‘The Black Prism’ is the first book in the 2010 ‘Lightbringer’ trilogy from Brent Weeks, the author of the excellent ‘Night Angel’ series. I loved those books so approached ‘The Black Prism’ with eager anticipation.
‘The Black Prism’ centres around a system of magic based on colours. The idea being that users draw power from certain colours by looking at them. They produce a substance called luxin, which they can then bend to their purpose. This leads to some fantastic creations. Most users are restricted to one or more colours. Except for Gavin Guile, The Prism, who can draft from all seven colours making him the most powerful being in the world..
Gavin Guile is the emperor, religious leader and all round super-hero of the world. He rose to power after a bitter civil war fought against his own brother, Dazen, called The False Prism War. The world is divided into seven dominions, one for each colour, and Gavin is charged with keeping the fragile peace together. But trouble is brewing, a rebellion led by Garadul, a man who has declared himself a king, is terrorising his subjects, whipping up hatred for The Prism and the establishment he represents.
King Garadul begins his reign by massacring an entire village. The lone survivor of which is Kip, who just so happens to be the bastard son of Gavin Guile. Kip is saved by The Prism whilst simultaneously discovering he is the father he never knew.
Guile is a man with a dark, convoluted past and is far more than he first appears. He carries secrets of his own which, if exposed, would cause more damage and fuel the rebellion further. So with his newly found son in tow, Guile must quell the rebellion while trying to keep his own problems in check.
By the end of the book, Guile comes to learn there is far more to the rebellion than anyone suspected. A much darker force that has been manipulating events and manoeuvred The Prism into an impossible situation. How Guile plans to combat this is left dangling, tantalisingly, for the next book.
Over all, ‘The Black Prism’ was enjoyable, however it suffered from being over long. Brent Weeks is obviously proud of his new magic system but, for the first third of the book, it is crammed into every conversation. Also the constant over-explanation really marred the pace of the book. Even when this was out of the way and we focused on the story it still could not resist lecturing on how everything was working. The constant references to primary colours made the world sound like it was a surreal rainbow land filmed in glorious Technicolor.
I found the characters themselves to be a bit frustrating. They all seem to share the exact same sense of humour and, too often, I thought the author was trying too hard to be funny rather than telling the story, because of this, many of the characters felt interchangeable. Many of their actions were inconsistent. For example, slavery is rife in this world, Gavin Guile himself has a slave who attends to his every need and desire. Yet, later on, he attacks a slaver ship in outrage at what they do. This inconsistency is never addressed and I found the casual use of slaves by the supposed heroes a bit uncomfortable. Hopefully, this is merely a set-up and an issue that will be addressed in later books.
The pacing of the book is really the only major drawback in an otherwise fun adventure. It is slow to get going, much of the book is taken up with explanation of magic and the world at large. Take that away and some of the characters progress very little. There is very little development and as such their actions were hard to fathom at times. Gavin Guile himself was a man that was hard to like at first but I suspect that was the point. A character that is already all-powerful is an unusual way to start as the only way he has to go is down but it will be interesting to see where the author takes the character from here.
From a slow start, the pace does pick up before the breaks are slammed on again somewhere round the middle. The story seems to stall and slip back into endless exposition. Fortunately, the climax of the book is a grand free for all as the main forces finally collide in a huge battle.
Most of the problems with the book were minor and I would put them down to the fact that this is the first of three. Hopefully, now that the scene has been set the story will really get going in later books. I am really looking forward to ‘The Blinding Knife’ to see what happens.
(pub: Orbit. 626 page hardback, 2010. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-903-1)