The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
[easyazon_image add_to_cart=”no” align=”left” asin=”0345518705″ cloaking=”default” height=”500″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51lA%2BHuSMnL.jpg” tag=”buzmag-20″ width=”304″]In the first age, the Age of Ignorance, man lived in terror of the night. The moment the sun slipped below the horizon, the Corelings rose from the earth and descended upon men in a frenzy of slaughter that lasted until the first light of dawn. When the sun came up, the demonic creatures would fade back into the earth, back to the Core. Men hid in holes in the ground at night and prayed they wouldn’t be discovered, for that was all they could do.
Eventually the survivors came to discover powerful symbols they called wards, which could shield them from the Corelings and even cleave through their armored hides. The wards changed the course of human history, and precipitated the rise of a great leader, who would take the fight to the Corelings in the First Demon War. Thus began the second age, the Age of the Deliverer.
Man defeated the Demons night after night, and after years of viscous fighting there eventually came a time when the Corelings did not rise. Some thought that they must all be dead, or that at least they were beaten and had given up the fight. Eventually human kind multiplied and spread across the earth, and entered into an age of learning and discovery: the Age of Science. In time they formed mighty nations and, lacking a common foe, warred with one another. They learned much about the world and how it worked, inventing amazing machines and powerful medicines. But, they forgot the Corelings- and worse still, they forgot the magic of the wards.
The reader is plunged into this world three hundred years after the return of the Corelings, through the eyes of a 10 year old boy named Arlen. Arlen has lived all of his short life staring out from the safety of the wards, and has always hated being “imprisoned” inside the wards at night. Each passing day sees his bitter frustration grow, at the complacency with which everyone else he knows accepts that nightly imprisonment and the occasional grisly results when poorly made or old, eroded wards fail. As he stares out at the demons that continually test the magical barrier each night, he vows that one day he will find a way to hurt them, and that when he does he will kill them all.
This book, released under the title of The Painted Man in the UK, is Peter V. Brett’s first novel and it has all the makings of a classic high fantasy epic. It’s no Lord of the Rings, with appendixes of fantastic languages and exhaustive lineages, nor does it resemble Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, with its complex geopolitical landscape – however, even bereft of the hard-core world building that marks those two great masterworks, The Warded Man aspires to the same heights. The writer does a superb job of immersing the reader into this strange place and making it real, without benefit of maps or a fictional gazetteer; the reader must rely completely on the protagonists’ point of view and that is more than sufficient.
The peoples and places of this world, or at least the small part we see through the eyes of Arlen and the others, is one of great variety. Because of the Corelings, communities are very insular – trade is sparse between any two places more than a day’s travel apart because only a very few will brave the night with portable wards. Each hamlet, village, or city even in the same small part of the world may have a wildly different culture from any another, giving the author an almost unlimited palette with which to paint a wide variety of colorful supporting characters. Some are brave, some are cowards, some are noble, and some make you wonder if mankind is really worth the trouble.
All in all I would recommend this book to anyone, even if they are not particularly a fan of the high fantasy genre. A good book is a good book, and this is a very good book.
Like most epics, this one will not be contained in a single book – at least not until the whole story is finished and someone publishes it as an omnibus edition. The next book in what is being called The Demon Trilogy is titled “The Desert Spear”, and is tentatively scheduled to become available in August of 2009. I’ll be pre-ordering my copy.
By Matthew Walker
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