The Prince of Nothing is a series of three fantasy novels by the Canadian author R. Scott Bakker, the first book of which was published in 2003, part of a wider series known as The Second Apocalypse. The trilogy details the emergence of Anasûrimbor Kellhus, a brilliant monastic warrior, as he takes control of a Holy War and the hearts and minds of its leaders. Kellhus exhibits incredible powers of prediction and persuasion, which are derived from deep knowledge of rationality, cognitive biases, and causality, as discovered by the Dûnyain, a secret monastic sect. As Kellhus goes from military leader to divine prophet, Drusas Achamian, the sorcerer who mentors Kellhus, comes to realize that his student may well be the harbinger of the prophesied Second Apocalypse.
The key feature distinguishing the Prince of Nothing series from its contemporaries is the importance of philosophy to the work. The plot, characters, setting, and metaphysics of the Prince of Nothing are intertwined with philosophical positions unique to the series.
Bakker has mentioned that this series was primarily influenced by the works of Tolkien and Frank Herbert.
Strikingly original in its conception, ambitious in scope, with characters engrossingly and vividly drawn, the first book in R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing series creates a remarkable world from whole cloth—its language and classes of people, its cities, religions, mysteries, taboos, and rituals—the kind of all—embracing universe Tolkien and Herbert created unforgettably in the epic fantasies The Lord of the Rings and Dune.
It’s a world scarred by an apocalyptic past, evoking a time both two thousand years past and two thousand years into the future, as untold thousands gather for a crusade. Among them, two men and two women are ensnared by a mysterious traveller, Anasûrimbor Kellhus—part warrior, part philosopher, part sorcerous, charismatic presence—from lands long thought dead.
The Darkness That Comes Before is a history of this great Holy War, and like all histories, the survivours write its conclusion.
The first battle against the heathen has been won, but while the Great Names plot and squabble over the spoils, Kellhus patiently extends his influence, drawing more followers to his banner.
The sorcerer Achamian and his lover, Esmenet, submit entirely, only to have their faith tested in unimaginable ways. The warrior Cnaiür falls ever deeper into madness. The skin-spies of the Consult watch with growing trepidation. And as the vast host of the Holy War endures its sternest test in the searing wastes of the desert, a name—a title—begins to be whispered amongst the faithful.
But who is the Warrior-Prophet: a dangerous heretic, who turns brother against brother? Or the only man who can avert the Second Apocalypse? The Holy War stands on a knife edge. If all is not to be lost the great powers will have to choose between their most desperate desires and their most ingrained prejudice. Between hatred and hope. Between the Warrior-Prophet and the end of the world …
The Darkness That Comes Before, R. Scott Bakker’s magnificent debut, drew thunderous acclaim from reviewers and fellow fantasy authors. Readers were invited into a darkly threatening, thrillingly imaginative universe as fully realized as that of any in modern fantasy and introduced to one of the genre’s great characters: the powerful warrior-philosopher Anasûrimbor Kellhus, on whom the fate of a violently apocalyptic Holy War rests.
Bakker’s follow up to The Darkness That Comes Before, The Warrior-Prophet enticed readers further into the richly imagined world of myth, violence, and sorcery. The startling and far-reaching answers to these questions are brought into thrilling focus in The Thousandfold Thought, the conclusion to The Prince of Nothing trilogy.
Casting into question all the action that has taken place before, twisting readers’ intuitions in unforeseen directions, 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 fantasy literature.
The Prince of Nothing series takes place in the fictional continent of Eärwa, which is separated from another continent to the east (mentioned but unseen), called Eänna. The main inhabitants of Eärwa are human, but were preceded by the Nonmen (or Cûnuroi), immortal beings who went mad with the accumulation of centuries of memory, and the Inchoroi, alien beings who crash-landed in northern Eärwa five-thousand years prior to the events of the Prince of Nothing. These creatures' machinations led both to the downfall of the Nonmen and, with the aid of a group of human sorcerers known as the Consult, the summoning of Mog-Pharau, the No-God. This event, known as the First Apocalypse, caused the collapse of most of human civilization, but was stopped by the efforts of the sorcerer Seswatha and Anasûrimbor Celmomas II, the last of a line of royalty. Society was eventually rebuilt after this event, which became more legend than history. Nonetheless, the Consult still endeavored to bring back the No-God and finish the plan they had begun thousands of years before.
The action of the series is confined to the Three Seas area, home of multiple human nations, ethnicities, and religions. The first novel opens with the start of a Holy War, pitting the Inrithi nations and the Thousand Temples against the "heathen" Fanim, followers of a prophet who broke from Inrithism hundreds of years previously. The goal of the war is to retake Shimeh, a city venerated by both faiths, although as the war progresses its goal is subtly warped from the inside by the machinations of Anasûrimbor Kellhus.
The novels follow the point of view of several characters on the Inrithi side of the Holy War. Most of the characters are of the Ketyai ethnicity, common to the western and eastern Three Seas. Characters' surnames precede their given names, similar to the order commonly used in Hungary, China, and Japan.
- Drusas Achamian is a member of the Mandate School, who joins the Holy War by order of his superiors. There, he meets and teaches Anasûrimbor Kellhus in secret, while slowly discovering his place in the coming Second Apocalypse. Achamian also meets his old students Nersei Proyas, Prince of Conriya, and Krijates Xinemus, the Marshal of Attrempus.
- Esmenet is a prostitute in the city of Sumna, and is Achamian's lover. She follows him into the Holy War and falls under the influence of Kellhus along with Achamian.
- Anasûrimbor Kellhus is the mysterious Dûnyain monk whose power over those around him brings him control of the Holy War and its people. He was sent by his sect to find his father, Anasûrimbor Moënghus, who lives in the city of Shimeh, the Holy War's destination.
- Cnaiür urs Skiötha is a Scylvendi barbarian chieftain of the Utemot tribe, whose relationship with Moënghus 30 years previously makes him the only character with knowledge of the Dûnyain. He is also the first to meet Kellhus, and accompanies him to Momemn to join the Holy War.
- Serwë is a concubine claimed by Cnaiür as his prize, and later used by Kellhus to control Cnaiür.
- Ikurei Conphas is a prideful Nansur general and nephew to that nation's Emperor. His victories over the Scylvendi make him the foremost choice for leader of the Holy War, before Cnaiür takes that position from him.
- Anasûrimbor Moënghus is Kellhus' father. He left the Dûnyain 30 years before the events of the series.
Magic and the SchoolsEdit
Magic in the Prince of Nothing is the use of the spell-caster's will to influence the world, often contrary to the plans of the gods. Thus, magic is viewed as sacrilegious by the Thousand Temples, and is condemned in the Inrithi nations. Sorcerous Schools arose in response to this pressure, creating powerful political and military forces apart from the religious order.
The human population of Eärwa is not all able to use magic. Rather, that ability is confined to the Few, a small subset of people. Additionally, the various Schools of magic only allow male practitioners, further dwindling the number of possible sorcerers. Even so, those who choose to study magic are granted large amounts of power, balanced by a lack of religious acceptance and a vulnerability to Chorae, small spherical antimagic talismans.
There are two main types of magic used in the northern Three Seas: Gnostic and Anagogic. While Gnostic magic is superios, it is largely forgotten (being the dominant art of the Ancient North, destroyed during the First Apocalypse). Anagogic magic is more widely studied among multiple schools.
- The Mandate is a School founded by Seswatha after the First Apocalypse to fight against the return of Mog-Pharau. Members of the Mandate undergo a ritual that allows them to relive Seswatha's experiences each night as they dream, so that they never forget the horrors of the Apocalypse. The Quorum is the ruling body of the Mandate School, which is headed by Seidru Nautzera.
- The Mangaecca, or the Consult (as it was later known), is the School that first came in contact with the Inchoroi, leading them to adopt those beings' immoral ways, along with the powerful art of Tekne (essentially genetic engineering).
- The Scarlet Spires is the most powerful School in the Three Seas. It controls much of the politics of High Ainon, an eastern Ketyai nation. It has has attempted to steal the secrets of Gnosis from the Mandate, using kidnapping and torture, but without success. Hanamanu Eleäzaras is the Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires during the series.
- The Imperial Saik is a School indentured to the Emperor of Nansur, and serves the interests of the Nansur Empire, which has been most directly in conflict with the Kianene Fanim. Cememketri is the Grandmaster of this school.
- The Mysunsai is the self-proclaimed "Mercenary School". Instead of serving some political power, it sells its services to any who will purchase its service.
- The Psûkhe is the arcane art of the Cishaurim, the blind sorcerer-priests of the Fanim. Their magic is seemingly separate from the Gnostic and Anagogic types, as it cannot be perceived by the Few. This seemingly indicates that the magic is in accord with the gods' (or in the case of the Fanim, God's) wishes, as sorcery is usually identified by the harmful Mark it makes upon Creation.
- The Daimos is magic used to summon creatures from the Outside, such as the demonic Ciphrang, by binding those beings to the caster's soul. Heramari Iyokus, Master of Spies of the Scarlet Spires, is the only Daimotic caster introduced in the series.
Religion plays an important part in the politics and daily life of the residents of the Three Seas. The Holy War, the driving force behind the plot of the Prince of Nothing, is an explicitly religious conflict between the Inrithi and the Fanim, the two main religious orders of the region.
The Inrithi religion was founded on the revelation of the Latter Prophet, Inri Sejenus. Analogous to Christianity (INRI is an acronym found on many crucifixes, while "Sejenus" is an anagram of n e Jesus, phonetically Any Jesus), this religion is a mixture of polytheistic and monotheistic elements. The polytheistic portion is derived from the ancient Cults, which are devoted each to a different god. The central text of Inrithism is The Chronicle of the Tusk, an enormous carved tusk covered in the writings of the early prophets before the Five Tribes of Men entered into Earwa. Inri Sejenus provided a reinterpretation of the tusk, fusing the individual gods of the Cults into Aspects of one God.
The Thousand Temples are the ecclesiastical body that represents Inrithism, which is headed by the Shriah, a parallel figure to the Catholic Church's Pope. The Shriah is also in charge of the Shrial Knights, a monastic military order which are analogous to the religious Praetorian Guard. The Thousand Temples are based in Sumna, where the Holy War begins.
During The Warrior Prophet and The Thousandfold Thought, Kellhus creates a branch of Inrithism based around his own actions and prophecy. Its symbol is the Circumfix, the apparatus used to torture Kellhus (an obvious parallel to the crucifix). The name comes from the fact that adherents are part of Kellhus' "tribe of truth", and followers of the Dûnyain teachings.
Based on the teachings of the Prophet Fane, Fanimry is solely monotheistic and rejects the polytheistic elements of Inrithism, as well as the holiness of the Tusk. This puts it in direct conflict with the Thousand Temples. The only nation of the Three Seas that accepts Fanimry is Kian, in the southwest of the region. Additionally, Fanimry disagrees on the acceptance of magic and sorcerers—in this case the Psûkhe, the magic cast by the Cishaurim.
The Fanim appear analogous to Muslims, as they are desert-dwelling monotheists in conflict with an older related faith. Bakker also uses Islamic terms when describing the Fanim, such as their "White Jihad", a war against the Nansur Empire to the north of Kian. Also, Fanimry has a prohibition against representations of the God, akin to hadith prohibitions against depictions of Muhammad and other rules against idolatry.
R. Scott Bakker drew upon many cultures  as inspiration—notably Hellenistic Greece, Scythia, the Byzantine Empire, and other European and Middle Eastern cultures—for the Three Seas region of Eärwa.
The setting is large and sweeping, with obvious parallels to the time period of the First Crusade. Some clear references to actual historical events include the Vulgar Holy War (a parallel of the People's Crusade) and the Emperor's Indenture (a parallel of the oaths of homage extracted from the crusaders by Byzantine Emperor Alexius I).
The Second Apocalypse series is continued in the Aspect-Emperor trilogy, which describes events taking place 20 years after the conclusion of Prince of Nothing. The first book of the series is The Judging Eye, and was first published in 2009. The second is The White-Luck Warrior and was published in 2011.
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