Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Way of Shadows -- For The Fantasy Fan


There's a lot to like about this novel, the first in the Night Angel trilogy, by Brent Weeks. The plot is wonderfully elaborate and full of Dickensian connections between characters; the narrative portions of the story are told well, with an adept writing style that keeps this long and complex story moving.

If one has read this sort of Medieval fantasy novel before, one will find that the author has not built a particularly original world, but rather uses one that is already somewhat shopworn. There is a heart-breakingly poor part of town called the Warrens, contrasted against the noble life in the royal castle and among a secretive group that manipulates events from behind the scenes. Bridging the two worlds are a seer, a sorcerer (of course) and the Assassin's guild (isn't it always the thieves guild or the assassin's guild? Just once, I'd like to see one of these novels feature the baker's guild). Fans who take delight in the details of original world building a la Ursula LeGuin or Tanith Lee aren't going to find the same here; on the other hand, genre fans are going to find themselves immediately comfortable and understanding of this world, and ready to step right into the delightfully busy and textured plot. Also, if there is little originality in the overall structure of the world, there is much originality and delight to be found in details, characterization, and twisting narrative pathways as the book develops.

The other place where the writing is weak is in the dialogue, which sometimes sounds unnatural. Fortunately, this unnatural aspect drops away at moments of crisis, and so it doesn't get in the way when most critical. However, it is something one notices, especially as the book renders scenes on the upper levels of society. One is almost thankful when characters curse and shout. Overall, one would like to see a subtler and more natural touch with dialogue.

The plot kicks off when a child of the Warrens, seeking coins in the crawlspace under a tavern, encounters a famous member of the assassin's guild -- actually, a sort of Platonic distillation of the perfect assassin called a "wetboy," who is one of the more interesting characters in the novel. The boy, Azoth, contrives, as a way out of his poverty, to apprentice himself to this master killer, and thus begins a journey which takes him out of the Warrens to all levels of society.

Overall, there is much that is rewarding in this novel, and I highly recommend it to fans of the fantasy genre. For fans, the twists and turns of the dramatic plot, the many colorful and detailed characters, and the journey of the main character will definitely outweigh the negatives and make this book a fine, fun read.

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5 comments:

NJ said...

Sounds awesome. Once I am done with the Serpeantwar Saga by Feist, I will start with this. Always love fantasy trils.

KindleDude said...

Thanks for stopping by, NJ! I'd love to know what you think, feel free to come back and drop a comment when you're done.

Dragonblogger said...

Looks right up my alley, I will have to find out if they make this series on Audiobook.

KindleDude said...

Let us know, Dragonblogger!

Elvgren fan said...

I've just finished a very enjoyable read, 'The Way of Shadows' by a new to me author, Brent Weeks.

The strong point to Week's writing is his development of characters, which in this first book of a trilogy, firmly sets them into your memory.

The romantic relationship between Azoth and Doll Girl builds throughout the story and I hope continues into the next two books.

Taken as a whole the book is a fine first novel by someone who I think will soon be added to your list of authors who's work you automatically buy.

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