R. Scott Bakker: The Judging Eye

Well, this is book 4 of at least 6 in a fantasy series, so it’s a bit silly for me to describe this one on its own to an audience that mostly hasn’t read any of them.  Anyone who did get through to the end of the Prince of Nothing trilogy probably thought it was great, and would also think that this start of the next trilogy is great too, and I am no exception – it is basically more of the same.

So what do I like about these books in general?  For one thing, awesome world-building.  The third book has a long (like 100 pages) appendix that is basically an abridged encyclopedia of the whole world, and if you get off on that sort of thing, like I do, you will get off on this.

I also really enjoy the premise.  An Übermensch appears in the world, and everyone has to figure out what he really is.  Is he the messiah, or is he a preternaturally talented sociopath?  Bakker is a good enough writer that it’s hard for the reader to arrive at a definite answer, and the other characters’ reactions to him are interesting and believable.  (I realize as I write this that this is probably also the basic plot of Left Behind.  I guess that makes this a little less of a recommendation.)

Negative things.  It’s definitely male-centric, and the main female character, though sympathetically portrayed, is a whore.  Yawn.  Bakker has tried to defend this by saying (paraphrased) “Just because I’m portraying this doesn’t mean I approve of it!”, but having read enough fantasy to recognize this as a standard issue, I don’t buy it.  (That is, I believe that he doesn’t approve of it, but it’s still annoying.)  There’s also a over-the-top association of Evil with sexual sadism that just makes me squirm in an “ick” way, not in an “ooh this is so transgressive” way.

But overall, if you are looking for a well-written super-dark shades-of-gray massive-backstory bloody-but-brainy epic fantasy, you are likely to find this up your alley.

I guess I should mention at least something about this particular book, as distinguished from the series as a whole.  Well, one cool thing is that it starts 20 years after the end of the first trilogy (which spanned a year or two).  A standard problem with long fantasy series is that the author can’t resist the urge to describe everything that happens in the world in more and more detail, until history slows down to a soporific crawl.  It takes some balls to effectively start your fourth book with “20 years later…”, and it works well here.

I try to avoid reading series-in-progress – you don’t know how good the future books will be, or how long the author will take to write them, plus my memory is terrible so I keep having to either reread thousands of earlier pages or thrash around confusedly – but I’m confident I’m in good hands here, and I anxiously await the resolution of the multiple plot threads that are left hanging at the end of this one (grrr).

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