In 2008 Brent Weeks hit the SFF world with a fury as Orbit released the completed Night Angel Trilogy over a two-month period, starting with The Way of Shadows (US, UK, Canada, IndieBound). Message boards were buzzing, reviews generally positive, and Weeks can now call himself a New York Times Best Selling Author. Of course in reality, opinions are mixed, including mine, as I found The Way of Shadows to be equally compelling and uninspiring average, the characters easy to like but inconsistent, and so on and so forth.
The Way of Shadows follows Azoth, a young orphaned street rat struggling to survive in a horrifying underworld as he stands up to an abusive guild boss and apprentices himself to the city’s foremost assassin, Durzo Blint. Under the tutelage of Blint, Azoth must give up his previous identity to become Kylar, a minor noble as he trains relentlessly to release his innate magical ability and become an assassin as dangerous as his master. Haunted by the loss of the few real friends he had and conflicted about the killer his has become, Kylar finds himself at the center of his nation’s struggle for survival.
Weeks shows the true horrors the underworld Azoth as claws his way out and through the horrendous abuses of the guild boss, Rat. While nothing is explicitly described, rape, sodomy, and mutilation are but a few of the abuses favored by Rat. Sure to garner that all-too familiar ‘gritty’ label, the abuse does fit the world Weeks creates and drives his characters future motivations. However one aspect immediately stood out in a very negative light. A male friend of Azoth’s suffers sexual abuse from the boss Rat, and when we meet this friend later in the story, has apparently become homosexual as a result of this sexual abuse. Whether intended or not, the implication is that homosexuality is the result of sexual abuse, that it’s some sort of mental illness – I found this ignorant and offensive and while it’s an rather minor point, it jumped to forefront, ripped me from the story, and damaged the tale Weeks wants to tell.
The characters of The Way of Shadows suffer from Weeks’ fan-fic feeling need to be larger than life – to be the best, most bad-ass people of the bunch. Sure, they have weaknesses and are conflicted, but these guys are still the best of the best – and they are assassins working for the criminal underground that runs the city. This makes them extra cool. While characters of this sort are generally a necessity for epic fantasy, Weeks fails to distinguish them from so many others in the genre. This combines with what feels like uneven, inconsistent, and at times, unbelievable actions – most particularly from Durzo Blint, whose actions and revelations near the end of the novel fail to convince. Where Weeks does manage to succeed with his characters is depth. Most show more than two-dimensions with Azoth and Blint in particular playing out an interesting commentary on humanity, love, sacrifice, justice, retribution, and even mercy.
In spite of the weaknesses mentioned above and a few others (such as the overly long and slow start), The Way of Shadows eventually becomes a very compelling read. In spite of the uneven characterization, I eventually needed to know what was going to happen. The high-octane events of the last third of the book raised my heart-rate as Weeks laced the action with tension. It was readable and it was entertaining reading.
Brent Weeks’ debut, The Way of Shadows, begins the Night Angel Trilogy, followed by Shadow’s Edge (US, UK, Canada, IndieBound), with Beyond the Shadows (US, UK, Canada, IndieBound) completing the trilogy. Weeks’ suffers from being a bit too fan-like with inconsistencies and improbabilities that at times can’t be ignored. Yet his gripping writing shows promise and saves The Way of Shadows from being tossed into the epic fantasy slop bucket. It was good enough to get me to come back for more. 6-6.5/10
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