The White Luck Warrior
R. Scott Bakker
“MURDER! MURDER IS OUR SALVATION!”
Wutteat Father of Dragons page 556
White Luck Warrior is the second book in the Aspect Emperor Trilogy, which is itself the sequel series to the Prince of Nothing trilogy (aka Drusus Achamain is Not Allowed Nice Things!). For those of you who didn't read my review of the Judging Eye, I'll try to explain things as we go, just stay with me.
Kellhus, who has united the civilized lands of the known world into a single empire for the sole purpose of forging an army to attack the strong hold of the Consult (a group of genocidal aliens and their slaves, creations and worshipers) and destroy it before they can create a second No-God (a thing of unknown nature that prevents sapient creatures from giving birth to live young and allows for control over the Sranc, who I will get to later) has led the greatest army ever assembled in human history into the wild wastes where that fortress is located. He has in essence, conquered Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, used those lands to build a massive army and lead it marching into the wilds of west Siberia. The army is marching through lands completely barren of any human habitation, not even nomadic tribes and there's a good reason for that. These vast plains are utterly infested with Sranc, humanoid creatures created to crave the flesh of human beings. My own view of the Sranc is they are what is created when you have a bunch of manics in charge who care more about fear, terror and murder then creating an army that wins wars (as evidence I would like to point out that the Consult has been trying for thousands of years to wipe out sapient life and not only have they failed but they've had new forms of sapient life emerge into civilization). They're brutish and savage in a way that makes even most fucked up person looked angelic but they're also frankly pretty damn stupid.
Which does have me echoing a complaint I've had for decades now. Why? Oh WHY? Do people keep thinking ravening psychopaths are the best choice for super soldiers? Sure they can kill a lot of people but indiscriminate body counts don't win wars! Killing the right people at the right time wins wars (sometimes not killing the right people wins wars!). Sure it's hard to win a war without killing people but having legions of stupid motherfuckers with one tactic available to them is a sure fire way to get your ass handed to you. Course there are other tools in the Consult's armory the Ursranc for example are Sranc who are more capable of thought and able to obey complex instructions. We are informed of their existence in this book but we don't really get to interact with them beyond seeing them whip a yoked legion into battle (it's pretty simple, you chain up a bunch of Sranc and march them towards a bunch of men, while starving them and then unchain them when they can smell all the man flesh on the move). We see a lot of battles here, as the Sranc will flee the army until the mass of them reaches the point that the plains cannot support them, then in hunger and insanity the Sranc horde will mob forward until the army kills enough to force them to break.
There are logistical problems to consider here as well. The Army of the Great Ordeal as it is called, is vast. With soldiers, sorcerers, witches nobles and slaves from every nation in the known world. Hundreds of thousands of men and horses (and women as Kellus has trained women in sorcery as well) marching and fighting... The amount of food they need is vast and there is no way to keep constant supply columns going without stripping the army of the men it needs to ward off the Sranc attacks. Kellus has tried to reduce the logistical strain by breaking the army into 4 columns increasing their ability to live off the land (made difficult by the fleeing Sranc eating everything they can) but making them more vulnerable to attack. Add in to this that the Consult is aware of their march and is unleashing abominations to whittle down their numbers. The Army of the Great Ordeal is locked in a death struggle against wild Sranc, an enemy army of shadows and monsters and against an increasingly empty and hostile land... And this is only the trip to the actual battlefield. In the middle of this Sorwell, captive Prince of Sakarpus, the last nation between the Consult and the Empire and thus the last to fall, wrestles with his beliefs and concerns as he realizes that Kellus' war with the Consult is real but the goddess Yatwer demands that he kill the God-Emperor anyways (this is complicated by the fact that the gods cannot see the Consult and the No-God, meaning even if Kellus is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth... They wouldn't know and would still try to kill him). What parts of this story line that isn't taken up with the army's struggle to survive and keep marching forward are filled by Sorwell internal conflict and the actions he takes has he veers back and forth between seeing the God Emperor as a divine agent on a real mission or as a lying demon leading everyone to their doom.
Meanwhile Drusus Achamain with the daughter of his ex-wife Esmenet (who is currently Kellhus' wife and Empress of humanity and trust it's as awkward as you think) Mimara and the ragged remains of the Skineaters venture deeper into the wilds of the north. The North was once the center of human civilization but was utterly destroyed in a war against the Consult, Drusus is something of an expert on this civilization because... Well he dreams the life of one of it's greatest heroes every time he goes to sleep, the founder of his school. Drusus has become an expert in digging through these dreams for facts and information. It's in these dreams that he realizes that he knows where a map leading to Kellus' birthplace is. This is important because Kellus is a Dunyain, the result of a eugenics and schooling program to create people capable of rejecting desire in exchange for rationality. They've focused on breeding for intelligence and motor control and relentlessly training people in full expression of their mental and physical gifts. This genetic legacy and training program enabled Kellus to walk into the first Holy War a penniless vagabond and walk out the God-Emperor of Mankind. The common way of explaining it within the book series is the phrase “Kellus to us as adults are children.” Ask yourself how easy would it be to outsmart and manipulate a society of people with the mental and emotional development and control of 5 years and you get an idea of Kellus' situation and abilities. Drusus intends to learn as much about Kellus as humanly possible and then wreck Kellus' shit as revenge for stealing his wife and basically screwing him over again and again. To do this he has lied to the Skineaters and led them into one of the dark heartlands of Sranc, an impenetrable forest that has driven off constant attempts by humanity to explore it and has swallowed up whole companies of hard bitten adventurers. Drusus means to push through it with a handful or so of men, a single Non-Man sorcerer (Non-Men are pre-human sapient who were made immortal at a terrible price, think Elves with all the nice parts taken out) and Mimara, who is learning more about her abilities to look into people's soul (aka The Judging Eye).
These abilities are terrifying and come at an awful cost but Mimara might not be able to survive without them. For that matter neither may Drusus. Mix in their relationship which whips between one between a father and daughter to a coldly hostile one and back as they both have to deal with the trauma of their experiences and the problems of the march. Especially has the Skineaters become increasingly insane. Captain Kosoter for example is going madder and madder as they head farther north and becoming as dangerous to his own men as he is to the enemy. Cleric, the Non-Man mage is impossible to predict as always and may turn on them on any moment (has he is the kind of Non-Man that kills the people he loves so he can remember them, the price of immortality being unable to remember anything but the most traumatic of events). Clerics true name and the reasons for his wandering now have to be discovered and brought to light or they may be murdered by their own allies. In fact, being murdered by their own allies in the wilderness is a concern that Drusus and Mimara will have to deal with and one that may be more dangerous to them then all the Sranc in the world.
Lastly in the Imperial City Esmenet is fighting hard to maintain any level of control over a rapidly spinning apart Empire. Without Kellus and his army, and in the face of revolts being inspired by the gods (who are blind to the Consults plots) and starting a feud with her brother in law Maithanet, who was basically made the Pope. She was egged onto this by her psychopath son Kelmomas, her youngest surviving child. Kellus often reminds me of a sociopath in his behavior but Kelmomas takes it to a whole new level, murdering his own twin to make sure his mother pays more attention to him in the last book for example. Getting her to feud with his Uncle weakening the Empire when they can least afford it because he doesn't want him ratting him out to Esmenet. Because of the madness of one small prince the entire Empire may fall to ruin, bringing all of humanity into a state of warfare and madness when they can least afford it, because if Kellus' army fails, if the Consult wins... Then the No God will emerge and every man, woman and child that falls in that war will have been a waste that humanity can ill afford. To be honest this remains my least favorite story line. While I go back and forth on whether I prefer the army story or the adventurers story line, I always kinda of sigh when we hit this one. That isn't Esmenet's fault although there are times I want to shake her until her teeth rattle but rather while the behavior shown in the story line is completely realistic (people back stabbing each other and going apeshit) I've never been able to really grasp the motivations. I mean for fuck sake if Kellus is lying (if he is why is he leading a massive army out into the wilderness?) then we're all going to find out soon. If he's telling the truth we literally do not have the time and resources to waste on this. But no, the rats have to eat each other right fucking now. It's depressing really.
In the midst of this is the character that the book is named after, the White Luck Warrior. A creature of Yatwer (a goddess) he is able to see his future, present and past all at the same time. Because of this he always knows which actions will work out best for him. Sent out to start tearing down the empire he is on a quest to murder the imperial family. We don't spend a lot of time with him which is good because the sections written from his view point have to be read 3 or 4 times sometimes to finally figure out what you're reading (maybe that's just me). I find the idea fascinating mind you but I feel I don't want to read it from a first person view.
You know I'm not going to lie to you folks, while incredibly well written and layered with history and atmosphere a lot of this book is depressing on a massive scale. While I like it... I frankly had more fun reading the Judging Eye. Because of this White Luck Warrior get's an -A. Tense, dark and moody but at times exhausting and depressing. Still a good read however. I should note that this isn't something I would hand to anyone of a young age or to anyone who can be thrown into a funk because of their entertainment.
Okay, next week? Let's do something fun... Hey I haven't reviewed a Superhero graphic novel yet have I?