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The Thousandfold Thought: The Prince of Nothing, Book Three Publisher: Overlook TP Paperback – 2009
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This is a very disappointing sequel to the very good Warrior-Prophet. Mainly, what causes problems in this novel is Bakker's continuing penchant for liberally sprinkling pseudo gems of undergraduate level philosophy and psychoanalysis throughout his text. There is so much of it that it hinders reading, as you are constantly re-reading passages to make sure that a) you didn't miss anything, b) did you understand what Bakker was trying to say, and c) often wondering what a load of balderdash his characters tend to spout. We could have done without this, as one might imagine Bakker would trust us enough to understand his characters by now. But, from having read the glaringly sycophantic comments and reviews on his websites, one wonders if he was in part taken in by those who seem to like this sort of writing.
I don't know why he felt the need to do this, as it really obscures what is an otherwise interesting plot, some well worked characters, a world with a lot of potential and scope, but with one monstrous flaw - and that is Kellhus. He is just not credible as a character, nor is he likeable. One man cannot do what Bakker makes him do. If he only had given Kellhus the more limited task of influencing the elites of the Three Seas who would then, always using Bakker's own political and philosophical assertions, have carried their peoples with them, it would have made the reader's acceptance of his abilities easier.
Bakker still has real talent, however. Some loose ends are nicely tied up, particularly those involving Maithanet, the Cishaurim, the spy within the Mandate, and Moenghus. Conphas gets a quite monumental comuppance. The skinspies take on depth and complexity. He manages the multiple scenes of the book's climax well, although the battle between Inrithi and Fanim warriors, again awash in names of people we know or care nothing about, could have been shorter to give more time to the more important confrontation between Kellhus and his father, which fizzles out frustratingly and inconclusively. As well, the Biblical tone of the book resonates well with his geography and grasp of his world's antiquity, and every time the Consult makes an appearance the book and writing work better - the scene between Kellhus and a possessed Esmenet is excellent.
But, but, but... One wonders why he went to all the trouble of creating the Consult and the No-God (which never even makes an appearance) if he never planned on doing anything with them. The sprinkling of Achamian/Seswatha flashbacks add nothing to the story, and only serve to underline the way in which Bakker could really have made something of the Mandate's dreams, like enabling Achamian to work out who the Dunyain are (they obviously existed during the Apocalypse) and what they stand for, as well as throwing a spanner in the works by having the Seswatha alterego actually possess one of the Mandate, or something like that.
Well worth the read, but if he does continue this, he needs a better editor.
Cleverly thought-out fantasy needs more than a milieu with exotic peoples, worlds, magic, beasts and so forth; it needs a STORY. A good novel brings all these elements and more into a coherent narrative that pulls the reader along until he can hardly wait to see how it all ends. Tolkien accomplished not only this but much more with his masterpiece and George R.R. Martin is an exceptional author in our time who, in my opinion, is equally brilliant in his own fashion. Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" novels are creative and well-written fantasy STORIES (at least before the "Wheel of Time" series turned into the "never-ending story series ...")
R. Scott Bakker's "The Darkness that Comes Before" starts with promise but the characters quickly become so self-absorbed with their "inner dialogues", that the characters (with the author) forget they're part of a larger story. As the author and his characters wander, so does the reader, though not along a coherent and enjoyable storyline. By the end of "The Darkness that Comes Before" (how prophetic) and most of the way through "The Warrior Prophet", I was skipping page after page of directionless self-dialogue - hoping to encounter a plot point, if even by chance. Characters thinking or talking themselves throughout long stretches page after page does not a good story make; any more than does this review. I suspect some readers, and positive reviewers, became so entranced by the "metaphysical" and "quasi-biblical" tangents taken by the characters that, concluding like first year philosophy students, "if the parts are difficult to understand or to follow, than the sum of the parts must be brilliant, insightful and worthy of recommendation (lest we admit to our own confusion)." If long soliloquies are your thing, I recommend the "The Thousandfold Thought," Book Three of the "Prince of Nothing" series. Following that, you might like reading Plato's Republic.
For readers and reviewers not posing as philosphers but wanting to read good stories, there are new fantasy writers producing good stories. I suggest reading Bruce Sanderson's "Mistborn Trilogy" or the "Lies of Locke Lamora" and "Red Seas Under Red Skies" by Scott Lynch.
On the other hand, if you haven't read George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series don't be thrown-off by the mis-guided comparison's between the two writers by other reviewers. The level of craftsmanship is exponentially higher; a well-written and inventive STORY from start to (hopefully, one day) finish.
If you believe my review is too harsh, it's not so much in response to Mr. Bakker's first efforts or even in response to the apparent low-standards held by other reader-reviewers. What I find truly objectionable is making cavalier comparisons with novels of first-rank with the novels of a new writer who may have promise but has a long way to go before being compared to J.R.Tolkien, et al.