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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"The Black Prism" by Brent Weeks (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Brent Weeks Website
Order "The Black Prism" HERE
Read FBC Review of "The Way of Shadows"
Watch FBC Video Interview with Brent Weeks

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 consecutive month release of the three volumes worked very well for the series and overall Night Angel was my second place fantasy of the year, though I would not have ranked any of the individual volumes so high; here the whole was higher than the sum of the parts and if you watch our video interview with the author linked above, you will find out more reasons why.

Naturally, The Black Prism was a Top 10 Anticipated novel of mine and I came with extremely high expectations to it as well as a bit of fear of letdown when I heard it's high fantasy with a complex magic system since such usually work less well for me. After reading it, I was just blown away though I had one huge regret, namely that it ended since this is the kind of novel you want to keep reading and reading...

OVERVIEW/CLASSIFICATION: "The Black Prism" stands at about 625 pages divided into 95 chapters and it has four main POV's and interludes from the mystery prisoner under the Chromeria. There is a map of the known world at the beginning of the book.

The fundamental fact of the Lightbringer series is color-magic based on 7 colors, though only 5 are visible:

"When a candle burns, a physical substance (wax) is transformed into light. Chromaturgy in The Black Prism is the inverse: A drafter transforms light into a physical substance (luxin). Each different color of luxin has its own strength, weight, and even smell: blue luxin is hard, red is gooey, yellow is liquid, etc. But even as drafters change the world, the luxin changes them too, physically, mentally, and emotionally. The color change of a drafter's eyes is only the beginning…"

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. Under the leadership of the "White", the guards of the "Black" and the magic of the Prism, representatives of each of the seven satrapies - one per color too - supposedly rule the world.

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. Sacred text tells that Ortolan - the God of the color magicians -always sends *one* per generation.

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. Some see it differently though - there are drafters who do not care about the ritual suicide thingy, and they see the existence of two simultaneous Prisms as a sign that Ortolan and his strictures are bunk; others remember the war as being fought for a woman - Karris White Oak who at the time was Gavin's fiancee as per family wishes, but she was secretly in love with Dazen. At least until Dazen exterminated the rest of her family and their retainers in a famous estate burning incident...

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 living in a village in the middle of nowhere and about whom Gavin finds out only soon after the novel starts, 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 from the Prism's elite Chromeria bodyguard/minders.

The Black Prism is high fantasy epic.

ANALYSIS: "The Black Prism" is first and foremost a novel with tremendous narrative energy. It just grabs you and never lets go. While I expected this to some extent, I am still awed at how Mr. Weeks infuses the story with so much vigor, while keeping quite a few balls in the air and never slipping a bit.

There are dramatic twists and turns and scenes that will just floor you - it took me reading one such scene three times to really "get it" since the first two times I just could not believe it. Since there will be some time before the next Lightbringer novel is out, there is a lot of scope for trying to guess where the series will go and what the various bits of foreshadowing mean, though from my experience with authors that delight in taking the reader to unexpected places, such guessing is fun but futile...

The world building is superlative. While I am not the biggest fan of high fantasy novels and of complex magic systems in general, the color magic of the novel worked out very well for me and I never had a problem with my suspension of disbelief. I think that happened due to the incorporation of the penalty clause - the more powerful the drafter, the faster he/she gets "consumed" and becomes a "wight" so either accepts the rules and commits suicide or is hunted and killed. In this way the "ultra-powerful" magician syndrome that plagues most high fantasy novels is avoided here. Sure, the Prism is indeed one such ultra-powerful guy and he knows it and he shows it, but the clock is ticking for him too and as the novel starts, one of the first things we find out about Gavin Guile is "five more years, five main goals"...

I liked all the main characters quite a lot, though the star of the novel is the Prism himself Gavin Guile who dominates any page he is on. The more we peel the secrets of the narrative, the more impressive he becomes...

Kip starts as an overweight, smart, loud-mouthed poor kid in the middle of nowhere and while experience tempers him somewhat, he does not become the obvious "destined" one, but keeps his part brat, part likable personality all the way.

While Karris and Liv are set to play big roles in what comes next, here they are less prominent than the Guiles, though they have some great scenes too. The supporting cast of the Cromeria leaders, especially the White, Blackguard warriors, powerful Drafters, mystery prisoner and most notably former general Danavis and main villain King Rask Garadul are quite impressive too, so The Black Prism features a superb character ensemble too.

All in all The Black Prism is an A++ from me while the series has the potential to become one for the ages. 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!


Anonymous said...

I can't wait to read this book... good review. It just heightened my excitement :)

Bastard said...

Nice, by book should hopefully arrive in a couple of weeks.

Matt Paulen said...

Nice review. Really looking forward to this one.

K.C. May said...

Great review! Now I want this book in my to-read pile.

Rhett said...

Great cover art! This book sounds like a good one.

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words; I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

I love the idea of the colors used in this book. Sounds amazing! Thanks for the awesome review! Looking forward to this book.

Anonymous said...

page turner, couldn't put it down and all those other descriptions of brilliant books. can't wait for the next in the series.

Liviu said...

I am trying to find out what is the status of book 2 since the sequel to this one is indeed a very high priority book.

suzain66 said...

I can't wait to read this book... good review. It just heightened my excitement :

That Guy said...

Read almost all the book but it's so hard to read. Mainly because of characters. Liv to be precise. She just gets manipulated so easily that it's infuriating. Also her stupid rash jumps to conclusions.

Anonymous said...

I thought the language of the book was infuriating. By the end, Brent is using so much speech-induced colloquialisms that you almost have to read it out loud to figure out what you're reading. He also uses words that have almost no meaning without context. Eg. In a chapter where Gavin encounters pirates, Brent uses the adjective form of "aboriginal" to describe the fellow shooting at them - a word that means "indigenous", but I think he intended it to refer to the Aboriginal tribes in Australia to describe the man. The book needs a few more edits before it gets to the presses, Mr. Weeks.


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