Thursday, January 30, 2014

THe Desert Spear by Peter V Brett: Book 2 of the Demon Cycle

I enjoyed the Warded Man so much, that I jumped onto The Desert Spear with no hesitation. The book is longer and adds more characters and more magic to the Demon Cycle. But in the hands of a skilled story teller like Peter V Brett, this is a good thing.

The book breaks us into the world of Jadir, the man who in the previous novel, betrayed Arlen, leading that Messenger to become the Warded Man. He did so with regrets as he considered Arlen his friend, and near equal.

The focus on Jadis feels a little like the retelling of one of the old Eternal Champion stories by Michael Moorcock as events we've already seen happen again from a different viewpoint. Mind you, this only happens in a handful of places and the shift in point of view is welcome.

The bad news, is that even though Jadir himself has trama and a disturbing background, his likeability suffers quite a bit due to his role as semi-antagonist. I say semi because if readers don't see an eventually alliance between those of the Desert and those of the North against the demons, we'll, we've all been lied to in how these sorts of stories work out.

Using Jadir as a view point character provides the reader with a lot of insight into his people's culture. The need and desire to fight against the demons isn't just for survival, but for religious reasons. Those who do fight gain great honor but die young. This tends to make the culture warrior based with the warriors gaining essentially supreme power over all other caste save for the religious and a few specialists, like the woman who becomes Jadir's wife.

By bringing Jadir's life, who is probably the oldest protagonist in the series, we see a little more of the magic of the south. Unlike the Greenlanders, the wise women of the south are not herbalist, but they do have knowledge. That knowledge though, takes the form of carving demon bones with wards and using other parts of demons for different effects including telling the future.

In addition to Jadir, we also get Renna. This young woman, like Jadir, was introduced in the previous novel and her presence here feels a little like Rojer who I feel still has a ways to go before he gets up to the Warded man's importance or enjoyability. Renna, like almost every character here, suffers some horrific setbacks in her life but by allying herself directly with Arlan, the Warded Man, she starts to take after him and begins to ward herself and learn his ways.

The original trio of characters are here and continue their story arcs, continuing to grow in knowledge and experience. It's a great set up and provides a lot of tense moments as the characters learn that many of the demons they've been fighting, and humanity as a collective whole has been losing against, are not the worst that the 'core' has to throw at them.

I'm going to hunt through Half Priced Books for the next volume, but if they don't have it, it'll be a quick trip to the Barnes & Nobles for me as Peter V Brett's writing continues to engage.

On a separate note, just because I found it entertaining, Peter V Brett has a Dungeons and Dragons character sheet on his website. In addition, his bio talks about his enjoyment of the game. His books have also been optioned for movies. Keep an eye on this guy peeps!

Below I'm going to talk a little about role playing game applications and their potential.

1. Rival Cultures: I read Raymond Feist's Magician when I was a young man. It featured a clash of cultures. This is not the only time such has happened but it does set a nice precedent of cultures with different ethos, weapons, styles, and technology levels meeting and battling.

2. Special Abilities with Limits: Initially Arlen's special training and abilities lead him to be a great demon slayer. But when his friend betrayed him, well, he learned that those special abilities had a limit. In role playing games like Hero, abilities can be bought with limitation like Range Killing Attack, Only Works Vs Demons. This allows the characters to shine against demons and other monsters, like arrows of dragon slaying, but still not rise above every fight and every encounter.

3. Power With A Price: Arlen has warded himself so much and absorbed so much energy from demons, that he feels himself slipping away from the world and literally being called to the 'Core' where the demons come from. In exchange for great physical power, Arlen is perhaps going to die a horrific death. In role playing games, this can be difficult to achieve. Not impossible mind you. In some games like Legends of the Five Rings, it would be a high point disadvantage that the GM could call in when he wanted to. In most cases though, it's probably best to have a player who can role playing such a character to fit the mood. If the GM and players both initially talk about a doomed champions ala Elric and the player winds up running around in a completely different fashion, the sheer power of such a character can be unbalancing at best and campaign wrecking at worse.

4. Gifts: One of the problems a lot of gamers have, is when they don't have to fight tooth and nail for their treasures. They feel 'cheated' or that they didn't earn them. Most characters in fiction don't necessarily go through fighting to gain their special weapons. Elric and King Arthur for example, have to be in the right place at the right time. The hero from the Horselords tale, is gifted his sword, the Widowmaker. The same happens here as the Warded Man passes out weapons with purpose to those who can best wield them.

5. Time Flies: One of the things I think Peter V Brett does great here, is keeping things moving. The book starts in 305 and ends in 333. But it doesn't feel like those years have flown by. It feels like things have happened but that the author has keep them moving at a great clip and pace.

6. Character Motivation: What drives a character. Each of the characters here have different things that drive them, that they are part of. For Leesha, she would rather never kill a human being, even if it means that she herself with suffer. For Jadir, it's leading the world down the path of the righteousness in the holy war as its deliverer. For Arlen, it's fighting for people that will fight for themselves. When designing your character, as you write down stats and statistics, think about why he does what he does. Why did she decide to become a mage? Why did you decide on making a half orc?

Peter V Brett's writing provides a lot of potential hooks and plot lines for those delving into fantasy settings.

The Desert Spear is available from Amazon as an e-book for $5.99 or as a mass market paperback for $7.19