The July will see the long awaited release of (the US hardback) The Great Ordeal, book three of The Aspect Emperor (the local/UK edition to following September) and I am beside myself with anticipation. So much so that I urge any of you who have not embarked on this brilliant series to have a look at where it all began in:
A score of centuries has passed since the First Apocalypse and the thoughts of men have turned, inevitably, to more worldly concerns… A veteran sorcerer and spy seeks news of an ancient enemy. A military genius plots to conquer the known world for his Emperor but dreams of the throne for himself. The spiritual leader of the Thousand Temples seeks a Holy War to cleanse the land of the infidel. An exiled barbarian chieftain seeks vengeance against the man who disgraced him. And into this world steps a man like no other, seeking to bind all – man and woman, emperor and slave – to his own mysterious ends.
But the fate of men – even great men – means little when the world itself may soon be torn asunder. Behind the politics, beneath the religious fervour, a dark and ancient evil is reawakening. After two thousand years, the No-God is returning. The Second Apocalypse is nigh. And one cannot raise walls against what has been forgotten…
“Two thousand years have passed since the No-God last walked among Men. Two thousand years have passed since the First Apocalypse. Now the Shriah of the Thousand Temples has declared Holy War and untold thousands gather to wrest the Holy City of the Latter Prophet from the hands of their heathen kin.”
Into this world comes Anasûrimbor Kellhus, disciple of a monastic order hidden away in a part of the world lost to men. Sent to find his father, he is armed only with his training that makes weapons of insight and revelation. Working from the maxim: ‘If it is only after, that we understand what has come before, then we understand nothing,’ he has been taught to look beneath the surface of all things and so directs the people he encounters through the subtleties of word and expression, binding both allies and foes to his own ends.
Among them is Drusas Achamian, a Mandate School sorcerer and spy, who searches for an ancient enemy that none believe exist, while battling his own conscience because of the way he must use others to further his School’s ends. Ikurei Conphas is another, the heir to the Nansur Empire. He is a military genius who has been molded by his grandmother, the Dowager Empress, to supplant his weak and vain uncle, the Emperor, and take the throne himself, while Cnaiur, Chieftain of the Utemot, seeks vengeance against the former slave who slew his father and disgraced him in the eyes of his tribe.
“Unable to distinguish the ‘passion that elevates from the passion that enslaves, they fall even deeper under his thrall, while what begins as a Holy War, a war of Men amongst Men, threatens to become the first battle of the Second Apocalypse…”
Bakker has delivered an strikingly original and ambitious tale filled with engrossing characters, as abundant in number and variation as those that made Erikson’s Malazan books such a success. This tale offers the reader a world sculpted from our own. The melting pot of religions and faith strike a chord with our own Middle East, but the nature of the Fanim faith is more Western in its entirety. Bakker’s languages and cities, castes and mysticism, rituals and history give glimpses of a depth that astonishing and shares a vision and scope akin to that of Geroge R. R. Martin and Robert Jordan. This is a gripping work of epic fantasy with a strong theme of philosophy that offers the reader intriguing questions to turn over if you are so inclined.