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The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

Posted by travizzt on August 28, 2011

Azoth must become Kylar Stern, a deadly wetboy assassin, to escape his former life in the slums. But is he prepared for what’s to come?

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

The Way of Shadows is the first book in The Night Angel Trilogy. The second book is Shadow’s Edge and the final book is Beyond the Shadows. This was the first published book that Brent Weeks has written. After writing this trilogy, he has gone on to start a new series titled Lightbringer, which includes The Black Prism and The Blinding Knife, due out in the Fall of 2012. He as also written a short story that ties into The Night Angel Trilogy titled “Perfect Shadow”, dealing with a main character in the trilogy. The Way of Shadows is published by Orbit and released October 2008.

It has been a hard life for Azoth and his two friends, Jarl and Doll Girl. The slums of the Warrens is no place for the three children, but it’s their only home that they’ve known. What makes it worse is the guild that they belong to doesn’t make life any easy for the three children. The leader is slowly dying and his second, a vile boy named Rat, is quickly assuming the role of leader. The only way that Azoth hopes to escape this life is to become an apprentice to Durzo Blint, Cenaria deadliest and most respected wetboy, otherwise known as assassin. But Blint doesn’t take apprentices, but offers Azoth a chance. All he has to do is sever himself from his old life, by killing Rat. But things don’t go as planned and Azoth’s friends pay a price for his hesitance. Now with a drive, Azoth goes through with it, but now assumes a new identity, Kylar Stern. Now, under Blint’s watchful eyes, Azoth now Kylar, has to learn how to become the perfect killer.

1) Background. There is a severe lack of background when you first start The Way of Shadows. This is rather common in most fantasy novels with a new world, but it is still a problem. There were a lot of things that were brought up that didn’t have any context and were never really explained. There were a lot of political information that is never really explained and only tossed at you without having any idea why. A lot of other nations are mentioned, but once again, the reader has no idea what kind of society, people, and customs it has, but it seems like you should know. That’s the main problem with this issue. Everything that is mentioned feels like you, as the reader, should know what it is. But you don’t know because you are entering into a new world without any knowledge of anything in it. The best example is when an object called the ka’kari is brought up. They are never really described and aren’t really given any real tangible background to what they are. There is some history given, but it’s brief and does leave a lot left unsaid. What do they do? Why are they important? These questions aren’t answered until the end, and even then they are still vague. There is a point to this with Kylar just learning about them as the reader does, but it feels so foreign and alien that it’s hard to grasp. All in all, it would have been helpful if things were better described, but still left vague enough that the reader can understand what such-and-such is without feeling so left in the dark.
2) Time. There is one bothersome thing in The Way of Shadows and it deals with time frames. Sometimes days come across as through they last forever, while at others, they are extremely short. This causes a very unique problem for the reader. You don’t know the time frame of a lot of things that happen, even when it’s stated. Setting aside the jumps in time, there were a few events that felt like they lasted a lot longer than they should have and others that felt like they were shorter. It’s one of those problems that are rather hard to explain. Usually, one can get the feel of how time passes in a novel through the writing and clues within it. Here, it felt like time was random. There never felt there was an accurate passage of time. Then you have the time jumps. In The Way of Shadows, there were quite a few years that pass by in a blink. It was handled rather well, but it still didn’t feel right. The things that were skipped over felt like they should have been included, such as Kylar’s training with Blint. It’s shown, but only for a little while and then we have a time jump to when he’s fourteen, another to when he’s about eightteen, and one final jump to when he’s around twenty. The problem is these jumps happen back to back and only last maybe a few pages in length. There could have been more of a focus on how Kylar is dealing with his training, but it just jumps ahead. It just seemed like it happened overnight. Thankfully, towards the end of the novel, this problem does become less noticeable, but it still is there.

1) Characters. The Way of Shadows is one of those rare novels that have a lot of characters and all of them are interesting and surprisingly developed. It’s quite rare to have so many characters that all feel important in one way or another. Setting aside the names are just dropped once or twice,  everyone who had a line or two really were interesting and surprisingly likable. It was hard to find anyone in the novel that you didn’t have feelings towards, rather it be love or hate. All the characters, from main characters to minor characters, made themselves surprisingly memorable. Another credit to the writing is that all the characters were distinctive and that none of them seemed to blend into one another. Everyone had a distinct personality and characteristics that made them unique. As for the two main characters, Kylar and Blint, they were fantastic. Truth to told, talking about them in any detail would ruin the story. However, they are everything that you want the main characters to be; likable, complex, and interesting. Kylar and Blint really had everything and are some of the best characters you’ll likely find. The Way of Shadows really shines with its characters and that makes it that much more enjoyable.
2) Story. The Way of Shadows has a very complex and interesting plot. On the surface, the plot is only about Azoth and how he becomes a wetboy under the tutelage of Blint. But there is so much more to this story than just that. There is a vast amount of side plots and side stories that keep you interested and pulls you deeper into the world. The story also doesn’t focus on fighting, like most fantasy novels do. Instead there it focuses more on intrigue and characters. It relies more actions. There is a good amounts of fighting and combat, but doesn’t carry the story. This really does deserve to be read because the is so much going on, but it’s all easy to follow and enjoy.
3) Themes. There are some basic light and dark themes in The Way of Shadows that are used very well. The story has this very interesting play on light and dark elements. The darker elements of the story really do stand out and make this feel like a very gritty novel. Make no mistake, this is a dark novel with a lot of dark imagery and subjects. There are very few happy moments that they really do stand out. It’s surprising to look back after reading this novel and realize that there was a lot of good that came out of the bad. It may be hard to spot, especially seeing how things unfold later in the novel, but they are there and they are good. It’s an interesting duality with these two concepts, and they play off each other surprisingly well.

Side Notes:
1) Extras. There is a very interesting interview with Brent Weeks at the end of the novel where he gives insight to what influenced him and a lot of other things.
2) Cover Art. If there is one thing that really bothers me about book covers it has to be the generic, bland pose shot on a plain background. It’s not interesting, it’s not eye catching, and it comes off as extremely lazy. The cover of The Way of Shadows is all these things. It’s a generic pose on a white background. Nothing else is going on. It doesn’t catch your eye and there is nothing on the cover to make you interested in picking up this book. The only positive thing that I could mention is the purple smoke coming off of Kylar, but that just seems lazy. The cover art is as overly simple, uninteresting, and as lazy as you can get. For comparison, look at the covers for the France, Spain, and Russian versions. The French version looks dark and gritty, and it works. The red of Kylar’s pants really stands out and draws your eye in. The Russian version may look plain, but there is something actually going on in the picture. Finally, the version from Spain does the pose shot right. It looks cool and makes you wonder who that is under the mask. Honestly, I would have preferred any of these covers over the bland, generic, lazy, boring cover that most of the editions have.

Overall: 4/5
Final Thoughts:
The Way of Shadows is a fantastic way to start a series, but it still has a few hiccups. One of my biggest issues with any novel is when there is a severe lack the background of the surrounded world and when names, places, and things are thrown at you with little to no explanation. It really does turn the reader off because everything that is mentioned seems alien to them. It would have been nice to find out what some of these things meant. Another problem that the book has is with how random time felt. It may be a personal thing, but I found it hard to believe the in how time was passing. Days felt like they lasted forever, while others went by quickly. This is also a problem that is really hard to explain. It’s easy to explain how the book jumps from year to year within a page, and it does do that, but the way events unfolded felt random. Thankfully, these issues don’t really take away much of the enjoyment of the novel overall. The characters are where The Way of Shadows shine. There is a vast amount of them, but they all came off as interesting and developed, even if they only appear for a page or two. It’s surprising how quickly you may like or hate someone within a few sentences. Then you have the amazingly main characters of Kylar and Blint. These two really stole the novel, and made it something special. The story itself was a complex, enjoyable ride from start to finish. There is so much going on in this novel that you don’t know what side is up from down, but it’s all very understandable and that’s something that hardly ever happens with complex narratives. Then you have the simple, yet very surprising take on light and dark themes in this story. On the surface, The Way of Shadows is an incredibly dark story that doesn’t end on a very happy note. However, when you reflect on what you’ve read, you see a lot of hope and good in some of the events. It’s something that I didn’t expect after reading The Way of Shadows. When all is said and done, is The Way of Shadows worth checking out? Of course it is. It’s one of those novels that you must read.

One Response to “The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks”

  1. beestrng said

    Bought the book based on this review. Pretty good. Got to agree with lack of background info though. The book kind of threw stuff out there. Going to buy the 2nd one today. Some stuff was drawn out unnecessarily.

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