There is more to fantasy books than the stereotypical Tolkien elements that spawned the genre. The creation of a new world, one that feels lived in and fleshed out, is imperative. Many books live and die by their execution, or lack there of, of this element. The Warded Man (or The Painted Man), the first book The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett, succeeds in not only creating a new world, but does so while telling a compelling story.
The conceit is simple, yet ingenious. Demons, known as Corelings, haunt the Earth every night. People, having lost the old magics and advancements, hide beyond magical wards. These wards are circular symbols that protect them from the many different Corelings that stalk the lands from dusk till dawn. Told through three perspectives across years, we see our protagonists grow in this world while rebuking the idea of living in fear from these creatures.
First, there’s the main character Arlen. A smart and brave farm boy growing up in one of the many hamlets that dot the land. After an early tragedy, he runs off, vowing to not live in fear and to give the Corelings nothing. He’s driven by a thirst for knowledge and the power to allow himself and humanity to rise up once again. Second, there’s Leesha, a beauty girl from a different hamlet who becomes the apprentice of the town’s Herb Gatherer (the town doctor, knowledge keeper, mid-wife, etc.) She quickly learns the power of the knowledge at her fingertips while dealing with small town mentalities and gossipers. Finally, there’s Rojer, the weakest character of the three. A toddler whose parents and hometown are killed by Corelings.
There was some oddities to the book that while clever, took me some time to grow accustomed too. The chapters are overly long, not a detraction, but does make reading a quick chapter here or there difficult. With such long chapters, it took me a while to notice the numbers and symbols at the beginning denoted the year and character. The character switching early one was an annoyance, though I eventually grew accustomed to it. Arlen is easily the strongest of the three. Once I became emotionally invested in him after three long chapters, we were introduced to Leesha. Another three long chapters with her, then Rojer. In hindsight, I don’t fault Brett for this, the threads coalesced well by the end, though at the time it frustrating and jarring.
Aside from creating a fascinating world that I wanted to learn more about, through Arlen if possible, this delivers payoffs in spades. Having seen pivotal moments withheld or not panning out as I initially expected, The Warded Man subverts that notion. The moment I was waiting for (hint, it’s in the title) occurred near the opening of the third act. With over 100 pages left, I couldn’t but the book down, flying through until the end. For me, this is what I was waiting for since chapter one, and it delivered.
Anyone with a passing interest of passionate love for fantasy should read this book. That includes all you Game of Thrones fans. There’s more out their beyond Tolkien or Martin, but, you know, good.
Has this piqued your interested? What other series have you enjoyed? Comment below!
Rojer was totally a third wheel.