R. Scott Bakker established himself as a fantasy writer to watch with The Darkness That Comes Before, the first volume of his Prince of Nothing trilogy. That book largely set the scene for the epic series, introducing the main characters and providing the mandatory fantasy backdrop of an earth-shattering war against an evil, godlike figure. With the explication out of the way, Bakker is free to get on with the action, and The Warrior-Prophet is all action. The novel begins with The Holy War, a Crusades-like army made up of vying factions, invading the desert lands of the jihadist Fanhim. The following 600-plus pages feature one large battle after another, broken up only by 600-plus various subplots involving sorcerous conspiracies and the occasional romantic interlude. Hundreds of thousands die, but Bakker never loses his focus on the human side of the struggles, following the individual quests of characters in the madness of all-out war: the warrior prophet Kellus seeks to unite the strife-riven Holy War before it destroys itself--and him--in the desert; the sorcerer Achamian attempts to understand both his nightmares of the dread No-God's re-awakening and his relationship with Esmenet, a prostitute; the barbarian Cnaiur becomes a fierce leader of the war but slowly goes mad in his thirst for vengeance against Kellhus's father; and secret skin-spies of the demonic Consult seek to control events to usher in their own desired apocalypse. Bakker even pays careful attention to the minor characters, describing the heroic actions and deaths of various warriors in battle, until The Warrior-Prophet often reads more like a history, or even a battle song, than a conventional fantasy novel.
Unfortunately, this is also the book's one weakness. There are so many characters and intrigues that readers will have to frequently consult the glossary to remind themselves of who's who and why they're fighting each other. But it's probably not fair to criticize a fantasy tale for presenting a world that's too real. And it's the world of Earwa that is the real star of the trilogy, as Bakker has invested it with a breathtaking social complexity, thanks in part to his allusions to European and Middle Eastern history. Earwa deserves a place beside Tolkien's Middle-earth, Robert E. Howard's Hyborian world, and Steve Erikson's Malazan Empire in the annals of great fantasy worlds. --Peter Darbyshire