With the immense popularity of series like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and the entire subgenre of grimdark, traditional fantasy stories always seem to feel like they’ve slowly been going out of style.
For that reason, it was a real surprise that Peter V Brett’s The Warded Man, the first entry in his Demon Cycle quintet, plays against this more modern take on the genre; giving readers an absolutely wonderful page turner, with a couple of serious flaws.
Relishing in more traditional heroism, The Warded Man provides readers with a wonderful mix of classic and modern fantasy that never loses sight of what made the genre what it was once upon a time.
Set in a world where demons rise from the ground on a nightly basis, and the only defense against them are wards that manage to repel them, Brett opens this chapter with the heroic journeys of three distinctive youths.
Arlen, a boy whose tragedies push him towards an obsession with raining vengeance against the demons; Leesha, a girl whose desire for love and motherhood clash with her desire for freedom and an interest in herb lore; and Rojer, a toddler whose entire life is thrown into disarray when his home is razed by demons make up our points of view.
All hailing from hamlets and small towns, it’s interesting to see how Brett uses the traditional “farm boy becomes a hero” trope.
Between the three of them, each of our points of view provides a different angle to the concept, and even though Arlen is undoubtedly our lead he never overshadows the others.
The fact that Brett is also clearly an expert world builder doesn’t hurt either. The northern culture of what was once Thesa, separated amongst numerous hamlets and a few cities, breathes with a life that is usually only built up over numerous large tomes.
Even Krasia, the southern nation surrounded by desert and actively fighting against the demons while the rest of the world cowers, feels alive; even though we don’t spend as much time here as we could have.
It allows each of our character’s journeys to hold far more impact.
That being said, this book does suffer from a few serious flaws.
First and foremost is the way that Leesha is handled in the fourth and final act of the book.
After building her up as some sort of wonderfully skilled Herb Gatherer her entire storyline shifts to focus, unhealthily, on her sex life (or lack thereof).
It doesn’t blend as well and feels extremely forced compared to the how it was handled earlier in the story.
This also manages to drag down her character arc, binding her to other characters in ways that neither Rojer nor Arlen is bound.
Other than that, the pacing in the latter portion of the story also takes a hit.
Both the third and fourth acts feel a little off compared to the relatively smooth pacing that made up the first two acts. Arlen’s time in Krasia, while interesting, feels a little jarring of a time skip compared to any of the others that the novel contains.
Rojer also suffers a little from this as he comes into his own as a performer, despite his crippled hand. There are moments where things just don’t seem to move along nicely – coming across as far more choppy than smooth.
Leesha, on the other hand, has the most consistently paced portions of the story up until the end of the fourth act – and a decision that, while I like the pairing, I don’t like how it necessarily came about. From there everything just steamrolls into the conclusion.
That being said, this book delivers a full story with a beginning, middle and an end; all while setting up the framework for the rest of the series. Brett’s creativity and excellent usage of traditional fantasy archetypes makes this a definite read. Just be prepared for a little choppiness towards the end of the tale.
I look forward to delving into the sequel, The Desert Spear, in the near future.
The Warded Man by Peter V Brett Rating: 7.0/10