Friday, 14 November 2008
‘The Judging Eye’ – R. Scott Bakker (Overlook Press/Orbit Books)
You spend all that time waiting for the latest instalment of R. Scott Bakker’s ongoing (and frankly more than superb) fantasy epic... and then two copies show up at once! Thanks to Orbit for sending me the page proofs and thanks to Overlook Press for sending me an advance copy. One was a little easier to read on the train than the other... :o)
‘The Prince of Nothing’ is a series that I’ve followed for a few years now and the intentionally abrupt ending of ‘The Thousandfold Thought’ left me wondering how things would be resolved as well as eager for the series to kick on and start tying up the loose ends. Having finished ‘The Judging Eye’ this morning (making myself late for work in the process but I don’t care...) I can say that there isn’t much in the way of loose ends being tied up; that’s to be expected though as there will be more books to come. What I will say though is that fans of Bakker’s earlier books are going to love ‘The Judging Eye’, the stakes are raised over the course of the book and Bakker raises his game in response...
Twenty years have passed since the fall of Shimeh and the Dunyain Kellhus rules the New Empire as Aspect Emperor. However, the threat of the Consult still exists and, in reply, Kellhus has raised a mighty host to storm Golgotterath itself. All is not well in the Empire itself though; Kellhus’ children are coming into their own remarkable powers and each deal with this in their own way. Both heresy and prophecy also cause trembling in the foundations of the Empire. The root cause of this heresy has been in self imposed exile for the last twenty years but he is about to find himself embarking on a journey that will take him to the outskirts of Hell itself. Achamian is obsessed with uncovering the truth of Kellhus’ origins and will do whatever it takes to find this knowledge out...
As is the case with any opening book in a series, ‘The Judging Eye’ starts off slowly as it sets the scene for what is to come. As we find out, a lot can change in twenty years but a lot is also still refreshingly familiar. On the whole though, this is a brave new world that the reader walks through. Despite this (and despite the handy ‘What has come before’ bit at the back of the book) I’d advise readers who are new to Bakker’s work to go back to the beginning and start reading ‘The Darkness that comes before’. The ‘What has come before bit’ will only give you the bare bones of the overall story and you will be seriously missing out if you use this as your starting point for ‘The Judging Eye’.
One of my main issues with the preceding three books was the overabundance of philosophising that certain characters indulged in. I was left wondering how they managed to find the time for all the other things that they needed to do in a world that was in danger of unravelling before their eyes! ‘Deep thought’ is still very much in evidence, in ‘The Judging Eye’, but Bakker gives a nod to the more restless reader (such as me!) with emphasis on more action this time around. The Sranc (amongst others) are a more prominent threat this time around and their very nature means that any scene they’re involved in will step up a gear with high adrenalin, yet bone chilling, displays of tooth, claw and sword. It is clear that Bakker is well adept at stepping the pace up and maintaining a good balance between drawing tension out and keeping things plausible at the same time.
As the book drew to a close though I found things slowing down; not because of any dramatic change in pace but because I genuinely didn’t want the book to end. I’ll quite happily admit to being a fan of Bakker’s work (so my objectivity may be in doubt here!) but the fact remains that I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Judging Eye’ and am already looking forward to the next book.
The world building, which acts as a backdrop to the plot, is quite frankly brilliant. Bakker’s writing gave me a real feel for where I was at any one time. There is a world of difference between the Imperial City of Mommen and hunting Sranc in the ruins of the old Norsirai kingdoms, Bakker not only nails this difference but effortlessly placed this reader right in the middle of things.
It’s not just the immediate world, that our characters interact with, that gets this treatment either. Bakker enriches the world of the Three Seas with a history so vast and ancient that it weighs heavily upon both the reader and the characters acting out their parts. At one particular point what initially appears to be a homage to Tolkien (you’ll know it when it happens) becomes a lot more, Bakker uses the character’s experiences to leave the reader in no doubt as to how old and full of forgotten history this world really is. And it’s old... For me, this is world building right up there with the greats.
Bakker’s characters are as rich and varied as they’ve ever been although I was left wondering what happened to make one particular player pursue the course that he did. I must have missed a trick there; a re-read will take care of that!
While certain characters, from the ‘Prince of Nothing’ trilogy, return other characters are conspicuous by their absence. This enables Bakker to introduce new players into the game who are perhaps easier to get to know. Sorweel, for one, is an intriguing new character whose progress I am looking forward to following. That’s the beauty of Bakker’s work, you never now quite what’s going to happen with anyone until it actually happens. The moment that the title refers to is one such example that had me completely wrong footed....
It’s safe to say that fans of the first three books will enjoy this latest instalment; it’s got everything that the preceding books had and a lot more. Newcomers to the series should pick up ‘The Darkness that comes before’ and give that a go first. If you like it then there’s a lot more goodness to come.
Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten
‘The Judging Eye’ will be published in January next year by Overlook Press (in the US, Canada as well I think...) and Orbit (in the UK)