Shadow's Edge (Night Angel Trilogy) by Brent Weeks

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Shadow's Edge (Night Angel Trilogy) by Brent Weeks

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: Enjoyable fantasy, which won't tax your brain but provides exciting plot with good cliffhangers, well-developed characters facing genuinely tragic moral dilemmas, convincing uber-evil, inspired monsters and ingenious magic; occasionally marred by too much psychological interpretation from the author and characters themselves, and silly love and (lack of) sex scenes.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 656 Date: November 2009
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841497419

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Shadow's Edge continues the saga of the Dark Angel where The Way of Shadows left: Cenaria has been invaded and ravaged by the Kahlidor with their supremely evil Godking, Kylar Stern's master Durzo Blint has been killed by his pupil, and Kylar himself, now an immortal carrier of the powerful artefact known as ka'kari as well as Durzo's old sword Retribution, is determined to leave the way of the shadows, to renounce killing and violence and to make for himself a new daylight life with Elene, whom he loves and admires for her saintly goodness as much as for her exquisite body, and their orphaned teenager ward, Uly. They travel to Caernarvon where Kylar is to become a herbalist and a healer.

But both destiny and years of training have a habit of catching up with one, especially in fantasy novels, and before long Kylar realises that being a meek herbalist is just not him, and his Dark Angel duties somewhat forcibly reassert themselves. A murder, kidnapping and a couple of coming-back-from-the-dead episodes later find Kylar in the very centre of the events that will change the fate of the whole world, fighting nightmarish war beasts created by Godking's Frankenstein-like Meisters and saving his friend Logan (and the true king of Cenaria) from rotting at the bottom of the worst dungeon in the worst prison: the Hole at the Maw.

I read Shadow's Edge over a weekend otherwise spent overdosing on tea and ibuprofen, prostrate in front of the fire, having succumbed to a nasty cold. And I enjoyed it very much: it is a rollicking story, with enough suspenseful cliff-hangers to keep my bleary eyes open and, despite the intertwining of several subplots, undemanding enough for me to cope even in the virus-affected state. I thought that the storytelling was better than in The Way of Shadows; the subplots weave together with great suspense and there is less choppiness in the narration.

The large-scale 'fate of the world hanging in balance' intrigue, so essential to every fat fantasy saga, whether heroic, picaresque or both, becomes more noticeable as the action progresses and this reader at least could not help but keep wondering what would connect the various strands of action. We also have a chance to explore a bit more of Midcyru world this time, as characters travel chasing each other and magical artefacts, and this worldbuilding works well, without unnecessary exposition, naturally fitting into the events of the novel.

But sadly not all is epic fun and games in Shadow's Edge. Particularly in the first sections, when Kylar Stern attempts sincerely to give up killing and violence and exchange them for the daily intimacies of Elene's love, quite a lot of space is given to their interactions and to the sexual tensions between them (as the intimacies of love fail to materialise). And those parts really do slip: the psychology is awfully over-explained and the language stilted and anachronistic at the same time. I am probably showing my age here, but I have never even heard anybody utter the expression trying to be cute, though I have seen it - strictly in US teen novels and US teen-frequented websites - and something in me really, really protests when it's used as part of an internal monologue of a magical assassin in a feudal fantasy world. It could be, of course, post-modern, but it grates. Add to it the sex (or rather preoccupation with it combined with the lack of the actual event) and occasionally I found myself embarrassingly close to the territory often covered by the modern mediocre teen and 'young adult' novel. Luckily, the destiny intervenes and the cringe-inducing interactions of Kylar and Elene need to bother us no more.

There is still a tendency to over-explain that which is obvious. Weeks would do better to trust his writing skills and let the readers infer a little bit more of his characters' feelings; after all, they are, even with all their torn loyalties and conflicted strivings, mostly straightforward and don't require extensive authorial interpretations or stuck-on explanatory internal monologues. Those interpretations tend to slip into the language and conceptual framework of modern psychobabble. Barely dressed-up ideas of the cycle of abuse, sexual hurt, empowerment, self-esteem and self-hatred, domestic violence, early childhood experiences leaving lasting scars and similar, turn up their ugly heads in what seems like an artificial attempt at the dreaded 'relevance'. I am not objecting to the themes, by any means, but to the fantasy magi in a feudal world thinking and talking like a 21st century American therapists.

Shadow's Edge would be a much better novel (although perhaps a tad more challenging to the youngest readers in its potential audience) if the majority of this navel-gazing and emotional explanation was curtailed. We can all see why Natassa's taunting of Ghorky the guard is admirable. We can see why the prostitutes turned warriors risk their lives for the king, and what kind of epiphany Elene undergoes when defending the child from a Kahlidorian guard. It's all there, already, in the events, and dialogue, we don't have to be told.

Weeks is much better when it comes to the grand stuff of fantasy epics: the magic is inventive, the evil is, occasionally, genuinely terrifying, the monsters are horrendous, obscene and tragic, the artefacts intriguing, the overarching moral dilemma and conflicts between private happiness and public duty, between piously high moral sentiments and cruel realities of the world, valid and genuine. There were also moments of epic grandeur and real pathos, moving heroism and a good final twist. I also liked the Order of the Garter joke.

I will happily read Beyond the Shadows (in fact, I might save it as a precious distraction for the time of genuine need, i.e. my next bad cold), but I am in a quandary as to how to rate Shadow's Edge. For the over-explanation, anachronisms and psychobabble concepts, two stars, for the epic storytelling, decent characters, compelling magic and great evil players, four stars, and taking into account the likely (older teen) readership of the cycle, three and a half Bookbag stars and a recommendation if my above-sketched reservations don't put you off.

Those looking at a believable and powerful rendering of individual emotions, from hatred to desire, from guilt to love, in a grim and wonderful fantasy/dystopian s-f setting, should look at Melvin Burgess' Bloodsong.

We also have a review of Beyond the Shadows (Night Angel Trilogy) by Brent Weeks. Those looking for another easy to read doorstopper of a fantasy saga, with similar "young adult" leanings, but with less bloodshed and torture, will enjoy Karen Miller's Innocent Mage.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

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Ulf Rosvall said:

I just finished the book myself and went out on the net to find if someone else shared my ambivalence over this series and I can't agree more with your evaluation.

The books has good characterization and the story holds, despite many plotholes, but the "psychobabble" was so totally out of style for characters in the medieval fantasy world.

I also found it very strange that the author lingered on Kylars and Elenes "virginity", it felt as if a born-again Christian evangelist had hijacked the story to be used in a crusade against teen sexuality.

On the other hand, the "grittiness" of the world spells of someone who actually has done his homework on the medieval world and most of the time I really enjoyed reading the books.

Ulf Rosvall Sweden