Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

Reading the books on my friend's kindle has meant that there have been a bunch of books that I have tried that I probably would have taken a long time to get to otherwise, if ever. Some of them have been not to my taste. But this one was more than a pleasant surprise. It was, by far and large, really delightful.

In the fantasy post-apocalyptic setting of this book, humans live in scattered settlements, a few cities, and the past fading into distant memory and myth. There are stories of before, of technology and advancement. But with the coming of the demons, the corelings, human memory was scattered, and existence reduced to survival against astounding odds.

The corelings rise every night, and tear everything they can get at limb from limb. After the cities had been broken and people dispersed, wards were rediscovered, which keep homes safe from coreling attacks. They are not sure things, though. Smudging or scratching can blunt or destroy their effectiveness, so they must be constantly guarded and redrawn. And even so, some mornings people awake to the burning ruins of their neighbours and friends.

Most in this world have turned to survival, to becoming more insular, keeping themselves and their families alive. The numbers of people are slowly dwindling, but no one looks at the bigger picture - cut off from each other except for the infrequent forays of Messengers, towns look to their own and nothing else. Knowledge is fragmented, although there are hints that if the disparate pieces of information were ever brought together, more would be possible than anyone thinks.

Three young people are in perfect position to do so, each scarred by encounters with the corelings. Arlen attempted to save his mother's life from the corelings while his father cowered, and almost died. Leesha fled her mother's house to the safety of the local female Healer, and was saved from coreling attack by Bruna, the Healer. She is scarred both by that encounter and the reaction of the villagers to her, and to the rumours spread about her by the man she was supposed to wed. Rojer was protected in the basement by an entertainer while his parents were killed and their house burned above him.

As they grow, each discovers different things. Arlen has a skill for wards, and starts to collect all the different ones in one place. Followed by his past in very literal ways, he makes discoveries that threaten to make him into a figure of legend - or cost his life.

Leesha is tutored in the skills of healing and even more secret skills of fighting the demons. She is ostracized by those around her, and persecuted, but her skills grow. She is also the moral centre, dedicated to healing people no matter what.

Rojer shows an aptitude for music, and discovers the effect of his songs on the corelings.

All three come together by the end of the book, and for the first time, the possibility of more than mere survival looms. I look forward to learning what comes next!

I enjoyed the world these books created, the gender politics of the smaller towns, the difficulties of negotiating such things when there are few other options, the differences between cities and towns, the semi-feudal state that has developed, and particularly, the legends, and what happens when legends seem to come to life.

I've been finding a bunch of fantasies I've read recently feel like retreads of the same old ground. This feels fresh, bringing new and interesting aspects to the table, and that is a great relief.

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