In a word, The Way of the Shadows by Brent Weeks is “fun.” Now, perhaps some people will find the over-exaggerated death tolls and the way some things just work out despite all the odds as a bit trite, I found that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. If you like action, plot twists, and a relatively easy read, this is a must. As it’s the first in a trilogy, I had to quickly get my hands on the next two. (However, time constraints and other responsibilities are keeping me from them, much to my dismay.)
Azoth is a street kid, a guild rat, relying on the guild for protection and shelter. What he and his two close friends Doll Girl and Jarl also need protection from is the guild they are a part of. Vowing to never be afraid of anyone again, Azoth sets out to become an apprentice to Durzo Blint, an assassin who doesn’t take apprentices. Durzo Blint sees assassination as an art, and he is the best artist around. Azoth will have to prove himself and let go of his friends, his past, and any chance of being close to anyone in the future. As Durzo says, there are “no friends… only targets.”
A thriving self-interested underworld and a weak king seem to present the best opportunity for invasion, and the story spends its time progressing to it in a way that builds suspense well. Even at a length of 645 pages, I found it to be a quick read. Each page of the book kept me turning and it was filled with a perfect balance of action and character insight. There were times, however, despite the length, that the story seemed rushed, or segments seemed to have no point. One such scene, a fighting contest set to pit Azoth (who by then was renamed Kylar) against his best friend Logan, did little to forward the plot, even if it helped with character development.
I will say that for a book about assassins, there are some rather likeable and relatable characters. A few characters are a little two-dimensional, but fortunately the story doesn’t revolve around them. As the book goes on, you learn bits and pieces about certain characters, giving them a depth that you might not expect from this kind of story. Plot twists and an ongoing string of events that just seems like more bad news after more bad news really advances the characters as people. As the reader I wanted to get to know the characters and turn the page to find out what happens to them next.
If you like your fantasy without the elves and fairies, this is the book for you. Bordering somewhere between dark and political fantasy, it’s a turmoil of alliances, betrayals, scandal, and assassinations. It’s an enjoyable read that does keep you wondering what is around the next corner and who is in the next shadow. I would recommend this to anyone who wants an escape from your average fiction, but doesn’t want to dwell in the land of gnomes and goblins. A solid 4 out of 5!