“ Author: Brent Weeks / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 04 August 2011 / Genre: Fantasy / Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group / Title: The Way of Shadows / ISBN 13: 9780356500713 / ISBN 10: 0356500713 / Alternative EAN: 9781841497402 „
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Whatever I say here, will fall short of the mark. I've read a huge number of books, especially in the fantasy genre, and this ranks up there with the best of them. I'd rate it on a par with the like of Terry Brooks and George RR Martin in terms of scope. It's a brilliant read, and I couldnt put it down.
The plot revolves around a 'guild rat' named Azoth, who wants to get out of the life he is trapped in in the slums, so apprentices himself to a Wetboy, 'Durzo Blint'. As Durzo puts it 'Assassins have targets, Wetboys have Deaders... you know why? Because a wetboy never misses.'
It comes with the familiar plot twists and turns you expect from this genre of book, but then there are some that just come at you out of nowhere, and hit you for six. The book leaves you desperate to read the next in the series, but at the same time wraps up reasonably well as a solo read. I found myself finishing it as the sun came up, after going to bed thinking 'i'll just read a chapter then sleep'.
Great book, great author, great buy.
No matter what I write in this review it will NOT do the book justice.
I wont give you any hints, there's more than enough to wet your appetite in the blurb.
The book is brilliant, it started out as being something I picked up to get a 3 for 2 offer in Waterstones, this book being the free one. I looked at the back and was vaguely interested so preceded to look at the first couple of paragraphs, what then followed was an length of time somewhere between 10 minutes and half an hour as I was completely hooked. When I finally managed to pull my self away from it to pay for it. I immediately picked up the other two in the series.
It took me about a week to go through them first time and now six months later I am still reading them over and over and still finding details that I have somehow managed to miss.
This is a must read trilogy for those with any sort of interest in this genre of book.
There are an awful lot of fantasy books and trilogies out there nowadays, and even for fans of the genre in can be difficult to pick the dolphins from the red herrings (so to speak). All tend to have imaginative worlds that have slight twists in terms of their mechanics, but ultimately the way that all of this detail is brought together in the plot and the writing makes and breaks a book. The Way of the Shadows by Brent Weeks is the first book in the Night Angel Trilogy, and I am happy to say that it hits the fantasy nail firmly on the head.
"ASSASSINS HAVE TARGETS, BECAUSE THEY DON'T ALWAYS SUCCEED. WETBOYS HAVE DEADERS, BECAUSE WE NEVER FAIL TO KILL."
The focus of Way of the Shadows is assassins, or, to be more specific, wetboys, who are essentially elite assassins hired to kill the most obscure or difficult targets. It takes place in the city of Cenaria, a place that is distinctly divided into the rich side and the poor side, called the Warrens. On the rich side of the city powerful families jostle for political control of affairs. In the Warrens children and adults alike fight desperately to stay alive, let alone make a living. And governing both sides from the shadows is the powerful and mysterious Sa'kage, who operate in a similar way to a fantasy Mafia.
The main character in the book is an orphan called Azoth who, like most children in the Warrens, has joined a gang in order to survive. Also like most children in the Warrens, he has dreams of bigger and better things, and his dream is to become a wetboy. Durzo Blint is renowned as the best wetboy in the world, to the point where he is virtually a living legend, and in a chance meeting Azoth makes his move to become Durzo's apprentice. He then embarks on a new life as Kylar Stern, attempting to follow in his master's footsteps and construct a new life as a trained killer.
Of course the book has more than two main characters. In fact, it has plenty more, and if anything the range of characters in the book is quite staggering. Certainly there are too many characters to list here. In many ways a lot of these characters are stereotypical. For example, one of the main characters, Logan Gyre, is a noble prince who is constantly striving to do what is right and idealistic in an imperfect world. However, due to the world that Weeks creates and, in many ways, the depths that he is willing to descend to (more on this later), even the most potentially mundane of characters are given unexpected edges which keeps them fresh and interesting.
In many ways the range of characters in the book makes things overly complex. Often you will start reading a chapter and struggle to fit in where you've read about a character before as they enter a scene. Yet this depth comes good in the end, and ultimately you appreciate how the sheer number of characters aids both character and plot development, and allows Weeks to develop his stories on many different levels.
"NEVER SPEAK OF THIS. UNDERSTAND? I'VE DONE WORSE THAN KILL CHILDREN."
As hinted at previously, this book is very much for mature audiences only. I would say that the book is dark and gritty, but that doesn't seem to do it justice. Indeed, some of the themes that this book deals with, and in graphic detail, are fairly horrific. Everything from brutal fights and torture to child rape is covered, and that's only in the first fifty pages. By no means does this lower the tone of the book to the point where it becomes farcical, however. Far from it; Weeks uses this powerful imagery and events to make messages hard hitting evoke an emotional response from the reader, and that only serves to further immerse you into the story.
He doesn't just do hard hitting imagery well, either. The action sequences in this book are quite possibly the finest in any fantasy novel that I have ever read. Weeks had an unrivalled ability to keep the imagery of a fight moving quickly in your head whilst describing it in intimate detail. People often watch martial arts film to see impressive fights on the screen. In Way of the Shadows the descriptions of the fight scenes create imagery in your head that easily matches anything that Hollywood has to offer, which is quite an achievement.
"'YOU MIND?' DURZO ASKED, 'WE BOTH KNOW IF I WANTED TO KILL ANYONE IN THERE I COULD, WITH OR WITHOUT WEAPONS.'"
Having just read two paragraphs about how obscene the book can be and how good the fight scenes are, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this book is a shallow novel for action junkies. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. The first third of the novel jumps forward in years at several points as Azoth's progress (as well as that of other characters) is tracked from when he is a child to his later teenage years. Once the plot proper starts more characters and areas are woven into the story, keeping the pace of the initial section whilst also steadily increasing the depth. As mentioned above, the depth of the characters is quite stunning, and Weeks manages to weave all of the above elements together to create a novel flows quickly and immerses the reader whilst twisting and turning. It is a genuine page turner, and one that is simply a joy to read.
At the same time, whilst the book is dark and the number of characters can be overwhelming, it is not an especially taxing book to read. Indeed, I'd say it is probably possible to read the book in one sitting if you were so inclined. The world and plot is built up in a confident and decisive manner, and you'll be more than happy to let the easy writing style lead you through the story to get your fill of entertainment.
It's not perfect. Few books are, and I'm sure that those who wish to closely analyse the book will find things to pick at. But that is rarely the point with books, and especially so with this one. If you're looking for a fantasy novel that will draw you into a rich and compelling world where a satisfying plot unfolds before you, then you can't go wrong with this. Those who find the idea of a novel centred around assassins will also find exactly what they're looking for.
Taken at face value, with the dark nature of the book taken into account, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this book is one for the hardcore fantasy readers. In fact it is more accessible than it seems (demonstrated by the fact that my girlfriend, an ardent fan of Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket, can't stop raving about this book), and will be enjoyed by nearly all fantasy fans, providing they don't mind reading something with a little more grit to it. And when the writing is this entertaining, why should you?
Somebody once said that there are only two plot lines in classic fantasy: an unexpected simpleton (child, beggar, heathen, girl, commoner) saving the world (e.g. Frodo) and a king threatened by the usurper (e.g. Arthur). This is, of course, a major simplification, but still, many, many fantasy novels follow one of those plotlines. The Way of Shadows seems to be an example of the first one.
Azoth is a guild rat, grown up in the slums, poverty and fear, beatings and abuse his daily reality. When, in a sudden flash of justified anger he crosses the Fist of his guild, he has to make some hard decisions, quickly. His life is at stake, and the only way out he sees is apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint: the best assassin in the city. Azoth changes his identity to Kylar Stern and has to leave his old life in the slums of the Warrens to face new challenges, from the effort of relentless training to learning to read, and not least the moral ones of learning to kill with a clear head and steady hand. The world of dangerous politics and magic opens up for him as he grows up in a corrupt city, where the shadowy crime organisation of Sa'Kage is behind most businesses and their ruling Nine are more powerful then the king himself.
The world building is convincing and confident, with almost no unnecessary exposition, although there are some unnecessary explanatory sections dotted throughout which contribute to the untaxing nature of The Way of Shadows and the page count, but whose removal would make for a leaner, meaner and likely better novel. But it never really drags and it rarely patronises the reader.
The Way of Shadows has decent characters too: I didn't actually LIKE any of them much, but then I suspect they were not written for the likes of me, and despite that they are memorable and possessed of emotional and moral complexity. Durzo Blint, the best wetboy in the City, the cold blooded killer (but a honourable one), walking the way of shadows but wielding a sword called a Retribution with justice inscribed on it, but carrying a blood of numerous innocents on his hands, a shell of a man that once was (but who was that man?), deep despair hidden under the layers of lies and disguises. Azoth/Kylar himself is simpler but also with a strong tragic streak, initially motivated purely by his desire to escape the life of the guild rat and the abuse of the gang leader, agonising before his first killings, but then increasingly torn between loyalties, carried into a vortex of events that threatens not only his life but also everything that he ever held dear. There are also others, more stereotypical ones: a brave and strong prince, a cynical and powerful old whore with a broken heart, a mad mage, an evil sorcerer king, and many more; all colourful and filling the world of The Way of Shadows with rich life.
In some ways the whole first half of The Way of Shadows can be seen as an exposition, presumably for the whole cycle. It covers ten years and the rise (or, depending on how you look at it, fall) of Azoth the eleven year old guild rat turning into Kylar the grown up assassin. It read well, and it held my attention well enough to take me to the second half, but I think it could have been made shorter. The initial setting amongst the lowest of the low of the guild rats (i.e. child gang members) in the Warrens district of the city of Cenaria provides ample background to the motivations and developments of several characters as to the beatings, the hunger, the fear, the sexual exploitation, the stench and the misery are convincing and give psychological realism to the decisions made by the characters.
But it's in the second half of The Way of Shadows where the action pick up speed and it's the one I enjoyed the most: the plotting thickens, the magic fills the air with electricity, the Artefact appears, the mysteries and identities get revealed and covered up again, the evil empire invades, oh, it's all rather wonderful and makes for a captivating page-turner that verges on the unputdownable. The second half also contains some breathtaking fight scenes which, although depicting terrible bloodshed, had visual dynamism and fluidity that entranced me (and I am not a very visual person given to picturing images or scenes from books).
I enjoyed The Way of Shadows: it is a well executed, enjoyable, escapist fantasy, which won't tax reader's brain but provides exciting plot, occasionally breathtaking action scenes and well developed characters facing genuinely tragic moral dilemmas, all surrounded by a classic fantasy framework of quasi-medieval, feudal world full of functioning magic, intricate plotting and - of course - a powerful artefact to be found and used. There is a map, too.