Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Warded Man Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Peter V. Brett
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Demon Cycle Book One
Pages: 480

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I had high expectations for Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man, but it ends up falling short. This is the first part of the Demon Cycle, a planned quintet which currently has four books released. While Brett is able to craft a well realized world, a clever magic system, and a series of powerful antagonists – both human and mythological – the story really suffers from plot replications and characters that never really could catch my interest.

The Demon Cycle takes place on a world like Earth called Thesa somewhere in the far future?  In the ancient days humanity used to battle mythical demons with magical wards. Eventually the demons disappeared and humanity advanced technologically while the demons became legend and the warded magic was forgotten.  The demons return and despite humanities great technological achievements, they are unable to stop the onslaught.

Eventually a portion of the warded magic is relearned, but it’s only enough to keep the demons away from their homes, and it’s never enough to defeat them. The demons can only appear at night, giving humanity the daytime to live their lives around. During the onslaught humanity lost a great portion of its technological innovations and the world now resembles the Medieval era in human history. The Warded Man begins by following three young persons as they come of age, they are:
  1. Arlen – A young boy at the beginning of the novel, Arlen wishes to fight the demons that everyone’s afraid of. He disdains his father for being afraid of the demons, and he dreams of being a messenger. A messenger is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world because they must travel great distances to bring news and other important supplies and information to the loosely scattered surviving human settlements.
  2. Leesha – A young girl at the beginning of the novel, Leesha wishes to get married soon so she can escape her overbearing and adulterous mother.  Her downtrodden father has little control over the household, but Leesha is close to him anyways.  Eventually even the idea of marriage soon loses its enchantment to Leesha, and in a patriarchal society she must find a new way to survive.
  3. Rojer – A young boy at the beginning of the novel, Rojer loses his parents in a demon attack due to wards that were marred on his home. He also loses a few fingers, and he is ultimately rescued by a jongleur (a traveling jester type) where he learns music and how to juggle despite his handicap.
Plot replication with little variation is what really bothered me about this story.  Coming of age stories oftentimes have a very similar plot arc, and in this book we have three of them and they don’t vary much.  Each of our main characters has a personal vendetta against the demons, each of them has issues with their parents, each of them have to make tough decisions, each loses something valuable, each of them have a heroic styled arc, and each of them (eventually) are heading into adulthood in a very isolated way.

It’s hard to get behind any of these main characters despite the author’s best efforts to garner them sympathy – especially when it feels like you’re reading the same story for the third time. The characters often feel like characitures rather than bone-and-flesh, living, breathing humans. The dialogue comes across as clumsy and the decision-making of both the characters and author can sometimes be questionable. One particular sequence with Leesha comes to mind.

While the character development suffers, the world building feels like a new look on the traditional Tolkien fantasy. There are clear cut good guys and bad guys and a few ambiguous one’s in between. There is a whole lot more graphic violence and sexual abuse though, and these aspects are all too familiar in the post-Martin era of fantasy.

The idea of having a magic system based off of writing is rarely done these days … the only other example I can think of is Elantris.  Yet this is one of the most compelling parts about the whole story. Figuring out a way to defeat the demons also offers potential for the magic system to eventually grow.  Most of the time the growth of the magic system works out, but in Rojer’s case it doesn’t, as he eventually discovers something in regards to fighting the demons that I was never able to get on board with.

There are a lot of cool things about The Warded Man, and there are a lot of things that just aren’t.  For me the negatives eventually beat out the positives, but I still believe there is definitely an audience for the book. If you like creative magic systems, can stomach the violence found in many modern adult fantasies, and if you have a soft spot for the Tolkien styled works then this might work for you.

Score: 5.6

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