Exciting New Releases This Summer

These will be my summer reads.

The Unholy Consult
I have been waiting for the Unholy Consult forever, even held off on reading the Aspect-Emperor books for ages until the release date was certain for TUC. This series is such a magnificent masterpiece of grimdark and epic fantasy, one of the best examples of the fantasy genre in fact. You can read my reviews of all the books in the series here: https://leonahenry.wordpress.com/?s=bakker

 

The Court of Broken Knives

I have beta read a very early version of this book ages ago, I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear about the publishing deal and finally getting a publication date. This will probably be quite a bit different from that very early version I think, can’t wait to read and find out. It’s super grimdark but without a setting mostly covered in puke, piss, rot and other gross things. There is dazzling architecture, grand temples, palaces, beautiful gardens, spiced with utterly savage violence and serious nightmare fuel acts. The characters are so grimdark it’s not even funny!

 

Godblind

 

A friend of mine told me to check this new debut out, and showed me a giveaway page where they had a free sample from the very beginning of the book. I was mighty impressed by the grimdarkness and how Anna Stephens made the characters so memorable in such a short space, I pre-ordered a copy. I heard the book delivers the top notch quality promised by the sample. I can’t wait to read it!

 

 

A Gathering of Ravens

 

Historical fantasy with an Orc protagonist and Norse myths pretty much sold me on that one. Not to mention the grimdark and all of the characters being morally ambiguous. I love books where no one is good or evil. Also I’ve never read any historical fantasy, this should be a good way to begin. It sounds like a pretty solid read judging from the Goodreads reviews.

What are you reading this summer?

Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

Gardens of the Moon: First Impressions

Gardens of the Moon

I keep seeing comments from first time readers about Gardens of the Moon all over the social media, so I couldn’t resist it anymore and abandoned my original plans to get into Malazan after finishing the Wheel of Time and The Prince of Nothing re-read. Fuck it, the curiosity is killing me, I can’t take the torture anymore.

I dropped everything, now reading WoT book #4 in parallel with Gardens of the Moon.

Here are my first impressions: I just finished the prologue and found it quite captivating. I was expecting some confusing mess, since everyone and their brother talks about how difficult and confusing it is. I usually forget the prologues within 5 minutes, can’t keep track of the characters and don’t really understand wtf is going on. A Game of Thrones prologue was the exception. Gardens of the Moon prologue however, hooked me from page 1, characters are memorable and both the imagery and the dialogues are neat. I have a good grasp of what’s going on as far as the prologue goes, it’s pretty normal, ie.not some crazy tangle of hyperactive insanity.

I guess I have to read further to see what’s all the noise about?

Book Review: The Great Ordeal by R. Scott Bakker

The Great Ordeal

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

This is the third 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)

The White Luck Warrior (book #5)
To be honest, after that mind-blowing epic ‘slog of slogs’ Cil-Aujas adventure in The Judging Eye and its just as epic conclusion in White Luck Warrior, I didn’t expect anything to top that. Boy was I wrong! The mind-blowing levels went up in the Nonman mansion Ishterebinth parts. The long-abandoned Nonman abode in The Judging Eye was bone-chilling creepy and amazing, and the inhabited Nonman mansion here is even more awesome and unimaginably grimdark in its macabre majesty.

The Great Ordeal delivered more than I expected. There are several POV threads and plot arcs as usual. I had a hunch that Sorweel was going to get better from the very first encounter, and it did. Sorweel’s character development dials up to 11 and it was the most impressive slow character development I have seen since the first three books of Wheel of Time. But more on that later.

Esmenet parts were going between glory and pathetic tragicomedy. Her ability to hold the things together after the power vacuum caused by the long absence of Kellhus and the assassination of Maithanet -which she engineered- and how she ‘talks oil’ to control the imperial dignitaries and the Thousand Temples apparati is impressive, while her complete ignorance of her youngest son being a bloodthirsty, diabolical psycho makes it tragicomical.

Kelmomas is following the mysterious White Luck Warrior around the palace, as you follow him through the POV of Kelmomas, the inscrutable motives and inhuman qualities of the so-called divine assassin casts a strong aura of suspense and horror. White Luck Warrior is enigmatic and scary, following him from the eyes of a murderous little psycho brat and seeing his awe and fear for the inhuman assassin was a great deal of fun to read.

Some folk found the Great Ordeal marching parts unnecessarily long and dragging, but I beg to disagree. In the end of The White Luck Warrior, Kellhus gave the order to feed on the horribly tainted Sranc meat, and this brings a whole new macabre aspect to the already creepy plot enshrouded in Lovecraftian horror. I can’t say any more without wading into the spoiler territory, but it shall suffice to say these parts are grisly and haunting, spiced with battle action and savagery darker than the previous books.

There are some cool twists and turns, which I didn’t see coming even after reading all of the books. Kellhus became inscrutable and his parts through the POV of Proyas, as well as the very small POV of his own are so twisted and weird, it is hard to determine his motives at that point. Proyas is quite different from the one I know from the Prince of Nothing, he has sacrificed a lot and changed quite a bit.

But my favorite without question was the Ishterebinth chapters. The true extent of the doom and suffering of Nonmen is laid bare in a most tragic way. The emotional intensity rivals that of Robin Hobb books, and Sorweel’s deep understanding of the Nonmen -against whom he has been prejudiced for a lifetime due to his cultural conditioning- through a magical artifact, seeing their past through one of their own minds and being a witness from the point of view of two souls is incredibly sad, haunting and deep. Current condition of the last standing Nonman mansion, beautifully woven with flashbacks giving glimpses of its past glory is perhaps one of the most touching parts after Cleric’s reactions to Cil-Aujas in The Judging Eye.

All in all, The Great Ordeal is a superb book and sets the tensions for the upcoming Unholy Consult while resolving a good deal of threads and raising new ones.

I am not too happy about the fact that this whole series is so underrated despite its superior literary quality, impressive depth of characters and incredibly detailed and original worldbuilding. One thing I found truly mind-blowing is the whole series being pure epic fantasy without being derivative at all. Some core tropes of epic fantasy in fact exist, but you need to look long and hard to recognize any of it.

What can I say? I will be counting days until my pre-ordered copy of The Unholy Consult arrives on my e-reader!

Book Review: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish

Genre: Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery
Series: The Witcher
Author info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrzej_Sapkowski

This is the first book of the renowned Witcher series, which inspired the popular video games. I am a gamer but I never played Witcher cause it was never available on my console, and I didn’t want to crowd my life with another console just to play this game. Reading the book made me consider getting a Ps4 so I can play the glorious Witcher 3 on it.

The Last Wish is a collection of loosely connected short stories, which retell the familiar fairy tales with dark, gritty and bloody twists. I didn’t recognize all of them, but the ones I did recognize were quite twisted and great fun to read.

Many reviewers compared The Last Wish to pulp sword & sorcery classics like Robert Howard’s Conan and Michael Moorcock’s Elric books, and they are right on point. I haven’t read any Conan books yet, but I’ve read a few Elric books and it certainly has the old school pulpy sword and sorcery feel.

Geralt is quite an intriguing and charismatic character, he has legions of fans thanks to the video games, but also many that have read the books. If you head to deviantart and search for Geralt, you will find some fan art by incredibly talented artists. Geralt is a witcher, raised by the Witcher Guild who take kids at young age, erase their memories and mutate them with harsh elixirs, poisons and infections. They hunt monsters for a living, save the people from murderous creatures. Some towns treat them like vermin, some barely tolerate them cause of the job they do, few places show them respect.

Geralt’s friends, high priestess Nenneke and trubadour Dandilion are highly entertaining characters. Their bickering with Geralt is hilarious and adds a bit of good humor to the stories loaded with bloody, brutal fights, plenty of suspense and and hardcore action scenes. Some people find Dandilion annoying as hell but I liked him. He sort of reminded me of the Kender Tasslehoff from Dragonlance, minus the nasty thieving habit. Instead of thieving, he invites trouble with his big mouth and whines too much. He is also a womanizer who eyeballs every attractive female. Geralt eyeballs them too, but doesn’t make it too obvious and acts aloof.

Nenneke on the other hand, plays the nurturing yet snarky mother role for Geralt and patches him up whenever he gets too many cuts on his hide. She also gives hell to Geralt’s enemies who show up at the temple to plague him.

Queen Calanthe is another great supporting character and her banter with Geralt is highly entertaining. Yennefer, Geralt’s love interest I know from all the fan art I’ve seen around is also introduced in this book. She is as dysfunctional and goat-headed as Geralt, and a powerful sorceress with a mercenary personality. She is arrogant and coquettish, and has some hilarious as well as dramatic and violent scenes. I think there will be a lot of fun to be had in the next books featuring her.

I particularly liked the small towns, villages, pastoral settings and Slavic mythology elements. The balance of snarky humor, dark scenes and high-paced action is great. This book makes an excellent light reading material in between intense grimdark books. I am definitely going to read all the rest of them, Geralt pretty much sold me on the whole series.

Naturally the prose Polish friends spoke highly of and a quite a few  jokes got lost in translation, and there are a few rough edges here and there but it is a great read nonetheless.

I highly recommend this book to the fans of Sword and Sorcery, old school pulp fantasy, as well as people looking for settings that are different from medieval Western Europe (it’s Polish setting), ladies who are looking for a bad boy character to have a crush on, fans of fantasy with a bit of humor and hilarious bickering, and people who are looking for a nice light read after nightmare fuel grimdark books.

I sure as hell loved it!

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: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister
Genre: Fantasy/YA Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Book of the Ancestor
Author info:http://www.marklawrence.buzz/

Release date: April 4th 2017

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of Red Sister from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Warning: This book is going to leave you with severe withdrawal symptoms, but good news is Mark Lawrence is a prolific author and delivers the next books in the series like clockwork, judging from his established track record.

Red Sister completely blew my mind, bringing back the magic school environment I missed from Harry Potter and Kingkiller so much, with a kick and some serious action. It’s not only the magic but the teachers with all kinds of different personalities, friendships, bullies, assassination plots, mysteries, friends sneaking out and cooking up mischief, the whole package. But it’s dark, much darker than any book with magic schools.

Now, I’m a big fan of Mark Lawrence and I’ve read all of his books, but this one is quite different. It’s very much Mark’s style, but written in third person and I think that’s one major element making it different from the others which were all in first person. There is the amazing prose of Mark Lawrence, if you are not familiar with his previous work, let me give you an example from Red Sister:

She left nothing but an echo of her lantern light, soon consumed by a night so ancient that it never truly left such places.

And another:

I have been too young to know, and I have been too old to care. It’s in that oh so narrow slice between that memories are made. So enjoy it.

And my favorite of them all:

A long blade, thin, carrying a slight curve, its edge cruel enough to cut silence and make it scream.

Now if those won’t make you hit that buy button, I don’t know what will! For those who are not familiar, this is the typical Mark Lawrence prose. So beautiful, poetic and magical.

The story is heavily character driven, as Mark Lawrence’s other books, but with an awesome magic system to boot.

The main character, Nona, is the best female lead I have read in the fantasy genre along with Mara from the Empire trilogy. If you love Arya Stark, you will definitely love Nona. Even if you are no fan of Arya Stark, you will still love Nona, cause she is a no-nonsense girl, the kind of character everyone can root for.

Another thing worth mentioning is the friendships between the girls, something that was missing in the Harry Potter books and pretty much every fantasy book I have read except for the Wheel of Time. Friendships, loyalty and betrayal in Red Sister is so realistic, it took me back to the middle school and high school years.

Nona starts off as the bullied outcast but she turns out to be a serious badass who doesn’t take BS from anyone. She had no friends but one until she got sold to a child trader by her mother and village folk, and she values friendship a great deal. I found her reflections on friendship, and her relationship with her closest friends Clera and Hessa quite touching.

Hessa is disabled, left with a withered leg after an infectious disease. She is such a sweetheart and a smart cookie, also incredibly heroic, which made her one of my favorite supporting characters.

One thing I loved about Red Sister was how even the minor characters were fleshed out so well. The teachers all have their distinct personalities, and some of them reminded me of teachers I had in school back in the days of my youth. The classes were great fun to read, but my favorite was the martial training parts.

The magic system is quite original and intriguing as I mentioned. The migrants who populated this world had four tribes with different kinds of traits, and those of them with magic could wield the different sorts of magic powers depending on their bloodline. The tribes had to intermarry and mix their blood to survive the harsh conditions of this alien world. Children showing the traits of more than one bloodline are highly prized by the people who train them as fighters, assassins, battle nuns and what have you.

Another thing I loved was how Nona’s mysterious backstory slowly unfolded along with the mysteries of the strange world Abeth. The curiosity kept me turning the pages well into the wee hours. Last few chapters of the book are outstanding with superb action and plot twists.

Abeth is an alien world, but the characters being so realistic makes you forget that at times. It has its own rules, strange laws of nature, a dying sun and a falling moon, and is covered with glaciers except for the fifty mile corridor at its equator. There are mysterious remnants of an older and seemingly extinct civilization, I suspect we might find out more about it in the next book.

The fight scenes are quite original, though I can’t say much cause it would be a spoiler, but as someone who is easily bored of typical fighting scenes, I loved these since they are from a completely different perspective. Kind of like the special effects in movies, but the book version, which is something very difficult to do in writing. I think that was one of the things where you realize what a master wordsmith Mark Lawrence is.

Another thing I absolutely love about Red Sister is the lack of irritating love triangle cliches and the forced romance plots you see in the overwhelming majority of YA books and coming of age storylines. No sir, no romance here, and no love triangles. These girls literally kick arse left and right and have serious things to worry about, and Red Sister gets the big bonus points from me for the awesome political intrigue with the female villains having motivations stemming from political ambitions not involving shallow romance drama.

There is another kickass thing here which I can’t mention cause it would be a spoiler, but it should suffice to say I enjoyed reading -with a huge grin in my face- how Mark Lawrence upended some of the most annoying coming-of-age cliches and showed the real girl power here.

My other favorite supporting character was Abbess Glass, who is a snarky and sharp-witted middle aged female character. This sort of character is so rare in fantasy -at least the books I’ve read so far. She reminded me of Olenna Tyrell from A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones and queen Alica Kendeth from Red Queen’s War, she’s awesome like them. I have a feeling she will do serious damage in the next book.

And the ending… Gods above, what an ending that was! I really, really hope this series becomes a mainstream hit and they make movies or TV series of it, cause this story with its superb action scenes would be so great to see on the screen.

I highly recommend this book if you are looking for a superb fantasy novel featuring amazing characters -especially female characters!- an awesome magic system, great plot twists, killer action, political intrigue, sans the annoying love triangles and tired cliches. Such a great book with a fresh new perspective and impressive depth.

I really don’t have time to re-read books with my rather massive TBR, but I put this in my re-read list cause it’s the special kind of great. I have to thank Mark Lawrence for bringing back my youth with such a mind-blowing magnificent story.

Luckily I have such a massive TBR, or else it would be painful to wait for the next book, which I know will be even better judging from Mark’s established track record.

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.