The Black Prism

I’ve enjoyed, in a cheesy, easy read kind of way, some of Brent Weeks’ earlier work. So when someone mentioned he’d written new books, I thought I’d try The Black Prism.

I was disappointed. There’s better fantasy writing, and there’s definitely better writing, out there.

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The writing is fine, as far as it goes. Things move quickly, action scenes don’t feel ridiculous, and … it’s workmanlike, I suppose.

When I was younger I used to wonder why magic in fantasy novels was never systematised, why it was always this vague, elusive thing. Now I know why. Weeks sets up a magical system that operates on a basic set of laws, and for the most part the story is internally consistent. Interestingly, though, it’s quite dull. Magic isn’t connected to anything world-changing, or hugely significant. It’s a sort of engineering activity that people undertake; so that some of the more impressive feats his magicians pull off involve pulleys, or building walls. This is not magic to inspire.

There was something about how gender was treated in the book that bothered me. I couldn’t quite pin it down. There are smart, capable women that the narrative follows. I think what it was is that in the world of The Black Prism, as far as I could spot, the women were beautiful, and had value because they were beautiful (several descriptions that focus in on the narrative equivalent of ‘woah! breasts’), while all the men were manly and strong.

I’m sure there are fantasy novels out there (and other novels in general) that deal with gender in a worse way; but this just threw off the reading experience, like listening to someone tell a story and realising halfway through they’re staring at your breasts.

So, it’s fine if you’re stuck in an airport bookstore just before the plane takes off. But there’s better writing out there.

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