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The Warded Man - Peter V. Brett

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Monday, January 9, 2012

The Warded Man - Peter V. Brett

I'm a little late to the Peter Brett party.  I remember when The Warded Man first hit the shelves a few years ago.  I had just finished Brent Weeks's Night Angel Trilogy and I was hunting for something new.  I wasn't a savvy blogger type then or even someone who read reviews on-line -- just a guy who liked to read.  I'm sad to say, I made a conscious decision not to start it.  I wanted to make sure it had legs before I invested my time and money.  It turns out my $7.99 investment is going to cost me five times that by the time Brett's Demon Cycle is done.  In fact, I should probably just send Del Rey the check right now.  I wonder if they take trade-ins (Omen Machine? Anyone?).

Warded Man can come off a bit like paint-by-number-epic-fantasy at first.  The narrative voice is third person limited, using three distinct points of view.  It begins in a small community on the outskirts of a society built on fear of demons, who come to feed when the sun sets.  Arlen is the stereotypical farm boy who dreams of life beyond the agrarian lifestyle chosen for him.  With a natural talent for painting wards, the only barrier between humanity and the insatiable demons, Arlen isn't satisfied with the status quo.  When his mother is attacked one night, he leaves home, determined to find freedom from fear.

The other two points of view are Rojer, an orphaned jongleur (think gleeman or bard), and Leesha, a stunningly beautiful herb gatherer (think wisdom or hedge witch).  For much of the novel the three story lines are independent from one another, brought together only when each has reached a conclusion that the world they inhabit cannot continue.  While Arlen is the novel's center, all three of them are given about equal time.

Some of the other paint-by-number devices include a combat dedicated desert people who wield spears, battles for survival against impossible odds, villains who engender no sympathy, and coming of age plots.  There's even a prophesy.  All that might be read as a criticism of the novel and Brett as an author.  It's not.  Warded Man may be wrapped in familiar paper, but under the hood is a unique smorgasbord of fantasy delights that becomes more apparent with each page (mixed metaphor, much?).

Of course, there are certain tropes that by their very definition designate something as epic fantasy (prophesy, end of the world stakes, good vs. evil, etc.).  There are also certain tropes that come up again, and again, for a very good reason.  The best example being the small town, farm boy starting point.  When building a second world from the ground up, including a magic system, political structures, and establishing character baselines, there's almost no better way to ease a reader in that the aforementioned trope.  Authors who eschew it are often criticized for throwing too much at their readers, Steven Erikson being perhaps the best example.  Are there other ways to go about it?  Sure, but it's overused for a reason and Brett executes it flawlessly.

UK Cover and Title
And execution is mostly what makes Warded Man such a rousing success.  Brett's prose flows naturally and his action scenes seem effortless.  His world and magic system are cleverly crafted, playing off each other in perfect harmony.  Characters are well drawn, making the reader want to strangle them one moment and cheer for them the next.  To condense things down to a sentence, Brett is beginning something that will be a tighter, and more grim, Wheel of Time.

My one complaint about the novel is that it ends up reading something like a long form prologue.  Brett divides everything up into four parts, starting his characters as children, then young adults, then adults, before bringing the novel to its for-now conclusion.  Covering fifteen years of time, with each section covering a year at most, a great deal of time passes that's a mystery to the reader.  Additionally, until those final pages, Brett's three characters are searching for direction, as opposed to driving towards a goal.  Some might find that a bit off-putting; it just made me angry I didn't have a copy of the sequel, Desert Spear, sitting on my nightstand.  And that's about the best endorsement I can give an author.

By the time Brett pens the final volume, the Demon Cycle is going to be one of the best selling series in recent years.  I know I have readers of this blog who will find aspects of Warded Man irredeemable.  It could be the familiar trappings, or a particular set of scenes near the end that may not sit well with some female (mostly) readers.  But, even critics will recognize that Peter Brett has a tremendous talent for story telling.  It's been a long time since I stayed up to 2 AM to finish a novel (on a work night, no less!), and even longer since I had no idea how much time had passed.

For fans of epic fantasy, with Wheel of Time ending, and A Song of Ice and Fire taking a circuitous route to completion, this is the series to get on board.  Of course, everyone knew that already, right?


Desert Spear, the second installment in the Demon Cycle is available now.  Daylight War, the third installment, is scheduled for release in early 2013.  You can follow Peter Brett on Twitter or on his website.

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At January 9, 2012 at 7:44 AM , Blogger The Reader said...

Hey Justin

Welcome to the club :) This is one of my fav. series and TPM/TWM was possibly one of the best debuts of the decade(IMO). I can't wait to see how he plans to finish the story & now he has plans to write a sixth book after the series ends which focuses on a minor character from the first book called Selia Barren.


At January 9, 2012 at 8:35 AM , Blogger Ryan said...

I too have had this one sitting on the shelf for some time. However, I think your review just moved it up the TBR pile a few spots.

At January 9, 2012 at 9:37 AM , Blogger Scott said...

I've tried to read this two times and both times got bogged down by the prose (which I found a little too colloquial) and couldn't get past it. I kept the book though, so I plan to go back to it down the road.

At January 9, 2012 at 9:41 AM , Blogger Aidan Moher said...

Good book, good review, but

"Brett is beginning something that will be a tighter, and more grim, Wheel of Time."

I need you to read The Desert Spear so that we can properly discuss this comment.

At January 9, 2012 at 10:07 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Yet another author and series I need to read from my to-read pile...

At January 9, 2012 at 11:07 AM , Blogger RobB said...

Nice review, Justin. I'm sure you've seen the thread at SFFWorld dissecting this and the sequel, so I'll be even more interested to see your thoughts on The Desert Spear.

I think it's too early to draw such a strong comparison to WOT. I've thought of the two books in the series as 'leveled-up Terry Brooks' in many ways.

At January 9, 2012 at 1:29 PM , Blogger Justin said...


Definitely too early, but a little hyperbole never hurt anyone. I do very much get that vibe from the first book though. I've heard the second one may go off the rails in very WOT fashion too. We'll see.

At January 9, 2012 at 1:31 PM , Anonymous Nibbles said...

I was late to the party too. The Painted Man quickly became one of my all time favs, but I'm halfway through Desert Spear tonight and, well I'll pass comment on it when it's done but it's not what I was expecting.

At January 10, 2012 at 3:18 AM , Blogger Josh (Fixed on Fantasy) said...

I read this book back when it came out completely by accident ... I picked it up because of the cool cover as this was back in the days when I had no concept of a lengthy to-read list. So glad I did! Glad you enjoyed it, can't wait for you to read The Desert Spear!!!

(PS I just started following - great blog!)

At January 10, 2012 at 1:06 PM , Blogger Bryce L. said...

I love this series, but Aidan has a point. Desert Spear is still great.

At January 10, 2012 at 10:26 PM , Blogger Mieneke said...

Hmmm... from Aiden and Bryce's comments I see I need to move Desert Spear up the to read pile! I loved The Painted Man though, for all he reasons you listed!

At January 11, 2012 at 6:11 AM , Anonymous Mark Lawrence said...

I'm a fan & I think you nailed the review. The description would probably put me off, but the execution sold me.


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