Monday, 13 August 2012

Review: The Warded Man

The Warded Man
The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's not just monsters that go bump in the night.

As the sun sets, the world of man does with it. For the night belongs to demons, risen from the core to claim the world of man. Huddled together behind the protection of their ancient wards, men, women and children are but lambs to the slaughter as the demons cull the herd. The world of man is measured by the fight for survival, not the fight to win. Victory is not claimed by the sword.

But it has not always been this way. In the day of the Deliverer, man fought back the tides of demons, driving them back to the core. Lost to time, the fighting wards of old little but myth, as is the man that wielded them.

Arlen faces his demons. Not just those of the night, but his inner torment, too. Little more than a youth, he sets out to take his revenge on the demons for what they have taken from him.

Leesha, beautiful Leesha, is a budding woman. But man is as cruel as demon, fiery and hungry. Turned to the healing ways of the Herb Gatherer, she discovers her cures can do more than just heal.

Rojer, crippled by demons as a babe, raised by an alcoholic jongleur, entertains man by day to banish the fear of the night. His music might shed light on mortal soul, but its light that hurts the demons.

There's always a good reason to be afraid of the dark.

The Painted Man (The Warded Man in the US) by Peter V Brett is easily one of my favourite novels. The concept of the world is fascinating, and the play on fear (and its effects) is not only reasonable but also palpable. However, the lottery win for me comes in the form of the characters.

As a reader, we see Arlen, Rojer and Leesha grow to maturity whilst facing the hardships of a fear plagued world. The characters are believable, each carrying a motive and a backstory powerful enough to empathise with, whilst also powering the story. Every reader will be able to relate in some capacity to the character of their choice (my personal character: Arlen, no surprise there being something of a bloodthirsty soldier myself! Who's yours?).

The plot is character driven. The scene has been set: day and man vs. night and demons. Each only 'wins' on their chosen battlefield. With this status quo established, it's the characters that shake the balance. Their personal quests lead to discoveries which allow man to fight back against the night, against the demons, against their fear. The Painted Man, though a fantastic read as a standalone novel, is the perfect opening act to an operatic fantasy saga.

With fantasy, the label of 'been there, got the t-shirt' can be thrown about without ever getting tired. Here, not so. Brett's world, though not original in itself (segregated medieval-esque cultures) is brought to life by the mechanics of the wards. I won't go into too much detail, but the wards that man cowers behind are concept enough to have me sold.

The pace is choppy and quick. Not too quick to lack in detail, though choppy all the same. Now, in this case I like choppy. Brett jumps from scene to scene, conversation to conversation, character to character, in such a way that the reader gets the highlights without being bogged down in the unnecessary daily lives of the characters (and with 3 major leads, 3 PoV's worth of 'coming of age' would span a few books!).

Brett's style is easy to read. His voice is strong but concise, playing more on feeling than rolling through paragraphs of needless description. The world building is strictly used as a plot device, even the grand history of the book is explored purely in the character's own measure (for example, Arlen discovering ancient ruins, which further his own story arc rather than act as a 'pretty sightsee' that other fantasy novels and authors stumble through). Not a page, not a sentence is wasted by Brett's style. And the scenes themselves are written as if for the big screen, which works fantastically!

Overall, I loved The Painted Man. It was hard to put down, and I've read it twice again since originally picking it up last year. Each time I pour over the book (I've got in on kindle e-book AND paperback) I find myself falling in love with its charm again and again. For a debut effort, Brett has certainly surpassed the bar for entry-level fantasy.

It's getting a little late…I might just have to pop the lights on and lock the windows and doors…I might not be able to see out into the dark, but maybe that's not such a bad thing?

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