Because all of life is stories.
One of my first reviews on this blog was for The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett, third book of his Demon Cycle. Next week his fourth book, The Skull Thronewill be released. As I have a review ready to go for that one (Cheers, NetGalley) I figured I should finally go back and review the debut novel that started one of the best fantasy series running today.
Yeah, I said it.
The Warded Man and by extension the entirety of Brett’s Demon Cycle is one of the finest works of fiction currently running in series today. The story initially revolves around three viewpoint characters before ballooning to include nearly a dozen more by the time the fourth book rolls around: Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer. Each of them have their own demons, other than the ones that rise from the ground once the sun sets every night. Arlen ran away from home at a young age after watching his mother die at the hands of demons, his father hiding behind the safety of magic wards. Leesha was abused both mentally and physically. Rojer was taken in by a traveling entertainer after his entire family was lost to demons in the night.
Oh yeah, the demons that rise from the ground every night. Guess I kind of buried the lead. In this world, every night for the last three hundred years, demons from from mist, rising from the core of the world to wreak havoc on humanity. Once, it was told, humans had fought the demons in the naked night with magical wards that turned the demons power back on themselves. Now what remains of humanity cowers in the night behind the only defensive wards left to them. But, as it goes with most fantasy, things are about to change.
Fast forward years into the future, and Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer have grown up. Each have taken on roles that give them strength against both the night and the darkness that lies within. In the coming years, these three friends will be part of the greatest uprising in the history of humanity. One to reclaim the naked night. One to deliver all of humanity from the face of not extinction, but life as breed stock for a race of insatiably hungry monsters that live beneath the surface.
It’s impossible to mention this book without bringing up it’s treatment of religion, or the later books treatment of sex. The culture than Arlen and his people grew up in is one more in line with traditional European fantasy. The second main culture in the series is a mixture of Middle Eastern and Japanese culture. The Krasians live in the desert to the south of where most of the action takes place, and they couldn’t be any more different from the Greenlanders at first glance. Their religion shapes everything. From caste systems that heavily favor men and warriors to their willingness to go out into the night hunting demons, even without the power of magic behind them. The Krasians bear a strong resemblance to what an outsider might see as Muslim culture (I certainly did). I’m not saying this is bad or good. The priests of the Krasians are all women, and to offend them is to invite death at their hands. But the amount of beatings that happen (And let’s not forget the occasional rape, sometimes implied and sometimes implicit) are somewhat jarring until you become used to the culture and the knowledge that most of these assholes are going to end up dead or eunuchs at some point. Though not all the cruelty comes from the Krasian people. The Greenlanders are just as likely to commit horrible acts in the name of the Creator, and somehow all the sane and logical and kindhearted people, religious or not, are left to fill the void.
I mentioned that the culture is a mixture of Japanese and Middle Eastern. The idea of the warrior in Krasian culture comes from the Japanese samurai. The religion has a history and creation story that comes from an amalgamation of any of a dozen religions, with Brett’s personal flair and embellishments filling out the specifics and creating a culture that feels real. I don’t in any way mean to say he disparages Muslims or anyone of any culture for that matter. He’s actually a bit of a warrior for these kinds of freedoms and rights. Keep reading, and I’ll continue to explain.
Look at the flip side of the coin. The Creator/Everam (Depends on your religious leanings) brings an untold amount of good and joy and aide to the people in the Demon Cycle. Houses of aid and succor feature prominently in every significant village in the northern lands, giving free food and rest and hope to those who ask. Everam gives prophetic wisdom to the priestesses of the Evejan order. Magic (From Everam or the demons, again, it depends on your religious leanings) heals wounds that would normally be fatal or crippling. He doesn’t just go out of his way to balance out the tallies of good and bad, much of the world’s religions firmly occupy the grey, as do many in the real world today. The idea of religion in The Warded Man and its sequels is treated as complexly as I have ever seen in a fantasy novel, and every time I find myself wondering if I should be insulted, angry, joyous or just awed I know it’s because of Brett’s fair and complex treatment of the subject.
Now let’s talk about some fun stuff. Namely, killing demons. And other than the religion, this is the defining characteristic of the Krasian people, who live in a land also known as The Desert Spear. Through a mixture of sheer will and cunning the warriors of the Desert Spear go out in to the night, herding demons into traps and hunting them down, forcing them to remain above ground until the sun rises and burns them to ash. These famed and feared warriors study from childhood an art known as sharusahk. The martial art that prides balance and turning an opponents strength against it features heavily in Krasian culture, and is fascinating to learn about. Especially when you discover different castes of Krasian are taught different styles and levels of the art, with more revealed in each book.
And the demons. Oh my goodness the demons. They come in as many shapes and sizes as the animals in our world. Rock demons, field demons, lake demons, swamp demons, wind demons, flame demons, wood demons, every kind of monster in every kind of horrifying form. Each of them fully realized in depth and description befitting a naturalist. And as every new story is added to the canon, more and more of them arise, filling in the demon bestiary, still one of the most mysterious and fascinating parts of Brett’s series.
One of the benefits of picking up the series now is that there will only be one book left to publish after the 31st, and four to devour in the interim. The added bonus, and an increasingly common one nowadays, is the existence of supplementary stories that fill in some of the holes. Brett has published several novellas that all tell their own compelling stories. Some of these tell stories that were cut from the original novels. Others tell stories that are only hinted at in the main novels. Each of them is not required, though definitely advised. If not for the relevance to future story (There isn’t much) than for the entertainment value, the quality of the writing, and the behind the scenes looks into the lives of the people that stand in the night.
I had a lot of fun reading these books. The combat is incredible to read, and gets better with each and every book. The characters, especially the women as the book moves onward, are all incredibly powerful once they step into their own, and the series only introduces more as time goes on, slight hiccup in the third book notwithstanding. The world that Brett has created to go along with the magic system, the religions, the cultures, and the seemingly boundless history makes me want to crawl into the pages and never leave. I find a few of the things problematic (mentioned above) but overall The Warded Man is one of the best books I’ve ever read. And as you’ll find out next week, The Skull Throne is even better.