Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Review: THE WARDED MAN by Peter V. Brett

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.


Tia Nevitt said...

All of you feed readers: I had an adverb hunt that went awry. I was searching for all "ly" ending words and highlighted them in my browser so I could decide whether to keep them or nix them. Unfortunately, it published that way. I have since corrected the post.

Charlotte said...

Ok, I'm sold!

And I'm going to go home and see if I can hold the bow with two fingers and a thumb...

Tia Nevitt said...

I tried that. I was able to hold the bow with just my index finger, my pinky and my thumb, but I didn't have a lot of control with just my ring finger and pinky.

Anne said...

Thanks for the warning about the handicaps. I've had trouble before with handicaps not being believable. I've had handicaps long enough to know they stick hard-and-fast limits in some of the most inconvenient places. These limits don't disappear just because it's convenient to the plot. {Smile}

That said, I plan to give this book a chance at some point. Neither point is quite unbelievable for me. I believe you when you say holding a bow between thumb, ring finger, and pinky doesn't come easily. However, I think I know some musicians who are stubborn enough to not only work out a way to do it if it isn't impossible, but to then practice that way until it becomes such a habit they've forgotten how tricky it was in the first place. {SMILE}

Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

Tia Nevitt said...

Part of the reason why I was frustrated with that part is because the author didn't spend any time on Rojer working out the difficulties--at least not with the music.

This is really just me, though. Whenever an author brings music in the plot, I always sit up and pay attention.

I definitely recommend this novel despite the points I brought up. It was an absolutely riveting read.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I have to read this now. I was interested in it when you announced the debut, but now it's officially on my to-read list (which is far too long--must learn to read faster!).

I know what you mean about the bow, though. (Er, I mean, I know what you mean about that bothering you, not that I knew how to hold a bow; I don't.) I can't remember any specific examples right now, but there have been a few otherwise good books I've read which had some details I knew weren't quite right. It was frustrating.

Anne said...

I understand. It feels like a missed opportunity, and those are terribly frustrating. {Smile}

I do plan to check this one out as soon as my TBR shelves get a little less unmanageable. {Smile}

Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

Mihai A. said...

Very nice review, Tia :)
And very nice insight at music and bow handling. I remember that my mother sent me when I was 8 years old at violin lessons and the first ones was about the bow and I had to move it up and down using only my fingers (like climbimg a rope). But my lessons ended there, my talent wasn't in music :)
Anyway, "The Warded Man" has its flaws but I believe to be a very strong novel and a wonderful debut :)

Tia Nevitt said...

Definitely, Wolf. And I'm going to try that bow exercise! I don't remember that one.

ediFanoB said...

Good review Tia!

Fortunately I'll get my copy of THE PAINTED MAN in April 2009.

Most of my books I order at
It's always interesting which paperback version (UK or US) is available first and at which price.
In case of Peter V Brett
I can get UK hardback or paperback, US hardback.
And the German edition of the book will be available in June 2009. German title: Das Lied der Dunkelheit English translation of German title: The Song of Darkness

Anyway I don't understand why they use two diffrent titles for the same book. It's confusing.

Tia Nevitt said...

I can see that title working, too! You'll see once you read it. I'd go for the paperback.

Anonymous said...

I would say that since he had the handicap for many years, Rojer's two remaining fingers were forced to become very limber and strong, which allowed him to spread them wider than most folks and allows him the balance and control necessary to work the bow.

Either that, or the author doesn't remember enough from his elementary school viola lessons a quarter century ago...

Tia Nevitt said...

. . . and then you have to deal with nitpicky reviewers indulging in "gotcha" moments . . .

Anonymous said...

Overall, an ok book. I'll probably read the sequels.

My two problems were problems I often have with fantasy literature.

First, the use of sexual violence as a plot element really just felt... tacked on and manipulative. Second, the romance between a certain two characters just felt too sudden to be believable.

There were a lot of other, likable things in the book. But not those two parts.