A book review that I had to do for Feature Writing. ‘Nough said.
Tolkien was a brilliant man but ultimately did a wonderful job of running fantasy into the ground. The author of “The Lord of the Rings”, as well as a number of other works, found outstanding fame in his writing, but became so popular that he basically defined the boundaries of fantasy. Forever will elves now be tall, fair-skinned folk with a penchant for magic, forever shall dwarves be short, stocky, and crude gents obsessed with gold. Fantasy, a genre once limited by its lack of limits, finds itself, for the most part, bound up in Tolkien’s dream world; which is why some new authors, such as Peter V. Brett, are creative breathes of fresh air.
Brett exploded into the fantasy scene with a brand-new, completely original series beginning with his first book, “The Warded Man” (or “The Painted Man” if you’re not American). The writing is a work of art; it doesn’t necessarily contain many big twists, quite the contrary, in fact, as a surprising amount of its story is predictable, but that is not where the book shines. Indeed the heart and soul of the book is not found in shocks and cheap twists, but in adroit storytelling and enthralling, deeply three-dimensional characters, each with their own specific role in events to come and own fantastical story.
The book itself falls under the theme of world-on-the-brink writing, as each night the few remaining cities and towns of the planet are assaulted by Corelings, demons which consolidate from mist to kill any human they come across. The Corelings come in many flavors, varying from the small, nimble fire demons to the massive, plodding stone demons, but they all share three things in common: a dislike for humankind, they are burned by the sun, and they can be kept at bay using wards, ancient symbols from the old world, from when humans openly fought Corelings. At one point, the humans had driven the Corelings back using battle runes, runes that could not only deflect Corelings but harm them. Humankind’s victory forced the Corelings underground for hundreds of years, and made humans cocky. The battle runes were forgotten, and the defensive runes only being found after most of humanity fell in the Corelings’ second coming. Now, most of humanity lives in one of very few great cities, their walls carved with massive defensive runes, and the rest live in small towns which must repaint the runes on their walls day after day or be killed by the ravenous Corelings. The only way for the settlements to get messages and supplies to and from the much larger series are through a group of brave men and women known as Messengers, who brave the Corelings every night by using transportable warded circles.
Like a number of well-selling modern fantasy authors, Brett broadens his literary scope and, instead of using the traditional one protagonist with a supporting cast, uses three main characters and a supporting cast. The two bonus characters make a huge difference, allowing the reader to experience the story from three very different viewpoints. Each character is dynamic and well-rounded, and, due to the long timeline of the first book, the reader actually watches the characters mature from children to adults, watching major portions of their development and seeing first-hand how their personalities change over time. Each character becomes the reader’s own child, and the excitement of seeing a chapter about your favorite character never dulls, and Brett wants you to know if a chapter is going to be about your favorite character. Brett included hand-drawn icons in the book, each representing one character, that appear beneath the chapter number and show the reader exactly who will be in the chapter. You see a hand with a ward on it? Arlen Bales, a farmer’s son, will make a return appearance. Is there a mortar and pestle? Leesha the alchemist will be a focal point.
It’s so rare for a fantasy series to make it to the big leagues without relying on Tolkien fiction, but when they do the genre as a whole is made better by it. Fantasy is meant to be fantastical, free from the limits of the imagination that so many other genres are weighed down by, and Peter V. Brett took that freedom and ran with it — all the way to the bank. “The Warded Man”, and, indeed, the other two books in the trilogy, “The Desert Spear,” and “The Daylight War,” are worth any reader’s time, whether they be new to the genre or grizzled veterans. The only way to find out if it’s for you, though, is to simply go out and read it.