Friday, August 20, 2010

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks is his fourth book and first in an original new series. Brent Weeks has over the last year become one of my favorite authors. I have read his original three books in the Night Angel Trilogy several times now and I have read through The Black Prism once. I am starting to get a good feel for his style. What makes Brent Weeks so engaging as an author isn't his world creation skills or intricate magic systems, which are by no means bad, but his interaction with the reader. Quickly becoming Brent’s hallmark is the ironic interplay between what I call the “blind reveal” and the “open secret” welded together with great dialogue and characters.

The oxymoron, open secret, I define as a secret known to the reader but not the characters in the book. The narratives inhabitants are often family members or friends close enough to be siblings. The meat of the fiction is how these characters interact. Needless to say, each of the characters, through a variety of story telling tricks, always end up with massive secrets that are withheld from their compatriots for a variety of reason. These secrets are often of the life changing and world shattering variety but the characters always feel they are doing what is best by keeping the secret. As the reader, you rage at the book in frustration, beseeching the characters for one iota of honesty with those that they call friend, family and/or wife/husband. These secrets compound as every character seems to accrue several and each secret affects the characters web of relationships.

It is at this level that Brent creates such an engaging cast of characters. The level of interplay needed to keep these secrets is intense and Brent captures it in brilliant detail. What is more, through the burden of these secrets you get to see into the core of each character and find what drives them. Do they take the easy way out. Do they take the higher path. These secrets are a figurative crucifixion of the novel’s characters and you get to witness how they breakdown under the telamonic burden. Have no illusion, Brent crushes his characters into their component parts only to reassemble them later in the novel. But in this way, you as the reader gain such a fascinating insight into each of the characters. You know both how and why they tick and they become ever so real as a result.

Now, the dramatic irony comes into play with the second oxymoron of the pairing: blind reveal. As you grow engrossed with the secrets each character carries you begin to feel a level of control. You start to feel as if you know where the novel is going to go. You know these characters so well. That my dear reader cannot stand. After all, if you get too comfortable you may get bored. It is at this point that Brent strikes. Because, it is not only the narrative residents that have secrets...Brent has some as well that you don’t know. It is these secrets that Brent thrusts up from the pages and skewers your mind. I am quite sure I have heard his manic cackling while I figuratively wriggle in mental distress. In a single page, the entire stream of the story can shift. The reader is left foundering trying to cope and readjust.

These two components, the blind reveal and open secret, combine to create what I find so appealing in Brent’s work: anticipation. You know something is going to happen. You wait for it. You are mentally tense. You thumb the next page with tingling anticipation waiting for the bomb to drop. It is utterly engrossing.

I have wanted to immediately re-read every one of Brent’s books after I finished them just to see if I could guess some of these blind reveals through small innocuous clues. What keeps the re-reads so enjoyable is Brent’s ability to create such entertaining characters; each with their own quirks and foibles. Karris’ paranoia about her shoulders is priceless. I would also like to mention that I think Brent is the best male writer of female characters I have ever read. I am tempted to think he has a woman ghost write for him. Going along with the great characters is memorable and unique dialog for each character. When the characters speak in the narrative you feel as if it is truly the characters speaking, not Brent.

The Black Prism is a really enjoyable read. I have not spoken of the setting, or magic systems, etc and that is for a reason. Those are immaterial next to simply flat out great storytelling found in this book. This book could have been set anywhere and been great. Yes there is magic and adventure. Yes there are muskets and cannons. Yes there is numerology and mysticism. These are all important but what should be foremost is the glee that this is another Brent Weeks book. A book where you can see Brent starting to take his craft to the next level.

Hachette: The Black Prism by Brent Weeks
Image Source: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-0316075558

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