“Do you know what punishments I've endured for my crimes, my sins? None. I am proof of the absurdity of men's most treasured abstractions. A just uni
“Do you know what punishments I've endured for my crimes, my sins? None. I am proof of the absurdity of men's most treasured abstractions. A just universe wouldn't tolerate my existence.”
Looking at my review history here on Once Upon a Time to date, one may understandably draw the conclusion that all I read are books featuring assassins. ((Even Mistborn while not an assassin story per se, featured, well... Mistborn, which were themselves assassins, really.)) This isn't true, I swear! I may even get to something else one day. :P
However, apparent themes in my reading preferences aside, I did very much enjoy this assassin story.
It's very much one of those 'gritty' books, and I think most people already know whether this sort of story appeals to them or not. Living in the muck and grime of the Warrens is difficult and each must do what they must merely to survive. Joy is fleeting and momentary, with an unpleasant death in this unpleasant place the only certainty for most of the inhabitants.
'Grit' in a story is something I can personally take or leave, it doesn't instantly turn me away from a story but nor does it particularly endear me to it. At first I wondered if perhaps Weeks was trying a little too hard to stress the point of just how awful and hopeless things were for the guild rats living in the Warrens.
He managed to convince me before too much longer though that he knew what he was doing. As dark and grimy as much of the story is, there is a message of savouring what beauty is found in the smaller things of day to day life.
There is a conflict between the nihilist theories and thoughts espoused by Durzo Blint and the surprisingly hopeful outlook that Azoth tries to nurture throughout his tutelage. As much as Azoth wants to be like Durzo -- seemingly fearless and unbeatable by anyone, an appealing set of attributes to someone having grown up in the Warrens -- he struggles to adopt this ideology.
All through the story, we see Azoth -- eventually Kylar -- struggle with this.
"Life is empty. Life is worthless. When we take a life, we aren't taking anything of value." - Durzo Blint
“I regretted that I hadn't turned myself into the kind of man that you could be with. That it wouldn't be just for me to be with you, even if you wanted me. Our lives started in the same shit hole, Elene, but somehow you've turned into you, and I've turned into this. I don't like what I've done. I don't like who I've become. You don't deserve a fairy tale? I don't deserve another chance, but I'm asking you for one. You're afraid that love is too risky? I've seen what happens when you don't risk it. [...] I'm willing to risk it to see the world through your eyes.” - Azoth (Kylar)
So yes, there is romance. There is also plenty of frenetic action, and even a dab of magic to complete the epic fantasy checklist.
Don't let the lesser count of Emblems throw you off from reading this one. It was a debut work for Brent Weeks, so perhaps some elements could have been stronger. In particular, some of the reveals which would otherwise have earnt this book an, 'Oh Snap!' seemed to come from no where. They weren't jarring enough to throw me out of the book, but still noticeable.
There was also a facepalm moment when Azoth / Kylar fails to see something which I feel falls strongly under the 'Character is Stupid in Order to Progress Plot' banner unfortunately, but the final resolution of this incident is almost satisfying enough to wave off the bears and give Weeks a pass on it. It came close to eliciting a Man Tear, but not quite there.
Overall, despite the issues mentioned, I loved the book and I've dived into the second to fill out my reading time when I get caught up with the current Warbreaker Group Read. You will no doubt see reviews of the second and third books in due course. :)