The Black Prism marks a new series for fantasy writer Brent Weeks, this one called the Lightbringer series. In the first volume, Gavin Guile is a powerful and imposing emperor who is also the Prism, but he finds out that he has a son, and he has to protect him from his enemies. Weeks’ strength is definitely in world-building, and this book proves no exception, featuring a unique magic system that relies on colors and the perceptions of color to indicate the strength of a mage. Kip is the previously mentioned bastard son of Guile, and starts off with a unique voice in the narrative.
Description is another of Weeks’ strengths, and he integrates it well with the plot, characterization, and dialogue. For fans of epic fantasy that isn’t pseudo-medieval or sword and sorcery inspired, Weeks is another great writer to add to your TBR file. If you’ve enjoyed the books of Brandon Sanderson, Tad Williams, and Steven Erikson, you’ll enjoy this series. However, as with many epic fantasies of this scope and nature, the authors devotes a lot of time for “getting to know you” type of character scenes that serve as establishing why we should feel sympathy for a particular person. Although he starts out strongly, Kip is average in this regard. Although I felt for his plight and his situation, he didn’t grab me as much as I hoped he would.
One of the trickiest scenes a writer has to deal with is when someone important dies in a battle scene or a scene in which the characters are running away from a threat of some kind, because the death commonly gets glossed over or acknowledged only briefly in the midst of battle, and then the scene continues. This was the case in the early part of the book when I felt that Kip should have reacted much more strongly but didn’t.
Karris, a female warrior, is a great character and her humor makes scenes crack and come to life more. Gavin loves her, but she hates him, and this plays out in a disastrous way for Gavin. But being Gavin’s son has all kinds of consequences for Kip, should he choose to accept them. for example, Gavin’s enemies will go after Kip, who may be unrecognized by his grandfather and the rest of the royal class. Kip does get emotional when he realizes the effects that his actions have had on his mother, Karris, etc, but Gavin genuinely seems to care about his son. He also needs his newly discovered son to help him in a war he’s going to wage.
The magic system is complex and multi-layered. Kip can see people’s colors, sort of like auras, and although he’s very good at it, he has a lot to learn. Gavin’s enemies take advantage of this, and they try to bring him down with good old fashioned feminine wiles in the form of Liv Danavis, who has her own problems — she has to take the same tests as Kip, and feels the pressures of being a general’s daughter.
Personally, I’m rarely a fan of doorstopper-sized epic fantasy novels, and in this case, it’s a well-written book and Weeks is a talented writer — the characters definitely have ‘highlight’ moments and they’re painted vividly enough that they serve the story’s purposes. My verdict? If you’re into George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Tad Williams, and darker epic-fantasy without elves or wizards, go for this new series. But if you tend to stay away from this subgenre, stick to Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy instead (The Way of Shadows is the first book of that series). If you’re expecting more of the same from Night Angel, it may take you a bit longer to get into this book.