Saturday, November 21, 2015

Review of The Thousandfold Thought by R. Scott Bakker

Ahh, you’ve finally done it.  You’ve trudged through umpteen thousand pages of the latest epic fantasy series. You’ve read lengthy descriptions of how Anvus puts on his belt in the morning.  You’ve restrained yawning as the next leg of an endless quest is expounded upon.  You’ve listened to kings and knights discourse ad infinitum about the fate of the land and meaning of honor. And now you’re ready for the final volume, the ending of endings—the convergence of all dramatis personae in a clash that will seer the vault of heaven… only to have it trickle out in a scant few pages of meager scene.  Fear not.  R. Scott Bakker’s conclusion to the Prince of Nothing trilogy, The Thousandfold Thought (2006), meets if not exceeds all expectations.  The fact he does it with the same economy—the same quality over quantity approach as the previous two books—is a testament to its status amongst other such series.

The Holy War refocused under the leadership of Kellhus at the conclusion of The Warrior Prophet, a lot nevertheless remains unclear concerning the Inrithi’s assault on Shimeh.  The Holy War’s leaders more fragmented than ever concerning Kellhus’ status as a holy prophet, they reluctantly continue following him south toward the heathen capita at the outset of The Thousandfold Thought l.  But not without drama along the way involving Ikurei Conphas and his new status as Emperor.  Cnauir among the many confused, he too finds himself in a situation he never imagined—his visions more than his reality would seem to allow.  And Achamian, having survived capture at the hands of the Scarlet Spires, is now Grand Vizier and tutor, teaching Kellhus the ways of Gnostic sorcery.  As the Fanim and the mysterious Cishaurim sorcerers prepare for battle, the fate of human Earwa hangs in the balance.

Where The Warrior Prophet ramped up the action after the stage setting of The Darkness that Comes Before, The Thousandfold Thought borrows a little from each.  The first half positioning the pieces; the Consult, warring factions, Kellhus, Achamian, Cnaiur and the skin-spies are moved into place.  Occupying nearly the entire second half of the book is the grand climax—the collision of forces all readers have been prepped for and anticipating.  Something to be savored, rarely does a fantasy trilogy pay off with such fireworks. 

Stepping back a little, where Kellhus was shaping up to be something of an traditional epic fantasy uber-hero in The Darkness that Came Before, a darker, more sinister Kellhus was exposed in The Warrior Prophet.  The Thousandfold Thought sees him revealed for who he is, ironically, in the process of setting himself up to save the world from the Second Apocalypse.  Hitler’s rise to power holding something in common, the warrior prophet’s hyper-intellectual, manipulative behavior sees him weaving through the bruised egos following upon his takeover of the Holy War while remaining wholly focused on his own ego—ahem, agenda.  With his father’s voice calling out through time and space and Achamian teaching him sorcery, his strength remains to be tested, however, on the walls of Shimeh—something the Inchoroi will have its say in before the story is over.

In the end, The Thousandfold Thought may very well be the best conclusion to an epic fantasy series on the market.  (The way the second series is shaping up, however, perhaps only until it is completed?) Where many series build toward a climax only to fizzle out in the final volume, unable to match the build up with an equal moment of drama, or wait until the final 25 pages to wrap things up, the final novel in the Prince of Nothing is spectacular.  A major battle, magic and sorcery sizzling, and all (well, not exactly all, but enough) of the questions answered, it’s extremely satisfying in epic fantasy terms.  All in all, end to a grand prologue for The Aspect-Emperor series.

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