Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book Review: The Warded Man

In the genre of Fantasy there are a few norms, and "The Warded Man" by Peter V. Brett includes these norms, but manages to do so without being formulaic. In fact, his unique angle on these expected elements is refreshing and compelling.
  1. World-building. Fans who are patient with the world-building of series such as "The Wheel of Time" and really get into the meat of the story are richly rewarded. In "The Warded Man",  There are three protagonists, whose stories are very different, and Brett is an excellent storyteller, so the three disparate locations of these protagonists are built from detail, secondary characters, vocabulary and setting. It's all done very well. The best world-building happens without the reader really noticing it, intertwining it into the characters' stories in such a way that readers just float along the narrative and get carried away with it.
  2. Evil vs. Good. The primary evil of "The Warded Man"'s world rises every night in the form of demons. Wood demons, fire demons, wind demons, rock demons and sand demons (I may have missed some?)- wickedly deadly monsters with scaled body armor and claws, that literally rise from the Earth each night when the sun is gone. Their only purpose seems to be the destruction of mankind. Man's only defense is wards-- magical wards drawn or carved into buildings for protection. This is a perfectly terrifying notion. Humans are slaughtered every night; death is a major element of this book, and at times there seems to be no hope. But...
  3. An unlikely hero. As I mentioned before, there are three of them in this book, Arlen, Rojer and Leesha, each of whom have specific, special talents that will benefit mankind in their own way. Their stories are thematically similar, as they are faced with one hardship after another after another. And just when you think things will take a turn for the better, they don't. This is both realistic and effective, They are all unique and likeable in their own way, and though I could see from early on some of what was coming at the end of the book for these three, it was still very satisfying to read.
  4. Magic. Of course, all fantasy has some form of magic or power. In this case, magic happens whenever the demons (called "Corelings") smash into a ward- magic flares and acts as a barrier to keep them out. There's more, but I don't want to spoil anything. There are some lovely surprises in learning what the talents and special "powers" of the three protagonists are.
As with any really good story, I found myself compelled to keep listening to this audiobook, though some of the subject matter was a bit... disturbing. Brett's characters are very casual about the body (an old woman repeatedly refers to her "paps"), and there is some vulgarity, but more disturbing for me was the incest (a side story, referred to but not witnessed directly), a rape (again, not exactly witnessed by readers, but VERY upsetting nonetheless-- I normally won't read a book with a rape scene. I'm glad it wasn't actually a scene in the book or I would have been done right then. I don't know what possesses authors to write a graphic rape scene... but I digress...) and a brief, but somewhat descriptive sex scene. The way this scene is written, it is actually interesting, and it is brief; more fascinating than titillating, but I (as always) prefer not to witness such in my entertainment. Too bad authors can't just tell me what happened without SHOWING me. (*Wink, wink... there's a common writing class mantra "show, don't tell"*)

But the story was so compelling, that I let this stuff slide. Some characters are wicked and their behavior is ugly, but so it is with real people. I was bothered by Leesha's comments about having babies not being fulfilling or good enough, but again, some people really feel that way. If everyone in a book were just like me, what a boring story that would be.

So I do recommend it, with the caveat that you have been warned about upsetting content. Most fantasy fans will love this book, I think. It's unique and fascinating, and though I noticed some glaring similarities between the desert dwellers and Robert Jordan's Aiel, even they were unique enough that I wasn't put off by the similarities. As I said above, all fantasy has certain thematic elements, and this one is no exception, but as with all good fantasy, this one rises above those elements, to make a place for itself on the fantasy shelf, right alongside Jordan and Sanderson and Tolkein.

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