The Blinding Knife is the second entry in Brent Weeks’ Lightbringer series which began with The Black Prism two years ago, in August 2010. Having set out of write a piece of epic fantasy with an intricate (and flashy) magic system, grand action, yet very human characters, Weeks’ had impressed at least this reader with his flair for entertaining storytelling. This second volume sees him stick to much the same formula, with increased interest in character development, but not less thrills and magic – one could say a more mature version of its predecessor.
Gavin Guile is dying.The Blinding Knife picks mere instants after the conclusion of The Black Prism, with the main character, Gavin, still reeling from the repercussions of the Battle of Garriston which concluded the first novel. From there, the novel takes a bit of time to get properly started. One of the consequences of the direct continuation of the story is that Weeks must take the time to settle elements of the first book before he can start telling the story of the second. It is only when Kip (the other central character) enters the Chromeria – the institution which instructs drafters in their use of colored Luxin – that it begins to feel as if we’ve started reading the second book.
He’d thought he had five years left – now he has less than one. With fifty thousand refugees, a bastard son, and an ex-fiancée whom may have learned his darkest secret, Gavin has problems on every side. All magic in the world is running wild and threatens to destroy the Seven Satrapies. Worst of all, the old gods are being reborn, and their army of color wights is unstoppable.
The only salvation may be the brother whose freedom and life Gavin stole sixteen years ago.
From then on, momentum builds fairly quickly, and events began unfolding at an endearing pace. The ‘student at a magical school’ storyline is a staple of fantasy, yet almost never fails to be compelling. This is so in The Blinding Knife, and many of the scenes which pit Kip against his fellow students, or his navigation of the difficult school politics, eventually stood out as some of the finest in the novel. The chapters featuring Gavin, who spends most of the novel darting from place to place in the Seven Satrapies, balance the Chromeria side of the book.
Interspersed through these two points of views are a number of others from minor characters which are mostly used to foreshadow elements of the overaching plot.
Weeks’ efforts to construct a complex narrative with these minor points of view are admirable, but these interruptions ultimately detract from the central story. Where he does succeed is with the introduction of new characters, namely Teia, who also gets her own point of view. Her character changed the dynamic of the otherwise male-heavy (and Guile-heavy) perspectives.
Weeks also takes the time in The Blinding Knife to indulge in the exploration of moral quandaries, philosophical musings, ponderings on life, or what have you. Indeed, there is a strong sub-textual discussion of social issues. Though they are a bit conspicuous and not quite well enough integrated into the narrative, it layers the narrative, and gives the reading experience some added value. No book is written in a vacuum and it’s appreciated to see it so acknowledged in an epic fantasy. I don’t pretend to know to what degree (or if at all) the book reflects Weeks’ own personal opinions, and neither is that important. I simply applaud him for taking the time venture into this dimension of storytelling.
Another he’s got down pat is characterization. I remember from The Black Prism some unnerving inconsistencies with Gavin’s personality. His motivations, what drove him to do the things he did or had done, didn’t add up. Something was off about his character. Thankfully, The Blinding Knife showcases a Brent Weeks which has improved on his past faults. Both Gavin and Kip are fine examples of the good characterization to be found throughout the novel. There’s a depth to their personalities, and realism to their interactions with other characters which wasn’t previously present, but is now.
Sophomore novels in a series can often be difficult. Following up on a successful beginning to a new series is often a challenge, but Brent Weeks succeeded marvelously merely by improving on what he had done in The Black Prism. Solid characters, an imaginative magic system and eye for what makes good fantasy entertainment means Weeks delivers in The Blinding Knife yet another first-rate novel. Fans of the first won’t be disappointed, and those who haven’t yet started Lightbringer should now feel no apprehension that quality diminishes after the first novel. The Blinding Knife is out now from Orbit in the US, UK and Canada.
Brent Weeks' Website: http://www.brentweeks.com/
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