At the recommendation of my agent Meredith Brown I picked up a copy of “The Way of Shadows” by Brent Weeks. Like most fantasy books these days it’s a fat book, pushing up to 600 pages. So I got cozy and settled into another realm, ready to see the world of assassin’s as envisioned by the author.
The world Brent Weeks presented was a lot of fun to get to know. It was at once a familiar fantasy setting, but different enough that I didn’t dismiss it or grow bored. He drew me into the world of wetboys, the term for elite assassins. Wetboys are almost more than human as they blend their skills of stealth, traps, and magic to become feared killers in the dark. And it’s how Brent Weeks handles introducing us to this world that I really enjoyed. Azoth, an eleven year old orphan of the Warrens, sees that life as his only way out of the filth and grime of his life.
Cutting to the chase, Azoth apprentices with the best wetboy in the city — Durzo Blint. In my opinion, Durzo shines in this book. You can tell Brent Weeks had a grand time writing this character. There are times that Durzo drifts toward Mary Sue-dom, but Weeks does a masterful job of keeping this character on his toes and giving him a hard time. It’s a load of fun reading about a master assassin — excuse me, wetboy — who tests his young apprentice to the limits. I enjoyed how Brent Weeks used Durzo’s personality and training methods to show us Azoth’s growth as a character.
In the first two-thirds of the book we get these great characters and personal struggles. And then, the rest of the book happens.
Once Brent Weeks kicks into gear with the political intrigue of the book, everything goes off the rails. It’s a twisting mess of gotchas and — gasp! — big reveals that feel shallow. Many chapters toward the end I found myself skimming through the battles to just find out who lived and who died as I’d lost interest. As I read through the final 100 pages I saw the influence of George R. R. Martin in the gutters. It’s whole-sale slaughter chapter after chapter. Unlike Martin, however, I didn’t care. Most of the character deaths were of people that had barely a scene or two. Characters, I came to realize, that Brent Weeks considered major, despite having little impact or presence in the book.
After finishing the book I read the little questionnaire in the back. Sure enough Brent Weeks mentioned Martin as an influence, stating that he learned from Martin that if you maim or kill a major character then any character is up for grabs. Unfortunately I feel Brent Weeks missed a crucial element to make it work. You have to make the reader care about the characters first. What Martin did over three books, Weeks crammed into 200 pages.
[SPOILER] I believe I was supposed to feel dismayed at the slaughter of Lord Regnus Gyre and the Queen. But when Regnus only has three to four small scenes with little character development and the Queen having been introduced in the last several hundred pages with — at most — a few paragraphs, I found it hard to care. [/SPOILER]
For me, the strength of the story was more about the relationship between Durzo and Azoth, master and apprentice, killer and savior. What should have been a climactic final conflict between the two, was mired in a twisting, bloated siege of a city.
But, in the end, the series is a New York Times best seller and you can’t argue with that. So I tip my hat to you Brent Weeks. May I have half as much success as you.