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Every so often a book genre goes through a spate of similar trends and tends to stagnate a little. This has been my own view of science fiction/fantasy, a genre I've loved since a child. Unfortunately, apart from some die-hards like Terry Brooks, Tad Williams and the likes of David Gemmel, the genre has suffered from too much vampires and little plot. Other authors have tried their hand at different genres or have been writing a series very slowly. So when I come across a review on The Painted Man on Dooyoo, I kept a look out for it and finally finished reading it this week.
The author Peter Brett is unknown to me, an American who grew up with comic book heroes and Dungeons & Dragons, he has written some short stories but after gaining a BA in English Literature and Art History, he returned to his first love and this is his debut book, published as the first of a trilogy in 1994 and republished in 2009 in Britain. I haven't yet visited his website, preferring to discover his style for myself.
Mankind has suffered some breakdown of technology and has reverted to an agricultural society. The years are classed as AR meaning after the return, but who has returned and what does this mean? The first chapter opens in 319AR and reveals the first of the main characters in the book, a young boy called Arlen who will face some terrible losses before he becomes a man. He lives in a homestead just outside a hamlet, which has been decimated by an attack of demons, magical beings that rise from the earth in the mists of dusk to rip and eat the flesh of men and beasts. None can fight them, but they can be kept back off by a system of symbols known as wards.
Wards are made by painting or etching symbols and it takes a proper warden or a messenger to do the large wards. But even young children in the country outside the towns can ward a little. The demons are not really described until later in the book but are known as fire demons, rock and wood demons and wind demons. It seems there is few places where mankind can be at night except by staying indoors or using some form of portable wards that are used by the few people that travel by night as well as day. It's a bleak life and few survive to old age. We don't know the boundaries of this country, it's people or priests are few and there aren't kings or armies. Is this to be the death of humankind?
Legend says a Deliver will come, but no one knows from where or when he will come. For people like Arlen, a boy of eleven and Leesha, a girl roughly a similar age, they are converging on a meeting way in the future, but a lot will happen before that time. Much of the story follows these characters and one other who will also shape things to come.
Much characterization in science fiction is a hit or miss affair. Too strange a character can spoil a good story, yet if a person is too much like a modern day human then the story will suffer from a lack of belief. Brett has used a reversal to an agricultural society to make this work well. There are still enough farming societies today to draw on, though I feel his experience of role-play in the game Dungeons and Dragons may have helped his characterization. Taking a character from a young age and following them through to adulthood and beyond in one book takes some skill and the author handles this well. There is also enough personality in his main characters for the reader to identify with, which becomes so vital to enjoying a book. But make a character too good or brave and the ideal becomes boring. The reader demands an idol with feet of clay at times and this is what you get here.
The main character Arlen, after being brutally disappointed when his father lets him down seeks to learn some way to fight the demons, a thing nobody has every dreamed of. His character develops into a strong personality who can be headstrong at times but quite believable at others.
Leesha, the young girl who trains as an herbalist with an ancient crone feared by many is a good figure for female readers to like. Brett puts this character through many trials and separations from loved ones and includes enough of her caring nature for us to like her and hope she resolves her own problems.
I did question the character of Rojer at first. A babe in arms who is saved from death by a Jongleur (a type of Jester and traveler), he grows up with his talents unrevealed for a great part of the book. His place in the story is a kind of break or challenge to Arlen's growing desperation, and curbs his excesses when challenging the demons.
Of course the story is about learning to fight back, instead of just allowing the people to be slaughtered time after time. This will probably form part of the trilogy but you can read this first story without wanting to read more. That doesn't mean it's a bad story, just that some things are resolved at the end. Certainly enough to say it's a good tale in it's own right.
The characters that shape the story and aid the main ones are well written with plenty of good and bad in both. The idea of traveling men who risk everything to take messages from the towns to the villages is not a new concept but works well here with demons popping up every night with a ravenous appetite for human blood. This should satisfy the most ardent fan of goriness and could put a few readers off the book.
What did spoil things a bit for me was the use of several phrases that could have come straight from a book by Robert Jordan (The wheel of time series) with a desert race of would-be warriors. There are similarities to several other classic sci-fi writers with just enough difference to avoid plagiarism. That, of course, is only my view, and others might disagree. It did spoil some of the enjoyment for me, but ultimately this is a well-written debut that shies away from elves (much as I love them), wizards and other magical creatures.
I am uncertain whether to give this a four star as although I enjoyed the read my mind did wander at times and I was able to put down the book for a break. I also guessed a lot of what was coming and that does spoil things for me. I would like to reiterate that this is a personal opinion, I've read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy over the years and my standards are very high. I also disliked the limited background the author gives though I suspect this was done for more plot development in a later book. I think a fan like myself would probably see through this as well. I would have liked less gore and more content, it does get tedious after a while with carnage night after night.
At times I could see the sci-fi background of the author and felt it was a little like a board game with no movement except in a small circle. The map given mentions very little landscape and no boundaries or seas. This felt unreal.
Apart from that it's a decent enough read and a bit different than standard plots. I think younger people might enjoy it more than me. I wouldn't go out of my way to follow the series.
Mine was a library book. I might have bought it second-hand and this is reasonably cheap on Amazon at £1.82. At 544 pages in small type and in paperback, perhaps it's a little long.
Thanks for reading.
©Lisa Fuller 2011.
I'd gotten into a fantasy mood with my last few books so when i saw this i had to pick it up. Unlike most books in that genre there are no goblins or elves to be seen this is a story about human beings in a magical world. In this world when the sun goes down demons known as corelings appear. They prey on the humans and kill any who get in their way, there's a variety of them all based on elements (fire, wind, water, sand, rock etc.) The humans stay safely inside houses that are warded, meaning they have symbols painted on the outside that form protective barriers.
Into this world we follow the course of 3 characters Arlen, Leesha and Rojer. As such the book moves quite slowly at first. There is none of the usual here we have character A at an early age, suffers disaster of some sort then skip ten years later. A good portion of the book is dedicated to them growing up and it certainly helps you get to know the characters in depth. The main character seems to be Arlen and it is his point of view you tend to hear from but it jumps back and forward. That for me was one of the forces that kept me reading. Like most books that will leave a chapter at a sort of cliffhanger or mystery so you think i'll just read a few more pages. Peter Brett does the same thing here only the next chapter will move onto another character, i often found myself reading through that just to get back to the other character only to be caught up in that story as well. It certainly is one of the first books that i've read in a while that is hard to put down.
The world the author creates is believable and yet the fantastical elements are not out of place. It's an interesting take on the fantasy genre and i will be purchasing the next book as soon as it is available, although i might wait for the paperback.