

 The prologue begins in the citadel of Ishuäl. Months earlier, High King Anasûrimbor Ganrelka II fled here with the remnants of his household. Here they thought they would be safe and survive the end of the world. They were wrong.

“The citadel of Ishuäl succumbed during the height of the Apocalypse. But no army of inhuman Sranc had scaled its ramparts. No furnace-hearted dragon had pulled down its might gates. Ishuäl was the secret refuge of the Kûniüric High Kings, and no one, not even the No-God, could besiege a secret.”

Ganrelka was the first to die of plague. Followed by his concubine and her daughter. It burned though the fortress, claiming the lives of mighty knights, viziers, and servants. Only Ganrelka’s bastard son and a Bardic Priest survived.

The boy hid from the Bard, terrified of his strange manner and one white eye. The Bard pursued the boy and one night caught him. Crying and pleading for forgiveness, the Bard raped the boy. Afterward the Bard mumbled, “There are no crimes, when no one is left alive.” Five nights later, the boy pushed the Bard from the walls. “Was it murder when no one was left alive?”

Winter came and wolves howled in the forest beyond the walls. The boy survived alone in the fortress. When the snows broke, the boy heard shouts at the gate and found a group of refugees of the Apocalypse. The refugees scaled the walls and the boy hid in the fortress. Eventually, one of the refugees found him.

With a voice neither tender nor harsh, he said: “We are Dûnyain, child. What reason could you have to fear us?”

But the boy clutched his father’s sword, crying, “So long as men live, there are crimes!”

The man’s eyes filled with wonder. “No, child,” he said. “Only so long as men are deceived.”

For a moment, the young Anasûrimbor could only stare at him. The solemnly, he set aside his father’s sword and took the stranger’s hand. “I was a prince,” he mumbled.

The boy was brought to the refugees and together they celebrated. In Ishuäl they had found shelter against the end of the worlds. The Dûnyain buried the dead with their jewels and fine clothes, destroyed the sorcerous runes on the walls, and burned the Grand Vizier’s books. “And the world forgot them for two thousand years.

Thoughts

“One cannot raise walls against what has been forgotten.” Bakker opens the book with a warning about the need to remember. The importance of keeping and remembering history is a prevalent theme in the series. From the Dûnyain deliberately forgetting about the outside world, to the world forgetting about the Apocalypse. And, of course, the world forgetting about the Dûnyain for two thousand years.

Bakker then starts to give us hints of the Apocalypse that dominates the rest of the series. Of cities burning, dragons, and inhuman Sranc. This Apocalypse is so terrible that not just any king, but a High King has fled it and written off the world as lost. Now just hopes to survive. And finally the sadness that even in this refuge, they almost all die anyway.

Bakker displays in this section his ability to paint events in a historical context. His books change from the tight focus, limited third person POV common in most of Fantasy today, allowing you to get into the thoughts of a single character in any scene to vast, more omniscient third person sections where he tells the events of the story almost as a bard reciting the story of history. Not a dry text book, but a vibrant story that keeps you interested.

In the description of Ganrelka’s retainers as they die, we get hints about the world and the Apocalypse. Bakker doesn’t dump his world building on us, but teases us with names that are almost familiar. The five Knights of Tyrsë who saved Ganrelka’s after the catastrophe on the Fields of Eleneöt. The Grand Vizier who dies upon sorcerous text. Ganrelka’s unnamed uncle, “who led the heartbreaking assault on Golgotterath’s gate.” Golgotterath resembles Golgatha where Jesus was crucified. When I read this name, I always picture something like the Black Gate of Mordor with skulls.

Bakker is skilled at using the familiar trappings of Fantasy, whose modern roots extend from Tolkien It roots the reader in the familiar while his style and story clearly deviates from anything you would read in Lord of the Rings.

Without showing us a single scene of the Apocalypse, Bakker still conveys the horror of it. After showing large scale horror, Bakker narrows his focus to the Boy. Left alone, he is preyed upon by an adult. Nietzsche’s philosophy at work here. Humans are selfish creatures who pursue their own desires and its only the fear of the consequences that keep us from acting upon all of them. Whether fear of a higher power, fear of a temporal power, or just the fear of the opinion of others. Once those are removed, there are no crimes any longer.

And finally, the Dûnyain arrive. Another group of refugees who fled the Apocalypse. The Dûnyain have rejected the gods. They deliberately destroy there history and anything connected to the supernatural. They bury all the wealth and trappings of power. They have survived the Apocalypse and decide to reject the former world they come from. As they say, “Here awareness most holy could be tended.”

Section 2

Nonmen, Sranc, and Men:

The first forgets,

The third regrets,

And the second has all of the fun.

Ancient Kûniüri nursery rhyme

This is a history of a great and tragic holy war, of the mighty factions that sought to possess and pervert it, and of a son searching for his father. And as with all histories, it is we, the survivors, who will write its conclusion.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My thoughts

These two quotes began the second, much longer part of the prologue. Nonmen is one my favorite names for the “elf” race in a fantasy series. It also informs us about the most important part of a Nonman, they forget. Regret is definitely a large part of being human. And of course, Sranc just want to have fun—and by fun I mean murder and brutal rape.

The second quote is from a book written after the events of the Prince of Nothing trilogy and gives us a plot summary of what the overt plot Prince of Nothing series is about. The First Holy War is the obvious story, the one on which the true story hides in the shadows. The Compendium is written by Achamian, one of the main characters, and often a segment is before each chapter, teasing you about events that are up coming. The downside is you never can believe Achamian is in real danger because he has to survive the Holy War to write about it. But it does serve to keep you reading.

Now who is the son? Well, we’re about to find out.

Late Autumn, 4109 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Mountains of Demua

The section begins with dreams coming to a group of men. Dreams of clashes of culture, glimpses of history, and of a holy city—Shimeh. A voice “thin as though spoken through the reed of a serpent, saying ‘Send to me my son.‘” The dreamers follow the protocol they established after the first dream and meet in the Thousand Thousand Hall and decided that such desecration could not be tolerated.

The narrative shifts to Anasûrimbor Kellhus, transitioning to a limited, third person POV. He is on a mountain trail looking back at the monastic citadel of Ishuäl. He sees the elder Dûnyain abandoning their vigil. These Elders have been polluted by the dreams sent by Kellhus’ father. The Elders would die in the great Labyrinth beneath Ishuäl.

Kellhus has been sent alone on a mission. As he descends into the wilderness of Kûniüri, he wonders how many vistas he would cross before seeing his father at Shimeh. As he enters the forest he finds himself unnerved. He attempts to regain his composure using “ancient techniques to impose discipline on his intellect.” He wonders if this is the first trial. Kellhus is awed by the beauty of the natural world. “How could water taste so sweet. How could sunlight, broken across the back of rushing water, be so beautiful?

What comes before determines what comes after. Dûnyain monks spent their lives immersed in the study of this principle, illuminating the intangible mesh of cause and effect that determined every happenstance and meaning all that was wild and unpredictable. Because of this, events always unfolded with granitic certainty in Ishuäl. More often than not, one knew the skittering course a leaf would take through the terrace groves. More often than not, one knew what another would say before he spoke. To grasp what came before was to know what would come after. And to know what would come after was the beauty stilled, the hallowed communion of intellect and circumstance—the gift of the Logos.

This mission was Kellhus’s first surprise. His childhood was strict ritual, study, and conditioning. Out of Ishuäl he is constantly barraged by new sights, sensations, and creatures. His mind, trained to drink in stimuli in the controlled environment of his home, is overwhelmed by the chaos of the natural world. For more than a month he wanders south through the foothills of Demua. He stops talking care of himself or his gear as the endless walk continues. On his 43rd day he comes across an immense valley dotted with ruins.

Kellhus explores the ruins. They are ancient, overgrown by the forest. Kellhus wanders who were the men who built this place. Bending to drink from a pool, he sees his unshaven face reflected in the water

Is this me?

He studied the squirrels and those birds he could pick from the dim confusion of the trees. Once he glimpsed a fox slipping through the brush.

I am not one more animal.

His intellect flailed, found purchase, and grasped. He could sense wild cause sweep around him in statistical tides. Touch him and leave him untouched.

I am a man. I stand apart from these things.

As evening waxed, it began to rain. Through branches he watched the clouds build chill and gray. For the first time in weeks, he sought shelter.

Kellhus continues his journey but his supplies begin to dwindle. He set out with as much as he could carry. Hunger and exposure begin to take their toll of Kellhus. The snows come and Kellhus could finally walk no farther. “The way is to narrow, Father. Shimeh to far.”

Kellhus is found by a trapper named Leweth and his sled dogs. Kellhus is half buried by the snow and barely alive. Leweth takes Kellhus to his home and cares for him through the winter.

Neither Kellhus or Leweth speak the same language. Kellhus picks up the basics and begins to communicate with Leweth. Kellhus learns he is the lands of Sobel, the northernmost province of the ancient city of Atrithau. Sobel has been abandoned for generations, but Leweth prefers the isolation.

Though Leweth was a sturdy man of middle years, for Kellhus he was little more than a child. The fine musculature of his face was utterly untrained, bound as though by strings to his passions. Whatever moved Leweth’s soul moved his expression as well, and after a short time Kellhus needed only to glance at his face to know his thoughts. The ability to anticipate his thoughts, to re-enact the movements of Leweth’s soul as though they were his own, would come later.

A routine forms between the two men, with Kellhus helping with chores to “earn his keep.” Kellhus studies Leweth during this time and learns that through small labors Leweth learned patience. The only times his hands were still was when he slept or was drunk. Leweth would drink all day, and by the end become drunk. While Kellhus learned much from observing drunk Leweth, he decides a sober Leweth would be more useful. While Leweth is passed out, Kellhus dumps out all his whiskey.

After Leweth’s painful detox, they discuss old pains. Leweth came to the wilderness after the death of his wife in Atrithau. Kellhus observes that Leweth pretends to morn to secure pity. Leweth lies to himself about why he came out here. That Atrithau reminds him or his wife. He even believes his family and neighbors secretly hated her and are glad she is dead. This forced Leweth to flee to the forest.

Why does he [Leweth] deceive himself this way?

“No soul moves alone through the world, Leweth. Our every though stems from the thoughts of others. Our every word is but a repetition of words spoken before. Every time we listen, we allow the movements of another soul to carry our own.” He paused, cutting short his reply in order to bewilder the man. Insight struck with so much more force when it clarified confusion. “This is truly why you fled to Sobel, Leweth.”

Leweth fled Sobel so he could hold onto the ways his wife moved his soul—he fled to remember. Kellhus confronts Leweth with this truth. Kellhus does this to posses Leweth, but lies and says its because Leweth has suffered enough. They argue, but because Kellhus can predict Leweth’s reaction, he guides the argument in his own favor. In the end, Leweth breaks down and cries.

“I know it hurts, Leweth. Release from anguish can be purchased only through more anguish.” So much like a child …

“W-what should I do?” the trapper wept. “Kellhus … Please tell me!”

Thirty years, Father. What power you must wield over men such as this.

And Kellhus, his bearded face warm with firelight and compassion, answered. “No one’s soul moves alone, Leweth. When one love dies, one must learn to love another.”

Once Leweth regains his composure, the continue their conversation. Through his Dûnyain training, Kellhus could control the “legion of faces” that live within him. He can fake any emotional response with the same ease he can craft words. Pretending to happy and compassionate, Kellhus continues his cold scrutiny of Leweth.

Kellhus is disdainful of Leweth’s superstitions of gods and demons. To Leweth, finding Kellhus was fate. Leweth asks Kellhus why the gods sent him. Kellhus tells him of his mission to find his father Anasûrimbor Moënghus. Moënghus left when Kellhus was a child and has now summoned him to Shimeh. Leweth asks how that is possible since Shimeh is so far away and Kellhus answers through dreams. Leweth thinks sorcery explains the dreams. Kellhus doesn’t think that is possible. He dismiss Leweth’s talk of sorcerers and priests, of witches and demons.

Superstition. Everywhere and in everything, Leweth had confused that which came after with that which came before, confused the effect for the cause. Men came after, so he placed them before and called them “gods” or “demons.” Words came after, so he placed them before and called them “scriptures” or “incantations.” Confined to the aftermath of events and blind to the causes that preceded him, he merely fastened upon the ruin itself, men and the acts of men, as the model of what came before.

But what came before, the Dûnyain had learned, was inhuman.

There must be some other explanation. There is no sorcery.

Leweth tells Kellhus about Shimeh. It is a holy city far to the south in the Three Seas. Leweth doesn’t know much about the nations of the Three Seas since the Sranc controlled the lands of the north save for Atrithau and Sakarpus. What Leweth knows is they were young lands when the north was destroyed by the No-God and the Consult. The only contact between Atrithau and the Three Seas is by a yearly caravan. Shimeh is holy city in the hands of heathens. In Atrithau, Kellhus could secure the means of reaching Shimeh. Only after the trapper tells Kellhus everything, does he let him sleep.

Near the cabin, Kellhus finds an ancient stone stele with runes upon it. In Kellhus’s own language it records the deeds of Anasûrimbor Celmomas II. Kellhus had dismissed Leweth’s talk of the apocalypse as superstition, but the stone proves the world is far older the Dûnyain. On one of these trips he notices strange tracks in the snow.

Kellhus informs Leweth of the tracks, and in horror, Leweth says they are Sranc. Leweth is amazed the Kellhus can be from the north and not no what those tracks mean. Leweth explain the Sranc will eat anything, but they enjoy to hunt men to “calm the madness of their hearts.” The Sranc have found them, and Kellhus and Leweth flee.

A small group Sranc catch them. Kellhus stays to fight the Sranc and tells Leweth to keep fleeing. In amazement, Leweth watches Kellhus charge the Sranc and kill them “like a pale wraith through the drifts.” Then Leweth is injured by an arrow.

Another group of Sranc are killing Leweth’s dogs. Leweth wants to save them but Kellhus grabs his arm and half drags Leweth. Eventually, Leweth’s strength fails him and Kellhus questions him on the way to go to get to safety. Leweth answers and Kellhus abandons Leweth to the Sranc. Leweth sobs in disbelief as he watch Kellhus, a man he has come to love and worship, disappear into the woods. But for the calculating Kellhus, the decision to abandon Leweth is simple—he has no further use for him.

Kellhus leaves the forest and climbs a hill. The Sranc have caught him. Before the ruins of a wall and gate, Kellhus makes his stand. They fired arrows at him. Calmly, he plucks one out of the air and examines it. In a rush they come at him and he “speared the ecstasy from their inhuman faces.”

They could not see that circumstance was holy. They only hungered. He, on the other hand, was one of the Conditioned, Dûnyain, and all events yielded to him.

The Sranc fall back. For a moment they surrounded him and Kellhus faces their menace with tranquility. They flee. One dying on the ground hisses something in an unknown language. Kellhus wanders what these creatures are.

More Sranc come, led by a figure on a horse. The figure wears a cloak stitched with abstract faces. In Kûniüric, the figure praises Kellhus and asks his name. Anasûrimbor Kellhus, he answers. The figure thinks he is being mocked, but then sees the resemblance in Kellhus’s face.

Kellhus studies the figure and realizes the cloak is made from skinned faces, stretched flat and sewn together. The figure is powerfully built, heavily armored, and unafraid. “This one was not like Leweth. Not at all.”

The figure is surprised that a mortal is not afraid of him. Fear is what separates the figure from humans. Kellhus mocks the figure, trying to bait him and is surprised by the figures reaction.

Kellhus’s provocation had been deliberate but had yielded little—or so it seemed at first. The stranger abruptly lowered his obscured face, rolled his head back and forth on the pivot of his chin, muttering, “It baits me! The mortal baits me … It reminds me, reminds …” He began fumbling with his cloak, seized upon a misshape face. “Of this one! Oh, impertinent—what a joy this was! Yes, I remember …” He looked up at Kellhus and hissed, “I remember!”

And Kellhus grasped the first principle of this encounter. A Nonman. Another of Leweth’s myths come true.

The Nonman points to a dead Sranc and says this one was his elju (book). He laments the Sranc’s death, although they are vicious creatures, they are “most…memorable.” Kellhus sees an opening, and presses the Nonman. The Nonman reveals that while the Sranc are their children now, before humans were. He was a companion to the great Norsirai kings and enjoyed the humans childish squabbles (wars). But as time passed, some Nonmen need more exquisite brutality than humans can provide to remember. This is the great curse of the Nonman.

“I am a warrior of ages, Anasûrimbor … ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury.”

“Then why,” Kellhus asked, “raise arms now, against a lone man?”

Laughter. The free hand gestured to the dead Sranc. “A pittance, I agree, but still you would be memorable.

They fight, trading blows. Kellhus fends off the Nonman blows, but his weapon own cannot penetrate the Nonman’s armor. The Nonman is surprised at Kellhus ability. Kellhus sword slashes the Nonman’s chin open. The Nonman is disarmed, on his back, Kellhus sword at his face. Kellhus begins to interrogate the Nonman.

The Nonman speaks a word and Kellhus is thrown back by incandescent. The Nonman rises up into the air. Confronted with sorcery, Kellhus flees into the forest. Behind him are explosions and fire. An unearthly voice yells his name. “RUN, ANASÛRIMBOR! I WILL REMEMBER!” Kellhus runs faster than he had before the Sranc and wonders if sorcery is one of the lessons from his father.

My Thoughts

When we first meet Kellhus he seems like a traditional hero of a fantasy journey. The quintessential character to go on the Campbellian Heroic Journey. A young man leaving home for the first time on a quest who is the unknowing descendant of kings. However, there are differences between Kellhus’s and the Hero’s Journey. While Kellhus has answered the Call of Adventure, he never Refuses the Call. Kellhus upbringing and training have left him with no doubt. This is his mission, and he will accomplish it.

The wilderness is not kind to Kellhus. The isolation and toil reduces Kellhus to a beast with only one thing on his mind: reaching Shimeh. Eventually, Kellhus realizes this and overcomes the Crossing of the First Threshold and becomes a man again.

Kellhus’s time with Leweth is where we see the products of Dûnyain training. They have embraced Nietzsche’s philosophy. These are the übermench he wrote of. They have trained their bodies and minds past the normal human limits. They have made of study of passions and have learned how to control their emotions. Kellhus listens to Leweth’s story about his dead wife and never once feels anything. Neither pity or compassion. Kellhus uses truth to make Leweth his slave and once Leweth is of no further use, abandons him to death without a second thought. The Dûnyain embody the Will to Power and have no morality to temper their methods. Kellhus will do anything to accomplish his mission.

Kellhus is a sociopath. To contrast Leweth and Kellhus: when Leweth first finds Kellhus in the snow, he thinks food for his dogs. Meat was scarce in the north. However, Leweth’s humanity cause him to show Kellhus compassion,. Leweth cares for Kellhus, using his own scarce resources.

We seen more of Kellhus’s abilities against the Sranc. He reminds me a lot of Bene Gesserit of Frank Herbert’s Dune series. Their bodies are so under their control and their ability to read the movement of their enemies makes them almost invincible. Kellhus has a lot similarities to Paul Muad’dib. However, Paul’s abilities was tempered with emotions.

When Kellhus plucks the arrow out of the air, I recognized him as a D&D Monk (it’s a common ability the player class monks get). The setting of these books were originally Bakker’s D&D campaign he created. The Nonmen are elves, the Sranc are orcs, etc. Bakker also draws a lot on Tolkien. I read somewhere on the internet that the Second Apocalypse is Tolkien done with Nietzschean philosophy, and that is not far off. But only in the broad strokes does this series follow the Lord of the Rings. Take the sexual imagery that is used to describe the Sranc. It is the first hint about the nature of their creators.

Finally, Kellhus confronts the Nonman. A race so long lived, they forget, only remembering the bad stuff. No wonder the Nonman (revealed by Bakker to be Mekeritrig) seems slightly mad. You can see the delight the Nonman has at finding such a memorable man as Kellhus. He is really looking forward to the fight.

Bakker’s description of sorcerery is always very minimal and ethereal. He uses phrases like “petals blowing from a palm” and “pale watery light.” The Dûnyain rejection of the supernatural have left Kellhus without the training on how to deal with it. There is no pride that holds back Kellhus decision to flee. It is instantaneous. He has determined he has no chance of winning and the only option is flight. Even then, his mind is still working normally, cataloging the event and shifting his world view. Kellhus has almost died and no fear assails him.

Kellhus is the reason I love this series. He is so different from any character I have read. Everyone of his POV’s is fascinating to read. As you shall see, he is our prophesied hero and his appearance ushers in the end of the world.

But will Kellhus be the one to save it or cause its destruction?

Click here to continue on to Chapter One

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Intro

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Intro

darkness-that-comes-beforeMore than a few years back, I was in the Borders (yep, that far back, I miss you Borders) at the SeaTac Airport killing time before my flight. While browsing the fantasy section, the Darkness that Comes Before caught my eye. I read the description on the back with talk of an apocalyptic past and a gathering crusade. The book promised a mysterious traveler named Anasûrimbor Kellhus. I was hooked. I bought the book on the spot and devoured it on my trip. I have since come to love the Prince of Nothing Trilogy and its sequel the Aspect Emperor Trilogy. Together these two series plus a third as yet written series form the greater Second Apocalypse meta-series.

R. Scott Bakker is a controversial author. His books are deep in the genre of modern fantasy called Grimdark. And that is what it is. He has created a world whose roots mankind struggles to rise from. It is not a pleasant place. Very few people are allowed the luxury of agency, and those tend to be men. Like most of human history, women hold little power in his series. He is accused of misogyny. There will be no female character bootstrapping feminism and rising above the shackles placed upon her.

But calling his books misogyny is missing the point. R. Scott Bakker is showing just how bad humans can get. He is also writing this towards men, not to show them treating women is bad but to illuminate some of the darker aspects of male fantasy and thoughts while at the same time showcasing the misery most of human kind has toiled under through most of our history. If anything, I would say the books are more misandrist. The every man a rapist trope is almost a reality in this series.

But there is still hope and light to be found.

With the third book of the Aspect Emperor Trilogy, the Great Ordeal (formally titled the Unholy Consult), release approaching in July I felt the need to reread the series in preparation. Of course, there is no way for me to even hope to catch up before the release, but I’ll give it a valiant try. This is a repost of a blog series I never finished from four years ago on my original blog, the ReReid blog (see, I was trying to be clever). But no one ever visited my blog so after several months, well, my interest wained.

So without further ado, let’s dive into the Darkness that Comes Before.

SPOILOR WARNING: Please read the book before any of these posts. This is intended for those who have read the books. I will discuss both the events of the chapter and even their ramification for future events.

Bakker opens the book with a quote. Not a fictitious quote from his own setting, but a quote of the German philosopher Nietzsche.

“I shall never tire of underlining a concise little fact which those superstitious people are loath to admit—namely, that a thought comes when ‘it’ wants, not when ‘I’ want…”

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

My Thoughts

Philosophy is a large part of the Second Apocalypse and Bakker starting the series with a quote of Nietzsche informs us of one of the major themes he will explore in the series. Nietzsche was an atheist who promoted the philosophy that without God there is no moral authority upon man. Nietzsche believed in ideas like “self-consciousness,” “knowledge,” “truth,” and “free will” were inventions of moral consciousness. Nietzsche believed the “will to power” explained all human behavior.

According to Nietzsche, the will to power illuminated all human ambition—the drive to succeed, and reaching the highest position in life. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche writes, “Even the body within which individuals treat each other as equals…will have to be an incarnate will to power, it will strive to grow, spread, seize, become predominant—not from any morality or immorality but because it is living and because life simply is will to power.”

The quote that Bakker opens his book is quite clear that we human have no control over the origin of our thoughts. This idea is directly related to the title of the book and one of the overarching themes of the series—the Illusion of Free Will.

If you haven’t gotten bored yet, click her for the Prologue

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