The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I finally managed to track down this book after having a used copy of The Desert Spear staring at me for months. I was thrilled when I could sit down an read it because it had people fighting demons with not an angel in sight. After what I've been reading, hallelujah!
Warning: This review contains spoilers! I only go spoiler free if it's an ARC. Those who read my reviews should know this.
The Warded Man is really the story of three people who have survived a demon attack at some point in their lives. I'm sorry if the following is a large summary. I feel like rambling.
Arlen is a farmer's kid from a backwater town in a world where demons come out to play once the sun goes away. Every day, he checks the wards around their fields and on their walls to make sure they'll be safe come night. Arlen is good with the wards, he's a smart kid, and one day he wants to be a Messenger; a person who braves the night to deliver goods and the mail. When his mother is attacked by a demon and dies, Arlen runs away, ashamed of his father's cowardice. He grows up in the city of Miln in the presence of good people, but runs away just shy of completing his Messenger training because of his fear of being tied down.
Arlen believes man should fight the demons, not hide behind the warded walls like cowards. They should all fight, like the desert dwelling Krasians. (That name is actually quite unfortunate if you say it out loud. It sounds like an Ocean Spray product.) This belief is both his rise and his own personal demon. He stays on the move, not allowing himself to be tied down to anyone. No wife, no children, no friends who see him for more than a few months. He carries news and goods to the five walled cities, and delves into ruins for new wards, hoping to find the lost battle wards. He finds them, carved into a spear, but ends up losing it to his Krasian friend, Jardir. (He's really a character you don't know much about till the second book. And he is quite the character.) Left in the desert for dead, Arlen tattoos runes into his skin so he can fight the demons since he has no other weapons.
Arlen pretty much has a one track mind, and it made me want to thump him a bit. He's all about saving the world, yet continues to isolate himself from others. He remains aloof and distant despite coming across those who are willing to understand: Leesha and Rojer.
Leesha is the second character. She hails from a household with an abusive mother and a meek father in a small town. Demons burn down half the village, and her unfaithful mother has her lover and his son, Leesha's betrothed, stay with them. After her betrothed says they had sex before marriage, she gets pissed at him for her broken reputation. When the old Herb Gatherer - they work like apothecaries - wants Leesha to apprentice, she accepts and ends up being awesome at it. Once she's learned what she can, her master apprentice swaps her for one in the big city because she feels she can't learn anymore.
Leesha is smart and resourceful, but prudish and a bit disillusioned about love and relationships. Even though all the women in her life keep trying to explain to her that sex is just a part of life and it is okay if she wants it, she continues to act high minded about it.
Rojer is the youngest. He was orphaned at three because of the shoddy wards on his parents' inn. Rojer is more a victim of greed and self-service than of demons. The warder was too busy to check the inn because he was trying to gain favor with the duke, and the duke's harold - a jongleur named Arrick - left his parents to die to save his own hide. At least Arrick tries to make up for it by making three fingered Rojer his apprentice. Rojer's special skill is playing the fiddle so good he can hypnotize or drive away demons.
I like Rojer. He's the type of person you can relate to. He's just trying to get by in the world without realizing how good or important he really is. Unlike Arlen or Leesha, Rojer is happy if he can eat and make someone's day. That is why I like him. In simpler words, Arlen and Leesha want to save the world, but Rojer wants to make you smile. He's what the book needs when The Warded Man dips into its more horror aspects.
Most of the book spends time on their three separate stories until the fourth part when they all tie together. Brett keeps it pretty simple with the three point of views, which is a nice change to some high/epic fantasies. (*cough* Martin. *cough*) Since he skips a lot of time, he also conveniently dates the chapters so the reader knows where they're at. Jumping forward also allows him to progress the story without another 50,000 words of useless.
Brett also keeps the language nice and clear, but he is definitely more tell than show. I'm not going to delude myself into believing it's anything super special, but Brett is good writer in the sense that the sentences are structured well and I really enjoyed reading it. In fact, I ran right through the book at full speed. It's the kind of books that a book snob like me and a person who just wants to read because they like fantasy can enjoy.
Although, my sprint was often interrupted by the phrase, "his/her face was a thundercloud." Brett uses a variation of this phrase often, substituting different violent weather patterns to mix things up. Every time I saw this, it saddened me and drove me a bit crazy. This phrase was like ink smears on a white table cloth. No matter what I did to try and forget they were there, I knew, and still cringe every time I come across them.
Oh, and women's fashion. I wasn't sure what he was going for there. He would stick with the generic "skirts" and "dress," which is cool with me, but then sneak "corset" in there, which would be difficult to make with the limited resources of his world considering the boning was usually whale bone (which they don't have with no access to the ocean) or steel (an expensive commodity). Maybe he was going more for stays made of reeds. Oh well. It's obvious I'm over thinking this.
Aside from my personal issues with the book, it still deserves four stars for simple but well done world building, and exciting, easy to understand writing. It keeps pulling you along even though you might occasionally want to throttle Arlen and Leesha. I recommend it for anyone who needs a break to just sit back and enjoy a good fantasy story without needing a genealogy chart or map.
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