Justin Evans's Reviews > The Darkness That Comes Before

The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker
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Apr 06, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction
Read in December, 2011

Ha! I love the reviews for this book. If you're older than 14, and have ever read anything the cover of which does *not* feature embossed gold lettering and a fire-breathing dragon Goddess, you love it. People who don't understand the 'show' vs 'tell' distinction but use it anyway, people who have the vocabulary of a 12 year old, and people who are unwilling to put in any effort whatsoever hate it. I don't read much fantasy, just because I can't take much description in prose, let alone the stilted, turgid style that seems to dominate the genre. But that's not a problem here.

Simply put, this is beautifully written, very intelligent and suitably imaginative. Reading it is a pleasure thanks to Bakker's style; it's engrossing thanks to the characters and the story; and it's funny if you can train-spot all the historical references. They range from the first Crusade (Xerius = Alexius I; Maithenet = Urban II) through a whole range of philosophical schools from the Eastern and Western traditions.

Most of the book is written in varying degrees of free indirect style, and occasionally Bakker's need to stuff information into a scene is a bit too noticeable. But given how much information the reader needs in order to understand the world she's being thrown into, it's not too outrageous. Sometimes Bakker has too many fragments, but they weren't too obtrusive. The real problem here was pointed out by another reviewer: the women are all whores or shrews. I don't mean 'in general.' I mean there are three women in the book, and they are whores or shrews. I'll give Bakker the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he's trying to point out a fact about our world's (deplorable) treatment of women by highlighting how badly they're treated in the world of the novel - the narrator is definitely sympathetic to Esmenet, at least. I hope he's writing those characters with something clever in mind; it's more than a little obnoxious otherwise.
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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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Harold Ogle On the contrary: I thought it was written well, but was dissatisfied with the book because the characters were so reprehensible. *Especially* the main protagonist, Kellhus. The only thing that kept me reading was the faint hope that Kellhus would be defeated by one of the other, slightly less monstrous characters.

Justin Evans I know the feeling- I don't mind evil characters, but I am hoping that K will get what's coming to him at some point!

Richard From seeing other reviews, I can see people also don't like it because they can't handle the moral ambiguity: that people may not be 'good' or 'bad'. Like in every other cliched fantasy rubbish. But maybe i real life?
Harold - Kelhaus is the main protagonist, is he? If this was written by Robert Jordan or Terry Goodkind, he would be. And he would have been 2-dimensional, predictable and so, so lame.
The subversion of the genre in these books is sublime, the morality muddied and the characters real in their conflicts and complexities.

message 4: by Leah (new)

Leah Ah, yes. The old "if you don't like this, it's because you're stupid" trope. Yawn.

Richard Defensive are we, Leah? In the reviews people have various reasons for not liking TDTCB, and i'm sure some of them are because they're stupid. The accusation you give is only valid if the 'trope' remains unqualified, and Justin's review qualifies it. Perhaps I read the same reviews and came to a similar conclusion? Have you read them? Or indeed, the book?

Harold Ogle Justin: I'm glad I'm not the only one! You give me hope for reading the next book, both here and in your review.

Richard: I'm not sure what point you were trying to convey, but it did come across as a wee disingenuous. Presumably you have read the books, so you know that Kellhus is the protagonist. So the "if it was written by Jordan or Goodkind" comment makes little sense to me, as it implies a contrast with Bakker's approach [1]. As written, Kellhus is absolutely predictable. That's part of the problem with the character. He's like a clockwork, and he sees the rest of the world as a clockwork toy for his amusement and manipulation. What's frustrating about the book is that he appears to be correct: he can and does anticipate everything that everyone else does, to his advantage. There's always a problem with an unstoppable/undefeatable character: where's the interest in the conflict, if there's no uncertainty in the outcome? We see, very early on in the book, that Kellhus can never be defeated, because he can always calculate exactly how, when and where anyone else will act in any given situation. [2] It's like having a time-traveling superhero with no moral compass other than self-interest in a world of "normals." [3] For such a story to be interesting, you'd need reasonable opposition to such a character. None exists in this first book, so it was an oppressively bleak experience. I kept reading because the writing was enjoyable, but I found the story so numbingly depressing I haven't yet been able to muster the energy to read the next book, as there isn't even a grain of hope offered to us readers in this book that any worthy opponent to Kellhus will appear in later ones. But then, some people might find cheer in that thought: he is the protagonist, after all!

1 - As I see it, Jordan would have made Kellhus a valued member of a band of adventurers with his unique abilities, then have him gradually go insane from the extreme mental exertion, to the point that he becomes the manipulative and amoral seer that Bakker wrote... partly in order to shrug off the manipulation of the mother-figure in the party. Goodkind would have had Kellhus captured, tortured and raped as a necessary precursor to developing his awesome predictive ability, after which he'd go around much as he does here, but with a more pronounced penchant for bondage.

2 - As I mentioned in the my first comment, the primary appeal of the book was in trying to divine ways that Kellhus could be defeated, and then hoping that someone could use them on him. The problem is, of course, that he has already predicted all the attempts people could make: poison? Seen it. Blowing soporific gases into his area, then trying to put a stake in his heart and cut off his head while he's asleep? Saw that one coming. Dropping a giant cage on him and then leaving him to starve? Well, of course you'd try that! Hitting him with suitably large explosives (or the magic equivalent)? Ooh, he knew you were going to do that! Coating an entire continent with highly flammable materials and then setting everything on fire with him in the middle? Yeah, it was inevitable you'd try that.

3 - I realize I'm mixing media here, but imagine the TV show "Heroes" if no one had superpowers except Sylar. All the other characters are there, with their same backgrounds, just no powers. So they're interesting stories, but Sylar carves through them effortlessly. That feels like a pretty fair analogy to this book.

Richard Harold wrote: "Richard: I'm not sure what point you were trying to convey, but it did come across ..."

Harold - I am not trying to be disingenuous at all, although to be fair to your point, I have read all three books, and it is difficult to separate them, in my head. I'm not sure what to say without giving away too much from the later books...

So, in the obvious and greater scheme of things, Kellhus is the protagonist, as the trilogy is named after him, or at least an aspect of him. This is the greater plan of events, and often they turn on his behaviour, true. But the principles are drawn together around and because of, Achamian. Not forgetting that he is also a significant narrator within the trilogy. I do not accept Kellhus as the main protagonist. He is one of them. Achamian is the other.

1. My point about Jordan is that he could not possibly write a Kellhus character, because it is not a standard trope of fantasy, and Jordan does nothing but write characters that have been done a hundred times before. I agree with your assessment of what Goodkind would do with him, though. :)

2. The primary appeal you found in this book was quite different from what I found. I did not want to see Kellhus defeated, but how he would find his father... Too, I wanted to see the 'real' magic, and Achamian is the key to that.

3. I did not watch heroes. But events are always bigger than one person, no matter what their super powers. The thing that grew and grew in importance for me was how Kellhus tried to fit into the prophecy, and how events beyond his control added to that. And his later struggle... but I'll leave that for you to find out for yourself ;-)

Justin Evans Wow- great debate. For some reason I stopped getting notified when people commented... so I missed it. Hopefully all this will be cleared up at the end of the third trilogy, if not before.

James Larner Is disagree with the description of Kellhus as a clockwork toying with the world for his amusement - he is amoral, psychotic even, but takes no pleasure in any of his acts - he simply does whatever is necessary to complete his mission.

Arseny well, but you have to admit that the author is long-winded at some points, sometimes extremely so. I liked the books a lot, but couldn't help skipping some sequences where some -albeit good and interesting - philosophical thought would get repeated oover and over again. (although this applies more to Aspect Emperor series than this one. Darkness that comes before was great by any measure)

Justin Evans Hi Arseny, yes, you're right. But I have a high tolerance for that kind of thing... maybe I should've been harder on the thing. Never mind! Thanks for reading!

message 12: by Tiberius (new)

Tiberius Bones Your review is so arrogant and condescending that I'm going to pass on this book for now. Maybe some people didn't like it because they simply didn't find it to their taste?

Richard Tiberius wrote: "Your review is so arrogant and condescending that I'm going to pass on this book for now. Maybe some people didn't like it because they simply didn't find it to their taste?"

Maybe you are right, Tiberius, and some people just don't like it. Fair enough. Not reading a book because someone you have never met likes it, though... Have you, personally, ever heard a more dumbarse reason not to read a book?
From such an answer I would hazard a wild guess that if you do ever read it and don't like it, it will not simply be because you don't like it...

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