No one is more surprised than I am that I returned to Brent Weeks. The Way of Shadows (2008) was such a stunning example of LOLFANTASY that I vowed to keep my further Weeks-reading at arm's length. If not further.
Still, time heals all wounds and bloggers I really respect were all rating The Blinding Knife, book two in the AWSUM COLORZ series. The library turned up a copy of The Black Prism, so I took it as a sign and got to reading.
Generally speaking, I agree with the collective enthusiasm - Brent Weeks' recent books are a lot of fun. But are they greatness? Eh. I hope not. [There's also a generally-held view that The Blinding Knife is "the next level up" from The Black Prism. Although I'd happily agree that this new series is a vast improvement on the NITEANGELDARKAVENGERSTABFACE trilogy, I'm not sure there was a pronounced difference between its component books. In my mind, the AWSUM COLORZ series has already fused into single polychromatic volume. Possibly because there's not much actual plot.]
First, let's clear the air: the AWSUM COLORZ series is compulsively readable - in the sort of mass-market, just-off-the-trope, I'm-pretty-sure-I-know-what-is-going-to-happen-but-just-one-more-chapter way. There's nothing new here, but the presentation is addictive. Short, spicy chapters, generally with just enough action or world-building to tease you into the next scene. There are several viewpoint characters who all serve as a cliff-hanger Lazy Susan, revolving one after the other in perpetual peril. If a book's function is to be read, AWSUM COLORZ has it nailed: I read the books at night, in the morning, while cooking, while waiting for Avengers Alliance to load...
Second, the books are fun. Part of the reason the NITE ANGEL series of ASSASSINBOYKILLA books rubbed me the wrong way is that each. moment. was. presented. like. it. was. the. most. important. in. the. universe. Which is a bit ridiculous when you know that DEATHKILLERSTABFACE is just going to sprout POWERARMOR and SWORDBLAST everything. Granted, the AWSUM COLORZ series has its own fair share of POWERARMOR and SWORDBLASTIN, but it also has self-deprecating characters that sit at enough of a remove to be secretly amazed by themselves. No one in AWSUM COLORZ takes their AWSUM for granted, which is a big part of the appeal. The characters are as astounded by their AWSUM as we are. Which makes the sheer ridiculousness of it all a shared experience between character, author and reader. That's pulpy, and I like it.
Weeks also avoids getting all up in yr philosophy as well, which is much appreciated. There's no heavy thinkin' here. There are several factions, all with with their own viewpoint characters. Despite their fundamental differences, they all agree to disagree, and then get to the KABLOOIE with a minimum of fuss. They all know why they're here, and it isn't to expound about transcendence or humanity's capacity for evil. They're here to BLAST AWSUM COLORZ.
Third, the characters are clearly designed with empathy in mind. With the caveat that these are targeted an a very specific type of particular reader. Gavin the Prism is the most powerful 'drafter' (someone that uses COLORKABLOOIE) in the realm. But he's got his own secrets and his own agenda. Etc. Etc. He's also a nice guy. Earns respect, yo. An impression that's reinforced when he wanders into other characters' points of view. Gavin also has a HOTTIE slave for ROOMSEX and a sekrit twoo luv. (And a six-pack!) Gavin is who our twelve-year-old selves wanted to be when we grew up. He's our idealised version of masculine adulthood, with a rippling physique, sex on tap, perpetual rebellion against the system (despite being the system), and the spicy torment of a forbidden passion.
Kip, Gavin's bastard (kind of) and the mandatory teen prophecy-monkey, is clearly crafted with equal care. Kip's overweight, shy, snarky, surrounded by HOTTIES and UBERPOWERFUL at COLORKABLOOIE. If Gavin is who we wanted to be, Kip was us. Overpowered and underappreciated. Pudgy, geeky and sekritly-awum-if-only-someone-would-ask. It is hard not to admire audience targeting this utterly shameless. Kip does everything except obsessively compete in collectible card games... no, wait, he actually does that too.
There are also Liv (who is hot), Karris (who is hot) and another female character (whose name I can't remember two days after finishing the book) (but she is hot). Pretty much all you need to know about them is in the Wikipedia plot summary to The Blinding Knife. (SPOILER: they're not mentioned at all.)
Fourth, ZOMG COLORKABLOOIE! So basically, some people are born specialler and they can 'draft' colors into stuff. Red stuff is explodey. Green stuff is stabby. Blue stuff is thumpy. Orange stuff is slimy. Black stuff summons the Lord of the Pit, but make sure you have plenty of cannon fodder handy. [Raise your hand if you got that joke. Congratulations, this book was written for you!] Some people can draft multiple colors. Other people, like Gavin are SUPERAWSUM and can draft all of them. The magic system is kind of explained - at one point Kip goes to Battle School, but, fortunately, the lecturing (borrrrring) is quickly replaced by perpetually duelling (yay!). But mostly there's light and some people make stuff out of it and then they fight!
I say the following with no sarcasm: Weeks has his priorities straight. The world-building (be it political or magical) exists purely to set the stage for COLORKABLOOIE. A quick sentence of "this person does bluekablooie" and then, more importantly, "YES BUT WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU HIT THEM WITH A STICK?". Or "this person does violetkablooie" and "AND NOW THEY WILL FIGHT PIRATES AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA". It is half Magic the Gathering, half Star Wars prequel and all "Could Mighty Mouse beat Superman?".
The plot, such as it is, only reinforces this peculiar structure. Kip and Gavin colorsplode minions until they get to the boss fight. It gets tense, then they team up to form the MEGAPRIZMZORD and with their powers combined, they AWSUMSMACK everything in sight. Kip then receives two achievement badges and a new nickname.
There are a few exceptions, rare situations wherein the backstory is "important". Gavin and his brother fought a civil war in the yet-unpublished-but-inevitable prequel trilogy. A lot of characters from that series pop up in the AWSUM COLORZ series, but, since we don't know (or particularly care) about them, the author occasional resorts to a bit of tell-not-show. "Look over there, that's Sporkbanger the Obtruse, a legendary hero and the best of his kind. Now you understand how important the next scene will be..." and "... but the secret enemy turned out to be Dalinkybonk Wormtongue! Who was important in the last war! And if you haven't heard of him, well, you should've! Gosh! Have you been hiding under a rock?!". This is a little annoying and, fortunately, only happens a few times.
Anyone here play Yahoo Fantasy Football?
They've introduced a new feature this year where you can get 'recaps' of your fantasy matches. Which, if you know anything about fantasy football, is ridiculous. Yahoo generates a series of Turing-failing automated statements that try to compress a dozen different football games into one cohesive narrative. "[Your kicker] had a stunning week and made 11.24 points. Hooray." "[Your quarterback] had the worst game of his career -56% off his average points per game. That sucked." Sportswriting a la a Harriet Klausner.
In a way, that's the AWSUM COLORZ series - a paper bag containing infinite permutations of head-to-head battles. Fortunately, Weeks circa 2012 is a great deal more readable than the YahooBot (which, in turn, is more readable than Weeks circa 2008). There are characters we identify with (d00d! they're us!), a vaguely coherent plot (maybe) and COLORKABLOOIE.
I genuinely can't wait to read the third book in this series, but not because I care about Kip or Gavin or whatshername the female POV. Nor do I care about the war-thing or the prophecy-thing or the politics-stuff. I assume it'll all get resolved to someone's satisfaction. The romantic subplots are non-starters: Kip's fallen in love at least twice and gets a Blinding Knife every time a woman looks his way. Eventually [insert female POV here] will hook up with him, and he'll unlock that achievement too.
No, what I care about? Orange.
Seriously, we haven't seen orange drafters in a proper fight yet, and I really want to know what happens when orange fights red. Or blue. Or pirates, or monsters or... So many fights, so few pages.
The AWSUM COLORZ series is trashy, pulpy, utterly mind-absorbing fun; fanboy fantasies all glued together with rampant enthusiasm and shellacked in way more charisma than it deserves. Color me amazed, but I kind of loved it.
[Update: The Broken Eye review! (August 2015)]