The OF Blog: The Aspect-Emperor, vol. I: R. Scott Bakker, The Judging Eye

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Aspect-Emperor, vol. I: R. Scott Bakker, The Judging Eye

I first read the opening volume to The Aspect-Emperor trilogy, The Judging Eye, back in November 2008 and again in January 2009, shortly before the book's publication worldwide.  This sequel to Bakker's The Prince of Nothing trilogy, set twenty years after the events of The Thousandfold Thought, was for me Bakker's most compact and chilling epic fantasy yet.

When I originally read it in November 2008, I made a post about elements of the book that occurred to me at the time.  Instead of writing around these points, I'm going to copy/paste them and elaborate on a few of them, giving my take after completing my third read just now:

1) The writing is more compact than in the PoN trilogy.

The Judging Eye, clocking in around 420 pages of narrative, is the second-shortest of Bakker's epic fantasy volumes.  However, he manages to compress a fairly strong narrative arc into 1/2 of this book, doing more than just the initial setups that he established in the first PoN volume, The Darkness That Comes Before.  Furthermore, there is a greater emphasis on establishing the consequences of action rather than philosophizing about said actions.




2) The evolution of the characters' PoVs away from direct focus on Kellhus's own PoV to him being further and further outside the direct action is a logical progression from the latter half of PoN and something I expected.


This is a very important step in expanding the narrative, as there were times late in PoN, where it seemed virtually all of the action and narrative meaning had collapsed around the character of Kellhus.  While this was important for establishing the centrality of Kellhus in that particular trilogy, in this one, despite it bearing the name of Kellhus's adopted title, it appears much of the focus will be on those who resist Kellhus's manipulations and those who are fighting to find a newer sort of meaning, one that is not dominated by the Dûnyain.  Furthermore, by having no Kellhus PoV, those times in which he does appear allows for the reader to see him from the vantage point of the characters who are beholding him in action.


3) The reason behind this book's title (and the event surrounding this) is either setting up for some very serious metaphysical discussion in the coming novels, or it might be a decried as being an ill-explained departure from the mechanics established in the previous trilogy.

After re-reading this book, I believe it's more a case of the former rather than the latter.  The metaphysics behind the Chorae are explored in greater detail and how the titular bearer of the Judging Eye reaches through the contradictions embedded in the Chorae actually seemed to be better done on a re-read than I remember it being when I first read this book a year and a half ago.

4) Having three main plot threads for this novel didn't seem to work as well as it should have, as one of them came to dominate too much of the latter third of the novel. Hard to think of how Bakker could have done it any differently right now, however.


This still appears to be the book's weakest part, as the Esmenet and Sorweel chapters came across as feeling incomplete and rather sketchy compared to the Akka/Mimara chapters.  This was exacerbated by the Akka chapters dominating the final 170 pages of the novel, leaving the other two subplots undeveloped in comparison.  However, it is hard to say what should have been added to these two subplots, since the Akka chapters did require quite a bit of space to develop its scenes appropriately.

5) Speaking of those plot threads, the one that dominates actually would have made an excellent, dark, scary novel on its own, so it's not as though it could have been cut any further.


The journey of Akka, Mimara, and the mercenary Sranc hunters, the Skin Hunters, through the apparently-abandoned Nonmen mansion of Cil-Aujas, is perhaps one of the best homages to Tolkien's Moria scene that I have read.  The combination of stifling atmosphere, alternating slow and quick pacing to the narrative, and the slow unveiling of all of the horrors entombed in this "topos" were done to great effect.  With this most recent re-read, I found myself appreciating more what had been established within these chapters that explains not just a bit of the setting's "history," but also the consequences that now face the company as they march through it.

6) The proverbs for this volume are just as cutting and just as cynical about "human nature" as were the PoN ones.

Nothing more to add than my opinion stands.

7) The humor was a little affected at times; this was a dark novel, but a bit more humor could have made the dark scenes all the more effective by highlighting the contrasts more.

Although I did find a slight bit more levity when I re-read this, it is true that one of the knocks on Bakker's writing is that there is little that breaks the seriousness of the narrative. While there might not be the pontifications that occurred in the earlier trilogy on occasion, there also is not much in the way of imbuing the characters with a full range of human emotions either. This is perhaps the greatest weakness in his writings, even if there has been slow improvement with each succeeding volume to date.

8) For those who knock Bakker's portrayal of women: I thought he did a pretty good job portraying one main female character (new to the series) and how she developed her attitudes.

Mimara came off well in this re-read.  Her hurt and suspicion were shown well and she seemed to be a more "independent" (well, as far as Kellhus allows any other character to be viewed as "independent" in this series) character than her mother Esmenet has come across in four volumes now.


9) It's never simple with any of Kellhus's children. There is much more to be revealed about them. Even the mad have moments of clarity.


Kellhus' youngest surviving child, Kelmomas, is a real sociopath in this volume. He exudes this sense of danger that belies his young, eight year-old body. The other children felt more like autistic savants of varying degrees, but Kelmomas truly is a monster-in-development and I am curious to see what Bakker will do with him in future volumes.



10) Damnation is a very scary thing indeed.


I've already said my piece on Cil-Aujas above, so just read between the lines there.

11) Much is revealed of Eärwa's past, including some truly sick scenes.

The true horrors of Cil-Aujas involve a most brutal form of enslavement and Bakker presents this in an unflinching fashion, displaying sympathy toward the human victims but not outright condemning through his characters the horrors that took place over a 10,000 year span. This balancing let the reader construct just what horrors were taking place, rather than depending on the author to tell them everything. Nicely done.

12) If I were to go much further right now, Scott likely would have my head, even if he didn't make me promise to withhold information about this book (all my comments are based strictly on my reading of the ARC Overlook sent me this week).


Well, I went a bit further,but only to give a hint of what I enjoyed.  This novel took several days for me to complete (in part due to much of my reading time being taken up with BAF responsibilities and in part due to a mild sinus/lung infection), but yet it seemed as though I were reading tomes' worth of material in the span of barely 400 pages.  Bakker has matured as a writer, allowing inference to take the place of exposition in several places and the novel felt stronger as a result.  With nearly a year to wait until the next volume, The White-Luck Warrior, perhaps I can rest a bit before continuing this exhausting and yet enjoyable series.

3 comments:

Wise Bass said...

Mimara came off well in this re-read. Her hurt and suspicion were shown well and she seemed to be a more "independent" (well, as far as Kellhus allows any other character to be viewed as "independent" in this series) character than her mother Esmenet has come across in four volumes now.


I agree, and Mimara was my favorite character in the book. She's an active, distinct, and absolutely fascinating character, particularly when you consider her rather unique ability.

I remember some speculation back at the Westeros boards as to whether or not having the Judging Eye plus Gnostic Sorcery would allow someone to sing in the God's voice without the marring of the world and damnation that normal sorcery entails. The PoN Trilogy did make reference to "Shamans", prophets who could also use sorcery.

renasko said...

'The journey of Akka, Mimara, and the mercenary Sranc hunters, the Skin Hunters, through the apparently-abandoned Nonmen mansion of Cil-Aujas, is perhaps one of the best homages to Tolkien's Moria scene that I have read. '

Homage, or outright rip-off?

Larry said...

Homage, since while there is the underground abandoned mansion trek, Bakker's story differs in intent (to show the horrors of than mansion, rather than the tragedy of a lost kingdom), feel (much more of a horror story than a quest), language (slanted more toward a psychological impression than a geste), and conclusion.

 
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