Review: The White-Luck Warrior

Posted: September 5, 2011 by in Books We Don't Like (2/5 single_star) Meta: R. Scott Bakker, Epic Fantasy

How to start this one. [[sigh]] Seriously, I have no idea. This book was just such a massive disappointment. Well. That was actually easier than I thought it would be. Just say it, I guess. Now I can go have a breakdown.

THE WHITE LUCK WARRIOR (Amazon) is the second novel of Bakker’s second trilogy set in the world of Earwa the Three Seas. The Prince of Nothing Trilogy is one of my favorite fantasy series. Both Steve and Nick are of the same opinion. After reading those first three books, I was really excited to hear that we’d be getting more of this story. Two more entire trilogies, in fact. I have to say, though, that after making my way through THE JUDGING EYE, my compatriots and I were less than enthusiastic about it (EBR Review). Regardless, I decided to reserve my own judging eye (eh? eh?) until a later date and continue with the series. Right now I’m regretting that decision quite a bit.

THE WHITE LUCK WARRIOR follows three main story-lines, much like its predecessor. We have the progression of The Great Ordeal, a massive, multi-national army pressing into the northern country, to where the evil of the Consult waits to be destroyed; the progression of Achamian and the Skin Eaters, as they drive toward Sauglish and what Achamian hopes will be the undoing of Anasurimbor Kellhus; and finally we have Kellhus’s wife, Esmenet, who has been left behind to try and keep the empire together.

Bakker’s prose is, of course, really well done—that’s nothing new—so even the really dense chapters that have little to no dialogue in them, race past your eyes with ease. His use of italics and ellipses though… atrocious. Horrific. Ludicrous. It’s like he was trying to make the book mysterious and somehow life-altering by using those two methods alone. Forget about the story, isn’t this mysterious? Isn’t this life-altering? Seriously over the top and destroyed my ability to enjoy what plot there was in the book. They got in the way BIG TIME!!!!!! and were COMPLETELY ANNOYING!!!!!! (Kind of like TextInAllCaps and LotsaExclamationPoints…)

The first half to two-thirds of the book is almost completely given over to travel across the wilderness, be it from Achamian’s group or The Great Ordeal. In the case of The Great Ordeal, we learn the names of seemingly every captain and general and head honcho in the bunch. Names and titles and countries and over and over and over. And flags and standards and armor and UGH. Enough already. Give us some story! From Achamian and Mimara we get navel-gazing after navel-gazing thought as they plod on and on and… Granted, what else are they supposed to think about while traveling through the wilderness or the jungle or the mountains or wherever else they may be? Between these two story-lines, readers are getting The Slog of Slogs, indeed (a reference from the journey these two separate groups are taking). Sound interesting? Wait, there’s more.

THE WHITE-LUCK WARRIOR was a disappointment /uglycries. There's just no way around it, and we hate having to say so. But we will, of course.

Thankfully, the entire book wasn’t consumed by the Slog of Slogs. Outside of it, though, plot development felt very minimal. In the last 150-200 pages or so, things finally get moving. There’s development of Esmenet’s situation, which I enjoyed once things started happening, though the time spent on Kelmomas’s storyline after everything goes down was disappointing in particular. After the slow plodding and detailed renditions of everything else in the book, the development of his character during this part of the story felt very rushed and like it had been given very little attention. In fact, he mostly just tells us what happens to the kid. That’s a pity too, as after finishing everything it seems to me that Kelmomas is going to play a very important role in things, indeed. Perhaps the most disappointing was the extremely minimal role that the White Luck Warrior played in the book. After his introduction in THE JUDGING EYE, I had some high hopes, but the way he ended up being handled reminded me of how frustrated I was after finishing THE BRIAR KING (Amazon) and finding out the minimal role the title character played in that book. Of course, every book in that series was disappointing, but that’s beside the point.

Then, surprise of all surprises, the climax of Achamian’s story arc AGAIN revolves around another “tribute to Tolkien”? Are you freaking kidding me? After the end of The Judging Eye, I would have thought Bakker would go somewhere else for some source material, but no. Stick with the classics, I guess. Oh well.

I remember watching two separate interviews with Bakker. The first one was completed sometime during his process of writing the Prince of Nothing trilogy. He talked about how he’d write and rewrite the scenes with Kellhus, agonizing over whether or not he was getting the character right, as Kellhus was supposed to be so much more intelligent than anyone else. So much smarter than even the author that was writing him. Effort. Strain. Work. And I loved every bit of it. The second interview was taken just after The Judging Eye was released, I believe. I don’t remember much about that one except for a single comment Bakker made, describing his writing process as “throwing a lot of sh*t on the walls and seeing what stuck”. (That’s a quote!) For me, that says it all. I’m done with Bakker. For those readers that can handle all the Slog for such little progression, interesting and good or not, I wish you the best. As for the rest of you? Stick with his Prince of Nothing Trilogy and then look somewhere else. This round just ain’t worth the price of the ticket.

  • Recommended Age: 18+, as before with his stuff, though there's significantly less adult content this time around
  • Language: Regular and strong
  • Violence: Lotsa, lotsa
  • Sex: A couple scenes, fairly strong

And, dependent upon how your tastes roam, links to the Forum for Bakker’s books and Bakker’s blog


  • ritika says:

    I have slogged through the last two books, just for a glimpse of Kellhus's Pov.. but i dont think there is going to be any.. I cant read this anymore..

    • Dan Smyth says:

      And I very much doubt you are going to get one. This trilogy doesn't seem to be about Kellhus (as the Prince of Nothing trilogy was), but instead deals with those that follow the Anasurimbor toward his ultimate conflict with the supposed Unholy (and yet for all intents and purposes un-present) Consult. Well, that and it's also a means by which Bakker can foist a lot of psychological group-think onto his readers. Really depressing. I mourn with you, good Ritika.

      • litg says:

        So… by that last comment, can I infer that part of your disappointment with the current trilogy is Bakker's rather obvious message that he wishes to impart? I ask because you don't mention that anywhere in your review, yet it seems to fairly heavily color your opinion based on the above comment. Could your disagreement with that message be part of what's bothering you?

        It's interesting that you bring up the Tolkien thing. I can see where that would bother some (though it doesn't bother me, personally) but I've always seen Bakker as sort of a bleaker Tolkien. Even their reasons for writing are similar. Tolkien created Middle Earth in part as a place for his invented language to take root, and Bakker has created Earwa as a place to espouse his philosophical ideas and in an effort to bring some deeper, “literary” ideas to a larger, genre audience. You could argue that neither author is/was interested in telling the story for the story's sake alone.

        In regards to Kellhus (and I hate to nitpick, but if you are going to write the review, at least spell the central character's name correctly) I was as disappointed as anyone during The Judging Eye when it became clear that we would be getting no more Kellhus POV. But I think it had to be done. When we leave off in The Thousandfold Thought, we aren't even certain as readers that Kellhus is still sane (if he ever was), but he seems to truly believe in his divinity at that point. To see into his head now would be to risk undercutting that uncertainty. What are his motives? Does he represent an even greater danger than the Consult? As Bakker stated himself in a recent interval, damnation and salvation are objective in his world. The only question is who is going to be damned in the end?

      • litg says:

        I will grant you that the overt machinations of the first trilogy are missed here. We have some, but they are so mired in mystery as to who wants to do what to whom that its hard to know who, if any, to root for. That may be part of what's going on here. Bakker has introduced SO MUCH uncertainty that it's difficult to form attachments to what any one character is doing? Should we be rooting for someone to assassinate Kellhus, or just the opposite? Should we be rooting for Achamian to succeed in unraveling his past or not? Should we root for Esmenet or Mainthanet or Kelmomas? Or none? On one hand that's sort of fascinating, it's not something I've ever seen done before. Even Martin, in his thickest quagmires of intrigue, makes it easier to parse out who to root for than this story. And it's all because we don't really know what the stakes are yet. We think we do, or at least, most of the characters have an idea of what THEY think the stakes are, but they are still unclear, with one book (of this trilogy) to go.

        So yes, the plot is weaker than Prince of Nothing, I agree. I think that, for me, what makes up for it is getting the broader sense of the deep history of the world, be it the Nonmen, the Sranc, Cil Aujas, etc. My one irk with the first trilogy was that he presented this hugely tantalizing history of this world, then sort of yanked it away and focused purely on the human conflict. I’m willing to put up with a little plot linearity to get more of that early promise.

        As for characters, I disagree. I think they are uniformly more depressing in terms of circumstance than they were in the first book, but that doesn't mean I don't find them fascinating still. Sorweel has really grown on me, as has Mimara, and I love every moment of Kellhus’ kids, fleeting as they sometimes are.

        • Dan Smyth says:

          @litg: Sorry for the misspell in my previous comment. I obviously didn't spell check it as closely as I normally try to do with the text in my reviews.

          The lack of a Kellhus POV didn't bother me. My “mourn” comment above had more to do with the general disappointment in the novel/second-trilogy than either the specific lack of a Kellhus POV or the philosophy issue (in my mind). Granted though, I probably would have rather seen inside Kellhus's head again, instead of dealing with the bajillion different captains and generals and flags and detailed mess of the Great Ordeal. Honestly, it would have been more interesting, even if it did undercut the mystery it develops by doing things this way. (I agree with Nick about the good it does for the story.)

          The big problem with the book, which I mentioned in my review, is that it only advanced the plot very minimally. In essence, it just shifted a few pieces around on the playing board, and it took forever to do it. Yes, there were some interesting spots. The development of Sorweel and his impending choice is a good example. Kellhus’s kids are pretty nutso, and I like seeing that stuff. (Thus one of my big disappointments dealt with Kelmomas.) The trust/betrayal craziness surrounding Achamian and Mimara’s group made for some interesting pages. Where’s the rest though? Where’s the great stuff that was supposed to fill six hundred pages? It just wasn't there.

          I do think that in general I like to steer clear of most things literary. I like to read stories because the stories are good and because the characters are engaging. I don’t read to learn about society or deepen my understanding of how people think. If those ideas are in there, fine. Good on it. The philosophy was awesome in the first trilogy. It was woven into the story though. It was integral to the development of everything. This time around it feels like it’s only there to teach me a lesson. Presentation is the issue. This time, it felt like preaching. It felt easy, which is exactly in line with Bakker’s interview comments that I mentioned in my review.

          I would still love to see where this is all going and how it turns out. I just don't think I can handle the Slog to get there. Maybe I'll check the Wiki entry once it's all said and done.

          • litg says:


            Fair enough. I see where you are coming from. And I apologize for coming off a little combative in my original post. This wasn't the only book blog I posted on argumentatively that day, so apparently I was just in some kind of a mood.

            I'm in the early stages of a series reread, so I'll be able to answer more definitively (for me, at least) in comparing the first and second trilogies fairly soon I hope. I think some of the problems you mention, if I had to guess, come from the scope of this second trilogy. Yes, there was a massive march to war in the first trilogy as well, but at least in that case, all the central characters were in the same army, marching toward the same destination for the majority of the running time.

            In this case, with the captains and banners, etc, I think you are seeing him trying to capture the sheer breadth of the Great Ordeal and put it in terms a reader can grasp. Bakker has always preferred his God's Eye View when describing the movements of massive armies. It's a little more pronounced in this book. But the leaders/banners stuff tends to be bunched up in specific sections, rather than spread out over the entire run of the book like, say, George R.R. Martin (who I also love, with quibbles) tends to do.

            With regard to the movement of the plot, I agree that it's been a little slower than I would like, but it also hasn't bothered me. I think that's because I felt that disappointment in the first trilogy. I entered into Prince of Nothing under the impression that the entire series was just going to be a trilogy, so I was really disappointed (while still loving what I was reading) when I realized that the holy war was going to consume the first three books and that the Consult stuff was going to be put off until later. So coming into this second trilogy, the fact that there will be another 2-3 books after Unholy Consult, and the fact that this just seems to be his M.O. means that I guess I'm ok with waiting for him to finish in his own time. At least he's not taking 5-6 years between books like certain other authors I mentioned!

            So I guess I agree, to an extent, with your arguments, and they just don't bother me as much for the reasons described. Part of it is that I love Bakker's style and that I DO enjoy reading as a window into how people think. But that's just a personal preference that not everyone is going to share.

            In any event, sorry a long-time Bakker fan has had enough. There are too few of us as it is. 🙂

  • -Slamel- says:

    Dan and I differ a lot on our opinions on this book. It was extremely disappointing but not because of philosophy or Kellhus. In fact, moving away from Kellhus was not only a smart move, but the only move that could be made. Like litg said, Kellhus is no longer a POV that can be used to tell a story. What mystery or anticipation would there be in seeing inside Kellhus' head? Part of the story, which is one of the few GOOD parts, is that we aren't sure what Kellhus' motivations, beliefs, or mental stability are right now. As for philosophy, his first trilogy is WAY more inundated with, and informed by, Bakker's beliefs than this second trilogy. The difference is that the plot, the story, and many of the characters were just simply better.

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