Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world. He is high priest and emperor, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace. Yet Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live.
When Guile discovers he has a son, born in a far kingdom after the war that put him in power, he must decide how much he’s willing to pay to protect a secret that could tear his world apart.
Thanks to Orbit & Hachette Audio for my review copy of the audiobook in exchange for an honest review.
The Black Prism is the first book I’ve read by Brent Weeks. All in all I found it a mixed bag. Though I had some quibbles, I did find it an entertaining read and look forward to reading more in this series at some point.
Let’s start with what worked well in this book! The biggest strength to The Black Prism is the plot. Gavin Guile is the all-powerful prism, a mage who can harness the powers of light to form luxin compounds to do just about… well, anything. It’s pretty much on him to hold the kingdom together, while the discovery of his bastard son Kip. Gavin has to handle threats within and without, and along the way you learn a lot about how much the ends justify Gavin’s means (or might not).
Weeks also does a great job of managing a large cast of characters while maintaining an eager pace through the events of the book. You have perspectives from Kip, Gavin, and a handful of other characters at different points through the story. Every chapter seems to be a new venue and a new experience for the characters. Each character has their own wants and needs, and their struggles and impulses are well-displayed in The Black Prism. That’s a hard thing to do well and Weeks succeeds admirably.
The most interesting part of this story to me is the prisoner. I can’t really say who it is in this review, but their plight was interesting and I wish we had gotten more of it. The underlying “bomb under the table” plotline that you learn of about 20% through the book is interesting and casts everything in a different light.
Now for the gripes.
This book reads like it was written by a horny teenage boy. One of the characters, in fact, is a horny teenage boy. But even in other POVs, all women are described first by their body and then by… well, not much else. Every outfit, every motion, every action by the women in this story is cast in some sort of sexual undertone (or overtone). It’s all well and good to have some sex in a book. But to have it be every other thought of every male character in the story takes away from what is actualy a good story. Moreover, it seems like every man is mentioned as “big” and “muscular” and every woman is mentioned as “slim” and “slender”. Characters who don’t fit these norms are not just normal-sized regular people – they’re described as fat, like Kip or the woman Kip meets in the camp. And don’t think I’m a sensitive reader – King of Thorns is one of my favorite books and it’s not for the faint of heart. But there’s a difference in nuanced detail and something bordering on authorial obsession when discussing body image. The difference being that here the attention to boobs and bellies and all sorts of bodily attributes do not contribute a bit to the story.
The magic system is on the cusp of being good, if it had any rules. Gavin can seemingly do anything with his magic, which begs the question of why the magic even matters in the first place. From creating an ill-described luxin speedboat to crafting an enormous, beautiful, magical luxin wall that didn’t matter one bit, chromaturgy is used quite a lot but to little effect. In my opinion, this book is missing a scene where the rules of chromaturgy are explained in detail, perhaps with Gavin giving a real, thorough explanation of different types of luxin to Kip. Maybe Kip experiences each different type of luxin on his own during his training, finding out the individual qualities of yellow, blue, and so on. Which types are sticky? Which are hard? What does it feel like when you’re crafting luxin? The answers to these questions are in the book, but they’re scarce and far between and not enough to cobble together some realistic understanding of this fantastic element. If I know what green luxin does, I can shout in my head for Kit to craft a wall of green luxin. I feel like the characters understood everything, but the reader is left wondering what exactly chromaturgy does.
So that’s about it! I feel odd being lukewarm on this book because many of my Goodreads buddies have liked it. But if you like more classic-feeling fantasy and don’t mind a sort of loose magic system and a bit of horny teenage boy POV, then The Black Prism is worth your while. And if you’re thinking about getting the audiobook, don’t worry because Simon Vance does a good job with the narration. I didn’t realize he also narrated the Dune audiobook which I listened to early this year, so I was already a bit familiar with his pace and style.