The Darkness That Comes Before- R. Scott Bakker


I’m going to admit a few things up front here.

First, I didn’t finish The Darkness That Comes Before. I got about three quarters in before saying “No, R. Scott Bakker. No, I don’t want to read your gritty faux-biblical fantasy historical novel any more”. It may very well be that every criticism I’m about to lob at this book is shown to be misguided in the pages I skipped, but I very much doubt it.

Second, this isn’t really going to be a proper review, partially because a proper review would go something like “it could have been good but it’s not, don’t fucking read it” and partially because I don’t think it deserves that much effort on my part. Also spoilers.

The world of EarwigEärwa is in something of a bad state. 2000 years ago the incredibly metal-sounding First Apocalypse ravaged the land, loosing armies of OrcsSranc and bowel-shredding pestilence and other assorted nastiness on the planet. The Three Seas are now ruled by factions of wizards, warriors and priests who fight among themselves in wars covert, barbaric and Holy. Only the Mandate, a school of magi whose members dream every night of their founder’s struggles and death during the Apocalypse, stand apart from the earthly concerns of the other factions and instead hunt for the Consult, the minions of the No-God who they believe are trying to bring about a Second Apocalypse. But the Consult haven’t been seen in over 1000 years, and the Mandate’s quest is viewed as a joke by the other factions. When the spiritual leader of the Thousand Temples declares a Holy War to retake the city of Shimeh an agent of the Mandate discovers possible evidence of Consult involvement behind the war and sets out to uncover the conspiracy. Many other players are pulled into the Holy War for their own ends, creating a complex interplay of politics, religion and personal vandettas with Shimeh at it’s center.

I’m going to spend a long throwing rocks at this book so let’s get the good out of the way first. Riffing on biblical times instead of Tolkien or Arthurian legend or whatever makes for a fairly unique and interesting setting. Bakker is pretty good at creating an evocative world without spending a lot of time on overt description (note that I said description, not world building- there’s more than enough of that to go around, as we’ll see) and the Three Seas at its best reminded me a lot of China Mieville’s Bas-Lag in terms of sprawling hive-like cities and vast political entities that the reader only ever catches a glimpse of. There’s a fairly big chunk of the book following a war and the associated political maneuverings of a Roman Empire-esque civilization that actually made me think the book was going to be pretty good. Bakker takes a sort of historical novel approach of jumping around the viewpoints of various important players in the conflict and manages to whip up some fairly gripping battle sequences and political intrigue, even if it does occasionally lapse into rich assholes standing around saying “ah yes, but have you considered this political maneuver?” or “but surely you jest!!!!!”. At times I felt like I was reading Death Note after it had really gone off the rails. But still. Fairly good stuff. If the book had just been about that I probably would have given it a thumbs up.

Unfortunately this turns out to only be a 100+ page diversion sandwiched between tedious bullshit on one side and disgusting tedious bullshit on the other. Where do I even start with this?

[Note: several people in the comments have pointed out that my assessment of the Islamophobic themes in the book are probably based on an incorrect interpretation of certain plot elements. As such I recognize that the following paragraph isn’t a valid criticism]

First of all,Bakker, when you want to write disparaging things about Muslims you should maybe think about making it a little less obvious. We’ve got a faction of intensely religious zealots who refer to their deity as “the God“, gather in their thousands in white open plazas to be whipped into pious fury by the proclamations of bearded spiritual leaders in the name of waging war to retake an occupied holy city which is linked heavily to the life of one of the religion’s prophets. Subtle. Oh, and they’re actually being partially manipulated into this by what are essentially the forces of Satan. To be fair the metaphor isn’t absolute, the holy city of Shimeh isn’t being occupied by anything resembling the state of Isreal- instead it’s being occupied by scary black people who love murdering white people. Hm.

In fact white people- or more specifically Aryan people- get something of a raw deal in Bakker’s fantasy world. Take for example the Scylvendi, vaguely Mongolian-ish (but not, as far as I can tell, actually Asian looking at all) nomadic warrior types who love taking slaves. Particularly blonde-haired, blue eyed slaves! This is reiterated several times over the course of the novel when a certain character I’ll talk about later gets himself capture by Scylvendi.

Let’s take a little detour to talk about Bakker’s writing. “Incoherent” would be a good way to describe it. It aims for weighty and magisterial and frequently just ends up not making a whole lot of sense. Mr Bakker, please take the stand and explain why you shouldn’t be thrown into Writer Jail. Could you please explain to the assembled men and women of the blogojury what exactly “a calligraphy of cries” sounds like or what “A curious halfness deadened the man” is supposed to mean. Really, Mr. Bakker? “Halfness”? I’m now going to read some quotes. Those of you with a sensitive disposition may want to cover your ears.

“The bright eyes of Anasurimbor Celmonas II, White Lord of Tryse, High King of Kunuiri, went blank. And with them, the evening faltered, plunging the bronze-armored glory of the Norsirai into twilight.”


Everything was so agonizingly tight, as though the flesh of the world had been dried taut across the gaps between bone: the net against the stone, the grid of shadows cast over the hollows, the watery beads cupped between the flex of tendons in his hands- so clear! And within this tightness, the sensation of inner blooming, of the collapse of seeing into being, as though his eyes had been wrung into the very heart of things. From the surface of the stone he could see himself, a dark child towering across the disc of the sun

[Bakker appears to have a certain obsession with things being outlined against the disc of the sun]


“[the name of the Thousand Temples leader] meaning would be unknown to you. Mai’tatana is Thoti-Eannorean, the language of the tusk.”


He possessed, Esmenet thought, the attractive vulnerability of young men in the shadow of the world’s bitter hammers.


Every great faith was a labyrinth possessed of innumerable small grottoes, half-secret places where the abstractions fells away and where the objects of worship became small enough to comfort daily anxieties , familiar enough to weep openly about petty things. Inrau had found his grotto in the shrine of Onkis, the Singer-In-The-Dark, the Aspect who stood at the heart of all men, moving them to forever grasp far more than they could hold.

This writing has all the hallmarks of an author operating under the mistaken belief that complicated prose is the same as quality prose. It’s all window dressing, communicating nothing except that the author isn’t nearly as intelligent as he thinks he is. There’s also a heavy propensity for repetition here- prepare to have the phrase “perfumed eunuchs” tattooed onto your cerebral cortex after reading this book. And the world-building. The constant, never-ending world building. Within the first 50 pages you’ll be lost if you can’t learn to differentiate your Trinkets from your Choraes or divine how the Scarlet Spires and the Mandate differ from each other and the other Schoolhouses, what the Imperial Saik is and why Emperor Xerius of the Nansurium must take steps to avoid Shrial Censure during his manipulations of the Holy War.

I’ve written before about the trend toward “gritty” fantasy, often described derisively as grimdark because to many critics it represents a genre that isn’t so much growing up as going through a particularly obnoxious adolescence, with characters and stories seemingly designed to make Uncle Tolkien turn in his grave more than anything else. Bakker has earned a reputation as being something of an innovator in this field, and with good cause- the world he’s created here is almost unrelentingly dour and slimy, regularly visiting all quarters of the grimdark spectrum. If women and children aren’t being cut down in pointless wars then people are shitting in chamber pots and traipsing through alleyways filled with maggoty fish and intestines. Slaves are castrated and have their eyes put out off-screen, wives are raped and beaten, children are barely ever brought up without reference to them being savagely whipped by their parents. I have to wonder why people fall over themselves to praise this sort of writing as bold and genre-defying when a writer of contemporary fiction who repeatedly described characters recalling their abusive upbringing while having explosive diarrhea next a slaughterhouse effluent pipe  would probably not receive critical acclaim simply for being disgusting.

It goes well beyond grossness, though. Grimdark is woven into the very fabric of the story, down to the particular viewpoint characters Bakker chooses. We spend chapter and chapters in the heads of monomaniacal emperors who torture their servants at the drop of a hat and monomaniacal generals who torture their enemies at the drop of a hat and monomaniacal tribal leaders who torture their slaves at the drop of a hat and monomaniacal warrior-monks who interact with people only as far as they’re useful before leaving them to die at the drop of a hat. The screaming apex of this is Cnaiür urs Skiötha, a Conan the Barbarian rip off who is at one point betrayed by his clan and left for dead. In retaliation he tracks down the man who usurped him and slaughters his children. Just straight-up murders them all horribly and painfully, at one point throwing the fingers of a young boy at the tent of his adversary to lure him out into the open. I’m sure Bakker’s defenders will point to the numerous passages in the book describing this character as “insane” and monstrous, but while the characters may recognize he’s an evil bastard, the novel itself doesn’t seem to as we’re clearly supposed to still care on some level about Cnaiür and be interested in what happens to him, even though after reading about him impaling a little girl on the end of his sword all I wanted to read about was him getting drop-kicked off the edge of a cliff. I might as well say now that this character is what ended up killing the book for me- there’s a scene where he bests several rival Conan knock-offs in a fight and then takes one of the women they had been intent on enslaving as his prize. One of the other women, who he frees (don’t worry, we’re assured they won’t last long before meeting their untimely deaths) starts to hurl abuse at his new plaything. This is how Cnaiür The Barbarian responds:

He nocked and loosed an arrow in one effortless motion.

The shaft caught the noblewoman in the mouth, shattering teeth and embedding itself in the moist hollows of her throat. She fell forward like a doll, thrashed amid grasses and goldenrods.

At which point I said “fuck you and your edgy bullshit, I’m not reading another page of this”. I am sure that Bakker will cry fowl at this point, insisting that he wallows in hideous violence only to highlight the tragic plight of the disenfranchised like women (more on that in a bit) in his world, but why then are we so consistently placed into the viewpoint of the perpetrators of this violence? If someone wrote a book they insisted was about the plight of Jews during World War II and yet focused almost entirely on the inner thoughts and feelings of Nazi officers, their hopes and fears and the events that had shaped them, while actual Jewish characters were one-dimensional non-entities who showed up from time to time to be horrifically slaughtered in graphic detail, wouldn’t the reader be justified in wondering where the author’s actual interest lay?

Skilled writers can often make unpleasant or even evil characters interesting and sympathetic, but there’s a line. Bakker sails blithely across it and then expects us to follow him, something I was unwilling to to do. You can say that makes me a prude if you want, but I prefer to see it as an unwillingness to tolerate juvenile nonsense in the fiction I consume.

How else does Bakker plumb the fiction mines for premium grade Grit? Naturally women are involved, because if there’s one thing Serious Fantasy authors love to do it’s degrade women in their fiction. This is very much a man’s world Bakker has made, where people of all cultures and nations equate weakness with being “womanish” and women are inferior, filthy whores to be possessed and cast aside when one is done with them. Of the women or female-identified mythological beings who appear in the book it took more than 280 or so pages- more than half the novel- to encounter one who wasn’t literally a “whore” (Bakker’s word, not mine), figuratively a whore in the cosmology of the world, or degraded by being referred to or compared to a whore. It’s just wall-to-wall whores, “whoreish manners”, women “acting like whores” or being called whores for annoying the male protagonists. The fact that the sole female viewpoint character in the book is a prostitute really makes me wonder just what Bakker’s obsession with this particular concept is. Oh and needless to say, rape is involved, because rape is the easy go-to solution for an author who wants to make his world gritty and real.

Last of all I want to talk about Kellhus, who from what I can gather is actually the main character of this thing despite not appearing all that much. He’s part of a vulcan-like sect of reclusive monks who operate on pure reason and follow a philosophy that allows them to instinctively read the facial expressions of other people to work out their thoughts and motivations. Somehow this also makes them super badass fighters able to pluck arrows from mid air and kill scores of people single-handed (hello, obvious nerd power fantasy). Their whole shtick is analyzing the culture of anyone they meet and then coming up with revolutionary-sounding guru-like proclamations that will win them devout converts that they then use to further their own, usually highly amoral aims. Unfortunately the things Kellhus actually comes out with through the course of the book are either trite, obvious notions that any reasonably intelligent member of a culture would probably have thought up on their own or just don’t make any sense, so you have characters standing around gasping and saying “such wondrous insights!!!!!” in response to shallow bullshit. Remember what I said earlier about an author believing he was smarter than he really is? Well.

We can talk about this book’s iffy thematic content and idiotic grimdark elements all we want, but at the end of the day the book’s biggest flaw is that it’s just dull. Characters sit around endlessly contemplating their navels for chapters at a time, frequently seguing into multi-page flashbacks mid-conversation, most of the time to give information that has already been conveyed or wasn’t necessary to begin with. Our old friend Nothing Fucking Happening rears his head throughout the book, such that by the halfway mark I was working hard to resist the urge to skim. The oppressively adolescent grittiness pushed me over the edge soon after.

In the end The Darkness That Comes Before sums up all of the problems of the fantasy genre, both those that have been with it since its inception and those that have cropped up during its recent growing pains. It’s a deeply juvenile experience cloaked in a veneer of respectability and grandiosity that only serves to further emphasize how bankrupt of any real worth it truly is. I honestly believe this could have been a good story. There’s some worthy material here, but it’s buried under tedium and over the top violence, pointless and sometimes sickening misogyny and the pretensions of an author who can’t write at nearly the level he’s aiming for.


37 thoughts on “The Darkness That Comes Before- R. Scott Bakker

  1. Chris

    Out of all the things wrong with the book the one that made you stop reading was Cnaiür urs Skiötha? I actually liked the guy, he had a simple life philosophy ‘If i want something, I take it – if you stand in my way you die’. Simple and effective.

    Anyway I hope you change your mind and start reading Bakker’s books. I’ve really enjoyed your book and movie reviews and I’d like to see what you’ have to say about the rest of the Prince of nothing series.

    Come on do it for the fans! (I only found your site a couple of days ago…)

  2. Cu'Jara Cinmoi

    1. The Scylvendi are not Mongols, they are more similar to Scythians (hence [b]Scy[/b]lvendi) and Sarmatians, nomadic steppe warriors and horse archers that inhabited areas North of the Ancient Greek city-states and the Black Sea.
    Read a book on history or anthropology once in awhile.

    2. The Fanim are similar to Islam, in that they are monotheistic and see God as transcendent as opposed to immanent. They are also host to a sect of Sorcerers (Cishaurim) who are devout clerics of their Faith, as opposed to the Inrithi World, wherein Sorcerers are branded as abominations and treated as such whenever possible…
    The Inrithi are similar to Catholicism with elements of Hinduism, in that they see God as multifaceted and immanent (Holy Trinity), and supported by a host of lesser Gods, Angels, and Demons… Kiunnat are Traditionalists that precede both Inrithi and Fanim, found in the lands of Nilnamesh and Zeum.
    The nature of the Religions and the Schools (Sorceric Orders), and their respective relationships, is actually massively important and contains many implications about the ultimate nature and fate of Earwa.

    3. “My assessment of Islamophobic themes of the book,”
    To identify any “themes” as “Islamophobic” proves you just didn’t understand much of what was happening or going on, thematically. If anything the books are really just asking you to question beliefs which are traditionally considered unquestionable (i.e., we are God’s chosen people, other people are abominable, burn or behead them). Doesn’t matter if its Hindu, Christian, Muslim, etc.

    4. Neither Inrithi nor Fanim are the “Good Guys” of the story, nor the “True Faith”.
    If anything, Bakker implies that the Inrithi are less authentic than the Fanim, due to their worldly corruption, inability to produce Sorcerers via innate religiosity (like the Fanic Cishaurim) and their blindness to infiltration via the Consult / Kellhus. Bakker’s world is much more complex than Good Christians vs Evil Muslims (Gondorians vs Haradrim, much?) or “women are whores”. To see people mislabel it as misogynistic or Islamophobic… is a little unsettling to say the least.

    It’s really sad that you gave up on a book that attempts to portray pre-modern peoples simply for portraying pre-modern peoples. Protip: All you need to do now is write a vitriolic blog post about how “racist” Mark Twain is for portraying the antebellum South…
    The author of this blog only responds emotionally to a narrative (sex! violence! humans aren’t at all like that! excessive! mean!), as opposed to logically or critically.

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  4. Esmenet

    Your review is spot on. I made it through the first trilogy because his overwrought descriptions sometimes actually work (‘like a mask across the sun’ is actually ok-sounding, for instance) and some of the old apocalypse stuff was interesting, but it’s the worst grimdark thing I’ve ever read; the only worthwhile thing in those books is Esmenet, and since I can’t actually reach into the books and give her to a better writer I stole her name and have been using it ever since.

    …then I tried the first book in the second trilogy, just in case he got better, and then was tempted to fly to his house on silver wings of rage and beat him to death with a feminist theory text. There is a limit to pseudo-philosophical fantasy worldbuilding bullshit, and saying ‘in my world here, women are actually and objectively less good at everything than men!’ is definitely it.

    (Also, Kellhus is terrible and I cannot believe nobody’s just stabbed him yet, if only to make him shut the hell up.)

    1. MSJ

      About Kellhus, the further you go through this epic story, the less you even see or hear from him. A few scenes here and there. You get the Kellhus “orgy” in The Prince of Nothing, to show you how manipulative and how he looks down on others as “children”. As the story progresses. It becomes a lot more interesting, with no one whom I’ve discussed this series with, having any real clue as to where its going. ” Ever are men deceived. ”

      As for Bakker and the whole feminist thing. Yes, he opened a bag of worms and then couldn’t just let it go when he was truly called on his bullshit. Now that’s true in all the books so far writing. But, he insists that “some” woman or women will flip the script on how their perceived in Earwa.

      When I bought these books, I bought everything in the series. So, I wasn’t wasting my money. And truly, the Kellhus shit in TPoN almost mad me wanna throw my kindle off the wall. But, as it progresses, it one of the best Fantasy’s I’ve read. I can’t wait for TUC to come out. But alas, that’s just my opinion. Not trying to sway anyone, just giving my thoughts on epic story!

  5. Emil Söderman

    It should probably be pointed out that “Nomads are assholes” seems to be a pretty cross-cultural assumption among settled peoples. (although interactions are far more complicated than that, they almost always involve a good portion of nomads taking stuff and riding away)

  6. sologdin

    volume one’s vulgar holy war and indenture are very much the first crusade, mirroring ostrogorsky’s account. faction glossary in volume one lays out the descriptions of the religions: transcendental v. immanent, monotheist v. polytheist. one of the first three volumes has a glossary that describes the five race groups.

  7. passacalle

    A propos Mongols in conquest mode and their surprisingly tolerant culture, “If you survived your initial encounter with them, you were very unlikely subsequently to be persecuted for your religion”.

    I’m surprised you pegged Bakker as writing about biblical themes. I read the overall background as a much less imaginative retelling of the crusades, with neocon crusaders, shifty oriental Byzantines and noble Saracens. There is a lot of sex and violence, presumably because the author likes writing about them, and some mildly interesting stuff about free will and alternate philosophies buried under mountains of deep unpleasantness. I remember going from “this is quite good” to “gosh nothing’s happened for a few hundred pages” to “what the fuck did I just read and is there some way I can unread it?” over the course of the first book.

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  9. Orryia

    Somewhat off topic, I’d wish fantasy writers would stop writing the nomadic-warrior Mongol type cultures as slavers and committers of systematic massacres (these Scylvendi people and the Dothraki from A Song of Ice and Fire). I don’t know a lot about the historical Mongolians, but from what I learned, they were mainly herders and only raided during lean years. They were also less misogynist than more “advanced” cultures – by sheer necessity. Women knew how to fight, and there was much less slut-shaming. In short, the were a pretty cool culture, and it’s a shame fantasy writers don’t portray them closer to reality.

    1. Reveen

      I guess some people are still somehow buttmad that the Mongols kicked more asses and conquered more land than any European country, and managed to run an actually pretty effective empire. I’d like to see a fantasy novel with a Golden Horde analogue that’s closer to history and not just a grab bag of stereotypes.

      Maybe that’s also the reason why most fantasy Arablandia is nothing but wife-beating religious fanatics ad slavers instead of scholars and stuff, that and too much American news media.

    2. Sam Hanawalt

      It is definitely sad that the Mongols are only ever remembered for their conquest period. Admittedly, over a century their campaigns brought about the deaths of 30 to 70 million people, which was apparently 17 percent of the world’s population at the time (important disclaimer: those are are Wiki numbers and thus should not be trusted), but that being said, fantasy commits constant violence against history by simplifying them into simple monstrous barbarians. It misses that the death tolls were one part of a much, much larger story. While a relative lack of misogyny doesn’t necessarily outweigh the bad points (just as the USA’s few good points don’t outweigh its imperial atrocities), the failure to acknowledge the complexity of Mongolian culture is a faux pas of monumental proportion. Although this is fantasy, so it’s to be expected.

  10. Somhairle Kelly (@Eithin)

    Sounds like exactly the same cargo-cult intellectualism that fills his protracted moebius blog arguments – unable to tell the difference between behaving as though he were super-competent and blindingly intelligent, and actually being so. I read one of his once, and remember almost precisely nothing about it. I also picked up one of this series, and put it down after the first two pages, IIRC because I was laughing too much at the rape-orcs winding their horns made from the skin of their enemies’ penises to carry on. (Also because it was very bad.)

    1. ronanwills Post author

      Actually that reminds me, I totally forgot to mention the part where two villains are having an evil secret meeting and one of them starts jacking off for no reason. I couldn’t take any of them seriously after that.

    2. magpiewhotypes

      WTF? It would take SO LONG to make a penis-skin horn, unless these are really small horns. Just use the whole skin, evil orc dude! Nobody can tell it’s special dick skin once you have it on your horn!

      Seriously, with all the jacking off in public you think these guys would have figured it out.

  11. Zach

    After many, many years of reading basically nothing else, I took a break from fantasy/sf when I went to college and spent all my time reading history and critical theory and whatever. When I picked it up again in grad school, Bakker had just finished this trilogy and it was supposed to be THE crowning achievement of the thinking person’s modern fantasy genre – so I ordered all three and, because I had already spent my money, read all three.

    I’m still not sure how that wasn’t enough to just make me call it quits on the whole field.

  12. halikon

    I’ll briefly defend Bakker here because I adore the series even though all your criticisms are justified.

    1. He admits he spent too much of the first trilogy doing pointless philosophic bullshit no one cared about and he’s better about it in the following trilogy. Yes this is a long time but he did improve!

    2. Achamian is, honestly, the real hero of the books. Kellhus might be the Jesus figure, but really it’s about the circumstances surrounding Achamian’s encountering of said Jesus figure and his impact on Achamian’s world.

    3. There are actually black people, and not just like, orcs or whatever that are stand ins for evil standins for black people. They appear in the third trilogy once yada yada yada stuff happens.

    4. The sexism thing is worse than you imagine because in the world of The Prince of Nothing, there is such a thing as objective morality and according to this men are supposedly superior to women. Objectively. Bakker denies accusations of sexism though.

    5. The people doing the invading, followers of the Tusk, are actually the Christians in this oh-so-subtle commentary on religious history. The occupants of Shimeh, (god I can’t remember their names its been years since I read the original trilogy), are the Muslim expys.

    6. If nothing else, he’s very good at writing magical battles, and seeing Achamian kick ass is probably the main reason I stuck with this series as long as I have.

    1. ronanwills Post author

      “The people doing the invading, followers of the Tusk, are actually the Christians in this oh-so-subtle commentary on religious history”

      Really? Because the parallels between Inrithism and a conservative American’s idea of Islam seemed pretty strong. Also, it’s stated that the Mandate’s leader was crucified so wouldn’t they be the Christian analogues?

      1. braak

        Oh, no way, man, it’s VERY specifically a Crusades-analogue. The prophet’s name is Inri, I mean (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum). This is “Saladin has just seized control of Jerusalem,” transplanted into a fantasy setting. The followers of Inri are Christendom, the Nansurium is the Byzantine Empire, &c.

        This is another one of those books that I really liked when I read it (I…actually liked the bullshit-philosophy the most), but looking back at it, I don’t actually remember ANY of the flaws that you’re describing, which are definitely pretty serious flaws. I guess I must have read it through rose-colored glasses, or something.

        1. ronanwills Post author

          “The followers of Inri are Christendom, the Nansurium is the Byzantine Empire, &c.”

          You could be right- you clearly know more about the time period than me- but many of the visual descriptors attached to the Inrithians(?) such as beards, wearing white tunics and gathering in white squares, seemed to me to be the sort of attributes that non-Muslims tend to come up with when they think of the “Muslim world”. Plus the way that the Holy War is described sounded very much like Bakker was riffing on stereotypical portrayals of Muslim “radicals”.

          I think what did it for me was the fact that a different historical figure is explicitly mentioned as being executed by crucifixion, which would seem to cast his followers (the Mandate) as the Christian analogues, rather than the Inrithians.

      2. Austin H. Williams

        Know what makes me throw books against the wall?

        Straw religions. Of any sort.

        That you couldn’t tell the straw-Christianity from the straw-Islam probably only speaks to how little I’d enjoy reading these.

      3. braak

        My recollection is that, while the book borrows heavily from religious history, it doesn’t really use the fake religions as commentaries about actual religions — it just pilfers from them as a way of filling out the details. I also remember it being interesting! Except, as I admitted, I clearly don’t remember it accurately, so who fucking knows what’s going on in there.

      4. halikon

        I think it’s probably because you only read part of the first book because later on Kellhus gets crucified on the wheel because he’s preaching his own brand of Inrithism and it gets the religious leaders mad. They crucify him on a wheel, he survives, gets “reborn”, and basically becomes the holy prophet warrior shaman leader of Inrithism, rewrites some of the scripture and basically becomes godking Jesus of the three sees. His followers wear “circumfixes” showing him on the wheel.

        All the ancient history stuff is more akin to the Silmarillion but with a lot of war, rape, torture and crucifying.

        From wiki:
        “The Fanim appear analogously to Muslims, as they are desert-dwelling monotheists in conflict with an older related faith. Bakker also uses Islamic terms when describing the Fanim, such as their “White Jihad”, a war against the Nansur Empire to the north of Kian. Also, Fanimry has a prohibition against representations of the God, akin to hadith prohibitions against depictions of Muhammad and other rules against idolatry.”

        1. ronanwills Post author

          Huh. Well, I’ll have to add a disclaimer to that part of the review.

          (although wouldn’t this mean the pre-Kellhus Tusk people are Jews then?)

      5. braak

        So, I don’t want to inadvertantly put myself in the position of “Defender of R. Scott Bakker,” but I do think that the fact that his Crusader-esque holy war doesn’t really line up with any historical even or group is actually to his credit. It’s not just the Third Crusade with fantasy elements — it’s a fantasy world in which there are different religions with different religious histories and cultures, and they’ve got a holy war happening, a SECOND prophet, &c. It doesn’t line up with anything because it’s not an allegory, it’s just a complex setting.

        Now, whether that complexity is warranted or overwhelming is another story; I remember though, likeing at least that it was nominally different from most other cepic fantasy.

  13. Reveen

    Oh yeah. The “critical analysis” argument for GRIMDARK, Total air-quotes there. I guess “historical accuracy!” doesn’t quite cut it anymore.

    The thing is, if these kinds of authors (Abercrombie, Morgan, WHATEVA) just said up front they’re making Conan knockoffs with the throttle jacked up and the guy just goes around killing whoever he wants and no one ever kicks his ass for it. It’d still be puerile, but it wouldn’t be insufferable.

    Of course, another fantasy author leaves the cool and scary sounding apocalypse for backstory, because god knows the genre doesn’t get enough of politicking.

  14. Rissy (@TheRedRaptor)

    I… kind of hope Bakker shows up here to pontificate about dolphins and rape modules, the way he did with Requires Only That You Hate and Foz Meadows. He’s such a shitbird, and I love watching him get rightfully skewered.


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