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Brent Weeks — The Way of Shadows, Shadow’s Edge

I enjoyed The Black Prism so I went back and tried to read the Night Angel Trilogy. I say “tried to read” because I gave up about halfway through Shadow’s Edge. I think this is partially because Weeks has definitely matured as a writer since these books–there were phrases in them that set my teeth on edge. In a vaguely medieval world of assassins and thieves and high kings, seeing a phrase like “Durzo Blint was the best wetboy ever” just seemed out of place. Little things like that–phrases that were somehow a little off popped out at me constantly throughout the one and a half books that I read. The world building was not as developed as in The Black Prism; there were hints here and there, but with everything that was going on in the plot (and the plot was CONSTANTLY going) and the scattered nature of those hints, it was sometimes hard to build a coherent picture of the world of The Way of Shadows.

A brief plot summary for anyone who hasn’t heard of this trilogy (though I’m fairly sure most fantasy readers have). Azoth is a young “guild rat” (i.e. a street thief involved in the organized crime of the city of Cenaria), trapped in a hard, violent life. His ticket out is to apprentice himself to the legendary wetboy (a magical assassin) Durzo Blint, the best of the best. In the background of all of this is political intrigue of the most violent and deadly variety, a looming invasion by the villainous (almost cartoonishly so) Khalidor, and the threat, of course, that Azoth, now known as Kylar Stern, will lose everything he has come to hold dear.

I eventually just gave up because of the plot, though. It was certainly exciting, and with a lot of twists and turns, but the crushing misery and constant deaths of everyone involved in the book just turned me off. (Also, the love scenes were cringeworthy.) For all that there was talk of hope, it was hard to see any. And while I do enjoy “dark” plotting and depressing literature, by the middle of Shadow’s Edge, it almost just felt pointless to me. It’s frustrating because there were a lot of things about the trilogy that interested me, a lot of things that were a little cliche but well done anyway or with a little twist, but it just wasn’t enough to keep me reading. I’m looking forward to the next book in The Black Prism series, but I can’t say that I’ll be revisiting The Night Angel again.

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Brent Weeks — The Black Prism

So I had never read Brent Weeks before, but I heard a lot about his Night Angel trilogy, which didn’t really pique my interest at the time. However, from what I was reading about The Black Prism it seemed like something that was worth checking out. Although this trend of trilogies is a little distressing. Sometimes you want payoff NOW.

At 600+ pages, The Black Prism is chock full of twisty, turny plot, a fully fleshed out world (more on this later) and intriguing and at times frustrating characters. Weeks definitely kept me guessing, which is always awesome. There were so many surprises, so many characters with hidden motivations and secrets and reasons to lie, that the book definitely keeps you compulsively turning the page.

The world of The Black Prism is recovering from a brutal war, divided into seven satrapies and possessed of an intricate, well thought out magic system based on the use of color and light. Each color of the rainbow, as well as superviolet and sub-red, represents a different form of magic with very different characteristics. Humans can draw on this power by creating luxin out of light, the magical substance that can do everything from create fire to walls and buildings. A person can only “draft” a certain amount of magic in his life, or risk going mad and turning into a “color wight.” The drafters are ruled by the Prism, the only man in the entire land who can channel every color. Gavin Guile is the current Prism, ruling longer than any other before him. He discovers, on the eve of another brewing war, that he has a bastard, Kip Guile, a fat, sarcastic addict’s son from the provinces who, of course, shows great promise in drafting himself. Kip’s entire village is destroyed by a rogue satrap, setting in motion the fast-paced events of the book.

The first 100 or so pages are very slow, though the pace picks up quickly after that. My main problem with this novel was the clumsy exposition–Weeks’ world is so well-imagined and he’s just bursting to tell you everything about it–but occasionally it comes in the form of long speeches from characters that seem stilted or out of place, memories that go on for several pages and while interesting jar you out of the flow of the novel, or asides explaining certain aspects of either magic or persons that do the same. Other than that this is an engrossing book, and Weeks has managed to create several characters who, while they make despicable choices, always seem mostly sympathetic and making these choices for reasons that make sense to their own moral systems, which is a fine balancing line and done very well here.

The writing style wasn’t quite my cup of tea all of the time, there are short repetitive sentences that follow the way the character thought that again jumped you out of the flow of the story, but this conversational style worked very well at other points. The battle scenes were exciting and evocative, and some of the horrible things that the drafters do to each other shiver-inducing.

I think some of the expository and pacing issues will be smoothed out now that this introduction is out of the way if the boulder-rolling-downhill pace of the last third of the novel is any indication. There is a LOT going on (and a lot of originality) in the world of the Black Prism and while it wasn’t a perfect book, it was a really engaging, entertaining book, and I’m looking forward to the rest of this trilogy.

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