Friday, January 1, 2010
Review - The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker
The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker
The Prince of Nothing series, book 1
Synopsis from publisher:
Strikingly original in its conception, ambitious in scope, with characters engrossingly and vividly drawn, the first book in R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing series creates a remarkable world from whole cloth-its language and classes of people, its cities, religions, mysteries, taboos, and rituals-the kind of all-embracing universe Tolkien and Herbert created unforgettably in the epic fantasies The Lord of the Rings and Dune.
It's a world scarred by an apocalyptic past, evoking a time both two thousand years past and two thousand years into the future, as untold thousands gather for a crusade. Among them, two men and two women are ensnared by a mysterious traveler, Anasarimbor Kellhus-part warrior, part philosopher, part sorcerous, charismatic presence-from lands long thought dead. The Darkness That Comes Before is a history of this great holy war, and like all histories, the survivors write its conclusion.
This was quite a book to end the year reading. The first in a high-fantasy trilogy, it has me very excited to read the next two volumes.
Bakker has lot of ground to cover - his world is highly complex, with thousands of years of history and culture to explain, so at times all that information does feel a little overwhelming. I appreciated, however, that I never felt like Bakker was rushing through the preliminary stuff - everything worked within the confines of the story. I did have to read a bit more slowly that usual, because there were lots of new names and places to learn, but Bakker includes an extremely helpful list at the end of the book with that important information, so it was easy to flip back and forth if I was unsure who was talking.
Bakker's characters were satisfyingly rich and complex - each has so many facets to their personality that I feel like I've still only scratched the surface. Characters that I initially felt were not as interesting or important were allowed to unfold throughout the novel, so that by the end the entire cast - good and bad, and everyone in between - were compelling.
This felt very much like a "setting the stage" novel. I mean, we spent 500+ pages getting ready for a Holy War that we never quite arrived at! I think that might be frustrating for some readers - all this reading, and no payoff. However, I think it just made me more excited to see what will happen next.
This is a VERY dark novel - violence is rife throughout the book. I did find myself skimming over some of the descriptions of battle, and the plotting and machinating that was going on. But Bakker was able to hold my interest, even with all the fighting, because of the connection I felt to the characters. I do wish there was a stronger female character, but I have hope for the continued development of Serwe and Esmi.
I really enjoyed the reading of this novel, and I'm very excited to see what happens in the next installment of this series. I think fans of "high" fantasy or "epic" fantasy will probably enjoy this novel quite a bit. If you don't typically read the genre, I wouldn't even attempt it - I don't think it would work for you at all.
Source: Forest Avenue library