Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Review: The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

Title: The Black Prism
Author: Brent Weeks
Page Count: 640 Pages
Publisher: Orbit

Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world. He is high priest and emperor, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace. But Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live: Five years to achieve five impossible goals.

But when Guile discovers he has a son, born in a far kingdom after the war that put him in power, he must decide how much he's willing to pay to protect a secret that could tear his world apart.

Brent Weeks thumped onto the scene with a fully written trilogy back in late 2008 and showed fantasy fans and publishers alike that his Night Angel trilogy was not only bankable, but a world fans would clamor for. Comparison’s to the Wheel Of Time notwithstanding, I enjoyed every last page of Week’s first series.

The First Try

I therefore was over-the-moon excited by the prospect of his new Black Prism series. So last August when it came out I scuttled out the store (What? I can scuttle…if I’m hung over) and bought a copy. It’s a funny thing to be so entrenched in an author’s world (Weeks Night Angel world) and then try to move onto another one they created that is totally different. In my case it usually staggers me into putting the book down. I will freely admit that’s my fault and not a good way to do things, but I still do it. So I got about 300 pages into THE BLACK PRISM and found it to be complex in magic system (coloured light turning into solids of various quality) and drawn out in character development. The characters were mostly baseline interesting, but protagonist Kip was…wishy washy (best I could come up with) and little had really transpired aside from getting Kip to the school where he would learn drafting (think Green Lantern’s constructs but multiple colours each becoming something different). It felt like the first ten minutes of Harry Potter…in 300 pages. I put the book down, as I wasn't getting into it, and vowed to return and finish it later on.

Try numero deux

A few weeks ago I finally picked the book back up. I had sworn when I put it down that Weeks was worth giving a second go. So I started off, and right away a fairly large twist dropped in the narrative…one I had missed hitting the first time by only PAGES… and already I was more impressed. It should speak volumes of Weeks' skill that I was so entirely blown cleanly away by the Night Angel series that I had trouble getting into this at first. So having known what I was walking into this time and having been 10+ months further away from my read of the Night Angel books, I was able to settle into the world MUCH easier. I knew the magic system now, and the characters and their motivations. So, the second half of the book was REALLY good. Like good enough that I am now salivating for the next volume THE BLINDING KNIFE. I'd had my opinion on the book completely changed!

Drafting? Like The High School class? That's where I played cards.

Yes, drafting. No, not the kind you remember from highschool. I doubt that old fuddy-duddy who taught you drafting in HS could manage this magic at any rate. Basically the magic system here is quite unique. The only other author recently who has used colour as magic is Brandon Sanderson (in WARBREAKER), so at the very least Weeks is keeping great company. Drafting is one of those things that initially was hard to grasp, but once I started thinking of it like GL’s ring constructs I got a better handle on it. So after that the sections where drafting was described in intricate detail were much more interesting and a bit easier to follow. Is it perfect? No. Weeks still seemed to veer into this territory where things were just not easily describable, so he’d say tube, ball, plank and pipe and you’d have to picture those things fitting together whilst also remembering all the different properties of the colours of Lux (the colour contructs) being used. That said, I definitely think I will be much more at ease with the magic system and how it fits into the narrative in the second book, but in book one they DO tend to be a bit tough. My advice is to stick with it though as it is worth the wait in the end as a really unique part of the Seven Satrapies world.

Gavin was the kid in my class who ate paste.

As for characters, after finishing the book I think that all the characters that appear most in the narrative are compelling, but I STILL can’t really get on side with Kip. He’s totally wishy-washy still, whether that’s by design or not I don’t know. My point is that identifying with a kid who can’t make up his mind half the time and has little in the way of conviction urks me as this kid is meant to be our view in this world. Gavin, Liv, Coravan, and Karris are all well realized and characters worth rooting for. Hoping that Kip improves in the next book and grows a pair, he’s certainly going to need it.

Baseballs to the face!

One thing Weeks does well is his twists. He throws them at you full force like a baseball to the face that cracks your skull and you usually don’t see them coming. The first one at the midway point was like that, and after that a certain character became WAY more interesting to read about and cast another in a completely different light. But he chucks a few more at you near the end of the book, one of which is a total cliffhanger, but not one that makes me angry about being hung on that cliff, just one that made my eyes go wide. The story in THE BLACK PRISM is one that takes a bit to get going, but once it does it begins to fire on all cylinders and the pace skips up to ten. By the time I finished I was ready to get stuck into the sequel, only to discover it has only recently been handed in by Weeks to the publisher. So it’s looking like a 2012 release and I’ve got a long wait.

Final Thoughts

Weeks imagination is boundless and as long as you can get out of your Night Angel Fedora and into your Black Prism Cap then you’ll do just fine. The prose is as good as it ever was, and Weeks has a way with chapters and progression that is equal to very few. This is a real page-turner once things get cooking in the second half. Full of incredible scenery, compelling events and a completely realized magic system THE BLACK PRISM ought to please most fantasy fans. The one thing I come away with is that GONE are the comparisons to WOT, and here Weeks has created a completely new animal, one that looks like it has the chance to flourish and thrive in a genre with so many authors competing for us nerds. A shouldn’t be missed type of book, THE BLACK PRISM ended up totally being the book I had been excited for over a year ago…and it only took me that year to finally realize it.

1 comment:

  1. I've heard some really mixed reviews about Black Prism; luckily the positive outweigh the negative so I think I'll put it back on my TBR list :D



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