Wind falls through the lazy treetops, shushing the bestiary that is the world.


Done, late, with the fifth book. Only the last one is left, 800 pages long, split in two halves. I only have some scattered thoughts here, nothing truly coherent.

Closing the book, picking up the next. Reading the summary at the beginning is always an important step. It helps consolidating the experience, double up. From reading these summaries I immediately get the staggering scale of it all. Only Tolkien before Bakker was able to give the fictional construction such a scale and depth, and the sense of vertigo when you look down deep. A journey in the sense of an ascension. But whereas Tolkien was just doing his thing, turned inward, Bakker is conscious about it. Not just a well executed backdrop painted in vivid detail, what Bakker does is transfiguring it. Nail it to the canvas. Like Kellhus, Bakker grasped Moenghus-Tolkien’s Thousandfold Thought, and then went beyond. Bakker dared flying close to the sun, and did not get burnt.

After reading half of the summary I flipped casually through the first few pages, since I was done reading for that day, but something caught my attention as I saw a scene between Proyas and Kellhus. They are discussing metaphysics! And so I found myself reading this section, some twenty pages into the book without even reading from the beginning. A tolerable spoiler, I figured. I didn’t want to go too far so I only read a couple of pages. Proyas is being consumed by Kellhus and the interesting part is what he wants from him. But they were discussing the nature of the god. Kellhus depicts an idea of the god that isn’t again far from Kabbalah. A distinction whose nature is opposition. Something other than a man. In Kabbalah it is all about the ambiguity: men are opposite to god because god’s nature is giving, and men’s nature is receiving. And that’s also the nature of pain. But in closing that system the destination is being whole, apparently opposite to Kellhus’ idea here, that is more an alien, otherworldly concept of an uncaring god.

That’s the nail Bakker hammered into Tolkien’s dead skull. This interplay of god and no-god, men and non-men. Non-men being the elves, or even, going deeper, Istari-Ishroi. Gandalf is transfigured into Cleric, Nil’Giccas. But Nil’Giccas is also one of the nonmen, angel-like creatures.

“What did you see?” Nin’sariccas asked with what seemed genuine curiosity. “What did you find?”

“God… broken into a million warring splinters.”

A grim nod. “We worship the spaces between the Gods.”

“Which is why you are damned.”

Another nod, this one strangely brittle. “As False Men.”

The Aspect-Emperor nodded in stoic regret. “As False Men.”

Men and false men, gods and false gods. But what “false” even means in this context. And what even is truth?

“Is it true you have walked the Outside and returned?”


“And what did you find?”

The idea of a god being fragmented into countless pieces is from the third book, where Kellhus tried to unify everything into one. The true god. This concept is reinforced by the voice of the dragon at the end of the book:


But it’s Nil-giccas reaction that is quite funny, considering the dramatic scene, and throws it all back to Bilbo, out of a fairy tale:

“He plays you,” the Nonman said, his face white and serene. “There is no separating him from his hoard. He is too wicked, and he has slumbered here too long…”

The Nonman is serene because he now remembers, this scene comes from The Hobbit. It comes from the past, and now he knows how it will play out. There’s nothing to fear here, the future is known.

“The God is Infinite,” Kellhus said, pausing before the crucial substitution. “Is It not?”

If men are fragments, wedges of reality, then the truth is infinite in practical terms, just as the dragon says.

A hissing pause. “GRASPING,” the dead beast said, shadowy and mountainous. “MEN ARE FOREVER GRASPING.”

“I search for a map,” the old Wizard said.

Achamian comes to bargain, to obtain his trinket from the dragon’s hoard.

“A bargain then!” he cried in sudden inspiration. “I would strike a bargain with you!”


“Truth… Truth is all I have.”

Is not truth infinite? Not quite in general terms… The pertinent trait of truth is being complete. One piece of truth, in itself, is true but incomplete. As long it doesn’t overlap in misrepresentation, as long it is adjacent. As long it’s not contradiction. A piece of the world, a piece of reality. A piece of truth is all Achamian has. But men are forever grasping. Achamian wants more pieces, he wants the whole truth. Or the truth made (w)hole.

Think, Proyas. Men will so they can become one with the Future. Men want so they can become one with the World. Men love so they can become one with the Other…” A fractional pause. “Men are forever famished, Proyas, famished for what they are not…

And isn’t the Thousandfold Thought an act of a man, forever grasping to make the future, Muad’dib. Hasn’t Kellhus stepped into the Outside to become whole with the god, and return? Kellhus’ journey, ever drifting closer to truth, growing even more inhuman.

But despite all the goading, I still don’t know where this all leads. I don’t even know the proper position of the inner pieces. When reading the scene between Kellhus and the Nonmen, quoted here above, I thought it was ironic that worshiping “the space between the gods” seems equivalent to worshiping a no-god. The actual distinction between what is and isn’t a god. Spaces of not-god. I’m still completely lost in the easy parts. Men are made of populations that migrated from the east, that thrived as the Nonmen dwindled for their own causes. What is false and true about this? Why would the Nonmen self describe as false men? Nonmen were distinct from men merely because they were native of the region. Would Native Americans define themselves as “false men”? Why?

I would understand it as a negation, worshiping the spaces between the gods would be like worshiping freedom from the gods, like the last epigraph says:

We only have as much freedom as we have slack in our chains. Only those who dare nothing are truly free.

But again this would put Nonmen very close to the Inchoroi:

a race who had come to seal the World against the Heavens and so save the obscenities they called their souls.

Wouldn’t their goals be one?

It’s curious that the further the series proceeds, the more it drifts closer to Malazan in its deeper meaning. The “fantasy” of fetching the world toward reality. The end of magic. “Deliver us from evil”. Which is again fully going back to Tolkien and the story of a world gone. The few remaining elves that sail westward, as the closure of an age, and leaving a new world. Even if it is quite probable that Bakker won’t be satisfied by a forlorn, nostalgic goodbye.

What about the rest of the book? The first part is very much the continuation of The Judging Eye. The quality of writing stays excellent, the sharpness of vision is unrelenting. That’s evidently what Bakker sets off to do, and delivered. He wanted to blend themes from the first trilogy directly into the characters, and find meaning through both introspection and action. On the other hand the philosophy stays back once again. This story demanded time, Bakker delivered it masterfully. It’s still not my own main focus as a reader. It’s still, for the most part, a distraction. Then chapter 7 & 8, right in the center of the book, produce a major shift. Once again Bakker soars above and seizes similar heights of the first trilogy. It feels like it’s a pivotal moment in the book, that everything is about to change… But it doesn’t happen. The story eases back in its previous shape, and from that point until the end it feels like an aftermath. While this may sound as a disappointment from me, it’s very much deliberate. Bakker wanted to tell this story, in this precise way. Taking its time, without rushing, without distractions.

The Slog of Slogs started, more or less, as an interpretation of a standard fantasy quest. Looking for a magical trinket (or a map). As I wrote back then, this is a macguffin because as readers we already know those answers, and we know there’s no revelation there. Through all this book Bakker delivers characters to that end of the story, and fully embraces the intent of interpreting something that came before.

Cleric and the old Wizard, meanwhile, dare enter the ruined maw of the Coffers, where they find Wutteät, the famed Father of Dragons, coiled about a great heap of Far Antique treasure.

Once again, it’s all a game. Bakker uses this part of the story like a parable. He overlaps the classical Toliken with his own reinterpretation. He sounds what came before like a musical instrument. But that’s also where the difference is, because Bakker writes in a way that doesn’t afford that type of nostalgic citation or inspiration. Everything Bakker touches ends up transfigured and transcended, exactly as it happened with the first trilogy and inspiration from holy crusades. When this type of superimposition happens, it’s because Bakker wants to look beyond. And if you are on board, he delivers and does not falter.

That’s the shape of the story, and I ended up accepting it. Achamian and Mimara finally reached Ishual and found it in ruins. We of course didn’t see anything there from the twenty years gap, so who knows what happened. The rest of the journey hasn’t been especially enlightening. Everyone else died, all those other threads started and ended. They retrieved some magical trinkets from the dragon hoard, draped them over their shoulders. But they are described as simple toys. Again, it was all a game.

On the side of Momemn things were somewhat more dramatic, but I don’t think it worked for me the way it was intended. The plot twist at the end was way too predictable, due to a giant Chekhov gun that Bakker left unfired. It was WAY too conspicuous, making its absence very loud. On one hand, Bakker had to write it deliberately so that this “weapon” was authoritative. You have to make the reader believe its power, why it cannot fail. Make it a real threat that can kill a Dûnyain. But it’s a too simple trick to make it disappear from the page just after it’s been primed, and then distract the reader through the plot, hoping that the intervening chaos is just enough to hide effectively that weapon until the moment of its return. I was just there turning pages and wondering when it would come back on the scene. And since it only comes at the very end, it certainly wasn’t a surprise. But the interesting part is the consequences of that event, and that’s for the following book to tell.

I am somewhat confused, because it seems like Kellhus must have glimpsed some of those events. He seems surprised when we get a short scene from his point of view, the story is built in a way (and then reinforced by Maithanet) that seems to make evident that Kellhus already anticipated the important events. Yet it seems weird that this was the result of his Thousandfold Thought, that this was the shortest path. Somewhat too convoluted and quite unoptimized… Wasn’t there a better way? It’s more or less the same Esmenet wonders.

Reading the summary in the following book cements the idea of how much the events end up being shaped by Kelmomas, but in the book we get his point of view, and he’s completely clueless, far from the mastermind he appears to be. In the end he’s only successful because Maithanet and Inrilatas trip on each other. Kelmomas is a survivor of chance, more than a director. Again, how much of this did Kellhus glimpse? How could he see the chaos of Kelmomas as an useful threat?

The scene in chapter 8 between Maithanet and Inrilatas becomes the center of the whole book. I’ve read it a few times, and can go back and read it more. There’s so much that is implied and slips away. Both Maithanet and Inrilatas speak following their own inner threads, rather then to each other. They move in a coordinated, parallel way, but it’s not quite a dialogue. On the side, Kelmomas is only able to watch in shock.

And again, Bakker teases me.

Inrilatas seized the opportunity. “You think Mother has blunted Father’s pursuit of the Shortest Path time and again, that he walks in arcs to appease her heart, when he should cleave to the ruthless lines of the Thousandfold Thought.”

“Who has told you these things?” his uncle demanded.

Inrilatas ignored the distraction. “You think Father risks the very world for his Empress’s sake — for the absurdity of love!”

“Was it her? Did she tell you about the Thousandfold Thought?”

The two speak in parallel, they follow their own trajectory. Maithanet is concerned by something, that is never quite explained. Why is he so worried by the mention of the Thousandfold Thought? Shouldn’t it all be common knowledge at this point? It’s basically a different label for the plan that everyone believes Kellhus has. Belief in him, belief in the plan.

That’s even a main theme of the book, working quite well in the way it is explored through the book: is tyranny necessary?

If men are too stupid, and there’s an existential threat, is maybe tyranny the only possible solution? It’s an actual, tangible question that within the context of the book and its events is completely cleaned of rhetoric. It’s not an excuse to seize power, it’s the same conclusion Sorweel arrives to. From Chapter 7, onward, the function is to show how real is that threat. The neverending flood of Sranc, and the despair it leaves. What’s the answer to this? It’s the same dilemma Achamain has. In the end the truth of it vanishes in the presence of the practical. Yes, Kellhus is a fraud, but who cares? Hasn’t he used his power precisely to save the humanity that is left? Was there a better way? Is truth the price of complete annihilation?

“What if he were simply a man pretending to be more—a prophet, or even as you say, a god—simply to manipulate you and countless others?”

“But why would he do such a thing?” the girl cried, seeming at once thrilled, confused, and appalled.

“To save your life.”

Of course with these types of stories the problem is always in the labyrinth, the Thousandfold Thought: what about the other options? You have to trust Kellhus, and Bakker, saying that there was no other, better way.

That scene between Maithanet and Inrilatas roughly coincided with the moment everyone on the internet started talking about the second Dune movie. I haven’t seen the first, and have zero interest watching either of them. But I did start reading Dune Messiah in parallel, and it become an effective tool to interpret what I was reading here. I really liked Dune Messiah, but it is a book of two sides. The plot itself is a complete failure. Everything ends up being resolved through artificial intervention, it’s simply poorly thought. But Herbert made a great job developing the themes and deeper meanings. He got the metaphysics right, compared to similar attempts that instead failed spectacularly, as I said before, from Alan Moore with Watchmen, to Arrival, Dark, Tenet. They all embrace contradiction blissfully, thinking themselves smart. Herbert instead sidesteps the whole problem. He simply embeds the uncertainty within the prophetic visions of the future, merely because he adds the possibility of hidden actors. There is more than one prophet, therefore no prophecy is ever complete. Therefore uncertainty can’t be squeezed away. But it’s all wonderful because Paul knows from the very first pages there’s a conspiracy against him, and he knows the conspirators are right in front of him. And the conspirators know he knows.

The more I peeled those layers in Dune Messiah, the more I recognized echoes within this book. Hayt is Sorweel. A known weapon that is kept close (even if then sent away, in the context of this book). The path of Paul is very similar to the path of Kellhus. Both end up being quite lonely at the end, and both become inhuman. The moment Paul vanishes in the desert, it seems like the writing takes a somewhat suggestive, rhetorical bent. He goes out to die, but it looks more like he gets transformed, becoming whole with the desert and the planet. The scene wants to be evocative, but is it really just for a show, to make the ending poetic? The moment he grasps his own Thousandfold Thought he actively merges with the future, and then the past. Maintaining a physical form seems almost superfluous at that point. He “grasped” far beyond himself, in a way where time, past and future, have been merged together. In a way that his present happens simultaneously with his past, his perception overlapping and merging. What function has a body left when you are everywhere, anytime, at once? It’s one of the most poetic and yet strictly logical portrays of death I’ve read. Nothing can ever rob you of the moment. A life is always eternal (well, given the current knowledge we have of realty).

Kellhus aspires to the same, and on that level he has no opponents that meddle against his will. At this point I don’t know, maybe the cult of Yatwer has been crafted to conform the same shape conceived by the Bene Tleilax (I absolutely despise them). The White-Luck Warrior being the hidden knife. And it was already been established that the gods are intervening, but they cannot perceive the No-God. So Bakker is adding actors on the scene just like Herbert did. We’ll see where all this leads.

Throughout this uneven commentary I missed quite a few things I wanted to add. A number of characters, both minor and major find their end precisely when their function ceases. It seemed a bit too neat and convenient. Characterization is always a guiding star, shining through all the book. Again, this is what Bakker wanted to do. It is so well executed and meaningful that you find it in the small things, like Sorweel who has to wait being alone to be able to even think his conspiracy. Not because Serwa would read his face, it is assumed that whatever magical power (supposedly) shielded him from Kellhus would work the same for her, but because he cannot have two contradicting halves, one turned inward and one turned outward. And that’s also why he feels betrayed at the very end. He’s still earnest within himself.

The depiction of the idiosyncratic (as an euphemism) royal family is masterful. They don’t occupy much space but they feel so solid and real to me, so distinct and intriguing. I despise Kelmomas with a passion but I’ve truly loved Inrilatas (sadly…). Theliopa comes right behind. She’s not much of a developed character, but deeply endearing to me. And then Kayutas ad Serwa, distancing Moenghus in my own preference merely because Moenghus isn’t quite as distinct or meaningful.

Anyhow, it’s quite telling that whereas the Dûnyain have bred “for intellect”, in reality we breed our leaders for stupidity. The power is their greed, their greed is their end. There’s no further level. One can only wonder what could have happened if there was someone in control, rather than everyone slave to the same machine. We are quite literally victims of an evolutionary dead end without any escape. For all the grimdark, there’s more hope in Bakker’s Eärwa than there ever was on planet Earth (for human beings, that is).

For me reading Bakker has become something more. That grimdark is sustenance, the only way of looking beyond that pointless pain that is the world, the real world. It has nothing to do with escapism, or even entertainment. It’s all about understanding the world and our silly place in it.

A few remaining, quick considerations:

An Ark “toppled”. I can only ask: who comes on the scene by crashing on the stage? Seems quite a clumsy entrance. This still hasn’t been explained. What were the Inchoroi doing? The dragon at the end adds a few things, but I still can’t make anything out of it: “WATCHING MY MAKERS DESCEND AS LOCUSTS UPON WORLD AFTER WORLD, REDUCING EACH TO ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-FOUR THOUSAND — AND WAILING TO FIND THEMSELVES STILL DAMNED!” 144.000 of what? Worlds? Why 144? “THE LAND OF OUR REDEMPTION!” …Why? Why this land here? “THE PROMISED WORLD!” By who?

The book, as usual, starts with a citation from a real book, Hegel in this case:

The heavens, the sun, the whole of nature is a corpse. Nature is given over to the spiritual, and indeed to spiritual subjectivity; thus the course of nature is everywhere broken in upon by miracles.

—Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy III

“Nature is given”, by who? This appears to reinforce the religious angle in the book: magical intervention is subjectivity. Not the objective description of the world (science). But the subjective moral compass, the judging eye. So, the seed that introduces subjectivity creates the premise of miraculous intervention. Something other than an objective corpse.

I have no idea where this all leads.

A few pages later, still in the summary, there’s a line referring to Kellhus going beyond the Thousandfold Thought: “And go mad.” Next to it I scribbled a note: (miracle?)

“This is a journey without return.”
“She sneered and laughed. “So is every life.”

This is a weird book.
And I absolutely hate writing “reviews.”
I’d love to start reading the following book without saying a thing, but I also feel this commitment to write what I think… so here we are.
(there will be spoilers)

Before I begin here I went to retrieve that old, placeholder cover that was never actually used, and read a couple of reviews that I also must have read at the time they came out, skipping the plot details to avoid spoiler (or pretend to forget). The suspicion I had while reading the book, and maybe that I remembered from back then, was confirmed:

Another error I think I made in The Prince of Nothing as a whole is that I think I focused too much on interior action – I spent too much time knocking around in my characters’ heads. This is one thing that I tried to rectify in The Judging Eye: there’s still plenty of internal action, but I like to think I’ve done a better job balancing it with external action.

Bakker told me that the Prince of Nothing series was always meant to be the “story behind the story.” Hence, he wanted to make sure that The Aspect-Emperor would work for the fans, but also for those who found the literary aspects of the first trilogy (emphasis on particularity and interiority) too much, as well as for newbies.

But here I’m writing what I think, what I was thinking while reading, and I’m not going to make these other aspects intrude now.

This book is essentially a long prologue. I also think it’s really well written, more so than the preceding trilogy. I don’t mean as a quantification, since those preceding three books were exceptional. But the necessities of that story made the pages somewhat uneven, cumbersome for having to carry so much, and Bakker had some quirky writing habits (death came swirling down) that always had a motivation behind them, but also could push a reader either way. This new beginning feels as if Bakker reorganized and decided to write it on his own terms. As if he’s more in control of the story, rather than serving it. More a narrator than a possessed mouthpiece.

And yet the book suffers for it, in a way. The mad desperate rush, or the slow march toward Shimeh, one and the same, had a specific quality. Despite there are aspects of that story that are mirrored here, it almost feels like a fairy tale. Despite the horror, the dread made real, it seems to completely lack an edge. In this regard, the book reads so much more like a well written, but quite traditional fantasy book. And yet it’s very much “Bakker”, every single line. But also so very different.

The idea you could start reading from this book sounds to me simply ABSURD. It makes no sense. There is so much to this story that it would be simply ridiculous to decide to start from a different point. But as I was reading it, I had this feeling of reading an extended prologue. It’s a 400 pages book, the length of the last one in the previous trilogy. The more I moved through it, the more I realized that the prologue wouldn’t end, and the book wouldn’t begin. And as I was reading through the final, extended section, it simply dawned on me a weird idea: this wasn’t written as a prologue to the following volumes… This is a prologue to the first trilogy.

It doesn’t make ANY sense, and yet it does. Without reading the summaries of the story so far, that in this case have been moved to the back of the book, it seems as everything is set up to refer to that story, but without quite spoiling it, without making it known and plain. The first page, a letter to Kellhus, is enough to set the stage, but from a guarded point of view. That story already blended into legend, and built a distance. The original trilogy played on its two different levels, the ancient times of the First Apocalypse, with the brief direct glimpses through Mandate dreams, and then the present times. With Achamian realizing that things were in motion once again, that legends once again become real, become present. Twenty or so years pass, the world is largely transformed, and so are the characters. There is less of an impending doom, even if the impending doom is obviously closer. There is a sense of relative security and stability. This book becomes, at the same time, the future but also the past. Because that past, blending to legend, becomes something to rediscover and reinterpret. And for all these reflections, it seems all building momentum to lead there. There’s emphasis, a sought knowledge expressed from characters that are new, like Mimara and Sorweel, who understand that their circumstances are the result of what came before. Their stories and movements in the book are introductions to the past. They build an offset of wonder, they build an anticipation for things ahead, that are instead behind.

And it’s all… gone.

This is the apparent contradiction: that the book is so well written, to the point of pure spectacle. Of a writer, much like David Foster Wallace, who seems to say “hey mom, I’m driving this bike with no hands!” Effortless spectacle. And yet, the mission, the mad rush forward, the desperate need that fueled the previous trilogy and made it TRUE, is completely gone. Gone in the sense that it is tucked away. Locked out.

The book begins and sets some premises. They are even quite intriguing, like the false memories about Seswatha. But all it does is simply confirm previous hypothesis. To the point it really makes logical sense only in the perspective of leading toward the previous trilogy. Achamian’s whole journey here, toward an explicit excuse: the library of Sauglish. And to do what there? Figure out the place where Kellhus is coming from, Ishual. Because Achamian believes Kellhus is no god, but just a man who is manipulating everyone around him, for his own ends rather than what he claims. He is a false god, and Achamian’s mission is proving it. First and foremost to himself.

But while this is true for that limited point of view, it’s not true for the reader, to a comical level. You simply need to take the very first book, open it to the map at the end. There it is: Ishual. The map that Achamian still hasn’t reached, has always been there. Everything Achamian seeks to understand about Kellhus, we already know in quite good detail. We’ve even seen authoritative flashbacks of his training. But of course, “we”, the readers of what came before. Not the Judging Eye readers, with a wonder for legendary times. With desire for revelation. To know more, to prove more.

We are already there, waiting for Achamian to catch up. For this prologue to end, and the real story to start.

Since The Thousandfold Thought we’ve known that the boundary between the world and the otherworld, the world and hell, is being eroded. It is reaffirmed at the beginning of The Judging Eye. The end of the book simply reinforces it. Shows it. The book is a prologue because it starts and ends the same. We are none the wiser, because the first trilogy has delivered all these answers.

Whereas all the other “mysteries” still waiting for an answer, and that are still seeded here, like what is Kellhus TRUE purpose, what does it mean to seal the world from the outside. Or the very big deal: why Achamian believes Kellhus a fraud, when we’re getting more and more proofs that things are quite weird (the haloes of his hands, in previous books, that Moenghus also couldn’t explain, or Mimara otherworldly powers here, or all about Yatwer… all being intrusions into the world order)? None of these get explained, or even advanced. Because of course there’s no answer in the first trilogy about them. And The Judging Eye is its prologue.

Once again, all I’m writing is about what isn’t there, rather than what it is there. I wrote some comments on goodreads while I was reading through the book. The second chapter with the introduction to Achamian and Mimara is a masterpiece. But the prose and characterization maintain a superb quality that soars above the preceding books. I still have no idea why Mimara is written in present tense, while everyone else is done through a typical past tense. It makes Mimara feel like a timetraveler that got slightly dislodged from the fabric of reality. She’s more immediate, she’s the same as what happens to Achamian when he visits the past through his dreams. He feels there, even if he’s not quite there. As a meta-narrative device it would work well. Sorweel and Mimara are receptacles for new readers. They demand immersion and identification (despite a couple of plot points about Mimara will throw any reader as further away as possible, I guess Bakker can’t abstain from making fun of any form of positive feedback). Yet Sorwell doesn’t share that literary trick that affects Mimara…

I won’t say much about the description of PURE EVIL that is the kid, Kelmomas. These are all the things that Bakker does superbly well, and it feels pointless to comment because they are plainly there, on the page. But The Judging Eye is all about the characters and how they are written. It’s all about a display of mastery.

The twenty year gap is tricky to deliver. It the same thing that not only was tricky for GRRM, but that lead to the complete SHIPWRECK of that series. If anything, this book clearly proves who’s the better writer, if there was still any doubt (and all the more sad, since Bakker hasn’t continued writing). But who cares about pointless comparisons. The point is that most of what is great here is due to everything being so perfectly nailed. All the sons and daughters of Kellhus/Esmenet/Serwe, they are all incredible characters. Different from each other, yet leaping from the page and from the mass of everyone else. Some appear very briefly, and still make so much an impact as to forget everything about the story. They become story themselves. They are so deeply intriuguing, deeply characterized in their quirky behaviors. They have all the otherworldly charm that Kellhus has actually lost, becoming simply inhuman in an unrelatable way. Kelmomas is just a pure representation of pure evil egoism, but in the end he’s just a kid blown large: the disconnect that is plainly stated at the beginning of the prologue: “When a man posseses the innocence of a child, we call him fool. When a child possesses the cunning of a man, we call him an abomination.” But how not be charmed by neurotic Theliopa, or even Kayutas and Moenghus. Or the folly of Inrilatas, what has he seen? He has found revelation without leaving his room.

All of this, the context of the world after a twenty year gap, the superb characterization, the quality of the prose, they all make this book a masterpiece. And yet it is a masterpiece of a prologue… to the first trilogy.

Where has the bone and marrow of the story gone?

The implications that move everything, that drove those preceding books. They are locked away. It’s not even missing in the sense of a lack, it’s simply not there.

The only aspect that I’m doubtful about is the whole cult of Yatwer side-plot. From Psatma Nannaferi, to where it intersects with Sorweel and then the literal Judging Eye of Mimara. It feels like an intrusion in the story that doesn’t quite fit. It hinges on those parts of the metaphysics that still don’t make a lot of sense. They are intrusion from the outside, but for that reason they clash with the “science” of Kellhus. They are obviously deliberate elements of the story, but still fail to win me over. And all this within the minimal page count they occupy here.

I have no idea what The White-Luck Warrior will be. Will it be a sequel to this prologue? A sequel to the original trilogy? Something else entirely? I still have the feeling that Bakker is moving away from the original story, rather than toward it. I suppose some of this is the result of a sort of “rebound” effect. A reaction to the reaction. Bakker isn’t so much writing his story, as he was doing up to this point, but reacting to the moment that story was delivered and made public. But we’re dealing with “art” here, and it means that feedback doesn’t necessarily have a positive effect. Bakker was seeking approval, this book seems to read like a statement that says (and proves): I deserve it.

For all its exceptional execution, it doesn’t grasp what is there behind the curtain. And it doesn’t match what the preceding trilogy is. This book is mostly spectacle.

(How to write a negative review that is just a list of praises, I guess. But that’s how I feel, and how I felt reading this book.)

Further notes:
there are a number of aspects I intended to elaborate on, but I don’t feel like wrestling with what I already wrote to fit everything in. So I’ll only mention that the whole ordeal in those last 100 pages, obvious reference to Minas Tirith, despite all the dread and incredible execution, still felt a somewhat comforting place. We know Mimara can’t die there, we know Achamian can’t die. We know the captain and probably even Cleric are unlikely to die like that. Despite only an handful come out alive, Bakker knows too and makes fun of: “Of those the Bitten had called the Herd, all three survivors were Galeoth – Conger, Wonard, and Hameron – men Achamian had not known until the arduous climb up the Screw.” … A way of saying “redshirts.” Again, despite the so well described and evoked dread, we see only in small scale what we’ve already seen in the large: the nonman king speaks through unconscious Achamian and Pokwas, but it’s nothing compared to world-encompassing sranc choruses, in presence of the No-God. Despite all those scenes felt remote, merely implied dreams, and here they are close and immediate instead. But it’s still nothing new. It all lacks an edge. And no, this has nothing to do with Bakker unwilling to kill more important characters here, it wouldn’t have worked anyway. Nothing really happened. Achamian is looking for a map we readers already have, Mimara got a magical trinket, some redshirts were culled, nonmen are melancholic living or unliving ghosts. Nothing really happened here, it was a prologue.

Another thing I want to mention is “Sorweel’s shield.” There’s some Yatwerian magic that makes him somewhat immune, despite this matter isn’t quite clearly set, to Kellhus’ sight. But we know Kellhus’ sight isn’t magic, but just his ability to read the movement of muscle and skin. As I mentioned above, it’s science rather than magic. And Sorweel does indeed betray himself in very obvious ways. Yet he’s not seen.

Page 225: “We walk the Shortest Path, the labyrinth of the Thousandfold Thought.” I’m still somewhat annoyed how these two became one thing, when most of the 2nd book was built on its mystery of being two things. I still have no idea what Bakker (or Moenghus) was doing.

Page 314: “Nonmen can’t see paintings.” What?

Page 283: “Our God… the God, is broken into innumerable places.” Kabbalistic turn again, Adam Kadmon. Every time Bakker gives in to this type of metaphysics, he seems to channel Kabbalah.

One of the two reviews I’ve read said this:
most notably the biggest weakness in the series remains: that whilst it is imaginative, powerfully-written and at times intense, it is also a somewhat remote and cold work, easy to admire, hard to love.

It doesn’t sound quite right to me, but I started wondering if actually true or not. I can somewhat relate to it. But what’s then the difference between characters and books I do love, rather than admire? The answer, for me, is that it’s more about the perceived meaning of love than an actual distinction, that this series of books also mocked in a number of occasions…

(as I mentioned at the beginning, I hate writing reviews. I’d read a whole lot more if I didn’t force myself writing down my thoughts. The main reason why this book took longer to read than the previous three is because I decided to write about them (since book 1 and 2 were re-reads). That means I start postponing reading the book, so that I could postpone the moment I needed to write about it… And also started reading all sort of other books. I’m that type of stupid that makes his own cage.)

I drove to the address I hoped was Tony Vance’s house. I didn’t pray, as a rule. If there was a God, we weren’t on speaking terms, and I didn’t think either of us cared what the other had to say. Still, pushing the pedal hard enough to make the engine whine, streetlights strobing across the dirty windshield, I was tempted. Then I remembered God’s track record when it comes to helping out little kids.

“If you don’t like how the universe works, take it up with the architects.”

I definitely enjoy some philosophical blasphemy, but I didn’t expect to find it here.

I picked up this book at some point in 2018, and read it fairly quickly, up to 60 pages from the end. Then I stopped. Why? Because I was burned out writing here for this blog. I ended up in this weird situation where to be able to write something meaningful about a book, then it had to be fresh in my memory. I need to struggle for at least a couple of hours, no distractions. If even more than two days pass between me finishing the book and starting to write, then the task becomes much harder. The solution was trying to align me reading the last 50-60 pages with me having enough time and mental clarity to write about it. As it happens with bad habits, finishing to read a book became more an annoyance than fun. So here we are.

In order to say what this is about I need to explain why I decided to pick this up. It’s a plate-cleansing, guilty-pleasure kind of read, I’m quite sure it’s self-published and printed directly by Amazon, and it’s urban fantasy. That makes it at least atypical when it comes to the stuff I normally read. But it wasn’t quite an exception as it may appear. I saw the author mentioned here and there, and the book is first on a series that seems to hold well, when it comes to readers’ feedback. The last (and only?) book I read similar to this one was “Hounded”, and from what I’ve seen the ending of that series wasn’t that well received. Of course looking at averages on Goodreads isn’t proof of anything, but it gave me an idea that is like drug for my type of mind: a starting point, and the possibility that it could only get better from here.

What I’m reading would be the baseline. Because the real deal, and the one reason why I decided to read this book (twice!) is that there’s… more. This book came out in 2014, but it is part of a larger project that is somewhat structured like Marvel comics in the 90s. There are at least two ongoing series sharing an universe, and even a couple of crossover events. Daniel Faust himself is the protagonist of this book, and his own series. This alone is currently at 10 books, and it’s not done. Each book should be a self contained story, but of course it’s all pinned onto a grander scheme. As you can see from that reading order I linked, 20+ books are already out.

This book by itself is not especially ambitious, and describing its structure in detail is important to understand what it actually is. The book is 366 pages long, but it uses such an oversized font that this would give the wrong idea. All ten books in the series are almost precisely the same length: averaging around 86k. At 400 words on each page, which is a standard I use, it translates to a 215 pages book. Divided into 44 chapters. This makes it a very fast read, turning into an addicting formula because the prose is proactive, terse, smooth. The moment you finish a chapter you already observe yourself starting the next before you even considered stopping. It’s, as the way of saying, hard to put down.

It is also very close to a TV series that I enjoyed watching, up to the third season since with the fourth all main characters got brutally maimed (metaphorically): Lucifer. But the reasons why I like that series are quite weird, so this isn’t telling much. It’s still fairly similar both in tones and execution. It’s set in present time Las Vegas, there are magicians, and a varied underworld of demons and whatnot. Rather than picking a specific flavor of the magical, it seems the setting is a kind of “all-in”, but well realized, despite the limited scope of a small book only paints a very vague cosmology.

The protagonist, Daniel Faust, has some nice swagger that doesn’t get annoying. A bit of a typical anti-hero, with some unconventional takes that make it all less boring and trite, but in the end so much of a very good person that it becomes even too sweet. But it’s fine. There are some companions that don’t do a whole lot, but that help giving it more of a choral atmosphere, and when it happens it adds a lot more. It expands the scope of a personal story, and by the end of the book what started as an homicide investigation with very mild supernatural connotations gets promoted to world-ending catastrophe. Some of it is clumsy, but it gets a pass because the reading is kept always fun and going at a brisk pace.

This was essentially my second read, since I couldn’t remember much and so I started again from the first page. It’s quite funny because with mathematical precision after one or two pages into a chapter I recalled what happened in it, but only that little bit and not more. I was basically spoiling myself chapter by chapter, but it didn’t subtract much from the fun of reading. My vague memories amounted to two different halves that seemed to belong to two separate books, and in the end this isn’t far from the truth, since the story shifts toward the middle point. There is a deliberate tonal shift that feels a bit jarring because up to that point the book stayed within a definite “range”. Since it is a fun, casual read, it has humor and only dips a toe into more serious themes. Then there’s this tonal shift that is even more jarring when it shifts BACK into more laid-back, action-powered scenes. I perceive it as a flaw, but it also contributes to a roller-coaster feel, since so much happens within a low page count.

(Oh, and you probably want to skip reading the back cover summary, since it spoils a good 3/4 of the whole.)

So what is it all about? It comes down to these two points. The first is about the connections. The feel of being part of something more. When I was reading Marvel comics in the 90s, I would enjoy some poorly written, very minor stories just because the shared continuity made the whole so much more than the single parts. Characters were part of a family. When you engage with a larger design it’s always interesting to indulge even in the smallest corners of the canvas. It’s the same reason why the Warhammer 40k books side fascinates me. It’s like an almost endless delve, full of discoveries, all contributing to a larger whole, even if often in a clumsy way. By reading it piece by tiny piece, you slowly realize it. Some of this can already be felt in this first book. Names and figures that aren’t just thrown away, but that wait there to eventually get their spotlight. The fact that the protagonist is the focus of the story, but he’s not alone. That it builds up and becomes more coherent, that throws nets to the future and retrieves links from the past. If this book was purely a stand-alone, it would lose a lot of its efficacy and charm.

The second aspect is the style of the story, that comes alive in a fairly vivid, honest way. The author came out as trans not long ago, so years after I picked up the book. But this book from 2014 is already a bit “queer”. And it does it elegantly without even making it a point. It’s curious that the crossing of silly cultural boundaries here involves crossing species, of course. And it follows it all up with well placed humor. After all, I educated myself about the evils of racism from reading the X-Men. Fantasy is earnestly liberating, especially when it engages with the real. It’s not a contradiction, it’s what fantasy is at its root.

While rummaging through some random Goodreads comments I found this:

Ok Carol I so love the Dresden Files, everything else urban fantasy I read doesn’t even come close. Is this as good as Mr. Butcher’s series?

Better, because women are actually, you know, people and gay people are people, and wizard are just people, and everyone’s just people. Except the demons, and even some of them are people.

The original direction of this review was going to be slightly more scathing, but I instead opted to just promote the better series. :D

You know how sometimes you think about a book that you’ve read and love it more? When I think about Harry Dresden, I like him less and less. I’m still riled about the opening chapters of The Skin Game and the ‘not-that-theres-anything-wrong-with-it’ of Cold Days.

Not a conventional review, if I was ever able to write one.

This final book, and the whole arc of the trilogy is exceptional. Reading it all at once without pauses in between, not as a quick re-read, but as a methodical one where I was fully focused, on every word, every line. Giving it 100% of my attention to every page. I can say that this type of approach helped immensely. It’s not usually the case, as it is often suggested to simply power through, especially with difficult books. That eventually things will make sense. I think here it’s the opposite. The moment you lose even a small thing, you risk missing the world. The more you reign in, the more you collect.

I was curious to see if, with this regular, methodical read on my side, the three books would show some general “changes”. A dip in quality? Some signs of exhaustion? Different pacing, more loose characterization. But honestly there isn’t much that I can meaningfully say. Reading “feels” different, moving from the first, to the second and third. The first book does “feel” the better of the three. Not in writing quality, but because of the ease of plot and themes. I already mentioned that this third book is more frequently than before a fly-by, taking a step away from the closed perspective. But after contemplating the whole thing from the end, I feel that this overall shape was necessary and fitting.

This needs this sort of premise, because I’m going to rant. About what the trilogy ISN’T. But I don’t have even words about what IT IS. Looking back, it truly feels like an impossible journey. The experience of reading these books is unique. And the sheer ambition, and then mastery of the impossible task is inhuman. As a reader, 95% of the hard themes written here were already very familiar to me. I have followed Bakker along the years, and I had similar “worldviews” already before then. He wasn’t going to tell me something new and unprecedented. Yet, I couldn’t do without these books and the read felt transformative. The mental clarity and focus they give me. The sheer ELOQUENCE.

This is in some part what I’ll attempt to write here: past the first book, there isn’t much that is being added. Ironically it refers to the title, the Darkness that comes… before. Mystery and revelation precede, do not follow. And yet, everything that comes after has the sheer power of eloquence, of being experienced. Of seizing the import of what was commanded.

So, to satisfy the simple necessities of a review: this third book is certainly the “weakest” of the three. But not, as I suspected, because of a dip of writing quality (Bakker mentions in the books that the writing of books 2 and 3 was a mad sprint, compared to the elaborate planning that preceded the 1st). I feel like this trilogy acquires a necessary shape, and there’s nothing to match the intellectual war between Cnaiur and Kellhus in the first book. It’s a shape of story that consumes, rather than elevate. And I think this is precisely the point. Those last few pages.

The conclusion itself is perfect, Achamian was MY voice. Rarely I felt so much identity with what was being expressed. That last chapter talked directly to me. Like the “voice”, now addressing Achamian. “TELL ME, ACHAMIAN.” I do think that the world described in these books is the same world we live in. And I’ve reached on my own the same conclusion: that the only way to be in this world, is to refuse to participate. But Achamian is so well written than he’s not just the voice of clarity and a man transformed. He’s still deeply wounded, and he could only end up lashing out at Esmenet. Yet another time. Calling her a whore, lashing at her with the violence of his words to hurt her.

Achamian comes out of the scene as a WIZARD. Bakker even gives him a staff, one step from transforming into Gandalf. And yet Achamian, right here, is a far shot from the wiser calm wizard. He’s still driven by anger. Maybe in this, he is connected with Cnaiur and Kellhus: madness. He finally hears the No-God. The sightless god-head that finally turns to him. Not Seswatha. The whisper from Otside breaks the charm.

The excerpt that precedes this small last chapter has:

“there are many things of which I am absolutely certain, things that feed the hate which drives this very quill.”

I think this last scene, capping the whole trilogy, is perfect in the imperfection of Achamian. In that illegitimate hate against Esmenet, even if in the shadow of the hate for Kellhus. Achamian, still a fucking human being (very much fucking, considering the only thing he could get from Esmenet was fucking one last time).


Reading the last 100 pages has been infuriating, more than it’s been anything else.

I felt frustration when precisely 100 pages from the end, Achamian pulled out his map. How many times this scene was repeated through all three books? Every time it felt like we inched so very close to a moment of revelation. Only for it to slip away, once again. This final time it’s as if there’s crackling electricity in the air, as if the names on the map would start moving on their own, and mold together to form a final design…

The sorcerer rocked back and forth in the candlelight, to and fro, muttering, muttering …
“Back-back … m-must start at beginning …”

He quickly scratched a welter of new lines, all the connections he had ignored since his abduction by the Scarlet Spires. Then, in a hand too steady to be his own—for he was mad, he knew that now—he wrote

he pondered the identity of things, the way words did not discriminate between repetitions. They were immortal, and yet they cared.

He stared at the completed map, insensible to the passage of time.

He had become a ghost that stared and stared, not really pondering but watching, as though the secret lay hidden in the ink’s immobility …
Men. Schools. Cities. Nations.
Prophets. Lovers.


There was no pattern to these breathing things. There was no encompassing thought to give them meaning. Just men and their warring delusions … The world was a corpse.
Xinemus’s lesson.

Nothing. Three books and it all comes to nothing. Delusions. Xinemus hovers like a punishment over the need for meaning.

Even in the light of mysteries solved in the following 100 pages, that map stays pretty much pointless. The revelations about mysteries lingering from the first book, like the figure of Maithanet, lead to dead ends. Solutions that do not lead anywhere meaningful. Mysteries that didn’t truly deserve being withheld for so long.

At the end of this scene I started to feel some cynicism about where the book would ultimately lead. I felt there wasn’t enough “space” left to deliver what I expected and demanded.

75 pages from the end, I decided it was it. In some other review a while ago I read the last 100 pages of the book were like a convoluted discussion of metaphysics. I could only hope it was the truth, because the problem is that there isn’t ENOUGH. The worldly scenes about the battle in Shimeh alternate with the “confrontation” between Kellhus and Moënghus. I didn’t resent this constant interruption and division in small pieces. Everything was fitting. But… there wasn’t enough space left.

I was driven by a hunger for SOMETHING. And despite these pages were tossing little bits of information, it was becoming clear that is was all a giant detour. That there wasn’t that payoff that I was waiting for, and that was, for me, NECESSARY.

So, somewhere around page 75, I closed the book. Because I knew.

I built my own idea, that now I’m laboring to retrieve once again. But it was too complex to simply rebuild here. That’s why I actually hate writing. Because it feels like 10x the effort. I spend effort in the thinking, but then I have to backtrack it all, if I want to write it on the page. A week later, it’s simply an impossible task and even the best attempt pales.

In any case, the central concept was that I saw the trilogy as a sort of domino. Now that I closed the book, that idea still seems to me valid. There isn’t any real point to drive to. There isn’t a final destination, same as Shimeh itself was a sham. It was CLEARLY a sham of course. But the same for the reader. The events that unfold through the series, unfold from the first book. Like water cascading down, taking shape by circumstances, by what it finds on its path. Enacting its own theme, Darkness precedes, the rest follows. If the first book sets the premises, then the evens in book 2 are, as being retold in blindness by both Moënghus and Kellhus: axiomatic. The themes were set, what followed was simply observation. The following books weren’t unnecessary, though. Because even in repetition, it’s the eloquence that has immense power. This last section could be seen as an info-dump, a long recap as Moënghus and Kellhus retell each other movements through inference. But again, it’s power in eloquence. In the power of words that almost become chants.

“You gave them certainty, though all the world is mystery. You gave them flattery, though all the world is indifference. You gave them purpose, though all the world is anarchy.
“You taught them ignorance.

While I was already surrendering hopes of getting the answers I needed, my problem became the answers that came.

Because this, here, is something that sounded hollow. That did not feel coherent, contrasting sharply with the clarity that preceded. There’s so much to unpack in this last book. I wish again I could paste here all my complex thoughts as I was reading. But at least I can get to the point.

There are some things that are suddenly weird. At one point, walking down a corridor, lead by Moënghus in the dark, Kellhus “inadvertently kicks” a skull. This doesn’t return later. Why is this happening? My only interpretation is that it works as foreshadowing. Kellhus was mentioning a conclusion to the Scarlet Spires story. They would all die. But… why? Since when Bakker writes these kind of “scenic” passages? Why this sudden artistic license, when everything is so sharply focused, being driven. There is no real ornaments, outside of the use of language. Instead these last 100 pages seem to be descending into a manipulation. Of things happening for their exhibition. As if the world wasn’t anymore a corpse, but a showman. As if the world wasn’t anymore indifferent to the vagaries of men, but was goading.

This built a disconnect, between me and these pages, that never happened before. Because my surprise was that it wasn’t simply a false perception, but it SEEPED into the story. It became its own theme. Both Moënghus and Kellhus started to sound FALSE. False to each other, meaningfully, but also to the world. They started to act wrongly. To speak wrongly.

How could Kellhus not anticipate the scenes between Esmenet and Achamian. It should have been a child’s play, compared to what he engaged before. How could you shape whole populations, but not understand the two of them.

There is a moment where Kellhus returns himself. He agrees with his father. The world is closed, that’s why he could do the things he had done. Maybe his further doubt is fine. He decides that what happens is beyond mere consequence. My own problem is that while all this comes better in focus, it just isn’t working well. The more things move toward the metaphysical, the more I feel like disagreeing.

I embrace the fact that the world is closed. Here Bakker uses language that is very familiar to me. When Kellhus first is introduced to the concept of magic, he assumes it’s a trick. Another occluded experience that is waiting to be fully exposed. His doubt holds on, because the beginning of his own mission starts with visions, sent my Moënghus. This is already part of the mystery. Not the reason WHY Moënghus summoned him. But HOW. How could Moënghus send visions? What’s the magic of this world truly based on? What’s the gimmick? Is it here to say what?

There are concepts that return often, and that are quite clear. If the world is closed, deterministic, there’s no free will. I feel it’s perfectly fitting that Moënghus seems to blend and merge with the world as he speaks. The voice from nowhere. Impersonal. Godlike. The moment the world is revealed for what it is (closed) then points of view disappear. The Shortest Path is, again, axiomatic. Given the full context and all variables, there’s only one path, the shortest path, connecting A to B (or equally short, but lets not bog down this point). If there’s one optimal, absolute path, then what space is left for personal choice? That’s why I find funny that with Moënghus and Kellhus inferring each other… they become predictable. Because they obviously lose their free will. They also become slaves to their circumstances, not masters. Whether or not they SHAPE circumstances, they shape them in that one precise path that is suitable. That one precise path that no one chose. It was simply there to be taken. Because by seeing everything, they betray their own boundary. They get the world, but they lose themselves.

And yet, what’s there to shatter this system? That the world is not closed.

Here Moënghus simply rambles on. I do not follow.

“The Dûnyain,” Moënghus continued, “think the world closed, that the mundane is all there is, and in this they are most certainly wrong. This world is open, and our souls stand astride its bounds. But what lies Outside, Kellhus, is no more than a fractured and distorted reflection of what lies within. I have searched, for nearly the length of your entire life, and I have found nothing that contradicts the Principle.


What the fuck happened to being Dûnyain? How can you say “nothing contradicts the Principle” when by stating that the world is MOST CERTAINLY OPEN, you already, immediately contradicted the very premises that creates the condition for that principle to exist?

What happened to the SCIENCE of knowledge?

You’ve just accused Kellhus of claiming certainty without proof, calling him mad. And now you make mad claims without a foundation. How can you accept those conclusion when they DO NOT FOLLOW?! What happened to what came before?

Science is an amalgam of theories SHAPED so they can be TESTED. They are built specifically TO MAKE THEM VULNERABLE. To collapse possibilities. Because to test truth you shape a thesis to shatter against it. This is what a proof is. It’s a test precisely thought for the specifics that can break the thesis.

Focus moves from ontology, the “what”, the truth of things. To Epistemology, how human beings decide what is true. Not WHAT is true, but HOW we decide. Because, “it is axiomatic”. If we can agree on “how”, the process we look for truth, then WHAT is true is not important. Because we will always agree, no matter what. Once we agree on the process, the conclusion will always be the same. Predictable same as a Dûnyain inference.

We often confuse things on this level. Some believe that science is a way to knowledge. Truth is, there’s nothing else. As human beings, we don’t get to choose. The truth about science, and knowledge, is that there isn’t an alternate path. Not because science is valid, but simply because a contender, in the history of humanity, NEVER SHOWED UP. You can doubt science, of course. You can map its limits. But NOTHING changes the fact that there is nothing else. That there is no alternative.

There is nothing, along the whole history of humanity, that has defied, even for a tiny, minuscule moment in time and space, the rule of physics as we know them. I’m not saying, of course, that everything is explained. The opposite: I’m saying there isn’t one, even minuscule thing that PROVES otherwise. That explicitly contradicts. While we have proofs of science and knowledge working, every single moment of our life, we have not a single instance of the opposite. The opponent never showed up. Not once in recalled history.

Once we know what science is, understanding metaphysics is not trickier, even if most people are biased against it. The point is, there is no difference between science and metaphysics, in the sense that they follow the exact same rules when it comes to epistemology. So when it comes to the ROOTS that make the process for knowledge valid, and those conclusions possible. The dividing like is not conceptual, it’s not abstract. It’s merely pragmatic: science is a process to test thesis. It’s the breaking point. But all that comes before and after, the production of a thesis, the analysis of its outcome, are what is preserved when it comes to metaphysics. Things still have to make sense, and analysis can sometime reveal contradictions. Weaknesses in the thesis.

If the line of distinction is that science can test, then what defines metaphysics is the complete surrender of even the possibility of certainty. It doesn’t mean there’s nothing, but it means that so much more of it than even in science, skepticism will reign. Not only that you don’t know, but you won’t likely know, ever.

Which is kind of funny, because the very essence of Dûnyain, of THE LOGOS, is not using tools of science. Have you ever seen a Dûnyain TEST something? Nope. The Probability Trance maps the worlds ahead, shaping them after variables change. It’s purely mental. Meaning that: IT’S PURELY METAPHYSICAL.

And metaphysics, exactly the same in our world, only works when THERE ARE NO GAPS. Only when the world is closed.

I’m upset here not just at the claim that the world is OPEN. Kellhus could have said that, because the line of distinction, between Moënghus’s Logos and Kellhus’ Thousandfold Thought, is the OUTSIDE. The PRESUMPTION that the world is open. This is the pivotal point. And yet, it’s instead Moënghus claiming, with almost certainty, that the world… is open. And it’s again himself saying… IT DOESN’T MATTER. Because the Logos is untouched. There are all sort of contradictions here. Why doesn’t it matter?! And more importantly, if the LOGOS is your practice, how could you come to the conclusion the world’s open? It’s a huge gaping hole in the Logos itself. In the PROCESS of establishing what’s true. But most irritatingly, it’s not Kellhus’ error here, which would be justified, but Moënghus. They flip sides without even realizing it.

While reading these pages I was shaking my head, because… how could you title a book THE THOUSANDFOLD THOUGHT, and not give an explanation to what it is. We’ve come to the end of a trilogy, and even the title is mockery. So I started to feel like I wasn’t going to get answers, but even more irritating was the idea that answers were actually given in a way that made them incoherent.

What is the point of distinction between everything we’ve known up to this point about the Logos. The Shortest Path and Probability Trance are already a synonyms, but at least one indicates a purpose. We know the Probability Trance, that is just a process to employ the Logos. So what is the Thousandfold Thought, more? What makes it more? What sets it apart from what they both (Moënghus, Kellhus) were already doing? Why isn’t there an explanation about this? “Kellhus had seen it many times, wandering the labyrinth of possibilities that was the Thousandfold Thought”, how’s this any different from the Probability Trance? Kellhus begins in the first book wandering through possible futures, then toward the end of book 2… grasps the Thousandfold Thought, which is the exact same thing, but under a different name.

Again, everything that is happening in this scene is a retelling, with incredible eloquence, of what happened. Plus the suggestion of what comes after: Kellhus not only has retraced his father’s footsteps, but moved beyond. He feels that his grasp of the Logos and circumstances have made his father obsolete. But if this is the point, then the one who could claim of being more, is Kellhus. The Thousandfold Thought is his. The line of distinction would be: the breach of metaphysics. The Outside that bleeds in. His own powers with gnostic magic. The breaking of the Logos, seen by Moënghus as “madness”. The voices, the miracles. What just couldn’t be grasped through the metaphysics of the Logos, because… the world’s open.

I just can’t make sense of any of this. Kellhus “acquires” the Thousandfold Thought in book 2. Before the voices, before the circumfixion. So before the specific events that would make him “mad”. Both Kellhus and Moënghus claim of wielding the Thousandfold Thought, even if again there’s nothing indicating it being anything but a repetition of the Shortest Path and Probability Trance.

Because of his conditioning, Kellhus doesn’t deny the claim about his madness. He actually honestly considers it. He understands that this further segment he’s added to his father’s Thousandfold Thought does not follow. He acknowledges his father’s right. But yet he’s driven by certainty. And he acts (“beliefs beget action”). Even if this contradicts everything, creating a mirror with Achamian final section, where he says something quite similar and being driven by anger and certainty.

He was right. Prophecy could not be. If the ends of things governed their beginnings, if what came after determined what came before, then how could he have mastered the souls of so many? And how could the Thousandfold Thought come to rule the Three Seas? The Principle of Before and After simply had to be true, if its presumption could so empower …
His father had to be right.
So what was this certainty, this immovable conviction, that he was wrong?

My problem with these last 100 pages is that there wasn’t enough metaphysics, feeling solid. The Thousandfold Thought is either a sham, or repetition of the same concepts already introduced in book 1. It all converges to the end, but it isn’t MORE. It doesn’t reveal more. Maithanet, Moënghus and Kellhus don’t become more. Maithanet is played down and dismissed. Moënghus is utterly powerless in the realization he’s been superseded. Kellhus is going through a power trip that isn’t making him more, it’s making him the contradiction of everything he was, without a consistent and meaningful cause. The actual exception to the Logos.

I isolate these three aspects: Achamian’s map, “WHAT DO YOU SEE?”, and the Thousandfold Thought. Bakker built these as if they are rhythmical beats that repeat throughout all the three books. As if they were a march, leading toward some final ascension and revelation. I needed all three to deliver something, to be something more. Every time one of these scenes repeated, it felt like revelation was imminent. That something was about to be said would put things at least in a different light. And yet it slipped away, every single time. It felt as if something was added, but it was illusory. Then, 25 pages from the end,

“Tell me, Father … what is the No-God?”

And we get nothing. Tell me, R. Scott Bakker, why do you keep goading, and surrender nothing. We are at the end, there are no pages left.

“The skin-spies—what have they told you? What is the No-God?”
Though walled in by the flesh of his face, Moënghus seemed to scrutinize him. “They do not know. But then, none in this world know what they worship.”

Then WHY?

It all comes to this central pillar, like a maelstrom that is the pivot of the whole story. And it’s simply missing. There is no motive. None of this, about the ultimate purpose of the Consult and the Inchoroi, is revealed here. There is, slightly past the middle point of a book, a scene where Kellhus face a possessed Esmenet. This scene already revealed more, but again failing to give a solid motive that would justify the rest. It even mirrors the same structure “Tell me, what are the Dûnyain?” and “So what are you, then?” Kellhus asked. “What are the Inchoroi?”

“A race of lovers.” Okay, doesn’t mean anything. “And for this you are damned.” This means even LESS.

“We were born for damnation’s sake.” How’s this a valid MOTIVE. This is a pure evasion. Missing entirely the point.

“Our very nature is transgression.” Transgression of WHAT? If you are part of the natural order, then what are you transgressing if not an arbitrary rule? What is the point of this dividing line? How there can even be a morality, in a system where the concept of sin holds no ground. Who’s even making the rules? The gods? Why aren’t they then RESPONSIBLE for the contradictions they BREED?

Who’s the judging eye? What the hell is “damnation” in a world like this? Why at the very end Kellhus accuses Moënghus, when he has already done the same or worse?

“The crimes you’ve committed, Father … the sins … When you learn of the damnation that awaits you, when you come to believe, you will be no different from the Inchoroi.

“For this I am to heave and scream in lakes of fire?” They are scared of literal hell?! How, when this world already is hell?

“There is no absolution for your kind.” Oh, the merciful god. Where again is the line of distinction? That men are slightly less perverted, slightly more coward?

“To save my soul, hmmm? So long as there are Men, there are crimes. So long as there are crimes, I am damned.” Somehow, the presence of men produces crimes. Not as acts of men, but as the realization of morals. Nothing about this makes any sense. Men create the gods, then placed them on the Outside. Now the Inchoroi resent men, because they have pinned alien metaphysics to their own landscape. What an annoyance. Curious that they were flying through the cosmos in their golden spaceship and happened to crash specifically on that bit of dry land where they happen to be damned.

The scene at the end doesn’t add anything else, beside Kellhus’ realization that a Thousandfold Thought lead by Moënghus would only end with him joining the Consult. And once again, that gaping hole within the maelstrom: why?

The whole thing misses a motive. We see these projected futures, but absolutely nothing about the inferences that lead them, that make them axiomatic. The duel of intellect between Cnaiur and Kellhus, in the first book, was so enthralling because Kellhus was a man. His powers were simply a somewhat plausible extension. They weren’t magical or absurd. But throughout this third book the points of view have been closely guarded, to carefully avoid explanation. To evade. This goads and builds mystery, but then is utterly disappointing when nothing follows.

What about the recurring flashback in this third book. Seswatha and Nau-Cayûti, sifting through the labyrinth of the golden spaceship, looking for a … laser rifle. Following through the whole book. And leading up to what? The revelation, already known from the beginning, that Seswatha tricked the boy. Again, there is nothing MORE. These scenes seem to be just there. They give some insight, but it’s not as meaningful as these scenes FEEL. It always seems as if there’s something missing. They don’t even find the laser rifle at the end. In the final scene they only end up discovering that the Inchoroi have been naughty. And Nau-Cayûti blaming Seswatha for his own stupidity (again, if you really cared, then ask why and how, not what. It seems that Nau-Cayûti simply nursed that lie rather than confront it).

When I first read the “WHAT DO YOU SEE?” scene, in the first book, I was confused. This is being described as the ultimate evil, Sauron turned into a floating iron closet. But… I don’t know. Some of it feels like a parody. And the words themselves. The vagueness. The bold font. They have power instead. The words themselves are used meaningfully through all three books. But within these scenes the No-God seems to be powerless rather than a force of evil.

The little pieces that are added, repetition after repetition, amount to: “I CANNOT SEE SHIT!”, paraphrasing. “Help me! I cannot see!”, the No-God seems to say.

It turns into a voice of desperation. Not force of will. But being all so vague, I don’t really know. There are a couple of places through the books where this idea is directly contradicted. But who knows what comes from the No-God and what is instead simply projected on it. This floating carapace seems built like a trap of misdirection. And yeah… What about the final scene. Once again, with Achamian. A different scene. What if Seswatha’s memories are a lie? Was that the purpose of Nau-Cayûti’s story? The proof that Seswatha would bend the truth and manipulate, if necessary?

“What am I?” the dark and regal face said, frowning. His oiled braids thrashed like snakes about his shoulders. The last of the light glimmered across the lions wrought into his bronze armor.

I already said that Bakker’s writing for these last 100 pages has been oddly evocative. Incongruous because of that. Where the world bends to the vagaries of men. Here’s a similar case, in my own interpretation.

“His oiled braids thrashed like snakes about his shoulders”, I see this part as a reference to the Cishaurim’s snakes, wrapped around the necks. “The last of the light glimmered.” For me the purpose of these words is to evoke blindness. The same blindness of the Cishaurim.

“The painted eyes fixed him, honest and intent.” The No-God, honest and intent.

“As though demanding a boon.” As if the god is waiting… for approval?


But I don’t see anything. It’s as if this No-God is asking to be MADE. To be realized. He seems the very opposite of an act of will. He seems lost, blind, waiting for someone to direct him. Tell him where he is and what’s happening. He’s like trapped within the carapace, asking if there’s someone, something outside that can help. Is there even a world? He becomes a voice with no place. A voice with no self. But then, a voice that suffers for sins not committed. “Closeted”, guarded, used.

It is surprising that no one ever answers.

At the end of this specific scene the voice calls explicitly for Achamian. I think the intent shifts here and the purpose is to create a link between Cnaiur and Achamian, and then to Kellhus: madness. All three can hear the No-God. And all three step outside of circumstances because this madness supposedly makes them breach to the Outside. Again, I liked better in the first book, where Cnaiur’s madness wasn’t otherworldly. It simply allowed him to surprise Kellhus, merely because Kellhus could only use the Logos with the information he had. The whole point for keeping alive and using Caiur was that he needed him and his knowledge. Information had to be acquired, and madness was simply a certain temporary darkness. Darkness that stayed this side of the world. And yet, madness at the conclusion of the trilogy becomes a super power that bridges worlds. That whispers like bicameral mentality. That magically connects with that “certain” Outside. It doesn’t feel earned to me. It is not meaningful. It is not insightful. It’s just magical hand waving, and it’s all about this central point that is metaphysically hollow. Basically a McGuffin.

Kellhus walking underground through non-men corridors, described in detail. Always goading onward. I don’t resent reading this, but why? Walking to get to his father, then following his father. Leading to nothing. What’s about that place? What’s about all the water? It builds and builds. Could have just found his father napping under a tree, a passing mention about the skin-spies.

I’d have as many other things still to say, but I’ve had enough here.

I will repeat that all this frustration I voiced doesn’t make the read through these three books less extraordinary. I’ve expressed extensively what the books aren’t, but what the books are still remains. The greater part. It defies me. This is the only thing I’ve ever read, even compared to Tolkien, Erikson or Martin, that I do not think possible. I do not understand how it came to be. If you ask me what would it take to build a thing like this from scratch? My answer: too much.

If I look back at the journey of the men of the Tusk, from the very beginning, I can only think: it’s too much.

Ironically, because what else could the Inchoroi hope for, if not this mad butchery of human life. I imagine them, flapping about and crying “OH YES! THEY ARE DOING IT THEMSELVES!”

About the things missing from the books. Those that I expected but weren’t delivered. I know there are three (four) more books, but this is not the case. I feel that if something was going to be added, and merely moved to the second trilogy, then Bakker would have still written this third book differently. I’m quite sure, knowing the way Bakker writes, that the third trilogy won’t bring more to the table, in the sense I intend. I’m not delusional about what to expect. If those kind of answers were going to be delivered in the way I expected them, then they would have come already. I’m sure of this, but we’ll see.

In any case, this doesn’t make books 2 and 3 superfluous. The journey has to be taken. What is there on the page, is not diminished in any way. I just have my lusts for knowledge…

And I was forgetting one important point. That excerpt that introduces chapter 17, just eight pages from the end, encapsulates with eerie precision my own personal stance toward life and the truth of the world.

Ajencis, in the end, argued that ignorance was the only absolute.
According to Parcis, he would tell his students that he knew only
that he knew more than when he was an infant. This comparative
assertion was the only nail, he would say, to which one could tie
the carpenter-string of knowledge. This has come down to us as the
famed “Ajencian Nail,” and it is the only thing that prevented the
Great Kyranean from falling into the tail-chasing scepticism of
Nirsolfa, or the embarrassing dogmatism of well-nigh every philosopher
and theologian who ever dared scratch ink across parchment.

But it doesn’t stop there. Of course Bakker contradicts it. So when I was reading it I stopped, and decided to continue reading those last 8 pages, to then return to the last part of the excerpt after the end. As if Bakker threw me a final challenge and I’d answer it. Return to see if he would open a crack in the only thing that drives me.

I disagree.

But even this metaphor, “nail,” is faulty, a result of what happens
when we confuse our notation with what is noted. Like the numeral
“zero” used by the Nilnameshi mathematicians to work such
wonders, ignorance is the occluded frame of all discourse, the unseen
circumference of our every contention. Men are forever looking for
the one point, the singular fulcrum they can use to dislodge all
competing claims. Ignorance does not give us this. What it provides,
rather, is the possibility of comparison, the assurance that not all
claims are equal. And this, Ajencis would argue, is all that we need.

This is not an argument, this is a straw man. Then the following becomes more conciliatory…

For so long as we admit our ignorance, we can hope to improve our
claims, and so long as we can improve our claims, we can aspire to
the Truth, even if only in rank approximation.

But I disagree. When it comes to the concept of truth, it’s all about time. Life is fleeting. We are no Dûnyain because, among other things, we have not enough time to think. You can hope to improve your knowledge as long you justify your life by taking your future for granted. But this is another delusion. It’s just moving that nail of morality ever onward. No one is ever judged, because there’s always hope. Hope to understand more and become better.

Judgement about truth, the “Ajencian Nail”, is about the now. What you know, now. What you decide, now. It doesn’t matter what you will know. It doesn’t matter if life will give you another chance, same as it doesn’t matter if you don’t have one. That abstract nail is simply experience. And experience is absolute in the sense that it cannot be denied, it cannot be contradicted. You know it now, and it will be true for the eternity. No one can rob you of your immediate present. People misunderstand things like hallucinations, because they seem proof that perception, too, is deceiving. But this is a false interpretation. No one denies the appearance of hallucination. Only its interpretation can be “false”. You can move and reframe, you can complete by adding more, but you can’t change what is contained.

Our three-dimensional world seems to overwrite our perception every instant. A sequence of frames one after the other like a movie. But there isn’t any contradiction in this world. What appears as overlapping, what appears crossing impossible boundaries, A transforming into B, becoming something other than itself… is merely adjacent. Perception, as information, is forever adjacent. With gaps, of course, because it’s all severely limited, by information collected and ability, possibility for the brain to process. But it’s never contradicting. And yet forever incomplete.

The world is closed. To our experience and memory, it’s never been open. The world is closed. And this piece of the world you hold in your hands, is YOURS. For eternity.

…And the Apocalypse is nearing. But thankfully then, I don’t have years or months, or even days to wait before the next book. Onward I proceed.

(what follows here is a collection of quotes, some already used above, that for some reason I decided to rearrange in what’s essentially an inverse order)

Ajencis, in the end, argued that ignorance was the only absolute. According to Parcis, he would tell his students that he knew only that he knew more than when he was an infant. This comparative assertion was the only nail, he would say, to which one could tie the carpenter-string of knowledge. This has come down to us as the famed “Ajencian Nail,” and it is the only thing that prevented the Great Kyranean from falling into the tail-chasing scepticism of Nirsolfa, or the embarrassing dogmatism of well-nigh every philosopher and theologian who ever dared scratch ink across parchment.

“Set aside your conviction,” Moënghus said, “for the feeling of certainty is no more a marker of truth than the feeling of will is a marker of freedom. Deceived men always think themselves certain, just as they always think themselves free. This is simply what it means to be deceived.”

“Men cannot see this because of their native incapacities. They attend only to what confirms their fears and their desires, and what contradicts they either dismiss or overlook. They are bent upon affirmation. The priests crow over this or that incident, while they pass over all others in silence. I have watched, my son, for years I have counted, and the world shows no favour. It is perfectly indifferent to the tantrums of men.

“And the Truth?” Kellhus asked. “What of that?”
“There is no Truth for the worldborn. They feed and they couple, cozening their hearts with false flatteries, easing their intellects with pathetic simplifications. The Logos, for them, is a tool of their lust, nothing more … They excuse themselves and heap blame upon others. They glorify their people over other peoples, their nation over other nations. They focus their fears on the innocent. And when they hear words such as these, they recognize them—but as defects belonging to others. They are children who have learned to disguise their tantrums from their wives and their fellows, and from themselves most of all …

Lies that have conquered and reproduced over the centuries. Delusional world views that have divided the world between them. They are twin viramsata that even now war through shouts and limbs of men. Two great thoughtless beasts that take the souls of Men as their ground.”

“The path was narrow, to be certain, but it was very clear. You cultivated their awe and their inklings, telling them things no man could know. You appealed to the spark of Logos within them. You mapped the logic of their commitments, showed them the implications of the tenets they already held. You showed them beliefs fixed by truth rather than function. You made their fears and weaknesses plain—you showed them who they were—even as you exploited those weaknesses to your advantage.

“You gave them certainty, though all the world is mystery. You gave them flattery, though all the world is indifference. You gave them purpose, though all the world is anarchy.
“You taught them ignorance.

“And throughout, you insisted that you were only a man like any other. You even feigned anger when others dared voice their suspicions. You did not impose, and you never presumed. You conditioned. You gave one man a wheel, another an axle, another a harness or a box, knowing that sooner or later they themselves would put the pieces together—that the revelation would be theirs. You bound them with inferences, knowing that someday they would make you their conclusion.”

“There were no codes. There was no honour. The world between men was as trackless as the Steppe – as the desert! There were no men… Only beasts, clawing, craving, mewling, braying. Gnawing at the world with their hungers. All these thousands, Men of the Tusk, killed and died in the name of delusions. Save hunger, nothing commanded the world.”

“All things both sacred and vile speak to the hearts of Men, and they are bewildered. Holding out their hands to darkness, THEY NAME IT LIGHT.”

Continuing on my plan to finally read all Bakker’s series to its very end, without anything else in between (though I’m reading a bit of Michelle West). A race between me getting to the end point, or the actual Apocalypse coming first. You can feel it’s close, that pleasant, warm breath on your neck.

Currently some 120 pages into book 3, where page 140 is the farthest point I ever reached before.

Chapter six starts in a rather meandering way, especially coming after the previous that continued in a kind of anticlimactic way. Characters feel a bit distant after lengthy sessions that read like short time-skips and fly-bys. The first book was much stronger on this aspect, since it kept a closer perspective. The distance instead maintains a strong focus on purpose and meaning, but also makes the pages denser and more fatiguing to read.

And yet all at the sudden the distance vanishes and everything comes together to a sharp apex where all levels are fused into one: Bakker gives a rational explanation why GOD CANNOT LOVE. A mathematical proof.

At the first level it’s basically the classic “theodicy”. How can god tolerate evil in the world? Why is there pain and hate if god is the master of its own world? Why is it allowed? It’s the old theme about distinctions. Bakker uses the metaphor of a candle. The candle can only have its meaning if it can shine through the darkness. Without the distinction between light from darkness, the light, the flame and the candle do not exist. And that’s fine, not especially revelatory. It’s just an abstraction.

But here Bakker is able to WEAPONIZE the rhetoric of love. He builds an equivalence between LOVE and KNOWLEDGE. I love you (said to a woman) because only I know you, deeply. I know all the good things as well as the bad about you. The virtues and the vices. I know the way you truly are, and because of that I love you, in a way no one else can. Because I alone know you that way. (and because we know each other in that unique, exceptional way)

It’s not the sudden charm of a lover, the projection of an ideal of beauty, the seduction of a surface. It’s instead the love acquired after many years spent together, the good and the bad, and that profundity of knowledge that is the result. Love past the curtains of beauty, wishes and desires.

The revelation comes unexpected to Achamian, in the exact same moment it comes to the reader. Because it is simply true. Not at a level of abstraction, but immediate. It comes close to the level of the story and characters, and is valid as a universal concept.

A god knows everything and everyone. He knows you, both the things you know about yourself, as well what you hide from yourself (the two faces of the coin, another strong point within book 2). He sees right THROUGH you. As if you were completely transparent, with no sense of shame, of things you expect to hide. That’s why men cower in front of the gods. Because the gods know, MORE. Nothing can be fashioned, nothing is hidden. And yet the god knows everything and everyone EQUALLY. He knows you the same way he knows everyone else. He knows the insides of your body the same as he knows the insides of your soul. He knows your past, what you have done, and the future, what you will do. And he knows better than you, why you have done the things you’ve done. The god knows you the same as he knows everyone else, the same as he knows a chair, a stone, the law of physics that move your body and your soul. He is the substance you swim through and that makes you. Therefore everything is simply equal, there’s no distinction. The god doesn’t love you MORE than another, because you are the same as a rock. There’s nothing more to you. There’s nothing more to anything else. Just a THING. An impersonal eye that looks at you and says nothing. A god that cannot feel. WHAT DO YOU SEE. I MUST KNOW WHAT YOU SEE. A god that cannot perceive any answer.

This is again abstract, but it is concrete within the story. A couple of pages earlier comes another revelation. Kellhus is the personification of the god, but he doesn’t have the powers of a god because he cannot HEAL. And yet it is true that he knows people, that he sees through them as if they are transparent. Esmenet says as much. She felt eager for the first time when she felt being truly known, when Kellhus understood her whole story, the deeper secrets Achamian never came close to. And at the same time she cowered in shame, even if being known by Kellhus was also to be absolved.

When Achamian says to Esmenet that Kellhus knows EVERYONE, he isn’t even telling her, but to himself. Because it comes as a revelation. Kellhus cannot know you (Esmenet) especially, because he knows everyone just the same. He sees through everyone. Validating and reinforcing by a scene back in book 2, from Kellhus point of view we know that he sees Esmenet just the same as he saw Serwe: as another tool to wield. Another piece of the world he walks through. And he sacrificed Serwe, even DESECRATED HER CORPSE, just because it could be an expedient to seize his power.

To be KNOWN by Kellhus is not to be made MORE. But LESS. To become just another thing. A carpet. A door. A knife. Knowledge DEBASES.

It’s kind of ironic that in this moment of absolute power Kellhus loses something. Achamain can indulge in a moment of nothingness he achieved: the light of a god (kellhus) creates the shadow that lets the love between Achamian and Esmenet persist. Achamian has literally created a space where the god cannot go.

Reason, Ajencis writes, is the capacity to overcome unprecedented obstacles in the gratification of desire. What distinguishes man from beasts is man’s capacity to overcome infinite obstacles through reason.

But Ajencis has confused the accidental for the essential. Prior to the capacity to overcome infinite obstacles is the capacity to confront them. What defines man is not that he reasons, but that he prays.


From Chapter 2:

“Ah, yes. I’d forgotten that you numbered yourself among the skeptics. What is it you say? That we pursue ghosts.” He 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.”

This is a conversation between three individuals that has a lot of subtlety and actual depth.

For the reader the story has a starting point. It’s the beginning of a book, of course it means there’s a meaningful segment of a story to be told. But for these characters this is just one moment. They are all waiting for something to happen, but they don’t know when. They aren’t even sure it will happen. Even if they have the dreams that are an effective tool that prevents memory to fade, they are still caught in the inertia of daily life (as one of the following excerpts will also confirm).

It’s all kind of suspended in uncertainty, and even skepticism. They have a burden, something more that lets them see the world, and yet they are caught within, transported away same as everyone else…

Nautzera studied his face. “Skeptics,” he snorted. “You all make the same error. You confuse us with the other Schools. But do we vie for power? Do we scurry around palaces, placing Wards and sniffing sorceries like dogs? Do we whine into the ears of Emperors or Kings? In the absence of the Consult, you confuse our actions with those who act for no purpose save that of power and its childish gratifications. You confuse us with the whores.”

Could it be? No. He’d thought it through many times. Unlike the others, those like Nautzera, he could distinguish his age from the one he dreamt night after night. He could see the difference. The Mandate was not merely poised between epochs—it was poised between dreams and waking life. When the skeptics, those who thought the Consult had abandoned the Three Seas, looked at the Mandate, they saw not a School compromised by worldly ambition but the opposite: a School not in this world at all. The “mandate,” which was the mandate of history after all, was not to wage a dead war, or to sanctify a long-dead sorcerer driven mad by that war’s horrors, but to learn — to live from the past, not in it.

Nautzera here seems rhetorical, but he only introduces the powerful idea that is then reinforced in the following paragraph.

This isn’t pride, Achamian voices it just a moment later: The Mandate was a curse! Dispossessed of the God. Dispossessed even of the present. Only the clawing, choking fear that the future might resemble the past.

This is just pure description. There isn’t even choice. The idea of the curse is something received passively, and at best endured. Mandate Schoolmen are condemned to see the world as it is.

“A school not in this world.” Because their “curse” dislodged them permanently from the normalcy. They only get to decide what to do about it. They have a “mandate”, but they also don’t know everything. They live chasing a dream that they know to be true, but they don’t know when, or even if. There’s a deep uncertainty part of it all, enough for Achamian to be accused as a skeptic.

And yet Simas watched him so strangely, his eyes curious with their own indecision.

The reader knows, but they don’t. They know the importance of the moment, but they do not know this is the moment. This obviously echoes back.

These are the times I live in. All this happens now.

It seemed possible.

They know what happened in the past, and their mission is about the present. But they don’t know when it will happen. They are stuck in this perpetual state of preparedness, “chasing ghosts”. But being also themselves caught in the present, they are carried away just like everyone else.

The Schoolmen of the Mandate could never forget what had happened — the violence of Seswatha’s Dreams ensured that much. But if anything, the civilization of the Three Seas was insistent.

The more crowded the concerns of the present, the more difficult it became to see the ways in which the past portended the future.

Civilization is insistent. They are out of this world, yet trapped in it. No matter how strong the dreams are and their renewal, they also get washed away every time. There is this double layer of myth and reality, but where myth is stronger than reality.

Mandate Schoolmen have this double layer as part of their vision. Every moment they have to decide which one makes their own present reality. They cannot fully deny one of the two, and so they live as if suspended: “poised between dreams and waking life“.