The Black Prism review

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Brent Weeks is already a notable voice in the fantasy field. His first series, The Night Angel trilogy, was received nicely enough, myself included even though I have only read the first book so far (review here). This new sequence set in another world, titled The Lightbringer series, starts off with The Black Prism. I enjoyed the read and you can count myself as a fast buyer for the follow-up and would firmly recommend it, but alas, I also have to put the words "some tiny reserves" in the phrase.

Gavin Guile is the Prism. He's the one representing Orholam on earth and the only person that can balance the colors of light used as a magic source for drafting luxin. On the eve of going on a hunt for a rogue drafter, a disturbing letter find it's way to the Chromeria, the drafters' home. Gavin will have to return to Garriston, site of the famed final battle of the false prism war, accompanied by his ex-fiance now bodyguard Karris. One of his goals as a Prism being the restoration of Garriston, he will have to start a war against a new King, surrounded by Kip his "nephew", Liv the daughter of his old enemy finest General and the head of the Blackguards, Commander Ironfist.

Kip is the farm boy being destined for more. However, since he's not the prime protagonist and so clumsy in every aspect of his persona, I forgot the fact swiftly and grew to like this unlikely boy. His new “mentor”, Gavin Guile is the shining star of the story. His narrative is handled with more skill by the author and he feels like a righteous human being with a dark past, looking for redemption and understanding the burden and responsibility of power. He becomes even more compelling since he's almost all-powerful but can't always use it to his advantage, creating some of the best situations of the book. Around them is Ironfist, the committed bodyguard who is a bit too stereotypical, Karris the broken love, Liv the young drafter in search of someone to believe in and more. A great cast, if not slightly falling into clichés at times.

In fact, I could not really discern a major improvement in Weeks’ prose, but I can say that it's at least as good as his previous work if not better. One of the elements I liked from his writing in The Way of Shadows was how he really made Durzo look "kick-ass" as a assassin. I actually find it fun sometimes (I may insist a bit on this last word) to have flashy protagonists. In this instance, the same can be said about Gavin. He his a "kick-ass" drafter in his prime, not the usual patriarchal head of his religion with mysterious powers.

I aslo remember writing that WoS had a small lack of humour. Well in this area, even though it's not always a necessity in epic fantasy, The Black Prism delivers. Kip is the source of many grins, although it's usually about comments concerning his weight or his adolescent discovery of the feminine attraction. Don't worry, it's handled skillfully enough. This lighter tone is also surrounding a couple of scenes with Gavin. Altogether, it helped me to connect with the characters.

The world they live in is divided in seven Satrapies, representing the seven colors used by the drafters (magic users in chromaturgy), blue, orange, yellow, red, green, sub-red and superviolet. The color or colors a drafter can use affects his emotions and way of life in the long run. In the Chromeria, where they are trained, everything is considered so that light is exposed to its maximum, from mirrors to pivoting buildings. Everything links together nicely.

Then, you can't speak about the world-building without commenting further on the magic system. Two things come to my mind about this, it's a very imaginative, well-thought and original system but it gets in the way of the storytelling at times. Since it's not that simple, the author has to manage many explanations throughout the book, infodumps. Hopefully, at the end of the run you'll be well acquainted with it, meaning that the second book should be concentrated on the characters and the story evolution.

As for the story itself, I felt it was a preparation for big things to come and a general introduction in term of character positioning. I was compelled to go through several chapters without putting the book down and since much of them are quite short, you can blast through it quite fast. I only had some problem with Gavin's goal of giving back to the people of Garriston. I didn't connect with it, it felt hollow for me somehow. However, the tale narrated in The Black Prism is one full of surprises. For many of those, you can probably uncover the “secrets” before the punch is revealed. Although, for the characters in the story, it feels normal that they don't see it coming. I grew more eager to read about the reactions generated by startling revelations than learning about it when it’s exposed.

In the end, The Black Prism is a fast paced epic adventure concentrated around its magic system but with a bunch of entertaining characters. If you don’t buy into this kind of fantasy novels usually, this one probably won’t reconcile you with it.

Technically, the cover of the book is nice looking, representing at least something within the novel... well maybe not exactly but close enough. The book stands at 626 pages and a decent map of the Seven Satrapies is included.

The Black Prism review score :

Characterization............. 8 /10
World building............... 8.5 / 10
Magic system................. 8.5 /10
Story.............................. 7.5 / 10
Writing........................... 7.5 / 10

Overall (not an average) 8 / 10

Brent Weeks page


Melissa (My words and pages) said...

I am wanting to get to this one. I have many books here to get through but I will get this book and read it. I love the sounds of it and the sounds of the world created here with the magic system. Thank you for such a detailed review.

Showtyme said...

This book may jump to the front of my to read list, to be read as soon as I finish the Foundation series by Asimov. I own quite a few books already, but I loved the Night Angel trilogy and have been eagerly waiting for this one.

Phil said...

Hope you like it both of you. As I said in the review, if you like imaginative magic systems (even if it just slightly get in the way at times) and already like Weeks writing, you'll probably love it.

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