Genre: Post-Apocalyptic / Fantasy
Series: The Vagrant #1
Publisher: Harper Voyager (May 1, 2015)
Length: 400 pages
My Rating: 3.5 stars
The Vagrant! The title itself is intriguing, begging the question how a fantasy story could revolve around such a person. But then you begin to read the book, and it all becomes so clear that Peter Newman is channeling equal parts Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, Peter Ward’s The Warded Man, and McCormac’s The Road, as The Vagrant mixes the extraordinary elements of each of those books, creating something spectacularly addictive, which not only defies expectations but ignores all presumptions, as it knocks you right on your proverbial ass and drags you to a place you’ve never experienced quite this way before.
As the tale begins, the protagonist walks out of the shimmering heat of the desolate landscape. This mysterious mute a sword-wielding knight of some kind, who is on a quest with a baby and a goat in tow. The three of them traveling across a post-apocalyptic landscape toward the Shining City. Their every step forward dogged by demonic pursuers who have conquered and blighted this once peaceful and beautiful land. The world’s dirty carcass infested with the warped remnants of humanity and the slowly deteriorating technology of the time before the demons. The different factions of a huge, demonic host introduced, shown in all their grotesque splendor, their infighting described, and their warping of mankind explored. The ongoing journey of the Vagrant tense and revealing of his true nature. Continual interludes dubbed “Eight Years Before” filling in the background on how the demon infestation began, who the Vagrant really is, why he is carrying a baby along, and where they are determined to go.
While this description of the novel might remind many people of other post-apocalyptic novels from the past, what sets The Vagrant apart is Mr. Newman’s storytelling style. It is jarring at times, dark and depressing, sad yet joyful, simple but multifarious as well as demanding due to its protagonist, as a reader must search the non-verbal communication of this mute knight to determine his emotions, motives, and innate nature. The lack of dialogue turning from an annoyance at the beginning of the story to a masterful stroke by the end; Mr. Newman able to convey the deepest of sentiments and invoke the strongest of responses with a simplicity of words. The slightest expressions on our knight’s face saying more than ten pages of internal monologue ever could.
As for the worldbuilding, it is an integral and irreplaceable part of the story. Mr. Newman dropping a reader into the midst of an eerie and unnatural world, then gradually revealing it not a new idea but very effectively done. Each tidbit of information growing upon the other until a complex world begins to take shape. The search for answers to the how and why of this place nearly as compelling as the Vagrant’s journey. The demonic forces pursuing his small band even more ominous due to the lack of understanding of exactly why they are after our hero. And the author’s slow revelations of all the answers (or, at least, most of them) mesmerizing in its gradual unveiling.
While I usually have to weed down my criticisms about a book to a manageable number (Yeah, I’m a hater like that, I suppose.), the only one I really had with The Vagrant was the repetitive nature of some parts of his journey. Naturally, he is moving through a desolate, formidable landscape, which doesn’t transform too much from encounter to encounter, but several of his interactions with the demonic forces and with the dredges of humanity felt the same. Definitely, different events were transpiring, but they were so reminiscent in tone and scope to previous scenes that I felt like I was having déjà vu. Thankfully, though, this problem did not persist the entire narrative, resolving itself as our hero’s journey proceeded into new locales with unique challenges and fresh faces.
Reading The Vagrant was one of the more rewarding reading experiences I’ve had lately. It is a dark, unique, brooding (at times) tale, which still finds a way to incorporate immense beauty (both spiritually and physically) into its narrative. Sure, it was difficult to read, forcing me to keep my attention focused on the briefest of details in order to understand the goings-on of its silent hero, but that made the emotions it evoked deeper and more heartfelt. And, by the end, I found I was cheering for this quiet knight, a baby, a goat, and whatever castoff the Vagrant had picked up now to find some safety and sanity in a world gone mad. Highly recommended!
I received this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.