Thursday, 6 November 2008

‘The Way of Shadows’ – Brent Weeks (Orbit Books)


There’s been a lot of talk recently, on various forums, about certain authors who seem to be taking their time over writing the next book in their series. I’m not going to name any names; I don’t need to as the likelihood is that you are waiting for at least one of these authors to come up with the goods... I’m waiting for three authors to finish writing their next book but I’ve surprised myself with how cool I am about the situation. After all, it’s not as if there isn’t a whole load of other great sci-fi/fantasy etc that I can be reading in the meantime :o) Also, as a Steven Erikson fan I can rest easy in the knowledge that he is as regular as clockwork in turning out the latest instalment in the Malazan series. In fact, Erikson’s writing them quicker than I can read them right now! Anyway...

Orbit appear to played a trump card in that Brent Weeks has given them a completed trilogy that they are releasing in monthly instalments. If you enjoy the first book then you only have four weeks to wait until the next one comes out. If you don’t enjoy it, well... erm... you don’t have to buy the next book when it comes out in four weeks.
Did I enjoy it though? Yes, yes I did...

Durzo Blint is the premier assassin (‘wetboy’ actually, an assassin with the ability to use magic) in Cenaria City; Azoth is a guild rat, one of thousands of orphans whose life on the mean streets is nasty, brutal and above all short. Azoth wants to escape his life and make something of his life, something like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint... Such an unlikely scenario becomes more likely than Azoth realised and he finds himself learning the wetboy’s trade as Kylar Stern. In a city such as Cenaria though, everyone has their own motives and trust should not be given lightly. As Kylar moves through the higher echelons of society he will discover the true purpose he was trained for and how this one thing will have ramifications that spread across an entire continent...

I’ve got to admit that I approached ‘The Way of Shadows’ with mixed feelings. I love stories about assassins but I also feel that I’ve read more than enough stories with assassins in them. ‘The Way of Shadows’ had to bring something new to the table if it was going to pass muster. Here’s the thing though, ‘The Way of Shadows’ didn’t bring anything new to table but it still managed to be a thoroughly entertaining read that has got me moving the sequel up the ‘to be read’ pile.

Durzo Blint and Kylar Stern are everything you would expect an assassin to be in a city that wouldn’t look too out of place in any other fantasy world. Both do their job extremely well but encounter all the moralising and self doubt that seems to come with the trade. All of this leads to the conclusion that you would expect such questions to bring up.

However, Weeks completely rescues the plot (from falling into a morass of cliché) by infusing it with energy and intrigue while giving us plenty of opportunity to get to know both the city and the people who live there.
The plot is full of twists and turns that reflect the ever changing loyalties of some of the major players. Anything can happen and you’ll find yourself constantly surprised when it does. There’s also a darker edge to proceedings both in what Kylar must do as an assassin (morality is firmly replaced by the necessity of money) and also the conditions that the street orphans (Guild Rats) must live in. Weeks pulls no punches in this regard but the fast pace of the plot can sometimes make it look as if these points are being glossed over and the book becomes a lighter read as a result...

The fast pace (and changes in perspective) can also make it difficult to get to know a city that is rich and varied in its populace and their ways. There were occasions when new pieces of information were dumped on my lap and I was left trying to assimilate these while also trying to stay with the plot! It’s a small price to pay though as the story itself is worth sticking with, especially a couple of twists right at the end...

As I’ve already mentioned, it was the characters that really made ‘The Way of Shadows’ work for me. Weeks goes full out to explore what makes them all tick and how they are affected by the environment they live and work in. Apart from a couple of exceptions, Weeks makes it clear that there is no such thing as absolute evil. Each character has the opportunity for redemption and you would be hard pressed not to feel just a little bit sympathetic for both Durzo Blint and Kylar Stern...

‘The Way of Shadows’ is a light read but also a read that will grip you with its intrigue and swashbuckling exploits. I’ve got a couple of other books on the go right now but I’ll definitely be picking up ‘Shadow’s Edge’ very soon.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

4 comments:

Hagelrat said...

I've been wondering about this one because the last book on a similar premise that I read was dissapointing. I shall maybe pick this up now. Thanks.

SQT said...

This is a book that is good despite some weak points. I have the second one and I'm looking forward to seeing how the story progresses.

wendy said...

A friend is halfway through this and feels the same ... that is, nothing new but enjoying the ride nonetheless.

I'm looking forward to this - my next read after I finish The Painted Man and The Gargoyle ... thanks for the review.

ediFanoB said...

I'm half way through and so far I like it.
I bought the book after I read the first two chapters online. And my expectations haven't been disappointed.
I will definitely read all three books.