As much as I have adored R. Scott Bakker’s style throughout this slog of slogs: The Great Ordeal does not feel like the payoff worth the weight of years behind it. The book seethes with intellect, with possibility and dense worldbuilding, but in the end, I’m sad to say, it suffers from a sense of too much set up and not enough time on the actual journey—which, in one half of a grand finale, is far from what one would desire.
Don’t get me wrong: there are parts of this book which sing with the classic Bakker of the “Prince of Nothing” saga—5-stars in writing, in action, in incising philosophic madness. There are others, though, that suffer from a sense of being simply too abstract, plummeting deeper and deeper into the layers of the mind, as Inception fans would put it, without giving us anything to set our feet on. What’s more, as deep as it can get, the book seems to suffer from a spring-stop pacing, where a great deal happens in very little spans, but the majority of the book feels like it lacks momentum.
Even reading the books as religiously as I have, there were points I had to stop and reread, just to get a grasp of what, exactly, was happening. It’s not entirely impenetrable, but it is overbearingly close to it. The story itself remains intact—the direction and meat behind it remains immensely enjoyable. Yet the narrative, at this point, seems to have lost something of its finality to the depths of Bakker’s formidable mind; I fear it lacks some of language’s base attempts to relate it to us and give us space to find our footing.
Which is to say, it stumbles in its flow.
Bakker continues to have his own unmatched style. The layers he has achieved in worldbuilding cannot be matched, nor can the complexity of his characters—but so much of this book is steeped in characters’ contemplation and reflection on things coming or things gone before, and not enough time spent actually achieving anything.
Detail is a wonderful, beautiful thing. It makes a story breathe. It carries us within. The Great Ordeal, however, is description heaped upon description, on a story that has already drawn us so many layers in deep—it simply didn’t need the build up at this point. I can only hope that it has set us up for a killer (genuine) finale, and I believe Bakker has that within him—I just hope it comes back around to the monumental tale that put the complex “adult” in “adult fantasy”.
3/5 Angry Magi