16 March, 2010

Review - The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

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

Rob Bedford's review can be found here and Graeme Flory's here


Brenda said...

I've had this one on my TBR list for awhile. Maybe I'll move it up. I always like a quick paced, action packed story.

Bryce L. said...

@Brenda - I was really impressed and I've grown really attached to the characters. Shadow's Edge is even better and I'm flying through Beyond the Shadows right now. :)

Definitely worth it.

Valashain said...

I agree the second book is better but on the whole I didn't think this trilogy lived up to the hype.

bloggeratf said...

I haven't read it Val, but when does it ever?

WonderBunny said...

I liked this first book but haven't read any of the others. It wasn't amazing but still a solid fantasy read.

Good review Seak!

ediFanoB said...

I read THE WAY OF SHADOWS last year and enjoyed it a lot. I couldn't detect missing words or other grammar errors. Did you read the UK or the US version?

Your good review reminds me to read SHADOW'S EDGE and BEYOND THE SHADOWS. Both are on my shelf.
Again I'm surprised how many unread books I own :)

Simcha said...

I haven't read this book though I feel like I should because it always seems crop up in various book reviews or conversations about fantasy, and all authors are compared to Brent Weeks. Though at this point my expectations are so high that it might be best to avoid the books altogether :)
I hear what you mean about the covers, but what I think is odd is the way the guy is pointing at me. It's kind of weird.
OK, I'm really tired and I'm starting to ramble so I better sign off. Great review!

Bryce L. said...

@Val - Luckily I had enough hype dampening from the forums at SFFWorld, so hype didn't ruin it as will happen sometimes.

@Alec - Hardly ever. :)

@WonderBunny - That's a good synopsis, very solid addition to the fantasy genre and the next one's even better.

@ediFanoB - US, yeah they weren't too bad, but they weren't good either. :) I have way too many waiting for me.

@Simcha - Stop rambling already and go to bed. :P You definitely should read these and I agree, but the next covers are at least a little better.

April (BooksandWine) said...

I'll have to put this on my TBR, it sounds great.

To be honest though, covers do matter to me sometimes, as that's how I decide to read something or grab something from the library.

Unknown said...

I loved the series, especially as they are from a debut author. But of course you already knew that.

Really looking forward to his new book The Black Prism. Hope he can keep what I enjoyed about The Night Angel trilogy in his new book.

Bryce L. said...

@April - What's crazy is that these sold big partly because the covers were catchy. I guess just not for me. Still really great otherwise. :)

@Tyson - I'm definitely on the bandwagon for The Black Prism, Weeks has been really consistent and I'm sure he won't let us down.

Anonymous said...

I can not praise this book, nor its sequels, enough. I absolutely loved them, from the characterization to the plot and the world, despite a lack of worldbuilding. It was a very, very impressive novel, especially because it was Weeks' literary debut. It's best if you form your own impressions of course, but I would highly recommend it, as I have to a number of friends already (several of them now view the Night Angel Trilogy as their favorite novels). I will say that at first, I was cautious about the cover, thinking that it was just another generic assassin novel. It isn't.

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

I have this book on my shelf to read. I just for some reason haven't been drawn to read it. But it sounds the book is better than the description and cover both. I am going to have to shuffle up the tbr stack and move it up closer to the top. I have enjoyed The First Law and getting ready to read Before They Are Hanged.

Thanks for the great review. I will have to look at the book again here.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same about the covers, I've picked it up and set it back at several times. The cover was the only thing keeping me from reading it. Guess I'll check it out now.

Bryce L. said...

@Anon. - Definitely, I was really impressed especially since these have gotten mixed reviews.

@Melissa - Thanks. :) It's a really good series. I think I put The First Law just above it, but only barely.

@Anon. (number 2) :) - I'm glad to help. Same thing happened to me, the covers just made me put it off, but I'm glad I got into this series. It's really dang good.

Anonymous said...

How you can review a book without even knowing the difference between "effect" and "affect" is beyond me...

bloggeratf said...

Did your bridge get burned down Anon?

Rose said...

To my mind every person ought to browse on it.