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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"The Painted Man" by Peter V. Brett (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Read An Interview with Peter V. Brett HERE

INTRODUCTION: I heard about Peter V. Brett'sThe Painted Man”—US version is known as “The Warded Man”—through glowing reviews on both online book blogs and sff forums. I was curious about it and once I had checked out an excerpt at the publisher's website, I knew I had to read the book…

SETTING:The Painted Man” takes place on an alternate Earth-like planet with a huge problem: Namely, demons of various kinds—wood, air, rock, water—who live in the planet’s core, rising at dusk to kill and eat anyone found outside special magically-protected areas. These magical wards that stop the corelings need to be “air-tight”, otherwise the demons will penetrate inside a warded area using the smallest weakness.

3000+ years ago, the mythical “Deliverer” discovered wards that could actually kill the corelings. So under the Deliverer’s leadership, people fought back and drove the corelings back to the Core. Sadly, humanity used that opportunity to make war between each other driving the Deliverer away in disgust, although later a mighty civilization was created. In the process, people moved away from magic to science and technology, and the wards were slowly forgotten with the demons becoming nothing more than a myth to scare children with.

Then, when the corelings rose again from the Core on an apocalyptic night over 300 years ago, the people were helpless. Now, the remnants of humanity are clinging to a precarious existence in several “fort cities” and various hamlets protected by pitifully inadequate wards with brave “Messengers” the only link between human communities. Of the five known “big” cities, only the otherwise despicable desert city of Krasia is fighting back in a holy war against the corelings. Unfortunately, while they are able to kill some of the demons by trapping them for the sun to burn away, they are also losing people at a rate higher than they can reproduce.

Into this grim setting we are introduced to three children—Arlen, Leesha and Rojer—who have each suffered a tragic loss due to coreling attacks or human folly. Each respond to the situation in a specific way—Arlen wants to fight back as a Messenger, Leesha wants to become a healer and Rojer a Jongleur. Individually, we follow their destinies across time and distance until they come together in an unexpected way…

FORMAT/INFO:The Painted Man” stands at 560 pages divided over four sections and thirty-two numbered chapters. Each chapter also indicates the time and place of its action. The book starts in 319 After the Return, though there is a later chapter that presents some previous events alluded in the book that takes place in 318 AR. The narrative is third-person present tense from the POV of the three main characters Arlen, Leesha and Rojer. In the first part of the book the chapters alternate between the three narratives, usually marked by a small cliffhanger when the POV shifts, but later the threads unify in a superb whole. The ending comes to a natural stopping point and left me looking forward to the next volume in the Demon Trilogy which is due in 2009 (UK).

September 1, 2008 marks the UK Hardcover publication of “The Painted Man” via
Harper Voyager. Cover art provided by Larry Rostant. The North American edition (see inset), known as “The Warded Man”, is currently scheduled for publication March 10, 2009 via Del Rey Books. Rights have also been sold to Germany, France, Greece, Japan, Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, and Spain, with many other countries negotiating deals.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: First and foremost, “The Painted Man” is a page turner. So, from the very beginning when Arlen, a brave and mature eleven-year-old, hears the danger horn blowing, readers will be immediately hooked. From here, we get to learn of life during the day when things are normal and at night when the demons arise; meet the mythical Deliverer in Arlen’s dreams and the dashing Messenger Ragen; and follow Arlen—who possesses an inborn talent at drawing wards, the magical characters that somehow stop the demons—as he overcomes tragedy and demon attacks by bravery, cunning and luck, and sets off on a dangerous but brave path…

Counterbalancing the high drama and high emotion of the early Arlen chapters, is the narrative of Leesha, a thirteen-year-old daughter of a former village beauty and “party queen”. Leesha comes to the attention of old Bruna, a famous healer/sorceress, and when tragedy and human folly combine against Leesha, she realizes that she wants to make a difference. So, defying her furious mother, Leesha starts a seven-year apprenticeship with Bruna which places her on a path to unexpected places and encounters…

The last main character, Rojer, is introduced in a flashback to an earlier event recounted at the beginning of the novel when, as a three-year-old, he escapes a terrifying demon attack along with a visiting Jongleur named Arrick. Later, Rojer follows his master and adoptive father during Arrick’s long and slow decline, until Rojer becomes his own man and discovers a strange but wonderful talent for playing music…

Through these three characters, readers will get to experience life in a simple village to the courts of the local potentates and even the fanatical holy-warriors of Krasia and their demon trapping Maze as the heroes travel through almost all the known world.

The demons meanwhile are very well described with their destructive actions differentiated based on type. And even though most of the demons we encounter seem more like elemental forces of nature rather than thinking beings with a will of their own, we do get to meet a few demons that demonstrate purposeful action as well as see hints that there are hidden depths to the demon world.

Overall, with superb characterization, suspenseful action and accomplished writing, “The Painted Man” is a very assured debut that will make its way onto many Best of 2008 lists. Highly, highly recommended…


Mihai A. said...

I really liked this novel and I am looking forward to "The Desert Spear" and to the entire series :)
And Peter is a very nice guy, I had the pleasure to make an interview with him :D

Anonymous said...

I was impressed by this book as well. I thought the basic idea a little cheesy, but Brett made it work, and very well. There were some clich├ęd items, but he found a way around them or making them work for him. I am looking forward to the rest of the series.

Kevin said...

Good book, ordered it from the uk, dunno why they changed the name and cover for the North Armerican release, don't think I ever would have picked it up in Canada, Painted Man title and cover art looks so much better.


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