Literature / Second Apocalypse

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"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."

The Second Apocalypse is a dark and philosophical fantasy sequence by R. Scott Bakker that is planned to eventually consist of three series of books.

The first 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, Shrouded in Myth, is plotting The End of the World as We Know It. The characters who are embroiled in this conflict include a tired Badass Bookworm sorcerer, a cunning prostitute, and a mentally unstable barbarian chieftain.

But in the midst of the Holy War arrives a wandering monk, Anasûrimbor Kellhus. He is the scion of an isolated sect who have spent millennia making themselves into beings of pure logic. Leaving his sect for the first time to answer is father's summons, Kellhus is completely ignorant about the outside world. At the same time, his astounding mental and physical abilities, untainted by emotion or morality, are like nothing the world has ever seen. Will Kellhus find his father, and what will he impact along the way?
The Second Apocalypse consists of:
  • The Prince of Nothing
    • The Darkness that Comes Before (2004)
    • The Warrior Prophet (2005)
    • The Thousandfold Thought (2006)
  • The Aspect-Emperor
    • The Judging Eye (2009)
    • The White-Luck Warrior (2011)
    • The Great Ordeal (2016)
    • The Unholy Consult (2017)
  • TSTSNBN — Referred to as "The Series That Shall Not Be Named" by R. Scott Bakker in many interviews. This series was originally planned on being a Duology but may be a Trilogy. It is only ever referred to by this name since the true title would allegedly spoil the series.

Short stories set in the same universe:
See also Neuropath and Disciple of the Dog, two thrillers by the same author containing many of the same themes.

This series provides examples of:

  • After the End: The series takes place nearly two thousand years after a catastrophic conflict that destroyed the entire northern civilization of Eärwa and resulted in all new births being born stillborn for eleven years.
  • A God Am I:
    • Kellhus comes to believe that he is the direct agent of God, and he manages to convince the Three Seas that he is their messiah.
    • This is the recurring fantasy of Ikurei Conphas (and his uncle).
  • Alien Invasion: The Inchoroi who crashed on Eärwa with their spaceship many thousands of years ago.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: The Inchoroi describe themselves as a "race of lovers." They're basically a whole race of voracious sexual deviants.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Sranc and the other "weapon races" of the Consult were created specifically to destroy the Consult's enemies. Their sexual drive is based on killing. When Sorweel begins torturing a captured sranc, some of his fellow Scions object, prompting him to give a speech explaining that sranc are automatons without souls. The Scions could sooner sin against dirt than against a sranc.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The Consult, who are a cabal of human and Nonmen sorcerers and the last two Inchoroi.
  • Ancient Tradition: The Mandate, dedicated to stopping the near-mythical Consult.
  • And I Must Scream: The Nonmen, who are immortal but suffer from madness and amnesia as their memory decays with age.
  • Anti-Hero: Most of the main characters have anti-heroic elements.
  • 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" and "trinkets" by the residents of the Three Seas. 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: 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:
    • "War is ______." Conphas claims war is intellect, for example.
    • "What do you see?" Most notably said by the No-God.
    • "What was happening?" and variations.
    • "Measure is unceasing."
  • Armored Closet Gay: The source of all of Cnaiür's shame is being seduced by Moënghus into killing his father. He's entirely unable to handle the fact that he loves/loved Moënghus. He is attracted to women as well, however, so he's apparently somewhere toward the middle of the Kinsey scale.
  • Arrow Catch: Dûnyain can do this. The first time an arrow is shot at Kellhus, he plucks it out of the air and inspects it, having never seen one before.
  • Artificial Human: The Consult's skin-spies.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The Dûnyain, who are evolved humans.
    • The physical and mental abilities of Dûnyain, even those who are only half-blooded, are exaggerated beyond a realistic take on what human breeding could accomplish.
    • The issue of breeding. Pureblooded Dûnyain women are enormous in size, and called Whale Mothers, yet not a trace of this is evident in females born to worldborn mothers. You'd have to concoct a really outlandish hypothesis with recessive genes to justify this in the real world.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority:
    • The Scylvendi are led by their strongest warriors.
    • It's implied that the Dûnyain are ruled this way, with the most gifted being the leaders. Their breeding rights are explicitly based on performance of a physical feat.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Kellhus is the most powerful man in his Empire (and also the world).
  • Awesome, but Impractical: When besieging Shimeh, Eleazaras delights in using his full strength to rain destruction on the city, pulling down massive stone buildings as he marches through the streets, but his fellows warn him that he's exhausting himself before any of the primary Cishaurim have even taken the field.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Kellhus and all the Dûnyain are masters at this.
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • Cnaiür is a psychotic, murderous maniac prone to violent rages and mass slaughter. Mimara notes with her Judging Eye that unlike other murderers, he screams with his victims.
    • Erratic Nonmen are often lost in a fog of Dolour, causing them to behave very unpredictably. Even during lucid moments, they will choose to murder people they love so that they will remember them.
  • Badass Bookworm: Achamian is a scholarly sorcerer with an unimposing personality, but he's also a war chant master of the Gnosis, meaning he can destroy whole battalions of soldiers and defeat multiple anagogic schoolmen at once.
  • Badass Boast:
    • Cnaiür, but only when he's in one of his violent moods. "I am Cnaiür urs Skiötha, breaker-of-horses-and-men!", "I am Cnaiür urs Skiötha, 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!"
    • "I am Cleric and you will hear my sermon!"
  • Badass Crew: Saubon's Knights of the Desert Lion. He's accumulated forty-some of the toughest fighters in the Three Seas and made them into his personal retinue.
  • Badass Normal: Cnaiür has no magical abilities or special genetic traits. He's just an amazingly tough guy with a heaping helping of crazy.
  • 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, Cnaiür 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 Serwë'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.
  • Betty and Veronica: Serwë and Esmenet.
  • Beyond the Impossible: Kellhus is able to do things thought impossible with the Gnosis.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: There is at least one per novel—though the battles are not necessarily the climax of each book.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Aurang and Aurax, with the No-God as the Bigger Bad they're trying to summon.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • Subverted with Xinemus and his disastrous attempt to rescue Achamian from the Scarlet Spires.
    • The Consult skin-spy that rescues Mimara from being raped by Galian. She doesn't find out why.
  • The Big Guy:
    • Yalgrota Scranchammer is the biggest Man of the Tusk in the Holy War. He performs some pretty heroic deeds on the battlefield and makes a name for himself. However, Cnaiür is not impressed.
    • Oxwara is said to be one of Yalgrota's many bastard sons. He towers over the other Skin Eaters. True to the trope, he turns out to be a pretty good guy, as he jumps to Mimara's rescue to take on a Bashrag in single combat, dying in the process.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family:
    • House Ikurei, the imperial family of Nansur. Incest and patricide, oh my!
    • House Anasûrimbor in the Aspect-Emperor series.
  • Black and Gray Morality: The sociopathic "hero" does enough acts to ensure he can never be seen as "good", but it's all to unite mankind to face an Eldritch Abomination and its creators.
  • Black and White Morality: Deconstructed by the topic of damnation. There are very objective and specific things that will make you damned to torment in 111 hells. One of these is using sorcery, even though the Mandate needs to use sorcery to prevent the entire world from being destroyed.
  • Body Horror: The Consult skin-spies, the Inchoroi, and Shaeönanra.
  • Bookends: The first trilogy, the Prince of Nothing, both begins (after the prologue) and ends with a man going into exile. Because the Dûnyain tolerate no contamination from the outside world, it's made clear that Kellhus can never return; and at the end of the trilogy, Achamian renounces both his School and the Aspect-Emperor, making himself doubly-anathema to the people of the Three Seas. The events of The Aspect-Emperor series make the comparison even more apt, although Achamian's journey doesn't begin until some time after the end of the first trilogy: Both men set out on a journey to cross the northern wastes on a quest to learn more about a Dûnyain. Kellhus travels from Ishuäl to the Three Seas to learn about his father, while Achamian travels from the Three Seas to Ishuäl to learn about Kellhus's origins.
  • The Brainless Beauty: Serwë is flawlessly beautiful, but one of the dimmest characters in the series. It's almost too easy for Kellhus to manipulate her.
  • 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.
  • Bullying a Dragon: The Mandate is considered a joke by the other Schools even though their magic is much more powerful than any other. Other schools also try to capture and torture the secret of their power out of Mandate schoolmen, despite the danger.
  • Catch Phrase:
    • Sarl: "The slog of slogs, boys!"
    • Cnaiür: "I am Cnaiür urs Skiötha, breaker-of-horses-and-men!"
    • Conphas: "War is intellect."
    • Kellhus's many Dûnyain aphorisms, usually found in the narration describing his internal thoughts:
      • "He followed the shortest path, the Logos."
      • "The Logos is without beginning or end."
      • "He was Dûnyain, one of the Conditioned."
    • "Cuts and cuts and cuts," repeatedly said in the narration when the Survivor is thinking.
  • 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. Cnaiür scarily describes Kellhus' and his father's powers of manipulation by shouting "They make us love!".
    • Moënghus: The entire Holy War, from beginning to end, is his plan. 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.
  • Child Prodigy: All children with Dûnyain ancestry are far smarter than worldborn adults practically from the moment they're able to speak. However, even among the Dûnyain, the line of Anasûrimbor are said to be prodigies. The Survivor recalls confounding his elders with his insights.
  • Church Militant: The Shrial Knights are the elite troops of the Inrithi religion, answering directly to the Shriah.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture:
    • Cnaiür tortures Kellhus while having him captive. Kellhus screams, begs for mercy and defecates himself, but Cnaiür is not fooled by the act.
    • Xerius has a personal torturer who applies his trade with eerie boredom.
    • The Inchoroi invert the trope, using intense pleasure (and denial of it) to extract information. Even Kellhus, who has already proven immune to traditional torture, is vulnerable to it.
    • Skin-spies are largely immune to pain and extremely difficult to torture, but there are small parts of their brain that can be exploited using "neuropuncture." It's traditional for the New Empire to publicly torture outed skin-spies this way.
    • Serwa is tortured in a Nonman mansion, but proves utterly immune to it like her father. In fact, she turns the tables by singing old Nonman songs that attack the emotional vulnerabilities of her captors.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Most of the Schools have a chromatic theme to their aesthetic.
    • The Scarlet Spires usually dress in red robes.
    • The Imperial Saik wear black.
    • The Vokalati have violet robes.
    • The Cishaurim wear saffron robes.
    • Although rarely mentioned, the Mandate wear crimson robes. Their ceremonial robes are crimson-gold.
  • The Corruption: During The Great Ordeal, the Ordealmen turn to eating sranc to survive, which starts driving them mad with sranc-like behavior.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Revelations in the second trilogy arguably mean that the narrative has wandered from a gritty Dark Fantasy story to the precincts of full-on metaphysical horror.
  • Court Mage:
    • The Imperial Saik are an entire order of Court Mages for the Nansur Empire.
    • Achamian spends some time as Kellhus's official "Vizier."
    • In the Aspect-Emperor trilogy, all schools have become court mages.
    • Meppa serves as Fanayal's personal sorcerer.
  • Crapsack World: The world is a brutal place to live, filled with religious zealotry that causes constant warring between various religions and nations as well as casual brutality to commonfolk for transgressing various religious laws. To top it all off, the world is threatened by a Religion of Evil and a host of psycho-sexual monsters and Eldritch Abominations who want to destroy enough life to escape damnation. The only people who can save the world include sociopathic supermen and sorcerers who suffer constant nightmares.
  • Creepy Child: Children of Dûnyain stock. Most are unable to love, and they are all extraordinarily intelligent from an eerily young age, causing children barely old enough to walk to make penetrating insights to their caretakers. Kelmomas is the only son of Kellhus who can hide his true nature, even from Kellhus, making him seem like an angelic and loving child. In reality, he is a murderous psychopath.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Inri Sejenus. Bakker almost certainly derived his surname "Inri" from the abbreviated form of Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum (Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews).
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Kellhus versus Meppa. The latter brings everything he has to bear on Kellhus, howling with titanic rage, yet Kellhus wipes him out with a single Cant.
    • Kellhus versus Psatma Nannaferi. The latter implies that everything in their confrontation has been according to her plan, but Kellhus casually kills her in a humiliating manner, then quips, "Do you think she foresaw that?" implies that he's always been one step ahead of her.
  • Dark Fantasy: This is an extremely dark, brutal and cynical fantasy series.
  • Dark Messiah: Kellhus wants to save the world, but he's also a manipulative sociopath devoid of empathy or compassion. It's left up in the air throughout the bulk of the series whether he's truly in humanity's best interest.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: Xerius, and later Esmenet, are is surrounded by one when they become Emperor and Empress, respectively.
  • Deconstructed Trope: The Chosen One and the Messianic Archetype. Organized religion is especially deconstructed.
  • Depraved Bisexual: All the Inchoroi. Averted with Cnaiür. Moënghus did not seduce him because he was insane, he gradually went insane because Moënghus seduced him. Essentially, the experience of being manipulated into murdering his father by Moënghus, as well as his culture's extreme hatred for homosexuality, produced such stress in Cnaiür that he became a violent lunatic.
  • Determinator: Kellhus.
  • Differently Powered Individual: The Few are the only people who can work sorcery.
  • Distaff Counterpart: The Swayal Compact to the Mandate.
  • The Dreaded:
    • Lord Kosoter has a terrifying aura about him. Achamian notes how his heart skips a beat whenever Kosoter speaks. Even the hardest of the Skin Eaters fear him. It becomes a noted plot point when, during the slog of slogs, his men stop fearing him.
    • This trope cuts both ways during the First Holy War. The Fanim begin referring to Kellhus as The Demon and Coithus Saubon as The Blond Beast. Saubon's nephew, Athjeäri, gains the epithet Hurall’arkeet—Wind has Teeth in Kiani. The Inrithi regard Skauras ab Nalajan as a fearsome general and an extremely efficacious antagonist; Cinganjehoi ab Sakjal, the Tiger of Eumarna inspires tremendous dread as the most accomplished warrior in all of Kian.
    • Cnaiür urs Skiötha becomes this in the second series, having become a legendary figure of brutality. In Mimara's Judging Eye, she sees him as a Demon Prince still living.
  • Dream Intro: The Darkness that Comes Before starts with a Distant Prologue describing the first Apocalypse several thousand years ago. Then it Time Skips to the present day, and begins with a Dream Sequence in which Anasûrimbor Moënghus contacts the Dûnyain monks in their dreams to tell them to send his son Kellhus to him, which kicks off the plot of the entire series.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: After two books of establishing Lord Kosoter as one of the scariest, most dangerous bastards in Earwa, his confrontation with his mutinous men is completely one-sided. Xonghis simply shoots him with two arrows, and Galian decapitates him without him putting up any fight.
  • Dying Race: The Nonmen are a single-gender race, while the Inchoroi have not seemed to reproduce since landing on Eärwa for unknown reasons.
  • Dysfunction Junction: House Ikurei, the royal family of the Nansur Empire. Perhaps the most dysfunctional thing about them is the consensual mother-son incest.
  • Easy Logistics: Averted. The importance of armies maintaining supply lines and logistics is emphasized many times.
    • More Inrithi die during the march through the Carathay desert than all other battles during the Holy War—all because the Nansur supply fleet is destroyed at Trantis Bay.
    • After the rest of the Three Seas are subjugated, it takes eight years for the New Empire to gather enough supplies and food in order to sustain the Great Ordeal's arduous march to confront the Consult. It's repeated many times that between the battles with the Consult's legions and the physical march itself, the logistics of supplying the march of the Ordeal are the more dangerous.
  • 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 the Three Seas.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: Every chapter in the series opens with one or two quotes from In-Universe works, many of which are philosophical or historical in nature. One notable such work is a history of the events of the first trilogy, written after the fact by Drusas Achamian, one of the main characters, which makes the first trilogy also a mild case of Direct Line to the Author.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: What will happen if the No-God returns.
  • Enfant Terrible: Anasûrimbor Kelmomas behaves like a sweet, doting, ordinary child, concealing the degree of his Dûnyain strength from his mother and even his siblings. In reality, he's a sadistic, manipulative psychopath.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas:
    • Emperor Xerius, with mother-son incest.
    • Anasûrimbor Kelmomas is a psychotic Enfant Terrible, but he does love his mother. One of the biggest reasons that he doesn't want his true nature revealed is that it would break his mother.
  • Evil Plan:
    • Why are the Consult trying to slaughter the human species? To save their own 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 long ago and are wholly damned. 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.
    • Ikurei Xerius III plans to twist the Holy War to his own ends by forcing it to accept his nephew as its general and seizing control of the lands it conquers. He's prepared to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of his fellow Inrithi to get the land.
  • Evil Sorcerer: The Scarlet Spires and the Cishaurim serve this function in the first trilogy. Both stand in the way of our heroes, Achamian and Kellhus, in their fight against the Consult. However, they are actually morally gray at best, and the Scarlet Spires join the Holy War after Kellhus becomes the Aspect-Emperor.
  • Eye Scream:
    • In volume two, the sickening torture of Xinemus by Iyokus, who skewers his eyes with a red-hot knife.
    • And in The Judging Eye (fittingly), one of the many horrific things awaiting trespassers in the Nonman ruins of Cil-Aujas - growing a fully functional eye in the middle of your fucking heart.
    • Also, stay away from Kelmomas and his skewer.
  • Fake Wizardry: Faking sorcery would be very difficult and dangerous, since the practice of magic is clearly visible to actual sorcerers, but that doesn't stop Anasûrimbor Kellhus from faking non-sorcerous "miracles". He regularly uses his analytical super-intelligence to appear to read minds or to prophesize future events. One of his more spectacular "miracles" comes when, in the middle of a vast desert, he points to a spot in the sand and tells his followers to dig there. When they do, they find a wellspring that saves the entire Holy War from almost certain death by exposure. Presumably he was able to detect the presence of an underground spring by some subtle cue, but to his followers it's obvious proof that he's favored by the God. (Of course, he becomes less reliant on deceptive tricks when he learns how to use actual magic.)
  • Famous Last Words: Saubon's rigidly loyal and proper groom receives a mortal wound while fighting by his side. The groom uses his remaining moments to very formally inform Saubon that he always hated him.
  • Fantasy Conflict Counterpart: The Holy War is an obvious analogue to the Crusades.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • Inrithi: Fantasy Christians. Their religion is based on an ancient text of tribal tales and laws that were amended in a separate text by a latter prophet who is worshiped as an incarnation of God. It is a hybrid between polytheism and monotheism, with an overarching "church" and leader akin to Catholicism. The Shriah is the Pope.
    • Fanim: Arab Muslims. Their fashion, weaponry, symbols and terminology are all Arab, and their staunch monotheism in comparison to the slightly more polytheistic aspects of Inrithism is reminiscent of Islam versus Catholicism's Holy Trinity and abundance of saints. The Padirajah is the Sultan/Caliph.
    • Nansur Empire: The Eastern Roman Empire, a fragment of a larger empire. Their commitment to shaving their beards reflects Roman style.
    • Scylvendi: Scythians or Sarmatians, though many readers will associate them with Mongols.
    • Shimeh: Jerusalem, a holy city in two major competing religions.
  • Fantastic Nuke: Kellhus unearths a "golden coffer" in Dagliash, placed by the Consult, which turns out to be a nuclear device. It explodes, wiping out the sranc horde and killing a large number of the Great Ordeal. The mushroom cloud is visible to other groups of characters a long distance away.
  • Fantastic Racism: Lots and lots, from every group.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Mimara notes the shallow pretense of civility the Skin Eaters show her, knowing that they would rape her given the slightest opportunity.
  • Flaw Exploitation: What Kellhus and his father Moënghus do to everyone.
  • Floorboard Failure: In the prequel story "The False Sun," this is how the powerful sorcerer Titirga is defeated by the much weaker Shaeönanra.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Mimara names her sword "Squirrel" and her magic knife "Chipmunk." When Achamian notes that the knife may hold great magical power, Mimara snorts, "Chipmunk?"
  • 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 in Eärwa when the alien Inchoroi started a genocidal war against the Nonmen shortly after their ship crashed into northern Eärwa. 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.
  • Foreshadowing: Conphas is surprised that the aged Skeaös has "the endurance of a monkey" when climbing the vast staircase of the Andiamine Heights. This foreshadows the revelation that Skeaös is a skin-spy.
  • For the Evulz: The reason why the Inchoroi are so depraved. They take their pursuit of evil pleasure so seriously that it drives all their other actions.
  • Freak Out: Everybody has one. Even Kellhus, when he's lashed to the circumfix and starts hallucinating.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Kellhus was just a wandering man of no importance before seizing control of the Holy War and quickly achieving mind-boggling power.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Mimara after Galian, Pokwas and Xonghis mutiny and threaten to rape her. She strips down, but uses Koll's sudden attack as a distraction to kill Pokwas and Xonghis.
  • Functional Magic: In general, there are three types of sorcery: The logic-based Gnosis, Anagogis which uses creative metaphors to implement sorcery and the intuitive Psûkhe of the Cishaurim.
  • Game Face:
    • Kellhus has complete control over his entire body, including his facial muscles, so he is able to fake emotions without any difficulty. When someone finally figures out that he's been manipulating everyone the entire time and confronts him about it, every muscle in his face goes dead, like turning off a light.
    • Skin-spies are shapechanging assassins with faces that are entirely composed of "fingers" that compress together to form any face they can imagine and allow them to impersonate people. When they drop their disguise, their face falls apart into a mass of wiggling fingers around a blank center.
  • Gendercide: The Womb-Plague or death of all female Cûnuroi/Nonmen.
  • Genius Bruiser:
    • Kellhus has superhuman phyiscal abilities due to his Dûnyain conditioning, and he's also brilliant even among the Dûnyain.
    • Cnaiür is "most violent of men" and the most feared warrior in the Scylvendi, the People of War. Kellhus himself also notes that Cnaiür is very intelligent.
    • Conphas, a warrior prince, is said to have the appearance of a god and is also a strategic genius who states that "war is intellect."
    • The Survivor is strong enough to survive the sacking of Ishual and also a prodigy among Dunyain. He's smart enough to figure out the secret of the Absolute.
  • God Is Evil: The myriad gods value humanity greatly. For our delicious flavor.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Sarl doesn't do well in Cil-Aujas.
  • God of Evil: The No-God's purpose is to destroy enough life that the World is severed from the Outside.
  • 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.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: The last Cûno-Inchoroi War was a centuries-long war of extermination and ended with the near-total extermination of the latter.
  • Henchmen Race: The Sranc and the other weapon races who were bred by the Inchoroi to serve as an army.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Oinaral Lastborn realizes that rousing his father from the Dolour will probably kill him, but goes anyway to prevent the Consult from taking over.
  • Heroic Willpower: Dûnyain training instills this. However, Kellhus notes that Dûnyain have not overcome passion with their training, they've simply bred passion out of them. This is why some Dûnyain half-breeds like Inrilatas are so susceptible to madness, when they get both a Dûnyain's insights and a worldborn mother's passion.
  • Hidden Elf Village: Ishuäl, the hidden Dûnyain fortress.
  • Holy City: There are two key ones that factor in the story.
    • Sumna is the holiest city in all of Inrithism. The Vault-of-the-Tusk is kept in Sumna as well as the vast temple-complexes of the Thousand Temples. The Shriah, the High Priest of Inrithism, maintains his seat in Sumna.
    • Shimeh is the second holiest city in Inrithism for being a site of scriptural importance for Inri Sejenus. Reconquering Shimeh becomes the object of the Holy War declared in the first trilogy. Shimeh is also a holy city to the Fanim because the Cishaurim keep their holy tabernacle, the Ctesarat, maintained within Shimeh.
  • Homage
    • There are a few references to The Bible:
      • The size of the Inchoroi's Ark is measured in cubits, just like Noah's Ark.
      • The Inchoroi want to reduce the world to fewer than 144,000 souls. This is an Arc Number in the Bible, always representing a group of people.
    • There are also quite a few references to Tolkien's Legendarium:
      • As mentioned under Our Orcs Are Different, the Inchoroi genetically engineered the Sranc to have Nonman faces, just like Melkor created the Orcs as cruel parodies of the Elves.
      • The journey through the Black Halls of Cil-Aujas in The Judging Eye is an obvious homage to the Mines of Moria.
      • In The White-Luck Warrior, Achamian and Cleric's confrontation with Wutteät, the Father of Dragons, resembles a certain key scene in The Hobbit.
      • In The Great Ordeal, the Nonmen of Ishterebinth have created a servile race of short, rustically-dressed "halflings"... from human breeding stock. The only normal human to see them doesn't take it well.
      • The Qirri is something like lembas-bread: the elf-equivalents make it, and even a small portion is enough to run all day... if lembas was horribly addictive and made from the ashes of Nonman heroes.
    • There are a smattering of allusions to the works of Cormac McCarthy.
      • The entire story of the Skin Eaters is an homage to Blood Meridian. It's complete with a faux-western boomtown in Marrow, a ferocious and reticent character simply referred to as the Captain, and a pale-skinned, hairless, sermonizing figure in Cleric.
      • There is also an homage to The Road with Koringhus and his son, the Boy. A father and son who survive a tremendous apocalyptic event and struggle to continue living. This culminates with the eventual death of the father, and his son being "adopted" by new surrogate parents.
    • The Arc Words of "Death came swirling down" when a character dies is a riff on Homer's use of "Darkness swirled over his eyes" and similar phrases.
  • 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.
  • Humans Are Bastards
  • Hyper Awareness: Kellhus turns this into a superpower.
  • I Call It "Vera":
    • Kellhus's strange long-handled sword is called "Certainty" by his followers. Fittingly, some characters note that the certainty that comes from ignorance is Kellhus's best weapon.
    • Mimara carries a light sword she calls Squirrel. She later acquires a magic knife she calls Chipmunk.
  • Icy Blue Eyes:
    • Cnaiür is often described as having intensely blue eyes. At one point they're even described as turquoise. They make his insanity all the more apparent.
    • Anasûrimbor Moënghus is said to have "white-blue" eyes that are quite unsettling when he's in one of his "moods." Like father, like son.
    • Kellhus has blue eyes, which match the icy coldness of his true self and help sell him as an angelic being.
  • Impossible Genius: Kellhus uses his superhuman intelligence and Hyper Awareness to surpass the possibilities of any normal human. Achamian is shocked when Kellhus begins improving established mathematics formulas moments after being taught them.
  • Informed Attractiveness:
    • We're told that Serwë is flawlessly beautiful. Esmenet is also said to be beautiful, though not as perfect as Serwë. On the male side, Conphas is frequently said to have a "godlike" appearance.
    • Nonmen have flawlessly beautiful, if inhuman, faces. Sranc have the same beautiful faces, but always twisted into bestial leers.
  • Inner Monologue: The Atrocity Tale "The Four Revelations of Cinial'jin" is written in the stream of consciousness narrative style to portray the point of view of an Erratic Nonman, whose thoughts are always a confused jumble of observations and associated memories.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Erratics kill everyone they love so that they can remember them. Pleading for mercy by playing on the love they bear for their victims only incites them further. Achamian tries to reason with Cleric, telling him frankly that his reasoning is madness, but Cleric is impervious to reason.
  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: The dragons (called Wracu) are the most powerful of the Consult's creatures.
  • Instant Expert: Kellhus and any other Dûnyain quickly master anything they learn.
  • Irony: Moënghus did everything Kellhus did, setting himself up as the prophet to the Fanim instead of the Inrithi, only to discover too late that the Psûkhe is powered by the passion and emotions of the sorcerer, things which the Dûnyain almost completely lack due to their conditioning. As a result, Moënghus 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.
  • Kill and Replace: The skin-spies do this to their victims.
  • King Incognito: The Nonman king turns out to be the real identity of Cleric, the lowly scalper.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Subverted. The knight Sarcellus rescues Esmenet from being stoned to death, but he turns out to be a skin-spy.
  • Large and in Charge:
    • Few people are taller than Kellhus, and he's the Aspect-Emperor.
    • Maithanet, the Shriah, has a a large and impressive stature. In fact, he's the half-brother of Kellhus.
    • The Tall, many of whom are legendary heroes among the Nonmen, are large enough to make normal Nonmen look like "statuettes." The only reason they aren't prominent in modern Nonman politics is that they've all gone mad with the Dolour.
  • Last Stand:
    • The Dûnyain stage one in Ishual, fleeing deep into the catacombs and fighting the hordes of sranc in the dark, each Dûnyain killing thousands before an infinitesimal slip costs him his life. They don't expect to live, but two manage to survive by the time the horde is finally extinguished.
    • Saubon and his Knights of the Desert Lion hole up in a secondary citadel in Dagliash, taking refuge against the endless tide of sranc. Saubon realizes that he's going to die, but welcomes it, figuring that there is no better way to go out.
  • Laughing Mad: After Sarl goes insane, he becomes prone to cackling maniacally.
  • Law of Conservation of Detail: Discussed in-universe on the matter of Seswatha's memories. Mandate Schoolmen only relive the momentous parts of his life, to the point that they have a saying, "Seswatha never shits." This becomes a plot point when Achamian starts dreaming new, seemingly inconsequential parts of Seswatha's life and puzzles over their significance.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Achamian is a fairly put-upon schlub for a good part of the first trilogy, often resorting to impotent internal tirades about the power of his Gnosis. When he's ambushed by seven Scarlet Spires schoolmen, however, he completely cuts loose on his War Cants, and the reader learns that all his big talk was not embellished in the slightest.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Skin-spies are supernaturally fast and strong, to the point that they'll be revealed as inhuman when they fight at full speed.
  • Living Lie Detector: Dûnyain can practically read a person's mind by looking at their expression, so detecting lies is pretty simple stuff. They do have to be able to see your face, though.
  • 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; incredibly advanced and sophisticated genetic engineering (the skin-spies, the "Weapon Races", and so forth); and what appear to be nuclear weapons.
  • Love Hurts: Love is only fleetingly happy at best. All characters who love someone are tortured by it to some degree. Even the Dûnyain, who feel only the palest shadow of the emotion, are troubled by the fact that it runs counter to the Logos.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: A rare positive example. The perfectly rational thing to do - the Dûnyain thing to do - might be to help the Consult plan succeed. At the end of The Thousandfold Thought, Kellhus says he believes that, given time, Moënghus would have done exactly that. As of The Great Ordeal, though, Kellhus seems to have chosen the irrational course - protecting humanity - out of love for Esmenet. Even he says he's gone mad.
  • Love Triangle: Kellhus has a few:
    • Kellhus, Esmenet and Achamian.
    • Kellhus, Serwë and Cnaiür.
    • Kellhus, Serwë and Esmenet. This one is amicable, however, as Serwë freely offers to share Kellhus.
  • Mad Love: Cnaiür has this for his captive Serwë, who hates him. He believes that Rape Is Love.
  • Made of Iron: It's implied that the Dûnyain bloodline tends to have very strong bone structure. Maithanet crushes Inrilatas's face in with a punch, then turns to Kelmomas and asks if he, too, has "his mother's bones."
  • Magic from Technology: The Tekne of the Inchoroi. They used it to travel the stars, create Organic Technology, and eventually even modify their genetics to be able to wield actual magic.
  • Magic Versus Science: Or Sorcery versus Tekne.
  • The Magocracy: The Scarlet Spires, one of the sorcerous schools, controls High Ainon, a large southeastern nation. High Ainon's nominal ruler, the King-Regent, answers directly to the Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires.
  • 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 Anasûrimbor Moënghus, who is the true mastermind behind the Holy War.
  • Manipulative Bastard: All Dûnyain manipulate the people around them to get what they need.
  • Master Actor: Pure Dûnyain have complete control over themselves and an intimate understanding of what people need to see and hear to provoke the desired reaction, so they are terrific actors. Kellhus is a perfect actor, and Kelmomas has hidden his true nature from everyone.
  • Master of Your Domain: Kellhus and all other Dûnyain.
  • Mind Rape: The Cants of Compulsion.
  • 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.
  • The Mole: Several skin-spies.
  • Moral Dissonance: Kellhus commits multiple atrocities for "the greater good", such as sacrificing Serwë's life and ordering the massacre of twenty thousand Kianene civilians, not to mention his early betrayal of Leweth, who saved his life.
  • Moral Event Horizon: 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.
  • Mutant Draft Board: Men who practice sorcery but don't belong to a School are called wizards and are extremely rare. Schools hunt down and kill any known wizard so as to maintain their monopoly on the secrets of magic.
  • Mutually Exclusive Magic: Knowledge of sorcery is jealously guarded by the Schools, which are divided up in categories based on the type of magic they use (primarily Gnostic and Anagogic sorcery). There's also the Tekne of the Consult and the Psûkhe of the Cishaurim (who technically aren't a School according to the characters, but whatever). At the beginning of the series, there's no known example of a person capable of using more than a single type of sorcery, even though hypothetically there's nothing about the magic itself stopping them, simply because a) you have to join a School before they'll teach you anything, and b) no School would ever give away its sorcerous secrets to someone who has already joined another School. Kellhus dispels the idea that you can't learn sorcery without joining a School when he convinces Achamian to teach him the Gnosis, and being the master manipulator that he is, he could certainly convince another School to give up its secrets to him—but the Gnosis is insanely powerful compared to all other forms of sorcery, so there wouldn't be much point.
  • Never Live It Down: Mimara takes an initial liking to Somandutta, but during their flight from Cil-Aujas, he sprints in front of her rather than help her rescue Achamian. She forgives him, but notes that their friendship will never recover from his display of cowardice.
  • Not Quite Dead: Cnaiür. Come The Great Ordeal, he's back.
  • Omniglot: Dûnyain need only a few days of observing a language to become completely fluent. Kellhus will frequently switch to a person's native language to raise the impact of his words, or simply to speak privately in mixed company.
  • One-Man Army:
    • Sorcerers, particularly Gnostic sorcerers, are able destroy whole battalions of regular soldiers on the battlefield
    • Cnaiür and Kellhus are able to outfight dozens of warriors at a time with just their martial prowess, though Cnaiür is apparently possessed by the god of war at the time.
  • Only in It for the Money: Scalpoi, the sranc-scalpers, might be waging a war of attrition on the forces of the Consult, but they just do it for the Holy Bounty. They have an unsavory reputation and are mostly ruthless scum.
  • The Order: The sorcerous Schools of Eärwa.
  • 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 Dragons Are Different: Of all the bioweapon creatures created by the Inchoroi, the Wracu are the oldest and most powerful.
  • Our Elves Are Better: 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.
  • 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.
  • Our Ogres Are Hungrier: Bashrags, another race of bioweapon creatures. They have the appearance of three bodies fused into one.
  • Outside-Genre Foe:
    • The Inchoroi were an interstellar race of technology perverts who crashed into the Nonmen's magical world and started a war.
    • The Dûnyain are unknown to everyone when Kellhus gets dropped into the middle of the Holy War and soon takes control of it. Neither the "heroes" nor the "villains" have any idea who or what they are or how to react to them.
    • The No-God is this for the gods themselves; they're so unable to comprehend its existence that they thought the millions who prayed for rescue from it had all gone mad.
  • Poisonous Captive:
    • Anasûrimbor Moënghus, during the time he was a prisoner of Cnaiür urs Skiötha's tribe.
    • Serwa runs down this path. Taken captive and tortured by Nonmen, she turns the tables by singing ancient songs from the Nonmen's past, which drive them to the edges of Dolour. They start gagging her to make her stop.
  • 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.
  • Post-Mortem One-Liner: Kellhus delivers a very uncharacteristic one by asking Malowebi whether he thinks Psatma Nannaferi foresaw her death in that manner.
  • 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.
  • Prophecy Twist: The Celmomian Prophecy is an object of tremendous import in the Mandate. In his dying moments, Anasûrimbor Celmomas prophesied that "an Anasûrimbor will return at the end of the world." In The Great Ordeal, Achamian experiences the death of Celmomas from the High-King's perspective and sees Gilgaöl—the God of war and conflict—holding Kellhus in his outstretched hand, bidding Celmomas to "Behold the end of the world." An Anasûrimbor is the end of the world.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Cnaiür and basically the whole Scylvendi civilization.
  • Punch Clock Hero: The Scalpoi hunt sranc to help the Great Ordeal and ensure the survival of humanity, but they're Only in It for the Money.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: A common occurrence when someone's blood is up. For example: "IS! NOT! TRUTH! INFINITE!"
  • Puppet King:
    • The King-Regents of High Ainon are all puppets of the Scarlet Spires, making the nation a Magocracy in reality.
    • The Nonman mansion of Ishterebinth is ruled by a puppet king who is a tool of the Consult.
  • The Quiet One: Lord Kosoter. Achamian recognizes him immediately as the type of man who begrudges every word. His men have an instinctive moment of panic whenever he chooses to speak.
  • 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 Backstory: Serwë. It's the reason she has such low self-worth
  • Rape as Drama: Serwë goes through this again at the hands of Cnaiür.
  • 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.
    • When Cnaiür is hosting a dinner between all his charges and prisoners at Joktha, everyone in the dining room (except Conphas himself) gets very uncomfortable when one of the details of the Exalt-General's sweeping victory at Kiyuth is explained. When asked how Conphas knew the Scylvendi would make the disastrous charge that undid them, one of his subordinates explains that to the Scylvendi, sodomy is one of their biggest taboos—so Conphas had all of his Scylvendi captives raped in open view of the enemy camp. Almost immediately upon hearing this, Cnaiür, a Scylvendi himself, orders everyone out of the room, goes into a blind rage, and rapes Conphas.
  • Religion Is Right: A central concept in the series is how people (and monsters like Inchoroi) react to the fact that damnation is a literal and objective fact.
  • Rescue Romance: Subverted... twice.
  • Russian Reversal: Banter from the Skin Eaters in The Judging Eye suggests that Eärwa has its own kind of joke of this type.
    In Zeüm the beggars give you money.
  • Sanity Slippage: Cnaiür goes increasingly mad in the third volume.
  • Servant Race: The Nonmen have bred a race of humans into small, subservient and hobbit-like creatures who serve them.
  • 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, some—not many, but enough—of 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 Dûnyain. 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."
  • Showing Off the New Body: Aurang gets to do this once.
  • Signature Style: Bakker shows favor for a number of writing flourishes:
    • Using... elipses... and italics, often in conjunction with repetition - repetition! - to convey profound or ecstatic dialogue.
    • Strategic usage of Punctuated! For! Emphasis! for Wham Lines.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. 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.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Zig-zagged. Achamian and Xin are both very intelligent and play a complicated board game called benjuka. The rules change after every move, much like life, creating a game of baffling complexity and poetic subtlety. In contrast to games with fixed rules, it cannot be intellectually mastered. It is said to challenge one's spirit rather than intellect. As such, Achamian usually loses because he cannot force a victory through sheer cunning.
  • Smug Snake: Ikurei Xerius III thinks very highly of his shrewdness, and lets others know about it, but he's not as clever as he thinks he is.
  • The Sociopath: Kelmomas and Conphas.
  • Sorcerous Overlord:
    • In the first trilogy, the Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires effectively rules High Ainon.
    • Kellhus, as the Aspect-Emperor, is both the world's most powerful sorcerer as well as the ruler of a massive empire.
  • Speak in Unison: The No-God speaks in the voices of a hundred thousand sranc.
  • Stepford Smiler: Kellhus feels no passion. He only smiles to manipulate people.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Alien: The Inchoroi and the No-God (possibly).
  • Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: The series plays with this trope, using the absurdly-intelligent Dûnyain as a vehicle.
    • Subversion: Moënghus attempts to exploit Sufficiently Analyzed Magic but ends up subverting it when he blinds himself as a necessary first step in learning the Psûkhe, the magic of the Cishaurim, only to discover that the Psûkhe relies almost entirely on intuition and emotion —things the hyper-analytical Dûnyain are practically incapable of, which means not only is he still virtually powerless, he's also blind. Of course, since he is Dûnyain, even losing his eyesight really just Brought Him Down To Badass.
    • Played straight: Kellhus learns the Gnosis, a school of magic based on logic, and promptly becomes even more godlike than he already was. Granted, the Gnosis is already regarded as being very powerful In-Universe, but Kellhus takes it Up To Fourteen.note 
  • Summon Magic: Iyokus is the foremost authority on summoning demons. It's the one thing that the Scarlet Spires does that no one else has really looked into, even the Mandate.
  • 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. They were specifically created to wipe out humanity like a plague.
    • The Ursranc are the super-variant of the Sranc; bigger, stronger, and most importantly, obedient. They are used as Mook Lieutenants.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Sorcerers must sing Cants to use sorcery, and the narration implies that they must sing constantly while engaged in a sorcerous battle, yet sorcerers will occasionally shout things in the middle of a battle, which doesn't seem to hinder them.
  • Throat Light: Sorcerous Chants cause light to emit from your eyes and throat.
  • Time Abyss: The Nonmen suffer under the weight of tens of thousands of years of meaningless existence.
  • Title Drop:
    • The Darkness that Comes Before: This phrase comes up several times when Kellhus describes the Logos. It is all the involuntary forces outside of oneself that drive one's actions. Only a "self-moving soul" can avoid becoming a slave to the darkness that comes before action.
    • Cnaiür calls Kellhus "a prince of nothing" in The Darkness that Comes Before, when the latter decides to pose as a prince from Atrithau, a place so far north nobody would know more than its name.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Kellhus begins the series barely able to walk through a forest due to the sensory overload, and needs to be rescued. Using his innate Dûnyain talents, however, he quickly gains seemingly impossible levels of power.
  • Too Kinky to Torture: The skin-spies cannot be tortured by regular means due to their warped perceptions of pain and pleasure. However, Moënghus learns of neuropressure points that can cause them extreme pain, allowing him and later Kellhus to torture them.
  • Torture Technician: The Ikurei dynasty has a dungeon featuring their imperial torturers. Kellhus makes use of the same dungeons and torturers as Aspect-Emperor. The Scarlet Spires also have theirs, though they never manage to torture the Gnosis out of Mandate Schoolman.
  • Übermensch: Kellhus, Moënghus and all the Dûnyain.
  • Unreliable Narrator: "The Four Revelations of Cinial’jin" is told from the perspective on an insane Erratic who has lost the ability to tell the present from the past. His memories bubble up into his perceptions in a stream-of-consciousness style.
  • Unwilling Suspension: Kellhus is lashed to a large ring (visually, think of the Vitruvian Man, minus the extra limbs) and suspended from a tree. The incident is later referred to as the Circumfixion, and is clearly meant to parallel the biblical Crucifixion as Kellhus continues to build his role as a Messianic Archetype.
  • Up to Eleven: Kellhus does things with the Gnosis that were thought to be impossible, such as teleporting.
  • 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.
  • Voice of the Legion:
    • The No-God is a black whirlwind that speaks through its minions. Achamian dreams of the No-God speaking through a million sranc throats on the battle plain.
    • In Cil-Aujas, an undead Nonman speaks through the unconscious bodies of Achamian and Pokwas.
  • Villain Episode: The Atrocity Tales. Three have been published so far with a fourth forthcoming. One is from the POV of Shaeönanra about the origins of the Consult. Another is from the perspective of a Nonman Erratic. The third is about a barbarian gladiator in Carythusal who is ensnared in the plots of the Scarlet Spires. The forthcoming story will be an Origins Episode for Ûster Scraul, one of Saubon's captains, a Bit Character in The Great Ordeal.
  • Villainous Rescue: The skin-spy who impersonates Somandutta and later Koll rescues Mimara twice, sacrificing its cover and eventually its life. Mimara begs to know why it keeps rescuing her, but it never tells.
  • Warrior Poet: The Ishroi of the Nonmen. When Nin’janjin sent a diplomatic message requesting aid to Cû’jara-Cinmoi, he wrote it in verse.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Nonmen are cursed with immortality, with some being over 10,000 years old. With no women, they have lived for millennia as a doomed race with no purpose. The Erratics of their number live in a perpetual state of partial amnesia.
  • Won the War, Lost the Peace: The Cûnuroi/Nonmen experiences this during and after the Cûno-Inchoroi Wars.
  • Worthy Opponent: The Fanim and the Nansur 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: Dûnyain are masters of this with their ability to analyze and recalculate their plans on the fly as new situations arise.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Dragons speak this way.
  • Zerg Rush: Sranc are not very powerful warriors individually, but they attack ferociously, en masse, and in mind-boggling numbers to wear down even the strongest companies of soldiers by sheer attrition. There are tales of Scranc simply throwing themselves on the spears of soldiers to make them unable to defend themselves from the next wave of Scranc.

Alternative Title(s): The Second Apocalypse, The Prince Of Nothing

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/SecondApocalypse