The Way of Shadows review

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Way of Shadows is the first book of the Night Angel trilogy (followed by Shadow's Edge and Beyond the Shadows) by first time novelist Brent Weeks. The whole trilogy was released at the same time in 2008 and eventually in omnibus version. His next novel, Black Prism should be released in 2010 and is set in a completely different environment.

Kylar Stern is a wetboy, a merciless killer with deadly skills. He rose from the station of a simple guild rat to an assassin apprentice with the help of the ultimate wetboy in town, Durzo Blint. Kylar will have to prove his worth to his master, with death as a price for failure. During his training, he will struggle with friendship, love and morality. He will eventually find himself at the center of prophecy and fight off the invasion of his hometown.

The Way of Shadows was tagged by some as a YA novel... not sure why, probably because it focuses on a boy from age 10 to 20 but then that's not what categorize a YA novel. Anyway, it's not, at least in my opinion that's grown up fantasy. That being said, this novel doesn't start as fully 'epic' but the term can eventually be applied to the book and from what I gather, the rest of the trilogy gets even wider in scope.

This story is the genesis of a professional killer, his transformation from a difficult boyhood to his full fledged training. I always liked to learn in details how someone came up to be as he is. In this instance, it is admirably achieved. Decidedly, this assassin has imperfections and they are entirely believable human flaws. That's one of the aspects of this book that I liked the most. Although this is a fantasy world, the protagonists felt real in their mistake and success. Kylar, his master Durzo, his love interest Elene and even the prophet Dorian make vital decisions during the book and we get to see the consequences over the years. There is only one point which comes to contradict all that "authenticity", people are perhaps too hard to kill. A considerable amount of characters come back from the dead and you're never sure if someone is unquestionably dead.

The narrative is essentially presented with the PoV of Kylar. At key events throughout the tale, a couple of different PoV are used. For me, the character choices in those instances felt really appropriate. The names of the protagonists are afflicted with a lot of K and G. and as Brent said himself in an interview, this could have been worked on a bit. This make the names and locations seems slightly too classic in term of fantasy literature. This is not the only typical element used by the author (a mythic magical sword for example), but still, I felt he used them deftly and in his own way.

I think there's a small lack of humour in the novel. The duo of Dorian and Feir could be called funny but aside from this, the tone is serious. The state of things being as they are in a young assassin life in a harsh city, it's to be expected to have a grim ambiance, but still...

Worldbuilding is more concentrated around the city of Cenaria and its inhabitants, but Midcyru looks like vast world with a profound history. We get to scratch a little more than the surface and there was enough for me to feel immersed in Week's world. The city in which the majority of the story evolves is skillfully depicted. Religion, politics and conspiracy play a significant role in the development of the story. I was drawn in easily.

The magic system integrated in this tale is intriguing and detailed in a rather simple and precise way. Without spoiling, let's say that you need three aptitudes to be able to use magic and each of these are regulated by the power the user can possess. Mages eventually run out of 'magical fuel', which is something I appreciated about this system, making them not too almighty. Magical artifacts also play a very important role in the book.

Why should you read this book? If you like stories with action and some kick ass magically enhanced assassins coated with a layer of intrigue and humanity, this is for you. This is an easy read and I don't mean this as a default. This tale is entertaining and compelling. The writing may not be in the most extravagant form but it drives the plot nicely enough.

Technically, the Orbit cover by Peter Cotton is quite representative... although... a hooded figure for an assassin book? While not very original, at least it looks kind of nice. The mass market paperback edition of the novel is 645 pages. The map is a nice addition although I could not find it on the web.

The Way of Shadows review score :

Characterization............. 8 /10
World building............... 7.5 / 10
Magic system................. 7.5 / 10
Story.............................. 8 / 10
Writing........................... 7.5 / 10

Overall (not an average) 8 / 10


Brent Weeks page


Anonymous said...

The magic system kind of makes the mages like superman with magic, which is a very interesting idea.

Van said...

Recently finished this myself, thought it was pretty terrible. Bad enough that i won't finish the trilogy.

Interesting at times, but overall a bland cliched mess with two dimensional characters (for the most part). 5/10 and that's generous.

Anonymous said...

I don't like political intrigues and there were plenty
and I got the feeling there were many things explained which didn't really contribute to the story.

Most of the time reading I was just confused but after finishing the book I find myself thinking alot about the characters.
Well, I don't know why but all in all I liked the book. Especially Durzu Blint

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