In recent years, I have wandered from my first love in choosing books to read – the fantasy genre, or as it’s known in certain circles now, “speculative fiction”. The reasons for this are many. Pacing is one; as time has grown shorter, I have less time to devote to reading (very sad, that) and when I do read, I want to be hooked right now; I don’t want to wait until book two or three or four to figure out the point of the series. As a matter of fact, it’s difficult to invest a great deal of time into a series anymore.
Another reason is the “same old, same old” that is found in many fantasy series. I can only read so many stories about vampires, elves, or dwarves before all the species start to run together in my head and I forget what it is I’m reading once I put the book down. And it’s easy to put the book down.
Not so with Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man.
Corelings, or demons, rise up from the Earth’s core every night to ravage and destroy. Humankind is forced to hide in fear when night falls, with no other protection than wards; ancient symbols that keep the demons from invading homes and barns and consuming all life within. This limits travel between towns and cities to within a day’s journey; only the hardy brave the night to carry messages, trade, and entertainment. Isolation is a way of life – so is fear.
Mankind, for the most part, has ceded the night to the corelings.
This is about to change.
We follow three children who endure great losses at the hands of the corelings, transforming their lives and the lives of all who know them forever. We meet Arlen; bitter at the cowardice of his own father and determined to take back the night. Leesha; beautiful and an apprentice healer, wounded by the actions of those professing to love her but still dedicated to her “children”. Rojer; suffering a major loss at a young age, eventually finding his purpose and talent in the strings of a fiddle. All three are united in one dedicated resolve, although they don’t meet up until the last fourth of the book.
Brett’s characterization of all three major players is excellent. But, he doesn’t stop there. Even the “bit players” are colorful and interesting. He seduces us into caring what happens to Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer. In fact, we are seduced into caring what happens to humanity in their world, and he makes it so believable you’ll start to fear the night yourself.
The pacing is spot-on. Brett doesn’t hurry the events that shape the lives of these three people; rather, he lets the characters and their choices drive the story, and at the same time keeping the pace dynamic. There are no “dead spots” where descriptions or convoluted action makes you skip ahead; in The Warded Man you don’t want to miss one word.
One thing I really enjoyed about this book is the fact Brett doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence. He doesn’t hold your hand and describe to you every single tiny little thing. You are free to use your imagination in conjunction with his – one of the greatest gifts an author can give a reader.
In The Warded Man, Brett uses the subtext to provoke thought about the roles a society imposes on people. He invites you to ponder the role of religion and political expediency, but he does it in such a way you are totally entertained while doing so.
It remains to be seen if the characters in The Warded Man are heroes, ordinary people who have just had enough and decided to take a stand, or people pushed into the changing social climate of a world under siege. What is worse? The destruction of humans at the hands of terrifying demons, or destruction by their own hands? It’s not just a war between demon and humankind; it a story of people fighting more than that. It’s a story of people fighting against each other; people fighting their own internal demons.
It remains to be seen if legends are real, or just bent to accommodate the yearnings of a people. It remains to be seen if the human nature can win out over both external and internal demons, and retain their essential humanity.
I can’t wait to find out when The Desert Spear hits the shelves.
Next week, stay tuned for an interview with Peter V. Brett.