Set twenty years after the end of The Thousandfold Thought, Bakker reintroduces us to a world that is at once familiar but also very different than the one readers thought they knew. Delving even further into his richly imagined universe of myth, violence, and sorcery, and fully remolding the fantasy genre to broaden the scope of intricacy and meaning, R. Scott Bakker has once again written a fantasy novel that defies all expectations and rewards the reader with an experience unlike any to be had in the canon of today’s literature.
|Table of contents|
|Chapter 1: Sakarpus|
|Chapter 2: Hûnoreal|
|Chapter 3: Momemn|
|Chapter 4: Hûnoreal|
|Chapter 5: Momemn|
|Chapter 6: Marrow|
|Chapter 7: Sakarpus|
|Chapter 8: The River Rohil|
|Chapter 9: Momemn|
|Chapter 10: Condia|
|Chapter 11: The Osthwai Mountains|
|Chapter 12: The Andiamine Heights|
|Chapter 13: Condia|
|Chapter 14: Cil-Aujus|
|Chapter 15: Condia|
|Chapter 16: Cil-Aujus|
|Character and Faction Glossary|
|What Has Come Before|
|Map of the Kellian Empire in 4132 Year-of-the-Tusk|
He lives as an exile, the world’s only Wizard, on the savage northeastern frontier of the empire Anasûrimbor Kellhus has raised about his supposed divinity. The Sranc once besieged his half-ruined tower, but the scalpers have driven the inhuman creatures over the mountains, chasing the Holy Bounty. For years now Achamian has lived in peace, hunting his sleep for hints and rumours of Ishuäl, the hidden fastness of the Dûnyain. If he can find Ishuäl, he believes, he can answer the question that burns so bright in so many learned souls …
Who is the Aspect-Emperor?
This peace is shattered when Anasûrimbor Mimara, the daughter of his former wife, arrives demanding that he teach her sorcery. Her resemblance to her mother, Esmenet—who has become Empress of the Three Seas—returns the old Wizard to all the pains he sought to escape. He refuses her demand, bids her to leave time and again, but she defies him and takes up a vigil outside his tower.
Mimara, who has never forgiven her mother for selling her into childhood slavery, has fled the Imperial Court with no intention of returning. She is one of the Few. She possesses the ability to see the fabric of existence and so the power to learn sorcery—and this, she has decided, is the one thing that will lift her from the mire of shame and recrimination that is her life. She believes she has nothing else.
But she also possesses a different kind of sight, one both more precious and more significant: on rare occasions, she can see the morality of things, the goodness and the evil inherent to them. She has what the ancients called the Judging Eye.
Day and night she howls at the old Wizard in his tower, demanding that he teach her. The first time he comes down, he strikes her. The second time he tries to reason with her. He explains his lifelong quest to discover the truth of Anasûrimbor Kellhus—her stepfather. He seeks the location of Ishuäl because it is the Aspect-Emperor’s birthplace, and the truth of a man, he insists, always lies in his origins. He tells her how his Dreams have slowly transformed, abandoning the epic atrocities of the First Apocalypse and focusing more and more upon the mundane details of Seswatha’s ancient life. Because of this, he now knows how to find Ishuäl: he must recover a map that lies hidden in the ruins of ancient Sauglish, far to the north.
“You have become a prophet,” she tells him. “A prophet of the past.”
And then, in yet one more attempt to win his tutelage, she seduces him.
Only in the shameful aftermath does she tell the old Wizard that he has dwelt upon his suspicions for too long. The Aspect-Emperor has already embarked on his quest to destroy the Consult and so save the world from a Second Apocalypse. The Great Ordeal marches.
Achamian abandons Mimara at his tower and strikes out for the nearest scalper outpost. Here he contracts a company called the Skin Eaters to join his quest, deceiving them with promises of the Coffers, the Holy Library’s famed treasury. The Captain of the company, a Veteran of the First Holy War named Lord Kosoter, troubles him, as does Incariol, his mysterious Nonman companion, but time is short, and he can think of no one else who would accompany him on such a mad trek. He must somehow reach the Library of Sauglish, and thence Ishuäl, before the Great Ordeal reaches the gates of Golgotterath. The scalpers company departs shortly thereafter, planning to cross the Osthwai Mountains into the Sranc-infested North.
Mimara is not so easily dissuaded. She shadows the scalpers without appreciating the cunning of their forest craft. She is discovered, and Achamian is forced to save her, saying that she is his wilful daughter. Fearing that she will reveal his true purposes, he at last relents. He allows her to accompany him on his quest and agrees to teach her sorcery.
Shortly after, they learn that a spring blizzard has closed the passes through the Osthwai Mountains, perhaps delaying them for weeks—for too long. Only one path remains open to them: the accursed halls of Cil-Aujas.
They camp before the entrance to the derelict Nonman Mansion, plagued with apprehensions. Then, with the coming of dawn, they descend into the heart of the mountain. For days they wander the wrecked halls, led by Incariol and his ancient memories. Deep in the Mansion, Mimara finally confesses her sporadic ability to see the morality of things, and Achamian, obviously troubled, tells her that she possesses the Judging Eye. She presses him to tell her more, but the old Wizard refuses. Before she can berate him properly, the company discovers that it is not alone in the Mansion.
Sranc assail them with fury and countless numbers. Despite the sorcerous toll exacted by Incariol and Achamian, the company is overcome, and the survivors are forced to flee down into the bowels of Cil-Aujas. Achamian is knocked unconscious by a Sranc bearing a Chorae. Mimara kills the creature and pockets the thing. They flee through the mines that riddle the foundations of the mountain and find themselves on the scorched rim of a burning lake. The Sranc pour after them, a howling tide. They flee along a stair and would certainly perish were it not for Incariol and his sorcerous might. Their route sealed behind them, they find themselves in an ancient slave pit, huddling among the bones of a dead Dragon. Only a handful survive.
While they recover themselves, Incariol dispenses qirri, an ancient Nonman remedy. Mimara finds herself staring at her Chorae. It is an abomination in her sorcerous eyes, yet she persists gazing. The Judging Eye opens, and the thing is miraculously transformed. Suddenly she sees it for what it truly is: a white burning Tear of God. She turns to Somandutta, the scalper who has become her protector with the Wizard incapacitated. But he sees nothing …
Then she notices the stranger sitting in their midst.
Incariol recognizes the figure as the shade of Gin’yursis, the ancient Nonman King of Cil-Aujas. The wraith dons the Nonman as if he were clothing. While the company stands watching in dread, the qirri finally revives the old Wizard. Recognizing their peril, he begins screaming at them to flee.
Again they race into the black, while something dark and nebulous pursues them. In desperation, Achamian brings the ceiling crashing down, sealing the company even deeper within the doomed Mansion.
They find themselves at the bottom of a vast well, what Achamian remembers as the Great Medial Screw from his ancient Dreams, a stair that plumbs the whole mountain. The sky is little more than a prick of light above them. The battered Skin Eaters rejoice. All they need do is climb …
But Gin’yursis rises from the deeps to claim them, dragging Hell itself as his mantle.
Mimara’s Judging Eye opens. She raises high her brilliant Tear of God …
The Great OrdealEdit
Far to the north, young Varalt Sorweel finds himself staring down upon the boggling might of the Southron Believer-Kings. He is the only son of Varalt Harweel II, the King of Sakarpus, who has resisted the Aspect-Emperor’s demand to yield his ancient city and its famed Chorae Hoard. Standing with his father on the high curtain walls, the adolescent realizes that he and his people are doomed. Then, miraculously, a stork—a bird that is holy to the Sakarpi—appears on the battlements above his father. The two commune in the charged silence that follows, then King Harweel turns and commands that Sorweel be taken to safety. “See that no harm comes to him!” he cries. “He will be our final sword-stroke! Our vengeance!” Dragged away screaming, the young man watches sorcerous flames engulf the parapets and his father upon them. A desperate flight ensues, and it seems that the Aspect-Emperor himself pursues them through the chaotic streets.
The pursuit ends in the apparent safety of the citadel. Blasting through walls, Anasûrimbor Kellhus effortlessly kills his protectors. He approaches the adolescent Prince, but rather than seizing or striking him, he embraces him. Tells him that he is forgiven.
The city secure, the Great Ordeal prepares for the long march across the trackless wilds. Sorweel finds himself desolate for the loss of his father and the shame of his new circumstances. As the new King of Sakarpus, he is naught but a tool of the New Empire, a way for the Aspect-Emperor to legitimize his tyranny. Before the host departs, none other than Anasûrimbor Moënghus II and Anasûrimbor Kayûtas, the eldest sons of Anasûrimbor Kellhus, visit him in his palace. They tell him he is to join the Ordeal as the symbol of his nation’s commitment to their holy cause. The following day Sorweel finds himself part of the Scions, a horse company composed of princely hostages from across the rim of the New Empire. This is how he meets and befriends Zsoronga ut Nganka’kull, the Successor Prince of Zeüm.
A Mandate sorcerer named Thanteus Eskeles is assigned to tutor him in Sheyic, the common tongue of the Three Seas, and through him the young King learns the reasons why so many worship the Aspect-Emperor so fervently. For the first time he begins to doubt his father … What if the Aspect-Emperor spoke true? What if the world really was about to end?
Why else would someone so cunning march so many Men to their doom?
Sorweel is also provided a slave named Porsparian to attend to his needs, a wizened old man who is anything but the submissive thrall he pretends to be. One night Sorweel watches him tear away the turf and mould the face of the Goddess Yatwer from the dirt. Before his eyes, mud bubbles up as spit from her earthen lips. The slave palms this mud and smears it across the incredulous King’s cheeks.
The following morning Sorweel attends a Council of Potentates with Zsoronga and Eskeles. His dread waxes as he watches the Holy Aspect-Emperor move from lord to lord, declaring the truths they think hidden in their souls. He fears what will happen when he sees the hatred and treachery smouldering in his own. But when Anasûrimbor Kellhus comes to him, he congratulates Sorweel for grasping the truth and, before everyone assembled, declares him one of the Believer-Kings.
Far to the south in Momemn, the capital of the New Empire, Esmenet struggles to rule in her husband’s absence. With Kellhus and the bulk of his armed might absent, the embers of insurrection have begun to ignite across the Three Seas. The Imperial Court regards her with condescension. Fanayal ab Kascamandri, the Padirajah of what had been the heathen Kianene Empire before the First Holy War, grows ever more bold on the fringes of the Great Carathay Desert. Psatma Nannaferi, the outlawed Mother-Supreme of the Cult of Yatwer, prophesies the coming of the White-Luck Warrior, the god-sent assassin who will murder the Aspect-Emperor and his progeny. Even the Gods, it seems, have turned against the Anasûrimbor Dynasty. Esmenet turns to her brother-in-law, Anasûrimbor Maithanet, the Shriah of the Thousand Temples, for his clarity of vision and strength, yet she wonders why her husband would leave the Mantle in her incapable hands, when his brother is Dûnyain like himself.
She also has the travails of her own family to contend with. All her eldest children have gone. Mimara has fled—to Achamian, she hopes and prays. Anasûrimbor Kayûtas, Anasûrimbor Serwa, and her stepson, Anasûrimbor Moënghus II, ride with their father in the Great Ordeal. Anasûrimbor Theliopa remains with her as an adviser, but the girl is scarcely human, she is so narrow and analytical. The next youngest, the mad and murderous Anasûrimbor Inrilatas, Esmenet keeps imprisoned atop the Andiamine Heights. Only her very youngest, the twins Anasûrimbor Samarmas and Anasûrimbor Kelmomas, provide her with any comfort. She clings to them as if they were flotsam in a shipwreck, not realizing that Kelmomas, like his brother Inrilatas, has inherited too many of his father’s gifts. The boy has already driven away Mimara with the cunning of his insinuations. Now he plots deeper ways to secure sole possession of his mother’s heart.
He will tolerate no rivals.
In the city of Iothiah, meanwhile, the White-Luck Warrior reveals himself to Psatma Nannaferi, who summons all her High Priestesses to plot the destruction of the Anasûrimbor. None other than Yatwer, the monstrous Mother of Birth, moves against the Aspect-Emperor. As the Goddess most favoured by slaves and caste-menials, she commands tremendous temporal power. Unrest spreads among the servile poor.
Even as the first rumours of this sedition reach his mother in Momemn, young Kelmomas continues his own devious insurrection. Where before he had driven Mimara away, now he engineers the death of his idiot twin, Samarmas, knowing that grief for his loss will make his mother even more desperate for his love.
Capsized by the death of Samarmas, bewildered by the possibility that the Hundred themselves now hunt her family, Esmenet turns to her brother-in-law, Maithanet. He reminds her that the Gods can see neither the No-God nor the coming Apocalypse and so perceive her husband as a threat instead of a saviour.
At his bidding, Esmenet summons Hanamem Sharacinth, the officially sanctioned Matriarch of the Yatwerians, with the intention of setting the Cult against itself. When they fail to cow the woman, Kellhus himself arrives and breaks her will to resist with sheer force of presence. The blubbering Matriarch yields, promising to wrest her Cult from Psatma Nannaferi. The Aspect-Emperor returns to the Great Ordeal, dismaying his Empress with his indifference to their son’s death.
Realizing that his mother turns to him the more circumstances turn against her, Kelmomas sets out that very night, using his Dûnyain blood to steal across the Imperial Precincts, and murders Sharacinth and her retinue.
Rumours of her assassination travel quickly, igniting the embers of sedition among the slaves and caste-menials. Riots erupt across the New Empire.
Esmenet does turn to Kelmomas for comfort. At night, she takes to embracing him in her bed while the smell of smoke and the sound of screams and shouts waft through windows. Intoxicated with success, the young Prince-Imperial begins plotting against his uncle, Maithanet, knowing that the man alone possesses the ability to see through his deception.
Point of View CharactersEdit
Each chapter in the book is divided into sections of limited third person point of views of alternating characters. Some chapters include an omniscient third person point of view. The numbers in brackets indicate how many sections the character has in the novel.