I’ve been meaning to read Peter V. Brett’s “The Warded Man” ($7.99, Del Rey) for years, but a recent deal on the electronic version of the book finally gave me a reason to get around to it. As usual, I’m sorry I waited.
“The Warded Man” introduces us to an interesting post-apocalyptic world where people hide in fear of corelings – demon-like elemental creatures who emerge from the earth at nightfall to terrorize and kill. The only protection from the creatures are the magical wards that, if created properly, can keep the demons out. It’s rumored that once there were offensive wards that allowed people to fight the creatures, but those have been lost – if the stories were even true to begin with.
Brett’s story focuses on three survivors, all from small villages. Arlen dreams of seeing the world as a Messenger, the brave travelers who dare the corelings and the open road to bring news and supplies to the outer villages. Those dreams turn darker in the wake of a demon attack on his village that reveals some awful truths about his life and the people around him.
Leesha lives a pious life with her doting father and shrew of a mother. She’s destined to take over her father’s paper-making business and marry the town’s most eligible bachelor, but a coreling attack and her mother’s desires put her in a compromising position that finds her an unlikely apprentice to a respected Herb Gatherer.
Rojer was just a small child when a demon attack on the ill-kept wards of his town left his parents dead and him in the care and apprenticeship of a drunken, cowardly jongleur. Having lost part of his hand in the attack, he has little talent at the juggling or singing expected of jongleurs, but he soon unlocks other talents that will put him on a dangerous road.
The child from a small village who becomes an unlikely hero is one of the oldest tropes in the fantasy playbook, but it’s still effective when done well. Brett does it wonderfully with these characters.
“The Warded Man” puts us in an impossibly dangerous world where life is precious, but fleeting. Getting caught in a particularly dark storm cloud can bring a quick and violent end. Brett does a good job of making the reader fear the dark, but at the same time, I’m fascinated with the corelings. I want to know more about them, their origins, their story. I get the feeling that there’s much more to them than the glimpses in this first volume let on.
Of course, it’s not only the demons at night that our characters need fear, and that leads to a few nice twists and turns, as well as some truly gut-wrenching moments through the course of the story.
“The Warded Man” is well-written and very dark, though as Rojer would say, it’s a tale that also gives hope, albeit small and grim. The second volume, “The Desert Spear,” has just taken a considerable leap up my to be read queue.