History is the record of what came before us and reminds us of who we once were and how we became who we are now. However, there is often a marked difference between what is recorded as history and what actually happened. Whether it's the mists of time that cloud people's memories or a deliberate colouring of the truth that distorts reality doesn't matter in the end as the result is the same and the past becomes a murky shadow filled with rumours and half truths.
In the world of The Three Seas that R. Scott Bakker introduced the world to in his The Prince Of Nothing trilogy most men had forgotten or refused to believe what had come before them. Partially from ignorance, and partially from hubris, for wasn't their civilization the pinnacle of achievement, they refused to believe that thousands of years ago the world came within a hair's breadth of being obliterated. However over the course of the trilogy events unfolded that brought history into the present and a long forgotten enemy was revealed for all to see.
Anasurimbor Kellhus is descended from the kings who fought against the doom two thousand years ago. Over the course of The Prince Of Nothing he rises from being an obscure outsider to becoming the Warrior Prophet who leads the faithful in battle against the heathen so they can reclaim their southern empire and he also confirms the existence of The Consult, the long forgotten enemy. When Kellhus is acclaimed Aspect Emperor at the end of the trilogy, one of his first promises is to seek out the strongholds of the Consult in the Northern reaches of The Three Seas and destroy them to prevent a return of their master the No-God.
Ten years have passed since the events described in the first trilogy as Bakker picks up the story again in The Judging Eye, book one of The Aspect Emperor trilogy, being released on January 20th by Penguin Canada. It's been a busy decade for the newly anointed Aspect Emperor, what with eliminating opposition to his rule, consolidating the power of the Empire, and making the necessary preparations for his war on The Consult.
Yet there are still those who harbour misgivings, if not even doubts, about their Aspect Emperor, and chief among them is his former teacher Drusas Achamian. In the days before the ascent of the Emperor Achamian had been one of the few who believed in the existence of The Consult. A schoolman, the name given sorcerers in The Three Seas, he had belonged to the school known as the Mandate were gifted with possession of the most powerful sorcery in the world, The Gnosis, and cursed with the memory of two thousand year old wars.
Although it was Kellhus who vindicated Achamian and his fellow Mandate schoolmen by verifying the existence of The Consult when all else had ridiculed their belief, he turned his back on the Emperor the day he was crowned. Kellhus had stolen Achamian's lover, Esmenet, and made her his consort, a betrayal that Drusas could not forgive or forget. He also possesses the knowledge of who Kellhus really is and where he so mysteriously came from, which only increases his doubts and suspicions.
In the Judging Eye Bakker sets in motion two great quests; "The Great Ordeal", the holy war, led by the Aspect Emperor to scour the world of The Consult and prevent the rise of the No-God and a second apocalypse, and Achamian's quest to find Ishual, the birth place of Kellhus.
The two quests are as different as night and day. For while Kellhus and company are the bright shining light set forth to cleanse the earth of evil, Achamian's party are a motley collection of mercenaries and bounty hunters who have lived on the edge of civilization for years.
In The Prince Of Nothing trilogy Bakker not only was able to bring to life the sweeping events of history but take us inside of it by rendering his characters and their place in events in exquisite detail. In book one of The Aspect Emperor, The Judging Eye, he shows that he hasn't lost that touch. No matter where we are, or whose eyes we are observing the world through, we not only live through overwhelming events as if they were happening to us, but Bakker never lets us forget the overall picture either. He is able to do this because not only are his characters are so well drawn that we feel we've known them all our lives after only just meeting them, but the environments they move through are depicted so vividly they appear in our mind's eye as if painted there.
Bakker has deftly laid the foundations for the various strands of plot and intrigue that will run through out the trilogy. From the religious cult plotting against the Emperor, the inner workings of the Emperor's court (and the strange behaviour of his children), the Emperor's army in the field, to Achamian's perilous journey into the North, events have been set in motion that promise the The Aspect Emperor trilogy will be just as memorable and remarkable as its predecessor. Return with R. Scott Bakker to the world of The Three Seas for a journey unlike any other you have experienced. Part Dante's Inferno and part Conrad's Heart Of Darkness this is fantasy literature like you've never read before.
(Originally posted January 2009)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.