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The Black Prism

Posted by Vanessa On Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful 'drafter' alive in a world where color is magic and power. His role is to keep the magic balanced or else the world will erupt into chaos. Unfortunately most of the problems he has to deal with are the result of the False Prism War against his brother sixteen years ago.

If you're familiar with his hugely popular The Night Angel Trilogy, Brent Weeks' storytelling continues consistently, albeit with more polish. The first book in his new Lightbringer Series THE BLACK PRISM Weeks builds an exciting world, plunging into the story right from the get-go.

There are four main PoV characters: Gavin Guile the ultra-rich, handsome, and powerful man who probably only has five years left to live; Kip, supposed bastard of Gavin, spent his childhood living with a negligent mother and is now thrown into a world of intrigue and power; Liv, child of a military general who had been on the wrong side of the war; and Karris, drafter ninja-babe. The PoV switches are frequent and cliffhangery, but keeps the pace rapid-fire. The characters are well drawn and are what make the story worth reading, with the magic and storyline a juicy cherry on top.

Weeks likes mucking about with the standard fantasy tropes, and that gives PRISM a distinct flavor. He writes characters who are at the core good people, but even good intentions can have disastrous consequences. He also likes to create tension using a blind reveal, creating twists in the plot just when you think you have a handle on the story--he did this a lot in the Night Angel Trilogy, as well, to great effect. The main characters have big secrets, which they don't tell the others for good reason, but will cause readers to writhe in anticipation of when the problem will blow up in their faces. Fortunately this tactic doesn't create forced or unrealistic tension (mostly).

The magic based on the light spectrum is not only interesting in and of itself, but its use affects the world, politics, and culture. A magic user, or drafter, uses the characteristics inherent in color in order to create luxin, a plastic-like material. The Chromeria, which is where they learn magic, is built around the greatest possible exposure to light--and you're reminded that drafters can use magic in the dark, which makes for interesting dynamics. Drafters are sponsored by their home countries to be trained, and then are expected to work for the good of the people. Unfortunately, the use of magic shortens a drafter's life span, and eventually they go mad or die from over-use.

But while Weeks' writing has improved from the last series, he's still settling into his skills as an author, so there are bumps and missteps with the flow. Some of the emotion-related characterization lacks subtlety. Kip is whiny and annoyingly glib; Gavin, while a character in interesting shades of gray, is hard to decipher; and although Weeks does a good job of writing his PoV women, we unfortunately don't see as much of the them as we do the men. The religion that the magic revolves around feels too much like a re-vamped copy of Catholicism. And all the different countries and races got confusing, the continual referencing of unique characteristics is pointless filler in an attempt to create a multi-racial setting.

The biggest problem I had was visualizing some of the magic. For example, Gavin drafts luxin to create boats and propel them across oceans, but I just couldn't get a complete enough grasp on what Weeks was describing. The magic is interesting but some details left me wondering--they'll hopefully be explored in the next novel. And the action can get gimmicky, especially when drafters do magic not mentioned before in the book, only to bring out their fancy skills for the sake of a flashy action scene.

While imperfect, THE BLACK PRISM is fun to read, witty and imaginative, and left me wanting the next installment to see what Weeks will come up with next.

Recommended Age: 14+
Language: Not much.
Violence: Yes and the gore can be graphic.
Sex: Innuendo throughout and one mild scene.


  1. josh Said,

    The Night Angel Trilogy was fun and fast reading but the writing was definitely not that polished, almost juvenile at points, so this will be interesting to take a look at.

    Posted on November 9, 2010 at 9:02 PM

  2. Vanessa Said,

    @Josh, yes the first series was obviously written by a first-time author. It was filled with cliche prose, so it's nice to see he's cleaned it up at least in that regard. However, in PRISM he still uses 'juvenile' dialogue and the action scenes sometimes feel like they're written for a Jackie Chan movie. But PRISM is an improvement, certainly. He makes up for it with fun characters and an imaginative story/setting.

    Posted on November 9, 2010 at 10:37 PM


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