Monday, 18 July 2011

The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett

I bought this book for my brother for Christmas a couple of years ago. He never finished it, he couldn’t suspend his disbelief far enough to enjoy it fully. It’s one that’s been looking at me every time I go to the book shop, begging me to read it… so when I found it in my room at my parents’ house I dug right in!
N.B.: I have the British version of this book. In the US it is called The Warded Man.

The author: Not that you’d know it reading the book, but The Painted Man is Peter V. Brett’s first title. He seems to have forged himself a nice, cosy spot in the fantasy world in the past couple of years! The final part of this trilogy is set for release later this year / early next year (no precise date). He has also released some companion novels, but I believe there was a limited number of copies.

Presentation: Small font. Spaced. 544 pages broken down into 32 chapters.

Story: When the sun sets, the demons come to terrorise humanity. Legend tells that centuries ago men were able to fight the demons, causing them to retreat to the Core and leave humanity in peace. But when the demons stopped materialising at night, men slowly forgot how to fight them, believing themselves the victors in the war with demon-kind. Then the demons returned in vast numbers; men had no way to attack and their defences were not fool-proof. Now, centuries later, humanity is edging ever closer to extinction with each demon attack that breaks through the wards.
Three young children, ignorant of each other’s existence, find their lives changed by demon attacks.
Arlen is a young boy from a farming community. One night he saves his mother from a demon attack while his father stands safe within the protective wards; he witnesses his father’s cowardice when faced with the demons - resulting in terrible consequences - and he swears that he won’t ever be a coward like him. He doesn’t want to be a prisoner within the wards. He wants to live. So he runs off to forge a new life for himself. He wants to see the world, wants to give humanity a way to go on the offence against the demons but he doesn’t know how to realise his dreams. Fortunately for him, he is a talented warder and this opens up a tricky, perilous but possible path for him to become one of the important messengers: men who brave the night’s dangers in order to take news and letters from place to place.
Leesha is a young woman in a close-knit community, her life ruled by her tyrannical mother. She is awaiting her passage to womanhood so that she can marry her promised one. But when her reputation is smeared, she leaves the village proper, choosing to go and live with the village healer as her apprentice and learn the healing arts of the Herb Gatherers. She is a fast learner, soaking up all her mentor’s teachings, and more importantly, Leesha gains a will to fight, a desire to resist others running her life for her.
Rojer’s earliest memories are of his parents giving their lives to save his during a demon attack. He did not escape unscathed, missing two fingers on one hand. He is taken in by a Jongleur, a man who makes his living by entertaining the crowds, and is taught in the arts of the trade. He is very talented at playing the fiddle and soon discovers that he is able to control the demons with the music.

Thoughts and impressions: The premise for this book is one of the most interesting ideas I’ve come across in a while. There is no antagonist, but there is an ever present danger. If anything, the antagonist is the darkness, night-time, one that you can never defeat. You cannot stop the sun from setting.
The ideas behind the demons were equally inspired. Different demons for different areas: wind demons rule the skies, sand demons live in the desert sands, wood demons in the forests, rock and flame demons roam among the others’ territories. The demons don’t only attack humans - though humans are their favourite victims and they spend much of their time trying to find weaknesses in the ward nets that will allow them entrance - they also attack each other, praying on their weak or injured, chasing off other demons who do not belong in their habitat.
The book starts slowly, playing with character clichés. Arlen is a definite fantasy cliché in the beginning, a young boy from a farming village who breaks from his norm. But he needed this, and all the good, the bad and the downright terrible that happened to him in order to form his character, for him to become who he was destined to become. Leesha is much the same. I really enjoyed her story when she was young, it was one that I could really feel passionate about. When Rojer is first introduced he is only three, about ten years younger than the other two characters, so it takes him a while to really form. Each of the characters has to go through their own trials and tribulations, hitting rock bottom before they can start to evolve again. Brett turns these clichés into a masterpiece.
I personally saw parallels in Brett’s world with a Catholic faith in the north and a Muslim faith in the south. I’m not sure if this was meant to be so, maybe it’s just me. Both were very interesting, though of course I’m already biased against both for their treatment of Arlen.
Every time I sat down to read this someone inevitably came and sat next to me, expecting me to converse with them. But I wanted to read! I wanted to devour this book! I’m already planning ahead, how fast I can get my mitts on the second book.

Style: Some unnecessary repetition in a few places that escaped the editing process. Other than that it was a very engaging style.

Final verdict: This book completely blew me away. I wasn’t expecting it to be half as good as it turned out to be from what my brother had told me. I’m glad I chose to ignore his criticisms of it and try it for myself. One of the best fantasy novels (and novels in general) that I’ve read in a while. Definitely 5 stars.

Language didn’t stick out to me. There are instances of rape and incest referred to and one sex scene. I would consider it suitable for older teens.


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