Thoughts on The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

I have been on an absolute reading tear lately.

I’m at the tail end of time off of medical school for interviews, and I have been making the most of it.

I spent the last three days blasting through The Black Prism by Brent Weeks.

The Black Prism came as a recommendation from the fantastic Fantasy Faction forums.  If you’re into fantasy books and want some advice about what to pick up next, I suggest you head over there.

I was not disappointed.

In fact, I had a great time reading The Black Prism, and I’m sure to pick up the sequels over the next few weeks.  I highly recommend you give it a shot.

Here are some thoughts.  Be forewarned: there are SPOILERS.

Stuff I Liked

Unique Magic System

So, this is one of those things I think is kind of overrated in fantasy.  People always talk about the “unique magic system” so and so came up with.

Which is cool.  It’s nice that they exercise their creativity.

But… I kind of think that’s a distant second to the story in terms of whether or not I’ll like the book.  And if a story uses a generic magical system while telling a fascinating tale with well fleshed out characters… well that’s fine by me.

That said, I have to credit Weeks with coming up with some really cool ideas that are all his own.  Not only that, but the way the magic system works is intricately tied up in the story’s plot, so he gets double credit for that.


The Twist

I am not going to lie.  Ever since I played Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), I have kind of had a thing for those big twists regarding the protagonist’s origins.

To bring you up to speed.  You start KOTOR off as this badass Republic soldier who becomes a Jedi with unprecedented potential.

And then, halfway through the game, you find out that you used to be the big bad guy.  It’s epic.  It’s awesome.  It might be the best story ever told in a video game.  It’s definitely in the conversation.

The Black Prism features a similar twist (spoilers coming), when you find out that our main character, Gavin Guile, is in fact his brother Dazen Guile.  Dazen assumed his brother’s identity at the end of a war the two waged against each other.

It was pretty cool.  I love the emotional backdrop it paints, and it’s just plain fun.

That said, I think Weeks could’ve played it along a little farther than he did.  I also think he dropped enough hints early on that I was able to see it coming. And by the end I was a little bit irked by how many characters started coming out of the woodwork saying, “I knew it was you,” and etc… but it was still pretty awesome.


It’s a Page Turner

I noticed Weeks employed the strategy of mostly using tightly written chapters that ended on cliffhangers.

It worked brilliantly.  I kept turning the pages, and I was always itching to know what would happen next.

It’s one thing to see that done in a thriller, but it was very impressive to see a writer employ this strategy while building a complex fantasy world.


Mostly Likable Characters

I liked the story’s main character, Kip.  I thought it was an interesting take on the overwritten “chosen one” narrative.  Kip is, on some level, the chosen one with a destiny and etc.  But that said, he’s not a shining, brilliant examples of awesomeness. In fact, he’s much closer to being an awkward fat kid (his words, not mine) with a smart mouth.

Cool, huh?

I also loved Gavin/Dazen Guile, the story’s other main character.  He has all the depth you’d hope for in a character with his complex backstory.


Some Stuff I Didn’t Like

As mentioned above, I didn’t like how many characters started telling Dazen/Gavin they knew his secret all along.  At one point, it seemed like a fairly obvious way to play up the intensity (page turner!) during a slower plot moment.

Also, did you notice how I said “mostly” likable characters?  One problem I had is that I thought the story jumped POVs too much, particularly to a character named Karris.  I dreaded reading her chapters.  She struck me as a fairly cookie cutter tough chick kind of character, and I didn’t think her plot ark was all that interesting.  I thought she broke up the pacing at times.

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