The Great Ordeal is the fifth book of R. Scott Bakkers darkly epic Second Apocalypse series, which to date consists of The Prince of Nothing trilogy (The Darkness That Comes Before (2003), The Warrior Prophet (2004) and The Thousandfold Thought (2006)) and the Aspect Emperor tetralogy (The Judging Eye (2009), (The White Luck Warrior (2011) and The Great Ordeal (2016.)) The Great Ordeals original working title was The Unholy Consult before it was split in two due to its size.
I received this ARC back in August and to say I was excited is an understatement, not only was I getting to read a book I was eagerly anticipating but I got to do it early! This is the first ARC I have had for review and my thanks go out to the guys over on the Second Apocalypse forums for organizing this. Any fans of Bakker should head over to their forums for some great theorizing and general interaction.
So back to the ARC – there was some uncertainty and turbulence with The Great Ordeals initial publication date due to its overall length, which resulted in the original manuscript being too large and being split into two volumes as detailed above: The Great Ordeal (2016) and The Unholy Consult (expected 2017). Thankfully the book is now published and widely available.
The Great Ordeal doesn’t seem to suffer due to the split and intensive rewrite this most likely entailed, it doesn’t feel like part one to a larger volume and stands exceptionally well on its own. The Great Ordeal holds up so well because The Unholy Consult is titled after the stories apparent and central protagonists, The Consult, who are a dark cabal of ancient and wicked sorcerers and their evil alien allies. As a single volume I expect there would have been a lot more Consult perspectives which have now likely been moved to the last volume of the series.
Overall this turns out to be a fairly easy review – this is definitely the strongest of The Aspect Emperor series so far, delving deep into the intricately detailed and rich historical foundations of the Earwan world while delivering action and epicness on a scale we haven’t seen in the series before. There’s no surplus here, every scene is wrought for maximal impact, every conversation, every sword stroke, every cut. Bakker really seems to have found his stride with the philosophical waxing fans have come to expect expertly mixed with the grandiose and often gut wrenching prose that is another Bakker staple. The Great Ordeal is not an easy read, both for the inherent awfulness that makes up the Earwan world and for the sometimes difficult literary prose running throughout but not all things in life are easy and the effort definitely yields a reward with the Gordian knot style plot slowly untying itself for the reader as Bakkers prose continues to lend the series an almost scriptural feel.
Bakkers style remains largely unchanged from previous novels with themes of philosophy, human nature and our blindness to our own decision making processes taking the center. Philosophical epigraphs from Earwa’s imagined philosophers and sorcerers frame the chapters as in previous novels and add a unique flavor to each chapter – often seemingly opaque to the proceeding chapter further scrutiny reveals a link.
This really is a fantastic novel, it has a great balance of action, dialogue and character inner monologues which move the plot along in an effective manner, it seems to move with greater clarity and says more than the two previous volumes of the Aspect Emperor – a lot happens during this book that has massive consequences for the characters and Earwa as a whole, which really adds to the sense of scale in the narrative. There are a number of fist pump scenes involving fan favorites but these are juxtaposed with a subtly crafted scenes which pull the rug from right under you and leave you staring into the abyss.
Whilst I expected Bakker to deliver a solid continuation of The Second Apocalypse what I ended up getting exceeded any expectations I had – Bakker’s writing is exceptional here and it feels as if he may have ascended another writing plateau. If you are a fan of Bakker’s Second Apocalypse then it’s almost a given you are going to enjoy this. If you’ve tried Bakker and don’t enjoy his particular style then I don’t expect there to be anything sufficiently different to pull you in and engage you with this novel.
If you have yet to read Bakker then I think now is a perfect time to pick up one of the darkest and most epic fantasy series around – The Great Ordeal freshly published and The Unholy Consult teetering over the horizon, I would recommend you pick up The Darkness that comes Before and tell me:
WHAT DO YOU SEE…