Brett, Peter V. The Warded Man. Del Rey, 2009. ISBN 978-0345503800 432 pp. $
As dusk approaches, elemental demons, born of earth, air, water, wind and fire, rise from the earth’s core to terrorize humans. Only marks made by a trainer Warder can hold the corelings at bay. Families huddle together in their stone or wooden huts, shuddering as the demons beat against the wards and the magic flares up to protect them.
This first volume in a series follows the young lives of Leesha, a papermaker’s daughter with aspirations of becoming an herbalist has bigger dreams than marrying the son; Arlen, an idealistic young man who wants to be a Messenger, travelling daringly from village to village; and Rojer, a red headed orphan trained as an entertainer, called a Jongleur.
I found The Warded Man to be a fascinating premise (though, it reminded me at first of a bad M. Night Shyamalan film), but seriously marred by amateur writing and a plodding pace in between gory scenes. Sure, it contains high drama, romance, humor, sex, adventure, fighting, cunning and heroism, but it reminds me of the salad of lettuce, tomatoes, red grapes, oranges, and feta cheese that my mother made, on Father’s Day: the ingredients are all solid, but when you put them together, it doesn’t work.
Several plot points are highly unbelievable, but I think most of all, I had problems with characters. The value of motherhood in the society that Brett portrays is distasteful, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief had he been consistent. He was consistent in portraying women as good for one thing, and anything else good they did stemmed from the ability to procreate. This is a male writer that doesn’t get women, at all.
The characters seemed to be all good or all bad, with little complexity or growth, and I felt we kept getting reminded of their pasts, or their traits, overly much, and flat out told things a better writer would have let the reader infer. Too much focus on other secondary characters, like Arrick, didn’t add to the characterizations of Rojer, Arlen or Leesha, and in fact created gaps in the lives of the three heroes. There was too long a gap in the becoming of The Warded Man, for example.
Even the NAMES bothered me. Long unpronounceable names are the bane of my fantasy reading, but some of the ones in this book were almost at the other end of the spectrum–short, but I had to THINK about how to pronounce them, and then I thought, ugh, he just spelled it differently, how lame… a small point, but it definitely detracted from my enjoyment.
The age of the characters through most of the book has a lot of pull; they are wrestling with their futures, encompassing spouses, livelihoods and identities. The premise itself is interesting, and I can see fans of Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue or The Giver getting into this, but the writing pulls this fantasy down to 3 stars, at best.