The Darkness That Comes Before (The Prince of Nothing 1)
by R. Scott Bakker
Reviewed by JMD Reid
The Darkness that Comes Before is the start of R. Scott Bakker’s metaseries The Second Apocalypse. Here he unfolds the rich, grimy world of the Three Seas and beyond. I was hooked with this series right from the beginning reading about refugees fleeing the end of the world and the founding of the Dûnyain. I was intrigued by the history teased before me and glad I found this book in the SeaTac Airport’s Borders.
What follows is a Fatnasy series unlike any I had read. Its roots are firmly in the heroic fantasy that developed over the twentieth century, including Tolkein. There are many illusions and parallels to the Lord of the Rings, but make no mistake, Bakker isn’t copying, he’s twisting, bending, creating a world that is grimy, filthy, myriad in the perversity of human lust, greed, envy, and religious fervor.
When a young man name Kellhus, who unknowingly carries the blood of ancient kings sets out on a quest inot the greater world, it is a familiar story. But Kellhus is a product of two thousand years of breeding by his secretive group the Dûnyain. His intellect is beyond normal men. He has been trained to understand the source of men’s passions. To us world-born, we are but children before him. With cold logic, Kellhus will do anything to accomplish his mission—even dominating an entire Holy War.
In the average Fantasy, Kellhus would be our protagonist. But he’s not. That is Achamian, the middle-aged sorcerer and spy, an overweight man prone to drink, drugs, and prostitutes. A man whose decades working as a spy has made him cynical of the world. He has drunk with kings and beggars and realizes not much separates them. He is on another mission for the Mandate, his order of sorcerers, to discover if the Consult has any role in the Holy War called by the new Shriah (Pope). Achamian will return to the holy city of Sumna, and to Esmenet the Whore, perhaps the only person who truly knows him.
Politics and maneuvering dominate this book. While there is warfare and action, much of the book is a contest between men seeking to dominate their circumstances, from Emperor Ikurie Xerius who plans to harness the Holy War to restore the glory of his waning Empire to Cnaiür urs Skiötha who seeks to prove himself the best of his nomadic people. And at the heart, Kellhus, the Prince of Nothing and harbinger of the Apocalypse, arriving out of the wastelands. He is one of the conditioned and all will yield before him.
Intrigue, politics, cryptic prophecies declaring the end of the world, philosophy, faith, sin, sorcererous battles, warfare and the battered souls who strive to make sense of their world. The Darkness that Comes Before is both sweeping and historical at the same time is it deeply personal as R. Scott Bakker delves into human nature in all its vagaries, the good and the ill. This series has a rich cast of flawed characters.
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