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The Way of Shadows – Review by Ciara Ballintyne

The Way of Shadows


 Club Fantasci met last week for its second G+ Hangout and first successful hangout! You can watch myself and co-hosts Dionne Lister and David Lowry discuss The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks here. If you’ve read the book, join us on our Goodreads page – start your own discussion threads or join the ones already going.  

The song I chose for The Way of Shadows is Standing Outside the Fire by Garth Brooks. The song is a metaphor for how life without love is an empty existence. I chose it because this is exactly how Durzo tries to live, and how he teaches Kylar to live, for their own safety – but ultimately, the fire of love draws them like moths to the flame. Despite themselves, they can’t live in that empty, loveless existence.  

~

Cenaria is not a place you’d like to grow up – but the backstreets, of the worst district, of the most corrupt city in the world, is the place Azoth does. Ruled by a weak, arbitrary king, and effectively run by the Sa’kage, the underworld criminals, Cenaria is rotten to the core, the very epitome of a dog-eat-dog world, and it leaves its mark on many of the characters.

Azoth, orphaned, surviving on the streets in a gang run by a boy who uses rape and cruelty as a means to control other children, is both moulded by his early experiences, and yet defies them. It is the fear and terror of his childhood, the raping of one friend, the deliberate maiming and scarring of another, that drives him to apprentice to Durzo Blint, the best wetboy in the city. The sheer misery and terror of these children’s existence is enough to make a reader want to cry, and this is important, because it’s this background that makes us forgive Azoth’s future as a trained killer. 

Blint refuses to train Azoth unless he can kill the boy who tormented him; the nasty piece of work, or ‘twist’ as is the slang in the book, deserves everything he gets and more, but it isn’t an easy task for Azoth. When he completes his task, if too late to save his friends Jarl and ‘Doll Girl’ from their own torments, Blint takes Azoth in, gives him the name Kylar, and teaches him the black trade of death and all the lessons that go with it. Assassins have targets; wetboys have deaders. A wetboy cannot love. Life has no value. Despite the lessons Blint teaches him, Kylar cannot move past the basic decency that led him to share his meagre food with his street-friends. Though he learns to kill, surely, he cannot always take the actions Blint would take, or urges him to take.  

Durzo Blint is, at first blush, irredeemable, corrupt, cold-hearted. But the author gives us enough clues to know the man is not as cold and callous as he’d like us to believe, but rather only desperate to ensure everyone doesbelieve he is cold and callous. Bitter experience has taught him love is weakness; if you love someone, they can be used against you, hurt to make you comply. It’s not that Blint doesn’t care; it’s that he dare not let anyone knowhe cares, and most especially not his enemies. 

These two are supported by a host of other characters; Momma K, the retired whore pulling the strings of the city; Count Drake, an example to Kylar that one can turn away from the darkness; Elene, Kylar’s childhood friend ‘Doll Girl’; Logan, the impeccably ethical heir to Duke Gyre; the duke himself; the king, and his family; the prophet, Dorian Ursuul, and his friends, desperate to divert an horrific future; and the God-King Garoth Ursuul, architect of that future. 

Of them, Elene and Logan are two least affected by the corruption in Cenaria, but while I admire and like Logan, Elene annoys me. Logan always tries to do the right thing, but doesn’t necessarily expect others to live by his code. Elene, who knows she has been saved from a life of prostitution, poverty and cruelty only by Kylar’s sacrifices, presumes to judge him for the deeds he has committed in making those sacrifices. Where Logan comes across as a pillar of morality, Elene appears only self-righteous and judgemental, and expecting all to live according to the word of her One God. It is hypocrisy to be simultaneously grateful for the life one has, and judge another for the acts committed to give one that life.  

The events of the book centre around six magical artefacts called ka’kari, made to fix people who would otherwise be brilliant mages, but who are ‘broken’ and have no way to access their power. As a side effect, the ka’kari also grant immortality. The God-King wants one to extend his rule into eternity; Durzo, blackmailed by the God-King who takes his lover, and later his daughter, hunts one to try and save their lives; Kylar inadvertently calls one to himself because he is broken, but would give it to Durzo if he could. Everyone seems to want it, and no one can get their hands on it, and the price is paid in blood by many.

And so, Durzo and Kylar, loving each other like father and son, are driven against each other. Durzo must take the ka’kari to save his daughter, but doing so means the death of Kylar. Kylar would give it to him if he could, but he can’t, and he must stop Durzo’s end-game or watch his best friend, Logan, die.

Which is the better wetboy? Can either bring themselves to kill the other? What are the secrets Durzo hides, about himself, about Kylar? What is the secret of the ka’kari? What is the conflict between Momma K and Durzo? Plots within plots weave about plots, intrigue within intrigue. Keeping up with all the schemes, who is on whose side, who is betrayer or betrayed, will keep you on your toes and turning the pages. 

Though the book is not perfectly written (it is a debut novel), the story is compelling enough, the characters likeable enough, despite all their flaws, and undeniably real enough, to immerse you in the story and have you hanging on to know what happens next. 

The emotional importance of Kylar’s and Blint’s relationship and affection for each other could have been cranked up a notch to add to the conflict, but admittedly that’s difficult to do when both are trained killers who conceal their emotions. Nevertheless, a must-read fantasy book, especially if you like assassins!

Reviews by all my co-hosts are available on the Club Fantasci website – follow the links to read reviews by Dionne and David

October’s Book of the Month is The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. The book is in print, but so old you’ll likely have to order it online as you’ll have trouble finding it on the shelf. The copy I’ve stolen… ahem, borrowed, from my Dad is a hardback, so it’s like to be damn near as old as I am! 



If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or subscribe to my newsletter.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!

The Way of Shadows: Club Fantasci September Hangout

Club Fantasci met yesterday for its second G+ Hangout and first successful hangout! You can watch myself and co-hosts Dionne Lister and David Lowry discuss The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks here. If you’ve read the book, join us on our Goodreads page – start your own discussion threads or join the ones already going. 

Reviews by all three hosts are available on the Club Fantasci website – follow the links to read reviews by Dionne, David and myself

The song I chose for The Way of Shadows is Standing Outside the Fire by Garth Brooks. The song is a metaphor for how life without love is an empty existence. I chose it because this is exactly how Durzo tries to live, and how he teaches Kylar to live, for their own safety – but ultimately, the fire of love draws them like moths to the flame. Despite themselves, they can’t live in that empty, loveless existence. 

October’s Book of the Month is The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. The book is in print, but so old you’ll likely have to order it online as you’ll have trouble finding it on the shelf. The copy I’ve stolen… ahem, borrowed, from my Dad is a hardback, so it’s like to be damn near as old as I am! 


If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us.

The Night Circus: A Review

For September, Club Fantasci will be reviewing The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. Our Google+ Hangout, which was the unfortunate victim of technical difficulties last month, will be airing on September 28 at 7pm CST time. 

For those who missed it, I’ve reposted my review of The Night Circus for August’s meeting here. It truly is a shame we weren’t able to bring you the Hangout to watch as there were some rather interesting things said about the book. My song for the book is Miranda Lambert’s I Wanna Die. I had a hard time picking a song because I couldn’t come up with anything that captured the feel of the book. This song, at least, captured the theme of the climax.

And here’s what I thought of the book….

 ~

Le Cirque de Reve – the Night Circus, an exotic circus open only during the hours of nightfall, a place of beauty, and wonder, and dreams made flesh. Here, the circus-goer can wander the mysterious paths between black and white striped tents, venturing into each tent as they please. Within each tent, a wonder – an illusionist, a fortune-teller, and sights even more wondrous and exotic, a garden of ice, a tree of wishes, a labyrinth of spectacular rooms, each even more fantastic and unbelievable than the last. And above all, the smell of caramel and popcorn. The Night Circus – the arena for a magical challenge. 

Celia and Marco – unwilling antagonists in a battle of wits between their near-immortal mentors to prove one school of thought better than another. Bound to the challenge by magic, compelled to strive against one another, yet drawn to one another like moths to the flame. 

Even now, the day after I finished the book, this is all I can tell you about the book. The story is easily summarised to a line or two, indicating a simplicity of storyline that is rare and not necessarily desirable. The scenes and individual events already blur and fade because they were part of a gradual build to the ending, rather than important events in their own right. 

I enjoyed the destination of this book, but the journey often left me flat. Did I like Celia and Marco? In a vague, distant kind of way, yes. Do I feel I know the characters intimately, that I could tell you how they might respond in any given situation? No, not at all – in fact, if I were to describe the characters, I could only do so in vague terms. Was I invested in the outcome? Again, only in a slightly hopeful way.

The book is written in a peculiar fashion, utilising both second person point of view (use of ‘you’ instead of ‘I’, ‘he’, or ‘she’) and omniscient third POV (use of ‘he’ and ‘she’ in a remote fashion, where we feel the story is narrated to us and we are kept at arm’s length from the characters).

I detest the use of second person point of view in this book. It is used, I think, to create the sense the reader is in the circus. It irritated me, and distracted me from the story – not a good thing when I was already hardly invested in the story. Although I concede that the ending, the culmination of the use of second POV, was clever, it was not enough to compensate for its annoyances during the book. Third omniscient POV is what largely kept me from connecting with the characters. Never allowed inside the character’s heads, I never felt I got to know them, never got the chance to live and breathe their lives, their desires, and their fears.

The book uses present tense to compensate for the remote POV (he walks instead of he walked) but this, too is unconventional, as it often distracts the reader or creates a sense of discomfort – we are, by nature, accustomed to telling stories in past tense, even our own stories of each passing day, and use of other tenses can be an uncomfortable experience. I found it distracting and it didn’t sufficiently compensate for the POV.

The book also lacked conflict in my opinion. The main conflict turned out to be Celia’s and Marco’s desire to be rid of the challenge – the tension between what they must do by the rules of the game, and what they want to do. But the rules are so vague, each ‘move’ in the game so abstract (consisting mostly of each of them contributing to the circus by means of magic, adding a new tent or ‘act’ only made possible by magic), that the book is more than half over before the reader starts to gain a sense of this conflict. Other conflicts that might exist between the characters (for example, Celia and Marco’s blossoming romance, or the potential love triangle with Isobel) is negated by the use of omniscient third – we never wonder if Celia’s feelings for Marco are reciprocated because the narrator has already told us they are.

As a result, I found I had nothing to keep me reading except a vague curiosity in where the book was going. If I hadn’t been reading this for Club Fantasci, I may well have stopped in the first 10%. As it was, I was well past halfway before I felt I needed to read to the end. In my opinion, that is far too late.

My strongest reaction was early in the book to Prospero the Enchanter when he slices Celia’s fingers open in a cruel fashion to teach her to heal herself – but the impact of this, even, could have been made more immediate, and a stronger basis for the reader to identify with Celia if another POV had been used. Later, in the story, the emotional impact of this event in her life is played down.

The Black Moment (the moment of crisis, when the reader should catch their breath in fear and anticipation, waiting to see how terribly wrong everything has gone, and if all will be well) had me curious, but hardly emotionally invested to the point I should have been. I did foresee Celia’s plan for ending the game, and although it wasn’t what I wanted to happen, I found the most I could muster at the prospect of an unhappy ending was a mild annoyance.

While the story was different, novel, unique, and had a fabulous atmosphere and mood, I can only say I feel every opportunity for passion, for strong emotion, for the things readers hunger for, was missed. While I was not unhappy with the ending, this is not a story that will stay with me for years to come – or even perhaps past the week. 

~

You can also check out the reviews by co-hosts Dionne Lister and David Lowry


 
If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!

Club Fantasci Reviews The Night Circus

Club Fantasci had its first meeting ever 12 hours ago. As soon it’s available, the link to the video of the Google+ Hangout will be available on our website and Facebook page for everyone who missed viewing the live Hangout. 

In the meantime, check out my review of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern here on Club Fantasci’s website – you’ll also find reviews by co-hosts Dionne Lister and David Lowry

Feel free to contribute to the discussions about The Night Circus starting on our Goodreads page, or start your own if there’s something about the book you want to discuss! If you want to comment on more than one of the co-hosts’ reviews, it may be easier to start a discussion thread on Goodreads instead.

The date for the next meeting is yet to be confirmed, but will be at the end of September, and September’s Book of the Month is The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks.

If you missed it, check out my review of The First Confessor.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!