Thursday, October 6, 2011

Book review: "The Thousandfold Thought" by R. Scott Bakker

This weekend I finished "The Thousandfold Thought", last book in first trilogy of "The Second Apocalypse" by R. Scott Bakker. As I wrote in in my posts about its prequels ("The Darkness That Comes Before" and "The Warrior Prophet"), I read them before in Croatian. This was the first book in this series that I haven't read prior, and judging by first two books, I had some big expectations for it.

I will presume that you have read both "The Darkness That Comes Before" (TDTCB from now on) and "The Warrior Prophet" (TWP), so beware of spoilers.

As was with TWP, story of TTT continues directly after its prequel. There is a long multiple POV abstract of previous books for those who don't remember everything that happened. Actually, I would advise everybody to read it, because it reveals some stuff that I didn't get or even notice while reading TDTCB and TWP. For example, I was wondering what was Kellhus getting from seducing Esmenet; well, except the tremendous influence on Achamian. I didn't understand why he allowed her to get pregnant with him. Abstract reveals that his main motive was using Esmenet's inborn intelligence to produce superior children in their union. Similar fine details are revealed.

Although what exactly happened at the end of TWP stays a bit murky, the effects of it are clear: Kellhus has acquired the possession over almost whole Holy War. There are only two sides still rebelling after him: Conphas, with all his legions, and Cnaiür. All other, even the Scarlet Spires, are now forced (whether they realize it or not) to listen the Warior-Prophet, the Voice of God. This means that for first time all this men and power, even somewhat weakened by prior conflicts, is focused by single will. And this will finally directs it to Shimeh.

Conphas decides not to yield to Kellhus, so he and his men get disarmed and sent back. Of course, Kellhus doesn't trust him even then and sends Cnaiür to keep him in check, at the same time removing the liability presented by Cnaiür. But he doesn't know that recent events brought once proud Scylvendy to the brink of madness, and that he was already seduced by the Consult, using the same weapon Kellhus used against him: Sërwe. Esmenet has risen from a simple whore to the Holy Consort and uses her unexpected intelligence to rule and organize newly found sect of the Warrior-Prophet. Achamian finally decides to reveal his final secret to Kellhus, the knowledge of Gnosis, powerful magic of old North. He also decides to finally reveal the existence of Kellhus (the Anasûrimbor) to his order, the Mandate. Consult either doesn't stand still, using his agents planted long ago, and planting some new ones...

The series continues with multi-POV/multi-plot structure started in previous books. But contrary to them, it has some problems with pacing and structure. It focuses on inner workings on characters for long stretches and then switches to advancing the plot on several pages, after which it returns to characters. Sometimes this style of writing works well. Guy Gavriel Kay is quite good with it and uses it all the time. Here it didn't work well. Advances were quite abrupt and shallow in explanations, so the reader is forced to grasp the implications on his own. I am not against this approach, but although I consider myself an advanced and fast-catching reader, I was left in dark for a lot of things. If book ended in such way, I would really have doubts about continuing this series. Thankfully, there are two things that saves it.

First is the ending. Even it is a bit too much fast-paced and not completely clear, it provides a satisfactory ending for this trilogy and prepares a glorious path for the next one. We have some really good action at the end, on several fronts. A plus is that it stays unpredictable till the last page. I also liked how things clicked perfectly; it is obvious that Bakker planned things. On the other hand, some things stay too unclear; I hope this was also intended.

Second thing, which surprised me when I first saw it, was Encyclopedic Glossary at the end. Book has around 600 pages; this glossary takes some 120 pages of it and it is comparable to the one at the end of "Lord of the Rings" (not THAT good, of course). We have not only simple names of people and places; there are stories and histories. All things and concepts that were only briefly mentioned during all three books here are (in some length) explained: First Apocalypse, Nonmen and Inchoroi, Tusk... It was a really enjoyment to read it and my understanding of the books is now much better; too bad that a lot of people will probably quit it before reaching this place. As a review from Amazon said: "Bakker asks his readers not only to enter his world, but to study it". What I consider a plus, some will regard as a flaw.

Other than these two things, I liked Esmenet's "court" plot. I like politics and espionage in books. It also shows a complexity of Bakker's characters: we have religious fanatics who are fanatic to the core, then those who believe but still retain their ambitions, and those who just pretend. I also liked explanations of magic, Gnosis and Psuke. Magical confrontations at the end were quite something.

So, to conclude: "The Thousandfold Thought" is a book weaker and harder to read than its prequels, but whose ending succeeds in pulling it above the standard. It also looks like a necessary part of great series, even though this remains to be seen. Only for those who like complex books and found first two books to their taste.

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