The Way of Shadows, by Brent Weeks: A Review
I shall do my best to keep this review spoiler-free, but there are some general fantasy tropes I want to talk about that will likely tip my hand, as far as the direction the story goes, since I probably wouldn't bring up certain tropes if they weren't present in this book! To be on the safe side, if you intend to read the series, perhaps you should skip reading this review.
Of course, the first trope is the ever-present "cloaked figure" on the cover. Usually when I see a cloaked person on the cover, I wince and want to turn away, but really, that has little to do with the author him/herself and more to do with the decision of the publisher and the cover artist they hire. So I'll usually grit my teeth and proceed.
The summary of the story is thus: Tough, scrappy street urchin with soft heart decides the only way to save himself and his pals from starvation and death in the mean streets is to try and apprentice himself to the city's legendary assassin. He then becomes better than his master, since he is "special". Hilarity ensues.
Lest you feel this will be a negative review, be assured, I enjoyed the read. The fact that I'm posting a review so soon after beginning the book should let you all know how quickly and thoroughly the book hooked me and pulled me along. The story's been done before (in pieces, by other authors/novels) so really, not much new under the sun with this book. But much like my review of Legend by David Gemmell, I can let a lot of the clichés and tropes slide since the book is really well done. The action is strong and steady throughout and there's good character development with many of the main characters (some of the minor characters suffered from lack of development, probably to keep the page count down, and ended up blending into one character in my mind. "Wait, who is that guy again? The Count, the General, the spineless Lord or the Blacksmith?).
There's plenty of good dialog (a moderate amount of profanity), some thwarted love and love triangles, palace intrigue, threatening hoards of invaders, plenty of grungy settings, and more death-by-sword than I have seen in a good while. Weeks gives Abercrombie a run for his money, as far as deaths per page. There's plenty of magic, too, of both evil and good varieties. The magic system is illogical to me, however, and seemed to be structured in such a way as to allow for anything the author's mind wished to shoehorn into it, from standard fireballs and invisible shields, to summoning big ethereal hands for holding people in place, to summoning gigantic sea creatures to swallow ships whole, to delicate medical maneuvers (such as magically stemming the flow of a severed artery and keeping people from dying), to enhanced senses and strength, to invisibility, all the way to enchanted items which are able to channel unimaginable power and destruction. Of course, the big one is the ability to resurrect, but I won't tell you how that plays out.
I guess herein lies my main grievance, if you want to call it that. WARNING: this will in some way spoil the ending, so don't read it! The main character evolves from a hapless street kid to (basically) a superhero. He becomes a peerless, invisible, invincible killer/warrior. This is by the end of the first book. He's basically destroyed in the climax, but is soon restored, unscathed, and far more powerful than even before. Where on earth could the author take the story now, for two more books? I found myself not even wanting to read further! Why bother? He's already survived every imaginable difficulty and come out on top, stronger and more potent. What can stop him now?
Summary: 4/5 So, while I'm certainly glad I read it, and have already cracked open Book 2, I wasn't blown away, but actually a bit miffed at the clichéd story/cast, and nebulous magic system. There's not much in here that I haven't read elsewhere (and I'm hardly the most well-read person, when it comes to Fantasy), but what is done is solid and the action well done. If this title is on your TBR pile, it deserves that slot. It's a good, solid read.