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I've read quite a lot of dark fantasy recently. Some of it has been very enjoyable, notable Russell Kirkpatrick's "Broken Man" series and others, like Karen Miller's "Godspeaker" trilogy, less so. Having seen a description of "The Judging Eye" that mentioned "murderous children", I was very much looking forward to this one as well. I got a decent read, but it didn't turn out to be quite as dark as I was expecting.
Anasûrimbor Kellhus is the ruler of the Three Seas, acting as both emperor and God to his people. Having conquered the large part of the empire, he is attempting to bring the rest under his control. His main target is the far Northern city of Golgotterath, which he believes is sheltering the followers of the No-God, who has warred against the Three Seas before and which may be planning a return.
As Kellhus is away preparing for his war, matters at home are gathering pace. The members of the Cult of Yatwer, who do not worship Kellhus anticipate the return of the White Luck and unrest against Kellhus is growing. Meanwhile, Kellhus' youngest son is planning for his future at the age of seven by killing his twin brother and using his powers to bend his mother to his will. In another part of the world an exiled sorcerer believes he is close to finding the truth about Emperor Kellhus' origins and sets out on a dangerous journey towards knowledge.
The story is very well plotted, with each sub-plot concentrating on a separate aspect of life under Anasûrimbor Kellhus. His sections of the story cover the effect he has on conquered nations as a god as well as a conqueror and it's an interesting look at how someone like him could bend people to his will in that way. The story has a decent psychological and philosophical edge to it as Sorweel, who has seen Kellhus kill his father and conquer his city, battles against what he has always believed and the effects that Kellhus has on him and those around him. This part of the story is something not often covered in fantasy novels and it was certainly the most fascinating part of the story for me.
The other parts were a little more familiar, as the sub-plot covering events back at home was more of a politically motivated one. The idea of a religious order rising up against someone who claims to be a god isn't especially new and members of the court jostling for position has been done so well before, particularly by Fiona McIntosh. It was an unusual step to see a seven-year-old being one of those playing the political game and being inspired to murder at that age and I did enjoy that part of things, especially being able to wonder what he may become later on.
Even more familiar was Achamias' journey on his hunt for the truth. Whilst this was the most exciting part of the story as it had the most action, it was also the most familiar. He travels with a band of people, under the ancient mountains and through the long abandoned stronghold of Cil-Aujas, where the Sranc set upon them. This whole part of the story reminded me very much of "Lord of the Rings" and the journey through the Mines of Mordor, especially where the character Cleric did some very Gandalf like things. Admittedly, if you're using a fantasy book as a base for an idea, then "Lord of the Rings" is a fine one to use, but after the originality in some of the other ideas, it just seemed all too similar to other books.
The other main struggle I had with this book was that it wasn't a terribly easy read. The pacing varied from section to section, changing with the sub-plots rather than as it evolved, especially towards the end when Achamian's battle through Cil-Aujas reached its height. It often switched from the slow pace of Sorweel's understanding of the nature of God to a tumult in the tunnels and back again, which was a slightly unsettling reading experience. At the beginning of the book, when events were just taking shape, the change of pace between the sections was less severe and the book just felt slow paced at that point, but the further into Achamian's journey the story went, the more pronounced it became.
In the early stages of reading the book, I didn't feel as if I was enjoying it, but as events progressed, it started to feel a lot better. It's certainly not the best book I've read recently and it was very slow going, but I think that my feelings about this will change when later parts of the series become available. There is a lot of room for manoeuvre in the story arc and, much like Kate Elliott's "Shadow Gate", I feel that what happens in the future may make this book seem better as I get more perspective on it. At the end, I felt better about what is to come than what had passed, but I admire the skill of a trilogy writer who leaves me wanting more. This book made me feel like a greyhound chasing the mechanical hare, in that the thrill of the chase feels more tempting than catching the hare ever would be. I may not be overly interested in reading this book again, especially at a cheapest price of £3.99 plus postage from eBay, but I am certainly keen to read the next.