Okay, we’re going to try this whole “review a book that I actually like” thing again. You know, prove I actually like books, and haven’t started this blog as some sort of bizarre hate fetish, literary revenge porn.
The next contender is The Black Prism by Brent Weeks. The first in The Lightbringer Series, released in 2010, and sitting at a substantial 640 pages.
My great shame comes in the form of my reading speed. I’m a slow reader. I maybe do one book a month. Tops. So committing to 640 pages is a big deal. This length of book could easily be a fifth of my yearly books. So, naturally I picked it up on audible, because I have a commute to fill, and I guess my World of Warcraft podcasts can take a backseat for a few weeks.
It’s narrated by Simon Vance, and he does a good job, with a great speaking voice. No faults here.
Now, I tend to write these reviews as snarky extended blurbs. Blurbs these days tend to give the general premise of the book, and then the hook or twist of the story, and the blurb alone can easily spoil up to the 50% mark in a book. For this reason, I don’t read blurbs. I go into books blind.
However, to write these reviews, I read the blurb once I’ve finished the book to see how far I can go into spoilers. The Black Prism’s blurb takes you to about 10% of the way through the book. Max. It doesn’t give much away at all. And on top of that, a lot of the opening 10% is lore and magic system. So there’s actually not much to write about if I stick to my usual reviewing technique.
Also, as if that wasn’t bad enough… it’s really well done. I don’t have anything to complain about. A tragedy for me, I’m sure you can imagine.
Well, damn. I think this is it. I think I’m actually going to have to give a positive review of a book.
Let’s start with the basics. What happens in the blurb spoiler part of the book:
We have two viewpoint characters, Guile and Kip. Guile is our main character, and he’s the most powerful person on the planet, basically, and an Emperor. Kip is his bastard son that, up until the start of this book, is unknown to Guile.
The book starts out with Kip crawling through the darkness, and we’re not really sure why. But hey, kids do enjoy a good skulk, so why not. Well, the reason why not is that it’s confusing, and generally, confusing the reader is a bad decision. We get a bit of description of the weather and lighting conditions. If you want to talk text book mistakes, then starting a book in a way that confuses the reader and discusses the weather is absolutely top of the list. The first few pages were boring.
But, our young Kip soon turns out to be sneaking through a camp of soldiers, as the rain has churned up the ground, allowing him to scavenge crystalised light left over from previous wars. I’m still not convinced that this is a great start to a book, but whatever. Kip then goes into one of the tents (because he’s an idiot?) where he sees two men. One is dead, killed by the still alive one. Kip has a chat, and the still living man alludes to a bunch of stuff that Kip might be more important than he knows. Prophecy, and all that. Or he’s just trying to give the idiot a reason to unbind him, because he’s going to be executed at dawn.
Looking back on it, I have no idea why they were waiting to kill this guy at dawn, as we soon learn that magic users can only use their magic when there’s light. So, they waited to kill this guy when he’d be able to attack them with his magic. Huh? Yeah, he was tied up, but… completely illogical.
So Kip lets the magic guy go (they’re called drafters), and then runs away to the sound of the freed guy attacking his own guys. There was a little nod to the madness that can overcome drafters if they use their abilities too much, as well.
Next we have Gavin. By all accounts, he’s not a very nice person. I mean, he seems very nice on the surface, and he does nice things, but it’s built on a foundation of lies. As he seems to be keeping his brother in the most secure prison system ever created, and Gavin is the only person that knows he’s down there. This is all revealed very nicely, and involves Lembas bread and the colour blue.
Sounds pretty spoilery, but again, this is all handled before Gavin even meets Kip, so I’m counting it as before the blurb ends, because otherwise this would be my shortest review for my longest book so far. And I assure you, there are some twists and some turns coming up in the rest of the book.
In total we have 4 points of view. Two men and Two women. Gavin and Kip, of course, but then also Liv and Karris. Gavin loves Karris, and Kip loves Liv. Karris is coming around to Gavin, but speed bumps arise, and Liv is vaguely aware Kip exists.
If I were to put my Social Justice Warrior hat on, as I am want to do, the first time we step into Karris’ view point, she is immediately pouting over Gavin. Not an issue, pouting happens, but she is pouting over Gavin while being a member of the most elite warriors in the world, and about to shoot an enemy with a bow. Also, this wasn’t done in a “I’m so awesome I don’t even need to focus on the battle to win” kind of way. She was just being characterised as an idiot. It’s far from the worst I’ve seen done to a female character, and it’s only done in the first chapter, but it still stood out as a really odd time to pout for the character that she is.
Warning though, everyone pouts about Gavin throughout the book. He’s kind of a big deal, guys.
Of course we have to talk about the magic system. If you’ve been recommended The Black Prism, then it was probably because of its “unique” magic system.
Now, I had actually heard the magic explained before, and it really didn’t interest me: “The magic users get their power from different colours of light” Excellent, allow me to go to sleep now.
When reading The Black Prism, Brent Weeks absolutely nails his level of exposition. Absolutely brilliant. We’re learning just enough to get us through a scene, but are still left aware that we don’t know everything yet. Drip feeding the magic rules of the world were practically enough to keep me reading on their own.
At one point, I even enjoyed listening to Liv explain how light reflection works.
Okay, it’s hard to come up with a truly unique magic system. They all boil down to, in some way, you get special powers. In this version, the different colours on the spectrum have different mental and physical properties. For example, if you “draft red” then the colour red naturally makes you quicker to anger mentally, while physically, the colour red is flammable, basically. Not all of the colours were 100% unique. The difference between blue darts and orange bolts seems to be negligible, but that’s not an issue for me, especially as the mental effects of orange and blue were very clearly defined as being different.
When the light is “drafted” it comes out as Luxin. Which typically fades away when touched by sunlight, so most Luxin constructs don’t last long. There are exceptions to this.
And that’s it for my Long Blurb. There’s so much more to say, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the book, and the plot itself was great, but… no more spoilers from me!
I feel like my snarky comments were a real let down here. This was a damn good book, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone that enjoys fantasy. The magic system was unique, the characters fun, and the plot really grabbed me, including the series of subtle twists it throws at the reader. If I had to critique it, I’d say that the prose is a touch weak. I don’t mean it’s bad, not at all, I really liked it, but I’m aware that I like very simple prose. None of those fancy words for me, no sir!
Final thoughts? Well, I would say that since the spoilery blurb, Gavin Guile really did turn around for me as a character. I ended up really liking him. I also liked Korvan Danaviss, Liv’s father. While Liv had an interesting plot turn in her story, I didn’t actually find her as a person that enthralling. Kariss was good as well, but always playing second fiddle to Gavin.
I’m going to have to call out one particular part of the story as well. At some point, Gavin builds a wall out of Luxin that will last for years. No problems there, we’d had it explained to us that this was possible. However, the author went on for far too many pages about how the wall needed to be placed precisely, and all the different drafters had to chip in together, and that all made sense. Then he got really into the nitty gritty of vent placement, and I have no idea why. I spent several pages completely lost and having no idea why Weeks was going on about this. I couldn’t picture what he was saying at all. As far as I could remember, nothing about adding these vents had been mentioned before, so i didn’t know why any of this was necessary. It went into so much detail that I assumed it was going to be plot relevant later on. It wasn’t. At all. It was just a very odd passage in an otherwise outstanding book.
I’d happily recommend The Black Prism to anyone interested in fantasy.
Rating: 5/5 (85%)
Favourite Character: Gavin Guile
Favourite Quote: “Delusional people, tend to believe in what they’re doing.”