David's Reviews > The Thousandfold Thought

The Thousandfold Thought by R. Scott Bakker
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's review
Nov 12, 2010

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bookshelves: fantasy

3 Stars for this book, 4 for the Prince of Nothing series.
Bakker’s Prince of Nothing trilogy is the chronicle of a holy war between many nations of Earwa. It follows many characters in their journey as part of the war. It is a huge, sweeping storyline in an expansive and detailed world. The underlying journey follows Kellhus, a prophetic figure who takes control of the Holy War through his stunning intellect and emotional manipulation of those around him. The Thousandfold Thought, the conclusion of the trilogy, focuses on Kellhus after he has fully gained control of those around him and the Holy War is approaching arrival at Shimeh, the capital city of the “heathen.”
This is very VERY simplified, as the series follows many characters with various relationships to Kellhus and the Holy War. These characters respond differently to the world around them, showing Bakker’s world to be well-defined and three-dimensional. He bounces back and forth between viewpoints when describing Kellhus, showing him at different times as a god by his many followers, a calculating and shrewd assassin, and a demon bent on domination of all humanity. Which (if any) of these interpretations is most accurate is explored over the course of the series.
Bakker explores various ethical, philosophical, and theological ideas over the course of the series. This is very interesting and well-done for the most part, but sometimes seems to drag. Being a fan of philosophy, I enjoyed the frequent intellectual tangents, but I can see how some readers were turned off by them.
I really only have two major complaints about the series. The first is its leisurely pace in explaining many major plot points. There are several huge explanations that he didn’t really give until the last hundred or so pages of the last book. These include: What are the main antagonists? Is Kellhus good or evil? How does magic work in this world? What are the differences between the religions this entire Holy War (and book series) is based around? For the record, some of these are never addressed directly, and after reading the entire series, you can only vaguely infer the answers.
My other big complaint is Bakker’s reluctance to offer any real conclusion. The first two books had very little climax at all, and left me disappointed that I would have to read another 600-page book if I wanted a conclusion. The third book did have a conclusion of sorts, although I don’t think you can really consider it a trilogy if there’s an obvious opening for a sequel at the end.
I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention what I think of as Bakker’s really strong point. His battle scenes were among the best I’ve ever read. His descriptions of the strategic movements of armies were excellent, and had the level of attention that you would imagine a general would give without losing narrative effect and excitement. The battle scenes focused on the large groups, but also showed the personal scale to highlight the horror and chaos of war. His description of magical combat was also superb.
Overall, it was an enjoyable reading experience. Bakker is a good writer, with lots of interesting Big Ideas that are well-put. For the most part, his pacing was exciting and readable. I would recommend the series to fans of gritty epic fantasy, but non-fans of the genre probably won’t be impressed.
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