The blurb from Goodreads:
For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art-and he is the city’s most accomplished artist.
For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums, and learned to judge people quickly – and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.
But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics – and cultivate a flair for death.
The Way of Shadows is the first book in the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks. At the center of the story is Azoth. Azoth is a young street urchin in the worst of part of the city, a guild rat struggling to survive and protect his friends, Doll Girl and Jarl. The three, and the other young guild rats, are at the mercy of the Bigs–the teens who run the guild–and isn’t long before Azoth and the other two are pegged as the necessary sacrifices for a power-hungry Big named Rat to consolidate power in the guild.
Azoth determines that the only way off the street and out of the guild–the only way to survive at all–is to apprentice himself to Durzo Blint, who is arguably the top hit man in the country. Blint represents everything Azoth wants: freedom from the Warrens, self-determination, and security. He knows that if only he can mold himself into Blint, he can forever escape the fear of being beaten, raped, or killed by the other guild rats.
If only Durzo Blint took apprentices.
Desperation lends itself to tenacity, however, and Azoth eventaully meets the condition Blint sets for apprenticeship. To succeed in his apprenticeship, Azoth is remade into a poor baronet, supposedly of a family with a holding some ways out of the city. Azoth becomes Kylar Stern, transforming from a gutter rat to a perfectly bland minor noble learning to blend into society even as he begins his lessons under Blint.
Brent Weeks skims through the years of his apprenticeship to Blint, touching only on a few scenes over the decade or so of training so that we see Azoth/Kylar develop into his own person, a low-ranking noble, and a killer-in-training. Here too we get a glimmering of the developing relationship between Blint and Kylar.
The farther into the narrative we get, the more we begin learning about the magic of this world. There are types and hierarchies of magic-users, but the type that is central to Kylar’s apprenticeship is called Talent. Talent is was separates your average, nothing-special assassin from the elite professionals. It’s clear that Kylar has much potential Talent, but he cannot harness it, and if he cannot, he will never be able to fully mature past his apprenticeship–and the implied consequence, here, is that Blint will have to kill Kylar as a result. Failure really is not an option.
The Way of Shadows is narrated by a third-person omniscient narrator who moves from player to player in this plot-heavy story. We not only see the perspective of Azoth/Kylar, but of various others…though the interweaving plots aren’t always clear to us. It’s a few hundred pages in, in fact, when we start to see how Azoth/Kylar is connected to the myriad plots spinning around him in the royal palace, the country’s underbelly, and inside his own adoptive ‘family’.
The puzzle pieces are revealed at a great pace–the plot never feels like it is dragging, and there is always something else, something more, not only for Kylar but for the reader. I greatly appreciated that the major plots, if not resolved–this is book one of a trilogy–were addressed by the close of the book. I’m very, very curious to see how these resolve over the course of the next two books in the series, Shadow’s Edge and Beyond the Shadows.