Category Archives: Book Reviews


“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).

But.

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.

And?

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.

Wh-what?!

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?

I MUST KNOW WHAT YOU SEE.

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.”

He leaned closer, resting his elbows on his knees. “Your problem isn’t that you’re stupid. You’re not stupid. But you think that evil is like the Old Man, like Relos Var, like that thing sleeping in the middle of Kharas Gulgoth. You think evil is something you can just slay.”

I scoffed. “Should I point out that none of those are ‘something I can just slay’?”

“Oh, but you would try, wouldn’t you? Except real evil isn’t a demon or a rogue wizard. Real evil is an empire like Quur, a society that feeds on its poor and its oppressed like a mother eating her own children. Demons and monsters are obvious; we’ll always band together to fight them off. But real evil, insidious evil, is what lets us just walk away from another person’s pain and say, well, that’s none of my business.”

In the last couple of years priorities changed, so sitting down to read a book in a regular way became more rare. More recently I’ve tried to retrieve some of that but I decided that rather than resuming one of the many things I left behind, I wanted something fresh. Usually when I order and read a book it comes after a lot of pre-reading, researching both the author and the book. This time I decided to go almost blind. I don’t even remember how I got to this series. I probably saw it mentioned on some forum or twitter and then it came up a couple of times, commented as somewhat complex style of narration. I then looked it up and was surprised to know it was a series of five books, with four of them already out (at the time, now it’s complete), and three already in mass market edition. That’s… quite noteworthy, because it’s something that pops up and is already done. The first book came out in 2019, the fifth a couple of weeks ago. That’s five books in three years. The writer definitely delivered on her side of the bargain, I’d say.

Now that it’s all out we’re looking at slightly more than 1M words, with each book being of a similar size of around 200k or slightly more (the last one being the shortest, by a small margin). There are 90 chapters in the first book, meaning that they come and go fast, and it’s important to consider in light of what this book tries to be and wants to do. The reputation of the complexity of the narration comes for the structure. There are three points of view embedded. Two of them make the bulk of the novel and follow two different points in time. But both of them are about the same character, and the effect of this structure works quite well. Being the chapters themselves fast they create a pattern where even if you’re left at small cliffhangers, the return to this story is only a few pages away. The two points alternate regularly creating a kind of a chain that feels breezy and fun to read. And then you have the third point of view, that comes from the “pretense” of complex reading just because it’s about… footnotes. And footnotes have bad reputation.

For the whole first 100 pages or so (less so) I really didn’t know what to expect. Maybe I was just about to read a bunch of crap, it was in the possibilities. The writing, to me, felt not especially noteworthy, very sparse descriptions, not much setup. Some straightforward events being introduced. And there were these occasional footnotes that… didn’t add anything of value. They were some type of slightly witty commentary or infodump about worldbuilding stuff. Usually if there’s a layer of three different points of view (as I said they two main ones follow the same character, but one of them still counts as separate) I’d expect some ambiguity, unreliable narrators playing around with perceptions, subtlety, sleight of hand, to read between the lines. There isn’t much here, and the footnotes become more a way of explaining some aspects of the setting that wouldn’t be immediately familiar to new readers… Until I found out later in the book that the one compiling these notes isn’t some bystander, but an important character in the novel, that even begins commenting his own actions as they are narrated. This character being more subtle and interesting by himself, so making these footnotes much more an active part of the story, once that perspective is added.

It’s not a spoiler because it should be obvious since the first pages: the two levels of the narrative, chaining each other every other chapter, and following the two different points in time… Eventually converge into one for the last 100 pages, where you expect to find some kind of resolution. The whole book is actually written (within the scope of the story) after those three “points” are already done, the two pasts and “present”, but as I said in the end it’s only done to deliver a well done structure that encourages to keep turning the pages. But… What is it all about, in the end?

I said that I couldn’t have a clear picture when I started reading, and the part I enjoyed the least is the last 100 or so pages. Because after the thing is set up, it played out more or less as I expected. The book returns more within what you get from epic fantasy, so it matches expectations more than defying them. There are plenty of surprises, plot-wise, but they are what they are. But there’s still a whole book before that, and it’s actually very good. What it is about, and why does it work so well? Interactions. It’s well written and interesting to read because of the way characters react to each other. Dialogue. The main character doesn’t promise anything noteworthy, a typically know-nothing handsome guy destined to great things, whether they are good or bad. But he goes from a no one, to deal with important, scheming political figures in a matter of pages, and that initial ingenuity, while genuine, is short lived, nothing more than an illusion. In a similar fashion none of the characters are especially original, and yet all of them end up being so interesting because when it comes to interact with other characters they all seem instantly free of tropes, like they were never there.

I am used to characters brooding in self reflection, there’s very little of that in this book, and in a way that’s quite surprising. Even if it essentially follows very closely the main character, there are many moments where you don’t get what he’s thinking. You get the typical introspection that makes the character familiar, but there are also often moments when you’re only shown the results of some choices he makes. These surprises make the character proactive without being obscure, one step ahead of the reader, surprising in a positive way. And it’s not the main character, all of them receive the same treatment. None of them are strictly original, and none of them are built to defy a trope, turn it upside down. It’s more like the trope is entirely disregarded and these characters just have their novel interactions. There are so many scenes that are set up in a way that makes you feel what’s coming, and then the scene plays out and goes in a way that is just different.

Despite being 200k words, which is medium length epic fantasy, there are no sidetracks with a group of characters going for its separate adventure. The whole book does its thing, very narrowly focused. Not much happens, actually. The world building has some actual depth, but it also doesn’t borrow much space. Just dropped here and there. This might indicate a very slow moving book, but it’s exactly the opposite. It’s a breezy, fun read. So why? Because again it’s all in dialogue and interactions. Characters that shine when they meet each other, and the interaction feeling genuine a freely going. Honestly I could as well read on indefinitely having these characters live their lives, out of any urgency of plot. Why not. All characters surprised me more for their competence than their errors, free of affectation. Characters that I dismiss based on their premise, simply come back proving those premises didn’t exist. The only exception being dragons and demons, that whenever they talk sound like bad comic book caricatures.

What’s the story about? There are dragons and demons, and while being important, they are also very, very marginal in this book. The majority of it turns around some political intrigue and mystery of parentage. The protagonist is being shoved into very unfamiliar and hostile territory, only to prove he can navigate that space with wondrous competence. There are substantial aspects of the Game of Thrones, not strictly the book, but the powerplay, the family intrigue about “who’s the father, who’s the son” type of things. And then this main course gets layered with a more epic fantasy theme of gods meddling, and feisty demons feasting. There is one main gimmick that sustains the whole book. The technical gimmick is very simple to explain, but produces a kind of chaos that is hell to disentangle. And that’s great because it’s what a good gimmick should do. Simple to understand, but with greater implications. A clever trick, and it delivers plenty of surprises. I have a special weakness where it comes to grasp family relations, my brain just crashes, and I can easily say that at some point and some final revelations the book completely lost me.

And beware. I’m a type of reader that scours the book. At the end there’s a glossary with names and things, and a sort of family tree. Both of these massively spoiler many parts of the book. If you, like me, go to check out the glossary as soon something is mentioned, then you will often get a piece of information that in some cases would properly arrive some pages or chapters later, if not the whole book. It’s not a deal breaker. As I said the book thrives in dialogue and interactions of characters, the plot can be interesting, and work better without spoilers. But sometimes a tangle of relationships is even better to handle when you’re given some more pieces of information in advance.

I don’t know how the writer was able to complete the series in such a short span. This might have been a long project in conception, that has only been recently delivered to the publisher. Yet, it seems most of the actual writing happened in these last few years. It’s certainly impressive, and a rare thing to see a whole epic fantasy deliver as promised, ready to be read, without stretching to a different generation of readers because of how much time passed between books. I picked this up because I wanted something fresh, with the worry that I could be completely disappointed. I wasn’t at all. I enjoyed it fully. It’s an extremely consistent book, no ebbs, slow points. I said I didn’t especially like the ending as much of the rest, but it’s because I wanted the book to still tread new ground rather than fall back into epic fantasy norms. It’s as if for 600 pages it went out on a stroll to find its way, only to obediently return to some familiar safety. I like books that take risks, but it didn’t ruin or lessen the experience. The gamble to try something almost at random paid off.

He growled a curse under his breath, then insisted harshly, “Delay doesn’t conform to your purpose or mine.”

“Time,” came the reply, “is not accessible to manipulation.”

As if out of nowhere, Vector Shaheed asked amiably, “Is that philosophy or physics?”

Whenever I mean to write something here, on this site, I hit some problems. The biggest one is that to write a thing I need at least two hours of undivided attention. But my attention is usually very divided, so things get postponed. After a few days I’ve already moved on to something completely different, and that means it gets increasingly unlikely that I get into the suitable mindset to write the thing I was supposed to. So things end up either unfinished, or not happening. Anyway…

This book brings me back. I started to read actual novels in English, not my native language, only after the summer of 2007. I also stopped reading fantasy and sci-fi many years before then. My return, and beginning with reading English novels, started with “The Real Story”, the first book in this “Gap” series by Donaldson. Reading the book in English for the first time was challenging but quite fun, and the choice of the book helped. It is short, almost novella-size, small scale, but also built like a puzzle that unravels page by page. Pulling aside the curtain of the language to understand its meaning was matched by the little pieces of plot that eventually come to compose “the real story”.

You won’t find a review of that book around here, because I only started writing right after it. Actually the fist book I began with, at the end of that summer, was The Eye of the World. But I read that in Italian, then moved to The Real Story, then The Great Hunt, which I did review, and then The Blade Itself… everything else followed. But by December I had the whole Gap series with me. I can look back and rebuild the timetable thanks to the blog, and CRINGE at what I was thinking and writing at the time… First, I have now a much better opinion of Donaldson’s fantasy side, and secondly, “kinky mindcontrol”… nope. There’s nothing “kinky” about it. And those few paragraph read like an apology of Angus Thermopyle, which is horrifying for me to read now.

What happened since then? The “reading progress” up here is stuck… to a few years ago. But I was using goodreads to track some progress (but this too would get ignored for a long time). I decided to reread The Real Story at some point during the first months of the pandemic. Then moved, during the summer of 2020, to Forbidden Knowledge, only to stop right halfway through. I restarted this January and since I didn’t remember all that much, I kept moving back chapters, to the point I’ve basically read the whole thing again from page 1. Curiously, the main reason why I got stuck, back in 2020, was that I was close to the end and I wanted to write something here, but I didn’t have the time. So I started reading other stuff, and again I drifted away. This time I finished the book, but once again I risked skipping writing about it, because already almost 10 days went by, and it isn’t easy to go back and retrieve my thoughts. I either write about things when they are fresh, or I don’t. But then I don’t have the time, and I delay… All this to explain why I usually don’t.

To write about Forbidden Knowledge I’d have to go back and reintroduce The Real Story, which is also unlikely because it’s been two years already. It’s hard for me to say I “enjoyed” the read, because things here are quite painful. These are stories about abuse. Heavy, painful abuse done by disagreeable characters, pushed to the extreme, and then pushed again further. The horror is not implied. The thing that Donaldson does best, especially in Forbidden Knowledge is giving you the first person perspective. The “I” that FEELS. There is no blinking, there are no eyes averted from the brutality. It goes deep, in the flesh, and the mind. The physical abuse is surpassed by the psychological, emotional pain, that ends up soaking everything. It’s not simple to “praise” this type of writing, but it is what it is. There are moments when the protagonist has a worry, in the back of her mind, that page by page worms its way up, until it becomes everything she sees, despite what happens all around her urgently demands her attention. This kind of obsessive whirlpool is the real engine of the story. It’s what pushes every character to do the impossible, whether it is to cause pain or desperate survival.

On the other hand, the plot is engaging. “The Real Story” has a feel so pulpy that it’s almost like reading Charles Bukowski in space. Even the technology is old-school, with a “retro” and gritty, grimy feel similar to Mad Max, but written so well that it makes sense. Computers and spaceships aren’t a noisy background, they are the pulpy meat of the plot. Rules kept simple, but well thought, so they they are pieces of information you can get familiar with. In the first book the story fits in your hand. A puzzle with many small parts that you assemble piece by piece, and the satisfaction of seeing it click. It’s space opera, but only engaging with three characters and a space station. It’s personal, it’s human, in all ways right and terribly wrong. “Forbidden Story” smoothly follows. It’s not anymore a puzzle with a solution, but a desperate attempt to an escape. So desperate that the only way is going deeper. Until the lack of an exit becomes the least worry. The abusers of the first book get their abuse served back to them, and then more. At some 2/3 though the book things start to get silly, to the point I honestly thought it was all going off the rails(*). But that’s where Donaldson has his skill. The story is rooted so well and deeply in the psychology of the characters that he makes the silly still make sense. The sense of urgency, of pain and even filth, don’t give enough space to disentangle emotionally. It works. Aliens step into the story, you get more infos about “the stage”, the story opens up. To a scale that isn’t anymore personal, but that is still 100% driven personally. I suppose things will continue to open and escalate in the following books.

But these two books are not made of two halves. The plot is entangled with the abuse. It’s a great sci-fi story, I think really well written, with vivid characters. It also means the abuse itself is vivid. It goes beyond a problem of “trigger warning”, but also why I end up praising it. That’s why I was wrong even joking about the “kinky mindcontrol”. There isn’t anything kinky or suggestive about it. There is no satisfaction in it, no matter how perverse. Donaldson describes it the way it is, with no qualms. It’s disgusting. What’s essentially a pulpy page-turner gets hard to read because the amount of ruthless, unrelenting abuse. This second book pushes it further, to levels that are absurd and unhinged. But here’s the point: this isn’t a story about villains. We generally end up praising villains that are well written, when they have plausible motivations. Here it’s one step beyond because the tables are turned, so many times. It’s not a case of a complex character that is well written. The abuse is so prominent that is is the theme. But it’s not about abuse, it’s about agency. And the questions being asked dig deeper than a villain with plausible motivations.

The first book was indeed about abuse. Ripping agency out of a victim, but the victim being smart and hard enough to be able to push back, with vengeance despite having no control and no hope. The abuser pushed so deep down his hole, leaving him howling in pain. In the second book I think roles don’t matter anymore. And the theme is pushed deeper. What is even agency when you can turn pain into pleasure by pressing a button. Donaldson, who wrote the deep emotional feel of a point of view on the page, breaks the rules. It opens the skull to play with the brain, to rewire it. But it is never the curiosity to make an experiment.

Characters still drive the plot. 100% of it. All the characters, even those on the side, have a reason to be where they are, and the pain they deliver to others is because they are also pushed to their limits. They try their best to survive, despite everything that happens around them pushes them to their limit. Then the limits are broken. Till the point Donaldson gives you a sense of annihilation. Where even survival is being doubted.

That’s why, for me, it’s such a great book. Every nuance and act of a character has a cause. Even when an abuser stops the abuse, it has a cause. The physical abuse is only superficial compared to the psychological and emotional. And it goes back and forward between abuser and abused that all roles vanish. Characters that are moved, by what they are and how they feel, so that they are trapped with themselves and in themselves. And you are in there, locked in there, with eyes wide open because there’s no other place to be. No escape, no elsewhere.

Dare you enter. Let the book tell its story.

(*)
Fun fact. The book I have has at its end an ad for the following volume… That in just a few lines of text contains a MASSIVE spoiler about something that happens in THIS book. Back in 2020 I read it, and so fell victim to that spoiler. When I picked back up the book early this month, a year and a half later, I completely forgot that part. So I un-spoiled myself.

Not really a review of any kind but I’m going to write a few disconnected comments. Here’s the poof that when I don’t actually care about a book I end up reading faster. I read the last 2/3 of this in just a few days, while the first 1/3 I had read a month or two ago before being sidetracked toward JR by Gaddis (that’s just a hint of my erratic patterns).

I had this book years ago, when it was very popular. I read some 50/60 pages, as I usually do, then shelved it. I didn’t like at all the writing, all the characters were caricatures, all the plot was filled with simple tropes, and I did feel an intrusive “wind” in the form of the writer trying to unsubtly push reader’s emotions where he wanted them. It felt artificial and clumsy. But the guy at ofblog loved the stuff and he has a kind of sophisticated taste. I knew this was part of a bigger project of four books, and I’m always curious when an author drives toward some kind of “higher purpose”. This cycle is complete now, in Spanish, in Italian, it looks like the English version isn’t coming until 2018.

So this time I began reading the book with more determination to see it through, the whole first book to have at least a good idea about what it is all about, and what it wants to drive to. For the first 1/3 I found nothing different than the first time. The book failed to engage me, the silly tropes are pervasive. There’s just too much effort making every single character into a quirky, eccentric figure because otherwise they’d be boring and not fitting the pages of a ‘book’. It just feelt an elaborate but ultimately fake and grotesque stage.

But then it started to get good. It didn’t become any different, it didn’t become any more than that, but the recipe started to make sense and work. For the first 1/3 not only I didn’t like it, but I also couldn’t figure out why it was so widely appreciated. Reading the rest of the book made me understand more that part. The story becomes a fair bit more dense and complex but, more importantly, it mixes a lot of genres and does it fairly well. It’s good in the sense that it gets engaging and quick to read. “Mystery deepens” is the driving mechanic. There are various “blocks” that are dropped and that build and build, so you want to keep turning the pages. It works because instead of keeping a mystery out of reach until you get to a final revelation, in this case instead the flow of knowledge builds up relentlessly through the whole second half of the book. It’s one huge, constant info-dump. Very dense. But it works and isn’t tiring because it’s all still steeped into intense emotions and the tragic lives of multiple characters all together in a tangle of plot.

All of that is done well. It’s just obvious the incredible amount of work behind the book. The sheer amount of stuff packed in, and the intense tragedy that keeps a reader locked in, driving toward a “surface”. It’s a fun, engaging read and gets you in the center of this whirlpool of characters. But? But, while fun, it isn’t very meaningful to me. One thing is why and how I enjoyed it, another is my opinion now that I’ve finished it. I think it’s all pre-digested stuff. The book is all built around tropes coming from different genres, sprinkled with a gothic, surrealist atmosphere. As I said, it’s well done, but it’s also nothing more than that. It feels to me like the writer really loved these books he read, and wrapped them into this story he built. But I doubt that this mixture he made is anything more than an “homage” to authors he loved to read. Nothing more that this book has to say beyond this sort of nostalgic love.

I’m (binge)watching Twin Peaks for the first time now, sorry for the forced parallel but Twin Peaks shares a somewhat similar intent and I think shows the difference. When the post-modernism works it takes what came before, all the ingredients, but spinning them so everything moves at a different speed, and the result is completely different. To me Twin Peaks is nothing more than parody of soap operas used to make fun of the public who loved them. Public that then proceeds to take it seriously, and so falling completely in the trap. Becoming a laughing stock because Twin Peaks, really, is just trolling. But Twin Peaks also takes *itself* seriously (having a cake and eating it too). Enough to create its own new dimension. Enough to make people forget its derivative-ness, and make believe Twin Peaks STARTED something new. The mix of old tropes creates a whole new level. Knowing the old to make the new. Today Twin Peaks re-emerges, and no one even remembers it was just a parody. Transfiguration.

(and all three of my current interests, The Leftovers, Twin Peaks and The Shadow of the Wind, all three seem to have a central mystery that actually isn’t there at all. Just a lot of clever and less clever misdirection)

The Shadow of the Wind doesn’t seem to emerge from its homage, from its borrowed love for the things past. It loops back, but it closes itself. Its energy is borrowed energy. A shadow of things past that produces no new life. And it matters because its plot and structure would suggest exactly the opposite, and it fails, so radically, at the true heart. This central idea of the book that you can “redeem” a story in the past gone wrong, with a story in the present that goes well. The finale distributing trivial sweet candies to every minor and major character. Characters all used as tools and then discarded through convenient, momentary compassion so that the one adopted by the readers can have his sweeter implied future. It feels to me so hypocritical. To suggest you can clean it all. The world is bleak and full of pain, but hey, there’s a shadow writing hand here taking care of its characters and making sure it all ends in positivity. The new life that the book produces explicitly (metaphorically) just isn’t new life that the book produces for the reader. It’s a book made of ashes. A mix of tropes that is well done, but that produces nothing new or meaningful. A well done mimicry, but I don’t feel is any more than that. And the overall message? It rings hollow and false to me. It doesn’t in ANY way address the tragedy shown. It simply dismisses it through rhetoric, through the fact this is a book, indeed a fake stage where things were pre-arranged to make a point. A point that has no substance or meaning. Theatrics.

Though I wanted to read it also to figure out what the overall cycle of four books would be about, this part eludes me. The first book is complete. There’s really no element of the story that might suggest there’s more to it. It closes even too neatly. I have absolutely no idea how the author plans to wrap this in an overall larger story because it seems it’s already all squished to nothing. And so I don’t really know if I should care to read more, if there’s something that might interest me. In fact, since this book offers nothing in the overall trajectory points to the possibility there’s more substance ahead. Who knows. For the time being I’m content. I’m not rushing to read the next book.

Meaningless mind games, right? Devoid of significance. Nothing but self-indulgence, and for that vast audience out there – the whispering ghosts and their intimations, their suppositions and veiled insults and their so easily bored minds – that audience – they are my witnesses, yes, that sea of murky faces in the pit, for whom my desperate performance, ever seeking to reach out with a human touch, yields nothing but impatience and agitation, the restless waiting for the cue to laugh.

And so the Malazan saga ends… What? This 360k fat tome wasn’t the great finale? You say there are four more, even fatter books (and more)? That’s impossible because the whole world already fits comfortably into this book.

Oh, I’m sorry. It truly took me an insane amount of time to finish this one, and the book’s size, or its ambition, weren’t the cause. I just have an unexplainable compulsive habit that makes me delay the things I’m most invested in. A compulsive desire to accumulate and preserve the best stuff and lock it away in a treasure room for some later ideal time that never comes. And as with all compulsive habits, it takes a great amount of willpower and perseverance to defeat it, at least for a moment. I *have* succeeded a little, I’m up to Malazan #6, after all, and to add to that there’s Forge of Darkness and four novellas. But since reading this one book truly took me forever, it’s harder to gather all the pieces scattered through the months and *years*. I’ll try anyway to gather some thoughts, and then I’ll change the recipe, from now on (well, maybe).

This is Malazan #6, then. It marks the middle point of the overall cycle and its structure reflects it. It seems people’s opinions shift with time, but originally this specific book wasn’t a favorite among Malazan readers. The reason was that it had to gather everything from the previous five books, and not simply in a linear way because there are at least three separate “blocks” of story that until this point had been kept distinct within the confines of one dedicated book to each (more or less). So all five of these preceding volumes have to flow into this one, passing through a kind of choke point. And then readers also didn’t like that this volume doesn’t have a proper conclusion, as instead happened with the preceding ones. The overall impression was that this one was working like a transition, like an impossibly huge chariot that Erikson struggled to set once more in motion, so that it would then keep going for the second half of the series. A sort of typical middle book in a big series, that has to do the heavy lifting to reposition properly all the pieces and gain momentum once more.

But it’s not so rare that these days readers point at this one as their favorite book, instead, or close to the top. And that’s the book I actually read. The objective breadth of the thing indeed defies that of preceding books, but I didn’t notice a struggle. Page by page, right from the beginning, it feels Erikson is simply having fun, and that the movement, despite the load, is a breeze. As if he pushed aside all the pressure of having to lock together these two halves of this giant series and instead was focused on making the best of every scene. In my opinion, it has a vitality that is unprecedented and makes the most of what made the fifth book a different but good one. It’s… the first Malazan book, and the last. Maybe it’s not even a good thing, but I felt as if Erikson gave it all here. It didn’t feel like “let’s do a laborious, meticulous build up”, it felt instead as if Erikson went *all* in, without sparing anything. Who cares if there’s nothing left, this might as well be the last day on earth, give it all you have. Till the last drop.

As with all the greatest things, the context is reflected in content. Erikson knows the pressure of the series. That pressure is higher exactly at the middle point (and then again at the end, I guess). And Malazan pressure is of a kind that cannot be sustained by anyone. But that’s Malazan, the spirit. Going, with a mad grin, against all odds. And that’s why it’s fun. Because Erikson knows there’s no other way, it’s all a gamble. It’s all a leap of faith, invigorating and blissful. The brink of the world. And you cannot take it seriously. It’s important that you don’t take it seriously. This is the spirit of the characters, and the spirit I feel in the writing. It’s fun, it’s lively, it’s inspired. It doesn’t suffer at all for being a middle volume in a big series.

Things were not well. A little stretched, are you, Ammanas? I am not surprised. Cotillion could sympathize, and almost did. Momentarily, before reminding himself that Ammanas had invited most of the risks upon himself. And, by extension, upon me as well.

The paths ahead were narrow, twisted and treacherous. Requiring utmost caution with every measured step.

So be it. After all, we have done this before. And succeeded. Of course, far more was at stake this time. Too much, perhaps.

Writing, as in shadow. What you see is all there is, and the shadow warren is metaphor. A world that constantly shifts. Delicious metafiction!

Emerging from Shadowkeep, he paused to study the landscape beyond. It was in the habit of changing at a moment’s notice, although not when one was actually looking, which, he supposed, was a saving grace.

Concretely speaking, the structure is a mess. But why not? It works. Erikson seems to have recognized that fans liked the third book best, and so decided for a similar recipe. Instead of having a prolonged build-up, leading to a big convergence that ties everything together to blow it up all at once, here one can recognize two “apexes”, one coming relatively early in the book, and another to the end (but is not the end). But these two focus points aren’t actually accelerations that follow slow build up, because the rest of the book has a myriad of big events, high points that are worthy enough of a series finale, in different contexts. Something big is constantly going on. Cities explode, the sky falls. In Malazan it might as well be the routine, but not to say these events are downplayed or lack a relevant heft. It’s all a whirlpool of constant awe.

The structure is STILL a mess and the thing groans and wails under its pressure. You forget about characters, because they might as well disappear for 300 or more pages. They might return, perfectly timed, or maybe their personal journey is over in this book, you don’t know. But you also don’t care, because the attention is on what is present. In the moment. And that’s always fun or spectacular, or intense or troubling. Page by page, I don’t think anything is wasted here. It’s the specular opposite of bloat, it’s a compression of every story, of the whole world.

It might be a problem? It might as well be. This is compressed Malazan. All the things I know about Malazan. You can read around the internet complaints about all the “philosophizing” and I recognize a symptom here. The symptom is that all “big” Malazan themes return, from all the angles, all the different, ambiguous faces. I was joking at the beginning, but it does feel like this book *exhausts* itself. When you zoomed back the view to encompass the whole world there’s nothing left to say or see. This book circumnavigates the Malazan world. There’s nothing left to say, because everything is already contained. Between the lines or in the lines. Every digression is a conclusion. Full stop. Silence.

Rock was bone. Dust was flesh. Water was blood. Residues settled in multitudes, becoming layers, and upon those layers yet more, and on and on until a world was made, until all that death could hold up one’s feet where one stood, and rise to meet every step one took. A solid bed to lie on. So much for the world. Death holds us up. And then there were the breaths that filled, that made the air, the heaving assertions measuring the passing of time, like notches marking the arc of a life, of every life. How many of those breaths were last ones? The final expellation of a beast, an insect, a plant, a human with film covering his or her fading eyes? And so how, how could one draw such air into the lungs? Knowing how filled with death it was, how saturated it was with failure and surrender?

Heboric fought on against the knowledge that the world did not breathe, not any more. No, now, the world drowned.

Malazan triumphs and is most agile under pressure because Malazan already broke all the reasonable rules. This book has “flaws”, but because it refused to comply. You are on board or you aren’t, at this point. Malazan can only be judged in respect to Malazan. You can take different angles of analysis. I did, as usual. But I also realize it doesn’t matter. You’re either on board or you aren’t. Malazan taught me to think. To see the whole range, the breadth of the world.

Is characterization good? I’ve read along the years plenty of complaints about Malazan and characterization. There’s always some validity, but Malazan did change the rules. Here a character can be as well a comedic relief, and not much more. Does this give justice to the character? Nope. It doesn’t feel like a true character, it doesn’t feel true. It’s not perfectly grounded, it’s not perfectly believable, all-around. There’s a fantasy-like floaty-ness, of “let’s pretend”, and plots too neatly aligned for an effect. It betrays that necessary(?) feeling of solidity and meaningfulness. There’s plenty to analyze and criticize if you bring with you your categories and criteria. That matters too, but in the end Malazan refuses to comply. What I noticed is that this book uses characters as walls to bounce a ball. You might think this diminishes those characters, but it’s a way to hold up a wider story. Each bounce creates a contrast. When you move from a scene to another, somewhere else, you notice there’s a thematic link, that these scenes talk to each other, speak to the reader. It’s a ray of light bounced around, transformed in its color and angle. A contrast to show you, the reader. You don’t stay with a character. You go in, step out, plunge back in. It’s a constant, deliberate movement so that instead of *closing* the perspective, it opens another. That’s why I said it taught me to think, because it refuses to stay static and affirm itself. When point of view affirms itself, authority follows. Being inside a character can mean being walled in. Trapped in that manipulation. Malazan gives a feeling of sublimation, of transcendence, because those characters aren’t an end to themselves, but they build toward something more, explicitly, the reader. And this doesn’t feel like a betrayal to those character, it feels the need to find meaning in a world where there’s none. The famous “witness”. The book of the fallen.

The world, Ahlrada Ahn knew, was indifferent to the necessity of preservation. Of histories, of stories layered with meaning and import. It cared nothing for what was forgotten, for memory and knowledge had never been able to halt the endless repetition of wilful stupidity that so bound peoples and civilizations.

Muted, from the streets of the city outside, there rose and fell the sounds of fighting, of dying, a chorus like the accumulated voices of history, of human failure and its echoes reaching them from every place in this world.

There is nothing left to understand. This mad whirlpool holds us all in a grasp that cannot be broken; and you with your spears and battle-masks; you with your tears and soft touch; you with the sardonic grin behind which screams fear and self-hatred; even you who stand aside in silent witness to our catastrophe of dissolution, too numb to act – it is all one. You are all one. We are all one.

We are all one. One ray of light, distorted by perspective. You learn to think not when you close yourself in your point of view. Neither you do when you move within another, to get caged there. You learn when you step back, when you free yourself of those chains. Not to deny point of view, but to breathe deep and face whatever there is. Out of pure self-interest chained by necessity. Reality pushes you there into that unavoidable necessity, a book can make you step back and embrace something larger than your immediate howling needs. You cannot find meaning without creating it.

If Game of Thrones can feel like a brutal survival game where you just cross the names of those who die to see who survives to win what’s left, in Malazan who dies is more important than who survives. Eyes wide open. There’s only legitimate rage against an unjust world, and whatever momentary relief you salvaged. It’s already all fucking lost, all gone. And it’s because it’s all gone that it’s important you remember. That defiant look in the face of the impossibility is the purest Malazan’s soul. That mad challenge of Human versus God. Meaning versus emptiness.

Malazan #6 is easily the best book in the main series, because it builds on what came before and because it keeps delivering as if this were truly the Grand Finale. I’d still somewhat put Forge of Darkness on top, but because of personal preference for the writing and tone. FoD is Malazan, but also different. For this sixth book I was expecting a marathon that was going to validate itself at the end. Or a laborious climb necessary to reach lofty ambitions. I feel it’s the opposite. It constantly renews itself, page after page, line by line, it’s lively, *fun* to read and meaningful.

It also did take me up to book #6 to realize that Fiddler is a bard, and that “The Malazan Book of the Fallen” isn’t actually a book, but a song. (and, with Malazan, it’s never about the revelation, it’s about the implications)