The Thousandfold Thought by R. Scott Bakker

(2005-11-04)

Published by: Overlook Press (US)/ Penguin (Canada)
ISBN: 1585677051 (US)/0143015354 (Canada) 
560 Pages

In the first installment of the Prince of Nothing, he witnessed The Darkness that Comes Before, in the subsequent volume he assumed the mantle of The Warrior-Prophet. In this, the concluding volume, Anusûrimbor Kellhus comprehends and makes use of the Thousandfold Thought. Since this is the third volume of the trilogy, a good portion of this review will consider the previous two books, and the trilogy as a whole. R. Scott Bakker has brought his characters and readers through a dark, cynical land, facing an impending Apocalypse in the previous two novels. Here, in The Thousandfold Thought, he delivers on the promise of those two volumes and has completed what is likely one of, if not the defining Epic saga of this generation. Is this hyperbole? Yes, to a point. Has this been proclaimed by nearly every fantasy epic from Martin to Goodkind to Erikson to Jordan? Yes. But as much as I have thoroughly enjoyed Martin, as many readers as Jordan has, Bakker’s saga has a few things these writers cannot claim. First and foremost, Mr. Bakker’s is a complete saga. In the time that all these writers have started and not finished their grand storylines, Mr. Bakker started and finished The Prince of Nothing - all in the time between two of Martin’s novels. Again, this is not a slight in any way to Mr. Martin, merely a highlight of one of Bakker’s many strengths.

Something else that Bakker has done that none of his contemporaries have done - wandered so far from what has come before in the Epic Fantasy genre, yet maintained such a tight lifeline to the heart of what makes this genre so wonderful. This dichotomy is something that both flavors the outer structure of the saga, as well as the themes that Bakker touches upon in this dense, thought-provoking, and powerful Epic.

As with the second volume, Bakker provides a very detailed summation of the previous books before jumping into the narrative of the new. I would still really recommend reading the first two volumes, and anybody considering starting this series, do so now. The trilogy is complete and can be judged a rousing success. In addition to the summation Bakker provides in the opening pages of the book, he also provides an extremely detailed and well-thought out glossary in the back, comprising nearly 100 pages!  Very impressive.

In The Thousandfold Thought, we see Kellhus more through the eyes of his supporting cast, as opposed to direct scenes from his point of view. This really allows the reader to feel the awe, reverence and fear these people feel for the Warrior-Prophet, as he leads his Holy War across the landscape of the Three Seas. The primary characters surrounding Kellhus remain the same as the previous volumes: Esmenet one-time whore and now wife to Kellhus, her former lover and advisor to Kellhus, Drusas Achamaian (Akka), and Canüir, the Scylvendi warrior. There are many more older characters, plus one or two new characters featured prominently in this volume. Each of these characters sees Kellhus in their own light, but each light is a different reflection of awe with which they hold the Warrior-Prophet.

While Kellhus may be a center around which these characters orbit, by no means is he the only character with such a powerful effect on the other characters. Take the former lovers Esmenet and Akka. They loved each other, and still do, but they did not understand the depths of each other’s emotions until they were apart, particularly when Esmenet realizes how Akka felt about her:

I was his morning.

One thing that really struck me, regardless of whether or not the scene was straightforward action, dialogue between characters, or internal dialogue of discovery, Bakker’s narrative pull was equally strong. Many of the more tightly crafted and addictive scenes involved one character, and their internal dialogue. Esmenet reexamines her life through the majority of the novel. In the previous volumes, Akka struggled with the realization of prophecies long considered coming to light, and his ultimate role as advisor to the man at the center of the prophecy. Through this reexamination, she grows to know her former lover, providing for some of the more poignant and powerful scenes not just in this particular novel, but of any of the fantasy novels I’ve come across. These few pages not only serve as an inkling of the emotional roller-coaster Esemenet has experienced, but it also encapsulates much of what Akka has been experiencing throughout this trilogy.

Indeed, this entire trilogy deals with inner reflection perhaps more so than any of the contemporaries on the shelves. Considerations of ones inner self and outer self, only touch the tip of the iceberg of the many thoughtful considerations the Warrior-Prophet drives the characters, and in turn, the reader to consider. With Mr. Bakker’s philosophical background this should come as no real surprise. What makes this book and series so endearing is Bakker’s strength and ability to make these considerations so compelling, and his seeming ease at keeping such a strong narrative flow.

"[Kellhus] ’What I prophesied came to pass…’

[The other] ‘A fortuitous Correspondence of Cause,’ replied. ‘…that which comes before yet determines that which comes after.’

[Kellhus] He was right. Prophecy could not be."

Here much of the thrust of what Bakker has done, is taking readers expectations in Epic Fantasy, and deconstructing them into something new and familiar. The structure of the series, and the books within the series, are very much in line with Epic Fantasy - old wizard advisor, prophesized savior, whore with the heart of gold, confrontation with the dark lord at the end. Bakker masks this framework with clothing of his own devising giving us, with the completion of the trilogy, something rich, powerful and both unlike its predecessors and ultimately, true to the heart of what has come before.

Even though I finished the book, this is a series I am very much looking forward to reexamining as a whole, in one read-though. This book, and whole series, was extremely compelling and will cast a long shadow for many years in the Epic Fantasy genre and comes with the highest recommendation.

© 2005 Rob H. Bedford

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