Science fiction and fantasy
Beyond The Shadows
by Brent Weeks
In the north, the Godking's sons fight to fill the power vacuum left by the Godking. Dorian hides within the Godking's palace, hoping to find a woman he believes is destined to be his wife. Elsewhere, Kylar has promised to steal the sword of a proud war leader, not realising what it will cost them both. And Vi Sovari, another former killer, is feeling guilt for the things she has had to do to Kylar. And all the while the dark Khalidoran meisters are planning to raise a goddess.
There's more to the plot, but detailing any more of it would be a touch obsessive, and far too spoilerific. In short, it's a brilliantly complex novel. Brent Weeks weaves it all together skilfully, never losing the tension that keeps you turning pages. The first two books were dark, and readers could be forgiven for assuming that he'd already tapped out the wells of the black side of his imagination. But in fact he was merely warming up. When Dorian steps out onto a footbridge made of skulls and magic, the author is just getting into his stride. As the story progresses he delivers horror after horror, each time magnifying the sense of danger and claustrophobia.
Khalidor is a sick society, and in creating it the author has borrowed liberally from the worst excesses of real-life eastern religion and culture. Influences include suttee, the worship of Kali, the Hindu concept of sacrifice, and harems. When the Godking's death leads to a fratricidal war for succession it echoes the history of the Ottoman empire and the time the next sultan would be decided in the same manner.
Careful research gives Beyond The Shadows a ring of truth, and that tends to make the most barbaric scenes more effective. It also adds a distinctly political and anti-religious element to the Night Angel series. That's not to say that Weeks is up on his soapbox. But if you're the the kind of reader who enjoys a generous dose of subtext and real-world relevance amongst your magic swords and pit-wyrms, it's all there to be found.
Having set up a host of characters and storylines, the author has given himself a hefty task to bring them all together for a dramatic conclusion. He pulls this off with flair and quite a lot of melodrama. There were hints of this in Shadow's Edge, and this book leaves no room to doubt that Weeks is a big fan of the spectacular, sentimental finish. It's darker than black in places, yet somehow he still manages to turn the narrative around and make it into something squelchy and heartwarming, like a crunchy cockroach with an unexpected marshmallow centre. Fantastic.
Review © Ros Jackson
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