11 May 2012

Ah, grue where least expected.

Fantasy | Peter V Brett
The Desert Spear by Peter V Brett is the second in a trilogy, starting with The Painted Man and due to finish with The Daylight War.

The Painted Man was marked as an award-winning Young Adult fiction, and the teen who read it before me said it was great. I found it hardly 'young' adult, what with the first few chapters starting out with incest and child abuse, and later chapters moving to betrayal after other gruesome stuff like gang rape. Just because the protagonist is a teen to start with, is no reason.... Eww.

On the plus side, the story features one of the more logical approaches to fantastic future worlds that I've come across. You start with the usual makes-no-sense fantasy setting. Sunset brings demons coalescing out of mists that rise from the grounds. Anyone outside warded buildings or warded circles (and you must draw them very precisely) gets chomped by the demons. Demons left above ground after sunrise get killed by the light. 'Something' happened to let these things out from the Earth's Core in the future. Everyone promptly regresses to bucolic feudalism. (Bah!) A few hardy people, mainly Herb Gatherers, still attempt to scientifically study the demons and try to work preventions and cures; a rare saving grace in the genre.

Arlen Bales is the main character in the first part of the book, and Leesha Paper is there for the second part, supported by Rojer. Arlen, losing his mother to the demons, dedicates his life to finding better wards, going across the desert for this, and finding ancient lore and weapons in a lost city. But the Krasians ... ok, no spoilers. Leesha is a Herb Gatherer. Rojer can charm corelings with his music.

The book ends on an ominous note, with the desert dwelling Krasians (robes, spears, bloodthirsty, no status for women, uhhh...) getting ready to invade the North. Right.

The Desert Spear starts with Jardir, the leader of the Krasians. You find out all about how he got where he did, and why he has the Krasians invading the North. Not such a villain as you assumed in book one. Just from a weird culture. (Huh!) There is murder, war, rapine, and fairly explicit sex scenes for a Young Adult book, so I assume that's the reason this one is not listed as YA.

Leesha and Rojer reappear midway, and attempt to tackle the Krasian menace via a diplomatic mission of sorts, while Arlen is off doing his thing, retracing his steps homewards.

However, now we find there are corelings which are not mindless, but are, in fact, mind demons. Who are tracking the two contenders for the role of Deliverer, A-- ... ok, no spoilers. :)

The book ends with an excerpt from The Daylight War, in which you get glimpses of the life of the new villain of book two. Maybe not a villain, either? OK, the real enemy is the demons.

Or maybe not! Arr, my head is spinning. Peter Brett writes compellingly, and the characters are not two-dimensional. Stereotypical as they seem on starting out, there are unexpected flashes of complexity and they attracted my sympathy despite my attempt to see this fantasy as purely formulaic.

I guess I'll be looking forward to book three with the same kind of horrified fascination as the teen, who said of this one, with a shudder, "It was gruesome in places." And teens, as anyone who has crossed the twenties knows, are the most hardened and brave readers in the world.

I guess I will go looking for a paperback version of Paolini's The Inheritance instead. It is bound to be mild and soothing.

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