I’m-not-done-yet Review: The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks, Book 1 of the Night Angel trilogy

We interrupt your regularly scheduled War of the Encyclopaedists Review to bring you this very important blog post.

I’m feeling under the weather and running behind so this placeholder blogpost will be about the book I’m currently reading.

It’s The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks, Book 1 of the Night Angel trilogy. That is a pretty siiiiick name.

I’m about half-way through the book and it’s definitely one of the better contemporary fantasy novels I’ve read recently.

The story is about a street-rat (Aladdin style) who lives in a kind of Dickensian nightmare ghetto. His situation is pretty bad since he’s gained the ire of a powerful bully who threatens not only Aladdin, but all the people he cares about. Enter the assassin character, who I’ll just call Boba Fett because he’s kind of a rockstar. Aladdin idolizes Boba Fett, not realizing that Boba Fett is kind of a hot mess. All Aladdin sees is that other people fear Boba Fett.

Boba Fett and Aladdin make a deal. If Aladdin assassinates his bully, then Boba Fett will take him on as an apprentice. Aladdin, reluctantly, waffles in kind of an almost Hamlet style before going through with the deed, and leaving his old life behind him to become an assassin like Boba Fett.

So Boba Fett arranges for Aladdin to get a new identity, Prince Ali, and trains him in the way of Assassin’s Creed. And here’s where I start to get fatigued reading the story. The author has spent time generating his world with ethnic groups, history, nations, secret magical organizations, and so on. It’s just that none of it feels concrete to me. Somehow none of it really feels like a real place, none of the characters strike me as being a place that’s real. It’s hard to explain other than it’s hard for me to accept this world except as a fantasy world made up by someone. I mean, that’s what it is, but look at Lord of the Rings, somehow the illusion there was more complete.

I don’t mean that in a mean way. He’s assembling an interesting story it’s just that I think he wants his cool characters to be cool, but he doesn’t seem to be able to do that as effectively. His setting is interesting it just doesn’t seem to be real and he sometimes indulges in info dump expositions about characters and things I don’t really care about. There’s a paragraph or two about the architectural preferences of different ethnic groups that might be informative but come off as a way of saying those guys are the Japanese analog.

About at the halfway point a villain is introduced (there’s an evil & incompetent Prince sort of Game of Thrones style but he’s not really a player) who is so evil he hunts poor people for sport and eats them. I guess what I’m getting at is that movements aren’t subtle at times.

I can look past a lot of this, though. Sometimes a lack of subtlety just comes with the genre and even works with the story. But the biggest complaint I have is his descriptions of prostitution and the mental states of characters who are prostitutes. For me it felt fake and forced. I don’t even really know why he wanted so much of his story intertwined with prostitution given that fantasy novels of this type don’t really handle sex. It’s just not really what these stories are for.

All the prostitution stuff, at times, is crude and unnecessary and I think that had I been an editor I might have just suggested replacing it with something else perhaps.

But I wasn’t there, and for the most part I’m enjoying it. I’m going to finish it before deciding whether or not to read the whole trilogy.

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