The Darkness That Comes Before


R. Scott Bakker


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

July 6, 2006

his book is terrific! I was genuinely sad to reach the end, because the tale has me completely engrossed, and I don't have the second book readily at hand. The Darkness That Comes Before is the first book of the Prince of Nothing Trilogy. It is a completely original fantasy story in a fully realized world. It seems authentic. Bakker clearly has a vision of what his world/civilizations/characters look like, and it is an inventive detailed creation. This is not another Tolkien knockoff, this story has no resemblence to that Lord Of The Rings, except for the epic scale of the work.

The Prince of Nothing is Anasurimbor Kellhus, a monk raised in a forgotten corner of a low ago defunct empire. Due to an incredibly rigorous training, he possesses physical ability vastly better the average warrior (I know you are rolling your eyes at this - but Bakker sells it well, my suspension of disbelief was quite willing because the tale being told was so engrossing.) More important than Anasurimbor's fighting skills is his mental skills. He has made a study of emotion and thought, able to reason what others are thinking, and then use his wiles to manipulate others into serving him. Now that I think about it, the Prince of Nothing reminds me alot of Dune. There is a lot intrigue. Conspiracies and plots abound. Like Dune, the story spends a lot of time inside the head of various characters, as they interpret the actions and words of the people around them. I like that the book is so intelligent - the thoughts we witness are clever, these characters are likeable, and so we share their terrors and fears and hopes.

One of the main characters is Drusas Achamian - he is a sorcerer from the Mandate school. The Mandate school is a powerful group, but their focus is not on present day politics. Instead, they are driven to stop the Consult, a fearsome group of villains who first brought about the Apocalypse 1500 years ago. But the Consult disappearred when the No-God was destroyed, and since they have not been spotted for centuries, everyone takes the Mandate to be fools for dwelling the past. But the Mandate sorcerers can not forget what happened, because at night they relive the dreams of Seswatha - the wizard who lived during the time of the first Apocalypse, the man who founded the Mandate school. Achamian works as a spy for the Mandate, they send him all over empire searching for clues, always hunting for a sign that the Consult still exists.

Another important character is Cnaiur, a fiercely brutal Scylvendi barbarian - merciless, savage, and also cunning and smart. He is a powerful warrior, but in his teenage years, he found himself manipulated into betraying his own father, manipulated by a slave that was Anasurimbor Kellhus's father. Cnaiur alone understands how incredibly dangerous the monk is, how his deeds and words will trap you, how nothing he says can be trusted. And yet Cnaiur finds himself working with Kellhus, knowing that he must kill him before Kellhus destroys him - and knowing that Kellhus knows what Cnaiur thinking. A lot of the violent action scenes surround Cnaiur.

Much of the story concerns the intrigue at the court of Momemn, the capital of the Nansur empire, where Xerius III is the emperor, and his nephew Conphas is a proven general, a military genius capable of defeating the Scylvendi hordes when no one else can. Xerius III dreams of restoring his empire to glory - for centuries the southwestern border have been pushed back by the expanding tide of the monotheistic tide of the Fanim factions. But now a man of astounding abilities has seized control of the Thousand Temples, the basis of power of Inrithism (the religion of the Nansur empire) - Maithanet is the new Shriah of the Inrithism - and he has declared a holy war against the Fanim. Xerius III schemes to use the holy war to his own advantage to win back territory for his empire.

I haven't even talked about Esmenet yet, a whore who aspires to be more - an intelligent woman who loves Achamian (when one of his spying missions brings him to town.) Geez, there is too much more to describe, this novel is vast in scope - the hardcover edition is 580 pages long and things are really just getting started. All the pieces are on the table, and the game is now in motion. I can't wait for book 2. Can it really continue this storytelling at such a high level? I sure hope so!