Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Book Review: The Darkness That Comes Before

On the recommendation of some random internet person, I requested the first book in R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing trilogy, The Darkness That Comes Before. I had seen it described as philosophical fantasy, which intrigued me.

It reminded me a bit of Gene Wolfe, except I enjoyed reading it. The writing is not as lyrical as The Knight, for example, but it has the advantage of a plot that doesn't constantly repeat itself. It took me a while to get into the book, although this may have been influenced by my reading it before bed, but Bakker, like an author I do really like, is not afraid of killing off characters in unexpected ways. This kept my attention during some of the initial worldbuilding, which unfurls rather slowly.

Essentially, the setup involves a cross between the Crusades and your classic fantasy rise-of-the-dark-lord plot. The main character, Akka, is a Mandate wizard; unlike other wizard schools, the Mandate has, well, a mandate: to guard against the Consult, which seeks to restore the No-God (who caused some sort of shadowy apocalypse centuries before). Nobody takes them seriously, though, and the hot topic in the Three Seas region is instead the new holy war. Will it be waged against the blasphemous wizard schools or the heretics in the south, who possess Shimeh, a city sacred to the northerners? What drives the new Shriah (a pope-like figure) to declare holy war? And does the mythic Consult still move behind the scenes? (Three guesses on that one.) There's also another plotline dealing with Kellhus, a monk of illustrious ancestry, who has deep insight into human motivation and probability.

The only quibbles I had with the book were the slow start, the lack of strong female characters (there's a whore and a sex slave: what variety!), and the decision to put the maps in the back of the book. I didn't even know there were maps and the geographical descriptions were not good enough for me to be able to draw one mentally as I was reading. I'm looking forward to The Warrior Prophet.
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