I’ve been itching to continue with R. Scott Bakker’s The Prince of Nothing series after being impressed with his first volume in the series, The Darkness That Comes Before. It’s not an easy read: it’s complex, deep and very dark. It’s also violent, visceral and very masculine. One of the things that disturbed me about the first volume was the way women were portrayed (as prostitutes, concubines or scheming dowager empresses). But reading The Warrior-Prophet slightly made up for it in the sense that you realise that it is central to the story (especially its resonance with Christianity, but with a twist). It also wouldn’t make sense otherwise considering the majority of characters were soldiers and the story set in a holy war with its ensuing entourage. And the men weren’t exactly angels either.

There’s not much sense in reading the second volume if you haven’t read the first. So I suggest that if you haven’t yet, go and find a copy and read it, then come back and read The Warrior-Prophet. I have to admit it took me a little longer to get into the second volume partly because I didn’t read it straight after the first and you are thrust right into the story and its huge cast, many of whom we’ve met before. Drusus Achamian, the Mandate Scholar and sorcerer, is now teaching Anasûrimbor Kelhus everything he knows except for the Gnosis which cannot be revealed outside the Mandate School. However, he is torn in his loyalty as he slowly succumbs to Kelhus’ charismatic leadership. Achamian is re-united with his love Esmenet, a prostitute, who has left everything behind to follow him into the Holy War. Joining them is Kelhus’ lover Serwë, pregnant with another man’s child, but believing it to be Kelhus’. And finally there is Cnaiür, the Scylvendi barbarian and supreme strategist whose obsession with both Serwë and Kelhus’ father drives him slowly to madness.

They are only a handful in a huge cast. Bakker’s ambitious canvas is epic in scope and complex in plot. Although the plot moves slowly at the beginning, we are slowly fed tantalising bits of information that together create a sense of unease that is unrelenting. There is a sense of doom and inevitability bubbling just under the surface and like Achamian, we can see everyone heading towards it but unable to stop it from happening; for Achamian believes Kelhus to be the harbinger of the Second Apocalypse. And the scariest bit is the reappearance of the Consult, the dark, creepy, non-humans that worship the No-God (who hasn’t re-appeared since his defeat two thousand years ago).

Are you still with me? OK, so I won’t give anything away, it’s just a small introduction to the second volume. Bakker gives an excellent summary of the first volume, The Darkness That Comes Before, at the beginning of the second which I found very helpful and explained the differences between the various conflicting religions and regions. I did say this was complex, didn’t I? But when you read Bakker’s work, you come away richer, wiser and eager to find out more. There’s religion, philosophy, politics, war and love, everything that we humans love, hate and can’t live without. I love the way Bakker laces his story with doubt, suspicion and epiphanies because ultimately his story is about faith: in people, religion and leaders. I particularly love the idea of a religion that worships the Tusk upon which is carved the religious laws and teachings. And is it just me or does Kelhus resemble a version of Jesus Christ (albeit with preternatural intellect, speed and strength)?

Like Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen and G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Bakker’s Prince of Nothing cycle will make you gasp in wonder at the scope, detail and intelligent story-telling it offers.

I read this for the Once Upon a Time IV Challenge.

OK, so here’s the compleat review of The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker. I have to say that I struggled to describe this book because of it’s complexity and partly because it is the first in a trilogy. So if you are totally muddled by the end, don’t worry, just read the book. Trust me, you will be awed. There is so much in it, and Bakker is relentless in keeping you guessing as to what will happen next.

What can I say? This first volume in the Prince of Nothing series by R. Scott Bakker comes with a recommendation by Steven Erikson. I’m already sold. And it’s totally justified. R. Scott Bakker’s fantasy world is built on complex philosophical and religious ideas, but he makes it look so easy. His writing style is superior to that of many of his peers. Be warned, it’s passionate, clever and very dark.

I really enjoyed The Darkness That Comes Before, more than I expected. I knew it was going to be good because so many SFF bloggers have been banging on about Bakker. What did surprise me, however, was the quasi-religious aspect of the story. It probably has more religious philosophy in it than violence, and it’s pretty bloody. The plot is complex following several different strands beginning in the First Apocalypse which slowly come together as the book progresses.

Set in the land of Eärwa, we follow the story of several characters as their world hurtles towards the Second Apocalypse. Two thousand years ago, King Anasûrimbor Celmomas is defeated by the No-God and his royal line barely survives. To preserve the memory of the First Apocalypse and their enemy the Consult, Celmomas’ sorcerer Seswatha creates the Mandate School which jealously guards the secrets of the Gnosis. The Mandate Scholars all dream the same dream every night and re-live Seswatha’s horror so that they will never forget. Drusus Achamian is a Mandate Scholar sent out to search for the presence of the Consult who disappeared without a trace three hundred years ago. But his dreams are changing and he fears that the Consult have returned.

Elsewhere, the Dûnyain warrior Anasûrimbor Kellhus is answering the call of a father he hasn’t seen for thirty years and sets out on a long and dangerous journey far away from where his monastic sect dwells. The Dûnyain are students of  the Logos, a meditative and rational philosophy which imbues them with a preternatural understanding of the human condition and superior manipulative skills. He is soon joined by the fearless and brutal Scylvendi warrior Cnaiür urs Skiötha who is bent on revenge for a wrong committed long ago which has blighted his life.

As Achamian, Kellhus and Cnaiür struggle with what they must do, a Holy War is brewing, orchestrated by the newly elected and mysterious Shriah, head of the Thousand Temples who revere the Tusk on which all religious knowledge is written. He is intent on taking the city of Shimeh, in the land of the Fanim where the outcast sorcerers, the Cishaurim reside. Add to this the manipulations and treachery of the Nansur Emperor and his mercurial nephew, General Ikurei Conphas; nothing is as it seems.

See, it’s complicated right? Bakker has created a multi-layered and multi-faceted world in which sorcery is blasphemous and religion rules the people. There are so many factions (of people, religion and sorcery) all playing subtle power games with one another and at each other’s throats that you are always kept on your toes. It’s not an easy read, but if you persist, you will be swept away by the epic canvas Bakker has created and marvel at the intricacy of his plotting in which belief is pitted against manipulation.

The only quibble I have with The Darkness That Comes Before is the role of women in the tale. Maybe it’s not meant to be a tale in which women get the best parts, maybe he has based his creations too close to real history (you can see the influence of the Crusades here and women hardly get a look in due to their exclusion from society, warfare and religion – basically everything) but I was slightly disappointed that the main women in the book were prostitutes, concubines or bitter dowager empresses. Not that they aren’t strong. They get the worst deals but desperately struggle to survive. But for me, it would be interesting to see how their stories unfold in the second volume, The Warrior-Prophet.

You can read an interview with Bakker here.