The Way of Shadows is not necessarily something new but makes for a good fantasy story because there is so much that it does right. We start with Azoth, a young guild rat who is nothing but a dirty street urchin in the eyes of society and will be lucky to live past his teenage years. Not wanting to die in the gutter like a dirty dog, he decides the best and only chance for survival he has is an apprenticeship to Durzo Blint, the top assassin in the city. The set-up of the world Brent Weeks created for this story is largely what makes it so appealing.
First off is the world itself (geographically speaking). This is one of those fantasy books that features a map of the known world, which is a large piece of a continent with the various countries that will come into play throughout the trilogy. The Way of Shadows takes place mostly inside of Cenaria City, the capital of the country Cenaria. This is not a happy place to live. Basically, you have the rich side of town and then the slums, where most people live as muggers, prostitutes, thieves, cutthroats, and other similar professions. Cenaria is a monarchy, but the real power is held by the city’s criminal elements. The criminal leaders, the Sa’kage, are the true rulers of Cenaria and everyone knows that corruption controls the capital and the country.
The second established trait of this world is its magic system. This is kind of a mixed bag. Early on in the story the magic is subtle. In the case of assassins, magic is used for things like muffling sound to make lockpicking easier or making yourself more difficult to see in the dark. Subtle magic is a fantastic system for fantasy stories because it makes medieval settings more traditional instead of having wizards running around throwing fireballs and killing normal soldiers by the dozens. However, The Way of Shadows does not stick to this system. Later on in the story it is shown that there are different ways to use magic, so the fireball-throwing types of wizards do exist on top of the subtle magic users. The explanation behind this, that each country has different views on magic, is justifiable but it would have been nice to stick to a singular system.
As the first book in the Night Angel trilogy, The Way of Shadows serves well as an introduction. The characters are built up into who they are meant to be (or become) in the latter parts of the story. The Way of Shadows is also a pretty fast read despite being a longer book. Most of the chapters are short and jump between characters in order to keep the varying plotlines moving at a more or less even pace. That being said, this book is not perfect. Most of the characters, places, events, and other story elements in The Way of Shadows feel very stereotypical. Readers familiar with fantasy to even a moderate degree may find themselves comparing everyone and everything to other works.
The story almost felt like it was not intended to be a book. The style of the story felt more like it would have been properly set up as a film trilogy or as a mini-series on some cable channel or even as a video game. For long-time fans of fantasy literature, this book is not the best thing you could read. For those of you who are just getting into fantasy, The Way of Shadows makes an excellent starting off point since it has so much in common with other series’. Overall it is a good read if you enjoy this type of story, but the Night Angel trilogy will not be for everyone.