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The Painted Man
Peter V. Brett
HarperVoyager, 544 pages

The Painted Man
Peter V. Brett
Raised on a steady diet of fantasy novels, comic books, and Dungeons & Dragons, Peter V. Brett has been writing fantasy stories for as long as he can remember. He received a bachelor of arts degree in English literature and art history from the University at Buffalo in 1995, then worked for a decade in pharmaceutical publishing before returning to his bliss. He lives in Brooklyn with his family.

Peter V. Brett Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Tammy Moore

By day mankind tends to their fields, loves their families and gathers to drink beer and cheer the jongleurs performances. Come nightfall, however, and they must deed the earth over to the corelings, the elemental demons that crawl out of the earth and shadows. Wood, fire, air and water -- they are invulnerable, unstoppable and viciously, poisonously hungry. Wards carved onto doors and windows and walls can provide protection against the demons but they are complex, fragile things and the smallest disruption of precise lines can weaken them fatally. Then the corelings get in and people die.

The Wards keep the demons out but, as eleven-year-old Arlen realises when his mother is attacked by demons, they also serve to keep people in, and fear can be just as poisonous as a demon's claws. Grieving and furious he flees Tibbet's Brook, determined to become a Messenger -- one of the few who travel between settlements -- and find a way to fight back against the demons. The Wards also failed to protect two other children. A negligent Warder let the wards on an inn fall into disrepair and the infant Rojer was brutally orphaned in fire and blood. In Cutter's Hollow fifteen-year-old Leesha fears her cruel, wayward mother and the disapproval of her insular, judgemental community more than the demons that hunt the night. A drunken jongular and an ancient, sharp tongued herb woman offer Rojer and Leesha the protection that Wards could not, but Arlen must find his own way in the world -- he'll accept no less.

The Painted Man (Warded Man in the US) is an assured and promising first novel from author Peter V. Brett. The world he has created is vivid and intriguing -- in particular the idea of the isolation that exists in a society where travel is limited by the need to find Warded shelter by nightfall, an isolation that effects both the rural and the larger cities. The corelings are a believable threat, made all the more terrifying by their insensate rage and hunger. Although their victims might understandably damn the creatures as evil, as demons, the ones we have met so far seem to lack the intellectual capacity to be evil. They are mindless forces of nature -- literally -- and their hunger cannot be bargained with or distracted or reasoned with.

Arlen, Leesa and Rojer are all engaging characters that we, as readers, see grow from children to youths and adults, accompanying them during some of the most traumatic and influential periods of their lives. We cheer when Leesha defies those who would try and tell her who to be and we see disaster coming before the characters and can only watch sickly as they march into it. I cared about the characters -- minor as well as major -- and hope to see more of them in the second book in the series. Which I will definitely be reading.

That said -- despite my general approval of the book there were elements that I thought let it down. Every author is going to have influences that affect their writing, but in a few places the novel seemed as if it was following a fantasy template: young boy on a quest, crabby old wise woman/healer, artistically gifted youth rejected by his guild. To a large degree this wasn't a problem -- Brett's writing is confident enough to make the archetypes work for him -- but in a few places it jarred. Leesha's character arc seemed a little stilted in places, for example, and in a few places utilises too-familiar themes for the treatment of women in fantasy. The most off-putting element, however, was the decision to base the main human antagonists of the narrative on negative stereotypes of radical Islam. I have hopes that Krasia will redeem itself in the ensuing books -- humanity uniting against the demons seems inevitable -- but was still a false note in an otherwise well-written novel.

Despite those few issues The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett is definitely worth a read and looks set to form the cornerstone of an epic fantasy series. I have already started to form my theories about the nature of the corelings and the evolution of the threat they present to humanity. I look forward to finding out if I am right.

Copyright © 2009 Tammy Moore

Tammy Moore is a speculative fiction writer based in Belfast. She writes reviews for Verbal Magazine, Crime Scene NI and Green Man Review. Her first book The Even -- written by Tammy Moore and illustrated by Stephanie Law -- is to be published by Morrigan Books September 2008.

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