Book Review: The Judging Eye by R. Scott Bakker

The Judging Eye

Genre: Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Aspect-Emperor
Author info:http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/

This is the first book of Aspect-Emperor,the sequel series after The Prince of Nothing. You will need to read The Prince of Nothing books for the story to make sense. The starting point is The Darkness That Comes Before.

Here are my reviews for The Prince of Nothing books (First one is spoiler free, but the following reviews inevitably have spoilers for the previous books)

The Darkness That Comes Before (book #1)

The Warrior Prophet (book #2)

The Thousandfold Thought (book #3)

I have written those ages ago, and I held off on reading the Aspect-Emperor books cause the 3rd book was being delayed by the publisher. Now that it came out and the last book is already scheduled, I finally got around to reading and I must say The Judging Eye blew my mind. I went back and read my reviews for the prequel series, and feel bad for writing such a negative review for The Thousandfold Thought. I don’t know what I was smoking back then but I only wrote the complaints and didn’t make mention of the great things. It is a damn good book overall, I was just disappointed with a few things.

My main complaint about The Prince of Nothing was not being able to root for any of the characters, except for Achamian (Akka) a bit, even though they were incredibly well-developed and detailed. I just couldn’t connect with them. This definitely changes with the Aspect-Emperor books. Some of the existing main characters are there (Kellhus, Esmenet, Akka, Maithanet), Akka got hell of a lot better and far more charismatic, and there’s a whole new cast of awesome characters. I must emphasize the fact that I don’t use the awesome word lightly like my fellow Americans do. Even the mighty popular ASOIAF characters, dare I say, have nothing on these guys and gals.

The Judging Eye is a dark book, a different kind of dark than the Prince of Nothing. Prince of Nothing was deliciously dark, peppered with with graphic violence, mayhem and desolation. The Judging Eye, on the other hand, is dark like a blood soaked onyx dagger glittering under sorcerous light is dark.

There is plenty of quotable material in the book, especially the proverbs in the beginning of each chapter.
An example:

A beggar’s mistake harms no one but the beggar. A king’s mistake, however, harms everyone but the king. Too often, the measure of power lies not in the number who obey your will, but in the number who suffer your stupidity.

If you never read any Bakker books before, I must tell you his prose is second to none. You think The Name of the Wind was great? Check this out:

She could feel it billow about her in winds that only souls could sail.

How about this:

A portent hangs with them, a promise of what is other and impenetrable, of things that would glory in her lament. They remind her of her humanity the way burnt edges speak of fire.

Also the reason I am reading slower than usual: I stop and highlight the good stuff and read some scenes over and over before turning the page. The Prince of Nothing books were spectacular in general, but this is better. I don’t know the word for better than spectacular… And much better characters to boot.

The events here start twenty years after the Prince of Nothing timeline. Kellhus is the Aspect-Emperor, and has a bunch of children with Esmenet, who is Akka’s ex lover. Kellhus’s kids are downright scary. With Kellhus’s inhuman nature, it should be expected, but they are all nightmare fuel in their own way. Except for the poor, innocent little Samarmas who is mentally retarded. These kids make the demon-possessed kids from horror movies look cute.

Kellhus gathers a great host for a new Holy War, which is called The Great Ordeal, and marches through the wastelands of the ancient North to put an end to the Consult and their plots for resurrecting the dreaded No-God, which will unleash the Second Apocalypse if it comes to pass. While he is gone, empress Esmenet is left with the task of keeping the empire together. Esmenet is under a lot of pressure with all kinds of people plotting against her and her husband -not to mention dealing with her messed up kids and Consult’s skin spies.

And then we have Mimara, a majestic new female character. She doesn’t take shit from anyone and boy is she a trooper! Talk about an amazing strong female character. That girl goes through a journey worse than a demon’s nightmares and doesn’t even flinch when half of the hardened, violent, filthy scumbags in her party break down or soil their breeches. Anyone who says Bakker’s female characters are weak needs to pay attention to Mimara. That girl has my respect and I am not a one to dispense respect like loose coin. She puts the Cnaiür-tier savage dudes to shame for crying out loud.

The other compelling female POV character is Mother Supreme of the Cult of Yatwer. She is cunning, charismatic and grimdark as fuck (gdaf as we say in the grimdark fan circles.) Her scenes were dark, disturbing and badass.

Our old friend Achamian is hell-bent on finding out the origin of the Aspect-Emperor Kellhus, who stole his wife and manipulated poor Akka into teaching him the Mandate School’s occult secrets. So Akka is now a greybeard with greater wisdom, searching the past through his cursed dreams, and he joins a band of cutthroat scalpers to travel to some godforsaken hell hole to seek out the secrets to undo Kellhus. The scalpers call such outings slogs.

The slog chapters were my favorite parts. They were so good I read some of them over and over. Let’s just say that a whole party of horrendous cutthroat scalpers, who call themselves Skin Eaters and make a living by collecting bounty for the Sranc scalps they harvest, along with Akka and Mimara, go through some places that make Mordor look like the fair woods of Lothlorien. And those hordes of Sranc… If you recall from the Prince of Nothing, they make the Orcs from LOTR look like refined gentlemen.

Other reviewers have stated a certain part of this epic voyage was the best homage to Tolkien’s unforgettable Moria scenes and I agree with them. While some other fantasy authors ripped off Moria, Bakker surpassed it and moved the darkness level several notches up, making the Moria adventure in LOTR sound like a nice afternoon stroll.

Lord Kosoter, the captain of the Skin Eaters is quite an intriguing character. He is creepy as hell, but commands respect with his imperious and unrelenting demeanor. I have been quite curious about the nearly extinct race of the immortal Nonmen after reading the Prince of Nothing and I was ecstatic to get a good dose of their enigmatic culture and history. Nonmen are the best representation of an immortal race and Bakker realized their alienness so beautifully.

Incariol, the mysterious and aloof Nonman Cleric turned out to be epic beyond my expectations. Holy shit I’m totally in love! I didn’t think I would obsess over a character teenage fangirl style like that, but this dude made my stone cold heart melt like uranium rods in a chain reaction. His sermons are so epic I almost wept. Look people, I’m shedding the last shreds of my dignity here, don’t you take it lightly!
Let me see, Fëanor from the holy Silmarillion was the last fantasy character who made me all crazy obsessed like that. That was over a decade ago, go figure.
(Having read all the reviews on Goodreads, I found myself quite alone in this matter -alas, I can’t decide whether I should lament being so alone in my extreme weirdness, or rejoice over the fact that I have no competition.)

To show what I’m talking about, here is a glimpse of one of Cleric’s sermons:

His voice was cavernous, greased with inhuman resonances. He spoke like one grown weary of his own wisdom.

“Fear. This is how you ask the question. For you are Men, and fear is ever the way your race questions great things.”
He lowered his face to the shadows, continued speaking to his palms and their millenial calluses.

“I remember… I remember asking a wise man, once… though whether it was last year or a thousand years ago I cannot tell. I asked him, ‘Why do Men fear the dark?’ I could tell he thought the question wise, though I felt no wisdom in asking it. ‘Because darkness,’ he told me, ‘is ignorance made visible.’ ‘And do Men despise ignorance?’ I asked. ‘No,’ he said, ‘they prize it above all things-all things! -but only so long as it remains invisible.'”

I know I shouldn’t fall for the grimdark characters, cause they tend to die premature deaths. I am so taking up necromancy if Bakker ends up killing this wondrous character.

Another main plot arc features Sorweel, the heir of Sakarpi Kingdom marching in the Great Ordeal as a hostage of the Aspect-Emperor. His arc starts slow, but becomes quite compelling and takes interesting twists and turns, converging with a major political intrigue thread. Sorweel’s confusion, inner conflicts and struggle to fit in made me instantly connect, even though he got on my nerves a few times. I have a feeling there is much more to this character.

There are other intriguing characters aplenty, there is certainly no shortage of epic characters in this book. You will find at least one or two you can really connect with, that is a guarantee. Even if you are a total whacko, there are whackos you can root for, too. Enough said.

The religious and political intrigue is top-notch as expected from a Bakker book. Not only it is realistic, but it’s realistic with delightful fantasy elements. My heartfelt thanks go to Mr. Bakker for writing such a dazzling masterpiece. Now I’m off to go devour the rest of the awesome sauce.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Judging Eye by R. Scott Bakker

  1. Pingback: April Fool’s Update | Three Pound Brain

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