This was one of those books you really can’t put down, and keep thinking about even once you’re finished.
Azoth is a young boy trying to survive in the brutal world of the slum guilds, who dreams of becoming a wetboy (assassin aided by innate magical ability) like the legendary and fearless Durzo Blint. He manages to get taken on as Blint’s apprentice, and grows up in a world of intrigue, suspicion and plotting in his new identity as Kylar Stern, dispossessed nobleman. We see Kylar/Azoth’s progression from vulnerable urchin to professional killer, and his struggles to keep those he loves safe in a dangerous world.
The only negative thing I could say about The Way of Shadows is that sometimes the wide range of cultures that meet in the novel result in so many different cultures, titles, regions, and legends coming together that it becomes difficult (or did for me) to remember all of them. That said, the rich and diverse background to the novel really does give a sense of the metropolis in which the novel is set. It’s quite possible the reason I had difficulty remembering things was because I did most of the reading on night shifts, where I was sleepy and frequently interrupted by the need to do work.
There is a wonderful intricacy in the way in which many different characters’ stories intertwine, and in the way the consequences of someone’s actions change the course of another character’s life. While the focus is on the protagonist, parts of the prose are written from other points of view, which adds to the sense of an interweaving pattern.
Throughout the novel the action is fast-paced and compelling, if vivid and gruesome at times. Plot twists and surprised leap out frequently, not just at the end, and the reader is drawn in, wanting to discover more. There’s an ambiguity to it that feels very human, rather than attempting to justify Kylar’s choice of career on a moral level to make him likeable as a character. It isn’t just a story about a boy becoming an assassin, it’s a story about hatred, love, cruelty, betrayal, and redemption, and it’s well worth reading.
Next up: The Prestige, by Christopher Priest