The fantasy side of sci-fi/fantasy has been good to me this year. I’ve mentioned that the more traditional fantasy books were what I devoured when I was a kid, mostly stuff written in the 80s and 90s since that’s what my parents were reading. But it got kind of stale for me once I went to college and I kind of stayed away from in for the better part of ten years. But, as you may have noticed, I’m being sucked in because it’s more than just swords and damsels now.
Today’s trip into fantasy is The Warded Man by Peter V Brett. This has been on my radar since I saw the author at Boskone 49 back in February. Through the quirks of book shopping, the novel transferred from the To Buy List over into the To Read Pile only recently. I’ll elaborate that after Back of the Book Time.
Bam! Let’s lookit the back of that book!
As darkness falls after sunset, the corelings rise – demons who possess supernatural powers and burn with a consuming hatred of humanity. For hundreds of years the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards – symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile. It was not always this way. Once, men and women battled the corelings on equal terms, but those days are gone. Night by night the demons grow stronger, while human numbers dwindle under their relentless assault. Now, with hope for the future fading, three young survivors of vicious demon attacks will dare the impossible, stepping beyond the crumbling safety of the wards to risk everything in a desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past. Together, they will stand against the night.
So there’s an important thing to get out of the way with The Warded Man. It’s structured in a way that harkens back to the fantasy books of the 80s and 90s for me. Multiple tangents/POVs that eventually come together. But none of the three protags meet for something like 300 pages out of the 453. This book sprawls. Correction, this series sprawls. Even if I didn’t know that Brett was editing book three right now, you can get the vibe very early on that there’s a lot of meat and potatoes to this book. There’s never a time where the book is padded with fluff, it’s all substance, but it’s substance that sprawls. (Side note, sprawl is my word of the week) It’s not a Song of Ice and Fire kind of sprawl, but there’s enough where I think it’s important to go into The Warded Man with the right mindset because I know people who won’t touch a series until it’s completely.
But if you’re one of those people, you’re missing out. Remember those corelings from the Back of the Book? ‘Course you do, it’s only been a dozen lines. They make for a ridiculously unique setting, and when you’re going to spend so many pages in a genre that’s been around the block plenty of times, it becomes all that more important to stand out from the crowd in your world building. The corelings are an awesome creation in their own right and they’re pwning humanity’s collective face. Humanity has a very fragile defensive magic that lets them do not much more than huddle behind their walls every time the sun goes down. From the little hamlets to the big cities, no one goes outside after dark without a huge chance of a nasty death. There’s a lot of history to this world, which is mentioned in chunks as the “desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past” revolve around offensive magic. I get this far future vibe which I enjoyed a lot. There are lots of secrets about this world ripe for discovering from technology to magic.
Since The Warded Man is a book with a lot of time to move about, we’re allowed to get very deep into the characterization of our three protags. The first section of the book takes us to their childhood, as much as they get, as how it shapes their future. Arlen, Leesha and Rojer are all part of some terrible things from the outset. It goes to some dark places I really didn’t expect it to. Don’t go thinking it’s some sort of ultra grimdark deal though. It’s brutal, it’s rough, there’s tragedy, but it’s appropriate to the world we’re given. I’m dancing around specifics because I don’t think there’s too much about it I can get into without spoiling anything. There were twists and turns going on that I didn’t see coming, so I don’t want to rob that of anyone. I think having all those unexpected happenings are part of why I liked The Warded Man. We’ve all read the easy path out when it comes to this genre and that’s not something I ever felt was going on.
So praises and warnings. What else is there? There’s stuff that doesn’t even come close to getting resolved. I saw that from ten miles away. Even in trilogies I like a bit more resolution that we got. The book as a whole felt like an Act One so I’m not going to fault it like I would a less sprawling book. I think a lot of how people take that will chalk up to personal preference since there’s absolutely nothing written wrong with it. What the Act One feel does, it’s really make me excited for the book two, The Desert Spear. So the book sits well with me just fine. And with the third book due for next year (early I hope), this series is ripe for a nice box set treatment. It’s also ripe for awesome. So there’s that too.