The Blood Mirror, by Brent Weeks (Book Review)

There are things I miss about working at a bookstore. One of them is that I was first in the store to know when a much-anticipated book had come in.

Booksellers who stick around have a passion for their product. Most are waiting to for any number of pending releases, and when they do arrive there's much excitement.

The downside, of course, is the constant reminder that you are waiting. Every backlist title that arrives is a reminder that the new book hasn’t, and as time goes on you start to warn new readers even as they begin the path you've sold them on.

So my time away has a corollary upside: I can now go weeks and months without thinking of such things, only to be pleasantly surprised that books I’d forgotten I was waiting for are suddenly, inexplicably here.

And so it was that when I was looking for something to read in-flight last month that I discovered a new book in the Lightbringer Trilogy--err, Series, I guess (bad author!)--released in October. Cool.

I first read (and reviewed) The Black Prism, the first book of the supposed trilogy, in 2010. Since that time I managed to read Weeks’ first series, the Night Angel trilogy, as well as three more Lightbringer books (Okay, I'm done ragging on him for stretching out the series--it happens. This is known).

Much as he did with The Night Angel, Weeks has widened the scope of his colorful fantasy adventure, roping demi-gods and quasi-immortals into the world of the Seven Satrapies.

Unlike the previous series, he has integrated a collectible card game facet into the story, which is mainly contained in one book. Knowing that Brent has a penchant for Magic: The Gathering, I have very mixed feelings on this. On its face it’s kind of hilarious, but it takes me out of the story to the point where I wish it’d been left as a funny “What-if” inside the author’s mind. Alas.

That said, Brent continues what has (to me) become his trademark, which is plot twists that actually surprise.

It’s interesting to deconstruct what such a thing demands of an author. Whether we realize it or not, storytelling is a game played with the audience. We automatically know that when a dog is kicked, we've been introduced to a bad guy. We also know that when a hero declares “Nothing can stop me now” within the first half of the film, he is destined for a fall sooner rather than later. The stories we've seen, read, and been told our whole lives follow these patterns.

To construct a mind-blowing twist, the author has to leave the bread crumbs so that they can be traced backward yet go unnoticed until such time. Brent manages this masterfully, and in The Blood Mirror expands upon such a surprise first laid down in The Black Prism.

My struggle with the series has been in its use of magic and non-human characters—call them gods, demi-gods, or what have you. One could argue that such things practically define the fantasy genre, but the use of them varies widely.

Brent has obviously put quite a bit of thought into the rules and workings of his color-based magic system, which I do find interesting and even engaging to a point. However, he does so in such a way that is often very involved in itself, offering little insight of the story or characters to the reader.

Along the same vein is his use of the gods and legends—whether such creatures are really gods is in question, which isn’t a bad thing in itself, but they tend to lend a taste of deus ex machina. In a plot that is otherwise so carefully constructed, this reader is left wondering why? 

I feel either more or less involvement is needed; if the more-than-human beings are important, clue us in! If they’re just a piece of the tapestry, don’t have them overshadow the plot or the characters we’ve come to root for. The ambiguity, for me, is disengaging.

But—that might just be my age talking. Over the years I’ve found it harder to engage with fantasy and Sci-Fi books. At first I thought I’d simply discovered and read he best of the breed, the new stuff (or new to me) simply unable to compare.

Lately, though, I’ve wondered if the wild imagination of my youth has simply begun to fossilize with adulthood. We don’t want to look at it, but the day-to-day life of a working stiff changes us. The brain fills with worries about bills, lawn care, relationships. Though I still enjoy and pursue the same type of stories, I’m rarely satisfied to the same degree.

All the same, I’ve also learned to accept compromise in life. Maybe my buddy Rich was right about there being no more Wheels of Time—for us, at least—but in the meantime I’m still dying to know what happens to Gavin Guile in the next (hopefully last!) book.

Mr. Weeks has quite the series in the Lightbringer books, and while I’m not the one excitedly opening boxes of hardcovers anymore, I’m anxious to read the next.