The Way of Shadows, by Brent Weeks starts out as a simple story: a boy works to survive life on the streets of Cenaria, part of a system of street "guilds"...organized gangs of otherwise homeless children that serve as training grounds for the city's organized criminal element. Azoth and his two friends try to lay low, pay their guild dues, and avoid the attention of Rat -- their guild's truly sadistic and sociopathic leader enforcer. But you can figure out how the story goes...eventually, the three are unable to fly under the radar, and Azoth wants desperately to have the courage and skills to defend himself and his friends, he wants to be like the legendary assassin Durzo Blint. After both of his friends are brutalized by Rat, Azoth begs Blint to take him on as an apprentice, and eventually Blint reluctantly agrees.
And here's where the story widens slightly: Azoth enters the world of the nobles, taken in by a minor noble family at Blint's request to learn how to blend in to the world beyond the streets. Azoth dies...and Kylar is born.
And here's where the story widens a little bit more: assassinations, betrayal, political maneuverings, magic, and a search for a powerful magical device. By the time the story ends, what started out as a simple story of an assassin's apprentice has become a full-scale story of love, betrayal, and magic.
Weeks doesn't shy away from brutality in this story -- Azoth/Kylar's Cenaria has a lot of darkness and death, and while there are glimmers of light -- people in search of redemption, people looking to make their world better -- I spent most of the book wishing everyone in it could just catch a break (or that certain people would just DIE ALREADY).
The Way of Shadows doesn't rank with my favorites, but it's a solid epic fantasy, with plenty of action, a deceptively intricate plot, and some really great WHOA! moments in the end.