Books: Shadow’s Edge

…by Brent Weeks

Shadow’s Edge is the second book in the Night Angel trilogy, which chronicles the struggles of Kylar Stern, assassin, Logan Gyre, aspirant-King, Vi, another assassin, and others against the sadistic Godking, Garoth.  The Godking’s forces successfully invaded Cenaria at the close of Book 1,The Way of Shadows (see review), bringing a lot death (and presumed death), mayhem, and misunderstanding to the major characters.  Kylar’s mentor, master assassin (or ‘wetboy’ as Weeks has unfortunately designated killers with magical talents) Durzo Blint is gone, and Kylar soon swears off killing to pursue his childhood love, Elene.  This means leaving the city and fleeing in search of a more normal life.

Unbeknownst to Kylar, his best friend Logan is not dead but rather imprisoned in the Hole, which is the most brutal dungeon in the land, filled with the rapists and cannibals.  Logan has to survive down there without revealing his identity and completely losing his humanity.

When the Sa’kage (the city’s vast underworld crime syndicate) soon learn they can’t bargain with the brutal Godking, they begin to oppose him and help form the resistance.   For that they need Kylar, who has now absorbed an ancient magical forces called the ka’kari and has become nearly immortal, and they need an heir to the throne – Logan.  A fairly straightforward plot that still manages to get bogged down for nearly half the book.  Some of the subplots turn out to be far more interesting – at least until the book’s climax.

The story of the seer, Dorian, and his wizard colleagues, Feir and Solon, continues to prove interesting.  We are also introduced to an academy of female mages, the Sisterhood, through Sister Ariel.  There are glimpses into the Godking’s world, as well as the ritualistic magical worship systems that allows him and his wizard council to draw power from their subjects.  But the main subplot involves the transition and redemption of Vi, wetboy apprentice to Hu Gibbett.  Vi was last seen trying to kill Kylar in Book 1, and she starts out on that path again.  She turns out to be fairly sympathetic, mostly due to her circumstances.  Recruited by the sadistic Hu at a young age, after she’d already been forced to live as a prostitute, she kills with relish and vengeance in her heart, but when she gets away from the streets of Cenaria, from Hu Gibbett and the Godking, she begins to have questions.  She sees how Kylar has attempted to reject the wetboy life.  It’s classic out-of-the-darkness, which Brent Weeks does well.  He explored this theme in the last book with Durzo, albeit in a different manner.

Unfortunately, Shadow’s Edge suffers from second-book syndrome – at least during the first 300 or so pages – and it seems to be treading water and setting up pieces for Book 3.  Weeks has structured the story around Kylar and Logan, neither of which have much to do for awhile.  This would’ve been the perfect opportunity to flesh out some of those other characters (Dorian, Sister Ariel, etc.) in more detail and even introduce some of the players that will obviously be important in Book 3.  Instead we have too many chapters of Kylar and Elene trying to live their normal life, with Kylar brooding about his darker nature.  It’s one of many Star Wars-esque moments you may well note when reading this series.

Weeks would’ve been better served sticking with the conventional Hollywood formula for the reluctant hero (which he eventually turns to anyway), instead of wasting chapters with Kylar’s angst.  Said angst comes across as disingenuous and manufactured, almost as if Weeks can’t quite decide where he wants Kylar to go.  As for Logan in the dungeon:  his story is somewhat more compelling and useful and also sets the stage for later developments.

The tempo increases the last half of the novel, building to a frenetic pace and intercut showdowns once again reminiscent of Star Wars.  The action comes quick and hard, and the pages turn.  Give Weeks credit for building the tension and managing the various action sequences; still it would be nice if he could’ve spaced some of these moments out and figured out how to introduce a few earlier.

The criticism of the first book regarding how powerful and super-heroic some characters (like Kylar) are still stands.  A strange complaint from yours truly, but perhaps the problem is the lack of menace to certain important characters (again, like Kylar).  At least with the Godking and his Vurdmeisters around you have sufficiently powerful enemies.

Despite some of these negatives, I did enjoy the book.  Weeks can write action and magic, and he handles most of the characters well.  The world of Cenaria has just enough sense of history, just enough, grime and darkness to maintain its appeal.  If you can look past a few anachronistic bits of dialogue here and there, and some painfully sophomoric high school romance moments, there’s much to enjoy.

I would recommend these books to fans of action-oriented darker fantasy and sword & sorcery – though I wouldn’t quite characterize them as the latter. I liked Shadow’s Edge enough to pick up Book 3 in the series (soon to be read and reviewed at Beemsville), which should mean something as I’m not a habitual series-finisher.

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