Friday, April 21, 2006

The Prince of Nothing Trilogy by R. Scott Bakker

The Prince of Nothing trilogy stands apart as the single best completed fantasy series that I have read to date. Many will cry foul – “How could you dismiss the Lord of the Rings, the holy trilogy?” And many others will cry – what about Erikson and Martin (or even, what about Jordan and Goodkind *shudders the thought of Goodkind*)? Of course the caveat is the word completed, but all semantics aside; this is a superb work of speculative fiction.

The players of the story are rather familiar – a doubting sorcerer, a great warrior from a warlike people, a trodden-upon woman, and a mysterious, all-powerful, and charismatic leader. The world and its people are also nothing strikingly new – a pre-industrial world with European overtones, pale people of the north, darker skinned of the south, clashes in the desert, religious intolerance and wars. The characters are real, the battles epic, the sorcery powerful; and the beauty is what Bakker does with these elements. He creates a compelling story, that while using familiar pieces, builds into something new, something better.

On the surface, the Prince of Nothing is the history of a vast holy war, a clash of cultures and religions, and the ominous anticipation of a greater conflict, a true apocalypse. However, Bakker uses these as vehicles to do much more than merely entertain with a gripping narrative; he challenges the reader about good, evil, perception, manipulation, culture, gender, equality, and religion.

The heart of the story is a holy war, a crusade, a jihad. The condemnation of religious fanaticism, and perhaps even religion itself, is clear – or is it. Religion is just another tool Bakker uses to show us the true object of his ire: certainty. When people become certain in their actions and beliefs, there is no room for anything, or anyone else. Absolute ideas and beliefs result in absolute decisions, reactions, and solutions. The ultimate result of such certainty is horror – absolute horror. Bakker shows us this lesson through his distinct brand of looking glass.

The weighty themes discussed above may serve to scare off many a reader – don’t let them. The powerful tale is not sacrificed for a message, but enhanced. Certainty is there, in your face, challenging the whole time; but it is not heavy handed. In the end, the message is clear, but never didactic, always an element of the story. The Prince of Nothing is a great work of epic fantasy, of speculative fiction, of literature. A must read for traditional genre fans, but it also will appeal to fans disenfranchised by the genre, and fans from outside of genre.

The conclusion of the trilogy brings us to a horrifically appropriate end, but does not yield ultimate closure. While some may be less than pleased by this, I revel in the knowledge of more to come. We’ve seen the Holy War, next is the Second Apocalypse – The Aspect Emperor, a planned duology. I’ve not rated a series before, but I think it appropriate to do so – on my 10-point scale, where 5 and below are not recommended, and 10 is simply unsurpassed, the Prince of Nothing gets a 9; they don’t get any higher than that.


Holly said...

OK Ken, you've convinced me to give this series another try! I bought the first book when it first came out due to all the talk on OF, but I never finished it. After my 2nd re-read of The Bonehunters I'm suffering from post-Erikson emptiness; perhaps Bakker is just what I need.

BTW I'm really enjoying your blog. Thanks!

Neth said...

Bakker is certainly a different writer than Erikson, but as I've said, I'm on the Bakker bandwagon now (I've been on the Erikson bandwagon for some time now). I hope you enjoy it.

Glad you like the blog, it's nice to 'hear'.

Anonymous said...

Agter reading Bakker, you realize how pointless writers like George R R Martin are. Sure, Martin tells an interesting story, but there is no point to his Song of Ice and Fire series. It's like Quantam Leap, or any other TV show where the writer just tries to draw out the show as long as possible. Each chapter in Martin's series really has no relevance to the main plot, and what exactly is the main plot: that stuff gets resolved...if you think about it, it's lame.
Bakker, on the other hand writes a series that actually makes the reader think. You take an active role in interpreting the events. Every scene in the series adds to the development of the characters. Just as Neth Space says that you have to read it as a series, only then do you appreciate the complex development of the characters. The Prince of Nothing Series is one of the greatest pieces of fiction I have read this century.

Neth said...

Anon -

Wow, I'm not sure I'd go quite as far you have - there is certainly value in entertainment as well - and Martin fans would lynch you for such a statement.

Anyway - Bakker is good, and I can't think of a better completed series.


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