Sunday, September 06, 2009

'The Way of Shadows,' Brent Weeks

Brent Weeks’ stunning debut fantasy novel, “The Way of Shadows,” is the story of an urchin who becomes an assassin to escape the living hell of the streets, but must battle his inner morality in the process.

It reminds me of The Gaslight Anthem’s latest album, “The ’59 Sound,” in a way, as Weeks doesn’t necessarily do anything utterly new here but synthesizes his many influences seamlessly. Like TGA, Weeks takes the best parts of the authors he loves to create something that feels, well, new. And, like “The ’59 Sound,” “The Way of Shadows” is utterly compelling from start to finish.

I don’t claim to know Weeks’ full range of influences, but here’s how I interpreted them through my own fantasy lens while tearing through “Shadows”:

• Weeks offers Terry Goodkind’s depth of character without requiring hundreds of pages of dialogue to do so.

• He captures the essence and innocence of childhood like Orson Scott Card (actually, for a while it walks a fine line between influence and downright stealing), but takes a step further into the dark corners of the underground urchin society where Card never went. He also writes with Card’s clarity of purpose and language.

• He presents multifaceted characters with deep flaws like Joe Abercrombie, but allows them more redeeming qualities. In short, you’ll feel OK loving these characters.

• Weeks provides scene after scene of pure, exhilarating action like Matthew Stover, but still adheres to a moral center. Also like Stover, Weeks provides just enough worldbuilding to give his novel depth but not intrude on the narrative flow.

• Like Joel Surnow of “24,” Weeks isn’t afraid to kill significant characters. It adds to the feeling that absolutely no one is safe in these pages.

And, most surprising, there is quite a bit of God talk in “Shadows,” and all of it sincere, not snide. I’m not saying Weeks is a Christian author, and this novel certainly doesn’t avow Christian values as a rule, but it’s utterly refreshing to encounter any characters in popular culture who speak of God with authenticity and truth. The “Christian” characters in “The Way of Shadows” are treated with the same care and respect as his other creations; they are one more color to the tapestry of action, romance, and political intrigue Weeks weaves over the course of 650 wonderful pages.

I cannot recommend this novel highly enough. It’s the most visceral reading experience of a fantasy novel I’ve had since Goodkind’s “Confessor” in 2007.

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