I’m not going to limit myself for this review, so if you’re wary of spoilers for this book or the Prince of Nothing trilogy, you should skip reading this review.
The Judging Eye is split between three main story arcs: Drusas Achamian and Mimara traveling with a group called the Skin Eaters; the king of Sakarpus, a boy named Sorweel and his journey with the Great Ordeal; and Esmenet the Empress and her son Kelmomas at Momemn. Achamian and Mimara.
This book is a great follow up to The Prince of Nothing. I may go back and write a post about that trilogy, but for now I’ll just say that it’s my favorite modern fantasy written by someone not named Steven Erikson. It had it’s flaws, but it had incredibly compelling characters and a hefty if somewhat meandering plot. The Judging Eye is, in many ways, a much more accessible novel than The Prince of Nothing. Bakker has found a solid rhythm in this book, and I felt the pace was much more even than in his previous works.
Point of Views (POV’s)
Out of the three main POV’s, Achamian is by far the most interesting and compelling character. He is still dealing with the fallout from the ending of the Prince of Nothing, and he’s obsessed with finding the origin of Kellhus, the Aspect Emperor. He is living outside the confines of the Mandate as an untethered wizard, and he spends this book traveling with Esmenet’s daughter Mimara. This culminates in a sequence at the end of the book that is a not so subtle homage to the mines of Moria in the Lord of the Rings. It’s an action packed set piece and an excellent ending to the book.
The other character POV’s aren’t as compelling. Sorweel is a boy king held hostage on the Great Ordeal, a collection of all the armies of the empire marching to war with the Consult. His kingdom is of strategic necessity to the march, so he is forced to travel with Kellhus and his children on the march. Sorweel does a lot of internal complaining about his situation and while his predicament is sympathetic, it also got pretty tired for me about two thirds of the way through. However, he does get screen time with some of Kellhus’ kids, who are fascinating.
Esmenet shares some of the problems I had with Sorweel. Esmenet was a strong character in The Prince of Nothing, but here she doesn’t even feel like the same person. I understand that 20 years have passed between the books and that she is now an Empress, but I found myself missing the old Esmenet. Her POV was the least interesting for me. However, the best character in the book shares her POV, and that is her murderous son Kelmomas. Kelmomas is a POV character, and reading his scenes gave me the same excitement I had when reading Kellhus POV’s in the Prince of Nothing.
The contrast between Achamian’s POV’s and Sorweel and Esmenet is probably my biggest problem with this book. In The Prince of Nothing, the chapters were also split between POV’s. Each chapter was really compelling, and when a chapter ended I was sad to leave the character I was reading about. However, when I saw who the POV was for the next chapter it made me very excited to read about the next character. Each POV drew me in and I was excited to read about each character. There is a probably a literary term for this phenomenon, but I’m not a literary journalist so I’m not going to pretend I know what it is. In this book, I only had this happen when I left Sorweel or Esmenet to rejoin Achamian. When I left Achamian, I was disappointed to go back to the other POV’s. Maybe disappointed is the wrong word, because I really enjoyed this book overall, Sorweel and Esmenet included. But the only time I was excited for a new POV was when it was Achamian.
The plot moved along better than The Prince of Nothing. In the previous series, it seemed like there were pages and pages of internal thought and discussion. An entire chapter could be devoted to a character weighing philosophy in their mind. While I’m a fan of philosphizing in fiction (especially if an author presents two opposing philosophies with a well reasoned arguments, a la Steven Erikson), it got to be a bit much in that series. I think Bakker has the balance right in this book. Nothing monumental happened in Momemn or on the Great Ordeal, but I wasn’t bored with what was happening in either plot. Achamian’s plot was fast paced and extremely compelling, and I think the story in this book is it’s biggest strength.
I don’t have a scoring system yet. I like to read reviews of the things I’m into online, and I admit I like having some kind of metric to quickly glance at. I’ll figure something out eventually, but for now I’m going to use my new guitar. My wife got me a Gibson for my birthday recently, and I’ve been playing the hell out of it. So for now, I’m giving this book 4.5 Gibson’s out of 5.