Review of The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks – Book 1 of The Night Angel trilogy

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It seems that 2008 was a cracking good year for quality fantasy novels. Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself knee-deep in the critters – and Weeks’ debut book certainly joins the list.

For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art. And he is the city’s most accomplished artist, his talents required from alleyway to courtlywayofshadows boudoir. For Azorth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums and learned the hard way to judge people quickly – and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.

But to be accepted, Azorth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics – and cultivate a flair for death.

This is classical stuff – if you enjoy Greg Keyes and Kate Elliott, then don’t pass up on the opportunity to read it. Told in third person POV, the main characters are compellingly complex and the plot is suitably twisting with a handful of shock-surprises near the end to persuade you to immediately turn to the second book and read on. Without doubt, though the book
sizzles with action from start to finish, for me Weeks’ strongest achievement is his characters – particularly his depiction of Durzo Blint. Weeks continues peeling away the layers surrounding his master assassin with the same slow relish that I feel on unwrapping a box of Turkish Delight…

If I have a niggle, it is that the narrative strand containing Durzo and Azorth is by far the most engrossing, particularly in the first two-thirds of the book. And I’m prepared to bet that Weeks found it the most interesting to write. I think it’s revealing that the blurb on the back cover of the book doesn’t mention the rest of the storylines, despite their importance to the overall plot. And if you skim these other plotlines, you will lose the sense of the narrative and eventually have to stop and go back and reread them. (I know this, because that’s what I did…)

Eventually, I did engage with the other characters and their stories, which although eclipsed by the glowing three-dimensional glory of Blint and Azorth, helped to whip the story along at a smart clip. The world-building is well-crafted and Weeks’ descriptions of a flawed society where the gulf between the haves and have-nots is nearly as grittily portrayed as Joe Abercrombie’s filthy stews in his First Law series. All in all, The Way of Shadows is a worthwhile addition to the latest tranche of classic fantasy and marks Brent Weeks as an author to follow.

8/10

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