Brent Weeks

Lightbringer, Book 1

Orbit books

ISBN: 978-1-84149-905-5

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

The Black Prism is a real page turner of a novel; an action adventure that grabs the reader very quickly and holds interest until the last page. Most readers will find their interest piqued equally by a multi-layered, intriguing plot and strong, realistic characters that encourage them to care about them.

Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world, due to the power of his magic. Other magic users can use only one color in their magic; Gavin can use them all. His magic also has fewer of the limits which other magic users experience. However, Gavin isn’t a tyrant; for one thing it isn’t in his nature. For another, one Prism is born in every generation, and so society has placed some limits on his power with religious duties and a Council which balances his political power.

Gavin is a man with many secrets, though, and these take their toll on him. He came to power after killing his brother Dazen during a bitter war. He broke his engagement to a beautiful woman for no apparent reason, although it may be connected to the fact he sired an illegitimate son during the war. And as with any ruler in a world riven with tensions and rivalries, he keeps plenty of secrets as he schemes to keep the peace and his power, and stay ahead of assassins.

The novel follows a number of plot threads. One is Gavin’s discovery of the existence of his son Kip; and indeed, Kip’s discovery that Gavin is his father. He was raised in a backwater village by a drug addicted whore of a mother who never told him who his father was. To say Kip is taken aback to find that his father is the Prism is an understatement. Not that he has much time to dwell on it; within hours of that discovery he must also contend with the death of almost everyone he’s ever known, and the revelation that he can draft. Nor does Gavin have a lot of time to dwell on the discovery that Kip exists; he’s got an imminent war on his hands and needs to move fast if he’s to stave it off. Of even more concern is his suspicion that the threats of war are just a cover for a deeper, more dangerous, and less obvious threat.

It’s hard to do justice to this plot in a short summary, because it’s got many layers and a lot of detail, and a large cast of characters is involved. However, it’s an easy plot to follow while you’re reading, and the characters are strong and distinctive, so you won’t have trouble keeping track of them either. The story is absorbing, and once started you’ll want to keep reading.

If there’s a theme to this novel, it’s the cost that secrets can exact on relationships. They lead to painful misunderstandings, unnecessary sacrifices, and mistakes; and we can see that some misunderstandings in this novel are sowing the seeds of potential disasters in the future. Although Weeks isn’t necessarily suggesting that all secrets are bad, the novel certainly seems to suggest that they do more damage than the truth would have. Of course, the characters in this novel deal with much bigger secrets than most of us ever do.

The magic system is based on the real science of light. It’s about high school level, I think, so many readers will have heard some of it before. Basing the magic system in real science helps give it a strong sense of realism and credibility; Weeks adds a gloss to insert magic that also seems possible. In addition, while factual, how light produces color can be a challenge to grasp and sound quite weird initially, and that adds to the sense of mysticism around his magic system. This is an idea that works really well, and since a significant part of the novel turns on magic and the use of it, it’s critical that this aspect of the world holds up strongly – and it does.

Early in The Black Prism, Weeks uses the annoying technique of having a character regularly thinking “if only I could tell her everything!” in an attempt to build suspense. I’ve always thought this a bit of a cheap substitute for real tension. However, Weeks uses it rather well. Relatively early in the novel he reveals what “everything” is, but by then he’s got you thoroughly hooked with engaging characters and the opening salvos of a more complex and intrigue-laden plot. He didn’t draw this “mystery” out for long, and he uses it as an entry to something far more interesting.

One of the enjoyable things about this novel was the sheer skill of the writing. Every time I noticed a plot hole or something that didn’t quite make sense, sometime later in the novel Weeks addressed that very issue. For example, early in the novel we are told that drafters can draft only a finite amount of light in their lives; after that they either die, or go mad and are killed. If a person drafts a lot, they’re simply hastening their own death. So when Gavin Guile drafts light to do extremely trivial things for no very good reason, it seemed stupid indeed, and out of character – until later in the novel, when we discover another way the Prism is different to other drafters. There are other, more significant examples; Weeks really does seem to have thought through every element of his world and his plot.

Despite this, there are some minor flaws in the novel. Kip is perhaps a bit too smart for an essentially uneducated child from a backwater village, and picks up things about leadership and politics rather faster than you’d expect. True, he’s got a strong genetic heritage, but there were still times when this stretched my credulity just a little. Similarly, a few times the actions of other characters didn’t quite ring true to me.

Possibly the biggest flaw – for some readers at least – is that there isn’t a lot of depth to this novel. Sure, it’ll keep you completely involved while you’re reading it. But there isn’t a lot to think about once you’ve closed the book, and I’m not sure how long it will stay in your mind. It’s questionable whether this is a flaw; the book doesn’t set out to be all that deep, and it does deliver a top notch action adventure. Maybe it’s just not the novel you pick up when you’re looking for something thought provoking.

The Black Prism deserves a wide audience. It’s well written, with a world and plot where attention has been paid to the small details that make it utterly convincing and realistic. The characters are interesting and varied, and most readers will quickly find one or more to care about. The action is strong, and the plot carries you forward from page to page effortlessly. This is a long novel but it doesn’t feel it while you’re reading it. And although it is the first of a trilogy, it provides both a reasonable sense of closure in some matters and a cliff hanger at the end. I recommend The Black Prism highly, particularly for those looking for a good action adventure.