Review: Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks

Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks
Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks

Beyond the Shadows
Brent Weeks
Orbit, 2008

Needless to say spoilers for both The Way of Shadows and Shadow’s Edge lay ahead.  Look out!

In Beyond the Shadows, the final volume of Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy, Kyler Stern has defeated the Godking though it as at a price.  With the horrible truth behind his miraculous revelations reveals Kyler must lay his debts to rest before reunited with his lost love.  Meanwhile Logan Gyre, haven forsaken the the crown for honor, relentlessly pursues the vanguard of  another army invading his homeland.  Yet elsewhere the prophet Darien, having burned out his gift for prophecy in order to escape the goddess Khali, is forced into becoming the new Godking; albeit a Godking with a revisionist agenda.

Like Shadow’s Edge before it, Beyond the Shadows adds yet more layers of complexity to the world of the Night Angel Trilogy.  While Shadow’s Edge seemed to focus on the nature of identity and the discovery of the self Beyond the Shadows focuses more on the burden of the past; particularly as it pertains to securing the future.  Embodying this theme is Durzo Blint, Kyler’s master who readers learned in Shadow’s Edge was resurrected one final time, whose monumental age and former role as Night Angel are particularly important to the unfolding plot.

The theme of course carries over to the other main characters in the novel.  For Darien, now the Godking Wanhope, it lays in struggling against the culture of misery and terror that his progenitors created.  It is also fascinating how the theme of the past collides with both the present and the future in Darien.  The burning out of Darien’s prophetic gift has left him deprived of even the memories of what the future holds and it leaves him in the dark as to what is the correct path.  This is further muddled as Darien’s gift slowly regenerates, now corrupted by the foul vir that empowers his people’s magic, and causing a blurring of past and present; an effect that both confuses and frightens Darien.  Darien’s character arc comes sort of full circle in the end with a bit of prophecy from his own past managing to save him in the present while at the same time securing the future he has always feared.  It is some epic stuff and would likely have made for some poignant reading on its own.

Beyond the Shadows is also full of a couple of huge moments of epic awesome.  From Kyler, in the full grip of rage and the Night Angel persona, storming the Chantry (a school for female mages where men are not permitted) encountering the spiritual avatar of their order and complimenting her on her legs, Kyler fighting an enormous monstrous in a fight reminiscent of something out of God of War or Shadow of the Colossus, Logan’s duel with on the remaining Ursuul offspring, Vi’s moment of glory on the battlefield, Solon’s prison break, and I could go on.  Just about every character we’ve spent some time gets some badassed standout moment and it was pretty great.

While Beyond the Shadows (and the rest of the series as well) is very much action oriented the degree to which Weeks has managed to inject his world with a sense of history is extraordinarily impressive.  Most of that world building really starts in Shadow’s Edge and it continues right on through to the climax of Beyond the Shadows.   While Weeks never goes to in depth with the current state of affairs of the world, or the history of a particular nation (he does seed quite a bit of tantalizing information) it seems to me a deliberate attempt to create a sort of tabula rasa for the future.  Actually, if truth be told, Weeks laid a lot of groundwork for more story and I wouldn’t be surprised he goes back and revisits this world, if not these characters, again.  There is a lot left unexplained, particular about Kyler and his ka’kari, that I would love to know more about; hopefully one day I will.

I mention in my review of Shadow’s Edge its similarity, particularly in tone, to The Empire Strikes Back.  In hindsight, looking at the series as a whole, the structure of each novel mirrors the structure of the original trilogy (that’d be IV, V, and VI kids) quite a bit.  Then again Star Wars has deliberately echoes more traditional storytelling techniques but I thought it might be worth noting that you can draw a lot of parallels between characters and elements of the Night Angel Trilogy and George Lucas’ films.  At least I’m hoping Weeks’ won’t go back and start adding unnecessary new material.

While I’ve seem some reviews likening Weeks’ work to Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch and I thinking the latter is more accurate in than the former.  Abercrombie deliberately sets out to subvert typically fantasy conventions and that absolutely not the case with the Night Angel Trilogy.  Scott Lynch, on the other hand, seems content on setting out to tell an exciting story and that is precisely the same thing that Brent Weeks has done here.  The Night Angel Trilogy is an damned exciting fantasy series that, thanks to deft characterization and a well honed ability at crafting visuals both thrilling and chilling, stands a cut above the rest.

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