The Black Prism by Brent Weeks
Published in 2010
“Kip crawled toward the battlefield in the darkness, the mist pressing down, blotting out sound, scattering starlight.”
The Black Prism is the first book in Nick Weeks’s Lightbringer series and packs quite a lot into its 626 pages. The story takes place in a world where some people are born with the ability to use colors of light to create magic. These people are known as drafters; the most powerful of whom is called The Prism. He is the spiritual leader of the seven satrapies, one for each color of the spectrum, and when it is discovered that the current Prism fathered a bastard son, the world of many characters gets thrown on its head.
One major aspect of the story comes through the drafters and how they use magic. In the world of The Black Prism, magic comes from light and drafters are born able to tap into the light to use it to create luxin, which is what the magic takes physical form as. Some can only draft one color and are known mono-chromes. Those that can draft two are bi-chromes and anyone who can draft three or more is a polychrome. Using this magic does have consequences, however, because the more that they use the shorter their lives become. Those who have drafted too much become color wights who can no longer control themselves or their powers.
*Spoiler Alert* Due to the importance of magic in the story, each of the protagonists in The Black Prism is a drafter. Kip is the pudgy protagonist that we are meant to identify most with. He is a teenager with a drug addict mother, no father, and crippling self-esteem issues. He is the first character we are introduced to and much of the story revolves around him. On the opposite side of the spectrum (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?!?! COMEDY) is Gavin, the charismatic and handsome Prism. He is able to draft all across the color spectrum and is the most powerful Prism in recent memory. He has a history with Karris White Oak who is a member of the Blackguard, an elite bodyguard that protects the Prism and other important political dignitaries. The final protagonist is Liv Danavis, a drafter who is the daughter of a general from the Prism wars who is from the same village as Kip and because of this becomes a sort of mentor to him, despite the fact that he has a painful crush on her.
There are a lot of surprises in this book. In fact, it has more twists than an M. Night Shyamalan wet dream (boom). So many that one might ask, are there too many? I don’t believe so. Each revelation comes about organically and provides something that shifts our perspectives as readers which not only engages our emotions but coerces us into investing more in the characters.
Many of those twists come about as revelations of misunderstanding the history and past of the world in the book by those who inhabit it. As with any good fantasy novel (I need to branch out my reading. The next review won’t be a fantasy book, though. I promise) The Black Prism has its fair share of world building and it is done remarkably well. My trade paperback copy has around 30 pages that comprise an appendix and glossary to help keep everything in perspective. I want to make it clear that I didn’t read them, but it shows the amount of work Weeks put into the world. The False Prism’s war, different religions, and legends based on lost histories all coalesce into a dense world that is both convincing and enticing.
Though much of the history and subject matter is serious and at times dark, there is an element of humor that resounds through the novel. I think one of the things that made me enjoy reading this book the most was the tone and voice not only of the narration but of the characters. There are some genuinely funny parts in this book, especially at Kip’s expense. I get drawn out of a story when authors attempt to classify a character as funny when they don’t do or say anything that makes me laugh. This is not an issue in The Black Prism. The dry humor works and it is only addressed when it could be mistaken. One problem I did have from a technical standpoint was how the narration would switch invariably between first, second and third person. This drew me away from focusing on the story and is the reason I won’t give this book a perfect score.
Despite the craft of writing lacking a bit, this is a book that I would highly recommend due to its commitment to the pace and knowledge of further books to come. The Black Prism ends on a cliffhanger that sets up the next book quite well. I believe there are two more books that have been published with a fourth book coming out this fall, so I definitely look forward to returning to the colorful (so clever) world that Brent Weeks has created. The writing is good, the characters engaging and realistic, and the way magic is used is not only unique in its utilitarian application but also the variety of ways in which it is utilized.
Verdict: 4 balls of green luxin out of 5
Recommended for: Lovers of colors, the color spectrum, those who like magic and reading about it, and the politically intrigued.
Not recommended for: The color blind (they’ll be able to read it just fine, they might feel a bit left out), the faint of heart, or children (there is some mature subject matter).