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Literature: Second Apocalypse

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 is currently completed. 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, 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 whore, and a mentally unstable barbarian chieftain. But in the midst of the Holy War arrives a wandering monk, AnasŻrimbor 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, 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:

  1. The Prince of Nothing
    1. The Darkness that Comes Before
    2. The Warrior Prophet
    3. The Thousandfold Thought
  2. The Aspect-Emperor
    1. The Judging Eye
    2. The White-Luck Warrior
    3. The Unholy Consult (forthcoming)
  3. 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)
    1. ?

Bakker also offers two short stories in the same universe on his website: "The False Sun" and "The Four Revelations of-Cinial'jin."

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 Earwa 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.
  • Alien Invasion: The Inchoroi who crashed on Ešrwa 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.
  • 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:
    • "The Logos is without beginning or end."
    • "War is ______." Conphas claims war is intellect, for example.
    • "WHAT DO YOU SEE?"
  • Armored Closet Gay: The source of all of Cnaiur's shame is being seduced by Moenghus into killing his father. He's entirely unable to handle the fact that he loves/loved Moenghus. He is attracted to women as well, however, so he's apparently somewhere toward the middle of the Kinsey scale.
  • Arrow Catch: One of Kellhus's many abilities.
  • Artificial Human: The Consult's skin-spies.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Kellhus and all the Dunyain are masters at this.
  • Ax-Crazy: Cnaiur and the entire Sranc species (who are bred to be murderer-rapists).
  • 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:
    • CnaiŁr, but only when he's in one of his violent moods. "I am Cnaiur urs SkiŲtha, breaker-of-horses-and-men!", "I am CnaiŁr urs SkiŲtha, 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 Normal: CnaiŁr has no magical abilities or special genetic traits. He's just an amazingly tough guy with a heaping helping of crazy.
  • Barbarian Hero: CnaiŁr 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 JiŁnati Steppes. CnaiŁr 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, CnaiŁr 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, CnaiŁr 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 SerwŽ'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: SerwŽ and Esmenet.
  • Beyond the Impossible: Kellhus is able to do things thought impossible with the Gnosis.
  • 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.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family:
    • House Ikurei, the imperial family of Nansur. Incest and patricide, oh my!
    • House Anasurimbor 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 ShaeŲnanra.
  • The Brainless Beauty: SerwŽ 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!"
    • Cnauir: "I am Cnauir urs Skiotha, breaker of horses and men!"
  • 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: 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.
  • Church Militant: The Shrial Knights.
  • Court Mage: The Imperial Saik are an entire order of Court Mages.
  • 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: Kelmomas, the youngest son of Kellhus.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Inri Sejanus. Bakker almost certainly derived his surname from the abbreviated form of Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum (Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews).
  • Dark Fantasy
  • Dark Messiah: Kellhus
  • Deadly Decadent Court: Emperor Xerius is surrounded by one, and later Esmenet when she is Empress.
  • Deconstructed Trope: The Chosen One and the Messianic Archetype. Organized religion is especially deconstructed.
  • 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.
  • Determinator: Kellhus.
  • Differently Powered Individual: The Few are the only people who can work sorcery.
  • Distaff Counterpart: The Swayal Compact to the Mandate.
  • Dying Race: The Nonmen and the Inchoroi.
  • 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 the Three Seas.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: The story part of The Thousandfold Thought is 400 pages long. The glossary is another 100 pages (hardback version).
  • The End of the World as We Know It: What will happen if the No-God returns.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Emperor Xerius, with mother-son incest.
  • Evil Albino: Iyokus
  • The Evil Prince: Exalt-General and later Emperor Conphas.
  • 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.
  • The Exile: Moenghus was exiled from the DŻnyain for being too contaminated by the external world to return.
  • Famous Last Words: Conphas's rigidly loyal and proper captain receives a mortal wound while fighting by his side. The captain uses his remaining moments to very formally inform Conphas that he always hated him.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • Inrithi: A hybrid polytheistic/monotheistic religion with an overarching "church" and leader akin to Catholicism. The Shriah is the Pope.
    • Fanim: Arab Muslims. Their fashion, weaponry and symbols 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, the holy city in two major competing religions.
  • Fantastic Racism: Lots and lots, from every group.
  • Flaw Exploitation: What Kellhus and his father Moenghus 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 ShaeŲnanra.
  • 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 Ešrwa when the alien Inchoroi started a genocidal war against the Nonmen shortly after their ship crashed into northern Ešrwa. 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.
  • 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.
  • Functional Magic: In general, there are three types of sorcery: The logic-based Gnostic, Anagogis which uses creative metaphors to implement sorcery and the intuitive PsŻkhe 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 CŻnuroi/Nonmen.
  • Genius Bruiser: Kellhus has the tall and athletic build of a warrior, but he's also the most brilliant mind yet seen in the series.
  • 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 CŻno-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 Willpower
  • Hidden Elf Village: Ishušl, the hidden DŻnyain fortress.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Icy Blue Eyes:
    • Cnaiur 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.
    • 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 SerwŽ is flawlessly beautiful. Esmenet is also said to be beautiful, though not as perfect as SerwŽ.
  • 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.
  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: The dragons (called Wracu) are the most powerful of the Consult's creatures.
  • Instant Expert: Yep, Kellhus yet again.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Crimson 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: Dunyain 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; and incredibly advanced and sophisticated genetic engineering (the skin-spies, the "Weapon Races", and so forth).
  • Love Hurts: There's nary a single relationship in the series that is happy or does not end in tragedy.
  • Love Triangle: Kellhus has a few:
    • Kellhus, Esmenet and Achamian.
    • Kellhus, Serwe and Cnaiur.
    • Kellhus, Serwe and Esmenet. This one is amicable, however, as Serwe freely offers to share Kellhus.
  • Mad Love: Cnaiur has this for his captive SerwŽ, who hates him. He believes that Rape Is Love.
  • Made of Iron: It's implied that the Dunyain 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 Anasurimbor Moenghus, who is the true mastermind behind the Holy War.
  • Manipulative Bastard: All Dunyain manipulate the people around them to get what they need.
  • Master Actor: Pure Dunyain 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 Dunyain.
  • 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 SerwŽ'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.
  • Omniglot: Dunyain need only a few days of observing a language to become completely fluent.
  • One-Man Army: Gnostic sorcerers. Kellhus, Cnaiur, and especially Cleric take this trope Up to Eleven.
  • The Order: The sorcerous Schools of Earwa.
  • 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-Context Villain:
    • The Inchoroi were an interstellar race of technology perverts who crashed into the Nonmen's magical world and started a war.
    • Although not "villains" per se, the Dunyain 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.
  • Poisonous Captive: AnasŻrimbor MoŽnghus, during the time he was a prisoner of CnaiŁr urs SkiŲtha'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.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: CnaiŁr and basically the whole Scylvendi civilization.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "IS! NOT! TRUTH! INFINITE!"
  • 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: SerwŽ. It's the reason she has such low self-worth
  • Rape as Drama: SerwŽ goes through this again at the hands of CnaiŁr.
  • 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.
  • Rescue Romance: Subverted...twice.
  • Sanity Slippage: Cnaiur goes increasingly mad in the third volume.
  • 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, someónot many, but enoughóof 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."
  • Showing Off the New Body: Aurang gets to do this once.
  • 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.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Achamian and Xin play a complicated strategy game where the rules change after every move, much like life.
  • 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.
  • 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 Dunyain as a vehicle.
    • Subversion: Moenghus attempts to exploit Sufficiently Analyzed Magic but ends up subverting it when he blinds himself as a necessary first step in learning the Psukhe, the magic of the Cishaurim, only to discover that the Psukhe relies almost entirely on intuition, emotion and passion—things the hyper-analytical Dunyain are practically incapable of, which means not only is he still virtually powerless, he's also blind. Of course, since he is Dunyain, even losing his eyesight really just Brought Him Down To Badass.
    • Played straight: Kellhus learns the Gnosis, a school of magic more dependant on language and possibly mathematics, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Dunyain 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, Moenghus 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.
  • ‹bermensch: Kellhus, Moenghus and all the DŻnyain.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Villain Episode: The Atrocity Tales. One is about the Consult and the other is about an Erratic.
  • 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 CŻnuroi/Nonmen experiences this during and after the CŻno-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: Dunyain 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.

The Sea of TrollsLiterature of the 2000sThe Secret
The Sea of TrollsFantasy LiteratureThe Secrets of Droon

alternative title(s): Prince Of Nothing; Second Apocalypse; The Second Apocalypse; The Second Apocalypse
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