Shadow's Edge, by Brent Weeks (Orbit, 2008)

Cenaria has fallen to the ruthless Godking of Khalidor and his armies. The legendary wetboy, Durzo Blint, is dead at the hands of his apprentice Kylar Stern, who has since rejected the life of a killer for the quiet existence of a shopkeeper in a distant land. Cenaria’s rightful king, Logan Gyre, is trapped deep in the city’s worst prison with killers and madmen, forced into a feral existence for survival, while the last free nobles of Cenaria forge desperate alliances and plan a resistance in the woods. Truly, dark times have fallen, and it’s just the beginning, as events continue to unfold. The Godking continues to hunt for an ancient magical weapon known as the ka’kari, even as Kylar, its current owner, tries to master it while resisting his darker urges. The beautiful, amoral assassin known as Vi goes hunting for Kylar on the Godking’s orders, even as an old friend comes to hire Kylar for one last job. One job, and then he can retire forever. But can even Kylar Stern rescue Logan Gyre from his prison, and slay the Godking? Or can he stay out of the killing business for good?

As can be expected, things soon get messy, as plotlines progress and the status quo continues to change. Kylar’s attempts to bury the past and forge a new life with his newfound love and family only lead to tragedy, and soon he’s on the hunt. Vi, always a wild card, can’t decide whose side she’s really on, until the choice is made for her. Logan, the quintessential survivor, might escape the Maw, but can he reclaim a kingdom, or will politics seal his fate? And even after death, Durzo Blint’s legacy lives on, in unexpected ways.

As with the first book in the trilogy, The Way of Shadows, there’s a lot going on, with the author juggling a large cast and numerous plotlines, not all of which seem to be immediately relevant. It’s an ambitious story, but Weeks manages to keep all of his balls (or flaming batons) in the air, skillfully jumping between characters and events as he moves the overall plot further along. And believe me, there are some significant changes to be found in this book, as Weeks proves that no character is safe or untouchable. There’s plenty of surprises and twists through the course of the story, and enough happens that it’s easy to see this as the second act of a three act epic. It doesn’t suffer from that middle book slump that afflicts many trilogies, and it’s probably a small blessing that Weeks didn’t try to stretch his series out beyond a trilogy. And for all that happens here, there’s a lot left to be wrapped up in the final volume of the trilogy, and I can hardly wait to see who lives and who dies and if anyone gets a happy ending. I haven’t been this excited about epic fantasy in a while, and for good reason. Shadow’s Edge is telling a new and different story, full of complex characters who exist in morally grey areas. I honestly have no complaints; this is grim and gritty, down and dirty, sharp-edged and raw, and yet it has a certain appeal to it. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down, and the last book can’t come soon enough for my tastes.

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