Note: This review may contain spoilers. I always try to give a little bit of detail on the plot without mentioning anything I wouldn’t want to know before reading the book myself and didn’t think there were any major spoilers in this review… But I noticed that the author mentioned on his site this review contained spoilers. So I’m adding a warning because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone!
The Way of Shadows is the debut novel of Brent Weeks and the first book in “The Night Angel Trilogy.” Although this book was released only last month, the rest of the books in the trilogy will be available by the end of the year. Shadow’s Edge, the second book, is scheduled to be out on October 28 but is already on the shelves in some bookstores (at least it was at my local Borders the beginning of this week). The final novel in the series, Beyond the Shadows, has a release date of November 25.
Azoth and his two friends, a boy named Jarl and a mute only known as “Doll Girl,” live in the slums among other children. He dreams of becoming the apprentice of Durzo Blint, the legendary wetboy (an assassin with magical abilities), and being able to keep Doll Girl and Jarl from harm. Azoth encounters Durzo on a few occasions and begs him to teach him his craft. After several refusals, Durzo agrees to train Azoth under one condition – he must kill Rat, a violent older boy who terrorizes the other children. As a sympathetic boy who tends to look out for his friends, Azoth is unable to complete this task until Rat hurts Doll Girl. With Rat dead, Durzo accepts Azoth as his apprentice but tells him he must leave his old life behind, including his friendships with Jarl and Doll Girl. Durzo fakes the death of Azoth and gives him the new identity of Kylar Stern, a young nobleman of a minor family.
Throughout the years, Kylar learns about fighting and poisons from Durzo but cannot use his magical Talent no matter how hard he tries. Although he becomes a very capable assassin under Durzo’s tutelage, he can never truly be a wetboy without the Talent. In addition to attempting to develop his magical abilities, Kylar struggles with leaving the past behind. He has always cared about Doll Girl and feels responsible for the scars Rat left her, so he arranged for her to live with a nice family and sends her part of his allowance. Occasionally, he watches her from afar but Durzo has forbidden any interaction with her on the grounds that a proper wetboy should not love. He knows from personal experience that those you care about can be used against you by enemies.
The Way of Shadows is a rather long book at almost 700 pages but it seems shorter since it lacks long descriptions, has a lot of dialogue, and has great pacing that keeps the pages turning. It was not a book that was terribly original with a fairly standard fantasy setting containing kings, dukes, swordfighting, assassins (yes, they may be called wetboys but they’re really just a higher level assassin aided by magic), war and conflict, mages, and prophets. Yet there are two more books and the premise of the Night Angel revealed toward the end has potential for an interesting backstory and mythological basis.
The book contains a lot of focus on characters, and although they are likable and not completely one dimensional, I felt that they could have had more depth. Kylar is a basically good-hearted assassin who is reluctant to kill innocents. Underneath the tough exterior, Durzo has a heart as well and has just grown better accustomed to hiding it over the years. It is not that the characters are shallow; they just have the personality traits you often read about when trying to make someone with an immoral job into someone a reader can have sympathy for. I did care about what happened to Kylar and Durzo but I was never devastated when tragedy befell either of them to the extent I should have been.
On the subject of tragedy, it does happen and the story can be somewhat dark although it never seemed shockingly so to me. For instance, it was not nearly as brutal as Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.
One minor quibble I had with the book was calling the assassins “wetboys.” They’re supposed to be so much better than an assassin but with a name like that, they do not sound tough at all. It sounds like they should be the guys that fetch water for all the important people instead of killers inspiring fear in the hearts of their enemies.
The Way of Shadows is a fast-paced, entertaining read that is difficult to put down. It is not particularly unique, but it is a very fun book.
Read Chapter One