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on February 22, 2006
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...
It’s hard to find a character to like; I finished the book unable to think of a character I would be sorry to see the end of. All very well writing flawed characters but if the reader despises them the effect is lost.
The names are ridiculous; inventing memorable monikers for fantasy characters can’t be easy, but the author seems to have found an Ottoman baby-naming book and put it straight to work. The hard-man barbarian character is called Nya, but obviously this wasn’t tough enough, so it becomes “Cnaiur”. The (anti?) hero is called Kellhus, a terrible pun on “callous” presumably, because he certainly is exactly that. The languages are myriad, and require the ludicrous plot device of the hero being able to learn and become fluent in any language within 48 hours of talking to any single native speaker. Speaking of ludicrous plot devices: sorcery is astonishingly powerful and horribly unbalancing (sorcerors can fly, can level armies by muttering a few words, etc.) and so the balance is crudely restored by providing everyone else of importance with trinkets that make them invulnerable and that kill sorcerors upon contact. The heroes are all-conquering; when pursued by 68 mounted, armored men with bows, the two heroes (on foot, accompanied by helpless woman) have to stop and consider whether to try and slaughter them or not. One of the heroes can “pluck a [thrown] javelin from the air as if it were a plum”. Convenient, definitely, but if you can read past a line like that you’ve certainly suspended not only disbelief but any higher brain activity, too. The same hero is effectively also a mind-reader and capable of twisting anyone’s will to his own ends, which rather leads to a sense of inevitability about any encounter he has.
There is a strong vein of misogyny running through the book; there are just three female characters (of a huge cast), two are prostitutes and the other is described as such by her own son. Two are repeatedly raped and abused and are essentially helpless to prevent their fate. One of the main characters is the villain here; the other watches without acting (see what I mean about finding it hard to like the characters?). All sex scenes seem to betray a phallic obsession on the part of the author, so if you like to read vivid descriptions of the male member and its employment in the humiliation of women, this might be just the book for you.
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on January 28, 2004
I really wanted to like this book. I didn't dislike it, but it never got to me. It had a tendency to meander aimlessly, which covered up the overall nice plot. Maybe this book will rate higher after the second book comes out and fills in the gaps, but for right now, 3 stars is max.
Bakker tries to be George Martin in terms of setting up political intrigue---he fails at that, but the one thing he did succeed was creating the Emperor and the Emperor's mother and nephew--priceless characters.
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on April 18, 2012
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 Abercrombie, and Steven Erickson have been bringing into this genre. So when I was struggling to survive until the next installments of Lynch's GBs and Martin's SoIF, I came across this book. The reviews seemed to suggest this was deep in philosophy and rich with language. I love philosophy and I enjoy rich texts, so i picked it up. about 130 pages in and I felt like a deflated balloon. the word "disappointment" doesn't do this book justice.
The first reading (yep, i gave this book a second chance) was exhaustive not because of the rich text, but because I could not convince myself to flip the page. I knew there'd be just more of the same: nothing. i guess that explains the title of the trilogy: the prince of nothing...because this is the book that leaves you feeling nothing. Nothing for the plot, the characters, the story, the world. ah! how I suffered. Still I pushed it aside and gave it a second chance 2 months later.

You know that phrase "most things are better the second time around!"? well, that doesn't apply here.

Here are a list of the problems with this book:

- the narration is very detached. Even 1000s of years ago, when people told stories around the fire at night, they knew to engage their audience. well, clearly our engagement is not sought after by Bakker. he just goes on and on and we are left to interest ourselves by clinging on to some non-existing thread of amusement in the storyline. Furthermore, sometimes I couldn't even begin to visualize the scene because Bakker hadn't provided enough info. It was like the scene was evolving in some kind of chaulk sketch instead of a painted canvas.

- there is no catharsis. the pessimism and misery just piles on.

- theres no humour!!!!Bakker has obviously overlooked this critical element. Martin managed to pull humour out of his darkest, most disgusting characters. Even Abercrombie, with that horrifically pessimistic storyline in his First Law trilogy, managed to incorporate humour into his story. This element makes characters all the more human and multidimensional because in order to have a sense of humour one must have emotions and must feel. but Bakker's characters are sorely lacking this and his storyline is too serious and thereby, self-destructive.

- as a continuation of the previous point, whereas other successful authors have shown at least some of their characters to be like spice palettes of personality, Bakker's characters are very much one dimensional and bland. Therefore, they are unrelatable, and not quite human. They could easily be machines. in fact, this storyline would work better if Bakker just told us they were machines, because then we would have some justification for this clear absence of personality and complexity.

- ah...where is the philosophy in this book?

- why are the handful of female characters in this book all prostitutes? Some reviewers have related this to the author's perception of women, but I think its more telling of his weakness in writing women. He clearly has difficulty developing female characters that do not display utterly whorish personalities. i.e. he cannot untangle the complexity of a woman's mind without resorting to her sexuality. this is very bad for a writer!

- much - too much- is openly borrowed from the real world. Now, Martin did the same thing with the War of the Roses, but he made the story his own to the extent that I was not reminded of the basis of the story as I was reading. With Bakker though, I was reminded of it at every other syllable!

- rich text? perhaps, but I prefer to describe the richness of this book with a cake metaphor. Triple chocolate cake is delicious and rich, but if you put a layer of melted extra sweet white chocolate over a slice of this cake, it'll be too rich to eat and you might have cardiovascular problems before you finish eating it; there is a point when rich becomes poor, and in the realm of fantasy, this book is that point.

I would not recommend this book to anyone. it is highly overrated. Expect to stumble all the way to the end... if you get there.
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on June 14, 2004
Bakker's work is a gem. He inhabits characters as disparate as a prostitute, a warrior, an emperor, and sorcerer with intense abandon. His plot is rife with philosophical surmisings; he wisely uses these surmisings to propel events, rather than merely comment on them. His prose is poetic: "She stared numbly at things and people: at a cracked amphora bleeding oil across a vendor's mat; at young Galeoth slave girls negotiating the masses with downcast eyes and woven baskets of grain perched upon their heads; at a haggard dog, alert and peering through thickets of scissoring legs...".
Perhaps my only critcisms are the indulgences he enters into with sex. Bakker's sexual scenes read as intensely as anything else he writes, but sex tends to be an intense act within itself, and needs less of his conjoined and vivid adjectives. However, this criticism of mine is highly subjective; there is no accounting for taste.
Another minor flaw is Bakker's victimization of his own success--he moves so deftly from character to character it's a flagellation to have to leave one for another. Similar experiences occur when reading George R. R. Martin. Although I wasn't quite as involved with Bakker's characters as Martin's (Bakker's myriad names and proper nouns can be even more daunting than Martin's, as Bakker's are more exotic), I find the epic quality of Bakker's multiple viewpoints a delicious punishment. In short, his characterizations and political intrigues are entirely convincing--if not as emotionally moving as Martin's, they are still beautifully rendered, encapsulated in philosophical penetrations that rend more deeply than anything in fantasy literature.
As a writer of fantasy and professional reviewer of literature, I recommend Bakker wholeheartedly. I have a distaste for extreme statements, but on the subject of Bakker, extreme statements flood from my pen: this is an author with genius. I wish I had written The Darkness That Comes Before.
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on August 31, 2004
Normally I do not read fantasy books, but I ran across this book in my public library and decided to try it. I absolutely loved it and couldn't put it down! As a mother of a 3 month old, it has to be a really good book for me to read the entire thing b/c time is so precious to me! This book is close to 600 pages, but it was so good that it was an absolute pleasure to read! Can't wait to read book 2.
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on October 6, 2003
Not a bad book, but doesn't live up to the hype if you know your history. Bakker is essentially rewriting the First Crusade in a fantasy setting. It was where his book departed from history (with his different colleges of magic) that I found the book more interesting.
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on August 9, 2007
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 Goodkind's Sword of truth novels and most recently the unbelievably talented George RR Martins A Game of Thrones books. While at times each writer has bogged down and gone off on tangents or into story arcs that I disliked, I have for the most part enjoyed their talent, writing skills and storytelling.

After finishing with the last Martin book, I looked on the internet for some advice as to whom to read next and like an earlier reviewer on this page I came across Bakker and his series. Having received a glowing review like some given here, I went out and purchased his book. Let me say for that the first time in years and I do mean years I have given up on a book and refused to finish reading it. This book is terrible. Bakker's writing is excessively flowery, characters and story arcs appear to come and go in random manners and simply put, much of his writing makes absolutely no sense. After trying 10 or 11 times to read more then 10 pages without falling asleep I finally gave up. Worst yet, I had been given a gift card to the book store and I bought all three of this novels in this series thinking that I would for sure enjoy them as I have yet to come across a fantasy author who didn't peak my interest. For those of you contemplating a purchase you've been warned "caveat emptor".
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on December 7, 2003
Mr. Bakker's debut fantasy is, in a word, disappointing. The story is a rather bland one, and you cannot really feel for the characters as much as you should in fantasy novels. This book is also very hard to sit down and read. Bakker's prose is extremely clunky (almost to the point that it is impenetrably poetic) and difficult to follow coherantly. Your best bet is to borrow the book from a library, or from a friend who was stupid enough to buy it.
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