Beyond the Shadows, by Brent Weeks (Orbit, 2008)

The unthinkable has happened: the Godking of Khalidor is dead, slain in combat versus the legendary wetboy, Kylar Stern and the beautiful, treacherous Vi. Now the shattered kingdom of Cenaria has to put itself together again in the aftermath of a brutal invasion. Politics and internal strife may just finish the job the Godking started, however, if Logan Gyre, rightful king, can’t find a way to rally folks around him. Meanwhile, a bizarre chain of events has installed a new Godking, a man maneuvered into place by circumstances beyond his control. But as his efforts to do the right thing backfire, and the power of the throne corrupts him, it looks as though Khalidor may still be a threat after all.

With entire countries in turmoil, the stage is set for a dozen smaller stories to play out. Kylar Stern seeks a legendary sword in order to restore his lost hand. Durzo Blint, back from the dead, seeks his missing daughter and looks for the peace he’s long been denied. Vi attempts to find her true purpose in life, discovering a noble streak she never knew existed. Elene looks to do the right thing, no matter what it costs her. And ultimately, the true threat is revealed, as a vast army of the dead is raised to once again threaten the civilized world. Kylar Stern never thought he’d be anything more than a killer. Now he’ll have to become a legend.

Beyond the Shadows is the epic conclusion to the Night Angel trilogy, and just like in the first two books, Brent Weeks really throws a lot of different stuff into the mix. With so many characters, subplots, and things going on, it would be easy to get lost, but his method of jumping from one scene to another with great regularity, often working with cliffhangers and dramatic moments, means that we never spend so long on any one character as to forget what else is happening. Moreover, it speeds up the pace of the story in general, granting it an addictive, perpetually moving quality. Once I started, it was hard to stop.

From the personal struggles and private moments of the various main characters, to the widescreen, cinematic mindbogglingly huge battle scenes, Weeks weaves together an epic tale that really captures the imagination. I was genuinely disappointed when it was all over, just because I’d been drawn that effectively into the story. I’ll miss Kylar and Vi and Logan and all the rest. The amazing thing is that for a great portion of the book, the first half at least, there’s no sign of what we might call the Big Bad. The previous Big Bad, the Godking, was killed in the second book of the trilogy, and his successor isn’t the villain we might have expected. No, the majority of the plot is moved forward by people — good and bad — doing things for personal reasons. None of them are necessarily evil or bad, just misguided or trapped by their circumstances. Everything else is motivated by previous events and the fallout from preexisting conditions. It’s late in the book when we see just who or what remains to threaten the fragile calm, and from that point on, it snowballs into something huge and unstoppable. That’s when we truly appreciate the sense of history and epic scale built into the setting, as it all comes into play one last time.

Beyond the Shadows is everything I’d hoped for in an ending to this trilogy. Maybe not everyone got the ending they wanted, but it certainly resolves itself in a satisfying way, making for one of the best epic fantasies I’ve read in quite some time. Frankly, it would take a review three times this size to properly discuss every thought I’ve had about the Night Angel trilogy. This was a damned good read, and I hope we’ll see more from Brent Weeks relatively soon.

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