For a while now, THE WARDED MAN by Peter V. Brett (blog, twitter) has sat in my to-read pile. I had heard all the reviews, and I was pretty sure I would like it, but for whatever reason, I never picked it up. What changed? Well, I met fantasy author Myke Cole (blog, twitter) at the Nebula Awards, and he basically made me swear on a stack of Dungeon Master’s Guides that I would read it. Yes, I know Cole is friends with Brett, so there was a little bias there, but there was also genuine emotion there. Cole even said if he had to do everything over again, he would have done it like Brett: forget going to cons and picking up bits of industry knowledge; instead, focus on writing a quality fantasy novel.
So I went home, and I started reading. And I immediately loved this book. The skill and craftsmanship is evident from page one. Normally, I would tear through a book like this, trying to read it as fast as I could. Instead, I read slowly, savoring it, mentally taking apart its techniques and structures, exploring what I saw as a model of a fantasy novel. I knew I would miss this book when I had finished it.
First, the worldbuilding is top notch. In the world of THE WARDED MAN, demons rise from the Core every night to hunt humans who hide behind magical wards. This has been the case for hundreds of years when the story begins. Brett artfully describes how such a world would function, as well as the nasty, brutish, and short lives of many of the few remaining humans. The presence of the demons–corelings–and the fear they inspire infect all levels of society, both locally and beyond. And yet Brett has created a world in which different groups of people respond in different ways. He also shows how life is different in the villages and the cities. These differences, the reasons for them, and the consequences of them, give this novel a depth of detail not always found in fantasy novels.
Although the settings of THE WARDED MAN could serve as characters (they are so well constructed), the three protagonists of this book really shine. Readers are with them from childhood to young adulthood, and we learn with them. We are afraid; we get hurt; and we grow with them, scars and all. Although they learn similar lessons, the three protagonists do so from very different perspectives. Brett has created unique voices for each of them, making them very realistic. Through their eyes, readers learn so much about the world of THE WARDED MAN, and readers will want to fight back against the corelings just as strongly as the protagonists do.
From what I have heard, Brett spent a long time on this novel (his first), making sure it was just right. And the effort shows. Each chapter–heck, each paragraph–is tightly written. There are very few wasted words. Each bit drives the story forward. Ever showing, never telling, Brett provides action, conflict, and reaction. And he sets up the sequel perfectly. For writers interested in writing fantasy, I cannot recommend this book more highly. There is a lot that can be learned from re-reading this book, and the fact that it’s a great story doesn’t hurt either. I can’t wait to read the second novel in this series, THE DESERT SPEAR, and the third. Brett is definitely an author to keep your eye on.