Books: Beyond the Shadows

…by Brent Weeks.  Beyond the Shadows is the final book in the Night Angel Trilogy, a series I earlier characterized as more Sword & Sorcery in its feel than a mainstream fantasy (Book 1 Review, Book 2 Review).  However, in this final chapter for Kylar, Vi, Logan, Dorian and company, Weeks turns away from the grit and urban grime of the first two books in favor of the (overused) conventions of epic or high fantasy fare.  Too bad, really, because we’ve seen much of this before and it actually ends up detracting from some of the more enjoyable aspects of the earlier books.

Most of Beyond the Shadows points towards the final showdown to prevent a renegade wizard-priest or Vurdmeister from raising the goddess Khali and accompanying undead army to sweep across the civilized world.  Arrayed against him are the aforementioned heroes of the first two books, some of whom know and have befriended one another, some of whom have not.  Weeks splits chapter between half-a-dozen p.o.v characters as he builds towards the final battle.

By far the most interesting of these is Dorian, one-time seer, mage, and heir to the former Godking Garoth Ursuul’s throne of Khalidor.  Dorian, having gone north to infiltrate his father’s city, falls in love with Jenine (true heir to Cenaria, Logan’s wife, thought dead in the first book) and through a couple of clever twists finds he has no choice but to assume the mantle of Godking.  He does so with the idea of eliminating the oppressive legacy of his ancestors and freeing his people for good, but finds the mantle or rule and the ruthlessness it demands of him is difficult to escape.  I liked Dorian’s narrative because there was real struggle here, real evolution of character, and you were never quite sure what was going to happen.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the other major characters.  Logan faced his great struggle in Book 2, and he has little to do other than act noble and pure and await his destiny.  The main question confronting Kylar seems to revolve around when and if he will ever get to have sex with his childhood sweetheart, Elene.  Then it turns out that each time Kylar comes back from the dead, someone close to him must die to take his place and you guessed it – Elene is next.  Vi was also more interesting in the last book, but at least she has more to do and farther to come in her quest for redemption.

And then there’s the whole subplot involving Solon.  I liked Solon as a character, and his prodigal son storyline was somewhat interesting, but I question why he was so prominent in this book.  It really seemed to me that Weeks just had to me plotlines in the air here.  Sure he wanted to return to the three wizard companions of the first book, Feir, Solon, and Dorian, and have them reunite against evil in the end, but it almost served as a distraction.

And reading the story, I had no doubt whatsoever that the three wizards would eventually reunite, because about halfway through, Weeks goes into plot outline checklist mode, and everything starts to fall in place for the generic epic finale setpiece.  Supporting characters cooperate fully, mysteries are solved neatly in the nick of time, backstory and prophecies are established laboriously through coincidental dialog, all as we tumble headlong into the final battle.

Not sure why this annoyed me as much as it did; maybe because things didn’t fall into place so neatly in the earlier two books.  It did seem as if the writing and plot points were overly compressed here, and I suspect Weeks had a much longer manuscript originally, which was edited down by the publisher to come in at 700 pages.  I suppose if he was going to take the high/epic fantasy route (and hit every single cliche) I’ll take the shorter version.

This isn’t to say it’s a bad read.  The characters are engaging, and there’s plenty of vivid detail, action, and conflict.  The pages do turn.  Weeks has some decent world-building going on, especially with Khalidor and the concept of the Vir.  I just found myself wishing for the bleak urban feel of the first book, and a little disappointed when the story turned to those overused fantasy tropes, one after the other.  Still, it’s a satisfying conclusion, especially if you’re a completist.  If you’ve read the first two books, you probably like Weeks’ style enough to go for #3.  But if you’ve read your share of fantasy like me, don’t expect too many surprises.


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