I began this book, ‘The Way Of Shadows’ with fairly low expectations. It seemed to have a lot of very tired fantasy book stereotypes. I am very happy to say it blew me away.
The story begins with Azoth, a lowly orphan who lives in a brutal crime gang on the fringes of Cenarian society. He and his only two real friends are desperate to escape this brutal life but the only way out they can see is for Azoth to become apprenticed to Durzo Blint. He’s a wetboy, an assassin who uses special magical abilities to be undetectable and Durzo is by far the best. The plan is simple: Azoth becomes apprentice and makes enough money for the other two to leave the Guild life.
On the other side of Cenaria is Logan Gyre. Born into one of the most powerful and well liked noble families, he has the chance to become rich and powerful. His father, Lord Gyre, has schooled him in martial skills and leadership and Logan’s natural character earns him the devotion of the soldiers and servants around him. Logan’s leadership and popularity also earns him the growing enmity of Cenaria’s weak and disliked king, Aleine Gunder.
Outside of Cenaria, a terrible and powerful army lead by the Godking of Khalidor is making plans to invade. The overwhelming number of soldiers are augmented by powerful evil magic users. Cenaria’s future is bleak indeed.
The story develops over many years as Azoth grows physically and leaves his old persona behind. The politics and power-plays grow at the same time. How will the Sa’kagé Criminal organisation react to the growing threat of war? Will the King survive his own subject’s before the Godking has a chance to declare war?
You could be forgiven for thinking that much of the above is familiar. I read the first few chapters thinking: Orphan – check. Wise old Magician – check. A young honourable leader – check. All that was needed was a mismatched group of warriors and a fair amount of travelling. Eventually we get those, too.
What elevates this book above and beyond the numerous fantasy stories around it is the fantastic writing abilities of Brent Weeks. The characters are well-crafted. The increasingly complicated plots reveal themselves to be a vibrant tapestry of masterful design. Weeks takes the pile of charcoal which is some pretty standard fantasy tropes and creates a Koh-I-Noor of a story. Azoth’s early years are pretty harrowing to read at times. His relationship with his friends has the fragility of a soap bubble, but you will them to survive. In the same way, you feel for the higher born characters. Their sense of honour and duty rings true and isn’t forced.
Weeks’ attention to detail is equally admirable. The Godking’s brutal succession traditions are impressive in its brutality and plays a huge role in understanding many of the character’s motivations.
It is difficult praising the first novel in a series too much. There are two more books in the series to read. I worry that such a high standard of writing and storytelling might be hard to sustain. I get the feeling though that we are in good hands.
This is a novel with a very broad potential appeal. While the subject matter has a classic fantasy set-up, the quality of the writing and the sympathetic character development will be to many readers taste. Despite being only part of the way into the trilogy, I have high hopes for the next instalments.
(pub: Orbit. 650 page paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-740-0)