The Darkness That Comes Before, by R. Scott Baker

Baker has a PhD in philosophy, which is very impressive. Less impressive is the effect that has on his writing. Conversations are broken up by two pages of speculation by one of the conversing characters; every single character is awarded a depth of insight we usually hear only from the one or two protagonists; concepts that could be elucidated in, at most, a paragraph or two, are given entire sections of various chapters. One gets the sense when reading this book that there's an awful lot one could skip without missing anything important...and that's a big editing problem. It turns an otherwise interesting story into a plodding trial of perseverance. I finished the book only because once I reached the 300 page mark and the myriad main characters start converging, it finally got good.

The problem is that Baker feels as though he is trying to be the next Tolkein. The world is vast, the problems are vast (the coming of the Second Apocalypse, no less), the people are vast. Everything is so...big. But fiction, even fantasy, is generally more about the one or two people who operate within a smaller sphere to effect greater change. A mystical northerner who is called to a holy city halfway across the globe and must use a fantastically enormous gathering of crusaders to get there is simply too much.

Additionally, I take serious issue with Baker's portrayal of women. It's so easy to make women helpless and useless and hopeless and generally, all around, much aggrieved. It is more impressive to create a world in which women are their own enablers, and not simply used for sex. It's easy to make the main female character a whore and give her some deeply concealed strength and intelligence. It's been done before. A lot. Let's try something new and different: how about a world in which women are equal contenders, in which every single woman, from lowly slave up to empress, is not victimized for her body.

This could have been a much better book, if Baker hadn't stuck to such over-worn fantasy tropes. If the second book in this series happens to fall in my lap, sure, I'll read it. But I won't be seeking it out.


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