With The Black Prism, the first entry of the Lightbringer series, Brent Weeks paints a fully-realized world of war, religion, magic, guns, and the struggle for power.

A big bucket of thank you to my good buddy Rob, for introducing me to this book.

On its surface, The Black Prism sounds like a standard fantasy novel, but it goes far beyond what you would expect. Magic is color-based, and people that can use it are known as Drafters. Each of the different colors of the rainbow are represented (including super-violet and sub-red), and provide not only certain types of magic, but also have different effects on the people that use them (red causes rage and power, blue provides order and logic, green provides freedom and wildness, etc.) Most people are only able to draft a single color, but some people are able to draft two colors (“bichromes”). Even fewer people are able to draft three (“polychromes”). People also have different levels of color recognition, all the way up to being a Superchromat. To use an example straight out of the book, you could take a single color, put 1,000 different shades of it on 1,000 different ceramic tiles, and a Superchromat could place them in order from darkest to lightest; they’re able to recognize the slightest variations in colors, even those that would be completely imperceptible to the average drafter.

Drafters cast magic by literally pulling in color from the world around them. So, for example, a red drafter can only draft if there’s something that’s red around them, a green drafter can only do it if there’s something green around them, etc. Even the shade of the color around them can change what they’re able to use the color for. This works by drawing on the natural light reflected off the object, so, of course, when the sun goes down, their abilities are severely limited. Many drafters have colored spectacles that they wear, so that they can more easily draft their color (for example, a yellow drafter would wear yellow-tinted glasses, making everything around them appear to be yellow.)

You can tell someone is a drafter because the more they draft a certain color, the more the irises in their eyes start to change to that color. The problem is, if you draft too much, you “break the halo”, which is what happens when the color completely envelopes your iris, and starts leaking out into the whites of your eyes. Shortly after this happens, most people go uncontrollably insane, and eventually become what’s called a “color wight”, which is essentially a wild animal, flinging magic around like its going out of style. The average male breaks the halo before they turn 40, while the average female does it before the turn 50. People addicted to drafting, however, can break the halo at an age as young as 20 if they’re not careful.

When people “draft” a color, it becomes a tangible material known as Luxin, which can be used as a building material, as a weapon, or anything else you can think of. Red Luxin is flammable, orange Luxin is a lubricant (say for the bottom of a boat, or for causing your enemies to slip, etc), and so on. There is a lot more to Luxin than this…I’d recommend checking out the Luxin section of the Black Prism article on Wikipedia, which does a great job of explaining how the different colors function and what they can be used for.

There’s (usually) one person born every generation known as a Prism. He (or she) is able to draft all the colors of the rainbow with impunity…they can do it as much as they want without every having to worry about breaking the halo. The problem is that they all live only 7, 14, or 21 years after discovering they can draft every color, due to the physical, mental, and spiritual toll taken on them (in addition to being a ubiqitous drafter, they are also seen as a direct link to Orholem, the God in this world…not unlike a Pope.)

This isn’t just a world of magic and religion, however…it’s also a world of complicated politics and governance. Three times, I tried writing a paragraph about how the world is set up, but I never came close to explaining it as well as Wikipedia did:

The Black Prism is set in a pre-industrial fantasy milieu, albeit more advanced than most, with gunpowder weapons and widespread use of simple machines such as pulleys and gears. The story takes place in The Seven Satrapies, 7 semi-autonomous countries surrounding a large sea, each ruled by a leader known as a satrap. Each satrapy has considerable independence, but is under the loose control of a federalist central government. The government has three branches – The White, the Colors, and the Prism, and is located at the Chromeria – also the seat of education and regulation for the color magic on which the series is based. The seven satraps owe allegiance to the Prism, who is the representative of the god Orholam on earth. Though the Prism is technically the ruler of the seven satrapies, he has the least official governing power of the three branches. Prisms typically die (or “start to lose their colors”) after their 7th, 14th or 21st year serving. Only one person a generation is supposed to have this power, however the two Guile brothers, Gavin and Dazen, both claim to be Prism. Since both demonstrated the same abilities, neither was less legitimate. Gavin was older, and thus considered Prism by default, and used this status to claim that Dazen was a fraud. As Gavin was not the nicest person, this did not sit well with those who would rather Dazen be Prism–or Dazen himself, for that matter. A devastating war resulted, culminating in a pitched battle in the satrapy of Tyrea. At this battle, Sundered Rock, Gavin defeated and killed Dazen, stopping the war. Tyrea was devastated, with almost all the men killed and its fertile farmland destroyed.

The Black Prism starts 16 years after the battle of Sundered Rock. Despite the complicated nature of the world and how it functions, I found myself diving right into it; by the time I was 50 pages in, the world of Luxin, Drafters, Color Wights, and war was fully realized in my mind. I can’t recommend this one enough, and with the second book in the series (“The Blinding Knife”) set to release in September of 2012, now’s a fantastic time to check out The Black Prism.

You’ll be glad you did.