Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of The Darkness that Comes Before (The Prince of Nothing, Book One) by R Scott Bakker

Review of The Darkness that Comes Before (The Prince of Nothing, Book One) by R Scott Bakker

Something I love about good high fantasy is the fact that when you’ve read one book, that’s not the end of the story, that you have further volumes to look forward to that promise to be as good as the one just read. Perhaps four years ago I started reading George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and am eagerly awaiting book five; in the last two years I started reading The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson, book six of which came out earlier this year – book seven probably arriving in 2008. The front cover of The Darkness that Comes Before bears a quote from Erikson: ‘Something remarkable has begun’. If Bakker builds on what he’s created here, then I would have to agree.

2,000 years ago the land of Earwa suffered an apocalyptic war and it seems that the forces that provoked this war are at work again. The central characters include a middle-aged, world-weary sorcerer and his prostitute lover, a childish but cunning emperor and his brilliant tactician nephew, a brutal plains warrior, and, perhaps most importantly, a monk whose training makes him an irresistably seductive empath and a fighter with preternatural reflexes. These players occupy a stage that is clearly inspired by the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern empires of antiquity.

The 640 pages of this novel aren’t action-filled, there’s a lot of introspection and a healthy dose of political machination, and while this could make for a dull book, the writing is such that it becomes quite compelling. Some parts are more compelling than others, though – Ikurei Xerius III, the spoilt emperor can be tiresome, and even Drusas Achamian, arguably the main character, descends into consuming self-pity. The most fascinating character is Anasurimbor Kellhus, and, though there are sections from his point of view, we never quite learn his agenda; this isn’t just authorial secret-keeping – Kellhus’s strength of mind is such that he wouldn’t think of somthing unless he needed to.

The writing is very strong throughout, although it suffers from being a bit too portentous, especially in the prologues (there are two – one short, one long), but you get used to this. Kellhus’s intellectual, emotional and phsyical powers border on being too much, too imbalancing; and sorcery in this world – although it’s used very little and magi are seen as blasphemous by many – seems overpowered, as well. The other main complaint I would have is that not quite enough happens during the book – in some ways, though, The Darkness that Comes Before feels like a prologue to the story that will unfold in future books. But still, this is an extremely promising start to a series – as soon as I get my hands on the internet I’ll have a look for Book Two, The Warrior-Prophet.

Categories: Literature, Reviews
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  1. 9 December 2010 at 11:19 pm

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