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?)

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