In 2003 Canadian fantasy author R. Scott Bakker published his first novel, an epic fantasy called The Darkness That Comes Before. It was an unusual book, melding together influences from Tolkien, Frank Herbert’s Dune and the works of Nietzsche, amongst many others. In thoughtful, rich prose it told the story of Ansurimbor Kellhus, scion of an ancient and hidden sect who descends into the civilisation of the Three Seas, joins the Holy War against the infidel Fanim to reclaim the Holy City of Shimeh, and then subverts it to his own, dubious ends. Two further volumes followed, The Warrior-Prophet and The Thousandfold Thought, completing The Prince of Nothing Trilogy.
In 2008 Bakker began publishing a follow-up series. The Judging Eye picks up the action twenty years on, with the Three Seas now united and preparing the Great Ordeal, a second massive crusade. This time their target is Golgotterath, the crash-site of the Ark of the Heavens, a star-spanning vessel which brought the dread Inchoroi to the world. The Inchoroi and their human servants, the Consult, seek to resurrect the No-God, a nihilistic force of annihilation, so as to reduce the human population of the world to more manageable levels and, in time, help them escape. The series continued with The White-Luck Warrior in 2011, but work on the concluding volume of the then-planned trilogy was delayed by real-life issues. Nevertheless, Bakker completed the book last year. Due to its length, it has been split into two volumes: The Great Ordeal and The Unholy Consult. The Great Ordeal will be published on 5 July in the United States and 29 September in the UK, with The Unholy Consult to follow in (hopefully early) 2017.
The Prince of Nothing and The Aspect-Emperor form the opening two acts of a three-act story with the over-arcing title of The Second Apocalypse. Scott Bakker has planned the final act, which will apparently consist of two volumes, but cannot reveal the title yet without it spoiling the events at the end of The Aspect-Emperor.
As with most works of epic fantasy, the series is accompanied by maps. These maps are drawn in a deliberately Tolkien-aping style by the author himself, based on map he started creating when he first conceived of the series in the mid-1980s. The main map of the continent of Earwa where the action takes place is updated with each book, and new “zoomed-in” maps of areas of interest appear with each volume. The Great Ordeal will be no different, depicting a map of the area surrounding Golgotterath as the armies of the Aspect-Emperor close in on the Ark of the Heavens and a final confrontation with the foul Inchoroi.
The best map is Jason Deem’s excellent colour piece, presented at the top of this article. The action in The Second Apocalypse takes place on Earwa, the western part of a much larger continental landmass (the eastern part is known as Eanna and is the birthplace of humanity, who migrated to Earwa over four thousand years ago; the current state of Eanna is unknown). Earwa’s size is speculative, but Deem drew on the distances given in the text to come up with a scale: Earwa is approximately 4,000 miles across from east to west and about the same from north to south. The Great Ordeal, which has to detour around several mountain ranges and seas, has to traverse just over 3,000 miles to reach Golgotterath. This dwarfs even the Holy War of the first trilogy, which has to traverse approximately 1,300 miles to reach Shimeh.
The maps of Earwa do have some interesting features. Hard to see on the book maps, but more legible on Deem’s and Bakker’s original, hand-drawn maps, are multiple, large, crater-like areas on the surface of the planet. The one at Golgotterath was caused by the Ark of the Heavens (a biotech starship, approximately 1.4km in length) falling out of the sky and crashing into the planet well over 4,500 years prior to the time of Kellhus. However, the origin of the other ring-like mountains and structures is unknown. Similarly, the map of Earwa also has some features reminiscent of Earth: the Three Seas themselves form a geographical obstacle similar to the Mediterranean, whilst the inland Sea of Cerish is highly reminiscent of the Black Sea, even down to a Crimea-like peninsula located on its north coast. Meanwhile, the Sea of Neleost resembles a much-shrunken Baltic, with the sweeping northern peninsula to the north-west bearing a vague similarity to Scandinavia (a resemblance noted by Bakker himself on his blog). Does this mean that Earwa is possibly Eurasia in some incredibly remote period of the past or distant future? Possibly. If so, I suspect this will be confirmed at some point in the later volumes.
The Second Apocalypse
The Prince of Nothing
- The Darkness That Comes Before (2003)
- The Warrior-Prophet (2004)
- The Thousandfold Thought (2005)
- The Judging Eye (2008)
- The White-Luke Warrior (2011)
- The Great Ordeal (2016)
- The Unholy Consult (2017)