Monday, April 11, 2011

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

I had heard of the “The Night Angel Trilogy” before but never got around to reading it. Now I started. “The Way of Shadows” is the first novel of the trilogy written by Brent Weeks. After reading it, I can why so many people like it.

The story takes place in Cenaria City, which is the capital of the small country of Cenaria. Located in the land of Midcyru, Cenaria is a country in trouble. It has a selfish king, a poor government, and an enemy north of them that’s much bigger than they are. Instead of the king, the real power in the country is the criminal organization “Sa'kagé”.

The main story is on Azoth. We first see him as a 11 year-old boy living in the streets of Cenaria City and the novel traced how he changed from the slightly naive boy to become the professional assassin, The Night Angel.

In many ways, this is a coming-of-age /survival story. The story traced the 10 years it took Azoth to become The Night Angel and detailed the changes within and around Azoth during this time. One of the things I really like about the book is how the characters changed during the story. Many books only detailed the changes that occurred with the main character, but “The Way of Shadows” also detailed the changes that occurred with the supporting cast. When people change, your relationship with them changed as well. The relationships Azoth had with his supporting cast was something that was written very well throughout the book. Azoth’s relationship with his mentor Durzo Blint, the city's most accomplished assassin, especially went through a lot of ups and downs.

For people who like their fantasy heroes to be superhumans; this is probably not the book for you. Even when Azoth and Durzo are fighting, they do sometimes make mistakes in their fights. Basically the characters in the book feel real, characters in this book have flaws, imperfections and they do make mistakes. Those who like their fantasy dark and dirty; this book is for you.

Cenaria City was also very well tendered. There was a clear spilt between the haves and have-not in the city and country of Cenaria. I found that Weeks got the city just right. At the start of the book, his description of the Warrens was amazing. You could feel the desperation and helplessness of Azoth and his friends, Jarl and Dollface, because the place they were living in was so bad. It was the worst part of town and the book showed the Warrens in all its terrible glory.

If you’re still reading this review, you would think that “The Way of Shadows” is a pretty dark book. Frankly, I don’t think so. The book “should” be dark but I never got that feeling when I read the book. The main problem (if you consider it a problem) is that too many things happened too fast. The book is a page-turner and sometimes it was too fast for its own good. Events came so fast that it never got enough time to sink in. A case was the first assassination Azoth did. It was supposed to be a major event in his life but it went pass so quickly, readers never got time to digress it.

Things went go fast that I wonder if things were left on the editing floor. The fact that Durzo was an immortal warrior that’s over 700 years old came out of nowhere. There was no hint of it anywhere, then “bang” it was announced.

In many ways, I find the book to be pretty uplifting. In the end, the people of Cenaria maintain their pride even though they were conquered; Azoth managed to hold on to his humanity even through he had been betrayed; Durzo went to his end in a noble fashion etc. Trying to look for the happy ending was understandable but in some of the cases, you could feel the writer searching for the happy ending instead of letting it happen naturally. In some of the cases, it just didn’t work. Azoth’s act of mercy towards Momma K in the end might not be out of character but (when you consider how determined he was to kill her and then, one sob story later, he allowed her to live) it felt like a cop-out.

In the end however, I still found “The Way of Shadows” to be a good book. It was an excellent read that make you want to turn the page quickly to see what happen next. People who like fast and furious action can pick this up.

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