Azoth’s days are numbered. Stuck within a city with no culture but street culture and a guild controlled by a sadistic thug, young Azoth fights for survival. Driven by fear and desperation, he seeks the legendary killer, Durzo Blint. For Guild rats like Azoth, tomorrow is never a guarantee. To escape death on the streets, Azoth must convince Blint to take him as an apprentice. He will risk it all to become everything he is not. Unafraid. Dangerous. Invincible. Someone like Durzo Blint. Though Azoth will learn even legends have their own dark fears. Brent Weeks imagines a cruel world swarming with political schemes, magic, and assassinations in The Way of Shadows.
Life as a guild rat is cruel. It is a life where innocence and childhood do not exist. The horrors we witness through Azoth’s eyes give authenticity to his need to escape. Brent Weeks excels at depicting bleak scenarios with even worse outcomes. The Way of Shadows is not about overcoming evil. It is about forsaking morality to survive.
“Life is empty. When we take a life, we aren’t taking anything of value. Wetboys are killers. That’s all we do. That’s all we are. There are no poets in the bitter business.”
The Way of Shadows begins in the filthy warrens of the city but no corner of Cenaria is safe. While Azoth is one of the main perspectives, Brent Weeks provides the insights of several characters ranging from the Mistress of Pleasures, a duke, and those of the criminal underworld. While each perspective is vastly different, each character has their enemy. Danger stalks them all. A theme of “failure is worse than death” undertones each storyline. Brent Weeks writes with a fast and high stakes tempo, creating an urgent need to find out what happens next.
I first read The Way of Shadows not long after its 2008 release. Back then, I hadn’t read too many books with morally gray characters especially from a main perspective. I never even heard of the term “grimdark.” Rereading The Way of Shadows now I realized this book was an important foundation for discovering my favorite subgenre. My appreciation for amoral characters led me to discovering books such as The Broken Empire, The Gentlemen Bastards, and Manifest Delusions. It was perfect nostalgia.
The Way of Shadows is a checklist for great dark fantasy- cool fight scenes, political intrigues, compelling characters, a harsh environment, wonderous creatures and magic. It is well worth a read and reread.