Monday, December 08, 2008

“Shadow’s Edge” & “Beyond The Shadows”, by Brent Weeks (Orbit)

BrentWeeks-ShadowsEdgeFantasy’s best newcomer dazzles again with two more impeccable novels.

The final two installments in Brent Weeks’ exquisite Night Angel Trilogy arrive, and prove that he is a new master of the fantasy genre . While no review can truly do this series justice, here’s my humble attempt:

Having been completely blown away by The Way of Shadows, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the conclusion to the fantasy series. And in these two novels, Weeks has not only built on the superb world he’s created, but exhibited exceptional skill as a master storyteller.

Shadow’s Edge picks up about a week after the close of TWOS, as Kylar, Elene and Uly (the secret daughter of Kylar’s master Durzo and Cenaria’s head Madam, Momma K) prepare to leave their now-occupied city. They hope to start a new life together in Caernarvon, a city that is positively tame compared to the brutal districts of Cenaria. Many of the characters who survived The Way of Shadows make an appearance here, though not always in the situations one might imagine. The novel can be split into two parts; the first comprised of Kylar and Elene’s attempts at normalcy, struggling with the issues that effect most young couples (complicated, of course, by their unusual upbringings). We also find Kylar still struggling with himself, trying to find a balance between the man he is and the man Elene wants him to be; should he give up his nature to pursue a peaceful family life, or should he give in to his flair for destruction, embracing his identity as the Night Angel? In the second part of the novel, Kylar gives in to his destiny, accepting a contract to rescue his best friend, Logan Gyre, who he believed dead at the hands of the Godking, the tyrant who decimated Cenaria’s defences and ruling class. Logan has been existing in The Hole, the worst jail imaginable, struggling to stay alive amongst the worst Cenaria has to offer. We also get a shocking cliffhanger ending that will force you to buy the final installment of the series…

Beyond the Shadows follows briskly BrentWeeks-BeyondTheShadowson from the events of Shadow’s Edge, in the wake of Cenaria’s resumption of control of their city. The situation in Midcyru is coming to a boiling point. As the Godking’s armies are sent into retreat, other forces converge on Cenaria’s battered citizenry and threadbare army. Khalidor is thrown into civil war as the Godking’s vicious heirs try to wrest control for themselves, eventually falling into the hands of an unsuspected heir. Kylar continues to come to terms with his new immortality and its newly-discovered horrific costs, as well as the exhilarating boost in power that each death seems to bring him. His ultimate goal is still to install Logan on Cenaria’s throne, which is rightfully his but has been usurped by a power-hungry and Machiavellian new queen, using any and all means available to him, regardless of whether or not Logan’s morality can deal with the consequences. Culminating in an enormous battle (involving seven armies), Beyond the Shadows is a tour-de-force of fantasy, a true masterpiece that brings this series to an exceptional, explosive and in some ways surprising (though completely satisfying) close.

Throughout both of these novels, Weeks shows himself to be a writer of exceptional skill. Exhibiting a Talent for plotting, he reveals and introduces threads to the overall story that sometimes might appear unrelated to the main plot, only to be pulled together superbly at just the right moment, as myriad characters meet or collide, moving the plot along. The reader is kept guessing throughout, as it’s never obvious what twist the tale will take. Weeks manages to juggle the various groups of characters and story arcs beautifully, using the various strands to expand our knowledge and understanding of Midcyru – specifically its politics and magic – without getting bogged down with pace-shattering exposition.

With both volumes, I was hooked from the very first page. As with The Way of Shadows, they simply refused to relinquish their grip – I was consistently up until the wee hours, unwilling to leave this new world. There’s a word often ascribed to new computer games, “immersive”; the experience of reading this series could easily also deserve such a description, as the reader is swept up in the tale. Despite my desire to discover what happens to the cast, I also never wanted the story to end. With such compelling characters and story-telling, coupled with Weeks’ fast-paced and action-packed sequences, it’s nigh-on impossible to put these books down.

With prose that occasionally border on lyrical (in a good way), The Night Angel Trilogy is a delight and pleasure to read. Unforgettable characters, an intriguing new fantasy world, awesome action, a twisting plot and broad scope (the entire series covers well over 10 years of Kylar’s life), and superior story-telling make this easily one of the best fantasy series… well, ever.

Addictive, phenomenal, essential. Brent Weeks is clearly one of fantasy’s new masters, and the Night Angel Trilogy is easily my pick for best of the year.

For fans of: Alan Campbell, Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss, Richard Morgan

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