Review: The Broken Eye (Lightbringer Book 3) by Brent Weeks

 

 

 

the-broken-eye-by-brent-weeks

 

Short Review:

The continuing Epic fantasy saga following a handful of overpowered characters as they scheme and try to survive a civil war.  Slower, and more politically and world-building focused than the initial volumes.  Two of the female characters are raised to central prominence.  A solid step toward the end of the series with lots of minor action sequences but temporarily loses sight of the major conflict.

 

Longer Review:

If you are reading this I am assuming that you have already read Books 1 and 2 (The Black Prism and The Blinding Knife respectively).  This book picks up on the cliffhanger ending of Book 2 with Gavin enslaved on a pirate vessel, Kip held prisoner by his half-brother Zymun, Karris worried about the missing Gavin, and Teia being courted by a secret society of ne’er-do-wells.  You might notice the Liv and the Colour Prince don’t feature on that list… and that is because it seems that Weeks is leaving that storyline to the last book.  While the story checks in on Gavin to keep you updated on his travails, the major focus on this novel is on Karris, Teia, and Kip, and a strong eye on the underhanded politics of the Chromeria.  While the first two books aimed at high adventure and action Epic Fantasy, this book slows all the way down to focus more on the history and detail of the world, and spends time moving pieces around in preparation for the concluding book.  So while it is great to have more character development and world-building, those looking for the civil war storyline to advance, the usual rip-roaring adventure and epic action, may be a little disappointed.

One of the most positive aspects of this volume is that two of the supporting female characters get a real chance to develop and come into their own beyond their role as love interests for the male protagonists.  Teia’s clandestine missions with the secretive order are an interesting throwback to Weeks’ first series The Nightangel Trilogy, and some of that espionage sneaky excitement filters through.  Plus delving into the history and background of the order really deepens the world and muddies the moral waters around the Chromeria.  But Teia is not a female version of Kylar, and Weeks spends a lot of time in the novel letting the reader get to know Teia that much more intimately.  Her psychological damage from her time as a slave, and her fear of intimacy linked to that, are nuances to her character that Weeks allows us to explore and engage with.  While her amazing paryl drafting abilities and rapid rise to mythological levels of power somewhat undercut the sympathy we might have for a colour-blind, ex-slave, woman in a man’s world dependent on colour, Tiea remains an extraordinarily sympathetic character without becoming a figure of pity.  It is always nice to see female characters with nuance and depth, strengths and weaknesses, rather than Strong Female Character™.

 

Karris is a different sort of character but again Weeks tries to make her flawed and rounded, and encourages to the reader to understand her situation as soldier no longer allowed to serve, a magic user no longer allowed to draft, and a wife bereft of her husband.  But rather than focusing on what she has lost, Karris’ storyline is about her adaptation to her new situation and how she develops new strategies in order to survive and thrive in the poisonous politics of the Chromeria.  So again, a secondary female character is brought to the fore to become a central figure in her own right, with her own goals, and her importance to the story becomes equated with (if not entirely equal to) Kip and Gavin’s.  Admittedly her story arc in this is a little too heavily foreshadowed and bluntly drawn, leading to a complete lack of surprise with how it turns out, but it is still an interesting trip.

 

As you can no doubt guess from this shift in priority of perspectives, the major location of this novel is Big Jasper and focuses on the treacherous backstabbing and scheming of the Chromeria, which brings us to Andross Guile, ostensibly the antagonist of this volume.  Due to the lack of the Colour Prince from the line-up, Andross has had to rise to the fore as the central antagonist and foil to the heroic characters in a bid to add some much needed tension to the story.  While he was somewhat of a villainous caricature in the previous books, his portrayal here is a great deal more nuanced, and the occasional glimpses behind the scenes show him to be a much more complicated character than hitherto seen.  His scheming and manoeuvring is actually more sinister in Eye because it is that much more believable and real.  We actually get a sense of his motivation and reasons instead of thinking he is simply a power hungry villain for villainy’s sake.  Admittedly his motivations and end goals are still a little muddied, but he reads as a far more interesting and complicated character now.

 

Of course Kip and Gavin feature in the novel, with Kip’s return to Big Jasper and the Blackguards forming a central thread of the story which the storylines of Andross, Teia, and Karris intertwine with.  But, to be honest, while events of dire importance happen to Kip, he is too passively reactionary rather than heroically active to sustain the protagonist level of narrative weight that Gavin can.  But this seems a very deliberate strategy on Weeks’ part as a significant proportion of Kip’s story is centred on his maturing as a soldier, a hero and as a man.  In the earlier books he was a child being thrust into destiny’s path, in this book he is coming to grips with his role and his position.  While his character vacillated between mature and childish, and a number of his scenes felt uneven and at odds with his established character growth, perhaps some of this can be explained as being an accurate portrayal of a teenage boy struggling into maturity.  But at least this means that Weeks is attempting the destined boy-king messiah storyline with some semblance of realism.

 

Another strength of Eye is the further development of the world and the history of the struggle; from the mythological past, to secret societies, and the formation of the Satrapies.  Backstories of interesting characters and the societies are filled in, and, more importantly, built upon.  Weeks pulls out all the stops in delving into the world this time around, and, as a result, the world finally starts to feel more deeply realised and solid than the broad, crude strokes of the first book, and the unsubtle world-building of the second.  But while this is great when it features the world and the history that led to the legends, it is a little less impressive when we get glimpses into the metaphysical meta-narrative that appears to be ripped entirely from Judeo-Christian mythology given a quick coating of Silmarillion paint and dropped into the middle of this world.  I understand the allure of the treacherous angel as evil bad guy behind the scenes, but disguising it or adapting it a little more subtly would have been nice.  As it stands, unless the next book does something really drastic with this plot line the angelic/demonic war acted out by humans will seem even more tired and trite.

 

One of the things that I personally enjoyed about this novel was that Weeks’ writing has improved considerably, in particular the language used to describe the magic and his attitude to his readers.  Now that we are in Book 3, Weeks is finally trusting the reader to have a working understanding of the magic system and the world instead of belabouring explanations and dumping exposition in at every opportunity.  This change, even though the magical terminology is still a little unwieldy and suffers from a lack of variation, makes the book a great deal more immersive and enjoyable.  I no longer felt that I was being told what was happening and why, rather I was getting to see what was happening and was able to work out why.  The style is still a little more tell, don’t show, than a lot of fantasy writers, but it didn’t feel as forced or artificial this time around.

 

This brings us onto some of the more problematic aspects of the book.  Firstly is the issue of Gavin.  While it is true that Gavin goes through a terrible ordeal in this novel, essentially nothing changes and he has little to no impact on the over-arching storyline.  Given the strength of the character in the first book, and the development of his story in the second, this felt underwhelming a real let down.  Kip, Karris, Teia and all the other characters are basically unaffected by Gavin’s storyline.  He is essentially side-lined in the least interesting way possible.  Like Professor X in the first three X-Men films, he is too powerful and so is conveniently removed so that the other characters can actually do something.

 

The second point that bugged me is the over-use of treachery, betrayal and cliff-hangers/twists/sudden reveals.  I get that this is meant to be a cesspool of scheming, corrupted assholes, but could we possibly have a single character who is actually who they say they are and doesn’t have a secret agenda?  A few characters being embroiled in this sort of thing is interesting, but with every character double-crossing every other character, or having ulterior motives, makes me wonder why anyone trusts anyone else.  But the over-use of the big twist reveal is now getting very tiresome and is robbing the moments of emotional impact as I am now waiting for the other shoe to drop each and every time.  As a result, I am actually predicting some of them because I am expecting a twist/reveal and therefore work through the possibilities of what it could be long before it happens.  It really is a case of less is more.

 

The last point that I thought was a bit of an issue in this book was the feeling that this was filler.  The focus on the main storyline of the war and why that was happening seems to have drifted away this volume.  I understand that Weeks wanted to carry on the chronology and that the Colour Prince needed some time to regroup his forces and start slowly moving across the map and so the timing of events is accurately depicted, but it is a novel… he could have started the timeline 7 months later.  Stuff can happen off page.  Did we really need all the chapters of Gavin as a galley slave?  So much of that could have been glossed over, pared down, combined and shunted into other sections and locations.  We don’t need a load of inconsequential events with occasional moments of action to hold our attention.  As much as I liked reading about Teia, I could have settled for half of her story and had it intertwined with Kip’s more, in that we get her perspective on events that they are both involved in.  I get that Weeks wanted to build up the political tensions and show the manoeuvring, but in reality very few actual events occur, so most of this is just people wandering around talking to other people about plots that go nowhere.  At least a third of this novel could have been cut out without a loss to the story.  But I admit that this is a personal gripe, and I also admit that I was engaged and entertained as I read.  So really, if you don’t mind the slower pace, the focus on secondary characters, and the lack of development of the main story, this is a pretty good instalment in the Lightbringer series.

 

I know my last few points have been a little harsh and negative, and I don’t want to give the impression that this isn’t a good book especially as I enjoyed it.  I think it is pretty good and did more than enough to make me want to get the next one as soon as it comes out.  I just had a few recurring moments while reading of wanting it to hurry up and go somewhere instead of dawdling and trailing its feet.  One of the reasons I like Weeks is that in the past he has written very Gemmell-esque, no nonsense, rip-roaring epic fantasy.  It might have been light on depth and subtlety, but it was page turning fun.  I think he is growing as a writer and developing a greater command of nuance and complexity, but the transition here was a little awkward and unbalanced.  So while this is a clear move to a more mature writing style, it didn’t quite get the balance right for me, but there is plenty there to enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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