The first novel in Brent Weeks’ Lightbringer series, The Black Prism, is far more epic than it really needs to be for it to be enjoyable. Why, you might ask, is that a bad thing? Well it’s not a terrible thing, but this book suffers slightly by feeling more like the last in a trilogy than the first. (Side note – this series is not a trilogy). It jumps into the action far too quickly, and robs our young hero Kip from having a truly memorable journey by not showing us enough of his day to day. But despite it all, this has got to be one of the funnest, most satisfying and imaginative reads I’ve come across in ages.
Weeks’ magic system for this book is called chromaturgy – which is basically the bending of light to draft colors. The book gives us the comparative example of fire being the conversion of mass into energy. Well, what if the light energy you were capable of absorbing could be converted into mass? Not everyone is capable of drafting color though – it’s a rare gift. And within the spectrum of colors are seven different types of light to draft from. Most are only capable of drafting one color – they’re known as monochromes; two colors would make you a bi-chrome; and three colors, the maximum number of colors one can draft, would make you a polychrome. There is one capable of learning all the colors, known as the Prism – one in every generation, for there can be only one Prism.
The colors, when drafted, create luxin – a physical substance that can take any shape, given you can draft that color. Each color has different properties, and likewise each color requires a different end of the emotional spectrum to harness it. Interestingly, green luxin is only possible with willpower… Does this remind you of anything? It should. Green Lantern uses willpower to control his green constructs. Is this a coincidence? I honestly don’t know. Along with the fact that there can only be one Prism at any given time, this leads me to assume that the series borrows heavily from both DC Comics’ Green Lantern and Nickelodeon’s Avatar series.
I had a really hard time initially grasping what exactly luxin looked like. Gavin, the current Prism, poured out the stuff left and right to aid his missions. But being that luxin isn’t a real word and the concept was thrust on you so early on in the book, it was initially too much to fully visualize.
One interesting idea that The Black Prism invites to the table is that the more one uses their gift of chromaturgy, the closer they become to dying, or more realistically, “breaking the halo” in one’s eye. What this means is that if they overextend themselves too much and too often, they essentially snap and turn into color whites, where the color seeps into the whites of their eyes. They become crazed, and power hungry. Often this means that the Chromaria, the organization in charge of order amongst drafters, will have to put them down. The color whites become obsessed with magic to the point where they begin to draft the stuff under the skin, eventually replacing it. The concept, to me is terrifying, and the execution of their presence in the plot is equally so. If I could picture it in my mind, I’d say it probably looks like what the Sibylline Oracles turned into in the Doctor Who episode The Fires of Pompeii, just with more color.
I loved the interplay of the characters for the most part. Some characters, like Liv Danavis, just didn’t make the cut however. Chapters revolving around her were mostly a bore to me. The book is also very funny, but not so much when it tries to be. The jokes the characters play off each other, sarcasm, etc. just suck. Humorless and snarky. But to contrast that, the irony of the situations Brent Weeks puts his characters into really sells the fact that it can be a hilarious read.
Despite the mild language the book occasionally drops and Kip’s overall discomfort at being a 15 year old boy around voluptuous women, the overall jovial time you end up spending reading the book make it seem as if it’s merely a PG-13 adventure. But then the book hits you with a rather uncomfortably obtuse scene involving sexual contact with no relevance to the plot, and it just completely doesn’t fit tonally with the rest of the novel. Just a heads up, if you were planning on gifting the book to another.
Some really interesting character developments are involved in the story – most of which I can’t really disclose without derailing your enjoyment. But, let’s just say that even the characters that you know aren’t what they seem, aren’t what they seem. You’ll understand that if you finish it, which you will because it’s just such a fun read. There’s love, there’s war, there’s friendship, there’s apostasy, there’s insane magic systems, there’s odd fantasy cultures… There’s a lot to love in this book. And it really, truly has an exceptional ending, with a strong stinger at its close. And despite my earlier claims of it feeling too epic for a first novel, I’m so excited to find out if the author can top it all in his next book.