The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker
|Book Name:||The Darkness That Comes Before|
|Author:||R. Scott Bakker|
|Publisher(s):||Overlook Books (US) Overlook Press (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook|
|Release Date:||June 3, 2004 (US) June 1, 2004 (UK)|
In The Darkness That Comes Before, R. Scott Bakker (in a style reminiscent of Steven Eriksson’s Malazan series) presents us with a vast world that is undeniably epic in scope and proceeds to thrusts our heads into its mind-numbing magnitude with abandon. The scope is wide, the details complex, the characters numerous, and each of these aspects contribute greatly to its sense of scale. This having been said, the narrative retains focus, with a few ‘core’ characters coming to prominence that dominate the course of the plot in a book that refuses to get lost in its own world-building. What results is a very engaging first part of what looks to be a promising trilogy.
The book is split into four separate parts with a fifth section working to bring all the introduced plot threads into a symbiotic conclusion. This well thought-out structuring of the narrative serves to focus on different aspects of the story one at a time rather than getting lost in a jumble of different narratives from the off. It works and was certainly necessary to hold the reader’s attention in a novel so dense. The beginning of a novel is key to grabbing the mind of a book lover and Bakker wisely opens up his story with an intensely intriguing prologue before pulling us into the life and times of Drusas Achamian. Achamian’s initial chapters start to slowly introduce us to the world. To its magic, it’s history, and it’s dark contemporary society. This is a harsh land and the grimness of the book is only just getting started.
However it is at the second section where the novel almost lost me. I was honestly on the verge of setting the book to one side and never picking it up again, preparing my thoughts on the message I would send my fellow Fantasy Faction contributors legitimising my dismissal of the series. It was here where Bakker started to get bogged down in his alien verbiage. So many words, so many names, so many factions. It didn’t help that I thought his writing to be rather weak at this point as well (which he thankfully improved upon not too long afterwards). It was ultimately a small period in the book which became a convalescence of too many poor things happening at once. It didn’t last long but it was almost enough to put me off entirely. I suppose it was his constant referral to different names, and factions, and magic schools, and ranks that actually managed to get all the necessary information I required stuck in my head. So by the point of page 500, when he’s throwing all these words around left, right, and centre with wilful intemperance, I could understand everything he was saying. It is difficult. Very difficult. But it is worth pushing through.
The third section focused on Esmanet, a character previously visited in Achamian’s earlier section. The two characters are essential for each other’s storyline, and so it is inevitable that Achamian makes a return in this part. This helped to ground the reader in the ‘known’ after the rather complex second part. Esmanet’s story is one of the problems I had with the book. There are only two female characters in Darkness (Esmanet and Serwe) and each are stuck in sexualised positions in their society where what’s under their skirt is more valuable to people then what’s in their heads. I understand that this is a dark world and that both characters are forced into these lives (and Bakker also serves to create more equality on an intellectual level later on) but it did harm my enjoyment of the book when all the male characters have prominent positions in authority, intelligence, war, and the women are relegated to the status of sex slaves.
The fourth part of the story is where the book excels with the re-introduction of Anasurimbor Kellhus (who has been absent since the prologue) and the exploration into the life of Cnaiur ur Skiotha. These two engage in a journey to find and kill Kellhus’ father who is seen as a Pariah in Kellhus’ eyes and a traitor in Cnaiur’s. But not is all as it seems, and Kellhus’s masterfully manipulative character makes his motives and actions questionable. The character dynamic between these two was excellent, with constant philosophical and psychological disputes being waged between them. They are both intensely strong-willed and Cnaiur in particular is as stubborn as a bull. It makes for some exciting conversations and tense standoffs. I can attribute my love for this book to this section as it was a thoroughly interesting and engaging ride from beginning to end.
In the final section, all of our characters come together for the beginning of a Holy War which seems set to take the world by storm. All plots and arc’s come to a head and answers are given when other questions are asked. It all surmounts to a rather satisfying finale that delves deeply into the politics of warfare and an analysis into cultural divides. The central plot of this novel, which interests itself mainly in the introduction of the threat of the Unholy Consult and the genesis of the Holy War, is resolved and a sense of a cliff-hanger is teased as the machinations of this story are truly set into motion in the final pages of the book.
The Darkness that Comes Before is a wonderfully ambitious work steeped in detail and exquisite world-building and inhabited by dark and intriguing characters. Definitely one to read for those interested in the grim, complex, and thoughtful. Highly recommended.