The Prince of Nothing series - I'm lost for words

I mentioned in the monthly book thread I was Reading R Scott Bakker’s “Prince of Nothing” series. Well, I don’t want to spoil anything there for people who haven’t read it but suffice to say that once I warmed to the novels they quickly became heartwrenching.



Having just started on the last book in the series, the Thousandfold Thought, I was struck with an amazing desire to see Kellhus lose, get defeated, die, no matter what. Reading about his gradual takeover of the Holy War, how he snares everyone in his path, I come to loath him more and more. Not because he is badly written, but because he is written very well. Being privy to all his thoughts, as well as the thoughts of all others in the novel, I find myself seeing him as Cnaiür sees him, and maybe some of Cnaiür’s madness is rubbing off.

Is it his insight in men that I envy? Is it his easy use of men as his puppets that I find evil? Is it the way he so easily sways conviction in others yet has no convictions of his own? Is it the fact that there seems to be no challenge he cannot overcome, being superhuman in practically every way? Hell, is it the way he steals Achamians woman? I’ve been going over all this in my head today.

I’m amazed at the strength of this emotion for a fictional character, and equally amazed that it is not the evil outside of men that I wish to see dead, but the man who can make other men do as he wishes. I find myself rooting for the Consult and it’s jarring. It’s like hoping Sauron would crush Gandalf under his heel.

Sorry, I just needed to vent some. It’s been a long time since a book affected me so.

I read the first and mostly enjoyed it but not enough to buy the rest.

I’ve put a ban on any series where all the female characters are either whores, slaves, or power mad dowagers.

Kellhus is a bastard, no question. Given the 20-year (IIRC?) jump before the next series, I’m pessimistic about seeing Cnaiur again. He underwent an amazing transformation and his insanity was very well depicted.

I’m hoping that Kellhus will undergo some kind of massive infusion of morality,but I doubt that will happen. I think we’ll have to choose between rooting for the depraved Consult (can’t wait to see the Mangedda) and a completely amoral Aspect-Emperor.

Well, I was rooting more for Achamian. There’s no question in my mind that the Consult is a greater evil. There’s even some indication that Kelhus is concerned about the greater good, even if he does see people as pieces on a chessboard. He may even be developing some kind of human feeling. Recall in the second book that he had a moment of unusual concern when what’s-her-name almost plumetted to her death.

I guess the bigger question is how you would choose between being lead by a monster like Kelhus, who could deliver you from the Consult, or a normal human, who would probably fail.

Oh, I’m definitely rooting for Achamian, but Kellhus has him snared much like everyone else. The consult is obviously the greater evil in the grand scheme of things, but it’s on the outside. You can fight it, even if you fail. Kellhus find his way into people’s heads, he promises, seduces, and entices. And he does it with no more regard for you than he would have for a horse.

The Consult promises to end the world, Kellhus promises to take over your thoughts.

So basically you’re looking for novels that put 20th century gender roles into their 12th century fantasy worlds. Until very very recently the idea that all women were subjugated to all men was pretty damn commonplace.

Anyway, both the whore and the slave evolve as the story goes on.

Well, there’s the role where the man is just a figurehead for the woman’s capabilities.

I’m not buying it.

Oh, I thought you’d gotten to the end of the last book and been as disappointed in the ending as I was. I guess we’ll see.

But yes, I started out liking Kellhus a lot and found that to be less and less the case as the trilogy wore on. I mean, it was always clear that he was an amoral manipulator. But I tend to kind of like characters like that. Not approve of them, necessarily. But find them immensely enjoyable to read about. Still, some of the things he does in order to secure power…

I think that by the time you’ve done all the other things to “reality” in order to make the typical fantasy novel work, anachronistic gender roles (or race demographics) are a minor concern. Speaking in general, pseudo-medieval-ish fantasy novels (or those handful set before or after) are comically historically inaccurate at a hundred levels, before you even get to dragons and fireballs and elves.

Once you get past the “death came swirling down” overuse, I love Bakker’s battle scenes. Akka being captured, Akka breaking out, the razing of Shimeh… all great re-reads.

Re: Bakker’s female characters- he seems to respond to just that in an interview posted today:

The genre exhibits a strong (albeit recent) tradition for subverting gender stereotypes by presenting worlds in which strong, independent female characters are plausible or even expected. Yet your world is as patriarchal as the reality that inspired it. I expect that this theme makes up for a good part of the discussions you have about your creation, possibly detracting from what you actually want to talk about. Is it difficult to resist the temptation to put something like a bad-ass tomboy warrior-princess with snappy dialogue and a heart of gold into the books?

First, let me say that I think I should be called out on the carpet on this issue, simply because I cover some pretty troubling ground. I certainly don’t believe in “quota characterization,” either to be politically correct or to broaden the “gender appeal” of my books. Leave this for the after-school specials. I also don’t think that depiction automatically equals endorsement. The question that people should be asking, it seems to me, is one of whether I reinforce negative gender stereotypes or problematize them. If the books provide enough grist to argue this question, then the answer, it seems to me, automatically becomes the latter.

But the fact remains that a lot of people get hung up on my female characters: On the one hand, I self-consciously chose the harlot, the waif, and the harridan for my female characters, yet some seem to think a kind of unconscious moral defect chose them for me. If so, it would be a truly colossal coincidence that I would happen to pick the three misogynic types - I mean, isn’t it obvious that I’m up to something critical? On the other hand, I wanted my fantasy world to be realistic, to temper our yearning for premodern times with a good look at how ugly things got, particularly in times of war. When bad things happen to my female characters, it’s the circumstances that are being criticized, not the characters themselves!

But people get hunches while they read, and once they do, confirmation bias goes to work (and this is simply one among many reasons why we always buy our own bullshit), and the text, I think, possesses more than enough ambiguities for people spin any number of self-validating interpretations. It’s when they insist their interpretation is the only interpretation, or even worse, that it captures what’s really going on in my bean, that I become baffled.

Actually I’d say his big battle scenes are some of the weakest I’ve read. Lots of Lords you’ve never heard of and don’t care about fighting here and there. He starts throwing out these names like they’re supposed to mean something.

As to Kelhaus, yeah I feel the same which is why I haven’t started the third book yet.

It’s reminiscent of the Iliad, which is where he swiped that “death came swirling down” trope. I dunno, works for me. I always liked the fact that Homer named each of the fallen.

Well, that explains it, but it doesn’t excuse it. Using ‘historical accuracy’ is the worst kind of specious reasoning and I’m sure you don’t mean to imply that, until very recently, there were no complex and strong women in the world. Defining female characters only by their genitalia - ie: whore, love interest, slut - or framing them inside the most easily drawn stereotype - ie: emotional rather than rational, ruled by their moods, conniving, etc - is reductive and offensive. Of course there are conniving women in the world, but bloody hell, no one is defined by just one thing. Unless you have a vagina, apparently.

I’m with Andrew, and have no tolerance for that kind of lazy crap.

Everyone in the books is ruled by their emotions. They are all putty in Kellhus’ hands. Everyone in the harridan’s family are just as coniving and warped as she is.

Esmi (the whore), isn’t defined by her stereotype. In fact, over the course of the books, it becomes very clear just how much of a waste and trajedy it was that she was ever placed in those circumstances. The books do a pretty good job of sketching the society’s hypocrisy towards prostitution.

The subjugation of women has nothing to do with “historical accuracy” and everything to do with human psychology. It would be specious reasoning to write about a society that is reminiscent of medieval earth and somehow ignore the fact that hierarchical societies always treats people on the lower rungs as crap, and that men have always put themselves above women given the chance.

Medieval society had it’s share of complex women, and strong women as well, but those were exceptions. Most lead lives of drudgery and hard work, always knowing that men were placed above women by the laws of God as well as the laws of men. It’s hard to give your position in life much thought when you have to struggle every day just to maintain it and when all authority rests in the hands of those who think you’re less capable just for being a woman. People who get beaten down often enough and hard enough break. Always.

But hey, Esmenet, the whore, is just such a complex woman.

I just finished the 2nd book last night, and am now starting on the 3rd. I’ve absolutely adoring this series so far. Achiaman is …badass.

Suffice to say, I haven’t read any post in this thread because of the spoiler warning.

That’s nonsense. Women had power in those societies, it didn’t always come from the same place as male power.

Check out I Claudius, or British history from Boadicea to Victoria. How about Joan of Arc?

I’m not saying he has to have a character like that in there, but his women were, as far as I could tell, mostly punching bags of one sort or another.

Medieval society had it’s share of complex women, and strong women as well, but those were exceptions. Most lead lives of drudgery and hard work, always knowing that men were placed above women by the laws of God as well as the laws of men.

True for most men in those societies as well. Is it fun to read about those people all the time? Not so much for me.

I’m not saying you can’t read and enjoy the book, but I found that the portrayals of female characters were seriously off-putting for me.