The Way Of Shadows (Night Angel Trilogy) by Brent Weeks
Somebody once said that there are only two plot lines in classic fantasy: an unexpected simpleton (child, beggar, heathen, girl, commoner) saving the world (e.g. Frodo) and a king threatened by the usurper (e.g. Arthur). This is, of course, a major simplification, but still, many, many fantasy novels follow one of those plotlines. The Way of Shadows seems to be an example of the first one.
|The Way Of Shadows (Night Angel Trilogy) by Brent Weeks
|Reviewer: Magda Healey
|Summary: Well executed, enjoyable, escapist fantasy, which won't tax your brain but provides exciting plot, occasionally breathtaking action scenes and well developed characters facing genuinely tragic moral dilemmas, all surrounded by the classic fantasy world of quasi-medieval, feudalism, functioning magic, intricate plotting and - of course - including a powerful artefact to be found and used.
|Date: October 2008
Azoth is a guild rat, grown up in the slums, poverty and fear, beatings and abuse his daily reality. When, in a sudden flash of justified anger he crosses the Fist of his guild, he has to make some hard decisions, quickly. His life is at stake, and the only way out he sees is apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint: the best assassin in the city. Azoth changes his identity to Kylar Stern and has to leave his old life in the slums of the Warrens to face new challenges, from the effort of relentless training to learning to read, and not least the moral ones of learning to kill with a clear head and steady hand. The world of dangerous politics and magic opens up for him as he grows up in a corrupt city, where the shadowy crime organisation of Sa'Kage is behind most businesses and their ruling Nine are more powerful then the king himself.
The world building is convincing and confident, with almost no unnecessary exposition, although there are some unnecessary explanatory sections dotted throughout which contribute to the untaxing nature of The Way of Shadows and the page count, but whose removal would make for a leaner, meaner and likely better novel. But it never really drags and it rarely patronises the reader.
The Way of Shadows has decent characters too: I didn't actually LIKE any of them much, but then I suspect they were not written for the likes of me, and despite that they are memorable and possessed of emotional and moral complexity. Durzo Blint, the best wetboy in the City, the cold blooded killer (but a honourable one), walking the way of shadows but wielding a sword called a Retribution with justice inscribed on it, but carrying a blood of numerous innocents on his hands, a shell of a man that once was (but who was that man?), deep despair hidden under the layers of lies and disguises. Azoth/Kylar himself is simpler but also with a strong tragic streak, initially motivated purely by his desire to escape the life of the guild rat and the abuse of the gang leader, agonising before his first killings, but then increasingly torn between loyalties, carried into a vortex of events that threatens not only his life but also everything that he ever held dear. There are also others, more stereotypical ones: a brave and strong prince, a cynical and powerful old whore with a broken heart, a mad mage, an evil sorcerer king, and many more; all colourful and filling the world of The Way of Shadows with rich life.
In some ways the whole first half of The Way of Shadows can be seen as an exposition, presumably for the whole cycle. It covers ten years and the rise (or, depending on how you look at it, fall) of Azoth the eleven year old guild rat turning into Kylar the grown up assassin. It read well, and it held my attention well enough to take me to the second half, but I think it could have been made shorter. The initial setting amongst the lowest of the low of the guild rats (i.e. child gang members) in the Warrens district of the city of Cenaria provides ample background to the motivations and developments of several characters as to the beatings, the hunger, the fear, the sexual exploitation, the stench and the misery are convincing and give psychological realism to the decisions made by the characters.
But it's in the second half of The Way of Shadows where the action pick up speed and it's the one I enjoyed the most: the plotting thickens, the magic fills the air with electricity, the Artefact appears, the mysteries and identities get revealed and covered up again, the evil empire invades, oh, it's all rather wonderful and makes for a captivating page-turner that verges on the unputdownable. The second half also contains some breathtaking fight scenes which, although depicting terrible bloodshed, had visual dynamism and fluidity that entranced me (and I am not a very visual person given to picturing images or scenes from books).
I enjoyed The Way of Shadows: it is a well executed, enjoyable, escapist fantasy, which won't tax reader's brain but provides exciting plot, occasionally breathtaking action scenes and well developed characters facing genuinely tragic moral dilemmas, all surrounded by a classic fantasy framework of quasi-medieval, feudal world full of functioning magic, intricate plotting and - of course - a powerful artefact to be found and used. There is a map, too.
The review copy was sent to the Bookbag by the publisher - thank you!
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Way Of Shadows (Night Angel Trilogy) by Brent Weeks at Amazon.com.
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