I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that Brent Weeks has changed forever my view of epic fantasy. I’m ashamed that I didn’t start reading him until 2018, but I fully plan on remedying my mistakes in short order.
The Night Angel trilogy has been one of my favorite fantasy reads in recent memory, thanks in large part to the expansive, complex magic systems, the breakneck pacing, and the underlying heart of the story.
I absolutely need to start by examining the brilliant pacing and plotting of the series, as it was the element that probably struck me most. In my own experience, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an epic fantasy paced like the Night Angel trilogy. The chapters are short, the tension is consistently high, and Weeks does an incredible job of layering plots together in such a way that the danger is always escalating. It’s an epic fantasy that reads like a thriller, which is no small feat considering how large the books are.
I fondly remember reading the first book on my kindle. I turn off the percentage bar at the bottom, as I find that it distracts me from the simple joy of diving into the story. As I powered through the first book, I distinctly remember being convinced that I was getting quite close to the climax of the story. Then, for some reason, I had to close the book and return to the homepage, where the percentage read displayed. I was only at 50%! That was the moment I knew I was in for one incredible ride.
The magic in Night Angel is definitely “soft.” Kylar is always discovering new abilities, and the limits of magic are never definite. I’m not sure that I have a distinct preference between “soft” and “hard” magic systems, but I always worry that soft magic systems can be used by authors to get their characters too easily out of sticky situations, like in the old batman show where Batman’s utility belt always had exactly the device he needed to escape that particular situation. Fortunately, Weeks manages to avoid this problem. Throughout the series, as Kylar discovers more of what he can do, I was never left thinking, “Well, that’s awfully convenient.” Instead, I was always left with a distinct feeling of, “Well, that’s pretty damn cool.”
I won’t argue that Night Angel is perfect. I’m not sure any book is. I had my fair share of complaints here. But what won me over in the end is the heart of the story. It’s easy, in the middle of epic fantasy with high stakes and incredibly powerful magic, to lose the beating heart of what makes a story matter: characters who have to make difficult choices that change who they are.
No matter how powerful the characters become, and no matter how dangerous the situation may be, Weeks never loses this all-important thread in the Night Angel trilogy. The challenges the protagonists face aren’t just important because of their difficulty, they’re important because they force the protagonists to confront themselves.
I’ll never claim to be the most widely read person out there, but I’ve read no small amount of fantasy, and I’ve never encountered anything quite like the Night Angel trilogy. Throughout the last book, in particular, I felt as though this was a story just beginning to be told, and I’m excited by the possibility of Weeks someday returning to this incredible world.