By Crom and Ishtar, Batman: There’s a minor epidemic of sword-and-sorcery epics out there, and now one of them is long-practicing fantasist Bakker’s sequel to The Judging Eye (2009).
As readers familiar with that book know—and if you haven’t read the first volume, you’ll need to—Anasûrimbor Kellhus is “the Aspect-Emperor of the Three Seas.” His job description requires him to fight the forces of the Apocalypse here, the weirdlings of the frozen Ancient North there—in short, there’s not much time for golf or a Hawaiian vacation in a place where the gods and one’s kinfolk alike have it in for you. That world is a diverse if violent place: Think of it as Canada and Brazil with magic wands and battleaxes, with the North always coming in ahead, since “commerce with the Nonmen had allowed them to outstrip their more swarthy cousins to the South.” More swarthy? Nonmen? Gulp. The shades of D.W. Griffith are fainter than those of J.R.R. Tolkien, of course, with whom comparisons are naturally to be drawn. And in that Bakker is found wanting, for though this volume is dauntingly big, not much happens in it—there’s a lot of back story and a lot of talk, but not much of it adds up. Oh, there are grandmasters of the “Gnostic School of Sohonc,” of course, and Anagogic Schools, and practitioners of Inrithism and victims of “the Inrithi persecution of sorcery”; there are brave warriors of something called the Great Ordeal, which is more descriptive than the author might have intended; there’s a character who can “scry our scrying;" and there are witches and wizards but, at least, seedy brothels in the place of groaning-board inns. Not many of the venues are attractive; “the omnipresent smell of rot seemed to take on a sinister tang,” says our narrator, which unfortunately speaks volumes.
It’s the usual fantasy stuff, in other words, derivative of but much inferior to the Tolkien/Lewis/Peake schools of yore. Take it as good news or bad, but another volume in the series awaits.