“The Way of Shadows” by Brent Weeks

The Way of Shadows coverOver the last few months, I’ve picked up and read books by quite a few rising stars of fantasy (The Name of the Wind, The Warded Man, for example.) Brent Weeks was the one author I’d been hearing a LOT about but hadn’t read a book by yet, so I was pretty excited about The Way of Shadows.

Azoth has grown up on the streets with every aspect of his life subject to the whims of people stronger than him. He dreams of escape, ideally by apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint, the greatest master assassin alive. However, Blint famously does not take apprentices, and to be accepted, Azoth must prove himself by turning his back on his old identity, his friends and possibly his humanity.

New and edgy fantasy seems to have two major things – it’s more gritty and realistic and strong women characters. Weeks definitely succeeds on the “gritty” count, there’s plenty of rape, child sexual abuse, deaths of characters we like, a protagonist that kills innocent people for a living and so on. However, not only are there no strong women in the story, but all female characterisation seems to be derived from a hormonal teenager’s view of the world. Every woman is either oversexed and isn’t afraid to flaunt and use it (in an unflattering way, not in the unabashed and empowering way of the Kushiel’s Legacy series), or she’s a gentle and virginal soul that’s prone to giggling adorably. And regardless of their type, they are all beautiful and have big breasts that are talked about endlessly. (Momma K might seem like an exception but she’s actually just a hybrid of the two – the whore with a heart of gold.) The main love story of the book is laughable – I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say that I prefer romances that develop slowly from getting to know people. I thought I was annoyed by Peter V. Brett’s women in The Warded Man series, but this is way worse.

It’s not like the characterisation of men is great, but it’s still much better than that of the women. Azoth is a passable protagonist, but his motivations and thought process were never clear to me, so I was unable to connect with him. As a child, it was easy, he had a miserable life and Blint was the most feared man in the city and was likely to keep him safe. As he grew up, even though most of the book was from his point of view, it felt like I was watching him from a stranger’s eyes. Blint seemed a bit more sympathetic, but his self-loathing is justified in the book. Logan is a Mary Sue with no real personality except perfection. The only characters I enjoyed were the three mages from Sho’cendi.

Another problem was that the book didn’t flow well. We start with some scenes when Azoth was young, then there are some chapters where Azoth is portrayed at different ages with transitions like “Now he was sixteen.” These sections don’t seem to add anything to the plot, and were way too abrupt. There were also an innumerable amount of POV characters, often 3 or 4 in a chapter (and some characters got only one POV in the entire book.) There are some books in which this is executed well, but in this one, it was disjointed and seemed like a cheap way of letting the reader know what was going on while sacrificing characterisation and suspense.

There were some things I liked about the book, like the concept of a criminal underworld controlling the Kingdom, but not enough. I don’t think I’ll be bothering with Shadow’s Edge.

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