Disclaimer: this review may contain spoilers for the first book in the series, The Darkness That Comes Before.
Title: The Warrior Prophet
Series: The Prince of Nothing #2
Author: R. Scott Bakker
The Holy War is finally on its way to Shimeh, and now they have to cross the unforgiving desert. Khellus knows that in order to reach his father in ideal fighting conditions, his best shot is to take control of the Holy War itself; but with the army split into so many different factions and enemies from the Consult hiding in their midst, it might prove harder than he ever imagined.
A closer look
The Warrior Prophet starts out pretty much were the previous volume stopped; with a well established group of characters, now Bakker can focus on the story itself and all its subtleties. And… it works, but to a point.
The Holy War keeps marching towards Shimeh, and this time they have to cross a desert as well as fight back attacks from the infidels. All the politics that took place in the first volume around the organization of the war is now confined to the army and who gets to lead it his or her own way.
The book is primarily set during the crossing of the desert, interspersed with battles with the infidels, disease, and the birth of factions among the men.
Lets start with the bad first: I did not love the battle scenes. They were okay for me as long as we were anchored in the thoughts of a specific character; but every time Bakker took us away to give us an overall map of the battle, the sheer number of names and factions mentioned confused me and I got lost. I am aware of the ongoing problem I have with this particular kind of scenes, so I’m not faulting the book for that; I know that many people actually enjoyed following the battles from a more distanced view.
I enjoyed this book on a general note – mostly because there are still some awe-inspiring ideas here and there and I want to know how it all wraps up – but I think this volume is weaker than the previous one. And since the plot is not that complex, I will keep focusing on the characters themselves.
For once, the characters are still something in between a cardboard cut-out and a three-dimensional being; some of them in this volume tend more towards the cardboard than ever before. One of them is Esmenet: as much as I didn’t exactly love her character in the first book I still found her interesting, but in this one she transforms into a brainless puppet in Khellus’s hands and I could not care less. Also, I personally did not agree to some of her actions, but that doesn’t really influence my opinion; the problem was that from a certain point of the story she just lost all of her personality. I don’t especially agree with the way her horrible past is brushed off, either.
Khellus assumes more and more the semblance of a true messiah, to the point were he develops a following amongst the soldiers and actively works to take full charge of the whole army, convinced that the Holy War is the tool that will allow him to defeat his father when he finally reaches Shimeh. He is still one of the most interesting characters, despite some of his questionable decisions; he is an ass, a manipulator, and it’s hard at times to care for him because there is no trace of him actually caring about any of the people he is using for his purposes.
Even his POV chapters are not very helpful in this regard; it’s fascinating to see how the manipulation takes form in his mind and how he is able to bend people to his will, but at the same time he is absolutely obsessed with his father and little else crosses his mind when he is alone. And I hated the condescending smiles he directs to everyone around him.
Cnaiur is a sore spot in this novel. He was one of the best executed characters of the previous book, but in this one he is reduced to a whining mess while he spirals into madness. I mean, I still cared about him because I grew attached in the first book, but his paranoia in this one is sky-high. The only redeeming aspect of his story is the relationship he is slowly developing with Nersei Proyas. Who, if I can say, is becoming a way more interesting character than he was in the first volume, and I hope he has a bigger part in the next volume.
Ikurei Conphas, whom I really liked in the first instalment for his self-assuredness but also for the way he was completely inside his own head, has little to nothing to do in this volume, and I kind of missed his input. He was an involuntary relief from the gloominess of the story. Needless to say, the Emperor is basically absent in this volume as well.
The most interesting character was without a doubt Achaiman. He is probably the most unlucky of the bunch. We finally get to see what happens when a man of the Mandate gets angry and as much as the magic in this world is kept vague, when it’s unleashed in fury the result is absolutely show-stopping. If you’re looking for subtle magic, look away; this is a raw, all-destroying force, and it’s so satisfying to finally see someone get what they deserve. I respect Achaiman for that; what I’m a bit disappointed by is his undying love for Khellus.
That’s actually one of the things that grated on my nerves throughout the novel: the unwavering, unjustified, unanimous love that everyone holds for Khellus. I know it’s part of the story and his manipulating abilities, but did it have to be so heavy handed?
The threat of the Consult feels a little smaller than in the previous volume; while it was closer, it also felt like suddenly instead of the Second Apocalypse they were more worried about who was leading the Holy War. Hello? You are planning an effing apocalypse, who cares about this bunch of men slowly dying in the desert? But alas, I never led a millennia-old cult bent on destroying the world, so what do I know.
They favourite way of getting anything done is through sex, though, so if that’s something that bothers you you might want to avoid this book. You probably already had a pretty clear idea of this from the previous novel, if you read it, but in this one it’s even worse. Need to boost your men’s confidence? Give them a nice handjob. Need information from anyone who is not in your little gang of demons? Sexual assault will get you the answers. It feels a bit gratuitous at times, as I’m sure there are a lot of more effective ways to accomplish things. But hey, I guess they like this method because they are evil, and rape really gets the message across.
And despite all of this, I still found the book enjoyable. Maybe because of the scope of it, even though in this volume the threat of the Second Apocalypse felt a bit too far away to be really worrisome. Maybe because for once I can’t say there is even one good character, and that makes for an interesting concept. I can’t wait to keep going and find out what everyone is up to, and what they are ready to do in the next volume to accomplish their goals.