The Way of Shadows was advocated to me by a friend when I asked about a fairly short (a trilogy, for instance) but good fantasy series. Since he knew I preferred darker stuff, he recommended me The Night Angel trilogy. And boy, you will be hard-pressed to find a darker fantasy series–that is, judging by the first book. Indeed, I never felt so disturbed, even traumatised, by anything fictional since Red Wedding like that particular incident in the book. And if I remember correctly, no child was sadistically tortured in the Red Wedding…
Of course, it goes without saying that if you are more a traditional Tolkienesque fantasy fan, don’t go anywhere near it. But if you have read and liked the so-called “gritty and realistic” fantasy (George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie and the like), which is more widespread these days, you should get along fine. Though, a few incidents in The Way of Shadows still make you grateful that the book and all the stuff that happens in the story is indeed fictional.
The premise is simple. The central character, Azoth, is an orphan child who, along with other children of his “guild”, steals money to give it to the Rat, the Guild Fist, or the head of their guild. Azoth’s life is tough–Rat isn’t exactly an ideal boss and beats up any child who fails to bring the daily requisite amount. Also, Azoth has other plans for his future. He hates to live a perpetually fearful life. He hates the way Rat beats and bullies him and his friends. He wants to be a ‘wetboy‘–an equivalent of the Claw assassins–and give Rat the taste of his own medicine. The wetboys are a highly skilled band of killers, who, aside from being adroit with knives, have the Talent–a natural ability to do magic.
To achieve his goal to be a wetboy, Azoth starts to pursue Durzo Blint, who is said to be the best in the business. The matter is made complicated by the fact that Durzo doesn’t accept apprentices. And either Azoth has to give up his dream or he might have to do something vile to impress Durzo. Will he be up to it? I will love it if you find that out for yourself.
The Way of Shadows is without a shadow (pun not intended) of doubt a great buy for everyone who likes aforementioned “gritty and realistic” fantasy genre. It is incredibly dark and ruthless, the characters are multi-dimensional and complex, and humour comes in the darkest of shades.