The Warded Man is a book that had been sitting on my shelf for a while, forlorn and untouched as I went through a phase of reading little else outside of the YA and UF genres. But after a little too long of those, I found myself craving good old fantasy, the likes of which I hadn’t read in a while. So I plucked The Warded Man off the shelf and plunged headfirst into the familiar-but-not world of The Demon Cycle.
The book tells us the story of three people, starting from their childhoods and taking us all the way to their adult years as the plot progresses and thickens. It gave the book a rather slow start but never did it feel as though things were dragging; instead as a reader I felt like I really got to know the characters and their stories.
The world of The Demon Cycle is a dangerous one: every night demons rise from the core of the earth to hunt and kill anyone who is not safely tucked behind wards. The wards the humans possess are nothing compared to the ones they once had, in a time when they didn’t simply huddle away in fright of the corelings but stood tall in the night, fighting.
Arlen has been taught all his life that being out at night is certain death and that there is nothing that can be done about it: under no condition should anyone leave the safety of the wards at night. But despite all that, when at the young age of eleven he sees his mother nearly being cored after she tried to rescue someone whilst his father stands and watches, only to be eventually prompted into action when Arlen threatens to join the fray, Arlen can’t help but feel that there is something awfully wrong in the world.
So, when his mother dies from her injuries and the ignorance of all those around him, Arlen leaves. He braves the night and survives, following which he makes up his mind up to become a Messenger—a man who travels between the cities and villages, unafraid of the night. Helped by a veteran messenger, Reagan (who is an awesome character!), Arlen sets off on a journey that will change his life.
Leesha Paper lives in a small village and her life is ahead of her, achingly simple: at fourteen she already knows that she will get married, have children, and look after her father’s paper-making business alongside her husband. But not everything goes to plan, and when her virginity is questioned after a night spent with the boy she is promised to (although they did nothing), Leesha’s world is thrown upside down. Miserable and alone, with a mother with whom she cannot get along, Leesha feels like she has lost everything she had. Until, that is, the old herb-gatherer takes her in as her apprentice. Leesha proves to be a good student as she slowly starts to become a fully fledged herb-gatherer.
Rojer is but a child when the story starts, who loses everything to the corelings, including two of his fingers. But Rojer survives, taken in by the Jongleur, Arrick. Despite being a cripple and lacking the singing skills required to become a fully fledged Jongleur, Rojer works tirelessly through the years by his master’s side. That is, until the day he discovers his skill lies in playing the fiddle. As Rojer is going to discover, his skill doesn’t simply lie in charming crowds, after all.
Brett manages to juggle three very different POVs and a constantly moving timeline (each chapter starts with a date, which helps the reader keep up) that jumps back and forth in time a couple of times. Despite what could have been a confusing set-up, the book moves on at its own steady pace, never losing the rhythm that it has set itself. I personally really enjoyed getting to know the characters through their childhood, letting the grand plot sit in the background and wait for its turn—but then again I am a fan of slice-of-life (as the Japanese would say). There was something wonderful about entering Brett’s world through the eyes and lives of the children growing in it, and I think it gave a unique perspective on the society they are in and its problems.
I must say that The Warded Man reminded me in its ethos of books like The Name of the Wind, although instead of having Kvothe doing everything, Arlen, Rojer and Leesha share the limelight which only brings the story more to life and makes it stronger. Brett knows how to write people and the conflicts, both internal and external, that define them. They are just as engaging as his world and suck the reader into their adventures effortlessly.
There is something simply magical about Brett’s work, something just right about the fantasy he writes: it’s like nothing I have read before and yet carried all the familiarity of a fantasy story. It sated my craving for the genre and gave me something else more. It also made me want to jump into the sequel right away. Bar one series (The Dresden Files) I have never gone from one book to its sequel straight away. I did for this, and that in itself says more than most of the praise I could write in a review. Definitely a book I think all fantasy fan should read!