Gary K. Wolfe once made the statement on the Coode Street Podcast that bridge books in trilogies are useless—that it’s possible to skip the middle volume without missing anything for the third. While there are several examples that support his claim, R. Scott Bakker’s The Warrior-Prophet, second book in the Prince of Nothing trilogy, balks at it. Shaking off the bridge book blues, the novel picks up where The Darkness that Comes Before left off and escalates the story in critical fashion to the third and final volume, The Thousandfold Thought.
Like the importance of The Two Towers to The Lord of the Rings, so too is The Warrior Prophet to The Prince of Nothing. A convergence of powerful characters and a grand revelation about Earwa occurring at the end of the previous novel, The Warrior Prophet proceeds directly from this point. Kicking off the Holy War, thousands upon thousands of soldiers are set marching to the land of the heathen Fanim and begin taking down cities one by one, all while fractures begin appearing in leadership. Kellhus, despite starting to make a name for himself, has the mysteries surrounding his origin and purpose deepen. Dreams of the First Apocalypse continue to haunt Achamian’s nights, making it more difficult for him to know how to proceed with Kellhus—the Scarlet Spires haunting his footsteps in the daytime. Skin-spies continue to be revealed in key places, and the emperor, still reeling from his dungeon encounter, sits on the throne, digging himself ever deeper into a pit of fear and anxiety.
Readers looking for more action than what appeared in the first novel cannot help but be satisfied. Three major battles occur in the course of the story, as do duels of sword and sorcery. More and more of Achamian’s dreams of Seswatha and the No-God appear; the Fanim culture is explored; and Kellhus is given greater page time as he sorts out the factions and intentions of the men and leaders around him, in turn revelaing more of his deeper purpose in Earwa.
All the techniques and style from The Darkness the Comes Before applied in The Warrior Prophet, Bakker proves himself a consistent writer in the sequel. The grinding of strong personality against strong personality, the harshness of dialogue and mood, and above all, a continued examination of the ego and fear that drives humanity in the face of ever uncertain existence informs the narrative.
In short, if you liked The Darkness that Comes Before, The Warrior Prophet is the ideal continuation. There are some slight inconsistencies (moments in plot that require greater suspension of disbelief than the previous novel), but Bakker successfully reveals more interesting bits of his world while building suspense across all storylines. The conclusion of the Holy War is sure to be spectacular in The Thousandfold Thought.