This review - of The Black Prism by Brent Weeks - first appeared in SFX #201 (November 2010 - yes, I know it's odd that the November issue has already made way for the December one in mid-October). Let's just say I enjoyed writing the review a whole lot more than I enjoyed reading the book.
For my previous experience of reading Brent Weeks' special, special prose, see the first part of my review of the 2009 David Gemmell Legend Award shortlist.
Some books you simply reach breaking point with. In the case of Brent Weeks' latest, it came on page 22, when the main character, Kip, is filled with alarm at the thought of his fellow teenager Isabel being caught up in the impending violent slaughter of his hometown. Not because they're sort-of friends, but because she's hot. Sorry, "turning into a beautiful woman".
Now, it might just be an attack of poor phrasing - there's more than enough of that to go around in Weeks' latest - rather than a sign that this story and its characters have all the depth and maturity of a paddling pool. Indeed, in a better-written novel, Kip could have been an endearing lead: he's a smart, well-meaning boy who buries the twin insecurities of obesity and an abusive upbringing beneath a wisecracking motormouth persona. But here he's lost amid glacially-paced infodumping, the most laboured dialogue this side of a Babylon 5 episode, and plot twists so contrived that they require characters to act in ways diametrically opposed to their, for want of a better word, personalities.
The Black Prism reads like the fever dream of a teenage boy who sees more shoot-'em-ups than sunlight. There are bucketloads of explicit violence, but it's all more garish than gut-wrenching and our heroes' bruises have generally worn off by the next chapter; the tediously leery descriptions of female characters' physical attributes, meanwhile, are offset by an awkward coyness about consensual sex and a cloying sentimentality about childhood crushes. Bonus star for a nifty magic system based on how the human eye perceives different wavelengths of light; it's not exactly hard sf, but it does provide some much-needed colour in an otherwise dull tale.