Explore Brent Weeks’ transformative impact on fantasy through his novel, ‘The Way of Shadows,’ and the subsequent rise of the grimdark subgenre.
From the sun-kissed lands of Tolkien’s Middle Earth to the frostbitten realms of Martin’s Westeros, we thought we’d seen it all in fantasy.
Ah, bless our naïve little socks. Little did we know, the genre was primed to be knocked squarely on its ethereal arse by an unassuming bloke named Brent Weeks and his seminal novel, “The Way of Shadows.”
In the dimly-lit world of fantasy, where elves prance about with their pointy ears, dragons spew fire like faulty North Sea gas wells, and wizards wield staffs with the girth of telegraph poles, Weeks cast a dark, smoky shadow of refreshing realism.
‘The Way of Shadows,’ published in 2008, introduced us to the enchanting city of Cenaria, a place as pleasant as a wet weekend in Scunthorpe and twice as grimy.
Here, Weeks crafted his protagonist, Azoth, a scamp with the morals of a pickpocket and the fortitude of a stale pork pie.
But the lad had ambition. And that’s always a good start, right? Well, not quite.
Weeks took Azoth, our lovable rogue, and yanked him through a schooling as a wetboy—a word Weeks insists means ‘assassin,’ but I can’t help picturing a soggy tween wielding a knife down by the bus station.
Nevertheless, this was a stark contrast to the usual well-lit halls of wizardry or dashing knight academies of conventional fantasy.
Instead, we delved headfirst into an underworld teeming with grit, grime, and more moral ambiguity than an MP’s expenses claim (I went there).
And there, precisely, lies the crux of Weeks’ influence on fantasy fiction: ‘The Way of Shadows’ sidestepped the well-trodden path of light vs dark, good vs evil, Marmite vs Bovril.
The lines were smudged, the moral compasses skewed, and reader expectations tossed out like a controversial referendum result.
Suddenly, fantasy wasn’t about some prophesied lad with the personality of a damp lettuce leaf taking down a dark lord with an affinity for eye makeup.
Instead, it focused on the common man, or, in this case, the common guttersnipe, and his moral journey in a world where the road to power is paved with daggers and dodgy dealings.
Moreover, Weeks was unflinching in his depictions of violence and societal horrors.
It was as if he took George R.R. Martin’s penchant for character decimation and said, “Hold my pint, Georgie.”
He wove a tapestry of a world where life was cheaper than a Lidl’s meal deal, and, let’s be honest, was it mesmerising.
Weeks’ gift to fantasy was a murky, grimy realm where the heroes are just as broken as the villains and the outcome is as predictable as a British summer.
With ‘The Way of Shadows,’ Weeks proved that even in a world overflowing with magic and monsters, the most compelling stories revolve around characters with depth and a sense of humour darker than a bar of Bournville.
Post ‘The Way of Shadows,’ we’ve seen a surge of grimdark fiction, a subgenre that’s less ‘unicorns and rainbows’, more ‘corpses and rainclouds…smashed into the mud…with blood and guts everywhere…and screams…lots of screams…and bits of sick.’
A more sinister tone to the fantasy genre seems to have taken root, spreading like unchecked ivy across a trellis.
And for this, we have Brent Weeks to thank (or to send a sternly worded letter, depending on your disposition).
So, Brent Weeks didn’t so much change the face of fantasy as grabbed it by the jowls, gave it a good shake, and told it to buck up its ideas.
His influence continues to be felt with every morally ambiguous protagonist, every sinister cityscape, and every grim depiction of reality that creeps into our beloved genre.
For better or worse, ‘The Way of Shadows’ gave fantasy a gritty facelift. And honestly, it’s a look we’re starting to quite fancy.
Ten Essential Assassin Fantasy Books for Fans of Brent Weeks
Here are ten fantastic fantasy novels featuring assassins, published after Brent Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy.
Each of these will plunge you into worlds of shadowy intrigue, where lives can be taken as quickly as a pint at last call:
“The Emperor’s Edge” (The Emperor’s Edge #1) by Lindsay Buroker (2010)
Buroker’s charming and cunning ensemble, led by an infamous assassin, will keep you entertained and hooked from beginning to end.
“Half a King” (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie (2014)
This series opener introduces us to a gripping world of politics, backstabbing (literal and otherwise), and a royal youth thrust into the midst of it all.
“Blade’s Edge” (Chronicles of Gensokai #1) by Virginia McClain (2015)
In a world where magic is forbidden, two young girls must use their secret abilities to survive.
“Darkblade Assassin” (Hero of Darkness #1) by Andy Peloquin (2018)
The title says it all, really. Peloquin’s moody hero, the Hunter, stalks the grimy streets of Voramis, serving as judge, jury, and executioner.
“Never Die” by Rob J. Hayes (2019)
This is an East Asian-inspired fantasy, where a band of ‘heroes’ is resurrected to serve the whims of a mysterious child. Among them is an infamous assassin, whose skills prove essential to their mission.
“Blood Song” (Raven’s Shadow #1) by Anthony Ryan (2011)
In a tale of warfare, intrigue, and dark magic, a young boy, trained to be a killer, rises to power.
“Dance of Cloaks” (Shadowdance #1) by David Dalglish (2013)
Follow the journey of a young heir to a criminal empire, trained in the arts of stealth and murder.
“Kings of Paradise” (Ash and Sand #1) by Richard Nell (2018)
Dive into a world of shadowy politics, brutal warfare, and a protagonist who knows a thing or two about killing.
“Free the Darkness” (King’s Dark Tidings #1) by Kel Kade (2015)
Follow the story of Rezkin, an assassin with a stringent code of honour, in a tale that blends action and adventure in a fantastic fantasy
“Age of Assassins” (The Wounded Kingdom #1) by RJ Barker (2017)
Barker has certainly outdone himself with this rousing foray into the fantasy genre. “Age of Assassins” is an exhilarating rollercoaster ride of deceit, intrigue, and surprise that gleefully chucks you into the life of our protagonist, Girton Club-Foot.
Now there’s a selection to make an assassin blush!
Just remember to tread lightly as you wander through these pages, as these are worlds where shadows often bite back.
Would you like a free copy of my novel Birth of Assassins? Grab your copy as part of the free Ravenglass Universe starter library.
Explore the rise of epic fantasy across literature, TV, film, video games, and music. Discover how this genre has revolutionized popular culture.
We’re about to embark on a thrilling ride through the expansive realms of epic fantasy.
It’s been said that we’re living in a golden age of this grand genre, and as we venture from literature and video games, to television and film, it’s hard to disagree.
The past decade or so has brought with it a resurgence of epic fantasy that would make even the most hardened orc shed a tear of joy.
This period, brimming with magical creatures, intricate world-building, and complex characters, has heralded a revolution in how we consume and perceive this genre.
No longer confined to dusty tomes enjoyed in candle-lit, wizard-themed bedrooms, epic fantasy has soared on dragon wings, spreading its influence far and wide across popular culture.
Today, it’s as common to hear chatter about the latest dragon-slaying escapade on the commute as it is to discuss the weather.
In this thrilling expedition, we’ll delve into the staggering impact of epic fantasy on our books, TV shows, films, video games, and music.
So, pull up a chair, summon your beverage of choice, and join us as we embark on this fantastical journey.
An Explosion of Fantasy on the Bookshelves
First, let’s pay a visit to the realm of literature. It’s hard to talk about epic fantasy without tipping our hats to the unstoppable force that is Brandon Sanderson.
Sanderson churns out novels with the same speed that a poorly trained wizard casts fireballs (and with far less collateral damage). His “Stormlight Archive” series has given us a world so epic it makes the Himalayas look like a minor inconvenience.
Then we have the fantastical work of N.K. Jemisin and her ‘Broken Earth’ trilogy. Her powerful prose and intricate plotting rocked the literary world. Not only did she bag the prestigious Hugo Award for each book in the trilogy, a first for any author, but she also managed to subtly weave poignant social commentary into her lore. She has, quite literally, redefined the landscape of fantasy.
And, of course, there’s George R. R. Martin. His ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series, a veritable ‘War and Peace’ of Westeros, continues to delight and horrify us in equal measure. (Of course, this mention is contingent upon the long-awaited sixth book ‘The Winds of Winter’ ever seeing the light of day. No pressure, George, but the kettle’s been on for a while now).
And Sarah J. Maas burst onto the scene like a unicorn on roller-skates with her ‘Throne of Glass’ and ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’ series. (I always want to see what A Court of Guns and Roses might look like, but after this year’s Glastonbury performance it might not be the best idea). Maas’s enticing mix of fantasy, romance, and strong female leads has inspired a new generation of readers to pick up the mantle and read past their bedtime.
A New Chapter: Indie Heroes of the Epic Fantasy Realm
If the corporate publishing landscape is akin to a neatly trimmed English garden, then indie publishing is the wild, untamed forest just beyond, rife with the unknown and bursting with possibilities.
With the rise of the digital age, an ever-growing crop of talented wordsmiths have bravely ventured into this wilderness, bestowing upon us a treasure trove of self-published epic fantasies.
Leading the charge is none other than Michael J. Sullivan with his ‘Riyria Revelations’. If you’ve not had the pleasure, Sullivan’s series offers a refreshing brew of classic high fantasy with a generous dash of modern sensibility. His dynamic duo, Royce and Hadrian, steal more than just gold.
Then there’s Anthony Ryan, who exploded onto the scene with ‘Blood Song,’ the first book in the ‘Raven’s Shadow’ series. Ryan’s tale, as gritty as a winter’s day in Grimsby, is proof positive that you don’t need corporate backing to win over fans. His success caught the attention of Penguin Books, who re-published his work, thus transforming this self-published gem into a mainstream marvel.
We mustn’t overlook Will Wight’s ‘Cradle’ series, an ingenious blend of epic fantasy and xianxia (a Chinese genre focusing on cultivation of moral and spiritual virtues). As innovative as a solar-powered teapot, Wight demonstrates the creative liberties of indie publishing, delivering tales unfettered by conventional genre expectations and marketing executives.
Amanda Hocking, the queen of paranormal romance, took a leap into the epic fantasy genre with her ‘Trylle Trilogy.’ Hocking proves that when it comes to indie publishing, not even the sky’s the limit. Why stop at the sky when there are entirely new worlds to explore?
Of course, indie publishing isn’t as easy as a Sunday morning lie-in. It requires the tenacity of a determined terrier and the entrepreneurial spirit of Richard Branson.
These authors aren’t just writing, they’re also acting as their marketers, and, on occasion, therapists.
It’s a challenging path, but as our highlighted authors prove, it can lead to rewards as satisfying as the perfect biscuit dunk.
A Feast for Our Telly Boxes
Shifting our gaze from ink and paper, let’s flick on the telly and cast our eyes towards the fantasy genre’s successful infiltration of the small screen.
Let’s start with the behemoth in the room, or rather, the dragon on the screen. ‘Game of Thrones’ gave fantasy television a jolt stronger than a double espresso on a Monday morning. George R. R. Martin’s deliciously intricate storylines, coupled with HBO’s willingness to shell out more gold coins than Smaug’s treasure hoard, resulted in a series that captivated a global audience and redefined fantasy on television.
Not to be outdone, Netflix threw its hat in the ring with ‘The Witcher,’ based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s series of novels. Henry Cavill’s portrayal of the grizzled Geralt of Rivia became an overnight sensation, as did his catchy tune, ‘Toss a Coin to Your Witcher.’ Who knew monster hunting could have such a rousing soundtrack? The series adeptly balanced monster-of-the-week plots with a grand overarching narrative, and the production value was higher than a gentleman’s top hat.
Amazon, too, is keen on joining this magical melee with its ‘Lord of the Rings’ prequel series and the adaptation of Robert Jordan’s ‘The Wheel of Time’. Between you, me, and the lamppost, these ambitious projects are about as secretive as the Queen’s pudding recipe. Yet, the mere whiff of these beloved epics getting the screen treatment has fans twitching with excitement.
Fantasy TV has indeed proven itself as popular as a dog in a park full of squirrels, much to the delight of book lovers everywhere. The magic of these sprawling epics, replete with dragons, witches, and an alarming number of medieval political squabbles, has found a comfortable new home in our living rooms. Just be sure to keep your remote handy – there are endless worlds to explore, all from the comfort of your favourite armchair. What an age to be a fantasy lover, indeed!
A Silver Screen Spectacle
Just as the heartiest English breakfast isn’t complete without a slather of HP sauce, our tour of the golden age of epic fantasy wouldn’t be whole without a tip of the hat to its cinematic counterparts.
With bated breath, we’ve watched our favourite realms spring to life, one painstakingly rendered CGI dragon at a time.
First off, we must pay our respects to the grand-daddy of them all – ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Peter Jackson’s masterful adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic saga broke records, hearts, and the established notion that “those fantasy tomes are unfilmable, old chap.”
Following in Bilbo’s furry footsteps, the ‘Harry Potter’ series proved that fantasy wasn’t just for us old-timers. J.K. Rowling’s charming blend of magic and quintessentially British boarding school life bewitched a generation, and the movies broadened that spell. Hogwarts, with its shifting staircases and genial ghosts, became as real as Buckingham Palace, just with fewer corgis and more house-elves.
Of course, not every cinematic expedition into fantasy is a skip through the Shire. Take the ‘Eragon’ film, for instance. As the saying goes, “the book was better,” and never have truer words been spoken. The film was about as well-received as a fox in a henhouse, proving that bringing an epic fantasy to life requires more than a few spells and a CGI dragon.
In recent years, Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Hellboy’ films and Duncan Jones’s ‘Warcraft’ have shown us that fantasy films can wear many hats, from dark comedy to high-stakes action. ‘Warcraft,’ though it didn’t charm critics, nevertheless proved a hit with the fans. After all, who could resist the lure of oversized armour and epic griffin flights?
These days, we fantasy buffs are spoilt for choice. Between the magic-infused majesty of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ and the whimsical journey of ‘Stardust,’ it’s clear that epic fantasy is alive and well in the cineplex.
Video Games: An Interactive Epic
As we continue our magical mystery tour of the golden age of epic fantasy, it’s only proper we take a side quest into the vibrant realm of video games.
First, we must traverse the snowy landscapes of Bethesda’s ‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’. With its stunning open-world design and dragon-shouting (Fus Ro Dah, anyone?), it’s been as big a hit as the Beatles. Players find themselves immersed in a world teeming with lore, dragons, and an alarming number of cheese wheels. Whether you’re bashing trolls or simply enjoying a breathtaking aurora over the mountains, ‘Skyrim’ offers an epic fantasy adventure as expansive as the London Underground, but with fewer delays.
Then there’s ‘The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’, CD Projekt Red’s gloriously gritty adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels. As Geralt of Rivia, players navigate a beautifully crafted world, grappling with beasties and moral conundrums in equal measure. The game’s rich narrative, engaging side quests, and dynamic combat system have been lauded as more satisfying than a perfectly brewed cup of English tea. A tip for the uninitiated: Beware the drowners and always – always – play Gwent.
Let’s not overlook ‘World of Warcraft’, an online universe so compelling, it’s been the cause of many a missed social engagement. Even after several years, its allure remains as potent as a nicely matured Stilton. The intricate lore, the sprawling world, the sense of community — it’s as thrilling as a surprise holiday, but with dragons.
For those with a penchant for intricate strategy, there’s ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’. BioWare’s gem presents a world where player choices shape the narrative. Do you save the village from a marauding horde, or let it burn? It’s like being in your very own epic fantasy novel but without the risk of paper cuts.
Indeed, the appeal of these games extends beyond their fantastic visuals and engaging gameplay. They offer an immersive, interactive experience that’s as close as one can get to actually living in a fantasy realm, without the inconvenience of having to polish one’s own armour.
A Song of Ice and Fire: Epic Fantasy’s Influence on Popular Music
No grand journey through the golden age of epic fantasy would be complete without an exploration of its influence on the music scene.
The modern metal scene has been particularly bewitched by epic fantasy. Bands like Blind Guardian have entire albums dedicated to Tolkien’s Middle-earth, while others, like Burzum and Summoning, delve into the darker aspects of the genre. Their music is as grandiose and dramatic as the tales that inspired them, perfect for those moments when life calls for a bit more oomph.
And, of course, who could forget the hit TV show soundtracks? Ramin Djawadi’s ‘Game of Thrones’ score, haunting and heroic in equal measure, not only enhances the on-screen action but has found a life of its own in popular culture. You can’t swing a direwolf these days without hearing someone humming ‘The Rains of Castamere’ or ‘Light of the Seven.’
Music artists, just like authors, have seized upon the imagery, themes and mythology of epic fantasy to infuse their work with a sense of grandeur and adventure. Be it through lyrics, album artwork, or sonically through the music itself, the influence of epic fantasy reverberates throughout today’s music landscape.
And let’s face it, there’s something utterly epic about belting out a power ballad infused with references to dragon-fire and elven lore.
Beyond the Realms of Fantasy: Epic Fantasy’s Impact on Popular Culture
As our journey through the golden age of epic fantasy draws to a close, it’s time to take a step back and admire the spectacular view.
From the bound pages of a well-worn tome to the digital reaches of a role-playing game, it’s clear that epic fantasy has permeated more than just our bookshelves, TV screens, cinemas, and consoles. It has, in fact, seeped into the very fabric of our popular culture.
The surge of interest in epic fantasy has had a profound impact, like a truly magnificent cup of tea on a rainy afternoon.
Suddenly, it’s no longer the preserve of the niche and the nerdy. The age-old stereotypes associated with fantasy enthusiasts—you know, the image of a bespectacled recluse in a dragon-emblazoned T-shirt—have been banished to the shadowy corners of ignorance.
Nowadays, confessing your love for fantastical realms is as normal as complaining about the weather.
TV series like ‘Game of Thrones’ have transformed fantasy into a hot topic at the water cooler, with office chat just as likely to revolve around the latest dragon sighting as last night’s football match.
Harry Potter, that bespectacled wizard boy, has charmed our language, adding phrases like ‘Muggle’ and ‘Quidditch’ to our lexicon as easily as a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
On the fashion front, elven jewellery and wizarding robes have sashayed from the realms of cosplay into everyday street wear.
Don’t be surprised if your next date shows up sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with a witty Game of Thrones pun or if your local fast-fashion store showcases a line of Witcher-inspired accessories.
Even our food hasn’t escaped the fantasy influence. From Butterbeer to lembas bread, we’ve developed a taste for fictional fare.
Suddenly, hosting a ‘Hobbit’-themed dinner party seems as reasonable as a Sunday roast.
And who among us hasn’t yearned to sample a flagon of ale at The Prancing Pony or indulge in a Witcher-style feast?
What this all boils down to is this: epic fantasy has transformed from a secluded genre into a cultural powerhouse.
It has become a shared language, a social glue that binds us together in our quest for the magical, the mythical, the marvellous.
The golden age of epic fantasy has spun tales that entertain, yes, but it has also fostered communities, sparking connections across borders and cultures. It’s made the world a touch more magical and a whole lot more fun.
So, whether you’re a reader, a viewer, a gamer, a self-published author or simply someone who enjoys wearing a Gandalf-inspired hat, let’s raise a glass (or rather, a goblet) to the golden age of epic fantasy.
Its influence has made our reality a little more fantastical.