Book Review: The White Luck Warrior by R. Scott Bakker

The White Luck Warrior

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

This is the second 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 previous books in the series (First one is spoiler free, but the following reviews inevitably have spoilers for the previous ones)

The Darkness That Comes Before (book #1)

The Warrior Prophet (book #2)

The Thousandfold Thought (book #3)

The Judging Eye (book #4)

 

I can’t tell you how much I loved this book! The White Luck Warrior reads more like the continuation of The Judging Eye than a “bridge book” of a trilogy in my opinion.

The White Luck Warrior answers some of the questions raised by The Judging Eye while raising new and deeper questions. The three main story arcs from The Judging Eye continue, and there is one new POV character: The mysterious and supernatural-sounding White Luck Warrior, who is sent by the goddess Yatwer, or the Hundred Gods in a broader interpretation, to slay Aspect-Emperor Kellhus. White Luck Warrior’s chapters are few, but quite intense. He seems to move in a time warp, seeing the timeframe from a non-linear vantage, kind of like the Dûnyain probability trance on steroids.

As Mimara’s Judging Eye opens and she sees the extent of everyone’s sins and damnation, you begin to realize how crappy the gods are. The scalpers are horrible scum for sure, but Achamian is overall a good guy and he appears as damned as the band of cutthroats, which includes a child rapist. He is damned cause he is a sorcerer and sorcery is an abomination in the eyes of these wrathful gods.

This made me question the legitimacy of the motives of the gods: They are after killing Kellhus and his progeny, but is it because Kellhus is a heartless bastard manipulating the population of the entire Three Seas for power, or because they are unable to see the No-God and Consult’s motives, which is going to bring the Second Apocalypse and decimate the entire population of the world, and Kellhus happens to see further than they can? Kellhus may not be the good guy, but he is warring against the ultimate evil forces which are about to decimate the mankind. We already know the amount of blight and ruin they heaped during the First Apocalypse from Akka’s narrative and also the ruins of cities various characters encounter during their journeys.

Which also made me question the legitimacy of Akka’s motives. Akka is on a quest to uncover the Dûnyain origins of Kellhus to undermine his power. Akka is also the sworn enemy of the Consult and spent a lifetime hunting their agents, his life was dedicated to prevent the Second Apocalypse and the summoning of the No-God by the Consult. Did he abandon this lifelong quest along with the School of Mandate? I have a hard time to believe that, it’s so illogical. The rational thing would be to wait until Kellhus launches the offensive on Golgotterath and puts an end to the horrendous and vile Consult. I sure as hell hope that’s what Akka is planning.

On the other hand, abhorrent and revolting as they are, the Consult is going to save the souls of everyone from damnation if they succeed with their plan. Even though they will reduce the world’s population to 140.000 souls, all those who die won’t be damned for eternity. Which means horrible criminals, murderers and rapists will get away with their heinous crimes, but the good people damned cause of the stupid and petty whims of gods will also be saved. It’s really a catch 22 situation. Gods are not so much better than the Consult and its horrible No-God, it seems, and they are loath to dole out salvation even to those who deserve it for having good hearts.

Akka and Mimara’s epic “slog of slogs” with the scalper band continues on, the party is now reduced greatly after the battles in Cil-Aujas, and they trek on into the great, gloomy and extremely creepy forest called the Mop. Like the awesome Cil-Aujas journey, the Mop reads more like Lovecraftian horror than epic fantasy, but it is still one hell of an epic fantasy. Cleric, who was my #1 favorite from The Judging Eye (I know, I’m weird. Don’t judge!) became even more fascinating, and his sermons got more intense. His rationing of Qirri becomes sort of a religious ritual, and from Mimara’s point of view it was quite a delight to read. Like the Judging Eye, Cleric parts were awe-inspiring and a great delight to read. Nonmen are truly fascinating.

Speaking of Mimara, her inner strength and resilience becomes even more impressive in this book. The horrible band of cutthroats now see her as one of them and show her respect, which is no mean feat. Some people complained about her being a former prostitute, but like I said before I have no problem with such things and I don’t judge sex workers. Mimara’s flashbacks to her life in the brothel and how she learned to deal with the harsh aspects of life were great to read. When shit hits the fan, she grabs her sword named Squirrel and hews the bad guys like no tomorrow! I am not a feminist per se (or more like a classic style feminist, not the Tumblr 3rd wave kind) but I see absolutely nothing wrong with Mimara from a feminist point of view, either. She is the strong female character who perseveres where big burly dudes die like flies, she has native intellect and peculiar strength of character.

The Great Ordeal arc got more interesting from Sorweel’s point of view, and Sorweel’s bonding with Zsoronga as brothers was great. Zsoronga is a great side character, with his snarky comments and attitude. There were some cool twists in that arc, and Sorweel truly grew on me in this book. The Sranc hordes keep massing up before the advancing Great Ordeal army, and the enormous amount of dust they kick into the air while they move along the arid Istyuli Plains in their tens of thousands create a huge curtain of dust the people call the Shroud, it lingers in the air all day, blocking the horizon and the Sranc hordes, and it kept lingering in my head even after I put the book down, much like a Lovecraftian horror element.

All the skirmishes and epic battles, especially those involving the sorcerers and the witches were such a great show. Sorcery visuals would be amazing to see on the big screen, if the movie producers realize these books are the real deal and make them into movies in my lifetime.

Esmenet and Kelmomas threads in Momemn got legendary level epic with some neat plot twists. Kelmomas is a little psycho brat, not just the kind of psycho you hate with passion like Joffrey from Asoiaf/Game of Thrones, but the kind of psycho that creeps the hell out of you on top of being an awful creature you hate. He is downright scary. Theliopa is ever so interesting, too bad she didn’t get more page time. She is perhaps the most likeable Dûnyain out there.

I particularly liked the Esmenet parts, and felt sorry for her. I don’t see why many fans of the series dislike her, I think she is a great character. She has some rather annoying aspects and weaknesses, but overall she is quite rich, realistic and does hell of a better job keeping the empire together than any of her critics could.

The ending chapters were pure badassery featuring one of the most epic fights I have read in fantasy, Robin-Hobb tier emotional depth and the Silmarillion-esque aura which made me think of the journey of Beren and Finrod Felagund. This one made me literally weep.

There is one other arc which involves the Fanim attacking the now weakened empire and the Zeümi diplomat Malowebi. That is a rather intriguing POV character, and then there is Meppa, the last Cishaurim and his awesome power. I really liked Meppa, despite him being a Fanim heretic. Second Negotiant Malowebi is craven and can get annoying at times, but interesting nonetheless.

You are missing out a damn lot if you aren’t reading this spectacular series. It is one of the best things that happened to the fantasy genre, and it is as addictive as ASOIAF but with a smaller cast of POV characters and a much more manageable number of plot threads.

This series is worth reading, not only for all the badassery I have detailed in my reviews so far, but also for the sheer hilarity of the Second Apocalypse jokes being produced by our beloved fan artist Quint von Canon, such as this fine piece of work here: http://quintvc.deviantart.com/art/So-Much-Loss-581469142

This one made me fall off my couch and laugh until I couldn’t laugh anymore.

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.

Summer Reading List: The Most Promising Books from my TBR

I feel like sharing a select few books from my massive TBR I have reserved for my summer reading. The Goodreads reviews, covers and the blurbs are quite promising and I think I will have a great time reading these.

If you like dark, dystopian fantasy or epic fantasy with a dark twist you might want to consider adding them to your reading list.

The Riven Wyrde Saga series by Graham Austin-King is the first in my list. This is a dark faery tale, which is right up my alley. I read plenty of grimdark but this will be the first grimdark fairy tale I will be reading. The first book of the series was the semifinalist for the best Kindle reads award and received plenty of high praise from the Goodreads and Reddit /r/Fantasy folks. The second one has excellent reviews, too, but I just skimmed through them for the fear of spoilers. I will start reading this series as soon as I’m done reading Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence (which is a superb read, btw!)

Fae The Wild Hunt

Fae The Realm of Twilight

The 3rd book of the series is not released yet so I should be able to read these two before it’s out.

The next book I’m mighty curious about and dying to read is Peter Newman’s debut novel The Vagrant. It’s fresh off the press, published just a few days ago from Harper Voyager. The cover grabbed my eye when I saw friends sharing it on Facebook. The blurb is quite intriguing and sounds like something I’d totally love. I have a thing for mysterious characters and the main character of this book is as mysterious as they come, judging from the blurb and a couple of reviews.

The Vagrant

The next in my list is the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. My co-bloggers at Grimdark Alliance have reviewed it and I really need to catch up since this excellent series is one of the must-reads of grimdark fantasy.

Assassin's Apprentice

Royal Assassin

Assassin's Quest

The last one in the list the Aspect-Emperor series by R. Scott Bakker. I loved The Prince of Nothing to death and it left me with a major book hangover. I have been holding off on reading its sequel, The Aspect-Emperor, cause its 3rd book is not out yet. I’m dying to know what happens next and what evils the dreaded Consult are stirring, what Achamian is planning to do and whether Kellhus turns out to be a hero or villain.

The Judging Eye

The White Luck Warrior

This pretty much sums up my summer vacation reading list so far. Whether I will get to read all of them before the end of the summer is another question. There’s nothing like the joy of reading grimdark under the mediterranean sun!