The Way of Shadows, first volume of the highly popular Night Angel Trilogy, is something I've taken a long time, and a lot of persuasion, to pick up a copy of and read; Weeks' work has received praise from writers like Sam Sykes, and there clearly are parallels between their work.  However, what Weeks does with his words and characters and what Sykes does with them are very different; the difference between The Way of Shadows and Sykes' Tome of the Undergates is one of quality and kind...

The plot of Way of Shadows is very, very messy.  Whilst Weeks may want to tie plots in and out of each other and use the idea of betrayal and counterbetrayal, alongside a variety of concealed identities and hidden pasts, in order to build a novel which will take Azoth from gutter rat to becoming Kylar Stern, Night Angel, he does so in such a way that puts too much pressure on the reader to try and make sense of plots that don't work, plans from people who are supposedly intelligent if not brilliant that are so dreadfully and deeply flawed as to be unrecognisable as a plan rather than just making it up as the characters go along.  The reliance on this complexity, and on the stupidity of every single character we meet, really grates; that Weeks seems to provide coincidence after coincidence to keep the plot moving (and not just coincidence, but extremely unlikely coincidence) and deus after deus out of the machinae to keep Stern alive demonstrate a weakness in the writing.  Combine this with inconsistent characterisation (or rather, acts extremely out of character and inexplicable); villains who are evil... because evil!; and the procrastination about getting to the point, and Way of Shadows has a plot that really, really needed streamlining and rewriting.

The characters of Way of Shadows are little better; as mentioned above, this is a novel plagued by inconsistent characterisation.  I expect, over the course of a novel this long especially, characters to change and develop; what I don't want to read is that characters have suddenly switched their whole thought-processes and how they work, or that the whole novel has been a lie in some way that makes the character suddenly not actually make sense; or that they're taking actions which are inconsistent with their portrayal, generally ones that make out a much lower level of intelligence.  That this is a problem across the board doesn't make it any better, it just demonstrates that it is something Weeks built in, either conciously or subconciously; but either way, ineffectively.  The problem of character is even worse when we extend it to villains; outside (not-well-written) fiction, is there an instance of someone doing evil for evil's sake? However, our villains here - both Rat and Roth, but also minor ones like Aleine - are precisely that; doing evil for the sake of doing evil, or for gaining power.  This isn't something found in nature, but The Way of Shadows actively cultivates that image, doing irreparable harm to the portrayal of the villains because they become so inhuman as a result.

In the end, The Way of Shadows is a mess of a book, and gives me no hope for the rest of the series; despite the popularity of these novels, I can't bring myself to even consider recommending them for more than a moment, because Weeks' writing is weak, his characterisation worse, and the whole novel devolves into a confusing, sloppy mess.  Best avoided at all costs.

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Squeaking of the GrimSqueaker....

February 2012

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