Since The Mister (aka the guy I married), is a Brent Weeks fan, I let him read my review copy of The Black Prism before I did. [The Mister: My wife is supremely awesome for letting me drench myself in Weeks' fantasy before her]. Although The Mister didn’t want to write a review, he did agree to do a book chat with me. This is my last Brent Weeks post for a while, I swear.
So here goes (Big spoilery bits blacked out. Highlight and read at your own peril):
OK, so first question: So if you were to describe this book to someone else who you were pimping the book to, what would you say about it?
So what, you want me to give some flashy summary blurbs? uhm..
The Black Prism follows the life of Kip, a kid from a rural town who suddenly finds himself thrown in to a world of magic, war, and general mayhem. Luckily for us, the stereotype doesn’t much hold up as you dig in to the details. To be honest I’m not sure if Kip is intended to be the protagonist, and I suspect that’s intentional – from the start, the character building is a bit twisted in an enjoyable way. There are some details of the immediate gratification type, but also some longer term building, with all of the *-agonist characters. As an aside, I expect there will be some negative criticism of how some of the characters have been designed (particularly Kip), but those critics are short-sighted.
On the larger scale, The Black Prism is the story of a kingdom still recovering from a civil war now 16 years past, with divisive rulers of uncertain power…basically, poised to drop right back in to war. The construction of the world has some obvious heritage, but also enough unique touches to avoid the feeling of been-there-done-that. It has a good balance of being fantastic enough that you can escape in to it (color magic, low/medium-tech culture, moderately detailed side info on geography, politics, etc), but not so out there that a reasonable imagination can’t find a way to connect their world with ours (“humans” are the only sentient race, swords + armor + guns, …).
I agree, there are multiple points of view but it was done well, with probably Kip and the Prism, Galvin Guile as the two most important protagonists. I also liked that Kip was this overweight kid who felt very uncomfortable in his skin and always mentally berates himself for things that come out of his mouth. I also agree that while this world has some familiar fantasy elements, Weeks makes it his own. I particularly loved the magic aspect of the world building.
Comparing this to The Night Angel Trilogy, I notice a couple of themes – teen boy with a mentor, unvoiced love, and secrets! Do you agree?
I dug the mechanics of the magic as well. Color magic has been done before in various ways, but not like this. The simple physics of the (slightly tweaked) rainbow combined with details like having to squint just-so to see superviolet…good stuff. It’s believable in the context of the world because, who could make it up? (Yes, you in the aisle seat? Ah. Well yea, obviously it IS made up. You’re missing the point)
Actually, I hadn’t yet thought of The Black Prism in comparison to the Night Angel crew. The themes are generally there but the distinctions may be more interesting. Kip and Azoth each end up with very powerful mentors, both arguably of similar convictions at one point or another; but whereas Azoth showed hints of strength from the beginning, and sought out Durzo, Kip fumbled “fatty-style” all over the place until he happened to fall in to Gavin’s lap.
There are more similarities, I think, in the unvoiced love and secrets categories. Both Azoth and Kip have big hearts from the start, which of course makes them likable even when they’re killing (in Azoth/Kylar’s case) or doing bad/stupid things. Their love isn’t limited to romance though; Azoth’s first kill is driven at least initially by his love for Jarl, and Kip’s first acts of bravery are to save others (admittedly along with himself), and they occur before Liv is anywhere near the picture. From there though, as with the mentorships again I think the examples diverge. Both have loves that are initially unvoiced, but in Azoth’s case, it was easy to understand Doll Girl’s initial adoration, and eventual love for him. In Kip’s case, it’s easier to imagine that his love will be revealed but unrequited. Not because of physical appearance necessarily, though that may be considered, but because I get a sense that Kip is simply much more fragile than Azoth. He’s being forced to grow up ridiculously fast, and he’s learning a lot about his strengths, but he’s not yet having to face his weaknesses on a grand scale (no pun intended, and Thresher notwithstanding). I’d think that would be a great detriment for him having any sort of relationship with Liv – his continued weaknesses may serve to keep him as a pre-teen in her mind.
I was thinking about Gavin in the unvoiced secrets/feelings arena too. Yeah, hmm, Kip is in many ways more vulnerable than Azoth was – he shows the world a glib face but his inner self confidence is not there yet, and Liv sees him as a kid, but then she’s older than him, (he’s 15, she’s what, 17?) so of course she would.
Anyway. New topic. When I read Weeks books, I sometimes worry about what will happen to the characters I like because there are often crazy twists. Do you feel like that too? And what do you think of some of the bombshells? Awesome? Evil? Awesomely evil?
I do worry about the characters I like, because the twists often alter your view of the characters themselves. It seems one of Weeks’ favorite mechanisms is to F with your sense of who’s good and who’s bad; there’s just not much black/white stuff going on. Durzo certainly had a lot of redeeming qualities. Before we’re made aware of the whole Gavin is Dazen is Gavin thing, it’s hard not to like Gavin, even given the assumption of his transgressions (one of which of course turns out to be the real Gavin’s). With Kip, it’s sometimes unclear whether his quirks are meant to provoke laughter, or pity, or what…I suppose it depends on the reader…but whatever the reaction, it serves to lessen ones view of him in a purely “hero” sense. Not that that’s a bad thing!
Interestingly, Weeks seems to design his women more straightforward than the men..
The bombshells are 100% evil, 100% awesome. That’s right, 200% awesome/evil bombshell goodness, baby.
I think that because Kip and Gavin are the two main protagonists we see a bit more nuances to their characters than we see in the women. Liv and Karris are slightly more secondary but they get their spotlight too and we begin to get hints about their internal struggles. I’m particularly interested in what happens to Liv in the second book.
In the video Brent Weeks made at Comic Con for this blog, he said that book 2 was looking so long that he may break it up into two books. What do you think of this?
The setup for the sequel(s?) is obvious, and I do hope it ends up being at least a trilogy as originally advertised – if the alternative is to cut down the story to fit in a second book that cleans everything up, I’ll be pretty disappointed. I happened to think The Black Prism was a good length, too – despite its 600+ pages. By page 200 or so I was lost, and I don’t remember counting pages at all through to the end.
It’s also easy for me to imagine (and hope for) prequels, detailing the False Prisms War, the personal/political stuff between Dazen and Gavin, Karis’ relationships, General Danavis + Dazen, etc. Then pre-prequels, going back to Papa Guile’s younger days..
Overall what did you think? I think I may like this first book better than Night Angel’s first. I’m dying the read the second one.
Overall, I loved it. I’m a pure fantasy genre kind of guy, and I’ve read enough to spot most of the cliches; TBP isn’t totally devoid of them, but when Weeks uses them he finds a fresh, cerebral way to do so. That much would be enough to bring my rating up to “like”. The world development, especially the magic, takes it up another notch. The character design and development gives it that last little (big?) shove. Reading it evoked a large spectrum of emotions just like a good story should. Perhaps most importantly, it left me wanting MORE…
Compared to the first Night Angel book, I feel similarly anxious for the next, but I feel more “in the know”. After The Way of Shadows, I remember having almost too many unanswered questions. It made me want to read Shadow’s Edge immediately (and I did), but it was a lot to process…or maybe I’m remembering wrong. In any case, I think the end of The Black Prism gives an excellent balance of satisfaction versus what’s-next, so overall I liked it better than The Way of Shadows.