Peter V. Brett, The Warded Man (ARC)

April 9, 2009 at 10:08 am (ARC Reviews, negativity)

I have to agree with Terry Brooks that “[t]here is much to admire” about Brett’s writing – this novel has good sentence-level work overall (though nothing fancy), excellent grounding, and is generally absorbing, at least up until Chapter 27.In fact, up to that point I was going to give the book a strong recommendation, even though it was flying awfully low and close to the treetops for a lot of the way – and then it nose-dived into the ground. Very disappointing.

Brett has invented an interesting, innovative, and dangerous second world, one in which humans are constantly in hiding with the demons that rise every night from the Core, which is apparently inside the earth in some way (and is also why they’re called Corelings in the book). Apparently it’s always been like that, except for a period when the demons apparently disappeared, and the humans forgot many of the magical Wards that had protected them before, most importantly the fighting Wards. Then, three hundred years ago, the corelings suddenly came back, and rapidly demolished the advanced civilization that had been built up. Now the book’s region contains only a handful of cities and a scattering of smaller settlements, with mostly medieval technology, and the human population is slowly dwindling.

There is a lot of pretty good world-building here, but I do have quibbles.The demons kill and eat animals as well as humans, so why are there any left?The handwavium Brett employs works all right while the novel’s in progress, but it doesn’t hold up well to post-reading analysis.The way the Wards operate is a little problematic as well, and for similar reasons: interesting basic ideas, but they don’t entirely hold together.The society and politics are superficially complex, but I’m not wild about the Bedouin culture knockoff or the Catholic Church with the serial numbers filed off, or the rather advanced female-only medical folks known only as “Herb Gatherers.”

Then there are the characters –well-drawn and engaging, but I have to ask: do we really need to be shown, in detail, the life stories of three protagonists?I think not, except to fill out a Volume One of a trilogy.The weakness of such an approach, however well-executed, is that it can start to drag (losing altitude!) when it becomes clear that the whole point of all this narrative is to draw out the story until the three characters can be “accidentally” brought together somewhere near the end.

Then there’s also the problem of whether the characters’ development is credible.This isn’t too much of a problem with Rojer, whom we meet when he’s three and check in with until he’s about sixteen or so, or with Leesha, who’s almost thirteen at first sighting and is twenty-seven towards the end.They’re both stubborn and talented people, one a musician and the other a healer.To me, the problem is Arlen.He’s capably set up as a strong-willed, natural fighter, in terms of spirit at first, and later (after a substantial skipped interval, during which his training mostly happened) in terms of actual battle.But, I had a lot trouble buying that he’s really obsessed enough, and mentally deranged enough, to turn into the multiply-tattooed, isolated “Warded Man” who turns up toward the end of the book and joins up with Leesha and Rojer.It’s a big step, betrayal by a friend or no, from spending weeks searching ancient ruins for the lost fighting wards (some of which he did find, by the way – no point to the book otherwise) to being a misanthropic fellow who doesn’t share the wards with anyone.

And that brings us to the point where I nearly threw the book across the room.(WARNING: THE FOLLOWING MAY BE TRIGGERING.)Virginal, virtuous Leesha – who has held out against disrespectful and randy men for well over a decade – is raped by three bandits, one of whom is actually described as giant of a man without much in the way of brains.And afterwards she’s shaken, upset, and sore.

Not, I point out, bleeding.Not suffering from possible internal injuries – or, for that matter, major facial contusions or hand-shaped bruises on arms, neck, or legs.Just shamed and aching.

Of course, being abandoned more than a day’s walk from a village in a world where demons rise from the ground every night could give a woman a lot of motivation to keep walking, looking for any hope of shelter, despite considerable pain.But no, actually, the pain seems to pass off very quickly.

So quickly, in fact, that less then forty-eight hours later she’s thrilled to screw the mysterious, tattooed, obsessed Warded Man she just met, while her friend Rojer (who’s no kind of fighter but was willing to risk his life to help her, by the way) snoozes in the nearby cave.

This is where the book nearly took flight.Some men, apparently, still believe that the human vagina can’t be injured by sex, even rape, no matter how brutally or multiply the rape is carried out.That’s ignorant at best, and wilfully stupid at worst.Or, just arranging things so the plot goes in its predetermined course.I’m not even going to get started on the layers of sheer WTF? this development involves beyond the miraculous physical recovery.

I eventually did finish the book, with a much, much more critical eye than before.I couldn’t grasp why Arlen, a talented maker of Wards, couldn’t repair the village’s wards himself during the week or so he was there.Instead he spent his time trying to train the villagers to fight, with the warded weapons that he alone knows how to make.And they did fight – all night long.Eight hours or more.Barely trained villagers.Against countless hordes of (admittedly surprised at the resistance) superhumanly strong demons.It was very dramatic and all, but not particularly credible.

I wanted to like this book and give it a good review, and not just because Del Rey sent it to me for free.The writing shows considerable promise, if the author can learn to plot, world-build, and character-develop at a less superficial level.In fact, he’s so close to being very good that it’s annoying.

But not as annoying as the perpetuation of ideas that continue to help rapists believe women are made for sex, with any guy, any time, without any significant damage.I’m willing to believe he didn’t think this through – there’s a lot of that in this book.What I’m appalled about is that this particular “plot twist” made it through the editing process at Del Rey.Apparently a lot of people really are blissfully unaware of their own cruel stupidity.And that is very disappointing indeed.

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3 Comments

  1. Peter V. Brett said,

    Actually, women who have been sexually assaulted will often seek out a consensual sexual experience very soon afterward, as an attempt to cleanse themselves of the assault and reassert control over their bodies, not to mention the hopes that if a pregnancy ensues, they can tell themselves it is the result of the consensual act and not the assault. I know this as a fact, both from research and from personal experience.

    Whatever else you may think of the story, please do not think that I touched on the topic of sexual assault lightly, gratuitously, or without any knowledge of what I was talking about. I think it is an issue that needs addressing, even in a “fantasy” story. Those events will have a lasting effect on the character, and everything regarding it was chosen with great care and deliberation. This won’t be the last time it comes up in one of my books, but I can promise you it will never be just for a “plot twist”.

    • diaryofatextaddict said,

      I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that it was a casual decision on your part.

      In fact, I’m certain it wasn’t, and that you didn’t mean ill. That’s one of the frustrating things about these matters – meaning well isn’t always enough. Matters of sex and sexual violence are a minefield.

      My reaction is, of course, a single individual’s reaction, and it is honest and heartfelt. But as they say, your mileage may vary.

  2. Peter V Brett :: Peephole In My Skull said,

    […] There were also a couple the worst kinds of reviews this last week, the ones that I can’t read and walk away from, and end up responding to.  Both reviews center around the reviewer misunderstanding my intent regarding a certain even late in the story. MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!! Reading these interviews will, in my mind, totally fuck up your reading experience if you haven’t read the book already. This isn’t me trying to tell you not to read a negative review; one of the two reviews is actually quite positive, but they give away plot knowledge  that I don’t want a reader to have before the proper time in the story arc. If you’ve already read the book, you can see the reviews and my responses here: The Book Smugglers and Diary of a Text Addict. […]

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