Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man is the first novel in his fantasy series, The Demon Cycle. I previously discussed having an extreme fondness for the series but I didn’t go into a lot of detail. The Warded Man and the two books that have followed it (The Desert Spear and The Daylight War) are all spectacular examples of great fantasy writing. From the adventure to great characters, Brett brings to life an entirely new and original fantasy world. There are a number of reasons why I can’t recommend this series enough, and The Warded Man as a whole is one of the biggest ones.
First and foremost, a great fantasy story is predicated almost entirely on a great fantasy setting. The world of The Warded Man is one where humanity ekes out its livelihood in small villages, continuing their existence despite an overwhelmingly horrible world. When the sun sets and night overtakes the land, demons rise up like a mist from the ground and take terrible element forms. They seem animal-like in their intelligence level, but revel in hunting, killing, and destroying humans. The only saving grace is that mankind still has a rudimentary grasp on a powerful, ancient magic called ‘warding’ which helps shield stables and farms and homes from complete annihilation.
It is a terrifying life and Brett makes sure you know it. As you are introduced to the opening acts of Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer, Brett outlines the basics of his world and shows you it at its cruelest. The rules for warding are outlined plainly: the precision of the drawing of a ward affects its overall strength. If even a small part of the drawing is disturbed, the ward’s effects can be completely nullified. As the magic only stops the demons themselves, the elements like fire and wind, other animals, and objects being hurled at the wards can break wards drawn on less than safe surfaces, such as in the dirt.
Given the overwhelming fear people rightfully have of the night time and how that hampers any long distance travel, the setting has a sort of post-apocalyptic feel. Once some of the world’s backstory is revealed and you learn that man once possessed wards capable of hurting and even killing the demons who are otherwise unkillable by conventional means, you realize that this is a world where humanity has lost and is still recovering.
With such a distinctive feel to its world, the fear of the night and the feeling of mankind having been beaten down into submission permeates through all of the novel’s themes and characters. There is a common thread throughout the novel about whether mankind should fight back and how they should do it. Each of the three main characters answers this question in different ways and for different reasons over the course of the entire series. And as more and more characters are introduced, more history is revealed, and you are taken to different locations, the answers to that central question becomes increasingly more complex and interesting. It makes for a very addicting read and is one of the primary draws for the entire series, aside from the great characters themselves.
The characters in The Warded Man are the part that I fell in love with most. With elements of coming of age, each of the main characters’ arcs are essentially three different hero’s journeys from very different angles and perspectives.
Without going into too much detail and spoiling the whole affair for you, I have to say that Leesha’s journeys is my favorite in the series. Despite being a male writer in a traditionally male dominated genre that is typically and stereotypically focused on male heroes with females to fuck or fight over, Brett writes Leesha in a way where she stands on her own. I always worry when it comes to female characters in my fantasy (and even science fiction novels). Often, they are flat, boring accessories meant to break up action monotony or to provide an excuse for otherwise entirely rational male heroes to behave irrationally and with actual human emotion.
The other characters are also well done. Rojer’s beginnings are truly tragic and Arlen’s provides fantastic insight into the person he will become over the course of the series. The character development as a whole is spot on and spectacular, which can sometimes be rare in a fantasy novel that is also still action-packed and fun to read.
I cannot recommend The Warded Man enough if you are even remotely a fan of reading fantasy. As the series progresses, the characters develop into more and more interesting characters. The setting deepens greatly as you are introduced to new cultures and as the past becomes more and more revealed. It’s a wonderful start to a wonderful series, and one that I hope eventually gets turned into a really amazing movie series.