Some day, I hope I write a book as good as this.
The story involves about seven characters who you're really interested in, five of whom are more central, and how their fates intertwine with a holy war. However, the larger backdrop involves an apocalyptic past, which one School of magic-users is constantly reminded of via dreams. Each and every night, they relive the life of their founder/central religious figure of sorts. The objective of the Mandate School is to put a halt to the second apocalypse, which they feel is imminent. One of the main characters, Achamian is of the Mandate School, so you see the world through his eyes. When he sees a portent of the coming darkness, you see it too. And it's all converging on this holy war, and the mysterious Kellhus, who shares a family name with the last high king, who's death Achamian revisits every night in his dreams.
This book is ridiculously good. It deftly describes a world much like what I feel Europe must have been like at the outbreak of the Crusades. The political wheeling and dealing is never over-done, and the traditional "action" never over shadows the characterization. Each character is developed so beautifully that you can't help but imagine them as real people.
I can't point out a favorite character because they're ALL my favorite characters. Cnaiur is extremely well-done. I was incredibly impressed by the way Bakker demonstrated this character's intelligence. To me, intelligence is a difficult thing to demonstrate in a fictional character. An intelligent character in a book is generally more clued-in than her/his compatriots, but it's very easy to simply railroad that person along, and have them point out all your clever plot-points. The way Bakker uses Cnaiur's paranoia of Kellhus highlights that character's intelligence brilliantly.
The character I did get tired of was the Emperor. His characterization was probably the most blunt of the whole group. He's fearful, he's impulsive, he's a big baby. I get it. I wanted to hear more about his mother than him. If the Emperor was a more central character, I would have knocked a star off this review because he was so tiresome. Though, near the end, he finally shows some chops and becomes more interesting.
I simply cannot recommend this book enough. It's not for everyone, especially those who don't like more adult subjects. I would say this book is less graphic than A Game of Thrones
, but I wouldn't want a 13-year old to read it. But, if you're okay with violence, torture, and all manner of things, and love epic world building, prophecies, magic and amazingly crafted characters, this book's for you.