From the Archives: The Black Prism, by Brent Weeks (Book Review)

This review was originally published on on October 25th, 2010.

If you’re a Sci-Fi/Fantasy geek like me, you’ve probably seen Brent Weeks around at Ye Olde Bookstore. Orbit Publishing did something interesting with Week’s debut series, the Night Angel Trilogy, by releasing all three in consecutive months. Fantasy fans are used to long waits between books, so for me, that was a pretty cool move.

I feel obligated to admit I haven’t read the Night Angel trilogy–the first book, but it’s still in my stack of “to-be-read,” which is quite large–but when I saw his new Lightbringer Series had been upgraded to a hardcover release, I figured there had to be something to this Brent Weeks guy.

The publisher’s blurb really grabbed me. Rather than the standard boy or girl starting out on a quest, The Black Prism is about Gavin Guile–the most powerful man in the world. A lot of fantasy ends up that way, but I can’t recall a protagonist like that at the beginning… so what gives?

Well, there’s a catch or two. For one, Gavin knows he only has a few years to live, and he has a list of things he needs to accomplish before he meets his end.

But the most interesting thing about Gavin Guile is while he’s the most powerful man in the world, he’s also trapped by that power–and by the lies he’s told to achieve it. I asked myself, what would a man in that position do in order to accomplish his goals?

I don’t know who writes the blurbs, but give that man (or woman) props–I picked up the book.

So now I’ve gotten the book home, and I dive right in. I like Weeks’ style of writing, but I’m not too sure about the world building aspect. It doesn’t immediately feel real for me, and I’m iffy about the magic.

See, the magic users of the series are called drafters, and they can basically channel (or “draft”) colors into physical forms: swords, various missiles, armor, et cetera. Gavin is the Prism, unique among men in that he’s able to draft every color. Personally I prefer more swords than sorcery, so it took me a few chapters to buy into it.

But once I did, the story hooked me. I mean really, really hooked me. "Couldn’t put the book down" is so cliche, but I have to admit: I put off actual, real-life things I should have been doing to finish the book. There’s some hardcore Alexandre Dumas-type stuff going on in The Black Prism, and I just couldn’t wait to see what happened.

The incitement to action introduces a young boy named Kip. Kip is the closest Weeks comes to the fantasy standard, but is also unique in that he isn’t immediately good at anything. He’s not a fighter, is clever but not super smart, and he’s got self esteem issues. Because he was so different from the typical Local Boy Makes Good, it took a while for Kip to grow on me–but I appreciated him more in the long run.

But Kip isn’t nearly as fun to read as Gavin Guile. Even though he’s (arguably) the main character in the book you’re never sure what his aims are or what he’ll do. He’s a competent and charismatic leader, but is constantly weighed down by the secrets he struggles to keep.

Weeks keeps the rest of the cast pretty small, which is refreshing. Who wants to keep track of 100 characters? (Wheel of Time, anyone?)

Black Prism has some great twists and turns. I’ve read/seen enough stories that I can usually predict where the writer is going, but here my guesses were only partially right at best, and that made it a lot of fun to read.

Even though I got used to the color magic, at times it was hard to relate to during the magic-heavy fighting. When preparing my review I also realized that pretty much every character you meet is a drafter. Not sure if it’s just extremely prevalent in the world (I doubt it), but it would be nice to have a normal guy’s perspective. Every Skywalker family needs a Han Solo.

I was talking to a friend of mine recently about the fantasy genre. Lately when I pick up a fantasy novel and read the synopsis I think That sounds so cheesy or Jeez–more of the same

He said something along the lines of “There won’t be another Wheel of Time or Song of Ice and Fire for me; I just want to be entertained.”

I can sum up my feelings about The Black Prism by saying: Don’t be too sure, Rich. Don’t be too sure.