Brian McClellan has written a competent introduction to a new fantasy series, which has potential, but for me it does not quite reach the level of becBrian McClellan has written a competent introduction to a new fantasy series, which has potential, but for me it does not quite reach the level of becoming a must-read.
The world building is good, and the setting may be compared to an early 1800's level of technology, featuring gunpowder and steam engines. This is combined with politics also of the time - nationalism and colonialism and a rising republican movement. Magic comes in two flavors; a gunpowder-fueled trick-shooting kind, and the more traditional fantasy hand-waving sort - and these two are naturally in conflict, each connected to opposing political factions.
So far so good, the setting is interesting, but I find it slightly inconsistant. At first there was this eastern european vibe to the city of of Adopest where the majority of the story takes place, reminiscent of the Austrian Empire of the early 1800's, but later this is mixed with English and more clichéed fantasy elements and it loses a lot of its charm.
The same goes with the characters - the premise is promising, but you never really get under their skin. There is not much internal monologue, and while there are a few attempts to communicate their motivations, I can't help but feel that they are all kind of shallow and simple. I can't bring myself to symphatize much with any of the characters, they all come off a bit whiny, to be frank.
McClellands use of language is ok, but a bit rough in places. Maybe it is the editing that is lacking, as some formulations are outright strange and feel out of place, but in general it is ok but nothing special. This seems to be his first novel, so hopefully the language will develop as he continues writing.
All in all, a promising start that doesn't quite go all the way. I give it 3 stars due to the potential of the continuation of the series, however on its own it actually would be closer to 2....more
Man, these just keep getting better and better. This is the second book of the second trilogy of the overarching Second Apocalypse story, the third (aMan, these just keep getting better and better. This is the second book of the second trilogy of the overarching Second Apocalypse story, the third (and last?) being released in 2015, if I'm not mistaken.
The first trilogy - The Prince of Nothing - reads like a fantasy take on the first crusade to Jerusalem, coupled with elements of Dune, the Silmarillion and LoTR. Imagine Aragorn going insane, and becoming a prophet with a mission to unite the whole world under an iron rule, in order to protect it against an unspeakably perverted evil out to kill every single human being.
Having achieved this, the second trilogy - The Aspect Emperor - details the ordeal of actually going out to destroy said evil, and the results of trying to do so by any means necessary, while the newly founded empire is imploding due to the insanity of the imperial family and plotting of alien gods.
I admit these books aren't for everyone. They are grimdark in the very bleakest sense, there is nary the tiniest glimmer of hope found anywhere, and the characters are invariably flawed, making bad decisions and constantly suffering the consequenses. The setting is very dark, a real crapsack world where greed, bloodlust and lechery are the driving forces of most everyone. Hierarchies of power are relentless, and a human life, least of all the lives of the millions of slaves, are worth next to nothing. Above all of this, the gods offer no solace or redemption, only eternal damnation, which incidentally is the driving force and motivation of the antagonists.
Bakker's language is quite dense, with plenty of references to names and places, in a manner that feels rather archaic (partly it reads like the Bible, or like I compared it earlier, to the Silmarillion). It is also partly very poetic. This is even more pronounced in this particular book - The White-Luck Warrior. There is often great beauty to be found in the tragic events that permeate the story. Bakker is a philosopher, which is noticeable for example in the different Schools of Magic, which are based on classic schools of philisophy. So, do not expect a light-hearted fantasy romp, featuring strong-jawed righteous heroes, or wizened wizards wearing pointy hats. Said wizard is more likely bound to be a drunken, cowardly loser, driven by petty revenge, and bound to repeating the same stupid mistakes over and over again.
Oh, and erect phalluses. There are lots of erect phalluses. Being the distinguising mark of the antagonist (yes, really), there are plenty of erect phalluses, and heinous acts being performed by the bearers of them, mostly on dead or dying people. So, you've been warned.
But, all in all, this series have become perhaps my favorite "modern" fantasy series - in close competition with Joe Abercombie's books (which, funnily I found very bleak when I first read them, but actually feature quite a bit of humor, and one or two glimpses of hope here and there - something that is entirely missing from Bakker's works). I am definitely looking forward to the next, and last, part of the trilogy....more