‘The Black Prism’ by Brent Weeks

Overall Rating: Highly Recommended (How I Rate Books)

Personal Rating: Fun! 

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Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Lightbringer

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Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:

  • None

I read this as a part of the Legendarium bookclub. I’m reading it late because there was a three month long backlog on holds for the library book.

Mild spoilers below. Watch out!

I liked this. This book will probably be in my top 10 for the year. To summarize, this book was a very competent Epic Fantasy in the style of Farmer-to-Prince. The prose is excellent in the invisible sort of way- not ostentatiously beautiful or complex, instead being simple and clear and effective. The setting is unique but easy to understand. The plot is complex, but not difficult. The characters are strong and well written. I liked it so much I’ve already put more books on the series on hold so I can read them in the months to come.

Characterization: The main character is Kip, and his story is about him coming to terms with decades of abuse by his mother after her death. This was a great character arc, not least because of how sublimely awkward Gavin’s internal monologue is. I have never, in my entire life read a main character who is so nervously, hormonal teenager awkward as Kip in my entire life. And that’s a good thing! It makes him genuine and unique, making the conclusion of his character arc at the end of the book feeling very well earned.

All of the characters are of similar quality, going through good character arcs and none of them are dull. Honestly, this Epic Fantasy series has the best Characters of any I’ve read, save the Stormlight Archives. We’ll see if I still like it more as I read more of this series. My one quibble is that there were too many POV characters. I think the book would have been better with two or three POVs. Four POVs was just too many.

Plot: Gavin, Kip’s “father” takes Kip in after his mother’s death. Gavin is basically the Magic Pope of the Chromeria Religion, called the Prism. As Prism it’s his job to balance the many colors of magic (Blue, Red, Green, Yellow, Orange, Sub-Red, Superviolet), a hugely important mystical job meant to keep the world in balance. Kip is Gavin’s illegitimate child, conceived when Gavin was engaged to another woman. Kip is plunged into a world of intrigue and mystery thanks to his high birth, a world he’s not equipped to handle. Kip must survive the first year at the Chromeria School with all of Gavin’s enemies gunning for him.

Except Gavin isn’t really Gavin. Gavin is really Dazen, Gavin’s lookalike brother Dazen. Dazen replaced Gavin decades ago so Dazen could be the Prism instead of Gavin. There was a war, and Gavin and Dazen fought on opposite sides of it. After Dazen’s side lost, his only choice was to pretend to be his brother and replace him. But the drums of war are pounding again. The side which lost the last war are ready for another round, but this time they’re made desperate by everything they lost the first time around.

The plot was really good. It might have had the best plot I’ve read the entire year. My one complaint was that the whole Gavin/Dazen double life plot was a bit trite.

Pacing: I was never bored. The author did a good job of keeping the tension hot even during slower-paced sections.

Prose: Really good. On the spectrum of window-pane glass to stained glass prose (windowpane= invisible, workmanly prose, stained glass= beautiful, colorful, stylish prose) this book is firmly on the windowpane side. Despite this lack of ostentatiously beautiful prose, the author’s narrative voice nevertheless does a fantastic job of sucking you into the story seamlessly. Well done, Mr. Weeks.

Setting/Worldbuilding: Good-to-Great. I’ve read better, but this is by no means a bad setting/magic system. The whole concept of wavelengths of magic/luxin is a bit out there, but the author nonetheless does a good job of making it real. It is a hard magic system. I liked how the author thought out the implications of the magic, with people with better eyesight being able to better control the magic.  

Concept and Execution: This book’s concept is a political intrigue farmer-to-prince book with light-based magic, and by and large the story executes well on that concept. I think the concept would have been better executed if Kip only learned one magic color per book, but he used it extensively so we got a better handle on just that one color at a time. Then in book 2 Kip could learn Yellow, in book 3 Red or whatever, until the final book in the series when he learns the final color of magic and becomes a full polychrome or whatever. It’s a small quibble, because as-is it feels like Kip instantly became excellent.

Overall, great book. I can Highly Recommend it.

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