The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

Brent Weeks is an author I was introduced to because of my husband, who nagged and nagged me to try the Night Angel trilogy. I enjoyed it. So this year I requested a review copy of  The Black Prism, the start of Weeks’ new Lightbringer series. Tomorrow I’ll be posting a chat the two of us had about the book, but for today, here’s my review:

The Premise: Kip is a fifteen year old, overweight son of a drug addict mother and an unknown father. He lives in Rekton, a small village in Tyrea, a satrapy which has suffered in the sixteen years after the Prisms’ War because it sided with the losing brother, Dazen Guile. Now the victor, Gavin Guile, is Prism and figurehead of the seven satrapies, but the Prisms’ War has left a lasting impression.  There are those in Tyrea who are displeased with the current state of affairs. They have their own agendas, which start to become known when they set to wipe out every man, woman, and child in Kip’s village.

In the meantime, the Prism, Gavin Guile, is 5 years away from the end of his rule and 5 goals he has set for himself.  He is the only man in the satrapies with the ability to bend light in all seven colors of the spectrum, but his power is not that of a ruler, it is more that of a figurehead.  When Rekton is targeted, he has a unique perspective on what the ramifications are, on both the Chromeria and on the secrets he’s been hiding from everyone for over sixteen years.

Read an excerpt of the first three chapters of The Black Prism here

My Thoughts: I don’t think the premise really covers everything that is going on in this story, but it will have to do because there is a lot going on in this book. Where do I even begin? Let’s start with the characters. The book is told in the third person with multiple points of view.  The focus mostly shifts between Kip and Gavin Guile, but it sometimes moves to others, like Karris, Gavin’s one time fiance, now a warrior elite, and Liv, Kip’s childhood crush. There is also one more character we hear from – a mysterious prisoner.

We begin in Kip’s village as Kip learns that the army of the Tyrean satrap is moving in to make an example of his village. The horror of the killing seen through Kip’s eyes as well as his confused escape feels like classic Brent Weeks stuff. In Night Angel, I found the life of children in the slums very dark (it’s probably the darkest part of the book), and similarly in The Black Prism, war is hard on it’s victims, and as a reader, you feel very protective of those that have escaped those horrors. Kip is a boy who thinks of himself as a “fatty” and is painfully aware of his own awkwardness, but that is balanced with a strong sense of loyalty and a stubbornness that endears him to the reader.

In contrast, Gavin Guile seems like the opposite of Kip – powerful, accomplished, handsome and smart, he exudes a confidence which is matched by what he actually can do – he’s probably the most powerful Prism the world has seen. Of course when we read more about him, we find that he has his own problems. In some ways he’s been an outsider like Kip, and although he’s ruthless, he’s been using his power in the hope of doing something for the Greater Good.  It was interesting to compare Gavin’s revelations about his past with Kip’s current growing pains. He’s very likable despite what we find out about some of the things he’s done as the book progresses. I found myself seeing a person who is at fault for some horrible things, but not a bad person. His past decisions haunt him. It was fascinating to find out more and more about his past and what his secrets are, and I don’t think we uncover it all by the end of The Black Prism.

The female characters in this book have less face time compared to their male counterparts but I did enjoy what I read. There were certain passages while the focus was on them that I think Weeks must have asked for female input because I think he got it spot on. I am also happy when there are characters who are mixed or minorities. We see many of those in this book, and Liv has a unique point of view as a Tyrean in a world where her skin color marks her as such and they’re not treated well by the rest of the satrapies. It does affect her experience and how she sees other people’s actions.

There was an excellent balance between the individual character development and the overall plot line which has a much broader scope. It’s through the individual struggles at we piece together an idea of the overall picture – the complex politics, relationships, and past of the world is made human and relatable. For example – as a reader who does not have much interest in battle scenes in books, I was much more engaged in The Black Prisms battles than I usually am.  That’s because I felt much closer to the action. The jumping from Kip’s viewpoint, to Gavin’s, and Liv’s and Karris’, I only see a small sliver of the general chaos but I can piece together what is going on and I’m invested in the survival of Kip, Gavin, Liv, and Karris. This is a technique used throughout the book with a lot of success.

Weeks also has a way of putting a lot of twists and turns into each of his stories. If you’ve read Weeks before, you will be familiar with it, but this is a heads up for those who haven’t. At this point, I do find myself expecting the unexpected and I’m beginning to enjoy trying to guess where the next surprise will be, although Weeks still manages to throw in several things that I never saw coming (and I would say are impossible to see coming). In his video interviews, Weeks says that he plans the twists and turns. That has to be the only way to have so many revelations that may have had minor forewarning, but readers won’t realize the clues till later. I’d say that overall I haven’t had a nasty surprise in the revelations or plot twists (Well. One in the beginning tore me up a bit, I recovered), although I do admit worrying about my favorite characters and what could happen to them.

I liked the characters and their development, but my favorite part of this story was the world building. If you follow my reviews, world building is one of those things where if it’s unique and done well, it makes a big impact on whether I ended up liking the book. The familiar fantasy world in the Night Angel books was probably my biggest complaint about them, but I have no such complaint for the Lightbringer series. I loved the level of detail that went into the magic in this book. The concept here is that magic users in this world can transfer light into physical form, and to do so they have to absorb the particular color that they “draft” through their eyes – so light affects magic as does eyesight. Drafters of different colors can do different things and there is a physical toll to using magic that is not only exhaustion. Using magic essentially shortens the lifespan of a drafter. That the world’s government and religion is linked to the seven colors and to the one person a generation who can draft all seven colors (the Prism), just makes things better.

Overall: If you are a fan of epic fantasy, this is an excellent series to try. I found the characters likeable, the world building unique and better than Weeks’ last series, and the twists and turns addictive. I’m not really sure I can come up with any negatives here, and I’m also having a hard time not going into some of the great parts of this book because they would be spoilers. Just know that this story is over 600 pages and it is jam packed with epic goodness.  I’m really looking forward to the second book.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Fantasy Book Critic – A++
Grasping for the Wind – “Weeks has written an epic fantasy unlike any of its contemporaries”

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6 thoughts on “The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

  1. Had to come back and read this again, I am on page 500, and loving it. It is so much lighter than the torment that was NA.

    Oh and it will be so hard to write the review when I just wanna talk about..you know what, the big surprise 😉

      • I know, I am bursting!!

        I mean it came and I was all !!!! and then I wondered if I should like him or not, cos I did like him. Then there was a flashback and I realized that I do like him still even after knowing the BIG thing.

        Weeks sure got a great plot going there, I am gonna finish it tomorrow and then lament in my sorrow that I can’t get book 2, lol

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