“The thoughts of all men arise from the darkness. If you are the movement of your soul, and the cause of that movement precedes you, then how could you ever call your thoughts your own? How could you be anything other than a slave to the darkness that comes before?”
― R. Scott Bakker, The Darkness That Comes Before
Rereading R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing series again after so many years, and I must admit it has not lost its power to mesmerize and enchant. A grim and gritty epic unlike those lightbound fantasias of the Tolkien variety where elves and dwarves and hobbits wander among the bewildering array of ancient Middle-Earth. No. This work is closer to the ancient warlike Sagas of the Norsemen, a rugged tale of war, vengeance, and revenge. A tale that brings with it its own unique world and history, a world in the throes of conflict and apocalypse.
In the beginning we are introduced to a young warrior Monk, Anasûrimbor Kellhus a former Dûnyain, and heir to the ancient Kings of ancient Eärwa. Trained as a child up in the arts of sorcery and the “Logos” he has of late been troubled by dreams of his father. His father Anasûrimbor Moënghus is a Cishaurim Priest and former Dûnyain monk who lives in the Shimeh: the Holy City where the prophet of the ancient Inrithi, Inri Sejenus’s Ascension to the Nail of Heaven took place. It is also the home of the Cishaurim sorcerors. I’ll leave much out for those who have yet to read this work. Moënghus has a plan for his son, and uses his sorcerous skills to call him out of the citadel of the Ishuäl, a hidden fortress in the Demua Mountains. Kelhus begins his trek out of the Dûnyain of the North seeking his father…
Bakker will weave many characters and destinies together in this first work. We’ll meet in this work the power plays of politics, conspiracy, and controversy. A Holy War that will take in the great and small. A world of spies, Non-Men, shape-shifters, sorcerers, prostitutes, assassins, and every type of human and non-human creatures one could imagine. It’s a work that will be shaped by the dreams and omens of long dead warriors and wars against a space faring species that landed its vessel in the far North thousands of years before. It was during this first age that a race of immortals fought the new arrivals, long before humans arrived from the lands of the East.
We will meet Drusas Achamian a sorcerer of the School of Mandate, a Gnostic School founded by Seswatha in 2156 to continue the war against the Consult and to protect the Three Seas from the return of the No-God. The Consult is the cabal of sorcerers, Nonmen, and darker things who were part of the invasion of these space faring peoples from the stars. The No-God is an entity summoned by the Consult in the spring of the year 2143 to bring about the First Apocalypse. It was the Non-Men or indigenous people of the West, the Immortals who first fought against the star people for thousands of years. Until the Apocalypse…
The roots of the Apocalypse are many and deep. Mandate scholars (who, popular opinion to the contrary, are not recognized authorities on the subject) argue that they are older than recorded history. More sober accounts reach back no further than the so-called Nonman Tutelage, which eventually led the Gnostic School of Mangaecca to the site of the Incû-Holoinas, the Ark-of-the-Skies, where it lay protected, hidden by Nonmen glamors in the shadow of the western Yimaleti Mountains. Accounts are incomplete, but it seems clear that what were called the Great Sranc Wars were a consequence of the Mangaecca occuption of what would come to be called Golgotterath.
Anasûrimbor Kellhus is sent by his order, the Dûnyain, to search for his father, Anasûrimbor Moënghus.
Since discovering the secret redoubt of the Kûniüric High Kings during the Apocalypse some two thousand years previous, the Dûnyain Monks have concealed themselves, breeding for reflex and intellect, and continually training in the ways of limb, thought, and face—all for the sake of reason, the sacred Logos. In the effort to transform themselves into the perfect expression of the Logos, the Dûnyain have bent their entire existence to mastering the irrationalities that determine human thought: history, custom, and passion. In this way, they believe, they will eventually grasp what they call the Absolute, and so become true self-moving souls.
I’ll leave the reader to explore deeper into this history on their own. That’s part of the fun of Scott’s work is that it is so complex and engrossing that for those who love to be drawn into such High Epic fantasies it will consume hours of your life in seeking out all the little tidbits of the ancient history, religions, philosophies, cultures, social milieu and every aspect of the flora and fauna that make up this dark and gritty world. If you love the intricate weave of war and politics, love and psychology, the inner thoughts of characters as they struggle to come to terms with their own ethical dilemmas then this is the work for you. Even the darkest and bloodiest scenes are not played out for the sheer shock value. No. Every aspect of the novel is part of a doom ridden necessity that must be suffered and lived with to understand the depth and richness of the tale. It’s a work to contemplate and enrich one’s own life for many enjoyable hours. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a work so immensely. Compared to most humdrum fantasy coming off the shelves that repeat the same flavor of the day boredom this will shake you up. This is not one of those works… this is literature of the highest type; a literature that will resonate and stay with you long after you read it for the first time. It’s a work that you will come back to and read again, gaining new insights and understandings.
Much of the information above was gleaned from the Prince of Nothing wiki, which is a superb resource for those wanting to delve further into the background of this epic work: Prince of Nothing Wiki.
Buy R. Scott Bakker’s work on Amazon: The Darkness That Comes Before