Friday, 17 March 2017

Review: The Darkness That Comes Before, by R. Scott Bakker

I first tried reading this book perhaps a decade ago, and didn’t like it. To my surprise, I still had a copy, and following the insistence of a chap who was most enthusiastic, I decided to give it a second look.

And was disconcertingly surprised to find my opinion had changed drastically.

The Darkness That Comes Before is set in a fictional world that has suffered an apocalypse or two. The technology is medievalish, alongside which is magic, used by a variety of competing schools that are independent or semi-independent of the kingdoms and empire clustered around the Three Seas. One school of magic, the Mandate, sees itself tasked with preventing the next apocalypse, but the enemy (the Consult) hasn’t been seen for centuries, leading to them being the object of much ridicule.

There are two premises to the story: a Holy War organised against heathens, and the personal quest of Kellhus, sent south to find and kill his father (who was sent on a southerly mission of exploration and appears to have lost his way). In addition to Kellhus, the protagonists include a Mandate schoolman, his lover (unfortunately employed as a prostitute), the Emperor of Nansur and a few others.

The world has depth, and feels interesting and original. I like the way the history and contemporary set-up of the world has been put together, although, especially early on, it does feel like there’s too much skirt and not enough leg.

The book’s tone is quite dark. There isn’t an overdose of sex or violence or general grimness, although all have their places, and I think the author’s been wise not to make such things too commonplace as the moments of violence have more impact happening occasionally, rather than constantly.

However, there are still things I disliked. The pace is slow. Too slow. I don’t mind gradual unfolding of events, but there are areas where sections could be axed wholesale or little pieces cut from every sentence to simply speed things up a bit. Description likewise is excessive. It reminds me a bit [though it’s a long time since I read it] of Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn in that regard.

Overall, I enjoyed The Darkness That Comes Before, despite some drawbacks.


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