It was the dimmest sort of hope, but hope had never come in the blinding bright variety in Cenaria.
No one is safe in Cenaria, a country where kings are protected because they’re inept and the powerful underworld leaders known as Sa’Kagé rule the streets. Azoth, a street urchin with no power at all, knows this well. That’s why he idolizes Durzo Blint, the most famous, deadly wetboy to ever exist. Azoth wants to be Blint, so when he gets the chance to train under the famous assassin, he hardly bothers to consider what he’ll have to suffer—what he’ll have to lose. The alternative is worse. So Azoth disappears and becomes Kylar Stern. And with that decision, the world is forever changed. Adult Fantasy published 2008 by Orbit.
What I Loved :
The Way of Shadows is gritty, humorous, character-driven and action-packed. The first scene is a good indicator of the rest of the book: I’m so deep in Azoth’s head, I can feel his panic as he stuffs his face into the mud to slide under a low-lying beam. But the plot is a little disorienting because Azoth is often the last person to learn about the secrets that surround him.
Weeks pulls every trick in the book to keep readers invested through the setup of the first half, and it totally worked on me. I kept thinking, this writing isn’t very good. Why am I still reading it?
But I couldn’t put it down.
It reminds me of 24, but with better characters and swords instead of guns. Even during the setup of the first half, I was immersed in the non-stop action and unexpected humor. The lord general Brant Agon’s interactions with his king, whom the general mentally refers to as “Niner,” are priceless:
“King Aleine IX barged in. ‘Brant! You pile of—‘ the lord general mentally erased the long list of repulsive things he resembled and refocused his attention when Niner got to the point. ‘What happened last night?’
‘Your majesty,’ the lord general said, ‘we don’t know.’
Another stream of curses, some of them more creative than usual, but Niner wasn’t terribly creative, and no one dared to swear in his presence, so his arsenal was limited to variations on the word shit.”
Then, suddenly, around halfway through the book, all the setup starts paying off. Secrets, bombshells and treason galore. Important characters die and wetboys examine the pitiful tatters of their souls. (I love every minute of the soul-searching; it reminds me fondly of Louis from Interview With the Vampire.)
To put it succinctly, the payoff is huge.
Why You May or May Not Like This Book :
This book is never on my library’s shelf. It was published in 2008, but it’s still always out on loan. So clearly a few other people found themselves as addicted as I was. (Okay, okay, as I AM!) Brent Weeks’ writing voice is very personal, very emotional. I never thought, “MAN IS THIS PROSE THE BEST THING EVER!” But I was laughing so hard and cringing so often and reading so quickly that I didn’t care.
It’s got heart, folks. It won’t be everyone’s favorite, but I love it. Another Goodreads reviewer said it felt like “video-game fantasy,” which might be a fair way to state it. If you can let yourself enjoy a book despite a few weaknesses in the writing (the last scene, mainly, and the fact that a few secondary characters feel like archetypes/fantasy tropes), you’ll enjoy The Way of Shadows.
A fast-paced read with lots of unexpected humor, redemption and (funny) swearing. The plot can be tough to follow (sometimes it’s only tied together by the prophecies of a seer who doesn’t get much face time), but the action never stops and the plot threads do come together at the end in surprising, emotional revelations. If it sounds like it might be your kind of Fantasy, I highly recommend giving it a shot. Also, if you like audiobooks, I recommend this one. The plot gets disorienting, in places, but it smooths out if you can manage to keep everyone’s names straight.
Trigger Warning :
The very beginning depicts child abuse of every kind and is the hardest part of the book to read. Thankfully, the reader doesn’t live on the streets with urchins like Azoth for very long, so I recommend reading past the beginning before you judge whether or not this book is for you.