Customer Review

126 of 141 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well-plotted debut, undermined by clunky prose and bland world, 7 Jun. 2009
This review is from: The Way Of Shadows: Book 1 of the Night Angel (Paperback)
After releasing both books of Karen Miller's Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology within the space of a few months (and, it must be said, achieving considerable success with such a method), Orbit decided to do the same with Brent Weeks' The Night Angel Trilogy: all three books were released within a month of each other.

This is a particularly clever marketing ploy, as it means that fans don't have to wait long for each instalment, while the author's reputation and presence is built all the more quickly (or destroyed, depending on the books!).

Quite a bit of buzz has been steadily growing online around The Way of Shadows, so it moved rapidly up my reading list. I must confess I had my doubts about this debut, one being that it might veer too far towards bubblegum fantasy territory. Having finished the novel, I've found that some of my concerns were justified while others were not.

In short, The Way of Shadows is something of a mixed bag.

The weakest aspect for me was the worldbuilding, or to be blunt, total lack of it. What we have is a standard medieval-esque world of kings, princes, assassins and soldiers. There's even a magic sword and a prophecy. In short, there is absolutely no innovation whatsoever. For some readers this is not a problem; the issue of worldbuilding vs characterisation is an old one, and many fans of the genre are quite happy as long as the story and characters are good. That's fair enough, but personally I like fantasies where the author attempts to push the boundaries a bit, do something a little different. Failing that, the world needs to at least come through well in the writing; I need to be able to become absorbed in it. Weeks' world fails on both accounts for me - it's neither particularly interesting and it just never reeled me in. There were hints of a more Asian influence (rice paddies, tantos, etc) but this was never built upon. Subsequently, the world became a backdrop and nothing more, rather than a vibrant, living place.

The writing at first seemed little better. Again, this may just be my personal taste, but I found the prose a bit simplistic. There was some really clunky exposition and I felt certain events badly lacked context. For example - without giving anything away - there's a scene early on where a certain individual overhears two men discussing the dynastic succession. Maybe it was just me, but I struggled to really grasp the importance of the situation or what was at stake - there were too many names flying around for me to really appreciate exactly what was happening. On top of that, certain words - Momma, helluva - are too modern and are subsequently jarring.

Having said that, the writing improves considerably over the course of the book and the final third displays some much better descriptive prose. There was one scene in particular that I thought Weeks handled extremely well and was clearly the stand-out moment in the book for me, though obviously I can't reveal what it is. While I never fully took to Weeks' style, it is at least accessible and I saw enough to believe that the next books in the trilogy will contain superior writing to this one.

The characterisation was a little bit hit and miss for me. Some characters - Durzo Blint, Azoth/Kylar, Momma K (still don't like that name) - were handled and developed well, but others (Solon/Feir/Dorian/Duke Gyre) were less so. Azoth/Kylar does make for a good, engaging protagonist, and Blint is a very strong support act, so ultimately Weeks does manage to create an entertaining cast that hold the reader's attention.

The plot is what really saves The Way of Shadows from total mediocrity. To his credit, Weeks has constructed a plot that generally moves at a good pace and has a high number of twists, some of which most readers will never see coming. It's been a while since I've read a novel with this many surprises, so credit to Weeks for that. On the other hand though, I do think the best authors are able to drop hints prior to the twist/secret being revealed. For example, George R. R. Martin is very good at doing this, so you're able to flick back over the novel and think "Yeah, all the signs were there - I just didn't see them." The twists in Weeks' novel aren't as subtle, and for me one or two of the twists seemed a bit hollow. Still, when all is said and done Weeks has created an absorbing plot.

I had one or two other minor complaints: I would have liked to have seen much more of Azoth's/Kylar's training, as the plot jumps ahead by two years more than once, which threw me a bit. I did at times feel that Azoth/Kylar was too skilled - to the point where it lessened the tension. Still, relatively minor complaints.

In all, despite the world being rather standard (and not coming through as well as I'd have liked), the writing being clunky at times and the characterisation blowing hot and cold, there was something that appealed to me about The Way of Shadows. I can't quite put my finger on it, though the plot certainly helped me to enjoy the novel. I've read much better fantasy novels, but then again I've read far worse. For a debut, it's not bad at all and I think it has all the right ingredients to appeal to a lot of readers.

I've heard Weeks compared to Scott Lynch, though I think that has more to do with the similar nature of their debuts - Lynch, for me, is a better writer in all departments. That said, I'll probably check out the next book in The Night Angel Trilogy, as I think Weeks does have potential.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Aug 2009 23:29:51 BDT
Acis says:
That reads like a well balanced, and informed, review. Thanks.

Posted on 30 Oct 2009 14:58:05 GMT
negativtoo says:
great and balanced review, alhough to my mind, you pull your punches, very much so, especially with regard to the clichée plot and even more clichée (if that is possible) character interaction.

It's a shame that probabyly noone is going to believe you and thereby ends up buying the books.

Posted on 19 Dec 2009 17:12:32 GMT
What a great review! It's so rare to read one that actually gives you the information you want rather than just trotting out an overview of the plot. Thanks!

Posted on 13 Apr 2010 00:01:18 BDT
I'm about a third of the way into book two, and I've decided that Brent Weeks has invented the genre 'ghetto fantasy'. Once I'd got that through my head I was able to stop transliterating all the Americanisms into something a little more Middle English (why anyway? It's fantasy). And I'm loving the story. I'm going to devour all three books before I even consider starting anything else. The definition of a good book is: did you enjoy reading it? Yes? Then it was good. Ever since my Mum tried to ban Enid Blyton and I therefore read everything by her I could get my hands on and loved it all, that's been my creed. Go on, you love it really! :)

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Nov 2010 23:51:49 GMT
J. Thornton says:
what ever was wrong with Enid Blyton?

Posted on 29 Nov 2012 01:53:20 GMT
Ben says:
Totally agree with your review, although you seemed to have enjoyed these books more than I did. I enjoy fantasy with well developed characters and excellent world building, ie Sanderson, Martin, G G Kay and Bujold to name but a few, and compared to these authors works I found these books to be clumsy, tedious and very simplistic in language, also I didn't particularly like his style of writing.
Unfortunately not a hit with me and I don't think I'll be reading his books again.

Posted on 5 Nov 2013 21:36:29 GMT
Paul says:
When I first read the first post, I decided not to buy the book. Having read a lot of other mediocre fantasy lore in the meantime, I came back to the Way of the Shadows and thought, "well what the hell, it can't be as bad as the last one I read". I also wanted to read this set, before his next series (which has much better reviews) as the newest trilogy is not yet complete. Put simply, I was instantly hooked from the first couple of pages. It is also the first time I felt I had to write a comment on a book. In fact, this is not a comment on the book so much as a comment on the first review that disappointingly in my view, may turn away a lot of heads from an absolutely absorbing, well written, action-packed, character spinning, fantasy novel. If you enjoy any of those things in a novel, you're going to love The Way of Shadows. I've just bought the next two in the series and am off to Midcyru.
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