The Black Prism – Brent Weeks

About the Book

Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world. He is high priest and emperor, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace. Yet Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live: Five years to achieve five impossible goals.

But when Guile discovers he has a son, born in a far kingdom after the war that put him in power, he must decide how much he’s willing to pay to protect a secret that could tear his world apart.

There is a lot in The Black Prism that will appeal to many different audiences. There’s the farm boy who is obviously destined for a much grander fate; the Prism who you can’t help but love and hate, and the beautiful and compelling women who are obviously being set up for something more in future books. Along with that, there is an interesting magic system, political complexities and nicely built world.

Brent Weeks firmly established himself in the fantasy genre with The Night Angel trilogy, which turned into a runaway hit. Most of the people who pick up this book, are probably familiar with his previous work.

The magic system Weeks uses in The Black Prism deserves note. It is very unique; nicely planned and executed. However, due to using such a distinctive magic system at times the overall flow of the story can suffer due to necessary explanations on magic use or something of that nature. This did lead to several nicely done info dumps.

Info dumps in a book like this can be partially forgiven. Weeks is embarking on an epic fantasy series which will span several books and there is a lot he needs to info dump on. He’s establishing a world rife with political history and complexities, a new magic system and characters with their own histories and motivations. It’s a hefty feat he’s taking upon himself and I’m not sure it could be done without info dumping. 

The world, by and large, is very detailed and carefully crafted. Weeks insures that every detail of his complex magic system works in an interlocking way with the world he is building. Thus, the magic system makes sense in the context it is used in, which can be a problem many writers of complex magic systems can suffer from. The unique world also works nicely to balance some of the more mundane plot points. While this book does contain guns, Weeks is wise that he keeps them as a fairly subtle addition to his world. Many fantasy readers (myself included) have a hard time reading books in the fantasy genre that contain something as mundane as a gun. Weeks is probably aware of this, and while they add a nice flourish and unique quality to his world, they are not overbaring. By and large they don’t detract from any of the fantastic qualities of his world. 

Those who pick up this book and expect it to be another Night Angel type work will be disappointed. Where The Night Angel books seemed to skim the dregs of society, The Black Prism sets itself up to be a more courtly work. That being said, despite the much cleaner language in this book, there really are no gaping stylistic differences between The Night Angel books and The Black Prism. While some readers might harp on that as a negative thing, I actually think of it as a positive. It shows that Weeks is a consistent writer. He managed to figure out his writing style and stride with his previous trilogy and is carrying that over into his other books. 

The characterization in this book suffers. While some characters, like Gavin, who is the star of the book, shine and keep the plot interesting and afloat, others seem washed out and stereotypical in comparison. It’s obvious that Weeks is setting the two women who have perspective roles in this book, up for future importance, but in this book they both seemed rather washed out and uninteresting. Kip, however, was the character who seemed to fall into the most stereotypes. He’s the farm boy with the surprising heritage who travels from his country home to an important place where he learns all sorts of important things. If you take away the fact that Kip is chubby, which is unique, he seems to fill the role of any number of farmboys-destined-for-grandness that I’ve read about in numerous other books. However, I retain my hope for him. Weeks left the book with enough minor cliffhangers and unanswered questions to allow Kip and the rest of them to continue to grow in unexpected ways.

However, that being said, this book does suffer from a little unrelatability (I think I just made that word up). Most readers of Kylar Stern seemed to be automatically drawn to him, and to his fellows. It was much harder for me to feel incredibly drawn to anyone in this world except Gavin. Weeks seems to be playing heavily in the “gray zone” with numerous historical events and plot points. Some readers might find that this moral ambiguity serves to build a wall between them and fully sympathizing with the characters and the world they live in. Most characters in this book, except for the one I mentioned, appealed to me as being interesting with potential for something greater in future works but not much else.

This book contains enough plot twists and ends with some well-done minor cliffhangers and unanswered questions to promise that future works will be grand. It’s a good idea that Weeks has come up with here. His writing style is consistent with his previous works, while keeping the overall story being told unique. While I don’t think this is the best book he’s ever written, it’s promising and leaves the reader with a crescendo that promises high quality, gripping installments in the rest of the series. This book is a foundation book, and being such, it did a marvelous job for setting the tone and fondling my interest. 

4/5 stars

6 Responses

  • Michael

    Great review, Sarah! I am very excited to read Black Prism. It is on my list of the next 20 books that I want to read…Way of the Shadows is next in line!

  • Mark Timmony

    nice review Sarah 😀

  • Sarah

    Thanks 🙂 I still owe you an email….

  • ediFanoB

    Based on your good review I should read The Black Prism. But in order to do that I need to buy a copy. It is definitely not on my 2010 to buy list. I just checked The mmbp will be published in September 2011. So I will wait a while 🙂 Anyway I should read The Night Angel trilogy first before starting a new one 🙂

  • Scott

    I actually really struggled with this book. Perhaps I was expecting too much after the amazing Night Angel series, but the characters all fell flatish for me, and I gave up reading about halfway through….and the magic system is confusing until I started likening it to the Green Lantern's constructs…which was the closest I could come…but he doesn't do the greatest job of explaining it well while telling his story….unlike how Sanderson did his metals in the Mistborn series…here the system feels forced.

  • Sarah

    Scott, I agree with you to some degree. I don't think this book was as good as the Night Angel books and while I think the info dumps were done well, there were more of them than I expected. I think it's a good start to a new series, but definitely not his best work.

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