The Black Prism by Brent Weeks
Brent Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy left me underwhelmed with the way things were concluded, and with the trilogy in general. Some of the characters were great, while others were underdeveloped or just plain annoying. There were things in the final book that should have been epic, but hadn’t been set up properly, or even mentioned in the first two books at all. Aside from a few memorable moments/characters, the whole trilogy just seemed kind of average: nothing terrible, but nothing really special either.
The Black Prism is the first book in a different series – the Lightbringer series– and I only decided to give it a go because the second book (The Blinding Knife) recently beat Mark Lawrence’s King of Thorns AND Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country to win the 2013 David Gemmell Legend Award. And so I thought I’d give Weeks another try.
To be honest, I wasn’t blown away at the beginning. I found it similar to the Night Angel books: fairly interesting, but not exactly gripping. I stuck with it, though, and after a brilliant twist about a third of the way in I was pretty much hooked. Stuff started happening, characters became much more interesting, and the somewhat complex histories of both the world and the characters started to unfold in unexpected ways.
The Black Prism is told from the alternating points of view of four main characters: Guile, the Prism and ‘Emperor’; Kip, his illegitimate son; Liv Danavis, the daughter of a disgraced general; and Karris, one of the Prism’s elite Blackguards. All four characters are very different, and it’s interesting to see how each of them regard different situations and people. I particularly like reading Kip’s PoV: he’s fat, he’s clumsy, and his life has just been turned upside down, but he’s determined, he’s talented, and he’s funny. It’s also great to read Guile’s PoV chapters, as we learn a lot of his secrets from him. This leaves us in conflict regarding how we feel about him: do we admire him, or do we hate him?
The one thing all the main characters have in common is that they are magic-users, and the magic is one of the things that almost made me put the book down with a snort and a shake of the head. It’s based on light and colour, hence the ‘Prism’ is the most powerful of all as he can control all the colours of the spectrum. Using colour magic is referred to as ‘drafting’, which creates a magical substance called luxin, which can be moulded to whatever purposes the drafter requires depending on their skill and will, and the properties of the luxin itself. This magic is called Chromaturgy. Each person (drafter) capable of using it has an affinity to one colour (monochromes), two colours (bichromes), or even more (polychromes).
It sounds ridiculous, I know. It’s basically ‘Rainbow Magic’. But the thing is, what starts off as the most ridiculous-sounding thing ever actually becomes one of the more interesting parts of the book. The scenes involving the use of Chromaturgy (and there aren’t many that don’t) are really fun to imagine, especially after you have an idea of the different uses/properties of each colour. Some of the things it’s used for are spectacular; although importantly (for those who like their magic with rules and restrictions) it’s not without its drawbacks and limitations.
There’s lots of action in The Black Prism, and even when there’s no fighting or drafting there’s almost always something happening. I’m pleasantly surprised!