The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett was released in 2008 in the UK under the title The Painted Man. At this time, I believe it is the first in what is going to be a five-book series. It’s Brett’s first published novel. The edition I read is the Del Rey 2009 paperback shown in the picture. The cover to this edition was illustrated by Larry Rostant. For whatever it’s worth, I think this is a very cool cover because it not only looks good, but it does precisely what a cover should, viz. make you want to read the book!
My edition was 453 pages and is divided into four sections. Frankly, the sections are somewhat unnecessary, but it makes the reader feel good when they reach a new one. The point of view of the narrative changes every so often – if there is a rigid pattern, I confess that I missed it. Unlike many books that utilize this technique, it seemed very natural and seamless in this novel. Sometimes this technique can be jarring or interrupting.
I am giving this novel high marks for a whole lot of reasons. It is well written and does not make any of the mistakes that other fantasy novels make, nor does it fall into any of those annoying patterns so well known in this genre. In general, I think it is probably only a four star novel, but I am so very impressed with the novel and author, I have to boost it to five stars. The cover is great – and the title is great.
When I first started reading the novel I was rather skeptical and critical. I felt the author was going to tell us a very rudimentary fantasy story. I judged too soon. I was skeptical about reaction to the corelings – it just seemed contrary to every aspect of human ingenuity and creativity that after hundreds of years humans would board themselves up at night from the corelings. And then, the fact that story opens out in little village hamlets in the typical rustic and rural setting so common in fantasy novels made me feel like this was just going to be another one of those fantasy novels. So, a young kid from the farm becomes unlikely hero and goes on quest. You know, the storyline of most fantasy novels. But that’s not what happened here, per se. I read onward and followed the characters to the cities, through their apprenticeships, carefully watching their development.
The characters in this novel are all likeable and, to me, they seem realistic. By this I mean, they are not whiny brats, nor are they just awesome amazing heroes. They develop and learn from their experiences. The author does this so well, it’s very impressive. Unlike many other novels in the genre, the reader does not get dragged through every day of the lives of the characters. Nor is every little scene filled with metaphors, descriptives, and unending tedium. Everything that happens to the characters is not drawn out into fifteen chapters. The reactions of the characters are reasonable and probable. The characters are all different, but do share the elements that make them important to a fantasy epic. I did not hate any of the characters in the book – even the bad guys. This is an important point because there are many deaths in the book. It’s hard to explain what I mean by my next statement, but I will try: their deaths seem natural.
Some books/movies just kill a character suddenly in order to create interest or shock the reader. (Think of the many deaths of heroes in comic books.) Usually, deaths in books are long drawn out attempts to prey on the reader’s sympathies. Sometimes they are sudden and rather jarring, making the reader wonder if the death was really meaningful or reasonable with regard to the storyline. In The Warded Man, several characters die – but it never seems forced or random. And while the reader has built up some sympathy, the deaths seem well-placed in the storyline and not just for the sake of killing characters. Also, it keeps the novel from having a ridiculously overpopulated character list for the reader to juggle.
The three main characters, Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer, are fun and likeable. They make their mistakes, but show independence and they tend to not make the same dumb mistakes over and over. Leesha is the main female character and she’s really a good character because she seemed the most realistic of all the characters. It was obvious the author wanted Leesha to be strong-willed and heroic, but unlike many novels, the author was able to develop the character with tact. Sometimes character development is just too heavy-handed and overbearing. Leesha is an example of how a female heroine should be written.
But Arlen is my favorite. I want to be Arlen. Well, no not really. But I think he’s a very cool character. In his timeline he has willful moments, naive moments, and finally he is struggling with his idealistic feelings while living in the harsh reality that he understands. He has a shaved head! This is cool – because in all the fantasy epics I read, the male characters run around with long, flowing locks. Arlen also makes wise choices. He learns from his mistakes and grows as a character. One of the mistakes in fantasy novels is that the characters continually make the same mistakes, chapter after chapter, book after book.
Finally, what is known as “world-building.” Some readers seem puzzled as to if the world is an alternate version of our world. I did not really wonder this or puzzle over it. It is a world, with some similarities to ours. The author does an excellent job of world-building. Without pages and pages of exposition, the author lays out the map of the world nicely. Hamlets, cities, deserts, and mountains are all present, but I did not have to read endless prose about what it all looks like. I guess one would say the reader is immersed in the world and is shown, not told. This is how to build a world.