July 18, 2011

Review: The Way of Shadows, by Brent Weeks

Author: Brent Weeks
Title: The Way of Shadows
Series: The Night Angel
ISBN: 9780316033671
Publisher. Orbit (2008)

Go to Amazon page

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art-and he is the city's most accomplished artist.

For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he's grown up in the slums, and learned to judge people quickly - and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.

But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins' world of dangerous politics and strange magics - and cultivate a flair for death” (GoodReads blurb)


Two things to be said: one, as you can see, I’ve decided to start adding the blurb to the reviews, to have some kind-of impartial, kind-of summary. And two, this series was a phenomenal return to the best classic fantasy ever.

Recently, we’ve been seeing a lot of grey morality, of antiheroes, of just normal people. I have the feeling that it has been either that, or the RPG novel with powered up heroes and lots of dungeon crawling and lots of evil-races crushing. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy those kind of novels greatly (specially the grey on grey ones), but it was refreshing to go back to the roots:

Azoth – Kylar – is an average guy, but he’s Good. Not paladin like, not by a long shot, but the kind of young man who is a good person and still is up to mischief and some rebellion. That makes him real and extremely likeable. His master, Durzo Blint, is... a lot of things. For simplicity’s sake, and to avoid ruining this read for you, let’s call him an extremely disciplined assassin who’s the very best at what he does. And yet, he’s not evil: he just does his job, and every decision of his is based on logic, and he’s so cool that he was my favourite character.

As two assassins (wetboys) who work in the capital of a terribly corrupt kingdom –by the way, this is a city adventure, we won’t be walking beyond the citywalls... which is not necessarily a bad thing at all – they will be involved in a lot of intrigue, and a lot of plotting, and a lot of turf wars. I’ll go as far as to say that there’ll be wars, even. Every single one of those conflicts was sound, every side had reasons and motivations and goals, and so the clashes were realistic and, let’s say it, great.

But there’s more. There’s also a legend about an artefact (and now I’m being spoiler-ish, but...) and a race to find it and... Well. By the end, Kylar has become a hero in his own right. As the trilogy goes, he’s a Night Angel. Still ridden with a lot of those “flaws” that make him very human, and still very much confused, and not quite knowing where he fits... but with his heart in the right place. That’s why I said he was a Good Guy.

The Bad Guys are clear enough. Trust me, no chance you’ll be rooting for them, no point in making teams with this one. That’s why I said it was classic fantasy.

But it is also very much original. The world (which at this point is mainly the city, but anyway) is extremely well developed, with all its factions and history. The background is there, but it does not stand in the middle of way – no, we will only see story, I promise.

The magic system is original and well thought out. Consequent. Also, it works seamlessly with the aforementioned artefact and with Kylar’s hero outcome.

The characters were deep and evolved through the book. They learnt from their mistakes. They had human reactions to their actions.

It is true that if I had to complain about something I’d complain about the love story, though. Not that it takes up that much space, but I find Kylars infatuation with a girl he has not talked to for ten years, with a girl he has just glimpsed since they both were 8-year-old kids... a bit cliché. Brent Weeks makes it sweet, I suppose, and not entirely unreasonable (who hasn’t had a crush on someone they didn’t really know enough and decided they were in love?) but it was not up to par with the rest of the book.

In any case, don’t let that stop you from reading The Way of Shadows. It was refreshing, well written, and certainly worthy. I’ll be keeping an eye on Mr. Weeks from now on, anyway.

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