The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks
There are times when I simply hate publicists. The nerve of some people that send you books one and two of a fantasy trilogy and refuse to send the third. How on earth is a reviewer supposed to give a fair review. It is a bit like all those movie reviewers that saw Lord of the Rings part 2 without ever reading the books and then condemned the film for its violence. I am sorry, but to be fair, I need the whole story as soon as it is available.
Now that is out of my system, I have just finished the best fantasy trilogy that I have read in a very long time. Brent Weeks is a new author to the genre, in fact I suspect a new author altogether. But he has created a spellbinding sword and sorcery fantasy series that has provided the bulk of my reading for the past week. Even a week before Christmas with all the chores that need doing, the book comes first.
At the start of the Way of Shadows, Azoth is a little boy surviving in the slums. As a necessity, he is part of a gang, but being small and untalented he knows that he will not survive long if he doesn’t find a way out. He meets Durzo Blint, a wetboy (highly skilled assassin) and eventually becomes his apprentice. But this apprenticeship does not come without a price, and the price is that Azoth must completely disappear. The new personality created is Kylar Stern, the son of a distant minor nobility. The Way of Shadows is about Kylar’s apprenticeship, his training and his eventual revenge on the bullies of his youth.
But like any opening book of a trilogy, the story is much bigger. All kinds of characters are introduced, opposition wetboys, Madame K, the evil king, three mad mages, and Logan, Kylar’s opposite, but best friend. And I liked them all! Weeks has a wonderful way of creating his characters that immediately engages the reader. Many times as I was reading this opening book I was reminded of Jimmy the Hand and Pug from Feist’s Riftwar Saga.
Yes, this book is a traditional fantasy opening. It follows all the cliches, but still manages to give them a freshness. Durzo is a hard taskmaster to young Azoth/Kylar, frequent beatings and rare praise. But the reader can clearly see that there is more to Durzo’s story. We just can’t see it yet. We can forgive his tough treatment because it is totally in line with the tough character. But it is also much more than an opening novel of a trilogy. It introduces the characters, and hints at the grand task ahead, but there is still more than enough adventure within the pages of this book to keep the reader entranced.
Thank goodness the second book was published the following month so the reader could go straight on rather than waiting for a year or more for part 2.