Monday, May 3, 2010

Review: The Judging Eye

The Judging Eye By R. Scott Bakker

The Judging Eye is the first novel in a fantasy trilogy by R. Scott Bakker. In truth this is actually the fourth novel in a series that will be at least six books, maybe more. The initial trilogy, titled The Prince of Nothing is a favorite among fantasy fans, not to mention, a favorite of mine. The Judging Eye takes place twenty years after the events of the first trilogy.

In The Judging Eye Bakker has pared things down. The cast of characters is a lot more concise, and the novel follows three distinct story arcs.

The first arc follows the The Great Ordeal, the name given a massive army that is marching into the desolate north in hopes of preventing a second apocalypse. Leading the army is the Emperor Kellhus, who has achieved a God-like quality, and the power to go with it. While Kellhus is the major catalyst in the series, he is almost completely absent in this book, appearing only in brief stretches. The lack of Kellhus seems to be a device used by Bakker to show just how absolutely powerful Kellhus is. His brief cameos always steal the scene, and his power over man and woman alike appears to be all encompassing.

Instead Bakker shows the Great Ordeal through the eyes of a young man named Sorweel. Sorweel is the prince of Sarkarpus, a northern city which is quickly absorbed into Kellhus' empire at the beginning of the book. Sorweel, though disgraced by the defeat of his home, is installed as a captain into a division of the great army and is forced to come to terms with the Great Ordeal, and what it means to humankind.

The second story arc takes place back in the Heart of Kellhus' empire, where his wife Esmenet is trying to hold the empire together while her husband is away. Not only is she is forced to deal with the day to day politics, but she also has to contend with religious uprisings, and her offspring, who all seem to possess some degree of the great power that her husband, Kellhus weilds.

The kids are all a little bit crazy too.

The one kid that is featured the most is Kelmomas, who along with his twin brother, are the youngest of the brood. It was hard to tell just how old Kelmomas is, but he is a smart, devious, manipulative little bugger. In fact, he is so smart, devious and manipulative, and don't forget a little bit crazy, that it is unclear who is really in charge of the empire, him or his mom.

The third story arc was my favorite, as it featured Achamian, possibly the only sympathetic character in the series. For the past twenty years Achamian has been in a self imposed exile, ever since he turned his back on Kellhus and the empire. In that time Achamian has been busy trying to piece together the puzzle that surrounds Kellhus, and his origins. Along with Mimara, the daughter of Esmenet (born during her days as whore, before Kellhus), he induces a band of sranc (think orcs) scalpers to help him reach Ishual,a city far to the north, which he believes will help him solve his mystery.

The journey that Achamian, Mimara, and the scalpers take is easily the most exciting part of the book. The highpoint of their journey comes when they are forced to traverse the Black Halls; a clear homage to Tolkien and Moria. Bakker skillfully executed this part of the book, as the tension mounted, the psychological impact on the characters was great, and when he finally dropped the hammer...awesome. Creepy, very visual, and intense. Great stuff.

The Judging Eye is definitely a set-up book. Bakker moves some pieces around, sets things just right, just on the edge, and then leaves it there for the next book. The Judging Eye created a lot of burning questions in my head, (most notably: "What the hell has Kellhus been up to for the past twenty years? How powerful is that fucker now? And, What is he really gonna do with that big-ass army?"), that will hopefully get answered in the next book.

Bakker is one of the big name fantasy writers, and he's on top of his game in this one. I really enjoyed it, and found it really hard to put down for the last 100 pages. If you haven't read the Prince of Nothing series, get on it, then read this.

Grade: B+


Cursed Armada said...

I had to hunt this review down and get your thoughts... The Black Halls were seriously creepy, I read on another blogger's site that it was "Moria on LSD". The kids are seriously fucked up right??? Bro, you need to get to The White Luck Warrior... Achamian's arc is just as good as in Judging eye. (NO WEEPERS ON THE SLOG) Sorweel starts to become a bad ass too, all in all it was easily the best book of the year IMHO. I'm a total fan-boy of this series, and it's always interesting to hear other thoughts concerning it. Great review man

Ryan said...

Thanks dude. It is weird to read a review from the early days of the blog. I'd like to think my writing has improved a bit since then.

I REALLY gotta read The White Luck Warrior, I've been wanting to read some Bakker for awhile. I've been waiting for the soft cover edition, which will be easier on my coin purse.

The Black Halls were indeed seriously creepy and awesome.