The Way of Shadows is the first book in Brent Weeks’ The Night Angel Trilogy. Yen Press, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, has just released a graphic novel adaptation of that book, adapted by Ivan Brandon and illustrated by Andy MacDonald. I first learned about the graphic novel when Weeks visited Denver as part of his book tour for The Broken Eye, book three in his Lightbringer series. Having enjoyed the Yen Pres adaptations of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate books, I was excited to see how Shadows transferred to the comics medium. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed.
I am going to give you a disclaimer up front: The Way of Shadows is not for the squeamish or faint of heart. The novel moreso than the comic, though the comic does capture the intensity and violence of the book quite well. Being someone who doesn’t do well with depictions of violence against women and children, it was especially difficult for me to get through the novel.
Having said that, I also want to say that the violence is necessary to tell Azoth’s story. A street rat, an urchin and thief, Azoth begins his story at the age of 11. He has to do impossible things just to survive, and it will tear at your soul to read about it. His friends, his only friends, are Doll Girl and Jarl, both of whom he protects as best he can. All are part of one of the street gangs from the Warrens, a dank and dark part of the city. Rat is in charge of this gang. An Older, he is cruel and vindictive, trying to consolidate his power.
Azoth wants out. His only choice? Become apprenticed to Durzo Blint, a wetboy or assassin—and one of the best, if not the best. But Blint isn’t looking for an apprentice. Still, he sees something in the boy and sets him a task; kill Rat. Do it in one week. Prove to Blint he is smart enough, clever enough and cold enough. And bring him evidence of the kill. Doing so ends Azoth’s existence, replaced by Kylar Stern who is being relentlessly trained by Blint to become a wetboy, to fit into any situation and never hesitate to kill.
Durzo Blint is a cold, calculating character. He’s also a drunk, and a master wetboy. He has Talent, magic that lets him blend into the shadows and cast illusions. And he has a past. His wife was taken and used against him, and he let her die to prove she didn’t mean anything. Losing her haunts him, though. Her sister is his best friend, if such a man can have friends, and a former lover. His reasons for taking Azoth and turning him into Kylar are shrouded in the same shadows he hides in before the deader falls to his weapons, poisons and machinations.
The Way of Shadows is a rich, dense book. The graphic novel is a decent adaptation, with a few exceptions. Every page is black and white, which lends itself incredibly well to Weeks’ world. The Warrens are dark, bleak. The palaces of the royals, bright and gleaming. Azoth/Kylar’s story is here; his transformation from orphan to wetboy and beyond. Gone are a lot of the side plots and story arcs. Kylar’s friendship with Logan Gyre is reduced to a page or two. Logan’s father and all that happens to him is mostly gone—he gets a couple of pages wildly spread apart. The arrival of Dorian Ursuul and Feir Cousat, pivotal to the final battle, feels jarring and incomplete. Also incomplete is Logan’s story, which is all but nonexistent here.
My suggestion? The Way of Shadows is an intense, gritty piece of sword and sorcery. If you want a quick introduction to Weeks’ style and world of The Night Angel, by all means, read the graphic novel. There is more than enough meat here to whet your appetite for gritty sword and sorcery. Once you have, though, you should absolutely grab the novels.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal), and 2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fancast. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012, 2013, and 2014 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.