There are a few authors, Joe Abercrombie included, whose books I've read in large part because everything they've said outside of their novels (on blogs, etc.) has been hilarious and witty and they don't take themselves too seriously. Brent Weeks (or Sussex Months...yes I still think it's funny) is one of those authors.
One of the reasons it's taken me this long to get to this book is because I think the cover is awful. I know cover art doesn't really effect anything and probably shouldn't anyway, but it was very off-putting for me. Does anyone really want to see Hayden Christensen dressed up for Halloween on a cover? Maybe I shouldn't ask that... :) (It does look like HC doesn't it?)
The covers were what set this series apart, although it's hard to imagine that now, but they set the standard that is now almost a necessity and I can at least give them credit for doing that much. But really, what would a fantasy novel cover be without a cowled figure anyway...original?
Okay, now that the cheap shots are out of the way. I do love a good hood and The Way of Shadows (2008, 645 pp.) [US] [UK] is full of them. Realistic covers, for me though, only really work for urban fantasy/paranormal romance. It must be the tats I guess. :)
This tale begins with the struggles of our main protagonist, Azoth, a guild rat - a nothing who's got no where to go and nothing to lose. His only way to escape the slums and a life of cruelty and pain is to apprentice himself to Durzo Blint, a renowned wetboy (kinda like an assassin times a hundred) and legend. This, however, is not as easy as he supposed since he is forced to turn his back on anyone he's ever loved and devote himself to a practice that's not altogether savory for anyone with some sense of morals. Like the cover blurb says, "The perfect killer has no friends - only targets."
To accomplish this, Azoth is given a new identity and a new name, Kylar Stern, while he begins his training and attempts to unleash his "Talent", or his magical abilities that would extend his skills as a wetboy.
The Way of Shadows is a fast-paced dynamite of a novel. I was up late into the night burning through pages to find out the next twist. I have to admit, I love a good assassin-themed novel. Weeks does a great job with characterization and I became really attached to Kylar, Momma K, and Logan; some awesome characters with convincing motives. This is the definite focus over world-building, which while an admirably realized world, is only given the barest of details necessary to further the plot. In a character/plot driven novel, The Way of Shadows doesn't get bogged down in description and it was much appreciated.
Kylar, although desiring to be a killer, is easy to relate to and has his own qualms throughout the story of doing such work. His character works well with his cranky master, Durzo Blint, who seems to have given up any such feelings of regret for his job. And, although this story plays on many fantasy archetypes (assassins, masters, a powerful sword, an unconquerable enemy), Weeks creates a unique feel that is all his own.
One thing I was surprised about was how violent The Way of Shadows is. For some reason, it was not what I was expecting (weird - assassins = violent?), leaning more toward The First Law trilogy than anything. I'm not complaining, it was only unexpected. Weeks does a good job weaving it into the story adding to the emotions (mostly of hatred toward the inflicter) the reader feels for the characters.
Basic grammar errors, such as missing words, were almost to the point of annoyance, but didn't distract too much from the story and in the end I felt that the climax was a little underwhelming as I didn't feel like the actions of the main characters were as necessary as they were made out to be. Otherwise The Way of Shadows was romping good fun. I didn't realize I would like this series so much.
When Should You Read The Way of Shadows?
The best time to read The Way of Shadows is when you're in the mood for something action-packed and quick-paced. If you need a break from reading description after description and you want something that moves the plot forward through short, concise chapters, The Way of Shadows will do you good.
And in the end, covers don't really matter as long as the book's good.
(side note: I may sound like I hate descriptive novels, but this is far from the truth. I do like balance, however, and a frequent mix of faster and slower novels fit the bill for me.)
Rating and Links
3.75 out of 5 Stars (Really really liked it)
Check out the author's website