The Warded Man / The Painted Man (US - Canada - UK)
By Peter V. Brett (Website - Blog - Forum -Facebook - MySpace - Goodreads)
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Del Rey (March 10, 2009)
First of all, in spite of the critiques that are going to follow this paragraph, this is a brilliant novel. When a novel reaches this level of excellence, little nitpicky things tend to stand out more. Keep that in mind as you read this review.
The worldbuilding and the plot are perfectly blended together. I tend to think of demons as either spiritual beings, as rendered in the Bible, or as the red-skinned, horned creatures of the Doom games. Mr. Brett takes the latter approach, with a dash of the former. Demons--or corlings--rise up from the ground as a mist every night, and then coalesce into a corporeal being.
Once formed, corelings proceed to wreak havoc. Most weapons are ineffective. The only thing keeping them at bay are wards painted on houses or walls, behind which people cower on a nightly basis. While I think this is great concept, I wonder how long humanity could have lasted under such conditions. Mr. Brett has them last three hundred years since the corelings first appeared (or re-appeared). During this time, humanity also had to re-discover the wards that kept demons at bay, which were lost to myth.
The story focuses on three characters, Arlen the messenger, Leesha the healer and Rojer the musician. I liked all three characters.
Rojer is a jongleur (or bard) who plays the fiddle. He is missing the first two fingers of his right hand due to a demon attack. One of my nitpicks is that author makes it seem like these fingers are optional when it comes to handling a bow.
He pulled out the bow, and as always, there was a rightness in the way it fit his crippled hand. His missing fingers weren't needed here.I play the violin. Bow handling is the most difficult part about playing the violin. You could master the fingering and still sound terrible until you master the bow. You don't grip it with your hand; you balance it in your fingers. I have included a photo of me holding my bow.
People compensate all the time for any limitations they might have; I witness it daily. I would have liked to have seen the author spend a little time showing how Rojer compensated in learning to play the fiddle. Rojer had a devil of a time juggling because of his missing fingers, but he never masters juggling. Since the story centers on his fiddle playing, I would have preferred a shift in emphasis.
Leesha is not only a healer. She has the secret of demonfire and a number of other offensive weapons, including a blinding dust that she flings into the faces of overly amorous men. However, it isn't quite enough when she is attacked by a gang. One of them was a mute described as follows, "There was little intelligence in the giant's eyes, but if he lacked the sadism of his companions, his dumb lust was a terror in itself; the urges of an animal in the body of a rock demon."
I hate to see disabled people portrayed as animals. This looks like a poor copy of Lenny from Of Mice and Men. The author doesn't do anything else with this character, but he did leave him alive, so it's possible he will turn up in another book. Maybe he really is a demonic half-breed. But right now, he just sounds like he was autistic. And an autistic man is more likely to masturbate than attack a woman.
Arlen gains his special abilities as a result of his search for knowledge, which leads to the title of this book. Throughout much of the book, he is perused by a certain demon known as One-Arm. The conflict between Arlen and One-Arm was great, even if it didn't reach a personal level. Arlen makes a lot of friends along the way, and who doesn't like a character who can make friends? He also suffers some devastating betrayals, all which lead to his decision to do the things he does.
I loved Arlen because of his willingness to do things that others consider impossible, all the way from surviving a night out alone to taking on One-Arm in single combat. He's not crazy-brave; he believes in his own abilities and he prepares well. Mr. Brett skillfully builds up the suspense for each new impossible thing that Arlen is going to try next.
This novel is all about characters, and everyone who reads this blog knows I love character development novels. There's a lot of hype for The Warded Man; go ahead and believe it. I recommend it highly.