Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) As darkness falls after sunset, the corelings rise–demons who possess supernatural powers and burn with a consuming hatred of humanity. For hundreds of years the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards–symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile. It was not always this way. Once, men and women battled the corelings on equal terms, but those days are gone. Night by night the demons grow stronger, while human members dwindle under their relentless assault. Now, with hope for the future fading, three young survivors of vicious demon attacks will dare the impossible, stepping beyond the crumbling safety of the wards to risk everything in a desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past. Together, the will stand against the night.
Thoughts: I’m going to confess something right away: The Warded Man, the first book in Peter V Brett’s Demon Cycle, could actually be a lot worse than I’m judging it to be, but it’s going to have a special place on my bookshelves for a long time to come. It saw me through my first hospitalization this past year. When I was lying in a less-than-comfortable hospital bed, hooked up to IVs and getting blood transfusions and waiting to find out whether I would have surgery, this book was there with me. It was a wonderful distraction, something to get lost in, which was exactly what I needed when I needed it most. So you can see why I might be just a touch biased in my opinion.
Fortunately, it seems I’m not alone with the high opinion of this book, and others seemed to like it even when they were in poor health and in need of distraction, so I can safely assume that it is, in fact, just as good as I think.
In a world where slavering demons roam the night, humanity cowers in fear, terrified to open their doors once the sun goes down, reliant on defensive wards to keep prowling demons at bay. Their only hope is to pray and atone for the sins of their ancestors and hope that the Deliverer arrives to save humanity soon. The book revolves around 3 different children, or rather children who we see grow up in exceptional circumstances: Arlen, talented with runes and out for revenge against the demons who ruined his childhood; Leesha, a healer who fights to carve out her own space in a society ruled by men; and Rojer, opportunistic performer with the ability to charm demons with his music. Their stories start separately, and over time draw together.
Brett draws on a lot of traditional fantasy elements and makes them a shade darker. I don’t feel much more malice or threat from corelings than, say, the Trollocs in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books. They’re enemies in an us-against-them fight and not much more needs to be known. The world is based largely upon medieval Europe, complete with male domination on society. It is traditional fantasy at some of its finest, with enough familiar traditional elements to appeal to those looking for a good epic fantasy to fall into, the kind many of us grew up on and were introduced to fantasy by. At the same time, there’s enough originality in the story, enough world-building to make the world stand out, and enough character development that it’s safe to say that this isn’t just one more book on a long list. It makes its mark. It draws you in and makes you want to keep reading because even though you know that it’s one of those books where the good guys will survive simply by virtue of them being good guys, they’re inventive and interesting enough to make you want to know how it all comes together.
This book doesn’t really break any molds. It sticks to the tried-and-true with a few little tweaks here and there, but its origins are clear. Strong females are only strong by way of being compared to men, or having it illustrated how unfeminine they are. Most of the characters are male, and the lead female takes the role as the healer. We go from medieval Europe to the middle of a desert city full of mostly negative Middle Eastern stereotypes, brutality and abusive caste systems abound. Where it succeeds is also where it fails; it gives readers an epic dark fantasy but riddles it with the same problems that so much fantasy, epic or dark, relied on in the past.
Still, this is a strong beginning to a series, the kind of thick book with a rich world and a long world-spanning plot that sometimes I just ache for, a throwback to what I read in my early years with the genre. It’s comfort reading, creative and entertaining, something that sucks you in and keeps you happily occupied for hours at a stretch. It’s a series I’ll definitely be continuing with once I get the remaining books, too, for I hear it, like all good stories, just gets better as it goes on.