The thoughts of all men arise from the darkness. If you are the movement of your soul, and the cause of that movement precedes you, then how could you ever call your thoughts your own? How could you be anything other than a slave to the darkness that comes before?” "
- R. Scott Bakker, The Darkness That Comes Before
- R. Scott Bakker, The Darkness That Comes Before
Do our thoughts "come" to us ? Or, do our thoughts occur when we "want" it to? And what precedes our thoughts? While Friedrich Nietzsche could (perhaps) offer us some insights into this philosophical question, but R. Scott Bakker, a philosopher and a fantasy novelist, wrote Prince of Nothing, an epic fantasy of three parts, to explore, not only the question of what comes before, but also the consequences of "certainty".
Over the past decade, Bakker's fantasy trilogy has gained great renown in the genre (especially in the Grimdark fantasy community). A number of Bakker's fellow writers, and fantasy enthusiasts, are citing this trilogy as the example for what fantasy can offer – a vehicle to explore philosophy, beliefs, politics, and the human condition.
The Darkness That Comes Before is the genesis for this trilogy.
For 2 years, this trilogy sat on my bookshelf and I did not read it. I put this this series on hold because it has a reputation for being a heavy read and overly complex. With the arrival of 2018, however, I made a resolution; I said to myself that this year, I will read this trilogy.
With much fear, trembling and excitements, I opened the first page in The Darkness That Comes Before. After five moonless nights, I finished reading this book. What are my thoughts? Well, it is... complicated. Let me begin my review with a synopsis for the story.
Two thousand years ago, an apocalypse scarred the world of Earwa. Two thousand years later, hundreds and thousands are gathering to fight in a holy war. Many faithful souls vouched to die, for what they believe, to be the righteous cause. This is a time of great violence, but it is also a time for great opportunities.
Indeed, opportunities. Out from the desert came a mysterious traveller - Anasûrimbor Kellhus. He is a warrior, a prophet, a sorcerer, and his charismatic presence can charm thousands of followers. What is Kellhus' mission? Is he the messiah or a tyrant? This is a question that can only be answered by the man himself, in due course. What we do know, however, is like all histories, the history of this great event will have its conclusion written by the survivors.
My thoughts on this book:
It is very difficult to review this book. A quick search on Google shows those who read this book have divisive opinions about it. Some people absolutely loved it, while some people couldn't stand it. My own opinion about this book lies somewhere in the middle; I liked this book, sure, but I didn't love it.
I was really surprised that I only liked this book but didn't love it. I mean, this book promised an epic story, set in a grim, dark world. It has top notch characterizations, it explores philosophy, beliefs, and the human condition. Onset, almost everything in this book ticked my checkboxes. Yet, I just didn't enjoy this novel as much as I thought I would.
Why? A few reasons. Firstly, let me discuss the worldbuilding in this book. I love the world that Bakker has built here. The world of Earwa is unlike any other world in the genre. Instead of the pseudo, medieval European world so common in fantasy, Bakker gave us a world that felt Middle Eastern, and at times, Byzantine. When I was reading this book, I felt its world was living and breathing. It was a world inhibited by nasty, nasty people, but it was also rich in culture, religion, history, and lores.
Despite the greatness in Bakker's worldbuilding, but I just couldn't cope with the names for the places and people in this book, because those names were too alien. It is a norm in fantasy books to have characters and places with weird names, but this book took the genre convention of "alien names" to a whole new level, and this level is just too much for me. Take, for example, the name for one of the major characters; his name (as mentioned), is Anasûrimbor Kellhus. Meanwhile, his father's name is Anasûrimbor Moënghus... Tell you what? This book has dozens of characters and places with this type of strange names. The two names I mentioned are just a taste, to give you an idea of what I am talking about here.
It suffices to say, while I was reading this book, the overly strange names often had me confused about who is who, or where is where (and sometimes I confused "who" with "where", and vice versa). Furthermore, the first 100 pages were difficult to absorb because it was full of infodumps. Make no mistake, Bakker's writings were superb. His prose was well written and lyrical. The problem, though, he dumped too much worldbuilding information, such as the history and geography details, into the first 100 pages. When this "infodump" is compounded with really strange character and location names, then as a reader, I felt the rest of the book was cumbersome and unwieldy.
Despite the problems I mentioned above, I did like this book. I liked Bakker's narratives, of how, he explored the human conditions via his complex, and tormented characters. I also liked how the philosophy, about the origin and the nature of belief, was explored and blended into the overarching story. The Darkness That Comes Before is very smart, very complex, but it is also an entertaining story.
Hopefully I haven't scared you off from trying this book. Yes, The Darkness That Comes Before is not an easy read, but it is not as difficult to read as Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon. The chances are, if you are a veteran to the fantasy genre, then you will be fine as long as you remain attentive during your readings. Who will I recommend this book to? I believe, those readers who are fantasy enthusiasts (especially of the grimdark genre) may like this book.
Stay tuned for my next post, where I will review the sequel, The Warrior Prophet.