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All the Shadows, All the Time: The Night Angel Trilogy (and why it’s brilliant)

February 17, 2012

Welcome to the latest epic fantasy series for which I’ve become a whole-hearted evangelist. Ordinarily I would review each book separately, but I couldn’t be bothered to put them down long enough to do that. So here’s my review of Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy.

Title: The Way of Shadows, Shadows Edge, and Beyond the Shadows

Author: Brent Weeks

Read this: because you need to do something other than mope about the elusive, migrating release date for Scott Lynch’s Republic of Thieves

The short version: A genuinely fresh take on the so-called “gritty” epic fantasy trend, complete with assassins, spies, war, death, and intrigue. These books have both brains and heart, and you don’t want to miss them.

Let’s talk about pacing. These books fly, and it’s the kind of seat-of-your-pants flight on which you get the occasional glimpse of stunning, gorgeously symmetrical landscape through the clouds. You can feel pieces clicking into place as you read, but I dare you to stop long enough to register more than a thrill of anticipation.

So yeah. Horribly lackluster.

If you read like I do–voraciously, at breakneck speeds, and with a healthy appreciation for authors who know their genre tropes and know just as well how to stand them on their heads–then the Night Angel trilogy is tailor-made for you. This is a series that goes from a prophet making quips about the protagonist’s unlikely name to an epic battle between a literal deus ex machina and our humble heroes, who are trying to kill her.

Speaking of heroes, narration jumps around among quite a few main characters. Due in large part to top-notch characterization and in small part to the fact that I couldn’t put these books down for more than 30 seconds at a time, they’ve all got their own voices and their own outlooks, and it’s easy to remember what’s going on. Brent Weeks is a master of both the well-placed cliffhanger and holding a reader’s interest over several different plot threads–the latter of which often makes otherwise great epic-fantasy authors stumble (Yes, GRRM, I am looking right at you. Right at you).

I suppose it helps that I loved the entire cast. Protagonist Kylar, with his exceedingly powerful (and witty, to boot) magical gadget, takes to his role as the deadly hand of justice like a shark to a school of fish, but his life isn’t all kicking ass and taking names: he’s troubled by how much he enjoys his role, never mind how just a particular death is. The amazingly three-dimensional underworld leader Momma K is my favorite fictional crime boss ever, at once a gifted politician and a jaded ex-prostitute, a mother figure to orphan Kylar and a tough-as-nails businesswoman. Durzo Blint, Kylar’s prickly “wetboy” (assassin, though don’t let him hear you call him that) mentor, has a bone-dry sense of humor and a deep personal history, all while being as badass as mentors come. And Dorian, the above-mentioned prophet, has a character arc devastatingly worthy of screaming “DON’T DO IT! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?” at the book–even as you notice how inevitable the whole thing has been.

“Inevitable” is in many ways the perfect word for the Night Angel trilogy. Its various plot lines fit together so well that I couldn’t imagine any other way events could go. Not a single scene felt irrelevant. Over the course of the trilogy, it’s almost a game to see how fast you can get from one niggling detail to the next a-ha moment–and it’s a damn fun game.

I could go on and on about how much I love these books. So before I cut myself off, let’s not forget the most brilliant single part of this series: it has the most heart-rendingly wicked twist to its magic system that I’ve ever seen, and it’s one that makes chilling, absolute sense. That moment alone is worth reading all three books. Do it. DO IT NOW.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 17, 2012 11:30 PM

    What a well written review! I want to read them now.

  2. February 18, 2012 12:44 AM

    I have these, and they are definitely going to be read at some point this year.

    You’re not the first person that has said they were amazing.

    I must confess, though…I’m always wary of things everyone else loves because then I feel like I have to explain myself when I don’t like it. >.<

    • February 18, 2012 9:07 AM

      Well, I don’t think I’ve read anything recently that’s so perfect it would be sacrilegious to dislike it. Unfortunately. :)

      Even this trilogy has its flaws, but it benefits both from its own merits and from context–it handles a lot of things so much *better* than other books I’ve read recently (e.g. having a super-sexy femme fatale character who has her own, interesting personality/capabilities beyond that; keeping a multitude of POV characters distinct).

  3. February 18, 2012 2:44 AM

    This is actually probably the first post I’ve seen of these books that has been pure, unadulterated love. That being said, you did a great job of making them sound fantastic, so I just might reconsider reading them!

    • February 18, 2012 9:09 AM

      I haven’t spotted any other reviews of these, maybe because they came out a few years ago and I’m a little late to the party.

      But as in my comment above, they’re not *perfect*… they’re just much closer to it than many of the other books out there.

  4. February 19, 2012 4:19 PM

    well dayam! I have Way of Shadows sitting on the bookshelf right now. . . borrowed it from a friend who said he thought I’d like it. But he wasn’t anywhere as enthusiastic as you! book just got jumped to the top of the TBR pile! :D

    • February 19, 2012 5:24 PM

      Insofar as they’re similar to the Gentlemen Bastards books, you should love ’em! Haha. I’m definitely a fan.

  5. March 15, 2012 9:24 PM

    Ah, these were all so awesome! I couldn’t put them down. Love everything, and I totally had the same reaction at you when Dorian was doing his horrible stuff. YES!

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