Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book review: "The Warrior-Prophet" by R. Scott Bakker

I didn't plan to buy this book so soon after after reading the first part. I was thinking of buying something from different series, or watching some anime. But I was still on vacation, with too much free time and nothing to read. So, when I was passing by a bookstore, I just couldn't resist entering. Since I couldn't find "The Dragonfly Falling" by Adrian Tchaikovsky, which I planned to order next, I bought "The Warrior-Prophet". And of course, after buying it, I couldn't leave it off my hand so I read it in few days... Good thing my vacation is over, because I would be "forced" to buy the next part, "The Thousandfold Thought".

About the book, now. I found this review a bit hard, because it is very similar to the last one. Same characters with no additions, same setting with only small new revelations. R. Scott Bakker obviously went more into depth that width with this book.

"The Warrior-Prophet" starts immediately after "The Darkness That Comes Before". There is even detail synopsis of previous events for those that read the first part too long ago. The book continues with the model of multiple points of view; since all the major players are traveling together, it can't be said this is really multiple plots novel, but it's not far from it. Drusas Achemian (A.K.A Akka) is finally reunited with his lover, the prostitute Esmenet. But this will not last long and they will be separated; and events that will happen will change Akka much, to a man of more resolve, but much sadder. It will also lead Esmenet to fate she couldn't even dream before. Cnaiür is having hard time adapting to his new circumstances. He has become a war-leader of his enemies, praised by them, even though to him they are less than human. But much more problematic is that Sërve, his prize and one of few things he can use for defining himself as Scylvendi, is not anymore his; she got seduced and became a believer in the Warrior-Prophet. The Holy War, and the Great and Lesser Names that lead it, continue to fight their way to Holy Shimes (in some ways this is the central plot of the book). But each member of it plays his own game: some for faith, some for fame, some for vengeance. And the hidden player, the Consult, plays the ultimate game, a plot to bring the Second Apocalypse. They have an easy time, since no one even believes in them.

And in the midst of all this we have Anasûrimbor Kellhus, the central character of the series. This man is something really special. He has no super-powers, no magic, not one impressing talent: only his training. But his training enables him to always take the Shorter Path to his goal, whatever that is. And his current goal is to take the hold of whole Holy War, and use it as a tool to defeat his father, Moënghus. To do this, he will take the mantle of Warrior-Prophet, a man who is a voice of god. But as his plan progress, he will find variables that are incalculable even to him. The magic, which doesn't yield to logical though he was trained to. The prophecy, which shatters the basic rule of his order. And the Consult, which abilities surpasses even his. But his biggest question will come from things he uses to enslave others: faith, emotions, God... What if he really is the Warrior-Prophet?

As I said, book introduces almost no new elements, but the existing ones are explored in much more details. We learn more of the setting, the world of Eärwa and its history. As in previous book, the worldbuild is flawless: I really look forward to learning more of it. Facts there were only suggested in previous book get explained in more details, but also suggestions of new facts arise. It continues using historical references and models (e.g. Holy War), like Guy Gavriel Kay, although with less parallels. The same is true for the characters: we got a lot better measure of them, but no a complete one. Even at the end of second book they are able to surprise and delight us. We have several new characters, but it is clear that the major ones were introduced in the first book. As before, there are no black-and-white characters. Everyone has his or her own agenda and his moral standards which to his or her actions have to be judged.

There are few things that bothered me in this book. It follows the pattern on large period of time being covered descriptively in few pages, than short, but monumental events with much coverage. This is fine, I like when authors do this. But Bakker use too much small characters in his description, whose names are all very unusual and hard to remember. This sometimes makes it hard for me to pay attention to what I am reading. And this is extends to his descriptions of battles. They are intense and detailed, but the wagonload of names of captains, tribe-leaders, and so on, doesn't help me to create a clear picture of what is going on.

On the other hand, I really appreciate Bakker's imagination; even though I read this book once before, I was surprised how tough he was to the people in it.

One more thing, just a warning. Bakker gets very graphical in his description of sex and violence. Also, if I am not mistaken, there is much more sex that in first book.

Despite these small flaws, my statement that this series present the best what epic fantasy can offer still stand. Not the best series that I ever read (because the beauty is in imperfections), but great in every aspect. Let us hope that R. Scott Bakker succeeds with his next books as he has with "The Warrior-Prophet".

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