Resurrection of a book club – The Darkness that Comes Before
My sincere apologies to everyone who was, er, participating in this bookclub. With recent job changes and the holidays and some other things it sort of fell off the face of the earth. I’m not sure how far everyone read – for all I know you all gave up, or finished the book and are half way through the rest of them by now. But let’s pick it back up and see where everyone is.
I haven’t been reading nearly enough, but I will do my best to do a brief summary of events and characters. In our last installment we were introduced to the world of Earwa and to the first apocalypse. We met the warrior monk Anasûrimbor Kellhus, a Dûnyain, whose prowess in combat rivals that of one of the ancient Nonmen he encounters, and whose ability to read faces and manipulate normal men are truly creepy. We also met Drusas Achamian, a Mandate Schoolman, and began to learn about the complex magical and religious systems that govern the Three Seas.
Since then I’ve read through Chapter Nine. So that’s seven chapters past where we were. I’m going to assume everyone else has read even more – or if you were waiting, now is the time to catch up.
We meet or learn about several new prominent characters during these chapters.
Esmenet – a whore in the Imperial city of Sumna in the Nansur empire. She and Achamian have a close relationship, bordering on lovers. She’s smart but uneducated. Most women are uneducated in these books. They are also banned from using magic – there are no female schools. This is a deeply patriarchal society, and Esmenet is an example of a strong but broken woman who is utterly reliant on dangerous men for her sustenance. Achamian first goes to her as a whore but he’s obviously deeply in love with her as well. Sorcerers are forbidden to marry, however.
Ikurei Xerius – the somewhat mad, seriously insecure and haphazardly clever emperor of the Nansurium. He schemes along with his controlling mother and advisers, attempting to bend the Holy War to the benefit of the Empire.
Ikurei Conphas – the brilliant tactician and nephew of Xerius, Conphas is arrogant and level-headed. A start contrast to his uncle. He defeats the Sclyvendi for the first time on the field of battle.
Cnaiür urs Skiötha – a barbarian Sclyvendi (the people of war) Cnaiür is at once horrifyingly violent and deeply thoughtful. He’s been shunned by his fellow Sclyvendi who think he’s homosexual due to an encounter he had years ago with the father of Anasûrimbor Kellhus. This has scarred him deeply and plays an important role in the books.
We learn more about Maithanet, the Shria and author of the Holy War, though he remains mysterious. He can see ‘the mark’ which supposedly only Schoolmen can see and which marks sorcerers as damned. We learn of and briefly encounter Proyas, a noble and one of Achamian’s old students.
Okay, so lots of intrigue and beneath it all the murmurings of the Consult, that old evil faction which brought about the First Apocalypse and which only the crazy Mandate Schoolmen believe in anymore. There are at least two very disturbing scenes that involve the Consult in this section of the book.
The first encounter is between Paro Inrau, another of Achamian’s students, with the Synthese – a crow with the head of a man:
Then he saw it, and horror throttled him. It stood a short distance away, perched on the railing, watching him with shiny blue eyes. It had the body of a crow, but its head was small, bald, and human—about the size of a child’s fist. Stretching thin lips over tiny, perfect teeth, it smiled. Sweet-Sejenus-oh-God-it-can’t-be-it-can’t-be! A parody of surprise flashed across the miniature face. “You know what I am,” it said in a papery voice.
We’ll learn more about this creature as we read. The second encounter is when Esmenet makes love to one of the Consult – a frighteningly rapturous experience for her and the first example of the deeply creepy way that Bakker uses sex and sexual violence in these books.
In any case, there really is so much to cover in this expanse that I won’t do it all here. If anyone has thoughts or observations on the first 9 chapters, please leave them in the comments. Starting next week I’ll be blogging chapter-by-chapter since this stuff is so dense. Not sure how this book club will take shape, but if anyone wants to chime in with a post on a chapter, a theme, a character or whatever, please let me know.
At this point, the Holy War is about to commence. Xerius has sent the first band of stragglers off to their death in a complicated plot to capture the Holy War for the gain of the Empire – and sacrifice it in the end to the Fanim. Cnaiür has been betrayed and has murdered his betrayers and their families. Achamian has left Sumna to track the Holy War and learn more about the mysterious Maithanet. Esmenet, terrified by her encounter with the Consult, has gone after him. We haven’t seen Kellhus in some time, but we will soon. Plots and conspiracies are taking place on many levels here – with the nations of the Three Seas preparing for a fight against the heathens, the Schools suspicious of one another’s involvement, the Empire and the Fanim working together, and the Consult beneath it all and out of sight.