Monday, 22 June 2009

Brent Weeks: Way of Shadows...

Also Shadows' Edge and Beyond the Shadows, this being a review for the whole trilogy. I imagine there might be a spoiler or two as a result.

It should be a measure of how absorbing I found them that I went through the three of them in about a week. The plot is essentially that a street kid named Azoth (Ah, traditional fantasy naming), desperate to get out, apprentices himself to the most dangerous hired killer in the world, Durzo Blint. The city they're in comes under attack from a neighbouring country that has dedicated itself to the worship of a dark goddess, and in order to deal with the threat, Azoth must not only take on a completely new identity, but must take the power of a magical artifact from his teacher. From there, he must face the power of the other nation's godking, meddle in the politics of the post invasion city, and eventually face up to the demon goddess herself.

It's a rough summary, obviously. And, like pretty much any summary of a fantasy book, it sounds pretty ludicrous when put like that. Ludicrous is the last word that springs to mind reading it though. This series is dark, involved, and frequently brutal. Maybe it's just me, but that seems to be a trend in the more recent wave of epic fantasy. It works too, letting Weeks rachet up the tension for the simple reason that very bad things can, and will, happen to the characters.

Those characters are probably the best part of the series. Forget the naming conventions, under those names they're rounded, intriguing creations that make you care. And there are lots of them. Weeks juggles plot strands expertly for most of the series, binding together a continent's worth of stories with a strong sense of history/destiny, yet still managing to keep things surprising.

Perhaps those surprises are the only downside here. Despite three long (600ish pages) books, Weeks still ends up doing some things very suddenly, without really enough foreshadowing. The descent of the character Dorian into evil and then madness happens far too quickly, while there's one magic sword in there that I swear has the magical power to make things happen behind the scenes, given that sections involving it seem to be set up and then skipped over. There are aspects of the love stories involved that are touched only briefly, making the resolutions to them perhaps less satisfying.

Maybe that's just a function of the scale of the challenge Brent Weeks took on here. There are so many plot strands that it seems impossible to give them all the time they deserve. Perhaps the answer there might have been to give the main strands slightly more at the expense of others. Certainly, I would have preferred the ending to have seemed a little less like Weeks realised he was running out of space and had to force things to a halt. But the thing is, this works anyway, and works brillantly. This series is dark, gritty, flawed, but an utterly engrossing read.

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