Quick Reads: The Way Of Shadows ch. 4 – 5

The-Way-of-Shadows

In the last post I solicited alternatives to the cringe-inducing “wetboy”. Two responses stood out, so I’ve decided to use them both: wetboys will from here on out be known as Moistmen, while our friend Durzo Blint will go by the moniker Aquaman. Thanks to Mr. Elbows and annabanana12698 for the suggestions.

Also: I don’t do this often, but I’m going to go ahead and put a trigger warning on this post, as chapter five deals with rape in a particularly tasteless and gross way.

Chapter 4

The bashers guarding the Nine’s subterranean chamber eyed Aquaman sourly.

The names in this book are making my head spin. There’s the aformentioned two that will not be discussed again, but then you’ve got Doll Girl, who sounds like she belongs in New York in the 1920s, the Sa’Kage who come across as some sort of cheap Yakuza rip-off (I’m guessing Brent Weeks got the “Kage” in their name from the Japanese for shadow) and now Bashers, which puts me in mind of cockney slang or something. None of this has a coherent feel to it.

“Lefty,” Aquaman said in greeting, removing his sword, three daggers, the darts strapped to his wrist, and a number of small glass balls from his other arm.

“I’m Lefty,” the other one said, patting down Blint vigorously.

“You mind?” Aquaman asked. “We both know if I wanted to kill anyone in there I could, with or without weapons.”

Lefty flushed. “Why don’t I ram this pretty sword—”

“What Lefty means is, why don’t you pretend not to be a threat, and we’ll pretend we’re the reason,” Bernerd said. “It’s just a formality, Aqua. Like asking someone how they are when you don’t care.”

“I don’t ask.”

Back when we were reading The Fifth Sorceress (by the way in hindsight I’m amazed I actually got through that, or that any of you stuck around to read about it) I complained that a lot of the scenes felt like stereotypical beats you’d see in a popcorn movie. I’m getting a similar vibe from this. In the space of a few paragraphs you’ve got the bit where the anti-hero removes his comically large arsenal of weapons*, the scene where there are twins and someone gets their names wrong, and the protagonist being a way-cool badass. I’ve seen all of this stuff so many times before that it just feels stale and rote.

*(The one time this scene worked was in the anime Kino’s Journey, where the person involved is an extremely soft-spoken, polite and outwardly non-threatening girl who looks like she’s sixteen at the oldest; the fact that she’s secretly armed to the teeth is both hilarious and reveals something unexpected about her character)

“I was sorry to hear about Vonda,” Bernerd said. Aquaman stopped cold, a lance twisting through his guts.

Is Vonda the woman Aquaman was getting all MRA-ish over in the last chapter? Why do so many dude-protagonists have women they’re obsessed with or broken up over?

But Aquaman walked in with an easy familiarity. The night held no terrors for him. The shadows welcomed his eyes, hid nothing from him. At least that much is left me.

God fucking shut the hell up. I hate this character already.

Aquaman enters the ostentatiously spooky chamber of the Nine and is debriefed by people with names like Momma K and Pon Dradin. One of them has an Evil Lisp, which the book insists on including in his dialogue. After some more scheming this dude insults Aquaman’s level of moistness and a brief fight ensues, which Aquaman wins effortlessly. I have a feeling he’s going to be one of those characters who’s competent to the point of draining all tension from the story.

“You want to know if I can still kill?” Aquaman put a small vial in front of the basher. “If that needle was poisoned, this is the antidote. But if the needle wasn’t poisoned, the antidote will kill you. Drink it or don’t.”

Why the fuck are the Sa’Kage working with this guy? I don’t care how good he is, if he flips out and attacks one of them over an insult than he’s way too unstable to trust.

Then it’s back over to Azoth, who just about escaped the Renamening unscathed, although I briefly considered calling him Oliver. He’s followed Aquaman into a tunnel and almost walks into some kind of magical alarm, then Aquaman shows up and is like “lol stupid kid gtfo or you’ll be totally killed ffs”.

Azoth walked back to Black Dragon territory as the sky lightened.

Wait no just have Aquaman accept him as an apprentice, we know it’s going to happen anyway.

You know what, I’ve brought this up enough that it’s time to make it official. I’m going to call it Ronan’s 1st Commandment of Writing and it states: if a character goes to do a thing and the audience knows full damn well that they are going to do the thing, just make them do the thing. If they don’t do the thing it feels like the plot is spinning its wheels.

I get that this is supposed to be introducing tension or conflict, but it’s not because we know that Azoth is going to end up as Aquaman’s apprentice even if the excerpt at the start of the book hadn’t told us he was.

(Ronan’s 2nd Commandment of Writing is that your characters may only grin or sigh once per book, and must never make their eyes twinkle under any circumstances)

Bakers were up, and smiths’ apprentices were starting forge fires, but the guild rats, the whores, the bashers, and the sneak thieves had gone to sleep, and the cutpurses, cons, sharps, and rest of those who worked the daylight were still asleep.

But what about the loveable street urchins, artful dodgers, gov’ners, gaffers and sticky-wickets? When do they get to work?

Usually, the smells of the Warrens were comfortable. There was the permeating smell of the cattle yards over the more immediate smells of human waste glooping through wide gutters in every street to further foul the Plith River, the rotting vegetation from the shallows and backwaters of the slow river, the less sour smell of the ocean when a lucky breeze blew, the stench of the

SO GRIMDAAAAAAARK

I’ve read books where stuff like this was done well. One example is The Lies Of Locke Lamora, which gets across how cloyingly humid and hot the Venice-like setting is very effectively. Here the book is just shoving rancid filth in our faces to get a gut reaction out of us.

Rejection and despair were the vapors rising from every moldering ruin and shit pile in the Warrens.

And this is just plan bad writing.

Chapter 5

“Good morning,” Rat said. “How’s my favorite little guttershite?” The glee on Rat’s face told Azoth that something was seriously wrong.

kitten

These characters and this story are so uninteresting, I’m falling asleep as I read just like this adorable kitten.

He hauled it inside, and Azoth saw that it was Jarl. Jarl’s lips were swollen, both eyes black and so big he could barely see through the slits. He was missing teeth and he had crusted blood on his face from where his hair had been pulled so hard his scalp bled.

He was wearing a dress.

Seriously? We’re on chapter fucking five and you’re already getting to rape (child rape!) as a way to be all gritty?

And oh boy, let’s unpack this shit with the dress. Isn’t it telling that Jarl being forced to wear a dress gets its own dramatic paragraph break, almost like that’s the really humiliating and degrading part?

Before this I didn’t like The Way of Shadows– it seems like a terrible book– but now I’m actively repulsed by it. Not a good impression to make this early.

“I have big plans for Black Dragon, Azo, and I won’t let you get in my way,” Rat said.

“What do you want from me?” Azoth’s voice came out thin and reedy.

“I want you to be a hero. I want everyone who doesn’t dare stand up to me themselves to look at you and start to hope. And then I will destroy everything you’ve done. I will destroy everything you love. I will destroy you so completely that no one will ever defy me again. So do your best, do your worst, do nothing at all. I win no matter what. I always do.

Why does Rat think Azoth is some kind of threat to his leadership? Because Azoth punched him once? Has that never happened before?

And here’s another question: why are Azoth, Doll Girl and Jarl staying with this gang? They’re obviously capable of scavenging or stealing money on their own, and membership mainly seems to involve having a huge chunk of their earnings taken in exchange for sleeping in an abandoned building with a violent asshole.

Azoth starts playing along with Rat’s plan, gradually inspiring the older guild members with acts of defiance. I’m really not sure why. Is Rat going to kill Jarl if he doesn’t? Was that the arrangement? He never actually said that..

“Father, please, don’t go.” Logan Gyre held his father’s destrier, ignoring the predawn chill and holding back tears.

I assumed Logan Gyre wasn’t going to show up again, but I guess him (or his son) will be important going forward. (A destrier is a breed of horse, in case you’re wondering).

There’s a whole bunch of plot in this short part (boring plot) but the gist of it is that it’s several months later, the king is dead and Prince Aleine is on the throne. He’s sent Logan off to command a garrison at somewhere called Screaming Winds, which is humiliatingly trivial appointment.

The really interesting thing that happens here is we get a heaving helping of jumped-up self-important masculinity of the kind that fantasy novels like to trade in. First there’s Logan shouting at his wife because she won’t stop accusing him of cheating on her:

“Which of your harlots are you taking with you?”

“I’m not taking any of the maidservants, Catrinna, though some of them will be hard to replace. I’m leaving them here out of respect for your—”

“How stupid do you think I am? You’ll just find sluts there.”

“Catrinna. Go inside. Now!”

Her complaint actually starts out reasonably– she thinks the new king will pit him against her own family in a power struggle and she resents the fact that he’s not trying harder to stop this– but then that bullshit up there happens.

“Your mother . . . there are things I’ll share with you when you’re older. For now, I expect you to honor her, but you will be Lord Gyre while I’m gone.”

I’ve always hated scenes like this, where the young son has Take Up His Father’s Mantle and Be The Man Of The House even though his adult mother is still present. Actual dads don’t say shit like this, do they? I hope not.

(Also this feels like we just side-stepped into a cheap Game of Thrones knock off)

So far this book is significantly worse than I thought it was going to be, and getting worse at an alarming rate. Let’s have one more post on it before we move on.

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31 thoughts on “Quick Reads: The Way Of Shadows ch. 4 – 5

  1. JM

    Ok, that’s it. I’m going to stop binge reading your blog. It’s time to go back to writing. I had fun, though. It was just addicting.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Quick Reads: The Way of Shadows ch. 6 – 7 | Doing In The Wizard

  3. Toastehh

    Actually what really jumps out to me is Rat’s crazy plan of setting up a mutiny against himself so he can CRUSH THEIR DREAMS MWAHAHAH. That’s just… not how people act, especially if they’re guttershites shaking down urchins for pennies.

    I don’t remember how it turns out in the book, but I do recall Rat having a reason to act like that, and it’s even more stupid than the plan.

    Reply
  4. stubble

    The joyous ferretbrain review of Canavan inspired me to try her, but I couldn’t get through Magician’s Guiild.

    I’ve only tried Hundred Thousand Kingdoms from Jemisin and I was really hopeful early, mostly through enjoying the writing (there’s an extended analogy at the very start that actually works). For me, the book was too Mythic, the characters delicately done but in the end all flat and monotone. More than that I think the book tried to construct deep meaningful connections between a few of the character but I as the reader never felt anyone affected or was part of anyone else. I’ll probably try another of her books down the road but it was ultimately disappointing.

    One of the things that made the Rothfuss read so much fun was that it constantly had ridiculous flourishes, attempts to show off that would fail quite spectacularly. While his plot may have gone nowhere his ability to screw up writing/characterization went all over the place. Wheel of Time seems no better at moving the plot along but I don’t get the impression it does much else either and so I doubt it would be as much fun, at least for me, to read along with. Being trash alone isn’t enough. Would still be enjoyable. When Ronanwills was saying he’d go political nonsense I was hoping he would go Empire by Orson Scott Card, cause it’s spectacular paranoid nonsense. On the epic fantasy front I think the ideal would be something deeply overwritten with chunks of purple prose, a plot where things actually happen (perhaps only occasionally, shouldn’t ask for too much from these authors) and philosophical aspirations that are inevitably disastrously thought out. I don’t have great examples for this. Vernor Vinge comes to mind but I read him so long ago I’ve surely misremembered and he’s sci-fi. Also sci-fi but starship troopers and most of heinlein has deliciously shoddy exposition of both plot and ideas. If going grimdark maybe something like Heroes Die? It’s more self aware of its I’m the toughest dude ever only tougher vibes. I just fear wheel of time will descend into sandersonian boredom.

    Oh and psyched for whenever lord of the rings gets discussed, though certainly as a review and not a let’s read format: I don’t think there’s enough meat there to work with.

    Reply
    1. ronanwills Post author

      “Wheel of Time seems no better at moving the plot along but I don’t get the impression it does much else either”

      Oh trust me, *it does some other stuff*

      (Not really until the second book though)

      “When Ronanwills was saying he’d go political nonsense I was hoping he would go Empire by Orson Scott Card”

      We could certainly look at that! I’ll add it to the list.

      Reply
  5. Signatus

    I know I said in another post that, albeit bad, this was a somewhat entertaining book. Serves me right for talking without re-reading this stuff. In my defense I have to say I did read it when I was around 17 or 18 and absolutely mad about Assassin’s Creed, and while even then I saw it was bad, I didn’t think it was that bad. I had completely forgotten about the child-rape, and although rape is a recurring theme in the books, I don’t remember it following past the time when Azoth becomes Durzo’s apprentice.

    By the time I wasn’t really bothered by it, I honestly didn’t think about it and saw it as another element to show how fucked up this whole world was. However now I see that Week’s whole issue is that he can’t really find a worse torture than being man raped, and is using (oh, how original) women again as an insult (dressing the guy up with a dress in a sign of weakness and feminity). It’s kind of funny that, as disgusting as we are to this “masculine men”, they would still want to do anything with us.

    Maybe we should try to read something written by women instead, for a change. Trudi Canavan is still an option and I encourage you to pick up one of her books for one of this quick reads. Also, I’ve been wanting to read Dragonriders of Pern for a while now, and while I don’t know whether it’s good or bad, it could be fun and refreshing.

    Reply
    1. Martin

      N.K. Jemisin is a decent option. She’s the only black epic fantasy author that I know of and one of the few that I believe has a shot at being good.

      Reply
    2. ronanwills Post author

      I read (or rather tried to read) The Magician’s Guild a long time ago and was spectacularly bored by it, which put me off reading any more of Canavan’s books.

      Reply
    3. reveen

      If you just want to go for some really, really stupid fantasy you could try some of RA Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms books. Couldn’t tell you which ones, but I’m pretty sure most of it is dumb as all hell.

      Though I admit I’m still hoping you go for Way of Shadows. But I recognize that that’s probably a bit of sadism on my part.

      Reply
      1. reveen

        The only one I’ve experienced directly was Road of the Patriarch in audiobook format (I listen to audiobooks of bad fantasy books in bed because what am I doing with my life), which stars Drizzt’s edgy nemesis Artemis Entreri, who is basically Durzo Blint’s even more humourless cousin. So if you don’t care about continuity I’d go with that.

        Though anything involving Drow is pretty lulzy, and grimdark of a somewhat less in your face variety as Way of Shadows.

        Reply
      2. Signatus

        The Dark Elf trilogy and the Valley of the Frozen Wind (or however it is called in original language) are pretty decent. Typical epic fantasy, no excessive grimdark (even in drow society) or rape or anything else. They were fun to read, at least when I was a teenager. The bad starts somewhere around the third trilogy onward, where some of the characters grow in Sueness to the point they become unbearable.

        Could be fun to analyze tho. Get ready for a whole load of “lavender eyes”.

        Reply
  6. Archibald van Winkle

    I must say that while repulsed by the child rape, it would not discourage me from continuing the book; that kind of stuff actually happens on the daily in some areas of the world. So it could be argued that it helps cement the grimdark. Hell, the ancient Greeks had a custom of boys being kidnapped and carried into the woods by an older man. This being socially acceptable, it had a strict set of rules and customs, but I’m sure social taboo wouldn’t prevent every disgusting urge-fulfillment.

    Herein lies my problem with it in this book: THE REST OF THE WORLD IS SO YOUNG ADULT GRITTY THAT THIS JUST STANDS-OUT AS A BLATANT ATTEMPT TO APPEAR OTHERWISE. If the author had hit true grit and showed some semblance of the OTHER ridiculously fucked-up stuff which happens parallel to this, it wouldn’t be near as repulsive. I can handle ridiculousness if it appears organically, but it hits me right in the cerebellum when it is handled with zero tact.

    I also get the red-ass at how it feels as though Weeks didn’t think about his characters past ‘how much awesome can I pack on!?’ It’s the same basic thing with characters in videogames usually; the awesomeness of being ‘in the role’ and wielding obscene amounts of power overcomes the basic human need to connect with a character, so being human takes a backseat to fulfilling the adrenaline-and-wonder factor.

    As it stands, I am turned-off to Weeks on principles as a writer and person. It offends me on an intellectual level that this kind of pedestrian stuff is popular. It numbs my mind when I try to honestly place myself in another’s shoes and think how I could sleep at night after putting my name to a review which immortalizes this. I mean, I guess to each his own and one man’s pedantic banter is another’s rhetoric, but I just cannot imagine how SO MANY people sing praises.

    Reply
    1. Mr Elbows

      there *was* a custom in some Ancient Greek poleis among high-ranking male members of society to date a young boy (also from high status) and become his “sugar daddy”/mentor for lack of a better term, and when that boy married they let it go, because then he’d become a man and had to find himself a boy of his own. it’s not all sunshine and roses, and I’m sure rape still happened regularly, but they didn’t just drag them innawoods and rape them.

      Reply
      1. Archibald van Winkle

        It was pretty rampant throughout all Greek city-states. It started in Crete as the literal reenactment of a myth and spread from there. It was a pretty common thing among the Elite. I wasn’t saying they just dragged them innawoods and raped them. I meant with this being a social norm, it would be easier for rape to happen. It wasn’t merely a sugar-daddy/mentorship. It was more physical than that. There are several direct quotes from Ancient Greek nobles comparing their desire to lust for ‘the smoothness of a boy’s thighs’ over ‘the gaping stench’ of a woman.

        Reply
  7. Lissa

    I said in the last post that I didn’t get past the first few chapters, but the exact moment I stopped reading was the reference to child rape. It’s just not something I want to read.

    Reply
  8. Gabriel

    Son, you gonna be tagging rape warnings for every chapter.

    I’m telling you, gay rape is the scariest thing Brent Weeks can think of, so he fucking BUTTON MASHES it.

    Reply
      1. UBM

        Yeah, this is the first book you reviewed that just seems really unpleasant and gross. The other really bad ones at least were so much over the top that it was hard to take them serious.

        Reply
  9. Pingback: Quick Reads: The Way Of Shadows ch. 1 – 3 | Doing In The Wizard

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