Thursday, July 01, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Peter Brett's The Desert Spear

I discovered Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man thanks to the Marc Chitty's Walker of Worlds blog. It is one of the best fantasy novels that I have read since the amazing, near-perfect The Name of the Wind (read my A+ review) by Patrick Rothfuss.

The Warded Man (see my A+/A review) creates a fantastic world where the night belongs to demonic creatures who terrorize and kill any humans or animals who are unlucky enough to be outside unprotected by wards. Wards are special symbols which when written on a surface magically can protect it from demons. Humanity is basically trapped behind warded gates and windows in an era which has almost no technology (no electricity, no internal combustion engine, no machinery period). There is some medical knowledge and society has a basic agricultural and feudal nature. Life expectancy is in the fifties.

However, as with most meaningful works of fiction, the emotional impact is centered around the characters. The first book introduces us to Arlen, Leesha and Rojer. Arlen becomes the first person in his village who wants to fight the demons and devotes his life to destroying as many demons as possible, searching for the fabled (and long-lost) "fighting wards" which can not be used defensively to protect the bearer but also offensively to kill demons. Leesha is the brilliant apprentice to Bruja, the town Healer and through her eyes the reader gets to experience the politics of gender in a patriarchal, small-town society. Rojer is an orphan who saw his mother and father killed by demons but was taken in by an itinerant musical entertainer. Rojer becomes a talented musician despite having a mangled hand that he received from the demon who killed his parents.

The Desert Spear is the second book in what is now called The Demon Trilogy. It is primarily set in Krasia. a dry land far in the desert, where through insane bravery and a warrior culture of machismo every night the people of the desert lure demons into a maze and kill them in hand-to-hand combat or trap them in pits where they are destroyed when the sun rises in the morning.

Much of the second book takes place in Krasia, following the main character Ahmann Jardir, who had a minor role in the first book. This time his entire backstory from youth is given (a similar practice is used in the first book for the main characters of Arlen, Leesha and Rojer). Also like in the first book, here, too, we get an interesting look at cultural norms, this time a quasi-Muslim society. I thought some aspects of the society were slightly derivative of Frank Herbert's Dune but overall the Krasia-set chapters were as interesting as the stories following our now-familiar favorites from the first book. We are also introduced to Renna, who is a girl from Arlen's hometown who goes through a horrific ordeal and eventually follows him down the path of being a singular opponent of demons.

One (slight) downside of the books for me as a gay reader is the way that homophobia and sexism of the Krasian society is depicted, especially through the character of Abban, who although it is clear that he is straight, is perceived as a "lesser man" by all other Krasians. At some point the author does make it clear that being gay is not looked down upon in Krasian society. In the North, where Rojer, Leesha and Arlen live much of the plot and dynamics of the characters revolve around the presumed (and confirmed) heterosexuality of everyone. I would have liked to see a more nuanced approach to sexuality in The Desert Spear since Brett does an excellent job of depicting and deconstructing gender hierarchies quite well in both books.

A new feature of the second book is some scenes from the viewpoint of the demon, at least one demon in particular, "mind demons" who happen to be "coreling princes." This forebodes an interesting component of the story, which will be resolved in the third installment, apparently title The Daylight War and scheduled for release in 2012.

Title: The Desert Spear.
Author: Peter V. Brett.
Length: 608 pages.
Publisher: Del Rey.
Date: April 13, 2010.



No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin