The surviving heathens were strung from trees, and in the evening light they hanged, like drowned men floating up from the deeps. And though years passed, none dared touch them. They sagged from the nails that fixed them, collapsed into heaps at the trunks. And to anyone who listened, the bones would whisper a revelation...the secret of battle. Indomitable conviction. Unconquerable belief.
A dark and philosophical fantasy series by R. Scott Bakker that is planned to consist of three smaller series, only the first of which has been currently published. An additional two short stories have been published on Bakker's website, with more to come.The first sub-series, The Prince of Nothing, tells the tale of a son searching for his father during a Holy War, in a medieval world where Functional Magic exists and an obscure Ancient Conspiracy is plotting The End of the World as We Know It, although they have faded into myth. The characters who are embroiled in this include a tired Badass Bookworm sorcerer, a cunning whore, and a mentally unstable barbarian chieftain. But in the midst of the Holy War arrives a wandering monk, Anasűrimbor Kellhus. He is the scion of an isolated sect who have made themselves beings of pure logic over the years. At the beginning, he is completely ignorant about the outside world, yet at the same time, he is mentally superior to other humans and can easily read their emotions while he feels nothing himself.Opinions are highly divided on whether Kellhus is a scheming Villain Protagonist, the Big Bad himself, a Sociopathic Hero doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, or an insane but BadassAnti-Hero deserving of our admiration. This has a lot to do with an individual person's perception of what counts as Moral Dissonance, Black and Gray Morality, and Moral Event Horizon. Irredeemably evil? You be the judge. Ultimately a force for good? At the moment we can only speculate.The Second Apocalypse consists of:
The Prince of Nothing
The Darkness that Comes Before
The Warrior Prophet
The Thousandfold Thought
The Judging Eye
The White-Luck Warrior
The Unholy Consult (forthcoming)
? (the name of the last sub-series, said to be one book only, is known by Bakker but he says it's a spoiler)
After the End: The series takes place nearly two thousand years after a catastrophic conflict that destroyed the entire northern civilization of Earwa and resulted in all new births being born stillborn for eleven years.
A God Am I: Kellhus comes to believe this in the end and he convinces most of the Three Seas as well. This is also a recurring fantasy of Ikurei Conphas.
Alien Invasion: The Inchoroi who crashed on Eńrwa with their spaceship many thousands of years ago.
Always Chaotic Evil: The whole Sranc species, who are essentially meat robots created to rape and slaughter everything in their path.
Not to mention the other "weapon races" of the Consult. The Consult itself may count, but they're more Blue and Orange Morality.
Ancient Conspiracy: The Consult, who are a cabal of human sorcerers and the last Inchoroi.
And I Must Scream: The Nonmen, who are immortal but suffer from madness and amnesia as their memory decays with age.
Anti-Hero: Sometimes CnaiŘr comes off as this, even though he is insane.
Actually, pretty much everybody has anti-heroic elements. Except SerwŰ, but that ends badly for her.
Anti-Magic: The Chorae, magic-destroying spheres that are crucial to the power balance between the priesthood and sorcerers. A person bearing a skin-touching chorae is immune to sorcery, and the mere touch of one will turn sorcerers into salt. They were created by the Nonmen sorcerers, who betrayed their race by giving the resulting creations to the Inchoroi (thousands of years ago).
They are called "Tears of God" by the residents of the Three Seas, and while they are rare, they're common enough for most of the rulers to equip special forces of archers with them to specifically counter sorcerers on the battlefield.
Apocalypse How: Class 1. The Ancient North was annihilated, and the most powerful nations of the Three Seas crashed into ruin, leaving the Three Seas in chaos. Some descendants of these Norsirai were later able to build new civilizations in the northern Three Seas, and things stabilized in the south. Now the Men of the Three Seas are the center of human civilization, and the desolate High North is only a cold wilderness roamed by bands of Sranc.
Arc Words: "The Logos is without beginning or end." Also, variations of "war is." Conphas claims war is intellect, for example.
Badass Boast: CnaiŘr, but only when he's in one of his violent moods. "I am Cnaiur urs Ski÷tha, breaker-of-horses-and-men!", "I am CnaiŘr urs Ski÷tha, most violent of all men! I bear your fathers and brothers upon my arms!", or more straightforward, "Who will murder me?!".
"Demon! Demon! For a thousand years! Fucking your wives! Striking down your fathers! A thousand years I have stalked you!"
Barbarian Hero: CnaiŘr is a deconstruction of this trope: he comes from a tribe with Mongolic customs who are obsessed with war and pride themselves on being pure and hardened by the difficulty of their life on the JiŘnati Steppes. CnaiŘr even looks like Conan the Barbarian: he has black hair, blue eyes, and pale skin. However, rather than being a heroic counterweight to the corruption of the Three Seas and the Inrithi civilization, CnaiŘr is even worse: he is insanely paranoid, cannot understand why the Inrithi soldiers bring prostitutes along as part of their campaign (when one can just rape the native women of the land one conquers), is on the constant brink of a murderous rage, and ends up working with the Consult.
Barbarian Tribe: The Scylvendi. Calling themselves "the People of War", they see war as a holy act and the men cut a scar on their arms to mark their every kill. They dedicate themselves to war so much that Scylvendi children know songs and stories about each division of their enemies' armies, so they'll know exactly who they are up against. During the Holy War, CnaiŘr can simply analyze the enemy army and see who is who.
The Norsirai (northmen) of the Three Seas are this, if you scrape off the veneer of civilization their conversion to Inrithism gave them. Some of them even wear shrunken human heads as trophies.
Beat Still, My Heart: When Kellhus, after being crucified to a tree for days, stands up and pulls out his own beating heart. It's actually SerwŰ's heart, and he is either faking the Messiah act, or he's just performed a miracle, since he still manages to pull it out of his OWN chest.
Black and White Morality: In a really strange way. In the actual daily life of Eńrwa, morality is very, very gray, but there's another level of reality entirely, being the Outside. This reality encompasses salvation and damnation, and the type of actions that invoke damnation are absolute (for example, all sorcerers are damned for singing in the voice of the God).
In a way, it's an elaborate deconstruction of the universal morality in religions and other fantasy worlds, where the universe itself is "good" and the heroes are "divinely favored". Bakker merely takes this to its logical extreme - if some people are winners in the afterlife, then some others have to die and eat shit for eternity.
Blue and Orange Morality: Why are the Consult trying to slaughter the human spacies? To save their souls. The metaphysics of the universe are such that objective morality exists, along with redemption and (more importantly) damnation. The Inchoroi effectively crossed the Moral Event Horizon by Eńrwan standards even before they crash-landed on Eńrwa, and are wholly and entirely damned for their actions (they are described as a "race of lovers" wholly obsessed with sexuality, sexual violence, and intercourse). Similarily, sorcerers are all damned for singing in the "voice of the God". However, as the Consult discovered, the reduction of the number of "ensouled" beings below a certain number - 144,000 souls - plus some additional work in the form of the No-God serves to completely sever the world from the Outside, thus saving their souls from damnation.
It's later revealed that the Inchoroi have known this for a very long time, and exterminated the population of several hundred planets, before they landed on this one. However, Earwa is special - it is mentioned as a "prophesied" world where the Inchoroi can successfully cut off the Outside.
Body Horror: The Consult skin-spies, the Inchoroi, and Shae÷nanra.
Break the Haughty: Conphas in The Thousandfold Thought. Also happens to the Scarlet Spires over the course of the trilogy, being forced to eat their books to survive Caraskand, finding out that the king of Ainon was a skin-spy, discovering that the Mandate had been right all along and finally losing every sorcerer they brought to the Holy War.
Broken Masquerade: Kellhus reveals some emotion for the first time when he is forced to watch SerwŰ being raped by Cnaiur.
The Chessmaster: Kellhus. He never, ever tells anyone to do his bidding "because I want to". Kellhus can find out everyone's innermost desire or motivation, and then appeal to that. Cnaiur scarily describes Kellhus' and his father's powers of manipulation by shouting "They make us love!".
Moenghus (Kellhus' father) and Maithanet are the ultimate chessmasters of the first trilogy...although Maithanet is ultimately outsmarted by Kelmomas who gets him into a situation where he is killed.
Court Mage: The Imperial Saik are an entire order of Court Mages.
Crapsack World: Let us recount the ways. Achamian was physically and emotionally abused by a drunkard father, and when the Mandate came to save him, the man still tried to claim him. So, the Mandate's soldiers beat Akka's dad. The child Akka gloated. Next, the native religions. "Suffer not a whore to live, for she maketh a pit of her womb. Suffer not a whore to breathe." That's just a taste of the Holy Tusk, for you. Also, everybody in the Three Seas lives in a rigid caste system. They are "caste-nobles," "caste-merchants," "caste-menials," or slaves. And boy, is there slavery!
The Scylvendi are near-nihilists who once belonged to the same religion as everyone else, but for reasons yet unrevealed, they converted to worshipping the No-God, and after his death, they became the People of War. As one character put it, the Scylvendi see the blood-guilt of deicide as hanging upon the people of the Three Seas, and thus consider the Ketyai and Norsirai as cattle for sacrifice upon the altar of the world. What was the No-God? We don't know what he was before the Consult unleashed him, but his existence made babies unable to be born alive—WHAT DO YOU SEE? I MUST KNOW WHAT YOU SEE. TELL ME. WHAT AM I?
Depraved Bisexual: All the Inchoroi. Averted with Cnaiur. Moenghus did not seduce him because he was insane, he gradually went insane because Moenghus seduced him. Essentially, the experience of being manipulated into murdering his father by Moenghus, as well as his culture's extreme hatred for homosexuality, produced such stress in Cnaiur that he became a violent lunatic.
Downer Ending: At the end of Prince of Nothing, the Kianene civilization is in ruins, many hundreds of thousands lie dead, and for what? Kellhus' coronation as the Aspect-Emperor.
On the other hand, the Three Seas are on the path to unity, and might possibly stand a chance at stopping the No-God's resurrection.
The White Luck Warrior has an insanely depressing ending for several of its sub-plots. Achamian and Mimara, the only survivors of their adventurer group, finish their journey and reach Ishual...only to find it abandoned and destroyed, possibly by Kellhus. One of the four major Armies of the Great Ordeal has been annihilated, and most of a major School (the Vokalati) is wiped out. The last Nonman king, Nil'Giccas, has gone insane and is dead at the end of the story—his mind was so ancient that he was only able to remember traumatic things, so he tried to kill Achamian and Mimara in order to remember them by way of PSTD. In a heart-wrenching scene, Achamian is forced to kill him.
The only bright point is Esmenet's return to power. And even that comes at the cost of Maithanet's life, and results in the White-Luck Warrior securing a place by Esmenet's side to wait for Kellhus.
Dysfunction Junction: House Ikurei, the royal family of the Nansur Empire. Perhaps the most dysfunctional thing about them is the consensual mother-son incest.
Eldritch Abomination : The Inchoroi are this in their original alien forms, and one possible interpretation of the No-God.
The Empire: The "Kellian Empire", which spans most of the Three Seas.
Encyclopedia Exposita: The story part of The Thousandfold Thought is 400 pages long. The glossary is another 100 pages (hardback version).
Evil Plan: Well for what counts as 'evil' in this series. The entire Holy War, from beginning to end on the part of Moenghus. He was the hidden leader of the heathens, his son Maithanet was the equivalent of Pope and launched the Holy war, and his other son Kellhus took control of this crusade, setting himself up as a Jesus figure. All to unite the Three Seas against the threat of the No-God.
Floorboard Failure: In the prequel story The False Sun, this is how the powerful sorcerer Titirga is defeated by the much weaker Shae÷nanra.
The Fog of Ages: Affects the Nonmen, because they have mortal minds inside immortal bodies that live for millennia after millennia. Quite a few go insane from the amnesia. They have so many memories piled up inside them, that they can only remember the most traumatic events. The insane Nonmen who are addicted to violence for memory's sake are known as Erratics.
Forever War: The Nameless War, which has gone on for thousands of years. It began when the alien Inchoroi started a genocidal war against the Nonmen shortly after their ship crashed into northern Eńrwa. Achamian sees a Nonman wall carving, thousands of years old, that depicts the first battle - and he realizes that war is still ongoing to this day.
In the White-Luck Warrior it's revealed that the war began even earlier. Long before they had even arrived on Earwa, the Inchoroi had been going from planet to planet and committing genocides to save their souls from damnation.
For the Evulz: One of the motivations of the Inchoroi, who are wholly dedicated to their perverse, violent lusts (the other reasons being to ensure that enough humans die that they won't go to Hell, as well as vengeance against the Nonmen).
Freak Out: Everybody has one. Even Kellhus, when he's lashed to the circumfix and starts hallucinating.
SerwŰ has the most notable one, when she finally explodes at Cnaiur and slits her own throat.
Grim Up North: Golgotterath. To a lesser extent, the entirety of the Ancient North, which is infested with Sranc. Only a handful of ragged bands of human survivors and two deeply isolated cities - Sakarpus and Atrithau - dwell in its lands.
Henchmen Race: The Sranc, who were bred by the Inchoroi to serve as an army.
Ho Yay / Straight Gay: Moenghus and Cnaiur, which resulted in Cnaiur killing his father. This is the reason why there is latent Ho Yay between the adult Cnaiur and Kellhus, even though it's more like Foe Yay.
YMMV. I didn't read it as much as Ho Yay as Moenghus playing an evil mentor and persuading Cnaiur to kill his father and seize control of his tribe, in the name of some vaguely ubermenschish philosophy of "Forsake tradition, do what you will"..
They're explicitly referred to as lovers and there's plenty of kissing and touching while Moenghus is dying, so "seduced" is not metaphorical there. Considering Serwe and Anissi, Cnaiur's more Bi the Way.
Horny Devils: The Inchoroi, the genocidal alien invaders who describe themselves as "the race of lovers".
The Sranc are a horrifying subversion of this trope. They have the libido for it, but their appearance is extremely disturbing (hairless dog-like bodies with the extremely beautiful, bone-white faces of Nonmen), and "rape" is far too mild to describe what they'll do to you.
Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: The dragons are the most powerful of the Consult's creatures. They're also unique among the Consult "weapon races", since they're not a creation of Inchoroi bio-technology but rather an alien species who co-existed with the Inchoroi and came with them to Eńrwa.
Irony: Moenghus did everything Kellhus did, setting himself up as the prophet to the Fanim instead of the Inrithi, only to discover too late that the Psukhe is powered by the passion and emotions of the sorcerer, things which the Dunyain almost completely lack due to their conditioning. As a result, Moenghus is practically rejected from the Cishaurim, blind and able to cast only the simplest spells.
Kansas City Shuffle: The Kellian Empire Kellhus has basically abandoned the empire, because this super-state was never meant to last in the long run, only to draw enemy attention away from the Great Ordeal.
Knight in Shining Armor: Subverted. The knight Sarcellus rescues Esmenet from being stoned to death, but he turns out to be a skin-spy.
Law of Conservation of Detail : It's stated pretty specifically that the Mandate's dreams of Sesawatha's life are slightly edited to keep them focused on the important things. They don't need to know about his childhood, for example, or that he may be the real father of an important historical figure, or that his king turned out to be an avatar of the fucking No-God.
Lost Technology: The "Tekne" of the Inchoroi. This included beam weapons (such as the Heron Spear); flying machines equipped with them; a huge, nearly indestructible starship; and incredibly advanced and sophisticated genetic engineering (the skin-spies, the "Weapon Races", and so forth).
The Man Behind the Man: The Cishaurim, sorcerer-priests of a heretical religion, are the target of the Holy War. They are in fact a front for Anasurimbor Moenghus, who is the true mastermind behind the Holy War.
Mind Screw: The journey through Cil-Aujas. It starts off unsettling but straightforward, then... hordes of Sranc out of nowhere? Then a guy with an eye in his heart? Then a Nonman King who's trapped in Hell, can only speak through unconscious people, possesses Cleric, and dreams that he's a hungry god? And, in a superbly baffling moment that is still a Crowning Moment of Awesome, Mimara somehow banishes the Nonman King with a Chorae that shuts the Gates of Hell. It's a Mind Screw for the characters, too: Sarl's sanity doesn't fare too well.
Moral Dissonance: Kellhus commits multiple atrocities for "the greater good", such as sacrificing SerwŰ's life and ordering the massacre of twenty thousand Kianene civilians, not to mention his early betrayal of Leweth, who saved his life.
The march of the Vulgar Holy War was a definite crossing of the Moral Event Horizon for Emperor Xerius, both in-universe and out. Basically, he arranged for over a hundred thousand old men, women and orphans to march into enemy lands and get slaughtered - only so Xerius could prove a point to his "allies" and advance a political agenda he didn't even believe in.
The things done by Aurang or Aurax don't count, since those two already started beyond the horizon.
Kellhus and his ruthless manipulation of people, resulting in the deaths of loved ones and destruction of entire nations.
Organic Technology: The Inchoroi are masters of this, creating the Sranc, Wracu, and Bashrags.
Our Demons Are Different: The Ciphrang are demons from "the Outside" that can be summoned and enslaved by powerful sorcerers. Alien Geometries are implied, as being in the physical world is excruciatingly unpleasant for them and they are described as warping and wavering.
Our Elves Are Better: Subverted and played with. The Nonmen are similar to Elves, immortal and wisest of all living creatures. They were more intelligent and beautiful than humans, but also much worse in anger or jealousy. However, when we finally get detailed physical descriptions of a Nonman in The Judging Eye, the "beautiful" aspect starts to get subverted: for example, their teeth are fused together, they don't have a single hair on their body (not even eyelashes), their skin is marble-white, and the repulsive beauty of Sranc is borrowed from the appearance of Nonmen. (Speaking of which...)
Our Orcs Are Different: The Sranc, a race of monsters engineered to achieve sexual pleasure from violence and rape. As a homage to JRR Tolkien, they are "corruptions" of the Nonmen (the "Elves" of this setting), and genetically engineered to have Nonman faces.
Poisonous Captive: Anasűrimbor MoŰnghus, during the time he was a prisoner of CnaiŘr urs Ski÷tha's tribe.
Precursors: Averted, actually. There are still Nonmen around, but thanks to humans and the Inchoroi, all but one of their Mansions are destroyed and empty. The one Mansion that's inhabited, Ishterebinth, is in the far northwest, and cut off from the human world. In the Three Seas, Nonmen are effectively thought of as extinct because they tend to avoid humans, especially after Cil-Aujas (one of only two Mansions to survive the first invasions of Men) was destroyed in the aftermath of the Apocalypse.
Psychic Dreams for Everyone: The ruins of Mengedda, which make people dream of all the people who died there across the ages. Also, the Mandate sorcerers, who willingly undergo a procedure that makes them dream each night of the horrific events that happened during their founder's life. It's also implied that the "Mop" - a forest that the Skin Eaters pass through on the path to Sauglish - does this to the characters.
Rags to Riches: Kellhus is this trope taken to its ultimate extreme: he goes from being a starving drifter wandering the wastes of the Ancient North, to the leader of a religious cult disguised as a prince, to a Prophet, to the Aspect-Emperor of the Three Seas. His ascent has been so total that his name is used as a swear-word ('Kellah!), as we might use 'Jesus Christ'.
Rape as Drama: SerwŰ's whole backstory, and the reason she has such low self-worth. She goes through this again at the hands of CnaiŘr.
Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: This is what makes the Sranc species (who are bio-engineered for violent rape) more horrifying than any other fantasy-book monsters.
We also know that Galian has well and truly crossed the Moral Event Horizon when he rapes Mimara, after he and Xonghis have killed the Captain.
Rape Is Love: Averted thoroughly, but Cnaiur actually believes in this when he is raping SerwŰ.
Self Destructive Charge: Saubon "punishes" the Shrial Knights by making them charge the Cishaurim. The Cishaurim are sorcerers able to burn hundreds alive with a glance. Unfortunately for the Cishaurim, someŚnot many, but enoughŚof the Shrial Knights are wearing chorae...
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: In The Aspect-Emperor, Akka spends the first two books throwing away everything he's built in the past twenty years, along with the lives of the Skin Eaters, to find the Coffers which he hopes will lead him to Ishual and the truth about Kellhus and the Dunyain. And when he gets to Ishual, only he and Mimara surviving, both of them addicted to Qirri, stuck in the middle of nowhere...they discover that it's already been destroyed by an unknown force.
Shout Out: A subtle one in The Thousandfold Thought. One character, ruminating on a birdlike abomination, speaks of "nepenthe," cries out "Bird! Devil!" and comments that the bird is like a "demon dreaming" - all lines from Poe's The Raven.
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Highly cynical. Religious hatred, racism and violent misogyny are rampant in this world - Bakker has stated more than once that he aims to portray the Dark Ages world realistically.
Then again, only the Scylvendi seem to have a strong sense of sexual orientation, and only then because they are homophobic as only murderous roaming herders can be. CnaiŘr has an (albeit psychologically disturbed) physical and emotional attraction to SerwŰ.
Summon Magic: Achamian and his doll, and Iyokus with his demons.
Super Soldier: The Sranc are an odd variety. They aren't particularly great fighters and are too undisciplined to fight in any formation other than Zerg Rush, but they can easily live off bugs and scavenging, reproduce very rapidly, and have almost unbreakable morale.
Indeed, the Sranc are genetically engineered to be cheap and disposable soldiers, even to the point of throwing themselves at the enemy's spears to deprive them of weapons.
However, they are faster than mounted horses, as a terrified Leweth explains to Kellhus. The Great Ordeal learns this the harsh way.
Torture Always Works: Very averted. The Scarlet Spires have been capturing and torturing Mandate sorcerers for two hundred years, trying to learn the secrets of the Gnosis. It hasn't worked once. This is because all the Mandate sorcerers have memories of Seswatha in their head, and he got tortured by things that can make men weep with agony from a glance.
▄bermensch: Kellhus, Moenghus and all the Dűnyain.
Vestigial Empire: The Nansur Empire under Ikurei Xerius III. It's been losing territory to Fanim jihads for hundreds of years, and Xerius plans to use the Holy War to get some of it back.
Worthy Opponent: The Fanim (Arab stand-ins) and the Nansur (Greeks) treat each other like honorable opponents. The Nansur do not view the Scylvendi barbarians as this, and all Scylvendi prisoners are publicly raped.
Xanatos Speed Chess: Moenghus, Kellhus, and Maithanet are masters of this, altering an adapting their plans on the fly as new situations arise.