When I began reading The Darkness That Comes Before, R. Scott Bakker's (pronounced Baker) debut novel and the first volume in The Prince of Nothing Trilogy, I wanted to throw the book against the wall. Initially, it comes off as inaccessible and a bit confusing. For one thing, Scott does not name his characters anything you'd be willing to attempt to pronounce out loud. He also pulls no punches about jumping right into the action, and as for trying to decipher who is good and who is bad, well, good luck.
This is not your father's epic fantasy.
The first volume is an introduction to character and place, to history and theology, to philosophy and yet more philosophy. The players drew together like iron filings to the magnet of the Holy War, and the crusade of many purposes began in earnest. In the second volume, The Warrior Prophet, the weak were culled from the herd, and each headliner came into his own. War, as ever, was hell, and the reader was engulfed with ever more ideas.
It becomes increasingly clear as one reads this saga that Bakker is challenging the ideas of good and evil and blowing the hell out of preconceived notions of what to expect from epic fantasy.
The Holy War marched on, Shimeh in its sights, with but one volume left...
The Thousandfold Thought.
To control what comes after, we must know what comes before, so says the logos. There have been many times I have closed a novel and considered a lesson, a moral, or an idea; sometimes in the midst of the book and commonly at its conclusion. Bakkers work practically requires extended contemplation subsequent to each chapter, and I'm certainly not the only one who reads with a highlighter at hand.
The Second Apocalypse is here, and the world as we know it is ending. The Holy War arrives in Shimeh and fates are met, destinies fulfilled. Anasurimbor Kelhus, having survived his travails and become the stronger for the struggle, approaches the conclusion of his mission.
Bakkers writing has improved with his continued craftmanship.The prose is sinuous and impelling, while the concepts and interpretations continue to set this work apart. The characters remain true to themselves, yet relentlessly astonishing in their actions. Threads of plot are tied, questions are answered, while new questions invariably arise. The ending is pulled off superbly, and Bakker leaves the crowd as he should, begging for more.
The Thousandfold Thought fulfills on the promise of what has come before, and stands on its own as a compelling and provocative work of fiction. Taken as a whole, The Prince of Nothing series is a true masterpiece of speculative fiction, the most enthralling trilogy fantasy has been gifted with since 1959, and I envy all who have the opportunity to read these words for the first time.
The Darkness That Comes Before: 9/10
The Warrior Prophet: 9.5/10
The Thousandfold Thought: 9.5/10
I had the pleasure of meeting Scott at World Fantasy Convention, and I'd like to note that his being a wonderful human being had nothing at all to do with my glowing reccomendation.
I am on the left, Bakker on the right. Don't let the picture fool you, Scott is, as rumored, nine feet tall.
**Collector's Notes: The Prince of Nothing was released first in Canada, and then in the UK, and finally in the US. However, the US edition is the only hardcovers printed of this series, making them the most sought after.
Bakker's career is ready to explode, and his talented recognized. Good word of mouth is really helping the series catch on with new fans. The books, other than the Advanced Readers Copy of the Darkness That Comes Before, have not risen sharply in price....yet.
It's a good time to jump on this series and to pick up these books.
Personally obtained R. Scott Bakker signature for authenticity purposes:
This series has all the hallmarks of a cult classic. The UK advanced reader's copy of The Darkness That Comes Before is selling for 150 American dollars on eBay already, and word of mouth on the series as whole is nothing short of outstanding. The US hardcover editions from Overlook Press are the only hardcover editions available, and the print run was reasonably small.
A talent like Bakker will not long languish in obscurity, and this trilogy in hardcover will undoubtedly be a safe -- and probably lucrative -- investment.
So buy two sets. You'll wear the first one out from re-reads.