Brent Weeks, The Black Prism (2010)

Brent Weeks seems to have as many die-hard fans as critics; and the number of both is not insignificant. His bestselling Lightbringer series, of which The Black Prism is the first instalment, consists of five books. And what books these are! Each is over 600 pages long, and the last reaches nearly a 1000 pages ๐Ÿ˜‰. In other words, a huge time investment for busy bookworms such as us. Is it worth reading? Or at least starting?

The short answer is yes, but it is not an unequivocal yes. Itโ€™s not a game-changing literature, or a piece of art that will forever alter your understanding of reality. Itโ€™s not without its faults. And yet, The Black Prism is a well-written book, with a creative, complex magic system, a rich set of believable (well, mostly ๐Ÿ˜‰) characters, and some highly enjoyable plotting. Thereโ€™s lot of action, and plenty of blood and gore and cruelty, steeped in a thick sauce of political intrigue, treachery, side switching, heroic efforts, and spiced with variedly successful attempts at humour โ€“ generally, all what you have come to expect from epic fantasy.

So, what is it about? In a land ravaged by a civil war, in which brothers fought against each other with sorcery and sword, a tenuous peace is threatened once again by discontent, ambitious princes. In the world of Lightbringer the power comes with magic. And magic comes in many different colours. Literally; magic is dependent on the perceived light spectrum, and magic users are divided into groups based on their colour affinity: which hue can they harness to create luxin, a versatile substance exhibiting different properties depending on its base colour. There are as many types of luxin, and its creators, as there are colours in the rainbow โ€“ plus both ends of the spectrum, ultraviolet and sub-red. As magic is an indispensable element of the world of Chromeria, magic users are widely sought after and respected, increasingly so when they can use more than one colour; and a person able to wield all seven hues is called Prism.

As the most valuable and dangerous weapon/religious symbol in the world, the Prism (there should be always only one, and their powers have a neat expiry date, so that there arenโ€™t many possibilities of Prism Wars โ€“ or are there? ๐Ÿ˜‰) usually sit tight in their tower and use their powers only sparingly, in accordance with the decisions of a bureaucratic political body representing all satrapies (โ€œThe Spectrum,โ€ consisting, again very neatly, of seven โ€œColours,โ€ one for each province) and the White โ€“ the official governing The Spectrum. Lost yet? Donโ€™t worry, it gets wonderfully more muddled from there! Moreover, this all is actually quite pertinent to the plot…

โ€ฆwhich Iโ€™m not going to summarize here; suffice to say that once again the world is in danger, and heroes and villains of different hues will once again try to save or destroy it. Or maybe, just maybe, change it a teeny-tiny bit upon discovering that not all old stories are true โ€“ and not all of them are false.

The big cast of characters is at times a huge draw, and at times an annoying contrivance. Iโ€™d say that for a first book in a series there might be too many of them, both for the readers and for the author. And by this I mean that while Weeks tried very hard to differentiate his protagonists, not all of them came out equally fully fleshed or believable. I guess for those who read The Black Prism it wonโ€™t be much of a surprise if I say that the most annoying and weirdly unconvincing of the bunch was the one whoโ€™ll supposedly play a much bigger role in the subsequent instalments โ€“ Kip. Iโ€™m sorry, but either Weeks was an extremely awkward teenager with absolutely no preservation instinct, or he forgot most of what he ever knew about being a teenager in the first place. Kip, at least in The Black Prism, is a two-dimensional character whose outline has been vigorously shaded to imitate 3D. His social skills are on the level of a five-year-old; his brick-a-brac of knowledge buttressed by astounding feats of deduction far surpasses the limits of what a teenager from a forgotten village could have ever learned, even with a genius of a military general for a mentor. Kip is a mosaic that doesnโ€™t hold up well to scrutiny; and yet, his adventures are if not outright gripping, then at least entertaining.

My favourite character in The Black Prism is by far Gavin Guile. Burdened with many secrets from the time of war, haunted by a seriously problematic family, plagued equally by political unrest on the fringes of his domain and by unreasonable expectations of his faithful subjects, and yet maintaining a sunny, guileless (yeah, I know) faรงade for the sake of peace in the realm, he is more than meets the eye. But the vaunted Prism Guile, totally, enthusiastically overpowered at the beginning of the novel, actually manages to grow during the events of The Black Prism, becoming a much more nuanced, and convincing, character.

Karris is not bad either, though with Karris we fast approach another Lightbringer problem: a weird (and I mean it!) fixation of the author on female bodily functions. I really donโ€™t know what Weeks tried to achieve by writing extensively about menstruation issues; if he wanted to raise awareness of it among his readers, more power to him, though Iโ€™d say he chose a rather strange venue for that. But as much as Iโ€™d love to believe this was his motivation, I did not notice any similar effort with regards to men, be it prostate problems, balding, difficulties with erection, inability to talk about feelings or whatever other biological male stereotype comes to mind. No. Only the female reproductive system was scrutinized and fixated upon. And yes, over 600 pages is a lot of space, and Iโ€™m sure it could be used for many purposes, but this particular fixation was completely off kilter with regards to the novelโ€™s plot.

As for the plot itself, it could have been more logical; too many happy โ€“ or unhappy โ€“ coincidences played an excessive role in the shaping of the novelโ€™s events, getting the sprawling book toward the authorโ€™s end goal with enviable speed, but also a lot of head scratching (at least in my case). Despite this, it is deeply immersive; the pace of the book is punishing, as the realm-changing events happen one after another within just few months (though it feels like days; I had to check the timeline online to make sure it was longer than a few weeks ๐Ÿ˜‰).

Iโ€™ll be frank; The Black Prism was the first book of 2020 for me, but it took me quite a while to make my mind about it. And, to write that review, it also took Daveโ€™s urging. As much as I appreciated the worldbuilding and the intricacies of the spectrum-based magic system, which after first misgivings actually grew on me, I canโ€™t overlook the heaviness of Weeksโ€™s style, or at the deficiencies of the plot, at times plodding, at times illogical. After finishing The Black Prism I simply needed a break from Chromeria and its inhabitants. That said, however, I enjoyed the first instalment in Weeksโ€™s Lightbringer series; and Iโ€™ll definitely read the next book, The Blinding Knife.

Score: 8/10

44 thoughts on “Brent Weeks, The Black Prism (2010)

  1. This book is on my list since forever, or so it seems, but I have not read it yet. It is true that there is always some other books fighting for my attention, and it is also true that I have started so many demanding series (series with chunky books and a lot of happening/characters/whatever in them) and finished so few of them that I need to finish some more of them before starting a new journey, but your review was compelling and informative and I think it was the push I needed to seriously consider this book as a reading. Now I just have to roll up my sleeves and finish something before starting this new series!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Susy! ๐Ÿ˜Š

      Oh yes, I know what you mean by too many series with too much in them! ๐Ÿ˜„ One’s mind has a limited capacity for details, after all, and I don’t want to require a notebook to get it all straight! ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ

      Happy reading! ๐Ÿ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What!?!? This book didn’t convince you to join the Cult of Weeks? BURN THE HERETIC!!!!!!

    The one main thing that has stuck out to me from Weeks’ writing is his disgusting habit of describing some biological phenom. Believe it or not, I don’t actually want to read about that. Talk about a male trope he could have written about! Female “issues” don’t exist in my world, thank you very much!

    I had issues with the first 3 book, in that it took me 10-20% to actually get into each of the books. I could feel myself dragging along and then whammo, something flipped and I’d be speeding along.

    Glad you made it through the first book and once you do read the second, I hope you can make up your mind whether to continue the series or not. I’m obviously a big Weeks fan and I’ll be reading whatever he puts out, so I’m not even pretending I’m unbiased on this issue. I think you should read the whole series ๐Ÿ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ow, ow, ow! Enough burning? ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ

      Yeah, that weird fixation is a bit unsettling; from your reviews I understand that it doesn’t end with the first book, unfortunately. It’s just baffling to me, because it is not pertinent to the plot! It’s just a really weird filler, a bit of creepy self-indulgence.

      These books are too long; or at least The Black Prism – it could easily be shorter and better for it. But I’m getting ready to read the next book; I still keep in mind your relentless gushing over the whole series! ๐Ÿ˜„

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        1. Nope, The Black Prism was my first Weeks book ๐Ÿ˜‰ Heard Lightbringer series is even more hardcore than Night Angel?

          Yeah, at least the whole series is out, so I don’t have to wait ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ

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            1. Good to know! I’ll get to The Blinding Knife this year, hopefully – maybe next month or so, but most probably the review won’t be up too quickly! ๐Ÿ˜‚
              What did you think about Kip? I felt Weeks was trying too hard to make him quirky and teenage-awkward, and just seriously overdid him. Whenever I was starting to like that guy he’d say or do something so out of place that I would lose whatever immersion I had. Is he getting any better in the later books?

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              1. I had NO problems with Kip. If you look at pictures of Weeks, I suspect he was the funny fat kid growing up. And that shows up in his writings.

                It has been long enough for me since I read this book that it is pretty hazy though. Most of the time that kind of character thingy doesn’t bother me, so I could easily have just passed it over…

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                    1. True, but not all teenagers shout it at the top of their voices all the time (and compare their own boobs to those that they see right that moment)! ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

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                  1. Yes, exactly! The problem with Kip is that he is seemingly uncapable of holding his thought inside his head – it’s like there’s a direct line between a thought and his tongue, and the brain does not play any mediating role. So in small doses it can even be funny; in bigger doses, as in The Black Prism, it got old and annoying quite fast ๐Ÿ˜‰

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                    1. When I read it, I had two teenager children. Thatโ€™s enough of that that I needed no Kip ๐Ÿ˜‚ Could be different now that they are young adults just to bring back those… fond… memories.

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                    2. Whew, that must’ve been a very special experience – overabundance of Kipness left and right! ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ Can’t say I envy you!

                      Still, I can totally get the feeling that the books you actually possess can wait years on the shelf before you read them – after all, they’re not going anywhere! ๐Ÿ˜

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. That’s why a library loan works so well! You have to read it, or return it without reading, and that’s kind of so sad and miserable that I always feel compelled to finish before the time’s up! ๐Ÿ˜€
                      And probably that’s why I only buy books which I really love and know that I’d like my family to read them or that I’m going to re-read it one day ๐Ÿ˜‰

                      Liked by 1 person

                    4. While we have beautiful libraries, they are dysfunctional for me because I donโ€™t get the books I want to read – German translations for SFF are often 2-3 years after first publication and they often arenโ€™t translated at all. I have to buy them.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    5. Ah, I keep forgetting – sorry! When I used to live in Poland I had the same problem – no library had English books, especially newer ones. I had to either borrow them from Piotrek or buy them on Amazon.

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    1. LOL, yea – I had similar feelings about it; I felt overfull after I finished reading it ๐Ÿ˜‰ Still, it’s solidly written and interesting enough to keep me reading! Though in small doses… ๐Ÿ˜€

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  3. I’ve always fancied reading this series – I got a copy of the hardback though and it was so huge that it put me off, it was like lifting weights. Of course, I read mainly on kindle these days so i could pick up an electronic copy now.
    Lynn ๐Ÿ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it can be a very nice experience once you know what you’re getting into! ๐Ÿ˜‚

      Yes, the books are so big they can moonlight as heavy blunt weapons – and the first one is the shortest ๐Ÿ˜€ Electronic copy might work better, because it’s easier to take in anywhere. I was reading this on vacation, and toting it to the beach with all the rest of our swimming/snorkeling/surfing equipment was not very helpful ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Hope you’ll enjoy it!

      Like

  4. I DNFed this. Honestly, Kip annoyed me so much that I couldn’t read his chapters. I can’t remember much about the other characters, but all I remember is that Kip killed it for me. Love the review! Can’t wait to see how you like the others and how Weeks’ writing progresses over the course of them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I can totally see Kip having that effect! ๐Ÿ˜‚ His obnoxiousness and total lack of any inhibitions were quite tiring, and when you add to the mix the faint whiff of the Chosen One trope… I persevered and was happy, as the book acquired unexpected depths and ambivalence in the second half and Kip played there thankfully less exposed role.

      I’ll let you know if Kip’s any better in the second book! ๐Ÿ˜

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve had this book on my TBR for quite some time now, and the usual lamentation about too many books & too little time of course applies to this one as well, but now that I’ve learned a little more about it, I’m somewhat less sanguine… Complex backgrounds and/or huge casts of characters don’t scare me away from a story, but young, pea-brained main characters faintly smelling of Gary Stu Syndrome do! ๐Ÿ˜€ And your mention of the author’s fixation on female biology is quite puzzling, to say the least… Still, the final rating is encouraging, so I will try to keep the faith ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading!

      Yes, there is a whiff of the horrible cologne of Gary Stu, but fortunately Weeks does a good job of showing his teenage protagonist in less than stellar light – his awkwardness and inability to keep his mouth shut make him a Chosen One who has still a long way to go before he’s any good ๐Ÿ˜‰

      The first half of the book is also much weaker than the second – at least for me. But when all the elements were in their positions, the story and pacing picked up nicely and the culmination was really, really good.

      So, you might enjoy it still, despite my criticisms – now that you know it all you might actually enjoy it more! ๐Ÿ˜„ You know what they say, forewarned is forearmed! ๐Ÿ˜

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m glad you liked it despite the parts that didn’t work out too well for you. It’s one I’m looking forward to reading. I read his Night Angel books last year and enjoyed them although they have some flaws too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll be very interested in your take on this one! ๐Ÿ˜€ It’s not perfect, but it grows on you… and the finale is really very good! Though it is long, and because of its length and unevenness by the end I felt like I finished a marathon ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Like

  7. It is always nice to see Ola quite positive about something I’ve read and adored! The whole franchise is without a doubt at the top of my all-time favourites/highly-recommended reads and I hope that the next book will convince you to want to continue on and complete this massive series! ๐Ÿ˜› I do have to admit that his fixation for the female body is relatively-abundant and, sorry to announce, he’s not going to stop hahahahah Maybe you’ll get used to it? Or find them more funny? interesting? I, honestly, don’t know how they could be much more acceptable but I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues to be a niggle for you hahahaha Great review, Ola! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lashaan! ๐Ÿ˜€

      LOL, “quite positive” is spot on ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’ll be continuing with the series, and forewarned is forearmed, so now that I know I’m to expect more of female physiology fixation (it should abbreviate to pff, but unfortunately doesn’t :P) maybe I’ll take less notice of it? I guess I could live with it if Kip gets more bearable! ๐Ÿ˜‰
      I do hope the second book will drag me deeper into the series; I think I’ll try to read it this year, in the next two or three months ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  8. piotrek

    I’m not sure… Weeks went on and off my TBR, I know he has dedicated fans, perhaps at some point I will need a solid fantasy series – but I already have a few waiting on my shelves… it does seem better than I thought though, in your review ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The magic system is pretty cool, I like it more than Sanderson. Is it mind-blowing? Very much not. But I will be able to tell you something more definitely once I’ll read the second installment ๐Ÿ˜‰ Sometime this year, I hope! ๐Ÿ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  9. As usual, thank you for providing me with a thoughtful analysis. Given the time commitment, I think I’m going to wait for this one to get snapped up by one of the better film companies. It sounds like something that would look good, and the actors and directors might sort out the issues you’ve identified with characterisation. I love the idea of the colour spectrum.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! When I was reading I kept imagining this – and I think it would do really good on screen. Plus, in action movies, audience usually pays less attention to emotional makeup problems and hopefully some more pairs of eyes on the script would indeed get rid of some of these problems ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Thanks for reading, Cath! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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