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aidan

The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett

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I know a lot of people here enjoyed The Warded Man and are looking forward to The Desert Spear. I got an early copy... and had some issues with decisions Brett made concerning pacing, voice and, well... overall plot development.

The Warded Man snuck its way onto my Best Novels of 2009 list. I was taken in by the strong characters, the easy pace and the imaginative magic system. The success of Brett's debut was a surprise to everyone, but with that success comes a lot of pressure, placed squarely on the shoulders of The Desert Spear, Brett's second novel and sequel to The Warded Man.The opening chapters of The Desert Spear begin on the right foot, promising a novel that is everything The Warded Man was and more. Telling the life story of Jardir, a villanous character in The Warded Man, Brett pulls back the curtain on the absolutely brutal Krasian culture. A ruthless caste system, organized sodomy and rape, friends and family pit against each other in the name of honour, Krasia makes the lands predominantly featured in The Warded Man look tame in comparison. He takes Jardir, a character easy to hate, and pits him against a violent culture, creating empathy where I never thought I'd find any.

Easily the strongest part of the novel, Brett's prose and language evolves, wrapping itself honestly about the storytelling and bringing a maturity to the novel that sets him in line with contemporaries like Joe Abercrombie and Richard Morgan. It's after Jardir's tale, when the tale catches up to the familiar tale of Leesha, Rojer and Arlen that things start to go south.

...

Though this review has focussed on my frustrations with the novel, I must stress that this is the result of the high expectations I place on Brett and his series. The Warded Man was so good that I expected the world of The Desert Spear and was, ultimately, let down. I enjoyed The Desert Spear from beginning to end, but placed under a critical microscope. Like many middle-volumes, The Desert Spear does not have the luxury of a real beginning or ending, and the storyline meanders along and then ends, with few resolutions to the plot strings left hanging at the end of The Warded Man.

The Desert Spear is not the tale of humanity's plight against the Demons that plague their land, as I had hoped, but rather it is about the early rumblings of a civil war between human nations that they can ill afford. One has to wonder, though, whether Brett wouldn't have been better served getting right to the war, rather than spending an entire book moving the players into place and waving the threat in the face of readers. The Desert Spear offers an interesting look at the clash of cultures, but disappoints as a follow-up to The Warded Man. With the pieces now in place, it's easy to hope that The Daylight War will get the overall momentum of the series back on course.

You can read the full review HERE.

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Cool. Good review.

Parts of The Warded Man made it seem almost YA to me for a bit. Sounds like The Desert Spear is as far away from that as possible, which is a good thing.

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Actually, if you read my full review, you'll find that that was one of my major complaints about The Desert Spear. The tone is very adult, but the prose and characterization can often feel YA. It sometimes feels like Terry Brooks writing a Joe Abercrombie book. Two authors I love, but whose styles don't match at all.

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I'm about 145 pages into the book so far and thoroughly enjoying it. I'm hoping it continues at this level.

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Actually, if you read my full review, you'll find that that was one of my major complaints about The Desert Spear. The tone is very adult, but the prose and characterization can often feel YA. It sometimes feels like Terry Brooks writing a Joe Abercrombie book. Two authors I love, but whose styles don't match at all.

Ah, thanks for that, I just meant the tone. Do you think he's just trying to make it more accessible, or that it's actually a faulty style?

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Likely a combination. The first 150 pages show that he's capable of writing with a more mature tone, but then it shifts back to the style established in the first novel.

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Picked up a copy today and will make it my next book to read.

However, the book appears to have been designed by someone who's never had to read a book in their life. The font is tiny and the book is designed like a mmpb with a hardcover binding, meaning it snaps shut if you don't maintain constant pressure on the book.

Apparently the first book's release edition was like this as well, except with a bigger font, but since I got a standard tradeback-sized ARC that wasn't an issue with reading it.

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However, the book appears to have been designed by someone who's never had to read a book in their life. The font is tiny and the book is designed like a mmpb with a hardcover binding, meaning it snaps shut if you don't maintain constant pressure on the book.

Shit. I was going back and forth between getting the UK edition because I had The Painted Man in UK edition as well ( and quite liked the size actually) and the US edition, which I suspected would be an overall better made book as usual, but which is not due for two more weeks.

So I opted for the UK version, wondering how big that was going to be considering this book will be much bigger than The Painted Man. I expect it will be here tomorrow.

As for the book itself, Aidan's is one of the first more ambiguous reviews that I have seen amidst several extremely positive ones. I would be very disappointed if there was no proper matchup against the Demons General, which is clearly advertised in the synopsis, or a major confrontation between the two potential Deliverers, Arlen & Jardir. I read an excerpt on Aidan's site and I must say I was immediately pulled into the story.

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However, the book appears to have been designed by someone who's never had to read a book in their life. The font is tiny and the book is designed like a mmpb with a hardcover binding, meaning it snaps shut if you don't maintain constant pressure on the book.

I find this to be the case for a lot of hard-back books. It's part of the reason I don't buy them, and won't be reading this for a while.

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Normal-sized hardcovers are fine, this is just a pain in the backside because of the small size. That said, once you get about 100 pages in it becomes less of a problem.

About 120 pages in now and the book reminds me of House of Chains, with the author taking a minor character from a previous book (the previous book, in this case) and fleshing out their backstory and taking them up to when we met them previously, although in this case there is also a 'present day' framing story picking up from the end of The Painted Man. It's an interesting structure and Brett's prose skills have increased markedly since the first book (although various reviews suggests this drops again when we get back to the main cast from Book 1, but we'll see). So far a very strong book.

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Nearly finished with this one (about 100 pages to go) and it's definitely a step-up from the first book. One of the more interesting things is that:

Having walked away from his old lives in The Painted Man, Arlen is forced to revisit Miln and his home town to help defend them from the demons and Krasians, and basically has to answer for his lack of responsibility in the first novel. An interesting idea, mosly well-handled, especially as his old friends are not cowed by his semi-mythical status the way other characters are.

However, I am a bit dubious about:

How Brett handles rape in the book. There are several (of men and women), not to mention further analysis of Leesha recovering from her experience in the first book, but I'm not sure about their effectiveness as part of character development. They feel a little like a blunt instrument to get characters to change their attitudes towards life. It's also a bit unsettling that the male character who suffers rape basically shrugs it off after a couple of pages and becomes a badass warrior and never dwells on it again, whilst the females are heavily traumatised by it and it goes on to become major defining characteristics of their characters.

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Thanks for dropping some info, Coe, especially the second part. I'm a little unsure whether to pick this up or not. The last section of the former book ruined a perfectly good book for me.

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Regarding that last spoiler from Wert:

Actually, I was incredibly disappointed by the way he handled Leesha's rape in the first book. Not that she *was* raped, or even that she had sex again after her attackers raped her. What bothered me was precisely what you mention here: that it seemed to be a blunt trauma to force changes in attitude or action. I mean, yes, some women aren't or don't seem particularly bothered by rape, and they and/or others embrace the sexual act as a response. Leesha didn't strike me as fitting into either of those groups, until she met the hero and his Magic Wang, who suddenly and immediately made everything okay again. And, of course, it was Twu Wuv in a day, or something, which I also found ridiculous.

If he's writing characters as though there's a "right" and a "wrong" way to respond to abuse, or even a "male" and a "female" way, that just cements my decision not to pick up the second book in the series. However good the rest, that would probably make me regret reading.

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Regarding that last spoiler from Wert:

Actually, I was incredibly disappointed by the way he handled Leesha's rape in the first book. Not that she *was* raped, or even that she had sex again after her attackers raped her. What bothered me was precisely what you mention here: that it seemed to be a blunt trauma to force changes in attitude or action. I mean, yes, some women aren't or don't seem particularly bothered by rape, and they and/or others embrace the sexual act as a response. Leesha didn't strike me as fitting into either of those groups, until she met the hero and his Magic Wang, who suddenly and immediately made everything okay again. And, of course, it was Twu Wuv in a day, or something, which I also found ridiculous.

If he's writing characters as though there's a "right" and a "wrong" way to respond to abuse, or even a "male" and a "female" way, that just cements my decision not to pick up the second book in the series. However good the rest, that would probably make me regret reading.

Having finished the book:

He does retreat from this in the latter part of Book 2. In particular, Leesha's fixation on the Painted Man is revealed to be transitory and they eventually pair off with other characters, possibly not entirely wisely. However, the use of abuse as a blunt force for character development does remain somewhat troubling. In fact, by the end of the book I counted one actual rape of a male character, one of a female, one almost-rape of another female character and a description of the sacking of a city by a human army that includes reported rapes. There are other books with as much, or even more, sexual abuse of characters, but in this volume's case it feels like it's a crutch the writer is using to force character development. This might be less down to his motives as a writer - he's hardly exploiting it Goodkind-style - and more down to this writing style, which is still a bit MOR fantasy as this stage to be handling such sensitive issues. Whilst I think he's a much stronger writer than Eddings or Brooks, there is the feeling of reading one of their books and suddenly a violent sexual act takes place which is more than slightly jarring.

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My take:

In the city of Krasia a young boy grows to manhood and becomes a skilled warrior and charismatic warleader. His name is Jardir, and he feels destined to become the new Deliverer, a warrior who will lead humanity to victory over the murderous demons who rise from the Core every night. A man comes from the green lands to the north, Arlen, who impresses Jardir with his fighting skills. When Arlen finds a cache of weapons belonging to the first Deliverer, Jardir feels he has to betray Arlen, steal his weapons and leave him to die in the desert.

Several years later, the army of Krasia boils out of the desert and begins conquering the green cities. But Jardir heads rumours that the northerners have their own Deliverer, a mighty warrior known as the Painted Man who can fend off demons with wards etched into his skin. As Jardir continues his conquests, the Painted Man is forced to confront the sins of his own past as well as a new breed of demons, smarter and more cunning than any who have previously appeared.

The Desert Spear is the second volume of the five-volume Demon Cycle, following up 2008's The Painted Man (aka The Warded Man in the USA), one of the stronger fantasy debuts of recent years (although the amusing fact the novel was almost entirely written on a Blackberry on the author's morning commute seemed to attract more attention). This sequence is interesting because Brett has created a 'points of light' fantasy setting, where areas of civilisation are few and far between and the lands in between are infested with monsters and dangers. Few fantasy novels have codified the concept as well as Brett has done in these two books, where simply walking down a road at night is suicide. The result is an atmosphere of oppression and paranoia that worked well in the first novel and is being eroded in the second, as humanity gets better at fighting the demons and finding ways to survive.

Of course, the story of humanity simply gaining the upper hand and winning would be dull, so Brett ramps up the threat level convincingly in this second novel, with the Krasian invasion giving the northlanders a new enemy to worry about at the same time much more intelligent and canny demons, their princes and generals, start appearing. The escalating threat and stakes is well-handled by the author, who also laces some additional clues about the nature of the demons and life in the Core into the story.

Characterisation is well-handled, particularly of Jardir, Abban and the Painted Man, but Leesha remains a befuddling protagonist whose motivations and decisions seem hard to follow, whilst Rojer isn't given very much to do. Structurally, the novel also works well. Like Steven Erikson's House of Chains, the book opens by concentrating on a single minor character from a previous volume and exploring their backstory in-depth up to the point that it rejoins the main narrative, from where it presses forward. Jardir's story, which makes up roughly the first third of the novel, is gripping stuff, although the Krasians do occasionally veer too close to being Klingons (albeit with institutionalised male rape) for comfort, with much talk of honour and hideous abuse of the apostrophe being perpetuated. Still, it's a tightly-focused narrative that works well.

After this, the story returns to the northlands and continues the tale of The Painted Man. This section is more mixed, with the Painted Man being forced to return to several of his previous homes to confront the aftermath of situations he abandoned and walked away from in the first novel. This section is fairly well-written, but reminds the reader The Painted Man that moved very fast, with the sections in the Painted Man's homeland and later in Fort Miln being set up, developed and resolved with pace and energy. In contrast, these sections in The Desert Spear tend to plot a little, with the Painted Man falling prey to the enemy of good pacing, angst, as he agonises about his decisions and motivations at length.

Nevertheless, these sections remain readable, even though we are clearly in set-up mode for the third book (The Daylight War, which certainly sounds more dynamic) and little is resolved in this novel. One issue that does arise here is Brett's use of rape in the novel (of both men and women), which he employs as a blunt instrument of character development to push characters down a new path. Whilst war is ugly and Brett's world is certainly cold and harsh and it would unrealistic to suggest that rape would not happen in such an environment, it is also the case that he employs it a little too readily, and it doesn't entirely fit in with his prosaic and straightforward prose style. In contrast, Bakker uses it as an actual, horrifying weapon of war by the Consult whilst Martin and Jordan keep it (mostly) firmly off-screen and more effective for being so.

Another major issue is the lack of resolution. The book has something of a finale (two relatively small skirmishes with the new, more powerful demons) but it ends almost randomly, with the final page being rather less dynamic than the ending of may previous chapters. The book simply stops rather than climaxes, which is, as with all things, rather disappointing.

The Desert Spear (***½) is a readable and slightly different epic fantasy novel set in a well-realised world with some great ideas and solid use of action. Unfortunately, the excellent pacing of the first novel has been mostly lost and the author's over-use of rape as a narrative engine is dubious, whilst the book's lack of an ending is problematic. For this reason, it is a less satisfying novel than its forebear. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

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Good review. You hit on most of the sticking points that I ran into.

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My take:

Pretty much my take as well. While I enjoyed the book, the lack of climax was somewhat annoying and I can definitely see what you mean with the rape issue.

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The Desert Spear is the second volume of the five-volume Demon Cycle, following up 2008's The Painted Man (aka The Warded Man in the USA), one of the stronger fantasy debuts of recent years (although the amusing fact the novel was almost entirely written on a Blackberry on the author's morning commute seemed to attract more attention).

Wait, what?

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Wait, what?

Which part is unclear? That he wrote the novel on his Blackberry? He did.

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Anyone up to discussing the book yet.

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