The Judging Eye



R. Scott Bakker's first volume in The Aspect-Emperor trilogy was beyond the shadow of a doubt one of the most eagerly awaited titles of 2009 for me. Many thanks to Scott for letting me be the first reviewer to get a crack at it by sending me the file containing the last copy-edit of the manuscript! Generally, I refuse to read books on my computer screen because it makes my eyes bleed. Yet for The Judging Eye, I was happy to oblige!

Bakker set the bar rather high with the Prince of Nothing series, and, like many fans, I was wondering if he could live up to the lofty expectations created by the ending of The Thousandfold Thought. Well, I'm pleased to report that The Judging Eye is everything Prince of Nothing was, and then some!

The action takes place about two decades following the events of The Thousandfold Thought. After years of planning and preparations, Anasûrimbor Kellhus, now Aspect-Emperor of the Three Seas and the God of Gods, has gathered the greatest host ever assembled. The Great Ordeal is marching toward Golgotterath to destroy the Consult and prevent the return of the No-God. Esmenet, the Empress, must rule this vast empire during her husband's absence. But with the mighty Aspect-Emperor gone, hostile factions opposing the throne and heresy arise. The Cult of Yatwer becomes a thorn in her side, and tension escalates when rumors regarding the legendary White-Luck Warrior begin to circulate. The Demon hiding in the guise of the Aspect-Emperor, or so they claim, will be driven to his doom. And when murder is committed within the palace grounds, Esmenet realizes that the Consult's skin-spies are not the only enemies she must worry about.

Drusas Achamian, the only Wizard of the Three Seas, is forced to bring his self-imposed exile to an end when an unanticipated visitor seeks him out. Compelled by Seswatha's Dreams of the First Apocalypse, Achamian is bent on discovering the secrets of the Dûnyain, convinced that therein lies the key to uncovering the truth about Kellhus's past. The only knowledge revealed by the Dreams thus far is the name Ishuäl. Hiring the services of a band of Sranc Scalpers known as the Skin Eaters to guide and protect him through their long trek through the wilds, Achamian wishes to travel to the ruins of Sauglish, where ancient knowledge pertaining to Ishuäl might be found in the Sohonc Coffers.

The worldbuilding is once again head and shoulders above what is currently the norm in today's fantasy market. The evocative narrative is rich in details, and the Middle Eastern setting continues to be a joy to discover. The universe of Eärwa resounds with depth, though at times it feels like we have barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer. The back story unveiled by Seswatha's Dreams continues to be a favorite of mine. I found the many revelations pertaining to the Nonmen to be absolutely fascinating, and the intrigues of the Cult of Yatwer promise to be key plotlines in the rest of the series.

In terms of pace, there is a marked improvement in The Judging Eye. Although I enjoyed the Prince of Nothing to no small degree, there is no denying that the action dragged quite a bit in certain portions of all three volumes. This from the last interview I did with Bakker:


Another error I think I made in The Prince of Nothing as a whole is that I think I focused too much on interior action – I spent too much time knocking around in my characters’ heads. This is one thing that I tried to rectify in The Judging Eye: there’s still plenty of internal action, but I like to think I’ve done a better job balancing it with external action.

The characters' inner musings had a tendency to sometimes slow the rhythm to a crawl in the first trilogy. Kudos to Bakker for understanding the problem and rectifying it. As a result, The Judging Eye is paced adroitly, with the just the appropriate balance between action and ponderings.

Speaking of characterization, the author returns with perennial favorites that will please his fans. And yet, he introduces us to a cast of interesting new characters. Kellhus and Esmenet's children are a very intriguing bunch, to say the least. Especially young Kelmomas, who is one of the POV characters. Achamian's traveling companions are another engaging group, chief among them the enigmatic one known as Cleric. Other than Achamian and Kelmomas, the POVs include Esmenet, Psatma Nannaferi, Mother-Supreme of the Cult of Yatwer, Sorweel, son of the dead king of Sakarpus who marches with the Great Ordeal, as well as another one whom I cannot mention because it would be a major spoiler. . .

Bakker told me that the Prince of Nothing series was always meant to be the "story behind the story." Hence, he wanted to make sure that The Aspect-Emperor would work for the fans, but also for those who found the literary aspects of the first trilogy (emphasis on particularity and interiority) too much, as well as for newbies. I can vouch for the fact that The Judging Eye is Bakker's most accessible novel to date, and an excellent starting point for new readers. True, newbies would be missing a whole lot from the previous series, but they could always return to the Prince of Nothing is they like Bakker's style. Indeed, The Judging Eye is much more accessible, easier to read, and much better paced than The Darkness That Comes Before.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Judging Eye. My only complaint would have to be that it reads too much like the first volume of a trilogy. As such, it introduces the storylines and the protagonists, but it offers little in the way of resolution. Although Bakker sets the stage for what should be incredible sequels, I found The Judging Eye to be less self-contained than its predecessors.

However, other than that, The Judging Eye is everything Bakker fans could hope for. Revelations from the time of the First Apocalypse, twists and unexpected surprises, action, political and religious intrigue, character growth (I love the woman Esmenet has become and her dual role as empress/mother), and enough Sranc and monsters to satisfy anyone!

To put it simply, The Judging Eye is the Prince of Nothing version 2.0. It has all the hallmarks that made the first trilogy such a great reading experience, minus what many considered its shortcomings. It's R. Scott Bakker writing at the top of his game.

It's too early to tell, what with authors such as George R. R. Martin, Steven Erikson, Patrick Rothfuss, Ian McDonald, Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Richard Morgan, and a bunch of others releasing a new novel next year, yet The Judging Eye will indubitably be an early candidate for the 2009 fantasy book of the year.

Hard to put down.

Roll on The White-Luck Warrior!

The final verdict: 9/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

23 commentaires:

Adam Whitehead said...

Great review Pat and I agree that with the sole exception of ADWD, this is my most eagerly-awaited fantasy novel of 2009.

This reminds me I need to sort out an ARC with Orbit (if they're doing them for this book).

Rodric said...

Holy shit i can barely wait this sounds almost as good as NARWAHLS GODDAMN

Andrew said...

Great review. I literally cannot wait for this novel. I squealed like a little school girl when I saw this.

Jebus said...

I really enjoyed reading the PoN trilogy this year (after Pat's recommendation, thanks!) so am seriously looking forward to this. Man the last 2 or 3 years have been frickin' awesome in fantasyland! It's stronger, more varied, and just plain more brilliant than ever!

SQUEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

Tree Frog said...

No Maithanet?

Two months early? Gotdang, Pat. Good for you.

Strong review too.

Roland said...

Great review! I need to read this SO bad...

Dave said...

Once again, Pat, you've shown why yours is the best blog on the web. :-) Great review, and I'm sure we're all thanking Bakker for giving you the opp to read it! :-)

Patrick said...

Adam: I don't know if Orbit will be doing ARCs for the new Bakker.

Tree Frog: No worries, Maithanet is there. He's Esmenet's most important advisor with Kellhus gone to wage war against the Consult.

Dave: Thanks for the kind words! Don't know if anyone will be thanking Scott for giving me an early read, but I'm definitely a happy camper!!!

Anonymous said...

is it an standalone?or should it be a trlogy.it is the final book?

Ryan said...

Hey Pat - I don't always agree with your reviews, but you always give an honest account. I didn't like Bakker the first time I read his series, but that's because I was impatient. A slower second read and a few years of seasoning made me a fan. I actually think this is my most anticipated new book, if only because of the distance of everything else.

Patrick said...

The Judging Eye is the first volume of The Aspect-Emperor trilogy.

Dream Girlzzz said...

Man, I can't wait!!!

So glad the book turned out to be awesome!!!

Mahesh said...

i was kinda hoping there'd be more introspection, or internal action as bakker calls it, in the aspect-emperor. it is what makes bakker so unique in fantasy....

Anonymous said...

I love this series and, for me, Kellhus is the most interesting character ever written. I like that UK cover art--that top cover blows though.

Patrick said...

I guess it's fair to say that this one should please Bakker's fans.

So go ahead and pre-order it! If you're lucky, you might even get it before the Holidays!;-)

Shirow66 said...

I had problems enjoying the first trilogy because I just strongly hated Kellhus, probably more than I've ever hated a character. Did you guys also see him as a raving lunatic/Hitler/devil in disguise? I hope he gets killed in the worst way in the end of the new books.

Christophe said...

@Shirow66: thanks, I was beginning to think I was alone in this.
I have fairly "standard" tastes - I love the Dune cycle, the Malazan series and the Song of Ice and Fire, etc... But I really couldn't stand Kelhus, as a character nor as a plot device (he can read and control everyone !). In fact I skimmed through the Thousandfold Thought in a bookstore (I had bought and crawled through the two first) hoping to see him dead at the hands of the No-God or whoever else !

I liked Achamian and some other characters, but their worth was diminished by the fact they were Kelhus' puppets.

Patrick said...

Like many, I don't particularly like Kellhus because he's too smart, too over the top.

But reach the end of THE THOUSANDFOLD THOUGHT and you'll be surprised by Achamian...

The great thing about THE JUDGING EYE is that Kellhus is absent as a POV character, which makes it easier to relate to the characters and what they are going through.

Matej said...

This is my second most anticipated book of the year after Caine Black knife!

Anonymous said...

HOLY SHIT! I need this book pronto! I just got off of my neal stephenson high and I'm ready to jump back in!

Shell said...

I read the first trilogy and while I generally liked it, I did (and still do) have a problem with the lack of strong female characters. Pat said it himself regarding one of the previous books that the females are all rape victims. Sadly enough, a review by Publishers Weekly on the Amazon website points out that once again, "minor and nonsexualized female characters are conspicuously absent". Not that I mind the sex, I just have problem with female characters that exist ONLY for that function. Being such a student of philosophy, I would have expected Bakker to be more orginal and forward thinking in his female characters. I probably will read the book, but will get from the library instead of buying it like I did with the first trilogy.

Anonymous said...

Now do you worried about that in the game do not had enough Archlord gold to play the game, now you can not worried, my friend told me a website, in here you can buy a lot Archlord money and only spend a little money, do not hesitate, it was really, in here we had much archlord online Gold, we can sure that you will get the cheap Archlord gold, quick to come here to buy Archlord gold.

Now do you worried about that in the game do not had enough Atlantica online Gold to play the game, now you can not worried, my friend told me a website, in here you can buy a lot Atlantica Gold and only spend a little money, do not hesitate, it was really, in here we had much Atlantica online money, we can sure that you will get the cheap Atlantica online Gold , quick to come here to buy Atlantica online Gold .

Mattias W said...

Nice review, although I don't agree on your and Bakkers view on the internal/external action ratio. I found the first triology more satisfying,and felt the musings and character development extremely well executed. Part of what made the books stand out. Diluting it with more action and faster pace was a mistake in my opinion.