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The Way of Shadows

Book one of the Night Angel series by Brent Weeks

Book Review: The Way of Shadows

Kylar is an urchin; the lowest of the low. But that doesn’t mean he can’t dream. When his friends are threatened, he seeks a way to vengeance, and he finds it. It comes with a name: ‘Durzo Blint’. Something of a legend, Durzo is a ‘wet boy’. More than an assassin, Durzo does not operate with targets and goals. He operates only with outcomes – dead ones. He has nothing to be afraid of, and Kylar envies the man. But Durzo is not one to take an apprentice on lightly. He is just as likely to kill Kylar as he is to teach him. And yet despite Kylar’s buoyed opinions, Durzo harbours a dark past. He also has a singular goal, one that he’s not willing to share, and he will do anything to achieve it. Anything. When their world tumbles into the clutches of an invasion, Kylar and Durzo are thrust into the heart of the chaos. Loyalties are blurred, and plots are lined with plots. In the heat of the cauldron, anything can happen, and each man must fight for himself. Or must he?

What an incredible book.  This is my first venture into the world of ‘Weeks’, and I liked it.  I liked it a lot.  This has all the hallmarks of my perfect fantasy tale – lots of fast action; incredible imagery; fantastic magical imagination; a big scale; and lots of interesting perspectives – and it is all tied together very well indeed.  And we have rich characters too, just to add to the delicious recipe.  A must read, for sure.

Set in the country of Cenaria, this story follows the lives of two key characters: Kylar (Azoth at outset), a ‘street-rat’ scrapping for survival; and Durzo Blint, a legendary wet boy (presumably because most people he meets end up covered in their own blood…)  The story really focusses on Kylar’s training as a wet boy under Durzo’s tutelage, and particularly on the emotional detachment required.  But is it really possible to be entirely detached?  Durzo seems to demonstrate as such, but he is hardly an open book.

The story progresses within a rich environment, and we are treated to some of the many skills a wet boy is required to master (poisons, blades, stealth – you get the idea).  Much of the backdrop is in a shady part of town, and there is plenty of action in and around brothels.  But although this may seem ‘a bit much’, the dirty action takes place behind closed doors, and it is really just the seedy setting that we are left with.  And that fits Durzo, so I liked it.

We then rapidly progress though a number of years in which Kylar is establishing himself as a standalone wet boy, and we also see nice relationships developing that will become fundamental further down the line.  Of particular note is Logan, a Duke’s son who believes in Kylar’s ‘fake persona’ as a lowly count.  The two strike up something of a friendship, but Kylar is always conscious of his shadowy life – he never gets too close.

And then, after all this has been fermenting nicely, the country of Cenaria is invaded – somewhat subtly – and all of our pieces come crashing together.  It’s a very enjoyable journey.

Written in multi third-person, there is a good mix of action and introspective passages in here.  It did trip a couple of times into something a touch more ‘self-indulgent’, but this was usually pulled out nicely with a reference to that same self-indulgence.  Good stuff. And what this means is that you are never left standing – the book pulls you this way and that, in and out, and that keeps the pages turning.

Interestingly, this also plays a multitude of points of view, and I think it worked well.  The lion’s share is definitely with Kylar and Durzo, but we also jump into a whole plethora of other heads – some for enough time to give counselling, and others for little more than a cup of tea.  This switching heads really works for me – I love to see the various perspectives – and I think this was done excellently. Ultimately it is Kylar and Durzo we think about, but the other points of view enrich the journey.

But what about the characters, I hear you cry?  Well, Durzo is a bit broken.  Actually, a lot broken.  You are forced violently between liking him and detesting him, and though I’m not entirely sure where I ended up, I had a great time finding out.  There is a huge amount to him, well considered, and the brokenness is excellently played out.

Kylar by contrast is much more simple.  I never really doubted his path, but I think that was important – he was something of an anchor to something tangible.  And he is an eminently likeable character, with virtues and a sympathetic character.  But even beyond Kylar, there are numerous other well-crafted characters to enjoy – Momma K (a powerful madam); Logan (a noble … nobleman); Roth (a nasty piece of bad-guy work); and an idiotic king.  Brilliant!

Right then – all good so far.  But was there anything I didn’t like?  I think the magic left me a bit lost at times.  That there is magic is fine, and there are good systems of control around the magic – that’s good.  But I think it is probably the way in which the veil is gradually lifted that left me a bit cold.  The magic is concentrated nearer the end of the book, and this means that it creeps up on us.  I’m certainly forgiving this, and I’m now eminently setup for the sequel, but I thought I’d jot it down.  Be prepared!

But there you have it.  An excellent book by an excellent author, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to reading the sequel.  Enough said. Oh, except that if you like fantasy, you have to read this.