Sunday, February 27, 2011

Book Review- The Way of Shadows

If you're a bookstore junkie like myself (and I can't believe the Border's by my apartment is closing!) then you may have noticed the Night Angel Trilogy books always up front and displayed on the Bestsellers, or Fantasy, or Recommendation shelves. I first took notice probably more than a year ago with its very intriguing cover art, and you don't have to be a book worm to figure out it's a novel about an assassin. I've been on the lookout for a good assassin novel for quite sometime now and finally took a gamble and just went and bought the entire Night Angel Trilogy box set. I'm not gonna lie, I was kind of nervous about the purchase. I had no idea whether this was going to be one of those lengthy medieval fantasy series like A Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings which, and don't hate me for saying it, I don't really care for. It's my own personal preference. I just don't like it when a novel has so many characters, I can't get attached or emotionally involved with any of them; or when I'm reading more about the strategic formations and histories of neighboring kingdoms rather than the internal struggle our hero is going through; or when the role of women are cast in the shadows of the men who are obviously are the ones who run the show. A Way of Shadows definitely drew inspirations from the likes of George R. R. Martin and J.R.R Tolkien but didn't quiet go to their extreme. I'd say the style of the novel was caught in between that and the modern day fantasy series (i.e. Harry Potter where the main focus above all else is still the characters and relationships).

So the story is a medieval fantasy which takes place in a country called Cenaria and centers around a boy named Azoth. Azoth is basically a slum rat boy and spends his days stealing money so he can pay dues to his guild. The specific guild Azoth belongs to is the Black Dragon guild which is run by a crazy, sadistic guy named Rat. Rat mercilessly beats anyone who is late on paying their dues and highly dislikes Azoth because he believes he's up to something. Azoth is determined to become apprenticed by the city's best assassin (which this novel refers to as wetboys) Durzo Blint so he won't have to put up with abusive people like Rat anymore. Rat begins abusing Azoth's friend Jarl in a scheme to break Azoth and threatens his other friend in the guild, Doll Girl. Durzo agrees to apprentice Azoth if he kills Rat but Azoth is unsure if he can do it. After a week of hesitation Rat kidnaps Doll Girl and beat her to the edge of death. Durzo shows Azoth the consequence of his hesitation but agrees to save her if he successfully kills Rat. Azoth manages to kill Rat and shows Durzo to his body as proof. Durzo gives Azoth a chance to get out of his apprenticeship but Azoth holds firm his decision. Soon after, Azoth finds a family to adopt Doll Girl on the agreement that he will anonymously pay all her living expenses then begins his training with Durzo.

In the meantime this is all happening to our hero, we also have a 11-year old boy named Logan Gyre who's father Duke Regnus Gyre is leaving their estate to head for Screaming Winds, which lies on the border of Cenaria. Duke Gyre leaves to defend their country against the threat of the neighboring country Kalidor and names Logan the Lord of House Gyre before he leaves. A traveling mage, Solon Tofusin, arrives at the Gyre estate on a mission from the prophet Dorian to help Lord Gyre. Once Solon finds out that Logan has also been named Lord Gyre, he warns him to train to become a great swordsman and decides to stay with him, now beliving he is the actual Lord Gyre the prophet was referring to. Soon after Azoth is taken on as Durzo's apprentice, Durzo renames him Kylar Stern and the two run into Solon and Logan. Durzo has Kylar run into Logan and start a fight so he can make his getaway from Solon. Kylar obeys and the two begin a gruff, but of course, they become bff's soon afterwards.

How Logan ties into Cenaria and Khalidor's kingdom strife becomes clearer late in the book and I don't want to spoil the entire thing so I'll leave it at that. Kylar's training period flys by within a few chapters at my dissapointment. I was hoping the entire first book would be about Kylar and his time at Durzo's Academy for Assassins. After little Kylar become big Kylar, he doesn't quiet become a full fledged assassin because he can't tap into his "talent" (some kind of magic assassins can harness). In the meantime, we begin to learn about the bad guy in the book and how he plans to take over Cenaria and how Durzo, Azoth, and Logan are involved in his scheme. Honestly, the book kind of became dead weight for me to read after Kylar grows up. I was only really interested in Kylar's story and couldn't bring myself to care about the struggling Kingdom of Cenaria. I knew all the politics would tie into Kylar's story somehow but I wish it would have gotten to the point quicker. I think this is a problem with many first time novels for authors. They don't know how to edit, edit, edit. This book would have been much more engaging if the second third of the book was cut down. The last third of the book however takes a sharp turn and everything unravels in an insane down hill shit show. Some people may have found it exciting but I felt like I couldn't focus on everything that was happening, but at least it picked up from the middle of the book.

Really my favorite part of the book was the beginning. I love a slum rat survival story with youngins. Also, I like how the story at that point was focused on Azoth and Durzo, before it got into the complexities of everything else and began switching POVs every chapter. Kylar was a likeable enough hero for the book but I just wish the book could have spent more time developing his relationship with the other characters in the novel. The relationship with Kylar and Durzo was kind of there....kind of...ehh...a bit....umm...no not really....hehe. The attempt was there. Durzo seemed to be fighting some kind of internal struggle when it came to Kylar but I couldn't buy into it looking at his actions. Kylar's friendship with Logan could have been a great one if the book spent more time with the two of them, but they barely got page time together. The climax of the book would have been much more exciting if I was emotionally involved with the characters, especially Logan. I also think Kylar's relationship with his love interest Doll Girl (renamed Elene) could have been, like, ya know, existent. I think the two exchanged four lines of conversation, and that was after he professed he was madly, deeply in love with her. As kids, she was mute so zero conversing there. After that, while growing up, he just creepily watches her like a stalker and immediately becomes enamored with her for no apparent reason (except she's hot with big boobs). Kylar is warned throughout his creepy stalking that he can't fall in love with her and she will be his downfall. As expected, this is what happened but I didn't understand why because he had barely even spoken to her by that time so I couldn't get why he was so obsessed (or he claims "in love") with her. I love a good love story in a novel but in order for it to succeed, character development is key and the relationship must grow organically.

This kind of ties into my next cynical remark about the book. Okay I don't want to sound like some psycho feminist, but really, what is up with all the women in this book? I understand the place of women falls second place next to men within the context this story is set in, but the author could have strengthen the characters of at least the important ones. Apparently all women in this country become either whores/prostitutes by the age of 14 or they become over sexed nobles. Apparently Elene stands out and above all these other dumb women because she's stayed a virgin. Is this really what the author thinks makes a strong woman? Then there's the chracater Momma K or Gwinvere, who is, of course, the madam of several brothels. As strong as she tries to appear, he emotions are easily trampled on by Durzo (who loves spending his time calling her a big slut), leading her act recklessly.

Overall, the book is an easy enough read that is mildly entertaining. Don't expect to get emotionally attached to any of the characters though and be aware of the mid-slump. I think guys may enjoy this book more than girls. There are some pretty grimy and violent parts so be aware. I'll probably eventually make my way around reading the next two but I'm not going to put a rush order on it.

Final Score- 6.5/10

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