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The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

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The Way of Shadows was my first foray into the realm of epic fantasy. If you wanted to pair it down even further you could call it high fantasy, the subgenre of the subgenre whose stories takes place in an alternate world where rules differ from that of reality. Although Games of Thrones has been on my shelf, untouched, for months and I’m curious about Robert Jordan’s popular series The Wheel of Time—not to mention I still haven’t read Lord of the Rings—I decided to go with newcomer Brent Weeks as an introduction.

Twice, SF Signal has interviewed Brent and twice he’s left a good impression. It helps that he pays due to his wife, Kristi, every chance he gets, often using the pronoun “we” when talking about his writing. Kristi was their sole financial provider for nearly 5 years as Brent wrote and worked on securing a book deal. After listening to his first interview I was so touched by his gratitude for his wife that there wasn’t a time when I’d see his book at the bookstore and not give it a thorough examination. My only hesitation with The Way of Shadows was its length, a whopping 645-pages. However, as it turns out, I shouldn’t have given it a second thought.

The Way of Shadows is the first book in The Night Angel Trilogy, a name whose origin unveils itself halfway through the story. As a newbie, it took me a while to grasp the time and location but it soon became clear that the series takes place sometime during the reign of feudalism. There are kings, queens, princes, and princesses; lowly commoners, servants, and brothels. The neighboring lands are at war and alliances are mercurial. Guns are absent, swords defend, and for a fantastical twist, there’s alchemy and a shadow society pulling the strings.

The story begins with Azoth, a 10-year-old boy living in the unforgiving Warrens of Cenaria. He belongs to one of the many gangs made up of orphans like himself. His group is led by a particularly sociopathic criminal named Rat whose abuses are uncountable and horrific. Joined by two close friends, Jarl and Doll Girl, Azoth and his fellow underlings do what they can to survive their precarious lives. Unfortunately, two incidences prove to Azoth how unacceptably powerless he is, and he sets out to beg the legendary assassin Durzo Blint to take him on as his apprentice.

Blint, after some hesitation, gives Azoth a task to prove himself worthy of training. It takes a profound loss to move him forward but finally, Azoth succeeds and is given a new name, a new identity, and a master skilled in the art of murder.

Although Durzo demands that Azoth—now Kylar—never love anything, after all, “Relationships are ropes that bind. Love is a noose,” Kylar has not been so hardened that he’s lost his humanity. It’s his heart—for better or worse—that guides his actions. The conflict between what’s expected of him and the pull of his past make for drama-soaked pages and an empathetic character.

My newness to the genre of epic fantasy made it difficult to keep track of the different kingdoms and their relation to each other at first, however, as the story progressed, the field narrowed and the dominant battlefield came into focus. It’s a testament to the characters and caliber of writing that allowed me to relax into and accept my initial confusion. Weeks made it easy to remain interested while the story worked itself out.

Whether you’re an epic fantasy junkie or a newbie like me, set aside however much time it takes you to read 650 pages and sit down with The Way of Shadows, you won’t regret it.

::[Links]::
Buy The Way of Shadows from IndieBound
Brent Weeks’ website
Interview with Brent Weeks at WorldCon on SF Signal (2011)
Interview with Brent Weeks on SF Signal (2010)
Interview with Brent Weeks on Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing (2010)

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Written by Gabrielle

October 18, 2011 at 5:37 am

Posted in books, reviews

Tagged with , , , ,

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