Genre: Post-Apocalyptic / Fantasy
Series: The Vagrant #2
Publisher: Harper Voyager (April 21, 2015)
Length: 400 pages
My Rating: 3.5 stars
The Vagrant was a revelation in 2015. Peter Newman perfectly blending fantasy, sci-fi, and post-apocalyptic themes into a page turning affair. The advanced technology and sky ships, guns and sentient swords, demons and god-like beings, knights and goats thrilling lovers of this type of speculative fiction. All of it told in a lyrical style which caused The Vagrant to bring to mind the ancient myth whispered around the campfires by Homer-like epic poet long ago. And when The Malice offered me a chance to return to this awe-inspiring place with its ravaged wastelands and pristine Shining City, I knew I was in for a thrilling ride
This tale picks up several years after the book’s one conclusion. The babe, Vesper, has grown to a young woman in the protected lands near the Shining City. Her fathers (The Vagrant and his partner Harm) have settled down to a peaceful and dull existence outside the Shining City, raising food and rearing a ever growing herd of goats, spawned by The Goat herself who practically stole the spotlight in book one. But now the Malice, Gamma’s sword is stirring again. Its constant demons to be picked back up and wielded against the demonic hordes ignored by the Vagrant, who puts it away, hoping its eye will close and never open again.
But the Malice will not be denied its clash with its eternal enemies. And when the Vagrant ignores it, another is found to take his place: young Vesper, who takes the sword, beginning a journey which takes her back to the Breach itself. Her path taking her to places her father once visited, encountering people he once met, and dealing with evil he knew – and even greater evil which he did not.
That is not all that is going on here though. Much like The Vagrant, Peter Newman has a separate story taking palace alongside the main one. This time it is flashbacks to a time a thousand years in the past. Readers introduced to a world before the creation of the Empire of the Winged Eye. The main character there embarking on her own journey of discovery, much like Vesper, but one which will take her to a far different place with much different results – some good and some bad.
Any betting man would have wagered I would have fallen in love with The Malice. I mean, not only did I love book one, but all the elements I adored there were back with a vengeance for this second installment of the series. However, though I really enjoyed and had lots of fun revisiting this amazing post-apocalyptic world, I did not like it quite as well as I did The Vagrant. A few things just kept me from losing myself in its embrace.
First, we have a whole new cast of characters. The Vagrant and Harm do make brief guest appearances at the beginning and the end of the tale, but this is Vesper’s show to carry or drop, and she has big shoes to fill here, for the Vagrant is an amazing character, one which comes around only every so often; his muteness, his expressiveness, and his tortured dignity causing him to be on par with other great post-apocalyptic characters such as Stephen King’s Roland Deschain in my eyes. And as this tale starts, Vesper just cannot compete at all with him. Her teenage angst, child-like naivete, insuppressible enthusiasm, and mind-numbing decisions making it difficult to tolerate her, much less love her. Yes, she does eventually get better; the situations she encounters maturing her, helping her gain better insight so as to make hard decisions; all of it combining to transform her into an okay character, but she is not great like the Vagrant, which causes another problem.
For me, the Vagrant and his personal reactions to the world is what brought book one to life. How Mr. Newman was able to do such through only the Vagrant’s expressions, hand signals, and one way conversations with those he encountered is still a complete mystery to me, but that is what happened. And our protagonist’s interactions in the stark, monotone wastelands with its unique survivors and horrific demons was what caused them to stand out, not blend together. But here Vesper does not have the strength of character to accomplish the same thing, and so places and things which shined brightly under the Vagrant’s steady glare fade under her less compelling observations.
Unfortunately, Vesper does not even have compelling co-stars to come to her aid as things begin to unravel. Samael, Duet, and the kid (a baby Goat) are unique, have their own individual personalities and motives, but they are not comparable to the cast which surrounded the Vagrant – especially The Goat herself, whose antics were terribly missed here.
Thankfully, two things propped this story up, kept it from deflating under my weight of expectations. The first being the demonic cast of characters. We have several returning faces from book one, but they are joined by other infernals like The Yearning, Gutterface, The Backwards Child and Hangnail. Each of them, their alien thoughts, and the strange dance they do with one another as well as the Malice and Vesper is an organic and interesting progression from where things were during book one. The second (and, for me, probably the most important) was the secondary plot line interspersed throughout the narrative, skipping back into time and showing the origins of the Empire of the Winged Eye and its amazing knights. Honestly, I could have read even more about that than I did.
To sum it all up, The Malice is a fast-paced story which gives fans a return trip to Mr. Newman’s shiny post-apocalyptic world. New people are met; insidious demons arise; a singing sword awakens; and a quest is begun, even while the history of the world begins to take shape before our reading eyes. No, Vesper isn’t quite as dynamic a protagonist as the Vagrant, and only her limitations kept this book from standing out more to me, which is why I can’t rate it quite as high as its predecessor. Even with that being said, this is still a very strong installment from Peter Newman, giving fans hope that this is a series with the legs to last for quite some time.
I received this book 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.