Diving back in with book reviews! Today I’m bringing you a spoiler-free review of The Black Prism by Brent Weeks.
“Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world. He is high priest and emperor, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace. But Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live: Five years to achieve five impossible goals. But when Guile discovers he has a son, born in a far kingdom after the war that put him in power, he must decide how much he’s willing to pay to protect a secret that could tear his world apart. “ – via Goodreads
I feel like I wanted to like The Black Prism more than I actually did. It has a thoroughly enjoyable magic system, albeit a bit confusing, and the world building seemed solid. There are epic fantasy battles and satisfying twists in the plot line. But I feel like it really fell apart in dialogue and characters. Specifically, how female characters are interacted with and written about throughout the book.
I found a huge portion of the dialogue to feel very forced. The conversations between characters felt very wooden, and just didn’t read well. Towards the end of the book, I did stop noticing it as much but I have no idea if that’s because the dialogue actually improved or if I just got used to it. It was annoying in the beginning, but an easy enough hurdle to get over.
But the way he writes about female characters, that is a much harder hurdle to leap over. I do want to clarify this statement. I think he writes female characters decently. There are three main female characters throughout the book, and for the most part, they are all written about in a manner that I took little issue with. But the way he writes about female characters makes me beyond frustrated. What I mean by this is in nearly EVERY reference to a female her breasts or body are brought up. There is a scene where an old woman is present; she is a background character with absolutely no bearing on the story whatsoever. The author takes the time to point out she has sagging breasts. Seriously? What is the point of that? It adds nothing, other than LOOK I TALKED ABOUT BOOBS. And that kind of writing is CONSTANT.
Female characters are constantly, either from a narrator voice or directly from a character’s perspective, being reduced to their physical qualities. How attractive they are. What their boobs look like. How they look in the clothes they are wearing. It’s obnoxious. Some would argue that it’s just character description and there’s nothing wrong with that! I disagree. I think there are many, many ways you can describe a female, or a character’s thoughts about females, without reducing them to body parts and attractiveness.
One of the main male protagonists, Kip, is a fifteen year old boy. I understand that at that age, if you’re hetero, thinking about girls and sex is quite normal. But it was overdone in such a heavy handed way, most notably with Kip. If females were present with him in a scene, there was at least a paragraph that described how he was feeling about their bodies or attractiveness. It was obnoxious. It brought nothing to the story, and certainly nothing to him as a character. I despised Kip because of it – his two main personality characteristics were whining and being obsessed with girls.
Unfortunately, it was a constant theme throughout the book. And the descriptions brought absolutely nothing to the story which is what bothers me most. Descriptions of women’s bodies and how attractive they are, those are elements that can strengthen a story or character background. But it entirely depends on how those elements are incorporated and the way they are written. In The Black Prism, I found they brought nothing to the table other than objectification. Which left a real bad taste in my mouth.
With the bad thoroughly laid out, let’s move on to some good parts to this book. The magic system is definitely a great part of The Black Prism. It involves certain individuals being able to absorb color, and turn that color into tangible materials. Pretty sweet. Also, the main male protagonist, Gavin, is excellent. Interesting, complex, and involved in a really big twist that becomes a huge focus of the book. I will say nothing about the twist because of major spoilers, but it was one of my favorite parts.
Overall, I did enjoy this book even though it is has some serious flaws. There are enough well written characters of both sexes to balance out the poorly written ones, and the plot is very suspenseful and intriguing. I do want to read book two, because I really want to find out what happens to a few of the characters! I can only hope the writing, especially his way of writing about women, improves. Would I recommend reading it? Only if you’ve already read a TON of fantasy novels and really need a new one to try. There are definitely far better fantasy novels out there.