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 third volume in the Prince of Nothing trilogy, originally posted on December 1st, 2005.
Here's the blurb:
The Darkness That Comes Before, R. Scott Bakker's magnificent debut, drew thunderous acclaim from reviewers and fellow fantasy authors, such as Steven Erikson and Kevin J. Anderson. 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 Anas rimbor Kelhus, 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. With the ultimate battle drawing near, Anas rimbor Kelhus closed in on the elusive goal of reuniting with his father, mastering the ancient arts he will need to prepare himself for the encounter. Will Kelhus be able to rise to claim his role within the ascendancy, or will he be overtaken by his enemies both within and without Will he reach the ancient city of Shimeh and reunite with his father Upon the apocalypse, will there be survivors left to write the history of the Holy War. The startling and far-reaching answers to these questions, left hanging at the conclusion of The Warrior Prophet, are brought into thrilling focus in The Thousandfold Thought, the conclusion to the Prince of Nothing series. 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.
Understandably, it was with great eagerness that I wanted to sink my teeth into this book, the last volume of The Prince of Nothing trilogy. Although very sluggish in rhythm at times, The Warrior-Prophet had the sort of ending that set the stage for so much more. Hence, the question was whether or not Bakker could close the show with a flourish.
Believe me when I tell you that The Thousandfold Thought doesn't disappoint! Simply put, it's brilliant!
As was the case with its predecessors, it is an intelligent work, in every run of the mill. This novel, in my humble opinion, will satisfy purists and aficionados in a manner that will certainly make you beg for more.:-) Again, the psychological, philosophical, and religious aspects of this grand epic will undoubtedly prevent this incredible trilogy from ever becoming mainstream. Yet now, more than ever, I'm convinced that this state of affairs will allow The Prince of Nothing and its sequels to retain their uniqueness in the fantasy genre. Which, in the end, is probably priceless.
Bakker's original Mideastern setting continues to be fascinating, as well as a breath of fresh air compared to what is currently on the market. Once more, the worldbuilding is of the first order. It's pure delight to be drawn into this richly detailed universe. In addition, The Thousandfold Thought contains an encyclopedic glossary, a good portion of which I read during my lunch break today. Over 100 pages of pertinent information! I have to admit that I'm more than a little surprised that his publishers elected to include such a detailed glossary. Indeed, it has to be the most comprehensive one since the appendices found within the one-volume edition of The Lord of the Rings.
The most enjoyable facet of this novel is the fact that R. Scott Bakker turns everything around, demonstrating just how good a storyteller he can be. So expect the unexpected. And throughout the entire tale, everything resounds with a depth which we rarely encounter in today's fantasy market.
In The Darkness that Comes Before and The Warrior-Prophet, it was the tapestry woven by the characters and their actions that kept me turning those pages. The Prince of Nothing is populated by a cast of deeply realized characters. And nowhere is it more apparent than in The Thousandfold Thought.
If you believe that you know where Bakker is going with everyone, then you are sadly mistaken. The storylines take various unanticipated twists and turns, surprising the readers on more than one occasion. The characterizations, which were so impressive in the first volume, didn't progress as much in the second one. However, there is evident character growth in this one, enough to please even the most demanding fans.
As impossible as it may sound, just about every character has a role to play in the outcome of the Holy War. And you better buckle up, for Bakker has a lot in store for Achamian, Esmenet, Kellhus, Conphas, Maithanet, Proyas, and all the others. They are all, in different degrees, important.
Another fascinating aspect of this book turns out to be the many revelations pertaining to the Apocalypse, the Consult, the Inchoroi, the Nonmen, the No-God, the Gnosis, the Cishaurim, etc. The glossary also contains a wealth of information concerning these things and a lot more.
Bakker maintains that almost poetic way he has with battle narrative. There is a certain sense of wonder with the way the author depicts battle scenes. And with the battle of Shimeh comprising about 100 pages of this final volume, fans of action should be more than satisfied!
As for the meeting between Kellhus and Moënghus, I will say nothing. This book review will not contain any spoilers. Read the book if you wish to find out! One thing is for sure, the last 2 chapters of The Thousandfold Thought set the stage for the upcoming series. And I just can't wait to get my hands on it!
As for the mechanical aspects of the novel, the prose is impeccable. The narrative is concise and flows seamlessly. The dialogues are genuine. And the pace is crisp. To tell the truth, I can't really find any negative comment to offer. It's that damn good! And the author manages to cap it all off with the sort of ending that's well worth re-reading a time or two.
The Thousandfold Thought will -- at least until a new contender makes its presence known -- be the book to beat this year. Having set the bar rather high, Bakker may have written what could possibly be the best fantasy novel to be released in 2006. This book deserves the highest possible recommendation. This saga is definitely a "must read" work.
So pre-order it, or buy it as soon as it becomes available. It will be released in hardcover by Overlook and in trade paperback by Penguin Books Canada.