The White Luck Warrior review

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The White-Luck Warrior is the fifth book written by R. Scott Bakker in the Prince of Nothing setting, the second one in the Aspect Emperor trilogy and was originally released on May 5th 2011. As you can see, it's been sitting on my shelves for almost a year and I have to admit that it was about time that I pick it up.  I needed that kind of 'epicness'. Still, we will all have to wait for 2013 to read the ending of that second trilogy in The Unholy Consult.
As Anasûrimbor Kellhus and his Great Ordeal march ever farther into the 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 scarcely survive, let alone comprehend. Into this tumult walks the White-Luck Warrior, assassin and messiah both.
When I read the Prince of Nothing several years ago, I was awestruck at the dimension of the characters, the depth of the plot, the ingenious, tangible and inflated world building and the philosophical/anthropological exploration found in the protagonists insights while they marched to war. I read that this last aspect (mostly so in the author's case) is seen for some as an author who is overreaching, spreading to far into the complex breakdown of the human psyche, desires and passions but I tend to disagree. You really don't have to be overly learned to enjoy Bakker's work. Still, as I'm sure I'm not alone, I probably missed on some principle dissection and have to admit that the prose can get tiresome and wander mostly around suffering which could draw away its share of potential readers.

Concerning The White-Luck Warrior, like its predecessors, I delightedly found an intricate work of thoughtful, lengthily descriptive and engaged epic Fantasy. There are times while reading the book that I felt a hundred miles away from the common tropes like the prophetical farm boy looking for a special artefact to help him in fighting the evil wizard but the roots are still presents and, stripped off of Bakker's particular touch, it remains true in its foundations to the references of epic Fantasy. The hero is turned out into several all-powerful or inspired human beings with a couple of dubious beacons at their head and the evil wizard is Mog-Phaurau, the No-God. Although, the humans themselves could be the greatest evil of all...

To move the plot forward, the threads found in WLW are the same that started in The Judging Eye. There is no new major point of view and in the end, it's basically (and I know some may have grown tired of the term) a bridging novel. Many trilogies have them and this is not an exception. Still, the ending of the book is satisfying but I'll get to it later. The stotylines follow specifically Achamian and Mimara, Sorweel and co, Proyas and Kellhus, Kelmomas and Esmenet and finally a point of view of a point of view (you have read correctly).

That one is the actual namesake of the book, the White Luck Warrior himself. Frankly, I'm quite perplexed as to the reason behind that choice for the name of the book. There are only three apparitions of the 'thing' and they could be considered as epigraphs.  The principle of a being seeing himself living and acting while grasping all the possibilities these actions could take him to is unorthodox and complicated. Still, we should see more of him in the following book and he could become more interesting or at least, a puzzling perspective or variable.

From these stoylines, the continuation of the Slog of the Slogs, the march of the Skin Eaters lead by the daunting Captain and his acolyte Cleric, is clearly the most compelling part of the book. Bakker shines in writing dark and disturbed characters. Differently from the previous book and trilogy, Achamian feels less pitiful.  I think that one of the reasons behind this is the fact that the validity of his quest becomes more and more confusing.  Is he really doing the right thing?  I mean, I know that the vengeance he seeks by framing the Eaters into reaching for the Coffers is a mean to a greater end but by reading about Sorweel, Mimara and Proyas experiences and questioning, I eventually though that Kellhus is probably doing the right thing, at the cost of almost everything for humankind. A being like him is essential to its survival but also excessively dangerous. I can't even imagine what he could do without the prospect of saving Earwa from the No-God second invasion.

So, as I tried to illustrate, in this fifth book, the sides, morals and goals are getting even 'greyer'. What the author achieved is building a story where there are fast skirmishes at regular intervals including Nonmans and Sranc, a walk to the country in an ancient and desolate land, huge battles where a horde of gifted sorcerers isn't enough, plots within plots in a capital city where siblings see through every emotions and Consult spies masquerading as humans. All of this without a clear idea as to whom you should cheer for and whom to hate. Sure, the world is full of ugly truths, the motivations of almost everyone is kind of tainted and I would have liked a more darkly funny tone for some scenes but in the end, it's what I expected of the book and much of what I would have asked for.

What I realize while writing this review is that there are so much things I would wish to talk about. It's the kind of book that becomes so fun to speculate and share thoughts about.  The last series I read that created that feeling in me is Erickson's Malazan book of the fallen, which is more varied in almost all of the elements mentioned before. There is a score of interesting and entertaining Fantasy books out there, but there's only so much that can bring this kind of analytic playground.

'Storywise' and in accordance with the Judging eye, there's still not much new stuff about the Consult and No-God. They remain as mirages on the horizon with brief reality check. However, their war peons are another idea. The Sranc ride the coattail of the army or run in front of it like a school of fish or a flock of birds. They are doing their part of the greater scheme of the almost unseen Consult/No-God but mostly act as bait. With Kellhus power being overwhelming, numbers becomes the answer for them.

Then, there's the climax or conclusion for at least one important part of the tale.  I won't spoil and I'll simply summarize by saying that the point of view switches that bring to life an epic battle scene mixed up with a confrontation of timeless entities is simply brilliant. I hope that with this review you'll be able to judge if this novel is for you. I, for one, think that's it more than worthy of far greater attention.

Technically, I think that the UK cover art (top of the post) is not bad, the Penguin Books cover (left one) is illustrating an interesting part of the books lore (the Circumfix) but it's not looking great, the US cover is simply awful (center) and the Overlook Press Pb one (right) is the best of them all.    The book stands at 608 pages and two nice maps, a "what has come before" and an appendix are included.

The White Luck Warrior review score :

Characterization.............  9 / 10
World building...............   9 / 10
Magic system.................   8.5 / 10
Story..............................   8.5 / 10
Writing...........................   9 / 10

Overall (not an average) 9 / 10



Cursed Armada said...

HAHA I have to be honest Phil, I have been anticipating your thoughts on this book for a while now and after reading your review the fanboy in me is glad that another person is praising Bakker instead of bashing on him. I think that a lot of people tend to base Bakker's books off of Bakker as a person. If you visit his blog its full of philosophy and ideas that make my head spin. I think you brought up a good point though when you said that even with all the "Philosophical" themes you really don't have to have a major in Philosophy to grasp what the story is. Some of the inner musings of the characters go right over my head, but at the end of the day we have an epic quest with some truly fascinating characters.

I thought Achamian's arc was by far the best. The scenes with the Captain and Cleric were truly haunting. When I read the story I couldn't help but feel like I was there with the skineaters, feeling their paranoia, their fear, their descent into madness. I really think that Bakker has something crazy up his sleeve for the conclusion of his epic. I'm glad you gave this one a shot, and I'm glad you survived the slog of slogs! BTW there are some great speculation discussions on the ASOIAF literature forum if you feel like making your head spin lol.

Phil said...

I agree, his blog is something quite different... not an easy read...

That slog certainly was an amazing ride! :) and it makes me wonder why there isn't more people reading Bakker... I hope that my review can bring more readers to his books, they are really worth it, even if there is a little bit of effort involved.

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This book really took my breath away. Bakker has come a long way as a writer and it shows in his latest book. I was kept on the edge of my seat for nearly the whole book. Revelations upon revelations are spilled here. To anyone thinking this is another build up book, think again, it is an epic ride. Some answers are had and some great battles are fought.

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The good far outweigh the few minor grievances I have, and it continues the story that I have come to treasure above any other fantasy series out today. I highly recommend it.

Marlene Detierro said...

This book really took my breath away. Bakker has come a long way as a writer and it shows in his latest book. I was kept on the edge of my seat for nearly the whole book. Revelations upon revelations are spilled here. To anyone thinking this is another build up book, think again, it is an epic ride. Some answers are had and some great battles are fought.

I cannot wait for book three.

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