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Book Review: Shadow’s Edge by Brent Weeks

* Genre: Epic/High Fantasy
* Mass Market Paperback: 656 pages
* Publisher: Orbit
* Publication Date: November 1, 2008
* ISBN-10: 0316033650
* ISBN-13: 978-0316033657
* Author Website
* Author Interview @ NextRead
* Author Interview @ Bookspotcentral

Shadow’s Edge is the sequel to The Way of Shadows Brent Weeks’ much hailed-on-the-internet debut novel. The first novel has gathered fans due to its grittiness, its epic fantasy genre, and the downright awesomeness of its primary character, Kylar the assassin. Add to the fact that this trilogy is being published at a rate of one-per-month, making the entire story easily accessible and completed in a short time, and you have what appears to be a recipe for success.

In this second novel, the story picks up where the first left off. Kylar has killed his mentor, Durzo Blint, by first taking the artifact that kept him immortal, and then striking him down. But Kylar doesn’t want to be a professional assassin; he just wants to settle down to a quiet life with Elene and his adopted daughter Uly, child of Durzo and Momma K. In order to do this, Kylar takes his family away from Cenaria, which is has been conquered by the Khalidorans, and moves to a more peaceful country. But when you are as good at your job as Kylar, things are never quite that easy. Between troubles at home and the discovery that his best friend Logan is still alive, Kylar is forced to return to the life he had forsworn.

I’ll admit to a twelve year old boy’s fascination with the novels of Brent Weeks. Like a child who has just discovered dirty words, Weeks litters this novel with curse words, including the especially offensive (to some) f**ck and c*nt. There is an argument to be made that this is an accurate portrayal of the world that Weeks has developed. Though an epic fantasy, its heroes are not knights in shining armor, but thieves, assassins and whores. The primary protagonists have seen little of good in their lives, and self-sacrifice is a virtual unknown. So the fact that these characters speak so foully (candidly?) is, in a sense, adding a does of realism to a sub-genre that can be filled with high-minded characters of shining morals. In this way, it is much like Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, and readers of the one will likely enjoy the other.

That being said, Weeks does go off the deep end when it comes to sex. He never, ever, passes up an opportunity to discuss breasts and/or a woman’s body. Even the most beautiful woman in the story, the whore turned assassin Vi, seems preoccupied with her own figure. Each time Vi dwelled on the details of her body, or Weeks mentioned her heavy breasts, I felt that this was in fact a false note in an otherwise harmonious character. A woman as jaded as Vi would not, I think, be so fascinated with herself. Weeks does try to acknowledge this by having Vi think of them as tools, but most of the time this came off as an attempt by Weeks to keep his male readers turning pages. The sexuality that Weeks portrays is cartoonish.

This is sad, because in many ways, Weeks writes fascinating characters. Though their sensibilities are decidedly modern, and might be considered incongruous with the epic fantasy world in which the live, they are still going to resonate with readers.

Kylar is a sort of epic fantasy version of Batman, a vengeful killer so conflicted in his mind about using his training. He both wants to do right, and wonders how he can murder and still be doing right. This theme runs throughout Shadow’s Edge and is the primary reason I enjoy this book so much. That kind of character lives in the moral grayland that we do as well, and we see many of our own questions about life and our place in it through the lens of this tale.

Vi too, is also a great character. She suffers from some of the same internal conflicts as Kylar, but she is even more steeped in a miasma of evil, so it is even harder for her to shake it off. Kylar is basically good, but Vi can only be seen as evil.

And then there is the holier-than-thou Elene. Her faith in the One God, causes her to extract a promise from Kylar that he will never kill again. This is impractical in a world that acknowledges evil, and Elene is forced by circumstance to learn that the hard way.

(On a side note, Weeks should not have kept calling Elene’s God, “the God” as a phrase. The addition of the article just makes its every use ponderous and ridiculous. It is an unreal turn of phrase that annoyed me each time I saw it. This is especially the case when the world of the story has several gods.)

The story itself is full of action. Though there is only one great battle scene, all of the actions of the characters are done at a furious pace, rightly so. Weeks also throws in many new plot twists, including the addition of a powerful group of sorceresses (shades of Robert Jordan’s White Tower, anyone?) who will have a profound impact on Uly, Elene, and Vi.

Kylar’s story is the primary one, but there is a secondary plot line concerning the seer Dorian, son of Garoth Ursuul, leader of the Khalidorians. In the first novel, this thread had some effect on the story, but in this second, it is mostly throwaway, except for its significance at the end, and Weeks only has kept it running so that we are not left in the dark about characters that will likely be of much more import in the final book.

Here is a significant discovery I made about these three novels. The first two are complete enough that you could stop after each one and feel the story was satisfactorily concluded. After The Way of Shadows you could have put the series down and felt that this story was complete, if tragic. After reading the first novel and Shadow’s Edge (though not Shadow’s Edge by itself) you could put the series down, so long as you skipped the last page of the last chapter and the epilogue, since the plot line centered on the villainy of Garoth Ursuul is complete. That is strange. Each novel builds on the other, but at any point, a reader could stop reading and be satisfied. If Weeks could write in this way always, I’d be happy to read large multi-volume series from him, knowing that after each book, the story feel mostly complete.

As you can see, there is both a lot to like and a lot to dislike about Brent Weeks’ trilogy. I like it, quite a lot, and while I take issue with some of its sophomoric content, the story itself is exciting and full of surprising plot twists, the writing comfortable to read, and the characters resonate well with modern sensibilities, dilemmas, and lifestyles. It has made me think and react, laugh and cry, and engage it so thoroughly that this review is double my usual length. Highly readable and thoroughly enjoyable, I recommend The Way of Shadows and Shadow’s Edge.