Friday, February 22, 2008

The Darkness That Comes Before: Book One of The Prince of Nothing Trilogy by R. Scott Bakker

608 pages
Overlook Press (June 2004 UK)

This is the fourth series I picked up on from Sffworld readers, publishers, and forum posters praised several series that I decided I had to find and read, the first being The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, which turned out to be one of the past several years best reads. Second was Joe Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy which also turned out quite spectacular and comes to conclusion later on this year. Then I picked up probably the most praised on the forum, Steven Erikson's Fallen Book of the Malazan Series, which turned out to be quite the disappointment, though I only ventured one book deep. I guess I saved the best for last because Scott Bakker's foray into fantasy is leaps and bounds better than Erikson's, as far as my tastes go at least, and is also better than Lies and The First Law. Lynch's unfinished series may have better characters and a more accessible, fun story; Abercrombie's trilogy may be more mainstream and more of what fantasy readers may look for in a book, but Bakker's Prince of Nothing trilogy presents something on a grand scale. This first book touches only the tip of a presumably immense iceberg, The Darkness That Comes Before threatens the readers religious and moral upbringing and intellect, demanding deep and reflective thinking.

The Darkness That Comes Before is about a land on the brink of Holy War where warlords and leaders are vying for control of a massive marching army. The army is headed for Shimeh where they plan to defeat the Fanim and Cishaurim, the rulers in the southeast and haters of The Tusk and Inrithism, which is the widely accepted, dominant religion across the western Three Seas. The Fanim is an upstart monotheistic faith that is founded on the revelations of the Prophet Fane, and the Cishaurim is their highly feared faction of sorcerer's.

The novel is seen through several pairs of eyes. Anasurimbor Kellhus is a Dunyain monk that receives dreams from his lost father of an impending holy war. The Dunyain is a hidden monastic sect that focuses on highly refined motor reflexes and higher thinking. They are capable of seeing the future and are highly trained in combat.

Drusas Achamian is a sorcerer of the Mandate, a gnostic school that fights against the Consult (a faction of ancient magi that are bent one bringing about the return of the No-God, whom is responsible for the first apocalypse).

Cnaiur is a ruthless Scylvendi tribal leader that lost his entire clan in a bloody battle against the Nansur Empire. With nowhere to go, he joins with Kellhus and travels through Nansur to join in the Holy War.

Esmenet is a prostitute that resides in Sumni. She is often paid for services by Achamian, and as result, she has further feelings for the sorcery, and he likewise.

It sounds like its a convoluted mess of characters, lands, and religions, but when read each is fleshed out and described in not overly detailed description, but just enough to make you grasp who the person is and what their mission is. Not long into the book you understand where places are, what religion is practiced where, and what ruler wants of this Holy War. This book is like a much better version of my previously reviewed Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson. His novel wasn't nearly as mapped out as Bakker's, and the characters weren't nearly as real.

The plot is original and the characters are believable. Cnaiur is devilishly brutal and Kellhus is god-like in his ability to see what is to come before it happens. Achamian is subject to a dying faction of magic users, but he sees his role in this war. In this initial novel, the Holy War isn't fought, but its impending doom is foreboding and dark. Common soldiers are excited about the coming battles and chances of glory and fame, yet the players that move the pieces are frightened and reluctant to face the dreaded Cishaurim. Bakker knows what good reading consists of and he litters his debut with it, rarely does he let up and allow the reader to take a restful breath. The Warrior Prophet is next in line on my bookshelf. [4.5/5]