Top critical review
'Beyond the Shadows' by Brent Weeks
on 21 October 2013
'Beyond the Shadows' is the third and final instalment in Brent Weeks' Night Angel trilogy. The trilogy so far has followed the life of Kylar Stern, a young man who has developed since childhood from an orphan thief to a trainee assassin (or `wetboy'), and who has now finally taken on the role of the immortal Night Angel, the embodiment of justice.
The most entertaining parts of Kylar's tale are his interactions with both Durzo Blint (his mentor) and the black ka'kari (the magical item that is the source of his special powers), which are full of easy humour and sarcasm. However, these conversations don't happen very often, and Kylar's chapter are mainly focused on his complicated relationships with Elene and Vi. This book also has a wider scope than the others: we see more of the world and its inhabitants. While this gives the book something of a grander scale, I actually miss the focus of the first two books, which were mostly set within the streets of cities. The first book particularly focused more on character development within the confines of the city's underworld, and I think that approach was actually stronger than that of this book, which mostly seems to be `send the characters to loads of different places on loads of flimsy pretexts'.
One of the things I do really like about the plot is that there is always something happening: lots of little events occur within the tales of most characters, which helps to make the novel a fairly fast-paced read (although some of the events are a bit contrived). The way the various plotlines finally entwined was fairly well-conceived, and the final battle definitely had a feel of the epic about it. The sacrifice involved in the defeat of evil is somewhat glossed-over, but adds a nice sense of loss and emotion. However, I feel that the payoff was somewhat unsatisfactory, mainly because [spoiler] it revolved around the man characters gathering around an artefact, Power Rangers-style, and using previously unmentioned magic to end the epic battle and instantly transform the battlefield into a place of beauty.
For me, some of the strongest plotlines were those of the `supporting' characters. I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Dorian's descent into darkness and subsequent redemption; and Vi Sovari's search for friendship and acceptance was my favourite storyline in the whole trilogy. The characters of Sister Ariel, Solon Tofusin and Feir Cousat were also fun to read about, but unfortunately they are very minor and don't feature as much as I would have liked. On the other hand, there were many characters I simply could not engage with, and whose chapters I found a little slow and dull, which meant that I didn't sympathise with them enough to feel the appropriate emotional impact of their various fates. I think this is one aspect that detracted from my enjoyment of the book: the fact that Weeks has so many good characters yet does not seem to develop them as strongly as he perhaps could have, while placing too much focus on characters who are a little two-dimensional.
There are plenty of aspects within the book that make it gripping - such as the torture of Kylar, the fate of the usurper queen Terah Graesin, the mystery of the Dark Hunter and the continual revelations about Durzo Blint - but there is also plenty of stuff in between that makes it, well, less-than gripping. I did enjoy reading it, but as the conclusion of a trilogy? It goes out with more of a whimper than a bang.
(Review first posted on my blog 'The Half-Strung Harp'.)