In chapter one of The Black Prism, the new epic fantasy from bestselling Night Angel trilogy author Brent Weeks, 15-year-old protagonist Kip is teased about feeling like he’s “destined for something greater.” It’s a slight push against the fourth wall, one in which Weeks winks at readers and implies “This isn’t going to be your typical bedraggled-youth-discovers-he-has-power-beyond-his-imagining story.” Problem is, that’s exactly what kind of story The Black Prism is. Weeks seems almost smug in his nearly imperceptible flouting of fantasy tropes—look, ma, no elves!—but he’s more or less regurgitating many of those tropes whole.
Kip, one of the only survivors of a village massacre ordered by the evil King Garadul, quickly finds out that his long-lost father is Gavin Guile, a man otherwise known as the Black Prism—sort of a magician/superhero/emperor hybrid who’s embroiled with political intrigue, an old flame, and a family secret that’s far darker than simply siring a bastard. Gavin isn’t the only magician: A complex, congenital system of color-manipulation allows certain people to wield portions of the spectrum as if it were raw, solid matter. Kip, naturally, winds up being a “drafter” of extraordinary power. Now he just needs to figure out what to do with it.
As fundamentally generic as the story is, Weeks has some tricks up his sleeve. His prose rings like crystal; his dialogue is witty, chatty, and brisk; and his pacing is frictionless, even when he’s embedding convoluted exposition into action scenes. As much of a stock hero as Kip appears at first, he does eventually unfold into a somewhat complex, sympathetic—though somewhat whiny—representative of the chosen-one archetype. And once it clicks into its track, the narrative flies along, never letting its morbid angst or horrific imagery weigh down what’s ultimately a solid, entertaining yarn.
In spite of those strengths, The Black Prism still lapses into predictability, luxuriates in cliché, and sports characters with names like Commander Ironfist and Lord Omnichrome, who are exactly as one-dimensional as those names suggest. Weeks does deserve props for his oh-so-slight deviation from the fantasy formula, not to mention his lively, engaging storytelling. Here’s hoping, though, that the next two books in this planned trilogy wholeheartedly embrace the risks he promises here, but doesn’t entirely deliver.