The Black Prism is the first book in the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks, author of the Night Angel Trilogy. Unlike Weeks’ first series The Black Prism features at its forefront a magic system based the transmutation of light, based on color spectrum, into a physically and magically manipulative substance called luxim. Drafters, as the magic users in the world are called, absorb one or more hues of light via the use of colored lenses (if none of their associated colors are present) or ambient light (if it is prominent in a color the drafter can draft). Each color, in addition to having its own unique physical properties, also elicits a unique emotional effect in its drafters. For example red drafters become angry and aggressive; blue drafters cool, calculating and serene; and green drafters become wild. Not complicated enough yet? Ok, the more a user drafts a color the closer they come to insanity and death as they eventually become a color wight; warped and twisted by the ideals their color represents.
I describe all this because if this were just plopped down in the text and laid out for the reader The Black Prism would be so much less of a novel. Instead, beyond that complex system of magic, Weeks has used the underpinnings of that color magic to inform the entirety of the society set forth in the novel. From politics, to social interaction, to theology the color magic of The Black Prism infuses it all and manages to created an impressively vivid world that seem entirely functional and realistic as a result of that magic rather than in spite of it. I also describe all this because when I first heard about this element of the plot I was skeptical of how it would work. It didn’t take me long to become a believer though and that is a testament to the intricate skill in which Weaves the color magic of TheBlack Prism throughout every aspect of his world.
The plot centers around the Prism, Gavin Guile, a political and religious head and magic user able to draft from every end of the spectrum and with immense power. Prisms only last at minimum 7 years and Gavin, having already lasted 16, knows that he can only 5 years left before he starts to die. When Gavin finds out he has an illegitimate son he is forced to save the boy from the clutches of a rebellious Governor who seeks to challenge the religious authority of Gavin and the Chromium (the council of satraps who do the actual governing) and throw the world back into chaos and war.
Of course that summary only scratches the surface of what is on offer in The Black Prism and Weeks’ seeds the plot with twists, turns, and revelations that make for some excellent reading. Indeed my mind was nearly blown about a third of the way through the book and the plot was stood on its head and what little I already knew had to reevaluated. It helps that both Guile and his son Kip are extraordinarily entertaining characters absolutely bubbling over with vitality. Guile is flippant, arrogant, and noble; less concerned with keeping his own power than he is in protecting and bettering the lives of his people. Kip is very much like his father though from my perspective frequently funnier; the tragedy of his loss early in the novel imbues him with a nothing-to-lose attitude which when combined with his big mouth often has explosive results.
Scenes featuring magic are always exciting and the nature of color drafting means that such scenes are always easy to visualize lending them a strong sense of action. There was a surprising amount gore in the novel and some particularly horrific scenes such as Karris’ return to Rekton after the King’s men had slaughtered all the villagers. Nothing that would turn me off the novel but enough that it definitely raised an eyebrow here and there. Weeks’ does do a particularly nice job of capturing the horror of color wights from the initial encounter with one, and the means through which he has modified his body, to their reintroduction late in the novel and their wanton abandonment to the traits the define their colors.
Indeed, Color Wights are responsible for one of my favorite scenes of the novel. In a beautiful use of juxtaposition a character is extemporizing to an audience of drafters on the horrors of being Freed, the ritual absolution of drafters who are near the breaking point followed by their death at the Prism’s hand, right at the same time Gavin is performing that ritual not too far away. The constant switching back and forth to the proselytizing character and Gavin’s guilt wracked ceremony is beautifully done and for all the anger behind that speech, as Kip points out it is, if not a lie outright, a twisted version of the truth. Miscommunication and secrets lends the scene a further sense of the dramatic and the whole thing gelled into one of the highlights of the novel; illuminating the perspectives of each side (twisted though they might be in certain cases) with startling clarity.
The Black Prism is fantastic start to an intriguing new series. Rife with sympathetic characters and twisting plot it was nigh impossible to put down. The sense of action and intrique Weeks’ honed in the Night Angel Trilogy is on display once again; this time on a larger scale in a world far more intricately detailed. The Black Prism, despite its final climatic battle, doesn’t answer any major questions at its conclusions. Instead, Brent Weeks, the insufferable jerk, went ahead and lumped a whole new load of problems on the heroes THEN ended the novel. Now I have to wait to see what happens next. Jerk. So yes, I’m a bit miffed at not one major, but several minor cliffhangers that left me for the next book which, by the way, ISN’T coming out next month (like the Night Angel Trilogy did).