The Darkness That Comes Before Mass Market Paperback – Apr 13 2004
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The Darkness That Comes Before is R. Scott Bakker's first novel, the beginning of a large-scale, swords and magic fantasy trilogy. It's a book with historical depth by an author as interested in exploring the philosophy of his world as its violent, conflicted politics. The novel begins a bit slowly as we're introduced to the characters and the world they live in. There's Kellhus, a warrior-monk from a city hidden away for 2000 years, and Achamian, a sorcerer and spy from the Mandate school, whose members all have recurring nightmares of an ancient war. There's an emperor who longs for godhood, a barbarian warlord, and assorted other schemers. And lingering in the background is something truly evil.
When a newly arisen leader declares Holy War, the story brings everyone together. From that moment, the narrative takes off, and Bakker's prose carries the story right along. There's a fair amount of graphic violence, broken up by occasional flashes of humour. Bakker is working a combination that's currently also being explored by Steven Erikson and Sean McMullen: big fantasy worlds with long, deep histories, and characters who can think as well as act. It's a potent mix that elevates The Darkness That Comes Before well above most of its competition and bodes well for the rest of the series. --Greg L. Johnson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Canadian author Bakker's impressive, challenging debut, the first of a trilogy, should please those weary of formulaic epic fantasy. Bakker's utterly foreign world, Eärwa, is as complex as that of Tolkien, to whom he is, arguably, a worthier successor than such established names as David Eddings and Stephen Donaldson. Bakker creates an extraordinary cast of nationalities and races involved in an enormous holy war set off by an unseen prophet, Maithanet. (Appendices help keep the history and personalities straight.) He casually drops for half the story an increasingly important character, Anasûrimbor Kellhus (aka "the Prince of Nothing"), who finally returns without a breath of exposition. The amiable and wise sorcerer spy Drusas Achamian binds the myriad narrative threads together. Drusas's love for Esmenet, a too-experienced prostitute, provides some tenderness amid the abundant slaughter. In the book's most harrowing scene, which fans of gentler fantasy will find too graphic, Esmenet is raped by a creature who, despite its human appearance, is likely demonic. If this ambitious novel lacks the beauty of Tolkien as well as the sense of pure evil that suffused Middle-earth with genuine terror, its willingness to take chances and avoid the usual genre clichés should win many discriminating readers.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Another extremely satisfying aspect of this novel is that Bakker attempts to show all characters and all sides equally. You get an impression of every single character's understanding of what is going on around them, allowing a detailed construction of the overarching story line, without feeling partial to anyone necessarily. His language can become sheer poetry at times, his conversations are realistic, all of his characters are desperately trying to hide their flaws and come out on the winning side of an argument.
Overall, a fantastically constructed, well thought-out novel, which deserves much attention. I will definitely be reading the other two books in this series.
All of the usual superlatives apply. Simply put, TDTCB is incredible, and any fan of epic or high fantasy should already have it on order. Bakker is an expert craftsman...his world is rich and believable, the characters godlike, and the plot constantly engaging and in motion. Toss in the requisite humor, flawed leads, sex and betrayal, and a true gem emerges from the fantasy morass.
Brief plot summary annotated from the book sleeve: Two thousand years have passed since Mog-Pharau, the No-God, last walked among Men. Now the Shriah of the Thousand Temples has declared Holy War, and untold thousands gather, determined to wrest Shimeh, the Holy City of the Latter Prophet, from the hands of their heathen kin. Among them, one man stands apart, a man who uses redemption to deceive, and passion to elevate and enslave... Anasurimbor Kellhus. Two couples, a barbarian chieftain and his concubine, a sorcerer and his harlot lover, share his trials and tribulations, each compelled by what they think they see: the possibility vengeance, the promise of redemption, the threat of apocalypse, or the hope of escape. As the violent fortunes of the Holy War transform Kellhus into an all-conquering prophet, they finally begin to ask: What is he really?
References have been made to Tolkein, but this novel is far more postmodern and machiavellian than LoTR.Read more ›
It breaks the mold of regular fantasy books, bringing a more dark and mature tone to it. One of the best descriptions I've read of it was "Dune meets Lord of the Rings", and I found it evocative of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon too.
The baseline for the story borrows heavily from Christian history and mythology, but it's not a catechizing book at all (i.e. Narnia series). I was kinda bothered by it at first, thinking it a lack of creativity, but as the book unfolds the parallels make for some very good reflections about Christianity as a sect, and faith in general.It is likely to please agnostics more than religious readers, I'd say.
Overall, I largely enjoyed the whole series, but it definitely has ups and downs, losing pace in many parts of the narrative in the two last books. I also got the impression that the ending was a bit rushed, as if the author had lingered too long during the core of the story, and found himself out of pages to finish the book. The ending is very "movie-like", by leaving a hook for sequels, but it does offer a conclusion for the story.
Overall, a very enjoyable read, very fresh and original, and definitely thrilling at some points. A worthy read if you're into fantasy but is looking for something more gritty and mature.
Most recent customer reviews
If you love philosophy and fantasy, you'll love this. I personally rank this among George RR Martin Song of Ice and Fire and Frank Hebert's Dune Series. Amazing twists. Read morePublished 2 months ago by CJ
Simply the best fantasy novel of our time. Grim, philosophical, and relentlessly paced. If you want swords-and-sorcery pulp, go buy Game of Thrones. Read morePublished 8 months ago by CthulhuChild
I am a seriously avid and persistent reader. I thoroughly dislike cliche fantasy novels, and have been enjoying the fresh breeze that authors like GRR Martin, Scott Lynch, Joe... Read morePublished on April 18 2012 by Melika
For those of you finding yourself growing out of the 90's Fantasy of Wheel of Time and looking for a more modern character driven story... STOP LOOKING. Read morePublished on April 29 2011 by Cal 0_o
A great starting fantasy book "The Darkness That Comes Before" is in my opinion a strong hard fantasy. Read morePublished on July 26 2008 by Ali Siddiqui
As an avid fantasy reader I have enjoyed my way through R.A. Salvatore and his adventures with Drizzt as well as his ancillary novels; Robert Jordans Wheel of Time Series, Terry... Read morePublished on Aug. 9 2007 by Drizzt 39
I enjoyed this. A warning to potential readers though: It's slow paced. But not boring! It's just that being about holy war, the subject matter's pretty heavy (especially in volume... Read morePublished on Sept. 4 2006 by Barxrockingm
A fantasy account of a crusade. Two stars for at least some interesting ideas and the odd exciting battle scene. However, there are major problems with this book... Read morePublished on Feb. 22 2006
I've never really been one for fantasy, but after reading about this on Amazon.ca's site, I picked it up and was thoroughly blown away by the intrinsic philosophies and... Read morePublished on Jan. 11 2005 by Don Eglinski