Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Warded Man by Peter V Brett

I'm one of those people that's got the sale syndrome. You know, if its a good sale and something I might be interested in later, I'll pick it up.

So it was with The Warded Man and the Desert Spear, both by Peter V. Brett, whose website can be visited here. I'd never heard of the author or either book before and was in no hurry to read them, but see, this was during the time period that Borders Bookstores were closing and were essentially throwing stuff at the customers begging them to take it off their hands. Sadly enough, these are only two of the books I bought that in the interval I still haven't read.

At least that's no longer true for the Warded Man! Apparently Peter did this overseas as the Painted Man, with the cover image I've put up top. It's a solid cover and in my opinion far better than the one used in America even though I do prefer the name The Warded Man. Hell, if you have the chance, look at the one in Japan. Hell with it, I'll snag it here.

That's a damn great cover in my opinion and the red cape makes it pop for me.

Anyway...Peter V. Brett does a great job of bringing a 'small' fantasy world to life. It's a heavy character focused setting with enough unique bits and pieces in terms of magic and monsters to keep me interested. The world is plagued by demons that rise up every night from the core to kill, well, everything.

This has a few effects on the people. In the north, a generic 'dark ages' if you will, the people hide behind 'wards' or runes that are inscribed on walls and posts and other surfaces. These wards prevent the demons from attacking. But they don't always work. Time erodes them, the posts break, a demon the ward isn't meant for shows up, natural fires happen, and other things of that nature.

The people in the north believe the best way to deal with the horror is to live their life the best they can and stay behind the wards and hope for a better tomorrow.

The people of the south? They fight. They use the wards to entrap the demons who cannot stand the light of day and die in it. The downside of this is that their population is shrinking.

Peter V Brett's novel The warded Man, brings us three main characters. The first of these I'll mention is Arlen. He admires the Messengers, specially trained individuals who move from city to city and hamlet to village in order to bring news and information. He admires them because they dare to travel, they dare to go into the night even when the demons are out and about.

Arlen's skill set and mentality make him an ideal agent of change. It is his ability to trust his fellow man, even when sometimes they have not earned it, that makes him more than just another Messenger, and eventually turns him into the Warded Man.

The second character is Rojer, an entertainer who finds himself on the road often. His own childhood one of great suffering but one that put him on a path that others have never enjoyed. He finds that his ability with music gives him power over the demons.

The last is Leesha, a healer whose mentor hints at secrets of the old world. This includes the ability to craft a 'demonfire' of sorts that is similar to alchemist fire and capable of killing wood demons. Turns out the 'wise women' were given their own set of secrets and things to carry forward until the time was right to use them in saving mankind.

Peter does a great job of bringing these characters together through the years of each of their individual lives until their lives intersect in a great battle that sets the course of future conflict with the demons.

The writing was a bit more 'on' that I'd consider most books that I'd call 'popcorn'. It was enthralling and made me want to read further. There were some bits that are a bit old hat. After all, three young people each having their coming of age isn't anything new but it's always been about how well told the tale is for me.

I'll be discussing some specifics below so if you don't want any spoilers, read no further.

1. World Building: As I mentioned up thread, the world seems small. There are essentially two cultures and one magic system that has a lot of room to expand as more is discovered about it. This narrow focus though, allows the author to focus on the characters as opposed to dragging analogs of dozens of real world historical archetypes into the setting.  When designing your own setting, put the focus where you want it at the start and build from there. If it's a Viking focused world, throwing too many other elements into the stew may ruin the flavor.

2. Character Abilities: The three main characters of this book all have special knowledge or abilities that set them outside of others. Not only that, but they have different ways of approaching things. For example, Arlen wants to kill demons. He wants to kill them so much, that when he discovers that some of the wards that were common among his town folk aren't known in the city, he decides that in order to increase everyone's knowledge, instead of selling them, they'll only be available for trade. Sounds like a wizard in a D&D campaign to me. Players are notorious for finding the 'weak' points in a game wither that's the knowledge base that they can draw from or stupid assumptions of the setting. Their own goals and ambitions may be so different that they could potentially break the setting. Run with it and see where it goes.

3. Unique words: Demon is a pretty standard word, but because they come from 'the core', the word 'core' gets used for all manner of meanings ranging from hell, to being killed by demons or cored. Having a few unique words to set the stage can be a useful thing. The old TSR/WoTC setting Planescape was notorious for it's 'chant and Thieves Tongue and pirate speak are all 'languages' that have flavor to them that can increase the mood or theme of a campaign.

The Warded Man is a solid book and I've already started The Desert Spear and am enjoying it. There's no doubt I'll be looking for the third book in the series.

The Warded Man is available from Amazon in paperback for $7.19 in mass market paperback, prime eligible, or in kindle format for $5.99.