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Friday, September 14, 2012

"The Blinding Knife" by Brent Weeks (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

INTRODUCTION: In 2008, Brent Weeks burst upon the fantasy scene with the Night Angel trilogy which had such an impressive narrative energy and unpredictable twists and turns to overcome the occasional "cringe" paragraphs and relatively standard world building and tropes.

The followup series,  Lightbringer, which changed focus to a universe in which magic is closer to both industry and religion, has quickly become a major personal favorite of mine and two years ago, I closed my review of The Black Prism as follows: "The main flaw of The Black Prism is that it ends - despite 600+ pages and a reasonable ending point, I still wanted another 600 at least!"

So unsurprisingly, The Blinding Knife was one of my top expected novels of 2012 and when I received an advanced reading copy a few weeks ago, I spent about a week in its universe as I reread The Black Prism and then read The Blinding Knife some three times, the first quite fast as there is a point in the novel from where you cannot stop turning the pages to see what happens, the second time, enjoying it at leisure and teasing the hints and clues and the third just to spend more time there...

Since the blurb includes major spoilers for the first volume, most notably its ending, I will not quote it here while I will try to keep what follows as spoiler free as possible. In addition, I want to note that Lightbringer will consist of four books as the author hinted a while ago and was recently made official; this is great news as the universe of the series has become even more fascinating in this volume.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: As The Black Prism has been published in 2010, I will start with a recap of the series setup from my original review and I strongly recommend to check the book trailer linked above as it is excellent and gives a pitch perfect flavor of the series - there are some differences from the way characters are portrayed in the book of course, but hey this is what artistic license is for: 

"The fundamental fact of the Lightbringer series is color-magic based on 7 colors, though only 5 are visible
As befits such, the known world is divided into seven semi-independent satrapies which you can see on the map. The center of the power is The Chromeria situated on a pair of islands in the inland Cerulean Sea, where all drafters are brought to be tested and trained and a ruling council sits. 
Of course things are not that simple and there is constant jockeying for power, but the linchpin of the Chromeria is the Prism - the one per generation powerful magician that can draft all colors and bring balance to the land.
The Prism is high priest, the most powerful magician... but there is a catch. Drafting moves the magician away from humanity and towards a "luxin being" who tends to go mad and of course the more powerful the drafter, the faster that happens, so ritual demands drafters commit suicide rather than turn into "color wights". And since things work in sevens, the Prism usually lasts 7 years, rarely 14 and not until Gavin Guile - who is in his 16th year as Prism now - 21 or more, while the White endures for a long time so she - in this case - holds the true reins of power.
16 years ago when Gavin was already confirmed as the next Prism, his younger brother Dazen who was regarded by many as impulsive at best and a "monster" at worst, developed Prism abilities too. This ensured a conflict between the two and their followers, conflict that soon escalated into all out war.
So was fought the Prism War with the "great and the good" on Gavin' side and the rebels, pirates, revolutionaries and all disliking the status-quo on Dazen' side. Dazen's great general Corvan Danavis, otherwise a mediocre red drafter, almost won it for him but in the final confrontations between the two brothers in the ruins of a house, only Gavin came back, so Corvan surrendered in return for limited amnesty and the establishment won. At least this is the official story.
The novel's main POV's are Gavin Guile, his illegitimate 15 year old son Kip, the 17 year old Aliviana (Liv) Danavis, formerly Kip's childhood friend and now drafter in training at the Chromeria and Karris still not understanding why Gavin broke the engagement after the war and currently a magician Blackguard"

The Blinding Knife has a slightly different structure from The Black Prism as Kip takes center stage, though Gavin appears a lot of course. The "official" opposing side is handled using Aliviana's pov, while a new and slightly crazy POV appears giving us a seemingly rambling narration with a darkly funny tinge, though his role and actions cohere nicely at the end.

One of the hallmarks of top sff series is expansion as I tend to dislike the series that set up everything in the first volume and then just fill in the gaps and  The Blinding Knife brings a major universe enlargement: geographical, magical and "theological". There are new colors (and new names for them!), old and new gods, while new countries beyond the Seven Satrapies are mentioned, countries which may become important later.

There is also major character expansion, not only as actual persons but as their roles, with cool stuff like Seers, Mirrors, prophecy cards and "history cards", these last being an analog of the recording video of our time, though of course you need magic to access them. Being a Brent Weeks novel, twists and turns abound, there are lots of great moments, tragedy and triumph, while the narrative pull is still very high.

The Blinding Knife has a great ending at a TBC place with one major reveal and one twist; actually the reveal is something about which I remember speculating a little when reading The Black Prism and thinking, no, cannot be, but still this is Brent Weeks so yes it could...

As before, the major shortcoming of the novel is that it ended as I would have loved 600 pages more again - The Blinding Knife stands at ~630 pages of text, plus character list, plus glossary and the map in front is useful too. And the title, well Blinding Knife indeed...

Overall, The Blinding Knife is just great stuff, an exuberant epic fantasy that I could read thousands of pages of and still want more and a top 10 novel of mine for the year.


Josh (Fixed on Fantasy) said...

Can I just have a quick gripe though and complain about how the first line of the blurb for The Blinding Knife is the most massive spoiler for The Black Prism! There should be laws against this, I feel as if I've been robbed!

Liviu said...

I agree with the blurb being a huge spoiler, though if you read The Black Prism you notice that actually there is much more than meets the ye both regarding the blurb and that sentence and if you read The Blinding Knife, well that would really be telling...

M. R. Mathias said...

If you read it that may times, Liviu, it has to be pretty good. I just put both books on my kindle to buy pile.

Sangita Mazumder said...

I just finished the novel, and it gave me some mixed feeling. Firstly the hang over of reading such a great novel was there, then disappointment because of the ending. I almost hated Weeks for ending the novel there. Next came a craving sort of feeling and a deep sigh that I have to wait almost a year for the next part. It was just too great that I can re-read it again and again and again...

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