Brent Weeks has stepped up his game with The Blinding Knife.
If you’re familiar with my reviews, you probably suspect that epic fantasy is my favorite genre. I call myself a Wheel of Time fanboy; I travel fifty miles to get Brandon Sanderson’s newest books on their release day, and I love me some Peter V. Brett. Give me traditional fantasy and I’m a happy man. And though I prefer the more original epics of the aforementioned authors, I’ll even enjoy the kind of epic fantasy that’s filled with all the overused tropes the genre has to offer. Lately, though, I have found myself looking for more—for that little extra something that makes a good novel great. I want new takes on the old stereotypes. I want strong female characters and interesting new settings. I want realistic action and character development, including moral ambiguity.
Does that mean I appreciate the old traditional favorites less? Definitely not, though I do look at them through different eyes. I still spend my time counting down the days until Robert Jordan’s A Memory of Light, by him and Brandon Sanderson, is released (in only five days at the time of this writing!), and I was still as happy as a child on Christmas morning when I received an early review copy of The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks in the mail this summer.
Weeks’s books have always been the epitome of traditional high fantasy to me. They are fast-paced, intriguingly magical novels filled with thorough worldbuilding, grandiose battles, and a healthy dose of mystery. While he is one of my favorite authors, his work has always missed that final touch. The Night Angel trilogy suffered from a seeming lack of foresight—the books are very much standalone stories, each dealing with their own set of problems—and The Black Prism, the first novel in the Lightbringer series, was slowed down by excessive worldbuilding. While I knew I’d devour every word of The Blinding Knife, sequel to The Black Prism, I feared it would be plagued by these same problems. I was wrong.
[The] theme of overcoming shortcomings is what sets The Blinding Knife apart from traditional epics, including Weeks’s previous novels.
The evolution of an author
Continuing the story from The Black Prism, The Blinding Knife is in every way a huge step forward for Brent Weeks. With it, I believe he has moved beyond being simply another incredibly entertaining traditional author, and has become one of those rare masters who can create truly marvelous and ambitious pieces of tremendous scope with engaging characters and a fascinating thematic undercurrent.
Unlike his previous trilogy, where Weeks had to introduce new problems and new elements of his world with every novel, The Blinding Knife is a direct continuation of The Black Prism in every aspect. The world remains exactly the same, the magic is unchanged, and the challenges that the characters struggle with here were introduced in the first novel as well. This means that the narrative of The Blinding Knife doesn’t decelerate in favor of worldbuilding or other information supply. Instead, Weeks assumes his reader knows the ins and outs of this Mediterranean-influenced world and its magic, and shifts his focus to the characters and their endeavors to overcome their own shortcomings while they face an overwhelming enemy—and perhaps even the end of the world as they know it. Thus, The Blinding Knife becomes a relentlessly-paced story—only ever slowed down by incredibly random viewpoints that aren’t explained until the very end and never contribute to the scope they were seemingly intended to create.
This theme of overcoming shortcomings is what sets The Blinding Knife apart from traditional epics, including Weeks’s previous novels. While the traditional elements are still present, they are laden with the development of the characters that live through them. One of the oldest tropes, for example, is the young apprentice hero who is pulled away right before finishing his training. Just think of Star Wars, The Wheel of Time, or countless other works. This same trope is heavily featured in the Lightbringer series as young Kip learns that he is a powerful magician, the son of the political leader of the world, and perhaps even the answer to ancient prophecies—and has to train to master his talents. In The Black Prism, Kip was the comic relief: an awkward, fat, and incompetent kid who was more of a burden than an asset. In The Blinding Knife, Kip has to learn to look beyond his own insecurities and discover his inner strengths so that he can use them to his advantage. Kip isn’t a strong man, but he is a smart boy, and to follow his journey to discover how to use his intelligence is highly entertaining. These sequences, complete with witty dialog and an incredibly realistic and unique character, are exquisitely well-written.
Overcoming the weaknesses of his own writing, Weeks has evolved from a good author to a great author.
And strong women
Equally exceptional are the female characters. Where previously Weeks was known for writing weak, stereotypical females whose only purpose was to be sexy, the women in The Blinding Knife are independent and strong. They have their own flaws and conflicts to overcome and do so in believable fashion. In fact, it becomes even more apparent in The Blinding Knife than in The Black Prism that women are at a magical advantage in the world of the Lightbringer series.
Why should you read this novel?
Brent Weeks has always been a great author, but he has stepped up his game with The Blinding Knife. In fact, in many ways, this book does to the author exactly what it does to his characters. Overcoming the weaknesses of his own writing, Weeks has evolved from a good author to a great author. The Blinding Knife is a wonderful work of high fantasy with engaging characters facing the perfect antagonists, set in a creatively-wrought and increasingly chaotic world brimful of imaginative magic and interesting politics. Weeks holds fast to the traditions of his genre while adding a compelling new flavor.
Stephan received a review copy of The Blinding Knife courtesy of Orbit Books.