For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art. And he is the city's most accomplished artist, his talents required from alleyway to courtly boudoir.
For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he's grown up in the slums, and learned the hard way 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.
One thing should already be clear to you from the synopsis of this book. It's about assassins; there will be death. Not all of it will be pretty. I won't insult your intelligence by warning you about violence, then.
Azoth grows up among thieves and pimps making a 'living' from what might best be described as petty crime. This is, however, life on the streets of the kind not typically seen in your average TV adaption of Oliver. It's harsh and it's barbaric. Despite having found myself flinching on the odd occasion, it seemed to me that the cruelty was necessary, particularly in developing Azoth. Had Azoth 'only' been homeless and hungry, the story wouldn't be half as strong as it is. Kylar is the product of a lifetime of physical abuse and sympathy is hard to avoid.
All that said, I eventually found myself a bit frustrated with Kylar. His background is incomprehensible to those of us tucked up writing on laptops and the seduction of the anonymity and control in becoming an assassin is understandable. When Kylar first starts to allow himself the luxury of musing on morality, his thoughts become a touch repetitive. Having written that, I realise how stupid it sounds and as though I prefer my assassins to be mindless (and as though I have a preference at all…). Given how he has come to the lifestyle, it's no surprise that he questions himself later but I was willing him to either reconcile himself with his role in the Cenarian underworld or find a way to live that he was happy with. I'm fairly sure that this won't be too long in the offing…
My only other problem with the cast of The Way of Shadows was just how charming Durzo Blint is. I know he kills people for a living but with all of the cloak swishing, sword play and mystery, I was helpless. So there's a tip: don't read this if you think you'll feel guilty about fancying an assassin!
There is a lot of character development in this book, both of Azoth/Kylar and Durzo and of those around them, and a lot of politics and history that I know will pay off in the future books. If you aren't used to reading longer fantasy trilogies/series (this one is by itself 672 pages in paperback) , trust me on that much and bear with it.
Some of the time, I found it a teensy bit hard to hold onto who was who and who's side they were on but I personally don't think that is uncommon in great fantasy series. I usually only worry about that if I've got to the end of the first book and still don't know. The advantage of the depth and gradual weaving together of the various groups/plots was that when the story picked up speed and the twists and turns came thick and fast, I was so mired in the Cenarian underworld that I struggled to come up for air.
Overall: A gritty start to what I know will be a trilogy that I can't wait to carry on with! There are a lot of characters I'm looking forward to seeing more of, magics and Talents that have only been touched on but that sound brilliant and, hopefully, a whole lot more cloak swishing, shadow skulking and sword clashing! I already have Shadow's Edge lined up on my eReader ready…
As always, I owe a literary debt to the superb Hanna @ Booking in Heels – this series might have slipped through my reading net if she hadn't lavished it with praise. So thanks owed there! If you haven't checked out her blog at my insistence before, do it NOW!