Thursday, April 28, 2011
The Warded Man
The Warded Man is Peter V. Brett's 2007 debut fantasy novel. I sought it out after hearing it described online as a fresh, modern take on a genre that sees more rehashing than just about any other I can think of. While Brett's creation has some interesting diversions, overall the writing is unfulfilling and uses a number of the same, tired fantasy elements that are seen again and again in fantasy literature.
The novel is set in a world ravaged by demons. Each night, the corelings (as they are known), rise from the ground and proceed to wreak havoc on anything they can get their claws on. After a night of rampaging, they dissolve away in the light of the morning. The corelings are virtually indestructible, and even the most skilled human warrior would be powerless against them. Luckily for the humans, a series of wards that are drawn or etched provide a magical net capable of repelling the corelings. The demon scourge has completely shaped day-to-day life--travel is limited to the daytime, outlying communities are fairly small and isolated, a network of skilled messengers that courier messages and goods between communities has developed, warding is a highly sought after skill, etc. The worldbuilding in The Warded Man is fairly well realized and definitely the novel's strong point.
As the novel opens, wards are limited to a defensive role, though there are tales of wards long-forgotten that could give humans the power to fight to the demons. Wait, let me guess...you can see where this is going, right?
In steps Arlen, a...wait for it...ordinary boy from a poor village that has just been ravaged by a demon attack. After watching his mother die and the cowardice of his father in preventing that death, Arlen vows that his days of cowering in fear of the demons are over. He sets out to begin training as a messenger in the hopes of honing his martial skills to the point where he can begin to realize his dream of taking the fight to the corelings. In addition to Arlen, there are two other POV characters, Leesha and Rojer (oh how I hate that name), both also children raised from humble beginnings in outlying villages. As the novel progresses, the years slip by and the characters grow into adults and assume their roles in the society at large.
Now I won't spoil the big surprise about who the Warded Man turns out to be, but eventually the three characters meet up and are thrust into a desperate fight against a horde of demons bent on destroying Leesha's home village.
Now for the criticism...
1) It turns out that the plot was working up to...nothing! I kept waiting for some overarching storyline to assert itself, but other than a vague prophecy about a Deliverer coming to save the humans, there was nothing. The entire novel works up to a final battle scene with little or no consequence for anyone other than Leesha.
2) We learn absolutely nothing about the corelings other than what they look like and a bit about their animal-like behavior. Given that they relatively recently returned to the world after being banished for thousands of years, I would expect there is some story to tell there. To be fair, the novel is clearly written as the first of a series, so perhaps criticism 1 and 2 will be addressed in later volumes.
3) There were some really awkward sexual scenes in the novel that did little or nothing to advance the plot or characterization. I couldn't help but wonder if, by including these scenes, Brett was trying to make some sort of statement about morality. It was very reminiscent of Terry Goodkind's proselytizing in the Sword of Truth novels, and, quite frankly, off putting.
To sum up, The Warded Man was a moderately enjoyable novel with a serviceable, if derivative, plot. However, in the end, the criticisms I've noted above cheapened the reading experience quite a bit. I'll probably skip the sequel.