The Premise: The first book in the Night Angel trilogy, this is an epic tale about the citizens of Cenaria, but the focus is on Azoth, a street urchin who lives on the streets with a ragtag band of other children. His group all hand in most of their earnings to Rat, one of the “Bigs” of their group, who leads through terror. Azoth rashly provokes Rat who decides to use him as an example and Azoth’s only hope for survival (and protect his two friends, Jarl and Doll Girl) is to apprentice under Durzo Blint, the best wetboy (an assassin with a magical edge) in the city. Durzo is never afraid and Azoth wants to never be afraid again. That’s how the book begins, but it becomes bigger and more complex as we meet new characters and see the intricate interactions between them their ramifications on the fate of Cenaria.
My Thoughts: How do I describe this book? It starts off sort of simple and then becomes more complex as you go along. At first when I got a sense of the city, I wasn’t that impressed by the world building. II felt like it wasn’t something I hadn’t seen before: the groups of street children, the idea of Guilds, the corrupt king and unrest while a neighboring land populated by evil magic-doers plots to invade. It reminds me of a lot of other fantasy, but that was okay, because after the world building foundation was in place, the characters and the plot were so unique fascinating my earlier quibbles were forgotten and I enjoyed the book. The author also introduces some new-to-me magical aspects which are peppered throughout the story.
The Way of Shadows begins as a coming of age tale. Azoth has nothing to protect himself or his two friends, the young, mute Doll Girl and the smart but small framed Jarl, and he dreams desperately of leaving the streets and apprenticing under the number one wetboy in the city, Durzo Blint. Azoth’s dream is an almost impossible one, but he does manage to catch Blint’s attention and Durzo promises to teach him only if he passes a test. I was really engrossed by this part of the story – wanting Azoth to pass his test and to destroy Rat, but it is also probably one of the most violent parts of the book. The abuse against children, by other children, while adults may know what’s going on and do nothing, was really hard to read. It gave me chills, but it sets up the story so you know not to expect things to go the way you want them to.
The second part is the apprentice-ship phase where Azoth becomes someone else–Kylar. He trains and grows up and so do his friends and enemies. The focus of the book shifts a little and we get introduced to the points of view of some other characters. Brents starts setting the characters up like pieces on a chessboard. Friendships and actions that occur in this phase may be small and seemingly insignificant but have greater repercussions later on. We also get a lot of interesting characters and begin to learn about their motivations and secret griefs. I particularly liked Durzo Blint who avoids morality and emotional connection. Finding out why and whether it really works for him is part of the fun. Azoth/Kylar’s training as a wetboy was fascinating but not glamorized. The book doesn’t shy away from the darkness of the job.
The final part of the book is Azoth’s final trial to become a full-fledged wetboy. The one thing you should keep in mind if you read this book is DO NOT expect things to go the way you think. At first the twists are minor, but the further you get into the story, the more you realize much of the book is set up for more and more surprises and turns. I think this author has an evil streak, because characters I had begun to like as suddenly killed off while characters I hated kept being despicable and unchecked. Each of the characters only knows his or her little part of the story and often acts without knowing that they’re doing the wrong thing for the overall picture. If you really connect to a character you may get disappointed at what happens to them, but ultimately I thought that the book did end in a hopeful place despite all the things that go wrong. Of course, this book is LONG. I was 200 pages from the end and wondering how we weren’t already at the end, because the sh*t was hitting the fan and I couldn’t see how there were 200 pages to go. Usually in fantasy the ending happens shortly after a battle, but in The Way of Shadows, the author was not done, things kept coming, more and more twists showed up, I couldn’t believe it. While I could appreciate the twists, if I can find any fault, I’d say they did start to feel improbable just by how often a new one was thrown in.
Overall: An gritty epic fantasy tale with more twists than a bag of pretzels. It didn’t quite wring me out and I thought it was ultimately hopeful and worth the read, but it was a roller coaster. I’m very curious where things will go now.
Hello, Ilona Andrews liked it! (link has Andrews’ thoughts plus an interview with Brent Weeks)
Un:bound – Haglerat called it a wonderfully rich traditional fantasy
Tempting Persephone – also liked it and recommends it
Fantasy/SciFi Book review – loved it
Fantasy Book Critic – Highly recommended
My Favourite Books – also a positive review
Giraffe Days – a mixed review