The Darkness That Comes Before: Book One of The
Prince of Nothing
(Simon & Schuster, £10.99, 577 pages, trade paperback, published 1 March 2004.
Orbit, £7.99, 644 pages, paperback, published June 2005.)
It's been two thousand years since anyone heard
the Consult, occult disciples of the No-God, and for all anyone knows
they're just a myth. Only one school of sorcerors, the object of its
peers' mockery, still keeps watch for the signs of Consult activity.
When an enigmatic new religious leader, Maithanet, seizes control of
the Thousand Temples and declares a Holy War against the enemies of
the Inrithi, the sorcerors send Drusas Achamian out into the world to
gather information for them; the last thing he expects to find is evidence
that the Consult still exist, and are preparing for the No-God's return.
His chief friend in the dark days that follow is Anasûrimbor Kellhus,
a man whose coming presages the end of the world ...
Yes, this is the stuff. The marks of conventional fantasy fare are
upon it -- although the character list, pronunciation guide and maps
have been discreetly shunted to the back of the book, and the abuse
of vowel accents is kept to a tolerable level -- and the apocalyptic
backdrop is straight off the peg, and yet The Darkness That Comes
Before is far from ordinary. It has a murky, textured atmosphere
that allows us to really feel the intrigue in the Nansur Imperial court,
the religious fervour building in Sumna, the exposed ruggedness of the
Scylvendi lands. Its richness of detail complements this richness of
ambience, ensuring that foreground and background alike catch the reader's
attention. Complexity is the watchword here.
Clearly we have a prodigious talent in R Scott Bakker. He has a canny
eye for character and a genuine flair about his prose; The Darkness
That Comes Before is riddled with engaging personalities and deeply
satisfying turns of phrase. My one complaint is that, having established
Kellhus early on as an important part of his novel, Bakker then neglects
him completely for half the book's length, to the extent that I forgot
who the character was and what he was supposed to be doing when he finally
turned up again. Every so often some foreshadowing of his arrival would
nudge my memory and I'd have to recheck the back cover blurb to remind
myself. And then I'd forget again for a couple of chapters. Then again,
it's nice to have a "mysterious saviour" fantasy story that doesn't
(yet) revolve entirely around said saviour's actions. The other characters
and their exploits were, by contrast, highly memorable.
It's not often that I so thoroughly enjoy multi-volume epic fantasy
novels, and Bakker is to be commended for a first-rate performance.