The Painted Man, released in the U.S. as The Warded Man, is Peter V. Brett’s debut novel and, let me tell you, it’s an awesome debut. Counting 453 pages, The Warded Man (that’s how I read it, so that’s what I’ll be calling it from now on) was mesmerizing from start to finish.
A story of demons
As long as man walked the land, they were threatened by powerful demons, coming out at night, destroying everything in their wake. Until, about three thousand years ago, magic wards were discovered that could keep the demons at bay. One man, the Deliverer, gathered all of mankind in an epic war to drive the demons back. They succeeded.
Or so they thought. Three hundred years ago, the demons – also known as Corelings – returned. Magic had been replaced by science and the wards were forgotten. A hopeless war was fought and lost against the indestructible demons. Until at this time, man lives in fear, hidden behind what few defensive wards they retrieved, the offensive wards being lost in legend.
In this time of fear, two boys and a girl grow up in completely different lives, coping with the loss that holds them back, inflicted by the ever present Corelings. Together, they will dare the impossible, stepping beyond the safety of the wards to stand against the demons.
Coming of age
And that’s where my praise of The Warded Man will start. I know many books that hold a story of characters growing up to be adults, but never have I seen it done in such a skilled way. Each of these characters is completely different. They change, as they grow older, yet they will always be true to themselves. And more importantly, the choices that move them are the kind that a reader could identify with.
These choices and the way these characters face their problems lead them to a path I can understand. Had I been in their positions, I would probably have done the same. That doesn’t mean, however, that this is a feel-good story. It isn’t. The Warded Man is an epic story about battling scary demons, but in the first place, it’s a story of regular people finding light in a hopeless situation and making a stand.
That doesn’t mean the battles aren’t awesome. Seldom have I seen battles described this vividly. They aren’t battles of great armies, but fights, one on one, of weak humans against greater demonic odds. There is, however, the promise of much bigger battles in the next novels in this series.
Not enough background story
So, was everything perfect? Actually, no it wasn’t. No book is perfect, I suppose. I had the feeling that, with the focus on the journey of the main characters, the larger story was in some ways forgotten. In my opinion, Brett wanted to move too fast, fitting fourteen years in 453 pages. This happened at the expense of a great deal of background story. Because of this, however, the pacing of The Warded Man is near perfect.
Why should you read this book?
Simply put, because the book is awesome. It’s a coming of age story about demons, that has a very epic feel to it. The way the world is given shape is very well written: every town, city and culture has a different feel to it. Every character is different. You should also read this book because, for once, the chapter icons actually make sense. And isn’t that something every fan of epic fantasy has been waiting for? Most of all, however, you should read this book because of the promise it holds. The Warded Man holds a great deal of foreshadowing to a much more epic sequel. Which has been released in the spring of 2010, by the way, and is titled The Desert Spear.