I’ve been on a fantasy kick with my reading the last few weeks. I think it’s been to counter all the space pirates in my writing. Next up, sequel time! It seems everything is part of a series now and stand alones just don’t happen anymore. That’s a mixed bag, especially when you don’t read the series back to back to back (et cetera). But there’s a comfort of the known quantity, particularly when the first was so enjoyable.
Enter The Desert Spear by Peter V Brett.
Back of the Book shenanigans are happening right now! (Note, that I am reading the back of the book for the first time as I type this. It was completely a “Yay! Book two! That’s all I need to know” moment.)
The sun ins setting on humanity. The night now belongs to voracious demons that prey upon a dwindling population forced to cower behind half-forgotten symbols of power. Legends tell of a Deliver: a general who once bound all mankind into a single force that defeated the demons. But is the return of the Deliverer just another myth? Perhaps not. Out of the desert rides Ahmann Jardir, who has forged the desert tribes into a demon-killing army. He has proclaimed himself Shar’Dama Ka, the Deliverer, and he carries ancient weapons – a spear and a crown – that give credence to his claim. But the Northerners claim their own Deliverer: the Warded Man, a dark, forbidding figure. Once, the Shar’Dama Ka and the Warded Man were friends. Now they are fierce adversaries. Yet as old allegiances are tested and fresh alliances forged, all are unaware of the appearance of a new breed of demon, more intelligent – and deadly – than any that have come before.
Remember the first book, The Warded Man? The things I talked about over in that post were mostly how the book sprawled and felt like Act One rather than a full on story arc. Yeah the sprawl continues here. Some of the stuff that wasn’t really resolved from the first book, gets addressed here and solved in its own way. And as the author is currently writing the fourth book, there’s plenty that doesn’t get fixed by the end of page 638. The sprawl was still handled well in Spear so I’m ok with it. In fact, if anything, the sprawl is even more widespread. The first book had three POVs, this one has seven. Gutsy move, Mr. Brett.
And it was a tough sell in the front end of Spear. The first 200ish pages are all Jardir. He was a non-POV character in Warded Man. Pay attention to the dates in Jardir’s chapters because they overlap with some of the events of Warded Man. Just like the three characters from the first book, we get to see Shar’Dama Ka’s childhood. (Also Abban, but he doesn’t get a POV in Spear until the last third) At first I groaned a bit when it went back to his childhood. After chapter one, I totally thought Jardir was a giant asshole. The kneejerk reaction to an asshole’s childhood is “Ok, the author wants the sympathy card in play.” Jardir and his Krasians do some really horrible things as part of their war with the North. (Everyone goes to war with the North… someday someone’s going to go Southeast)
So Jardir was a tough sell for 200 pages before we jump to another POV, not to mention all the times we swing back there. He is the titular Desert Spear in a figurative sense and he does wield the literal Desert Spear. By the end I still thought he was an asshole. But I still couldn’t put the book down. It can’t be easy to make a jerk so enjoyable to read.
Even without Jardir, the storyline of the series has moved to darker places. One of the new POVs is Renna. She was a non-POV character from Arlen’s (the actual Warded Man) who showed up early in the first book and frankly, I forgot all about her until her chapters started showing up. She’s on the wrong end of a battered, brutal, incestuous and unconsented relationship. It gets heavy and uncomfortable, but it’s all for the greater good of the story. You have to know where Renna started from to really appreciate where she ends up. By the end of the book, she became one of my more favorite characters. Her story arc in The Demon Cycle isn’t anywhere near over, but damn, the potential she has is amazing.
Grimdark is one of those things all over the SF world lately and I’ve certainly gone on a lot about how Spear is darker than the first book. Don’t even start to call this grimdark. That term has a gratuitous connotation to it. Everything here is story and character driven. There’s a mindset of “If the characters aren’t put through the worst, how can we know if they’re at their best?” Everything balances out. There’s no doom and gloom just for the sake of doom and gloom.
One aspect of the game which was cranked up a notch with Spear are the corelings, the demons. In the first book there were just a few elemental types, rock, wood, flame… I don’t remember if we saw more than that. Sand probably as Arlen went to the desert. There are glimpses of more, like the giant river demons that look like toads. I want to see even more of all these new demons but at the same time, even the glimpses show off the layers of world building present even if I don’t get to see it all unfold in front of me. I’ve said plenty of times, I like me some world building.
So overall, just like the first book, The Desert Spear left me wanting more. Enough gets resolved within it that I never felt frustrated as I raced along to the ending, but there is so much more waiting to be tapped into for this series. I want to know where Renna’s character is going. I want Abban, the ludicrously rich Krasian merchant in his society’s lowest cast, to get more POV chapters. And I know Jardir’s scheming wife, Inevera, is on the cover of the next book so I would think she becomes a POV character.
Isn’t that the best thing a book can do though? You can microanalyze all you want but if a book sticks around in your head leaving you wanting more, there’s not much more it can do. Read this series. Spear will stick with you even more than Warded Man.