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The White-Luck Warrior: Book 2 of the Aspect-Emperor
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2011
I'm not sure if Bakker was being meta but this book really feels like the oft-quoted "slog of slogs". While "the judging eye" felt pacier than the previous books, this one seemed to redress the balance. I think this is partly due to the chapters being very (overly) long, meaning we only drop in on each of the three main stories a handful of times. There are very few stories centred around the centre of the empire, for example, although it still covers a lot of ground.

Negatives aside though there are still many great moments. Cleric is one of the most tragic "elves" I've read about and the Quirri storyline feels like a fantasy version of "Requiem for a dream". Sorweel becomes a lot more interesting/likeable in this installment too, which is a relief, and the next generation of Anusurimbor's become ever more fascinating and entertaining. I also enjoyed the sranc battles which were epic and coldly clinical, allowing Bakker to give an overview of the situation rather than get up close and personal with the characters. This was also the first book where I noticed Bakker often emulates the style of the "iliad" when describing these battles, with lots of "so and so, son of thingy, famous for the X" which is a nice efficient way of giving some personality to an army of hundreds of thousands.

What holds this series together for me though is the fact that I still don't have a clue whether the main character is good, evil, crazy or a mixture of the three. Even more impressive is the fact that Bakker isn't exactly being coy with Kellhus but as a reader you never know whether to take things at face-value. It's something that a lesser writer could become undone over but Bakker makes it look easy. Another thing Bakker juggles amazingly well is telling what is essentially a homage to Tolkien (wait until you see the coffers) but approaching it in such a refreshing way that it doesn't feel derivative or turning the trop on its head.

So while I'm disappointed in the pacing of this book I'm still in for the long haul, although it seems like Bakker has a lot to cover if the second act of the story is to have any meat.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 17 May 2011
Hooray, Bakker has a baby girl! and his world of brutal machination and sexual violence ruled over by the cold logical hands of the ultimate intellectual is suffused with a new aspect. One that has been a long time coming, but is all the more welcome for the hopeful anticipation.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of the mans writing, his epic palette beautifully fills the fantastic detail around the philosophy, but cynical truth seeking takes him, and therefore his readers to some very dark places. I found Neuropath in particular deeply depressing, not because of what it revealed, but because of what it supposed, it is an enormous leap from determinism to the actual mechanization of the human mind and the difference is what keeps a lot of people from decent into life denying depression. The book was horror masquerading as thriller. Bloody good horror though.

Mixing philosophy with fantasy was always going to be volatile and I think with this latest installment R. Scott Bakker has the perfect formula. The earlier Prince of nothing series presented us with Kellhus, a dissembling amoral superhuman, apparently the product of an obscure cults eugenics program, and dealt with his seemingly unstoppable rise to power. In this world truth has a power of it's own, and the different ways of representing this truth (literal 'schools' of thought) separate the power players. The most persuasive, convincing man becomes the Aspect Emperor, a divine savior? A charlatan con artiste? Or something worse?

At last the alternatives to Kellhus argument are emerging as forces in their own right, Achamian the tubby fallible sorcerer, now become a powerful Wizard tormented by dreams of history and Esmenet the Empress, struggle with their imperfect humanity and the children of the royal household whose amoral antics serve as insights into the inscrutable Emperor.

The new cast to the stories is eleventh hour hope, new possibilities. At last chinks are appearing in The Emperors armor, an assassin who receives his every experience as a gift, a defeated foe of the Empire growing in insight and power to resist the Dunyain and acts of friendship between the nihilistic non-men and humanity. Whether Kellhus is Savior, User or Cause of the apocalypse to come, the series is heating up, at exactly the right moment...
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
As was the case with The Judging Eye two years ago, I would like to thank R. Scott Bakker for giving me the opportunity to be the first reviewer to get a crack at The White-Luck Warrior. Usually, I refuse to read books on my computer screen because it makes my eyes bleed. But for the second installment in The Aspect-Emperor trilogy, I was happy to oblige!

Here's the blurb:

As Anasûrimbor Kellhus and his Great Ordeal march ever farther into the perilous wastes of the Ancient North, Esmenet finds herself at war with not only the Gods, but her own family as well. Achamian, meanwhile, leads his own ragtag expedition to the legendary ruins of Sauglish, and to a truth he can scarce survive, let alone comprehend. Into this tumult walks the White-Luck Warrior, assassin and messiah both, executing a mission as old as the World's making ...

The White-Luck Warrior is a story filled with heart-stopping action, devious treachery, grand passion and meticulous detail. It is both a classic quest tale and a high fantasy war story.

Given that The Judging Eye had all the hallmarks which made the first trilogy such a great reading experience, minus what many considered its shortcomings, I felt that it featured a Bakker writing at the top of his game. Still, many opined that the philosophical aspects and the inner musings were what essentially made the Prince of Nothing stand out from the rest of the SFF pack, and were thus a bit disappointed by the first volume in The Aspect-Emperor. So where does The White-Luck Warrior fit in in terms of style and tone? I would say that it is somewhat in between the Prince of Nothing and The Judging Eye. The absence of interior action, as Bakker put it, made for a much better paced novel in The Judging Eye. Hence, the return of that particular facet does affect the rhythm of The White-Luck Warrior, especially in the portions of the book dealing with Achamian and Mimara's POVs. Overall, I would say that that, in format and pace, this novel reads much like The Warrior-Prophet did.

The worldbuilding is once again top notch. Bakker's narrative is richly detailed, creating an imagery that leaps off the page. The Middle Eastern setting of the western Three Seas remains a welcome change from the habitual medieval environments found in most fantasy sagas. But the author takes us to various unexplored locales in The White-Luck Warrior, which makes this one even more interesting. The evocative depiction of the wastes of the Istyuli Plains, the primeval forest known as the Mop, the ruined remains of Kûniüri, where the first Ordeal set out against Golgotterath, continue to make the universe of Eärwa resound with depth. Add to that the fact that the narrative and certain events shine some light on the kingdom of Zeüm and its traditions, as well as that of the Nonmen kingdom of Injor-Niyas and its mysterious capital of Ishterebinth, and you have proof that Bakker's creation is head and shoulder above most SFF settings on the market today.

As I mentioned above, the pace is an issue in certain portions of the tale. The White-Luck Warrior features three principal story arcs: the Great Ordeal, the expedition to Sauglish, and the New Empire. I found the New Empire story arc, which focuses on the events occurring in Momemn and the western Three Seas, to be much better paced than the other two. The rhythm is crip throughout the chapters dedicated to those storylines. The other two arcs are fundamentally travelogues meant to get the protagonists in position for what is shaping up to be one grand finale. Nowhere does The White-Luck Warrior suffers more from the middle book syndrome than in these two story arcs. Though I must admit that it doesn't take anything away from every plotline associated with the Great Ordeal. The narrative may drag a bit in certain parts of the story, but all in all, even if the pace is indeed slower, everything that has to do with the Great Ordeal was pretty much awesome. It is the Sauglish story lines which truly drags for the better part of the book. After taking center stage in The Judging Eye, the aftermath of Cil-Aujas doesn't quite capture the imagination the way Achamian, Mimara, and the Skin Eaters' arc did in the first volume. Regardless of that setback, true to form, Bakker closes the show of that particular arc with a bang. Still, taken as a whole, the Sauglish expedition suffers from a decidedly sluggish rhythm compared to the other two main story arcs.

The philosophical aspects and the inner musings may slow down the pace of the novel, yet it does improve the characterization by fleshing out the various protagonists more. The New Empire arc features the POVs of Esmenet, Kelmomas, the White-Luck Warrior, and a new character: Malowebi, Emissary of High Holy Zeüm. The departure of the Aspect-Emperor has left the empire vulnerable, and Zeüm is considering supporting Fanayal, the Bandit Padirajah, in his quest to destroy Kellhus.

One thing about House Anasûrimbor: it's one crazy family. If you thought the Osbournes were dysfunctional, wait till you get a load of the Anasûrimbors! One good thing about The White-Luck Warrior is the fact that all the living children are part of the narrative. Hence, although only Kelmomas is a POV character, you do get to know Moënghus, Kayûtas, mad Inrilatas, Serwa, Grandmistress of the Swayal Sisterhood, and Thelipoa. An unexpected turn of events means that we'll also get to see some of them even more in the final volume, which should be interesting.

The Great Ordeal features the POVs of Nersei Proyas and Varalt Sorweel. Some portions of the narrative, especially those dealing with the march and the battles are written through the eye of a neutral narrator. Sadly, Proyas' point of view appears to be present only to be a lens through which we try to figure out Kellhus. Once more, the Aspect-Emperor is not a POV character. Essentially, most of what has to do with the Great Ordeal is seen through the eyes of Sorweel. I have to admit that I wasn't too fond of the kid in The Judging Eye, but he did evolve into a major power player in this second volume. It was evident that Bakker had a lot in store for him (why else make Sorweel a POV character?), and we now see that he will have a major role to play in the outcome of the Great Ordeal. His many discussions with Zsoronga ut Nganka'kull also help him grow as a protagonist and it gives the Successor-Prince of Zeüm more depth.

The Sauglish expedition features the POVs of Achamian, Mimara, and another character which must remain anonymous for now. Mimara's point of view allows the reader to learn more about her past and how the Judging Eye works. Unfortunately, Achamian isn't as fascinating in the early stages of The White-Luck Warrior as he habitually is. After the incredible escape from Cil-Aujas, perhaps I was expecting too much out of his narrative. But their harrowing ordeal took a lot out of all of them, and the crossing of the Mop and the rest of the journey to Sauglish will take the entire party to the brink of death. Fear not, however, for in the end, Achamian's awesomeness returns to close the show with style. Seswatha's Dream also changes during the course of their journey, baffling Achamian with strange visions he cannot puzzle out.

Even if at times the rhythm can be a factor, I thoroughly enjoyed The White-Luck Warrior. My only complaint would have to be that I expected the Consult to play a much bigger role in this second installment. Their nefarious influence can be felt behind the scenes, true, but I was expecting them to play a more direct role in the events chronicled in this book. Another matter would have to be the White-Luck Warrior himself. The original title was supposed to be The Shortest Path. The title change made me believe that the White-Luck Warrior would be an important player in this one, while you only see him sporadically for brief periods of time. So I feel that changing the title created expectations that some readers might find off-putting.

Other than that, I think that The White-Luck Warrior is everything Bakker fans could hope for. Revelations about the Consult and the Dread Ark, the Nonmen, Kellhus' plans, Incariol's identity, the White-Luck Warrior, tantalizing hints about the Black Heavens, Fanayal's schemes, etc, will keep you begging for more! Regardless of the fact that the finale and its aftermath raise as many questions as it provides answers.

The coming year could well be one of the best in speculative fiction history. With authors such as George R. R. Martin, Steven Erikson, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Richard Morgan, and a bunch of others all releasing a new novel next year, trying to guess which title will top the list is impossible. But one thing's for sure: R. Scott Bakker's The White-Luck Warrior will be one of the fantasy books to read in 2011!

Bring on The Unholy Consult!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 June 2011
One of the things which impresses most about this series is the way in which, even amidst the incredibly epic events taking place, the characterisation doesn't suffer in the least. Achamian remains a superb creation, a Gandalf for the 21st century, and Kellhus, despite or perhaps because he is no longer a character whose viewpoint the reader shares, is still a source of awe and wonder.

The plot of this series is even more impressive - the history, depth and world-building rival George RR Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire', and the story itself is just as unpredictable (the conclusion of Achamian and Mimara's quest to Sauglish and beyond was simply astounding) and gripping. I can't think of another book or series that has been such a page-turner for me.

If you are new to the series, start with 'The Darkness that Comes Before', as the amount of back-story will be hard to catch up on otherwise.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 June 2011
The scope of this novel is as good as it gets. Add to it the originality, hard boiled characters and the epic battles and you have a classic. The characters often seem to have a distinct lack of humanity, which is probably more realistic than in the regular fantasies where characters are often unkillable heroes. Alot of reviewers of Bakker complain about the lack of likeability of the characters but to be frank this does not detract from the story at all. Along with Martin, Erikson and Abercombie I feel Bakker is one of the best fantasy writers today.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The second title in the Aspect Emperor series and one that continues to build upon the success of the first which, whilst some thought was slow set the scene beautifully and allowed the reader the chance to get to know the principle players. What this title does though is not only build upon the world building and characters but also allows the reader to get a fuller picture of the events that have shaped the world to this point in the novel. It allows character growth organically, it allows a better understanding and above all else it sets the world up for the best possible conclusion in the third and final part.

Add to this Bakker's wonderful sense of pace, some great action sequences and above all else the reader will have a title that really will satisfy the fantasy fan within. A great title all round and one that really has left the final book in the series as one where everything is to play for. Great stuff.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The Aspect-Emperor, Anasurimbor Kellhus, is leading the Great Ordeal into the heart of the Ancient North. Hundreds of thousands of troops and thousands of sorcerers are heading for Golgotterath, the seat of the vile Consult, where they plan to destroy the Ark of the Heavens and obliterate the alien Inchoroi before they can resurrect the No-God and plunge Earwa into the Second Apocalypse. After the relatively painless opening leg of the march, the Ordeal now crosses through hundreds of miles of territory infested by the vile Sranc, whose numbers blanket the earth. For Sorweel, the young King of Sakarpas who has been sworn to Kellhus's cause but continues to harbour doubts, the Ordeal is doubly a nightmare, for he also seeks to avenge the death of his father and serve the gods, who, blind to the machinations of the Consult, are offended by Kellhus's temerity and fear his power.

Elsewhere, the gods' fury makes itself known as the Cult of Yatwer allies itself to the Fanim to launch a devastating challenge against the New Empire. As the Empress, Esmenet, struggles to hold the Empire against this external threat she also faces internal crises; a growing schism with Maithanet, the Shriah of the Thousand Temples, and a force for chaos and destruction which is growing much closer to home...

The mercenaries known as the Skin Eaters have departed Cil-Aujas and now face a gruelling march along the 'Long Side' of the Osthwai Mountains, through a terrible forest and across vast plains to reach their destination: Sauglish, where Drusas Achamian hopes to find a map that will lead him to Ishual, the home of the Dunyain and the truth behind the Aspect-Emperor.

The White Luck Warrior is the middle volume of The Aspect-Emperor, itself the middle sequence of a much longer series called The Second Apocalypse. As such it carries us firmly into the second half of the overall series and, fittingly, it raises the stakes, expands the backstory and furthers the understanding of both the characters and reader of what is happening. The previous volume in the series, The Judging Eye, was very fine but also somewhat claustrophobic and lacked a satisfying conclusion (arguably only the Cil-Aujas storyline had a real climax). The White Luck Warrior has no such issues: it is a monumentally satisfying work of epic fantasy and probably the finest volume in this subgenre published for half a decade.

With this series, Bakker has taken the most basic of epic fantasy plots - a bunch of ugly bad guys want to destroy the world and wipe everyone out, only to find an ultra-powerful 'chosen one' rising to oppose them - and empowered it with motivation and ambition before not so much deconstructing it as tearing it apart and rebuilding it brick by brick. It's a work of fiendish intelligence, but also one of at times wearying nihilism and cynicism. This world is dark, cold and brutal, but the alternative is so dark and horrific that it is shown to be worth saving.

The White Luck Warrior sees Bakker achieving a near-perfect balance in his work. The Prince of Nothing trilogy was packed with philosophical asides which were often fascinating, but had a tendency to slow down the narrative (the problem being not so much that they were long, just that were a lot of them). In The Judging Eye Bakker reduced these asides quite a lot, resulting in a book where it felt like he was restraining his full powers in the service of accessibility. In this book he strikes a compromise between the two: Bakker's philosophical points are here locked to the story and the characters and made to service them. So discussions about the nature of belief, faith, damnation and redemption are relevant to the actual plot, the nature of the Outside and the gods, and cast intriguing new light on the nature of sorcery and the precise motivations of the Consult, the Inchoroi and Kellhus himself.

The plot is perfectly pitched as it moves between three primary storylines: the Great Ordeal as it battles its way through hordes of Sranc, mostly related by the young Sorweel; the long journey of the Skin Eaters, as told by Achamian and Mimara; and events back in the imperial capital, focusing on Esmenet and her increasingly disturbing child Kelmomas. Some other characters come in for brief periods, but the book's sharp focus on these three storylines results in a relentless pace that pushes the story forward at all times. Each chapter builds character, or reveals backstory, or hints at things to come or at things that have already passed. For a book almost 600 pages long in tradeback, there is no flab or filler, which is itself an impressive achievement.

The title of the novel and its 'middle book' status recall The Warrior-Prophet, the middle volume of The Prince of Nothing, and there are echoes of that novel here: the endless march into a desolate wilderness, resulting in supply problems, whilst, unexpectedly, the words and actions of Cnaiur are still driving events two volumes after his death. Most notably, after the mostly 'quiet' Judging Eye, Bakker brings back the badass here. Massive battles and huge sorcerous conflagrations make a comeback and are handled even better than before. At the same time, Bakker doesn't repeat himself: the Sranc represent a very different enemy to the Fanim of the first series. Elsewhere, Bakker's oft-criticised (sometimes justifiably) treatment of women is reversed somewhat here, especially when the Gnosis-empowered Swayal witches enter the fray and Mimara's discovery of the Judging Eye gives her soul-stripping powers that exceed those of the Dunyain.

Structurally, Bakker suddenly (and after the anti-climactic Judging Eye, unexpectedly) seems to have discovered the art of a perfect cliffhanger. To the point where he gives us no less than three of them, leaving yawning mysteries that need to be solved, characters walking into horrendous danger and huge battles about to be joined. He also deepens the sense of mystery in the series through carefully-measured revelations about the Consult, the Inchoroi and their goals (including the Consult's fixation on one particular numerical value). Expect fantasy forums to be buzzing as the full implications of these revelations are discussed in the coming months.

The White Luck Warrior (*****) is a powerful, engrossing, ferociously intelligent novel that sees Bakker at the very top of his game. It leaves the reader on the edge of their seat for the concluding volume of the trilogy, The Unholy Consult, which we need yesterday. The novel is available now in Canada and the USA and on 5 May in the UK.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 May 2012
I loved the whole series. Love Bakker's way of writing- the detail and very human observations, the compassion for his characters even while describing unimaginable atrocities, the slow unfolding of the underlying plot. I seldom find trilogies and other extended series like this worth it, but I just never want this one to end.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 May 2011
Ive leaned more towards sci fi in the last few years and get bored quickly with fantasy. Not so with this
book interested characters with huge dept. I real page turned and I couldnt put down 5 star!
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on 6 June 2012
Even better than the first. Contains more philosophical musings excellently meshed with the story, if you've liked the story so far then continue.

The lengh shows however, Druss's story lags a bit in the middle, but this is a minor complaint.
Too little of Kellhus unleashing the Gnosis but others do that for him - the sorcery is picked up but frustratingly there's less explanation of the mechanics and of character's action as could be found in the first series, we get more description less explanation. A shame

This is not a series that can be picked up in the middle, read the preceeding material if you haven't already.
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