The Warded Man
Reviewed by Kazia Estrada
[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 47:9 (#338) in September 2010.]
In similar tradition to the fantasist Robert Jordan, Peter Brett has created a world rich with history, enchantment, and danger. This riveting novel captivates the reader in this perilous realm, leaving him or her unable to set it aside until the final pages are turned. Peter Brett draws on a diverse fantasy canon, and though the similarities to many great fantasists are apparent, they are not so brazen that the reader becomes distracted by these resemblances.
The most obvious parallel is to that of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, with similar heroes and cultures — the most striking resemblance between their respective desert peoples. Unlike Jordan, Brett develops historicity by strongly emulating the tradition of wards and warding. This immediately creates a sense of fear in the reader because the people in this story are obviously terrified of something, something as yet unknown to the reader. Brett takes this suspense and crafts it into a sense of unease and intensity that he maintains throughout the story, even after the reader is very aware of the dangers that lurk in the shadows of this world. As his suspenseful tale unfolds, Brett establishes multiple story lines creating a lacertine structure within the tale, which leaves the reader waiting and anticipating how these individual story lines are going to intertwine to make the tale even more complex and addictive.
The multiple story lines focus on three main characters: Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer. Brett depicts these three young people trying to find their places in their world. It is a bildungsroman, but with multiple characters and different genders. As each character is presented, so is a new theme or motif, primarily: Arlen, freedom; Leesha, education; Rojer, guilt. These themes are strongly developed throughout the tale and come to a climax when they slowly start intertwining with each other, becoming simpler and more complex at the same time. Each character, even without his or her individual themes, is a complex individual. Each has his or her own individual battles and inner darkness, which makes each character all the more realistic, and all the more appealing to the reader. Brett expertly crafts each of his characters as a wonderful accompaniment to the others while also making them strong individuals. Even side characters, introduced through the eyes of one of the main characters, are richly complex. How each main character sees these people and introduces them to the reader further promotes realization of the intricate twists and turns of this character’s psyche.
Brett further develops the individual themes of his three main characters through the use of multiple overriding motifs: darkness vs. light; death; and knowledge. The primary focus of the story is darkness: “[t]here’s a wide world out there, for those willing to brave the dark” (16); but even here there is a pervading sense of the wide world waiting to be discovered, and the knowledge that could be found if one is willing to go beyond the norm and have courage. This idea of knowledge behind the darkness is a concept that Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer struggle with throughout the tale, the notion of embracing the darkness and refusing to fear it when everyone else does. It is this challenge that drives the story forward, leading Brett’s characters into the darkness and leaving us waiting to see if they will find the light.
Like numerous fantasists before him, Brett has drawn on a fount of knowledge of fantasy literature; however, this does not change the fact that The Warded Man is an excellent read, one leaving the reader anxious for the next part of the series to come out. Brett’s use of complex themes and motifs, along with a vivid and realistic world establish Brett comfortably with the likes of T.A. Barron, Robert Jordan, Stephen R. Lawhead, perhaps even Ursula K. Le Guin. If his second novel continues in the same manner as his first, while maintaining the intensity and complexity, then this is set to be a fantastic series.