The Black Prism by Brent Weeks
Brent Weeks wrote The Night Angel Trilogy, about assassins. It was completly anything unlike I expected. I thought it would be a romping adventure, something like Assassin’s Creed, with a super-hero-ish slick assassin. Instead, it was about an orphaned street kid trying to apprentice to a really ugly, totally unpersonable assassin. And they use magic-like powers in their trade. It was good, just unexpected.
The Black Prism (of the new Lightbringer series), takes place in a totally different world. Magic works in a bit of a unique way. People born with this talent (drafting) use visible colours (and two invisible ones, super-violet and sub-red), to power their magic. Not only does each colour create a different type or flavor of magic, it also has resonance with feelings and emotions. Blue, for example, is hard and brittle, and embodies cold logic and reasoning.
Magic-users are tested and trained at the central school, the Chromeria. Drafters are sponsored by different government factions in the seven satrapies. (Well, the seven duchies would just sound silly. So there’s satraps.) The whole mess is overlorded by the religious leaders, the White (an old woman unaffiliated with any colour in her office), and the Prism. The Prism is special in that he can use any colour of the spectrum for magic, and can even split white light within himself to do so. The bad news is, all Prisms die either 7, 14, or 21 years after they achieve office.
Which isn’t so bad, compared to normal magical drafters. People who can only use one colour, or two (bichromes), or sometimes 3 (polychromes). When they use the magic, the iris of their eyes starts filling with the magical colour. If it hits the outside of the iris and breaks the “halo,” the drafter becomes a colour wight, a dangerours and entirely insane creature. When drafters reach a full halo, they must be ritually killed, to prevent this.
Now, as the story opens, the seven satrapies have finished a civil war, where two Prisms (two brothers) vied for control and title of Prism. One won, and the other is thought to be dead. Gavin Guile is the winning brother, and one of the heroes of the story — although he is somewhat of an arrogant git. The other main character is a 15 year old boy from a backwater desert town, named Kip. He’s a teenager, he’s fat and clumsy, and can be really stupid. But he’s a nice kid. Of course, it turns out he has magical powers.
So on one level, it’s a “coming of age” story as Kip discovers his powers and tries to do right by people he cares about and the world at large. And he is nowhere near perfect. On another level, it’s about the stirrings of more politics and another war, as one of the satrapies tries to break off and become its own kingdom. And conflicting ideologies on whether the Chromeria or the Prism has the right to kill off magic users who might become too dangerous.
The story was a little hard to get into, at first. But the chapters are really quick, and really short. They end on little cliffhangers a lot, and skip from character to character a great deal, which keeps you reading to find out what happens. Things start getting into some interesting twists about 1/5 – 1/4 of the way into the book. It keeps moving along at a good pace, but it doesn’t tire you out. The politics aren’t very dense. It’s more action-oriented. The characters are all very human, and tend to screw up sometimes.
The next book promises to be interesting, as the first one ends with a lot of major shifts in the characters’ lives. One of them even switches sides. So that leaves a lot of demanding questions that you’ll want to know the resolution of, in book 2. (or 3 or further down the line!)