If there’s one thing I love, it’s the redemption of a flawed character, and Brent Weeks’ brilliant first novel is chock full of flawed characters in need of redemption.
Weeks burst onto the fantasy scene a little over a year ago, taking the spec fic charts by storm with The Way of Shadows, the first book in The Night Angels Trilogy. The second and third instalments then came out within a month of each other late last year, and are proving just as popular.
Having just finished The Way of Shadows, I’m not surprised the series has done so well. Weeks is a confident writer, combining complex world building and multi-layered likable characters, with a fast-paced plot, adrenaline-charged action and sly humour.
While it offers perspectives from a number of characters, The Way of Shadows is primarily the story of Azoth, a slum rat who exchanges one form of violence for another when he’s apprenticed to Durzo Blint.
Durzo is a legendary ‘wet boy’, an assassin whose skills are enhanced by magic. As Durzo works to make Azoth a master at weapons, poisons and hand-to-hand combat, he also drums into the boy his own personal mantra, that ‘life is empty’.
But while Azoth (who becomes known as Kylar) grows into a skilled wet boy, he can’t entirely leave behind the experiences, relationships and regrets of his childhood and these ties ultimately force him to face his past and finally choose his own path.
There are elements of classic tragedy in this story – of Shakespearean proportions (Weeks admits to being a fan of the Bard) – but it comes without sentimentality and gives the story texture and depth.
Weeks takes his characters to some pretty dark places, but then – as he himself has said – that makes the journey to redemption that much more rewarding. He acknowledges the most disturbing aspect of the series is the abuse of children early in this first book. But the violence is neither gratuitous nor graphic (the worst happens off the page), and is integral to the complex plots that unfold as a result of that abuse.
The Way of Shadows is cleverly constructed: the first two-thirds of the book take place over about a decade, with the final third covers the space of only a few days. This actually works beautifully; by the time the really intense action is taking place, we’re well versed in Kylar’s world and the political intrigue unfolding around him – and the personal stakes involved.
The tension over those last 200 pages is so well delivered I kept skipping ahead to try and work out who was going to survive (a bad habit, I know…) because more than a few significant characters fall by the wayside.
I loved the fact Kylar and his closest friend, Logan (a nobleman unaware of Kylar’s true identity), are masculine and sexy, but still flawed and vulnerable. And the women in their lives are not just plot devices, but fully fleshed characters.
I also loved the fact there was nothing predictable about this story.
This is an expertly written fantasy novel and a very cool read. I’m looking forward to the next two books (which I hope to get to in the next month after working through my current reading pile – have to keep up with my non-fantasy blog Great Stories as well…).