Peter V. Brett — The Desert Spear

I was highly looking forward to this one, and so I was quite excited when my copy arrived at the library off of the queue.

I think that for the most part, it lived up to the promise of its predecessor. For those of you who don’t normally read fantasy novels, The Warded Man was a wildly successful book in which the world, vaguely medieval-ish in its setting, is attacked nightly by demons, or “corelings,” that rise from the ground and attack and kill humans. The only defense against these demons are wards, magic runes that keep the corelings from entering a particular building. Society as a result has evolved to deal with this menace; cities are walled fortresses, only the bravest travel far from them, and there are Warders whose life’s work is to study and perfect the runes that protect their people. The Warded Man centered around three characters: Leesha, a young healer; Arlen, a young warrior; and Rojer, a musician, all of whose lives were affected by losses due to the corelings. Arlen himself undergoes the most dramatic transformation, after spending time in the desert with the Krasians, a warrior society who live to kill the corelings, eventually turning himself into a “warded” weapon. It was a lively book, an interesting book, and there was a hell of a lot of action–I blew through the entire thing in an hour or two.

The Desert Spear focuses on Jardir, a Krasian character who Arlen dealt with in the first book. The Krasian society is an interesting one, instead of walling themselves up in cities, they live a nomadic existence in the desert, dying in bed is a grave dishonor, and every night they fight the corelings in an underground maze. Pretty awesome, right? Of course, they have their vicious and unpleasant qualities as well (for example, the way that they treat kaffhit–those who are not warriors, a bit like Untouchables)… but still, quite interesting and certainly a departure from anything I had read before (for example, a temple made entirely of the bones of warriors who died fighting the demons). So I was looking forward to reading an entire book that delved into Jardir’s history and the Krasians’ customs.

I wasn’t disappointed; Brett’s worldbuilding is pretty impressive. You have the sense that the Krasians are a fully developed culture with a long history of their own. If only he were as good at character development… some of the secondary characters, especially those who were not Abban and Jardir, were totally one-dimensional.

As with the first book I had a problem with the way that Brett employs rape in the narrative. In The Warded Man, both minor characters are raped by their father; later in the book, a major character is raped. And shortly after that, she falls into bed with another main character as a sort of “healing.” I’m not trying to say that all women who are raped react the same way, but this just seemed off, especially for a female character who was so wary of sex even before all of that occurred. And after sleeping with Arlen, she’s “fine.” That rang unbelievable and false. In The Desert Spear, Brett employs the element of rape even more casually, throwing out a line that basically says that the young warriors of Krasia rape other young warriors in other tribes to dishonor them. And this happens often in this book. Sometimes the way in which it occurs is even a joke. Also, women of foreign cities are “bred” like horses. “Bred” being Brett’s word. All of this bothered me intensely, especially since Krasia is clearly modeled on Arab countries–veiled women, desert dwelling, even the construction of the names and language have an Arabic sound to them. And the plot device returns, again, and again, and again. Not just with the Krasian characters, but in the “greenlands” too. It goes beyond an attempt for gritty realism and into something incredibly uncomfortable.

As for the pacing, which seemed to be a complaint with some early reviews, I didn’t have a problem with it. As with many second-in-the-trilogy, this is a gap-filler between the introduction to the world and the eventual conclusion. Still, the fleshing out of the characters and getting the opportunity to see different aspects of Brett’s world was enjoyable enough to make up for a lack of “action” (and while the first book had more battling, I don’t think that what was happening wasn’t necessarily action–a lot of new concepts were introduced, including a better insight into the demons’ world and new types of corelings, a closer look at the somewhat fascinating character of Inevera, etc). I also liked seeing Jardir and Arlen’s meeting from Jardir’s point of view, but then, I have a weakness for alternate viewings.

Another problem was with showing, not telling. Instead of allowing words or actions to speak for themselves, there are many sentences like, “As if Rojer could refuse Leesha anything” etc. A stylistic nitpick.

In short, though I had major problems with some aspects of the book, I still mostly enjoyed it and am looking forward with curiosity to see how Brett finishes this series.

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