The Death of Fantasy? – On Weavenight In Castilagia

1.

It’s a rare sight to come across something that seems to have skittered past everyone’s attention. I’m talking about the rarely known English Fantasy-Novel Weavenight in Castilagia. Then again, looking at the spine and the details it seems to have come from a South-East Asian publisher that closed down back in 2012. I didn’t even know that SEA had a market for these kinds of books.

I found the work at a used bookstore somewhere in Bras-Basah Complex, and the title, as well as the blurb at the back, was deeply intriguing. It reads something like this:

In the forests of Castilagia, one man has little understanding of his imminent destiny. The lot he’ll strike. The hammer he’ll forge. The skies fall with rotting darkness and demons plague the land. Nothing is as it seems, and everything is cast in misty darkness. Still, he’ll rise to meet the occasion.”

The blurb ends sharply like that. It’s definitely a burst of fresh air to have a blurb so blatantly impressionistic without bothering to care about anything like explanation of the plot or narrative of the contents within the book. But it still seems to be a whole stock of edgy clichés. The fact that the cover was just that of a random burly character striking down a large beast – like Shingeki no Kyojin – didn’t exactly help its case. Yet, I flipped through the book and I saw that the writing style was interesting – so I decided to pick it up.

It’s a good thing I did too!

It seems that this book, that I can’t really find much about online, is definitely inspired by the light novel and manga traditions – yet it uses precisely those traditions to reach unfathomable heights quite well beyond the genre. I have no idea how something like this book could have possibly been conceived. It’s just the adequate amount of dark and gripping mixed with a lightness that very little can pull off. We all know what happened with Mayoiga!

Still, without further ado, let me dive into the contents of the book.

2.

This world of Castilagia, it seems, is a general dark fantasy setting plagued by demons and monsters. It’s also very survivalist. By necessity of the setting, the characters within the book all have to be nomads, since there’s no knowing exactly when a huge plague of demons will fall down and mince up their caravans. In fact, the protagonist puts it so aptly over here:

“In the night of trees, we walked. We talked and were aware of our walking. We have always been walking and dragging our tents and wagons through the darkness. We have to walk – because we are always fleeing. The darkness is constant. The darkness will always be constant.”

This protagonist, named Thomas, starts off as a little cherub who knows very little of the world. Being a part of a nomad community, he has his own friends, and especially a love interest, that he’s been walking with since young. They are taught how to fight, and use weaponry, and all the general things that one has to learn when they’re stuck in a scenario as crappy as this one. It goes into brief details about how the nomads move around and settle down and are quick to evacuate should the trouble come. For about 10 or so chapters, it’s a mere excursion of their way of life, but it also develops the characters well, with a whole lot of humor in these parts that keeps the interest constant.

The author even has moments where you can tell he’s fully aware of the genre tropes, and makes fun of them:

“Thomas was a boy budding into puberty, and so when he saw Samantha naked, his eyes grew wider than caravan wheels.

It is at this moment where we shall indulge in a commentary on gender.

There was once a mystical scroll that described sexuality as “the freshness of dew limned on the horn of a Baelog”. That is to say, the tenderness is inexplicably still tied up with a certain level of aggression. Samantha, furthermore, was constantly taught about the horrible things that the dark crawlers of the night love to do to human orifices. Thus, her reaction to Thomas’ lustful gaze was extremely disproportionate, being an adolescent with little but intuitive grasp on the matter.

She did not do anything silly like scream, mainly because her mind had processed him as an ‘enemy-figure’. Nomads are always jumpy like that. Her first instinct was ‘suppression, and then, destruction’. She lunged at him with the intent to fling him down and stomp on his face.

Thomas, being equally well-trained but less distinctive, also labeled her as an ‘enemy-figure’. The towel dropped from his waist, and he proceeded to enact certain defensive maneuvers well taught to him by his father.

This was how this accident of Thomas catching sight of Samantha turned into 10 minutes of naked sparring before anyone could properly process the matter. Thereafter, they spent a week in deep embarrassment, each refusing to look at the other.”

Of course, we’ll know that these things can’t last, and eventually a flock of demons will descend on them to break them to pieces. That’ll start the whole ‘struggle for survival’ arc for the protagonist. It’s a standard thing in grimdark fantasy works. The sadistic joy comes from knowing who will live, and who will die, and who does the protagonist have to work with to survive, and the characterization that stems from those moments.

3.

In the meantime, let me go a bit into detail on the demons of the book.

Actually, this is one of the best parts of the whole story – its treatment on mythology and human narrative – as well as the spread of information.

The nomad community that Thomas is a part of has only been around for 50-60 or so years. That’s because the dangers of nature grossly outweigh their ability to survive. The only fount of knowledge they have is through a spare amount of books, and memories of the most elderly figure among them.

The oldest member of the community is around a 100, and he has lived to see an entire nomad community be destroyed by demons. He is a great record of tracking techniques and survival techniques that the older communities used – to remain constantly aware of things. He views this information as the most important, and so he dedicates his spare time to writing it out in a chest of books.

Did I mention that everyone is immortal? I better mention that. They don’t really know it, of course, since they keep dying to demons.

Other than that, there is little knowledge of anything around them. They don’t even know whether any cities exist. They have no maps, because maps can only be derived from waypoints, and it’s too dangerous to backtrack. A community like this will only ‘read the flow’ through signs in the trees and bushes, to possible sources of food and shelter.

Likewise, the demons have only a mythic quality to them, told in the form of poetry and tales. This is the result of the community being more evasive than confrontational, so they don’t exactly have any information from killing demons. The signs are conveyed through script like this:

“A howl that breaks

A small purple flame on a horn

Beware, the Baelog commences

Shift away, sure-foot and quiet

Beware, beware

The thistle-toed Manarchs are Baelog’s kin

They scrounge the land he stands on

So a Baelog’s presence is multiplied by ten shadows”

4.

Even then, the list of demons is still limited, and there are countless more that they’ve not heard of. It’s exactly this error which leads to the downfall of the community, when something they don’t expect rises out of nowhere and strikes them down. Thomas is sent frantically sprinting away with his best friend and love interest (Giles and Samantha), deeper into the trees, clutching a few scrolls for the sake of knowledge.

This is one of the most gripping moments of the narratives, not because of the actual attack, but because they have to navigate for weeks with little knowledge and rely on each other. This is the part where the characterization really shines in moments like these:

“Samantha screamed as Thomas brought the fires in to cauterize the wound. Giles held her down. She was muttering and screaming in the delusion of pain.

— I’ve only an arm now. I’m a feast for carrion-crawlers. I can’t stand it. Let them take me.

She went swirling in circles while the dark bowl of night swallowed them deeper.

When he stared at that slowly browning stump, Thomas saw the death of the ideal. This was all she was, the mere lump of flesh. Burdensome. A weight down to death.

No. She wasn’t. This made it even more of a thing to protect.

— You saved us when you threw that Manarch. How could you even think that we’d throw you?

Giles chipped in

— You’re the quickest brawler we’ve ever saw. You’d even take them with one arm!

They didn’t even know whether she heard them, because she had stopped screaming, and had swayed into sleep. The immutable calm of a one-armed princess.

They’d have to continue on.”

At this point they run into a hunter-focused community, which they join. This community has been around for much longer, and they’re more in-tune with the ways of killing demons. They know their enemy. It’s from here that Thomas picks up more knowledge on the constitution of the enemy.

Unfortunately they also happen to be patriarchal pricks. Thus all the traumatic things that you can think of involving patriarchal pricks also happens to Samantha. The strange thing is that the writing style here is never too heavy, and a bit ironic. All of the traumas are always treated with a bit of a dark comedic edge that would probably offend many many people. Example:

“–A game?

Samantha was puzzled. The two service-women smiled.

–Yes. Like, think of the amount of configurations a Baelog can make to his face while he’s pounding you down.

–I like to put my arms around them and see the amount of hairs I can pluck from their neck before they notice.

Samantha raised her stump.

–Arm. Singular.

A woman without legs who seemed like she was waddling on two wooden bowls walked-in at that very moment

–Lemina the Legless, pleasure to meet you.”

5.

The next part of the narrative is how Giles somehow turns arrogant and bloodthirsty, buying into the ideals of the hunter-flock. In the meantime Thomas is trying desperately to rebel against their ways. This all leads up to a scene where Giles puts out Thomas’s eye with a heated sword. They throw him into a cell where he stays sullen for weeks.

Of course, things have to carry on, so a new flock of demons comes about, and these ones are horrifying and tough enough to decimate the lot. Thomas manages to grab Samantha in the scuffle and they flee once again.

Wonders of wonders, they reach an actual city.

By the way, this is an extremely thick book. All that I’ve already described ran for about 200 pages, with intricate poetic descriptions, characterizations, and gripping action scenes. This next part will last for around twice that amount. 400 – 500 pages.

It delves into the political intrigue of the city, its history, and shows Thomas & Samantha’s slow rise into the political ranks of the inner court. This massive city has been around for 500 years, from the efforts of a charismatic nomad king who struggled to build up this sanctuary while fending off monsters. This is the only city standing in the whole area, since it’s such a rare occurrence.

Also detailed in this strange cult rallying around a mystic figure known as Neiman Schecht. The works of Schecht are a series of poetic aphorisms that seem to tell of some obscure myth about the signs of gods in the sky, and men who will be able to rise higher than the forms of men. A lot of it seems to be derived from the philosophy of Nietzsche and Julius Evola, as well as a whole bunch of Taoist writings. There’s a whole prophecy about an eternally damning cycle of destruction.

The complex politics of the city is based around a system called the ‘right-brain, left-brain’ system. It comes from the fact that the city decides through the interconnection of three powers, as described here:

“The executionary stood in the centre and cast his eyes over the two rows of tables.

Five men on each side stood. They each, in turn, gave their case, as well as the points of rebuttal for the other side. This was merely an enumeration of the points that the executionary had already read in a brief beforehand.

From the two policies provided. The executionary took one, and threw it into the fires before him. The court exploded into applause. The motion was delivered. Now they would act.”

6.

The executionaries are a group of 10, each one drawn from one of the ten sectors within the city, who are solely there to derive problems and choose solutions. The actual solutions are decided by the two councils. These three parts make up the inner court. The executionaries get together to discuss problems they want to present to the councils. They have the power to determine, exclusively, what problem it is that has to be dealt with.

The actual executionary who decides in the end which policy to be taken is done through rotation. After a policy is chosen to be enacted, when the next problem has to be solved, the citizens within the city conduct a referendum on the executionary of the previous policy. If the referendum indicates the executionary is not up to standard, he has to step down and choose another executionary – of his own choice. Thus every executionary has to have his stand-in already chosen, should he be expunged from the court. Because they’re immortal, they can actually be chosen again as a stand-in. Yet, they cannot be chosen again until 3 stand-ins have been swapped.

These parts are very complicated, so I’m flipping back to the book to get the details proper.

Anyway the two councils have their own different kind of electoral process. If the referendum on the policy comes back in the negative, the party who came up with the policy has to undergo a rotation. The right-council gets to rotate by choosing among themselves, but they’re forbidden from choosing the same people that they’ve dropped before until 20 years later.

The left-council runs single round elections based on this system called the ‘Public School’. Beyond solving problems, the left-council also runs a school system that takes in pupils nominated from schools around the 10 sectors. These students will be specially trained to process problems and come up with policies – and all their results will be fully publicized for everyone to see. Once these students reach their 4th year, those that haven’t quit or are thrown out become electoral candidates.

When the rotation period comes along, the left-council will run a single-run of elections where the people can nominate which 4th year students will be taken in by the left-council in place of the members who have to be swapped out. The right-council can also poach Public School candidates on their side if they want, of their own choosing. Thus one side is merito-democratic, and the other side is up to its own discretion.

Beyond that, the other institutions are the same as any other city.

This system was conceived of by the founder in order to maximize the uncertainty element to prevent abuse, while ensuring that the citizens have a part in the say, though not too much to turn into populism.

He ran the city for 100 years as a monarch before switching over.

Yet, even with such a system, there are still dark forces afoot, and the founder was assassinated a few years after he stepped down.

7.

This thrilling section of the novel is chock full of political debates, diplomatic interventions, and creepy conspiracies. Most of it revolves around the undoing of a plan by the followers of Neiman Schecht to take over the city. It involves Thomas entering the Public School while Samantha enters the Defence (Military-Police) Force. The climactic moment comes with a raid on a cultist lair and the prevention of an assassination. It’s all very very thrilling.

Sadly, we can’t forget the dark fantasy setting, so all things must fall.

The Schecht cult’s prophecy apparently does come true, and a humongous wave of demon comes tumbling from the skies, decimating everything in the process. The executionary enacts an emergency policy to place power into the hands of the Defence Force. The war is fought for many months with the Sectors slowly falling one after another. Samantha leads a team of elite troop into a mad-rush to try and vanquish the massive demon at the head of the flock, and the whole team gets destroyed. Thomas finds an escape route and gets out of the city.

This is where it goes even crazier.

The thing about Weavenight in Castilagia is that it has a very very good control of the time element. The opening survivalist part takes up a span of a few years. The city section takes up several years, seguing into decades. At this third part, which marks the closing chapter, the time-span extends to centuries.

It all comes when Thomas reaches the ‘edge’ and climbs up a mountain path to view the top. There, he realizes the truth. From the top of the mountain, he can see that the two areas are amazingly similar. Just a stock of forests going for miles and miles. He makes a pilgrimage to keep going in a single line, and realizes that the mountains enclose a square land that’s copy-pasted until infinity. Although the inhabitants of the land are different each time, and their configurations are affected by the inhabitants, the lands are all basically the same. Like the Library of Babel applied to the world.

He finds other nomad communities, and other cities, and he goes through the same cycle of destruction again and again and again. No city can stand because the forces of darkness will eventually bring it down to the ground. He realizes that the world is an endless trap made by a haughty architect. And he comes to this conclusion, quoting the writings of Schecht:

“As I have come here, as I have been laden with its sweets and joys, as well as its curses. I am the camel in the desert – wanderer, footless. I have become the lion. I must be free. I must find myself to be free. The values of time are many dragons I must kill.”

Over time he hardens himself into a sense of impeccable calmness, and he lasts for centuries, and then millennia, meeting and forgetting people. As he walks he suddenly realizes that his heart has developed into a beating red crust of diamond protruding out of his chest. He realizes that this means he is ripe for the next step.

8.

Keeping in with the Nietzschean themes applied to a fantasy narrative, Thomas discovers the secret of the world. He spends some time viewing the skies, and sees that there are strange phenomena and storms in the heavens before each flock of demons comes down. He is reminded of Schecht’s myths that the gods are clashing in the skies, and the demons are born from the death of gods.

Then he asks himself – where do the gods come from?

It is here that he understands he must find another one with a red heart like him. After wandering long enough he does. This happens to be Giles, who has gone on as long as him, with different communities and cities. They greet each other, and they know they must fight each other.

This exact fight is described with such verve of passion, and uses motifs from the past all throughout the story – indicating the culmination of the two protagonist’s memories mirrored in the battle. The prose here becomes harsh and poetic:

“He grabbed the wrist. The child grabbed the wrist of the father. The man grabbed the wrist of the beast. He threw strong enough to crack the trees, and force the thunder to beat down on them even though there was hardly a sign of a drizzle. The crack of a spine as Samantha slammed the beast. The crack of the back as the hunters had slammed him to the floor. The cracks proliferated, then rebounded, the reversed. The land built with cracks and thunders. The two fought on.”

Thomas wins, and he tears the crystal heart of Giles out of his chest, and proceeds to consume it. Then, he feels himself growing and ascending to a cosmic height. He finally finds himself standing ‘above’ the world, on a strange plane, as a god.

He also realizes he’s clad in shimmering armor and bears a sword. Suddenly he sees another god coming at him, and he knows that he must fight as well.

9.

By now the prose has gotten, quite frankly, to the ridiculous level that seems to care little for human understanding. Perhaps it’s meant to reflect the incomprehensibility of the plane that Thomas now stands on, but fights are displayed like this:

“He waltzed into the winterwind, and the thousand butterflies of midnight clutched to his skull and he screamed – which turned into a whirlpool of thought – that decimated the god before, and forever, and beyond, and forever.”

It’s a bit like Gothic + Stream of Consciousness + Chuunibyou. While that wave after wave of prose comes at you, it touches a bit on the time-scale of the plane. Apparently every step that Thomas takes translates to a lot of years on the material world. The slashes and damage that the gods deal to each other splashes into that world as the flocks of demons. The massive flood of demons comes whenever a god is killed on this plane.

Thankfully all this isn’t really spread out, and by this point it has to reach its conclusion.

After fighting through gods and more gods, and several thousands of years passing by, it reaches a point where Thomas finally comes to this elevated structure (which is immaterial) in the world he is in. There a massive creature that is described like a Final Fantasy final boss appears and it seems that this is, indeed, the last fight. Thomas conjectures that this is the mechanism making the world stick together, and if he fails to defeat this thing – the whole system will restart itself and everyone has to go through a ton more suffering.

This final massive fight goes on for reams of prose, and ends in the final boss’s destruction. Thomas takes over as the new system, and floats out into the infinite emptiness, given that he’s the only being left. As he floats there, his mind seems to grow to expand everything around, and he sets up the next system as such:

“Perhaps we can live in a world without the latticework of destruction to be the foster of our growth. My mind sank into its own contemplation, into the infinity of that space where all one can do is to conceive. I thought of the latticework. Should it be the latticework of discovery? I cannot call my version of reality a foolproof one, but I can promise it to be slightly better than the last.

A world built on the latticework of discovery. A world built on the conception of a cipher. I will be at the end of its laws, rules, and numerals – its rules of logics – its bridges. I will be there. See if you can find me.”

And the book ends on a metafictional flourish, which you can easily guess the implication of.

“So he finished the book. Look up in the sky. Consider the world around you that is your crucible, and the latticework of opportunity that stands upon the ashes of the latticework of destruction. There is much destruction still, but there is a better world than that latticework. Death is the mother of invention. Invent to me, until we can see the edges of this world. Make the space and the extension your domain – voyager, starburst, speaker.”

10.

This insane book that is equal parts cosmic treatise, political treatise, comedy, tragedy, dark fantasy, and psychological exploration shows just how far from exhaustion fantasy, as a genre, really is. Which begs the question, if the author of Weavenight in Castilagia – whose pseudonym, I have to mention, is Kashiwagi Molten (in Kanji: 这是假书) – can synthesize so many tropes and literary traditions into a single impeccable work of art – why are there still so many screeching naysayers about the death of Literature?

My conclusion has to be that they simply do not have the ambition to carry out such a task to its eventual end – nor can they view the possibilities. As such they are like the critics and artists who were so caught up in their Realist exercises that they could not possibly conceive of the sheer beauty that would erupt from the Impressionist movement. This book’s existence has taught me to refuse to be like them.

I don’t think I have the abilities, at the moment, to even reach Kashiwagi Molten’s vision of a fantasy novel. It is simply too grand and too overbearing for my feeble hands to even craft words in the way that he does over the 800 or so pages of his debut fantasy novel. I don’t even think I have the abilities, at the moment, to reach someone like Nisio Isin in his prolific style. I bet Kashiwagi Molten is currently working on his next novel, and, from various sources on some forums, I hear that it’s a Science Fiction book which synthesizes countless tropes from everywhere in the genre. The excerpts given already have that specific Kashiwagi madness tinged to it – something about Capgras Syndrome, the writings of Daniel Dennett, and the issue of whether the Intellect is greater than the Body.

Where-ever Kashiwagi Molten is, I wish him all the best. May he find his path and find it well. But he’s convinced me to strive in the same way, as he does.

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