The long-awaited (and what should have been the final installment in The Aspect-Emperor trilogy, but has since then been split into two volumes) The Great Ordeal by R. Scott Bakker will finally be released this summer. It's been five years since The White-Luck Warrior, the second volume, saw the light, so you can understand why Bakker fans are rejoicing. Problem is, it's been a very long time in between books. And for a midlist genre author, one that never was marketed much by his publishers to begin with, this can make things difficult. Sadly, it appears that an entire generation of SFF readers have never heard of him and some of us have been wondering about what we can possibly do to give Bakker some much-deserved exposure.
I'm not sure what sort of impact this will have down the line, but I've decided to reprint my reviews of R. Scott Bakker's first two series to help raise awareness in what I consider to be one of the more ambitious fantasy sagas ever written. Hence, every couple of days for the next little while I'll post reviews of all three installments of the Prince of Nothing trilogy and the first two volumes of The Aspect-Emperor series.
Hopefully, these reviews will entice potential readers to give these novels a shot. Love them or hate them, these are powerful works of fiction that deserve to be more widely read than they are at the moment. Check them out!
So here's my review of Bakker's second volume in the Prince of Nothing trilogy, originally posted on May 16th, 2005.
Here's the blurb:
"Book Two of The Prince of Nothing" finds the Holy War continuing its inexorable march southward. But the suspicion begins to dawn that the real threat comes not from the infidel but from within...Steering souls through the subtleties of word and expression, Kellhus strives to extend his dominion over the Men of the Tusk. The sorcerer Achamian and his lover, Esmenet, submit entirely, only to have their faith - and their love - tested in unimaginable ways. Meanwhile, the warrior Cnaiur falls ever deeper into madness. Convinced that Kellhus will betray their pact to murder his father, Cnaiur turns to the agents of the Second Apocalypse and strikes an infernal bargain. The Holy War stands on a knife edge. If all is not to be lost, the great powers of the world will have to choose between their most desperate desires and the end of the world. Between hatred and hope. Between Anasurimbor Kellhus and the second apocalypse.
I have admit that I had very high expectations for this book. How could it be otherwise, when just about everyone told me that this sequel is much better than its predecessor? And the author himself set the bar rather high with The Darkness that Comes Before. But in all objectivity, I must say that The Warrior-Prophet did not live up to those expectations. Don't get me wrong. I thought it was a good and fascinating novel. But in my opinion, the book suffers from a number of shortcomings that prevent it from achieving greatness.
First, let's enumerate everything that is good about The Warrior-Prophet before focusing on what I didn't quite like. Again, it is an intelligent work, a satisfying treat for "deep" thinkers. And the philosophical and religious themes underlying the tale continue to give this series its unique flavor. Just for that, I would encourage readers to give The Prince of Nothing a try.:-)
The Mideastern setting continues to be a delight. It's so different than what is the norm in the fantasy genre. This is a work rich in details, which demonstrates that a vast amount of research went into its creation. But this novel doesn't resonates with as much depth as The Darkness that Comes Before. It more or less chronicles the Holy War's southward march toward Shimeh. There are a few golden nuggets of information that are truly something. But 2/3 of the novel is dedicated to the army's march through Fanim lands. And that, I think, was a bit of a mistake. Even though it is the entire backdrop of the book, I much preferred those short intervals when we learned more about the Consult, the Inchoroi, the Nonmen, the Cishaurim, the Apocalypse, etc. There are a number of unexpected plot twists involving Achamian, Maithanet, the Consult, and a few others, that leave you wanting to learn more. But unfortunately, the story revolves more about the Holy War itself and the rise of Kellhus as the Warrior-Prophet.
Once again, the prose is of high quality. I know that few readers nowadays find this aspect important, but it's nice to see an author who writes as well as Bakker.
If you are into battle scenes, then this one is definitely for you. Indeed, The Warrior-Prophet should satisfy fans of blood and gore. There are so many battle scenes in this book. . . Too many, if you ask me. I simply loved the very first encounter between the Holy War and the heathen troops. Bakker has a poetic way with battle narrative, a gift that very few writers possess. The problem is that there are so many battles in this novel that Bakker's talent loses its lustre as the tale moves forward. Or rather, it is the reader who somewhat loses that sense of wonder generated by the author's brilliant manner with which he depicts battles in the earlier parts of the book.
But let's not forget that this is a holy war, which means that violence must be omnipresent. And R. Scott Bakker doesn't sugarcoat it. The graphic violence and human suffering will not appeal to everyone, however. And although I can appreciate the gritty reality of those descriptions, even I think that at times it could have been toned down a bit. That is one of the main reasons this series will never become mainstream. And yet, no one would want this series to be any different. As a matter of fact, it is the fact that it is so different from everything else on the market that makes it so good.;-)
The aspect of this book which could alienate a majority of readers, especially female readers, has to be the explicit and brutal sexuality. Not to mention necrophilia. The fact that all female characters of note are whores cannot be overlooked. Women taken captives are routinely raped, tortured and then put to the sword. Hopefully Esmenet and the other women will play a larger role in the last volume. I am aware that this is a holy war, and that the fate of the women inhabitating the conquered lands is less than appealing. But I was expecting more of the Empress, Esmenet and Serwë. It seems that every scene in which they appear shows them getting laid. . .
The characterizations, which were so impressive in the first volume, do not progress that much in this book. The characters do not grow as they should, which is a bit of a disappointment. The Darkness that Comes Before introduced us to a number of well-drawn characters. Unfortunately, there is little progression here. Kellhus often takes center stage, and the rest of the characters are too often relegated in the background.
As was the case with its predecessor, The Warrior-Prophet is at times slow-moving. The pace can be quite sluggish, at least in certain parts of the story.
In my opinion, the one aspect that either makes or break this novel is whether the reader accepts how easily Kellhus manipulates just about everyone to take control of the Holy War. If you buy it, great. But if you don't, you will have difficulty going through this book.
In my opinion, the ending truly saves this one. I had grown disillusioned with the whole Warrior-Prophet and the Holy War. But the last hundred pages or so are great!;-) This an ending that no one can see coming, and it sets the stage for the final volume of the trilogy. And I will sure be lining up to get my hands on it!
Though I consider this book to contain a few shortcomings, The Warrior-Prophet nevertheless shows many signs of brilliance. Like its predecessor, it is not for everyone. I believe that most "mainstream" fantasy fans would have difficulty getting into this series. But for purists, it is a book to read!:-)
Even though it did not live up the high expectations I had, The Warrior-Prophet is a superior tale. And the book's ending promises a hell of a finale! I can't wait for the release of The Thousandfold Thought.