Thursday, August 4, 2011

Book review: "The Darkness That Comes Before" by R. Scott Bakker

First I have to say I already read "The Darkness That Comes Before" and its sequel "The Warrior-Prophet" once. The books were published in Croatian and I was a member of public library at that time, so this wasn't something that I, a fantasy-fan, could miss. When third book, "The Thousandfold Thought" arrived, I wasn't a library-member anymore. Once a friend tried to borrow a book for me, but it was out at that time. And I wasn't really into buying English version of books I have already read when there are already dozes of book on my wish-list that I haven't read. But some time ago I stumbled on Wikipedia article about R. Scot Bakker and read that what I though was only a trilogy was actually a big series with some eight or nine books planned. This of course piqued my interests since these were some of the finest fantasy-books I ever read, so I decided to buy them, one at time, as time allows me.

As I said, I read this book few years ago, but only once, so this was something between read and re-read. I recognized character and events, but I didn't remember them in advance, except in most general terms.

This is a book of multiple plots, presented from sever points of view, just the kind I like. A main character, or at least the most pivotal character, is Anasûrimbor Kellhus. He is something of a monk, trained in psychology, observance, physical skills... His level of skill is actually such that other people are like children to him and most consider him a more than human: he can read their though by noticing small changes at their faces, pulse rates, etc.; he can learn language only by hearing it for few days; he can catch arrows in flight. But he is not the only one; there is whole order of people like him. Thankfully for the world, they are secluded and never go out of their fortress at North. But that has changed when thirty years ago Anasûrimbor Moënghus, Kellhus' father, got corrupted and left them. But now, he is back, at least in their dreams, commanding them to send his son to him, to Shimeh. Kellhus is now sent to journey to find his father, find him and kill him.

It is important to note that Kellhus' order has been isolated from the world for two thousand years, so he knows nothing about it. Two thousand years ago a First Apocalypse occurred: No-God tried and almost managed to destroy humanity. Not much about this is revealed, only few facts that rise more questions (in best Erikson's style). Whatever did happen, things have changed much since Kellhus' ancestor for ruler of largest human Empire of the time. Humanity is now centered on Three Seas, where they have forgot about No-God and turned to their petty human squabbles. Few of those who remember and who are always vigilant about the Consult, whose focus is the return of No-God, the Second Apocalypse and they are the members of Mandate School of sorcery. But since no one seen or heard about Consult, there are not many who believe them. One of their members is Drusas Achamian, sometimes a teacher to kings, but most often a spy in lowest quarters of Three Seas. He is sent to investigate what will Maithanet, new Shirah of the Thousand Temples (absolute religious leader of larger faith) pronounce as a target of newly proclaimed Holy War: sorceress that Faith sees as blasphemers and rivals in power, or Fanims, southern infidels that have occupied their holy city Shimeh...

It would take me to much too describe every faction, plot and important character in details, so I will just number few of them. We have Emperor Ikurei Xerius III and his nephew Conphas who are trying to restore their Empire to former glory, not shirking even from using Holy War for their purposes. There are Crimison Spires, a most powerful school of sorcery, having their own private war with the infidels. There is Cnaiür, a chieftain of Scylvendy, a warlike human race, who is shunned by other chieftains because of helping a persuasive stranger to kill his own father thirty years ago. Then there are the Fanims and their own powerful school of sorcery, Chishaurim, different from any other. There are rulers of small and large kingdoms of Three Seas, and there are small, regular people. And finally, there is the Consult, who is not so dormant as everybody believes...

In many ways, "The Darkness That Comes Before" presents the very best what fantasy can offer now. It is a beginning of long epic fantasy series, but in doesn't follow the usual tropes. Main characters are not teens or young people with no experience going out in the world for first time; here we have people in their middle years, with much experience and much going on already. We have a great worldbuilding and very imaginative setting. World here has a very rich history and detailed background, but most of it is only suggested, not openly revealed (as I said before, in style of Steven Erikson). Characters are not black-and-white and definitely not shallow: they have their own agenda, own morality, doubts, little flaws. Plot is very complex, with many subplots and small sidetracks, but it is still enjoyable, believable and easy to follow.

There is not one thing I could object about his book. Unfortunately, it lack some small detail that would make it universally loved, like ASoIaF, WoT or MBotF. When I say universally loved, I don't mean that everybody likes it; but there are lots and lots of people who like it, and even those who don't know about it and it can always be a topic of heated discussion between fans and dislikers.

Nevertheless, "The Darkness That Comes Before" (and I hope its sequels) is a great book, with great content and great style. I would recommend it to everybody who likes high and epic fantasy and is not afraid of ambitious books.

No comments:

Post a Comment