From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Book Review: The Warded Man

In a world where evil takes tangible form every night when ravenous demons rise from the earth, the only protection lies in the wards, half-remembered magic from the past. For hundreds of years the corelings have owned the night, terrorizing the dwindling remnants of humanity as they cower behind their fragile protection. Three young people struggle to find their destiny in this dangerous world in spite of great personal tragedies.

The Warded Man [] (printed outside North America under the title The Painted Man) is the first novel in a new high fantasy trilogy by Peter V. Brett []. The book jacket touts that Brett was raised on “a steady diet of fantasy novels, comic books, and Dungeons & Dragons.” The phrase put me on my guard, expecting purple prose, fanboyish self-indulgences, and an unsavory mélange of gaming clichés.

Instead I was introduced to an enjoyable new fantasy world. The word that comes to my mind is restraint. The prose of the novel is smooth and transparent, at perfect service to the story. Magic is limited in the story as well, a half-forgotten mixture of science and art.

Even the scope of the narration is restrained, focusing on three major point-of-view characters: Rojer, a crippled Jongleur; Leesha, a healer whose beauty has brought her only tragedy; and Arlen, seeker after the forgotten ward magic. This focus on three young people, their coming of age in a world of violence, and their coming together as a group, gives the novel a very intimate feel. Think more Elizabeth A. Lynn’s Watchtower than George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire.

I would not say that The Warded Man blazes new paths in high fantasy. We are still in the same quasi-medieval Europe, though with a few interesting tweaks. First is the notion that the society we see has been rebuilt to the medieval level from post-apocalyptic ruins. Second is basing one of the civilizations on the medieval Muslim world rather than medieval Europe.

The most unique features of the novel are the wards themselves and the idea of the corelings — demonic elemental beings that rise from the center of the earth each night to terrorize and feed on humanity. My only major criticism of the novel is that the nature of the corelings is never adequately explained. There has to be more to the bad guys than a mindless lust for human flesh.

There are hints in The Warded Man that such is the case, hints that I hope will be developed in the subsequent volumes of the trilogy. In the end, The Warded Man feels like a first volume. We are introduced to an interesting setting and likeable characters who chose to act rather than be acted upon. This action is very engaging, but one feels Brett is revving up for greater conflicts. The clearest mark of the novel’s success is that it does exactly what a first volume is supposed to do. It leaves me wanting the rest of the story.

Donald Jacob Uitvlugt

Donald Jacob Uitvlugt grew up in western Michigan and currently lives in central Arkansas with his wife and dog. His speculative fiction can be found in many print and online venues including, Renard’s Menagerie, and the anthologies In Bad Dreams and Malpractice.

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