Exclusive: Fantasy author Brent Weeks talks Night Angel Nemesis

Brent Weeks. Image credit: Nuro Photography.
Brent Weeks. Image credit: Nuro Photography. /

This week marked the release of Night Angel Nemesis, the long-awaited follow-up to the Night Angel trilogy by Brent Weeks. Weeks has been publishing fantasy novels for nearly a decade and a half. With two beloved series under his belt — Night Angel and Lightbringer — he’s flexed quite a few different creative muscles over the years. But none of the author’s previous works are quite like Night Angel Nemesis, a bold new take on his breakout series which feels like a grand return and a fresh beginning all at once.

Night Angel Nemesis is the beginning of a new trilogy set in the world of Midcyru: The Kylar Chronicles. It signals a huge expansion of the Night Angel universe, and now that it’s out, Weeks is finally teasing the grand plan he has ahead for characters like assassin Kylar Stern.

We caught up with Weeks to talk about the release of Night Angel Nemesis and what it means for the greater series, called The Ka’kari Codex. In our far-ranging interview, we discussed how Night Angel is evolving, the daring style choices used in Nemesis, his plans for the future of the series, how he was influenced by George R.R. Martin, and plenty more. Read on for highlights, or watch the full interview right here:

Brent Weeks on the evolution of Night Angel and his plan for The Ka’kari Codex

DANIEL ROMAN: You finished Night Angel quite a while ago at this point, it was your debut series and one that a lot of readers fell in love with your work through. What made now the right time to come back and pick up the story of Kylar Stern and Durzo again?

BRENT WEEKS: Well…now is the time partly because I promised readers that I would come back to this, and that’s important to me. But actually, when I finished Night Angel you could find in the back of, I think the third book, there’s an interview with me sort of saying ‘Hey what’s next?’ And I said well, I haven’t exactly decided. You know, I have this plan…I left some narrative hooks, I have some things I want to do still in this world. Or I might try something different.

And ultimately I decided I wasn’t quite ready for the big ambitious plan that I had planned for the world of Night Angel, and so I said, you know what, I need to do some cross training, I’m still a young writer…I need to get stronger at some things. So I decided I would take just a quick three-year, three-book trip and brush up on some skills and come back…so Lightbringer obviously grew in the telling [to six books].

But that story has simmered in the back of my mind. I’ve always wanted to come back…especially when it was really difficult in Lightbringer. So I’ve had those characters in my mind, and I’ve wanted to come back for so long, and coming back was a real joy.

DR: The original Night Angel trilogy is mostly in third person, which is a very familiar style for a lot of fantasy readers. But Nemesis is largely written in first person; it’s an account being relayed and there’s a very clear question of how reliable that account is at times. Can you talk a little bit about the evolution of the style of the series?

BW: The reason I wanted to shift narrative styles in this one was partly to give this series its own identity. But another huge part is, as a writer I’m always looking for new narrative challenges. I’m trying to grow my skills, and I’m trying to do different things. I know I could probably make a really great living doing books just like the Night Angel trilogy yearly, and just put out the same thing, change the names a little bit, change who Kylar’s killing this week. I could spin that out for a long time and have a very lucrative career, but that’s just not the kind of personality I have. If I do that, boredom is death for my art. So I always need to be doing new things, I always want to be stretching myself and trying things that are hard and scary for me.

So I thought…I’ve done some experiments through Lightbringer of doing first person narration, I really like the character work of getting inside of a character’s head. The big question for me as I came back to Night Angel was, do I have enough artistic freedom that I can grow and change and do I want to spend the bulk of my career in this world? I finished Lightbringer, I’m 42 years old…these books take a long time, and I don’t have five massive series left in my writing career. I’ve got to figure out, where do I want to work for the rest of my life? And I could do that in Night Angel, I have the narrative hooks, but I can I be happy doing that? Can I do stuff that’s neat and different and kind of pushes some boundaries in fantasy in ways that I think stretch readers and might be uncomfortable at first? And I was like, let’s try it. I’m gonna take these characters who feel familiar, I’m gonna pull you in, I hope, with some things that feel familiar, and then we’re gonna play a bit more advanced game here.

DR: Is this narrative style something you plan on sticking to throughout the rest of The Kylar Chronicles?

BW: Certainly elements of this will continue. There’s reasons why this story in particular needed to be told this way, and the next story, the next chapter, will be told differently I think for reasons that will become obvious as you reach the ending.

So it’s like you get something a little bit different. And if you were able to go from reading third person limited past tense narration, which was what Night Angel trilogy was in, and you hung on [for Night Angel Nemesis]…if you’re able to make that transition, the other transitions I have planned later are gonna be fine for you. They’re not as hard as this one. This was the most difficult risk I took. If it doesn’t work for you it just doesn’t, but this is what I need to do, and I think it pays dividends. It’s not just to satisfy my whims, I think it’s necessary for the story and how the story is told that it be from this very strong point of view.

The cover of Night Angel Nemesis. A shadowy figure with wings floats before a distant tower, a blade in each hand.
Night Angel Nemesis by Brent Weeks. Image courtesy of Orbit Books. /

DR: The opening scenes of both Night Angel Nemesis and The Way of Shadows have an interesting parallel of two different characters being in a situation where they’re wondering about their assassin profession in relation to a child who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Were there any themes or parallels that you were especially excited to try and sneak into Nemesis or revisit?

BW: Oh man, yes. The world of Night Angel already has such strong thematic things running through it. It’s like we start with an orphan in the slums; here’s this good kid in the worst possible place he could be, and completely without responsible adult supervision. He’s fairly innocent to start with, but he is in a rough environment. And now you see the transmutation of here he is, this guy’s the adult now. And he’s looking back and there’s a kid during this. So when he has thoughts about that kid, it’s like how far have you come Kylar?

One of the reasons that the worlds hang together or that you feel like there’s this foreshadowing…is the first novel I wrote was set in this world but 20 years later. I had this one really amazing character show up — I actually had three or four characters cross over, and I love these characters but the novel was broken. I’d done some things wrong structurally. And so when I threw it away I was like you know what…I like some of the worldbuilding I did, and I know where things are going. I know where history is headed. And in that [book] there was this one character who showed up and I was like that guys’ a badass. He’s scary and yet he’s got this code. And so…who is he?

And then the question that I started the Night Angel trilogy with was like…how does a basically moral person decide to become an assassin, which is a completely immoral job? It would have to be a kid…who’s in the worst possible environment, and becoming an assassin seems like the best option at the time. He takes a bad job because his other options are worse. So that was how I stuck Kylar in there.

That’s sort of how we got here, and that’s how I know a lot about how the world fits together, because…well, I cheated, I wrote that other book first! Which didn’t feel like cheating at the time. Throwing away five years of work was really hard. [Laughs] So then this gives us a chance to reflect on Kylar’s character growth and who Kylar is.

DR: I want to back up a little to that first novel you wrote which is set 20 years in the future of this world. Earlier you mentioned having a broader plan for the Night Angel series that we’re kind of just now really getting to see as readers. Can you talk any more about your broader plan for Night Angel? And is that book set 20 years in the future something you’re hoping to revisit?

BW: Great questions. So the Night Angel trilogy is a trilogy, it’s books one through three, it tells a complete story. But it is also books one through three of The Ka’kari Codex. And The Kylar Chronicles [are a standalone trilogy], but they are books four, five, and six in The Ka’kari Codex. And then we will have a pivot again to probably a focus on different characters, and maybe a jump in time. I have a couple little different narrative options that I’m still experimenting with, so I expect another pivot there. And then I’m going to revisit some of the major events that I wrote in that original book. Maybe one or two of the characters I will keep, the rest of it, I’m not even gonna look at it again. The big things I wanted to happen, those are still going to happen. The core of the characters are still going to be there. But man, I’m not going to try to save writing that I did as a 19-year-old. It would be too painful for me to look at. [Laughs]

So the entire series…I’m trying not to make promises, because we know how promises can go. But I do envision this as the second movement that we’re in right now, I do envision a third movement. So once you got done with that, we’re talking 10 or 12 books altogether, and I have plans for that but I’m not ready to share those plans in case I need to change them.

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks cover art
The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. Image courtesy of Orbit Books. /

DR: Before the call we got talking a little bit about George R.R. Martin, and you had mentioned that he was an influence on you. So I was just curious about the story there. How did you discover George’s books?

BW: I was an early discoverer of George’s, not of his earlier work but of Song of Ice and Fire. I think I read it in ’97? I didn’t get the hardcover version because…I was a a poor high school student, I didn’t have any money. But I saw the cover, it looked really different. I read the book and I was like oh my gosh, this is fantastic. This is really different and this writer is really good, like he’s really in control of his skills. And I liked how he was doing something that seemed really new.

And then when I read the second book I was like this is even better! This is how you should do it. Because as a reader I had felt so betrayed by trilogies that…that the first book comes out the gate and you’re like this is amazing…and then second book sort of nothing happens, and in the third book the finale is interesting but you’re like man, that was like one and a half books that I got out of there. And I was like, no sophomore slump for George! Look at this, this is amazing.

So I love that he kind of took the genre and he just ran his own way with it. He was like, yeah, I’m doing my own thing and your’e gonna have these super long chapters, which I thought were brilliant. When I was a young writer, I actually studied [his work and writing techniques].

Last question! You seem to enjoy putting Kylar through the ringer, so let’s end by fielding one Kylar’s way. If you had to send any three fictional assassins or characters from other stories after him, who would you send?

BW: Oh let’s see…I don’t know that I could come up with three great ones? You know, where does Kylar face off with like James Bond? Does all of MI6 comes after him? There was like…Jack Ryan’s friend who was the badass who just didn’t care…you know, anybody could shoot Kylar and then it would just be light’s out.

Oh! You know, put him up against like Wolverine, and Kylar would have a really, really tough time. Wolverine would actually kick Kylar’s ass. Especially Hugh Jackman Wolverine, so there you have it.

Brent Weeks
Brent Weeks. Image credit: Nuro Photography. /

A huge thank you to Brent Weeks for stopping by the site to talk about his work!

This interview has been edited for clarity and length; you can watch the full version over on the Winter Is Coming YouTube.

Night Angel Nemesis is available now from Orbit Books. Check out our spoiler-free review below:

Next. Book review: Night Angel Nemesis by Brent Weeks. dark

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