Book Review: The Unholy Consult
UGH CLIFFHANGERS THOUGH. I don't normally do this because I like to respect people who haven't read the books yet, but this review is going to have to be spoilery to properly discuss the events of The Unholy Consult. So fair warning: here be spoilers!
The Unholy Consult picks up immediately after The Great Ordeal. The Ordeal is reeling from the Tekne used against them, the corrupting effects of eating Sranc, and the disappearance of their Aspect-Emperor, even as they stagger onward. Sorweel, Serwa and Moenghus flee Ishterebinth, aiming to meet back up with the Ordeal. Achamian and a very pregnant Mimara set their sights on the Ordeal, hoping for Mimara to view Kellhus with the Judging Eye and so determine once and for all whether he really is a prophet and savior. And after rescuing Esmenet and his psychotic son Kelmomas, Kellhus himself abandons the Three Seas to take them north. Everything and everyone converges on Golgotterath and the battle to defeat the Consult.
The Unholy Consult is both satisfying and not-satisfying as a conclusion to The Aspect-Emperor series. On the one hand, the book is closed on who and what Kellhus was. On the other hand, the No-God is back. Whoops.
Kellhus came pretty close to getting what he wanted only to falter at the end. As we find out in the final chapters, he basically conquered hell sometime before the series began, unbeknownst to us, and that gives him power over Golgotterath. This is all great, except he made a huge mistake: he left Kelmomas alive because he does, in fact, love Esmi. And that idiot boy gets himself turned into the No-God. Sigh.
Let's backtrack a bit, because this book doesn't pull any punches. The beginning third is BRUTAL. We knew from The Great Ordeal that the effects of eating Sranc were Not Good, but full-on cannibalism arrives in this book. It's heart-breaking to watch some of the character descend to it, and yet it's also not; they made a choice to do a horrible thing, and now they're reaping the consequences. Even worse, Kellhus planned the whole thing, encouraged Proyas to authorize it, then returns to excoriate Proyas and execute him. I liked Proyas, one of the few characters I enjoyed on his own merits, so this outcome did not endear the book to me.
Then there's Sorwheel. Honestly, his ending was super disappointing. After all the will he/won't he build-up, Sorwheel turns into the White-Luck Warrior and then just blows it and dies at Kelmomas' hand in the space of about two chapters. Short shrift for a POV character who had grown so much and received so much focus in the last three books.
But on a positive note, OH THE GOLGOTTERATH BATTLE. THIS was cool. Bakker writes really good battles and this was no exception. It had so many memorable parts - the appearance of the bashrag, singing sorcerers, the fall of the Canted Horn to Kellhus and SERWA AND THE EFFING DRAGON.
Seriously #Serwa4Life. Such a BADASS. Kellhus's daughter has always been formidable, but here we see her truly shine. She takes on dozens of Ursranc armed with Chorae even as she fights an old and wily Wracu, and she does it with grace, agility and power. For me, it's the most memorable, standout section of the book.
And yet, like many of the best characters in this series, Serwa does not survive. WHY can we not have more Serwa? Bakker barely has female characters (and most of the ones he does have are whores of some variety) so WHY can we not have a crazy awesome warrior-mage-princess survive?
in the midst of all that, we finally see the Consult. Surprise surprise, they are revolting and entrancing in equal measure - not least because the Dunyain have taken over. Some of the names that have been bandied about for several books finally make an appearance, and there's a lot of fascinating backstory here as we learn more about the Ark and how it came to Earwa. Then there's the reveal of the Inverse Fire - a portal into Hell where you can see your damnation after death, the goad the Consult has been using as a recruiting tool. Except it doesn't work on Kellhus.
The threads all finally come together in Golgotterath - Kellhus & the Ordeal, Sorweel and Serwa, Cnaiur, Moenghus, Akka and Mimara, Esmi and Kelmomas.
But then the No-God returns and everything goes to shit. Most of the Ordeal dies running away from the Whirlwind (even Kellhus meets his end in Golgotterath), and the book closes on those few survivors fleeing desperately.
I know this was advertised as "the end" of The Aspect-Emperor series, but THIS IS NOT AN END. UGH. It doesn't have the satisfying conclusion that The Thousandfold Thought had, where even though we knew more was coming, the narrative still had closure. Here, the narrative certainly ends, but there's no closure (at least, not a satisfying one). Mimara never sees Kellhus with the Judging Eye. Most of the cast dies. The No-God is back, and the Three Seas faces an impossible war.
This is not my favorite installment in the series by a long shot. It's worth reading for Serwa and the epic Golgotterath battle, but the rest was eh for me. I'm glad Bakker has decided to write an additional book(s) to finish this out, and I hope he's able to bring the larger narrative arc to a satisfying conclusion there.