The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks
4.5 stars (out of 5)
The Way of Shadows is the first volume of The Night Angel Trilogy. The trilogy will be well-served by its forthcoming omnibus—I can’t imagine beginning the first volume and not rushing through to the end of the trilogy. I bought The Way of Shadows as a summer vacation read. I first read the book over a span of two days, finishing it on the beach in Hilton Head, and then talked my wife into driving across the island to Barnes and Noble to pick up volumes two and three. My wife would tell you that I don’t leave for our summer vacation lacking for beach reading materials—in fact, I have been accused of bringing too many books and encouraged to think about the space-saving possibilities of a Kindle. Despite being well-stocked with reading material, The Way of Shadows was so good and the hints of things to come in the next volumes were so tantalizing that I couldn’t bring myself to read something else before volumes two and three of The Night Angel Trilogy. I’m reviewing The Way of Shadows following my second time reading the novel in the last four months, which, in a way, might be all the review really needs to say.
The Way of Shadows tells the coming-of-age tale of an orphan boy, Azoth—later to be known as Kylar Stern. Azoth is a member of a gang of Dickensian street urchins living in the slums of Cenaria City. Azoth seeks to apprentice himself to Cenaria’s most feared “wetboy,” Durzo Blint. Durzo agrees to apprentice Azoth, but only if Azoth completes a task that seems audacious at best and impossible at worst. Guilt drives Azoth to complete the task and become Durzo’s apprentice. As an apprentice, Azoth is reborn as Kylar Stern, a poor noble from the country, and begins his training to become a wetboy, an assassin-mage of the Cenarian underworld. Layered with Kylar and Durzo’s tale are several other storylines, bits of the world’s history, and hints of looming conflicts of an epic scale.
I’m not a fan of the cover. Something that I can’t put my finger on rubs me the wrong way about the proliferation of covers featuring a man in a dark hooded cloak. And my prejudice doesn’t make sense, because I’ve enjoyed most of the books with this type of cover that I’ve picked up (i.e., The Way of Shadows, The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett, and Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick).
The Way of Shadows tells a deep story filled with well-developed characters. Durzo is jaded and distant after years and years of working as a paid killer. Durzo proclaims a nihilistic worldview, but it is never clear if Durzo himself truly believes in the philosophy that he is teaching Kylar. Kylar sees Durzo as someone who never has to be scared and wants to feel that way himself. As he trains as a wetboy, Kylar is exposed to life on the right side of the tracks—actually the river—in Cenaria City. He begins to realize that there is more to life than just not having to be scared. Kylar walks the way of shadows, but the reader can feel his doubts as to whether it is the right path for him.
Two major revelations near the end of the book rearrange both the reader’s and Kylar’s worldview. These revelations peel back the curtain on the world Brent Weeks has created and allow the reader to fully appreciate the numerous plots layered one on top each other throughout the novel. Words, snippets of conversation, and history lessons from earlier in the book take on new importance. On a second read, the reader will find that some important characters, places, and items (Viridiana, the Maw, the ka’kari) are introduced much earlier than you may remember. All of this shows that Weeks is in full control of the story.
The Way of the Shadows works on its own—telling a relatively self-contained teacher and student tale of Durzo and Kylar. The impressive thing is that Weeks has told this tale while setting up a much larger story without overwhelming the reader with background information or infodumps that build the world but fail to advance the narrative. The Way of Shadows is not a light read, but it doesn’t feel like a heavy read either. It is a wonderful blend of telling the story at hand and laying the groundwork for stories to come. The Way of Shadows is a highly recommended.