Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

There I am last week, minding my own D.O.A. business when my husband calls me at work to let me know a package came for "D.O.A. Librarian".

That sounds rather ominous, but it was okay! He said it appeared to be a book and it was from Random House. It took me a bit to recall I had signed up on one of their blog/forums and said I'd be interested in preview copies.

I sat down to take a peek at it when I got home, noted it was fantasy, and had been written on a SmartPhone...honestly I wasn't expecting it to be too good. Unknown (to me) author...written on a telephone...but WOW.

The Warded Man (known as The Painted Man in Europe) is set in a medieval type world. There are small villages and even smaller clustered communities and large faraway cities.

The story opens with a bang as horns sound to call for help in the aftermath of a demon attack on a small group of homes in a scattered community. Instead of rushing to their aid, Arlen and his family tend their livestock and do their basic daily chores before heading to help.

This is not indifference but survival. Demon attacks are not rare, taking place every night as the underworld denizens rise from the ground at sunset. The families protect their homesteads with "wards" complex and interconnected symbols that keep the demons at bay, until a weakness is found by the relentless attackers. Once they are in, they decimate and devour the hapless.

When this happens, the people aid each other in burning the dead, and quickly rebuilding homes and farms for any survivors. They take in any who could not survive on their own.

Arlen and his family take in two women who have lost their homes and husbands in the latest devastating attack. Arlen, who had been picked on by other boys until he fought back fiercely, wants to fight back against the demons as well. He hates cowering in his home at night and feels it must be possible to fight. His father violently disagrees and insists it is impossible to fight the demons, though nothing, he says, would stop him from fighting for his family.

A few nights after the larger attack, everything is secured for the night except one of the women named Marea has left the family dog tied to a post.

Marea, stricken with guilt, runs to get it and Arlen's mother runs after the woman. They are caught between the protection of the house and the barn. Arlen's mother calls to her husband for help but he is frozen in fear. Marea is torn apart by the demons and Arlen's mother is attacked.

Arlen runs out, with only a bucket for a weapon, and tries to help his mother. Arlen does everything he can to save his mother and himself while his father is seen staring helplessly and uselessly from the safe doorway of the house.

So begins a long journey for Arlen and two other characters, Leesha and Rojer, whose stories alternate with Arlen's. I don't always appreciate alternating narratives but here it worked and I was always happy to find out what happened next to these three great characters, and the interesting side characters who filled their lives.

I don't know when I've read a book so filled with distinctive characters, most very likeable. The few villainous characters are sympathetic at some point in their appearance, no mean feat.

The continuing theme of survival, both of the individual and the society no matter how difficult and nearly impossible runs throughout the narrative. There isn't the question of whether it is worthwhile to live in such conditions you might expect. The question is, can it be better, can people fight back against impossible odds and foes? Can you be determined to do the right thing and win?

Pacing is excellent, the story flows smoothly and ends satisfyingly, despite it being the first in a series. It doesn't leave you hanging, it leaves you wanting more.

I was three fourths of the way through the book before I realized that the "Warded Man" might end up looking very much like "The Illustrated Man" though his tale is vastly different.

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