Series: Demon Cycle #2
Publisher: Random House (April 13, 2010)
Length: 579 pages
My Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.
In The Warded Man, Peter Brett introduced readers to a world ravaged by demons; every night a time of physical and spiritual darkness where the remnants of humankind cower behind elaborate warded walls, anxiously waiting for the morning light to drive their hellish tormentors away. It wasn’t always like this though. Legends tell of a past era when humanity used combat wards to kill the fiends, drive them back to the core; peace reigning for so long that demons were all but forgotten. But the combat wards are lost; humanity mere sheep to be slaughtered when caught outside their protective wards; and no one dreams that things will ever change . . . well, at least, no one other than a young boy named Arlen.
This would-be savior is a simple boy who dreams of leaving his backwards village, training to become a Messenger (The only people brave enough to venture out in the demon infested darkness), and somehow rediscovering the lost combat wards that kill demon-kind. His only desire to help liberate his fellow man from the fear of the night. And as he seeks to accomplish his goal, he slowly grows from a disillusioned youth into the powerful yet mysterious Warded Man, who some believes is the Deliverer returned!
But — as is alluded to in Warded Man — there is more than one aspirant to the throne of Deliverer, and The Desert Spear brings that into focus by turning the spotlight onto the man Jardir.
This Krasian is born into a society which honors warriors above all others. So much so that at a young age Jardir — like all Krasian boys — is thrust into the brutal training school of his people, taught to fight and dominate other men as well as demons. Horrible trials are set before him. Terrible things befall him. But Jardir stays the course, losing friends along the way, but remaining ever determined to become the greatest Krasian warrior of his time. And as his power waxes, the idea of truly becoming the Deliverer turns from a dream into a real possible, and our once simple boy sees his every action building one upon the other, leading him to assume the mantle of the Shar’Dama Ka (Krasian term for Deliverer) and set out to conquer all mankind, drafting them forcibly into the alagai’sharak (Krasian’s fanatical crusade against demon-kind), so that he can drive the horrors of the night back down into the core forever!
Now, that description probably makes it sound like The Desert Spear is only about Jardir. But don’t panic Arlen, Leesha, or Rojen lovers. The first third of the book is all Krasian, all the time, but after that, the “not-really-a-love-triangle” trio from Warded Man re-emerge from the mists to strut their stuff. Arlen doing his best to fight demons and spread the word about the rediscovered combat wards, get closure with his past, and find a way not to lose his humanity to the wards (which he fears have made him more demon than man.) Leesha becoming the “wonder woman” leader of Deliver’s (formerly Cutter’s) Hollow, devising amazing demon defenses, showing a proficiency with warding that seems almost surreal, and attracting the eye of a very important male suitor. Poor Rojen morphing into more of a sidekick character; someone who is in the story, but not very central to anything that is going on. And a new/old character being re-introduced back into Arlen’s life: Renna Tanner, a young woman whom he was “promised” to wed back when they were children. Her rather horrid life since his disappearance explored in torrid detail, leading up to a dramatic climax that quickly embroils her in the Warded Man’s life.
“All that sounds great, but what did YOU think about the novel?” I can hear some of you mumbling.
Well, obviously, I enjoyed The Desert Spear, because I gave it 3 and a half stars. Since I gave The Warded Man four stars though, it is also pretty clear I didn’t like this novel as much as its predecessor. The slight difference in rating coming down to a few quibbles I will explain.
One, I did not adore the first third of the novel. The Krasian section. The Chronicles of Jardir, if you will. Sure, the Krasian society (Middle Eastern-inspired) was interesting to read about on some level. It was nice how Mr. Brett turned Jardir from a fairly cookie-cutter bad guy in Warded Man into a more developed character, who truly becomes a viable candidate for the position of Deliverer of humanity. However, abandoning all the main characters from book one (Arlen, Leesha, and Rojen) for the first third of this story was a bit much for me. I really couldn’t understand why Mr. Brett didn’t pick the story back up where it ended and reveal Jardir’s background in flashbacks instead of devoting the beginning of the novel to him alone. It just did not work for me personally.
Two, the characters were a bit one dimensional for my tastes. They never seemed to make any decisions “out of character;” a fact which did not ring true to my ears, since people tend to make conflicting decisions when placed in stressful situations. And let’s face it, these guys are dealing with horrible circumstances on a daily basis.
Three, the demons suddenly are not so dangerous anymore. Oh, they are still annoying pest that require the now empowered resident’s of Deliver’s Hollow and the Krasians to slaughter them, but that is all they are: pests. The combat wards have transformed untrained villagers into 300-like demon killers overnight.
Four (and last), there were times when the narrative read like a young adult story. Arlen is Mr. Gary Stu: nearly superhuman and capable of overcoming every enemy without breaking a sweat. Leesha is amazing at everything, adored by all, and never in over her head no matter her circumstances. And Jardir could be called Gary Stu, Jr., since he is basically the Krasian version of Arlen.
After reading all that, I’m sure some of you might wonder how I still gave The Desert Spear three and a half stars. Simply put, for every negative, this novel has a positive that outweighs it.
First, I personally adore Mr. Brett’s writing style. It might not be as flowery or ornate as other authors, but it flows well and effortlessly draws me into the story, transporting me to another world. What else could I ask for?
Second, I like all the characters. At least, the ones I chose to like. We each have our own personal favorites after all. And because I like them, I can overlook some of their (at least in my mind) inadequacies. Like being overpowered. Or being one dimensional. I mean, legends, myths, and fantasy are filled with archetype characters who do not exactly behave like ordinary people, and I still find those heroes and villains compelling.
Third, Mr. Brett’s demons might not be as ominous as they were in book one, but they are still some of the most interesting fantasy creatures I’ve encountered in quite some time, especially with the introduction of even more powerful demons in this volume. That fact plus a story which continues to build toward an epic clash between mysterious demon hordes and our heroes is too good to pass up.
At this point, I’m not entirely sure what to expect with the rest of this series, but I do know The Demon Cycle is becoming a favorite of mine, and I can’t wait to pick up the next novel in the series as soon as I can.