Reviews of Darkness That Comes Before, the (2004)
Review by clong (2006-02-26)
Bakker's series has been getting very positive reviews, and it is easy to see why. Folks who like the dark gritty fantasy of Steven Erikson but are put off by the complexity of the Malazan books will find this particularly appealing.
Bakker's world is detailed and well sketched without being overwhelmingly complex. He is also given it a powerful sense of history. There was something both original and fascinating about various cultures and nations and "schools" that populate this world.
The cast of leading characters is also managably small. These characters all have an air of mystery, and only over time do we start to understand their motivations and goals. This is not fantasy built around the good guys vs the bad guys. It features characters who are sympathetic shades of gray, competing factions pursuing their private goals, not knowing that some powerful apocalyptic force is about to be unleashed on their world. Kellhus is a particularly intriguing character, and yet at the end of the book he remains morally ambigious.
The main battle scene was compellingly described, although I found some of the treatment of military tactics to be unconvincing (it seemed incomprehensible that the Scylvendi would have been tricked by Conphas' battle plans). And I thought the female characters were generally less convincing than the men.
But still, an extremely impressive debut novel that left me eager to move on to Book 2 of the series.