The Warrior-Prophet is a perfect example of a second book in a trilogy. When the first book in a trilogy is a good one, there is always a bit of a gamble in picking up the second. You want it to be as good as the first, to continue the story and leave you wanting more, but often you find yourself disappointed and wishing that the first was a standalone novel. Fortunately, Bakker's second novel is anything but a disappointment. In fact it takes all the potential shown by the first book and succeeds in both following on from the story of the first and having its own drive in carrying the story forward.
It opens in the company of Drusas Achamian, the sorceror novel following along with the Holy War. Again it sets small inter-personal dramas against a much larger backdrop, but this time the backdrop is bigger than ever. The novel is split into three books, each marking a march of the Holy War. The holy men of the tusk going out to conflict with the heathen idolaters. The relationships between the small set of characters we met in the first book come even more to the fore, gradually working its way down to a set of intertwined love triangles. Though it has more complexity than that might suggest. Gradually Achamian is absorbed into the background, as The Warrior-Prophet of the title takes his place at the centre of the stage. He was ever present in the first book, playing a classically manipulative role, but here he is brought even more to the fore.
The strength of these books is character, and there is no shortage of well drawn characters for Bakker to choose from. Kellhus has an increasingly godlike presence, his manipulations take on greater and greater importance, both for his immediate companions and for the Holy War as a whole. He represents something different to everyone, and uses the weaknesses of those around him to his advantage. If the first novel was a struggle for some of the characters, this one is a real trial by fire, where people are left broken and scarred.
The barbarian Scylvendi finds himself tested to the limit, the sole individual who can see through Kellhus' glamour, though unwilling to take steps to enlighten those he considers little more than weaklings. His character is yet another that has grown from the first book, becoming more of a presence in this as the core set of characters are really bedded down in the story.
At the close the Holy War is virtually at the gates of its ultimate goal, drawn through a desperate struggle that would have left the most hardened army a gelatinous mess, and the real fight is only just beginning.
The Warrior-Prophet is every bit as gritty and real as the first book, presenting a real saga that continually pulls you back in with renewed vigour. Bakker has the energy of Robert E. Howard, with the artistic bravery and assurance of someone with many more novels under his belt, it has been a long time since I've been this impressed by a work of epic fantasy. In fact it has made me reconsider my attitude to the whole genre. If he can maintain this through the third book then he will have delivered a well crafted classic of modern fantasy literature.