Customer Reviews: The Warded Man: Book One of The Demon Cycle
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on June 9, 2011
With so many reviews typed up, I'm not sure that mine will be even read - and I normally don't write reviews at all, but this book was something else. I loved it for the first 2/3's of the book, and like other readers I wanted to give it a 5 star up to that point and I was probably driving my family crazy by talking about it too.

- I love how the book was put together for the most part. There are three very different main characters that the author shares with the readers. And we get to see how they all grow up and how they develop.
- The writing style was really neat. Brett brought in so many different cultures, ideas, topics and perspectives with enough detail that readers could appreciate and understand them all, but not too much detail that readers got lost in the background.
- The plot (for the first 2/3's) was AMAZING!

- The last 1/3 of the the book - the characters that the author had spent most of the book developing did a 90 degree flip if not a 180. You didn't recognize the characters that you grew to love
- Almost every scene where there was a woman, sex or child bearing was the topic of conversation. Brett made it seem like a woman's only interest/purpose was creating babies or making men happy. I totally get why (in a world where human population is decreasing, you want to have more children) but, really, there is no point in kicking a dead horse.
- Leesha - one of the main characters. (SPOILER) She really emphasized the above point and I don't like how she "saved" herself for 27 years, then completely falls in love the another character, and gives herself to him, at the end of the story after having met him for all of 1 week. Her character was honestly really unrealistic. At the beginning of the story she was bearable, but in the last 1/3 I read through her portions as fast as possible.

As you can see from the lengths of the pro's and con's, sadly, I could not give this book that 5 stars that the first part deserves. I would recommend it if you need a change of story, b/c it really is an intriguing idea. But I just want you to take this note as a warning about the last part of the story.
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on June 26, 2009
Not since Mistborn have I been so captivated by a story and charmed by its setting. The Warded Man is an impressive debut and probably my favorite book of 2009 in any genre. If Peter Brett continues to write this way, he will need to clear space on his mantle for awards.

The Warded Man is about Arlen, a villager who must survive in a grim fantasy world ravaged by demons at night. His character arc propels the narrative once he realizes that survival is not enough. Two other characters eventually join him in his exploits against the demons: Rojer and Leesha. I like how they are regular people--too many fantasies deal with long-lost princes, wizards, queens, and knights. The best thing I can say about the three main characters is that I cared about them. Since the author takes his time developing them from children to adults, you almos feel like you are growing up alongside them. When they suffer, you will cringe, but when they excel, you will cheer.

The author's depiction of village age is authentic and folksy. Everything feels right--the gossip, the neighborliness, the barter, the sense of feeling apart from the other villages and cities. The world is dangerous, and not everyone gets along, but people set aside their differences when the demons strike. Later in the novel, the author describes city life just as well as village life, especially once Arlen reaches Krasia, a hub of a warrior society with Arabic influences.

The novel packs action, adventure, romance, and substance. I like how it considers the nature of heroism, the futility of passivity, and even the plight of women. The scenes of combat between man and demon are gratifying, and the one romantic scene is heady with tenderness and passion. The author has a pleasing, crisp, lively style that serves the story and does not overwhelm it.

Like many fantasies, The Warded Man ends with a teaser for the next book. For once, I am glad that a book does not end conclusively. I am counting days until Brett's next book. If you only read one fantasy in 2009, The Warded Man is the one to read.
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on December 14, 2013
I've read tons of both good and bad fantasy books over the years. And I have to say this book truly is like an abusive relationship.

The first 2/3 read like a promising first attempt at writing a fantasy novel by someone who may have a gift for it (given some more experience - detail is thin but story/plot/world is there).

Then the author pretty much destroys his own work with the last 1/3. I have to admit, I've never read a book that actually self destructed until now. It just implodes on itself out of nowhere. I honestly couldn't suspend disbelief anymore. Every single one of the characters became totally different, and nearly unrecognizable, people in the span of a chapter or two. I can clearly see what the author was going for with this: a plot twist to make your jaw drop. The problem is that the author doesn't have the skill to pull this off believably. I don't know if it is because he is green or simply rushed it out. It doesn't really matter. The net effect is the same.

One last thing: The whole rape thing he used in the book? Yeah, if you're going to actually implement a rape of one of your primary characters, you should at least make it impact the story beyond a chapter or two. Oh, and a woman is not going to throw herself at some stranger 3 days after being raped and walking around in shock about it. Sorry but this author seriously needs to stop writing women characters. I am a (manly man type of) guy and feel embarrassed for him about the way they are portrayed.
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on April 12, 2014
This book never develops an actual plot. Hard to believe for a fantasy novel but you'll get through the first 2/3s of the book waiting in vain for some form of actual antagonist, challenge or direction to emerge in the story. This isn't to say they develop in the last third, they don't. Instead, what had been been passable character development simply gets thrown out the window as our lead protagonist finally adopts the 'Warded Man' role becoming an overnight ninja superhero and it is clear the rest of the series will be about how he single-handidly sets the world to rights.

Well not alone, of course, as was blindingly obvious from the beginning he'll be accompanied by his healer love interest and minstrel friend/romantic competitor. As soon as the three main characters meet the book goes into deep Mary-Sue mode but the flaws are deeper than this.

* We spend two hundred pages in the childhood of the three protagonists, covering ground any decent novel would have done in its first few chapters. The extra length doesn't bring any extra depth to the characters and as they get older we begin jumping years at a time. There is no flow to their development and the time and viewpoint cuts serves only to lessen your interest in them.

* The author decides to use a proxy Muslim culture, Arabic named desert warriors, where women cover themselves and are poorly treated by their men. These people are portrayed as xenophobic, fanatical and treacherous.

* Women in the novel are respected as Mothers once they give birth. This is the most amazing thing any woman can do any women who have not had a child are looked down upon. The author no doubt thinks making his female lead a 'strong willed exception' someone balances the fact that every other female character is a two-dimensional drone.

* The books Messenger class use wards to defend themselves against demons that can be woven, carved, inscribed, written or painted. The messengers all also have tattoos. Nobody except the title character ever thought to tattoo a protective ward on themself.... There is no reason whatsover this (or wearing warded armor) should not have completely altered the basic rules of the world he builds.

At the start, its not terrible and then you wait for an actual story to begin, and for a long time it doesn't. Then our hero becomes the Warded Man and it just gets cheesy real quick.

Terribly disjointed, major plot holes in the world-building, lacking any tension or suspense, highly predictable and centered on inconsistent poorly sketched characters. This won't be obvious from the start but you wil not be rewarded for persevering.
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on April 26, 2014
Fair warning: There are spoilers within.

I truly did not enjoy this book. It was recommended to me by somebody very close to me, and it's made me rethink his other recommendations.

The writing is dry and procedural - major events happen with barely a paragraph to describe them, but pages are spent elaborating on comparatively boring things. Tremendous character growth happens, but it doesn't happen in the pages of this book. Rather than seeing the characters grow, you're told that they grew.

The world itself seems like a mush of every fantasy trope Brett had in his head. Every power figure is selfish and stupid, every weak character is secretly strong, and every physically strong person is greedy and bad. At one point, the main character determines that everybody in the country (?) is a Thesan, and then is quickly told that the duke is hanging anybody that utters that name. Mere chapters later, we learn that the *language* is called Thesan. The main character (there's really only one), Arlen, is a clear Mary Sue, because he's simultaneously stronger, more clever, and more noble than anybody else in the story. At the same time, he's terribly awkward, but that doesn't prevent him from being a heartthrob in every situation.

In addition to being far better than everybody else, Arlen consistently comes up with brilliant, world-changing ideas that nobody EVER thought of before. Wards (symbols inscribed on things) are a core concept in the book, and Arlen invents the idea of selling wards that you know to another Warder. Nobody else in the capital city had apparently thought of this! He also came up with the idea that you could use the wards as weapons, which was news to the rest of the world. The book is rife with this poor, ignorant world being enlightened by an upstart child hero, and it's just silly.

The book is also rampant with really weird sexism. Women, as far as I can tell, are only brood mares in this world. They're only EVER referenced with respect to their sexuality, faithfulness, or fertility. One of the auxiliary characters is a woman, and her entire storyline is based on the fact that she's a virgin that was accused of having had sex. The main (and supposedly most noble) character even asks "Since when do men make way for women?" at one point. George R R Martin treats his women with more respect. *Robert Jordan* does. I seriously wonder if the author has ever interacted with a woman with the assumption that she's a human being too.

Finally, we get to the characters. We're shown three characters with utterly disparate lives who all meet at the end of the the book. Arlen, the main character, suffers from adolescent guilt and rage that never seems to grow up with him. Then, all of the sudden, he transforms (behind the scenes) into an epic badass and shows up almost in the hour of need. I say 'almost' because the female auxiliary character gets gang-raped by a bunch of strong, powerful men right before he shows up (suffering the loss of her oft-prided virginity). This, however, doesn't stop her from trying to seduce him mere days later (???). The other Auxiliary character shows up for the first time halfway through the story, and without a whole lot of context. He's apparently important, though, because he becomes part of the band of misfits that are all way more powerful and intelligent than normal people.

I really wanted to like this book, because I know a lot of people that love it. I could barely make it to the end.
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on October 1, 2014
My list of grievances (spoilers):

1.) Don't be fooled by an interesting premise, the author does nothing with it.

2.) Every other chapter a character does something profoundly stupid and every one gets eaten by demons.

3.) Main character becomes Batman about 2/3 of the way though. Prepare to hear a lot about his muscles.

4.) Gang rape.

5.) Protagonist are doing the horizontal mambo 5 hours after meeting and 6 hours after one of them has been raped, sorry, gang raped.

6.) The line "my infernal seed".
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on May 6, 2010
The Warded man is another hero's journey of a boy who is thrust from the womb of his home and into the terrible reality he lives. This novel follows Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer, each following similar coming-of-age arcs, jumping years, until they finally converge near the end of the book. Structure is good, but you must stray from it to keep things interesting. The story almost turns into Dune while Arlen is in the desert, but thankfully Brett decided to stop there, and instead give Arlen a Edmund Dantes-esque return as the titular Warded Man. There are some funny bits, some sweet revelations of the good in the hearts of some lowly characters and the action was often bloody and thrilling, but overall the inner story of the characters was flimsy, and Arlen essentially becomes the Batman of his world.

Brett's prose would have gotten me flayed in school, he almost entirely tells instead of shows, often repeating the obvious multiple times in the same paragraph, then having the dialog repeat it again, never allowing for subtext. He bashes the reader over the head with the apparent, yet neglects details like describing what the demons actually look like until quite a few chapters after they appear. The world that he created feels more like a rough sketch, which would work with a cast of strong and complex characters, but those are missing here.

Another odd and bothersome aspect of this book is the constant examples of rape, incest, and molestation that permeate the story. About every other chapter has the characters in some conflict with sexual predators, or their own juvenile sexual issues. Particularly Leesha, who in the story is so beautiful that she turns any man alone with her into a drooling rapist. Well written, this may have lent itself to the complexity of the story, but it was not well done. This aspect was clumsy, predicable, and left me cringing more than once, and actually less interested in the character's fates. By the end, it felt like a heavy handed attempt to shape Leesha's and the others characters, but failed to do so.

Certainly not the worst fantasy you could pick up, but if you want a well done, gritty, fantasy, check out Joe Abercrombie and the First Law series. Or just a great, original fantasy book, try The Name of Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and see how it's done.
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on January 4, 2011
Hmmmm... well I get the feeling I'm on my own here given the reviews, but here goes:

The warded man/painted man is set in a kind of alternate future where after the age of science, the world has been thrown back into a dark age, where ancient elemental demons known as "Corelings" have once more risen from the earth to feed upon mankind. Man's only salvation rests in the magical properties of "wards", magical symbols that can be written on homes, and earth to keep the creatures at bay. The story has three protagonists altho it centres mostly on Alren a young boy who's mother is killed in a demon attack and sets out to seek a way to fight the Corelings. Then there's Rojer, a crippled musician who discovers that music itself can be a weapon against the demons, and Leesha, a healer who learns that what can cure can also cause harm. We follow each character from childhood to maturity across a sizeable time span. Although adhering to the traditions of the hero's journey, Brett does a nice job of avoiding the cliches that a lot of epic fantasy books fall into, however the book has many problems that really detract from what would have been an - if not massively original - at least, very enjoyable and entertaining read.

The first and probably worst of these is that Brett's writing is surprisingly amateur and limited, to the point that it actually becomes incredibly intrusive. He uses endless adverbs in his dialogue tags (he said angrily, she said hopefully, etc) as well as an awful lot of "Arlen said", "Leesha returned", "Bruna snapped", "Steve went on", which are really superfluous and distracting. Brett's vocabulary seems noticeably small, resulting in naturally repetitive descriptions and unimaginative prose that fails to evoke any lasting impression. I lost count of the number of times someone's "eyes bulged", someone "gasped" or someone "spat on the floor". Sometimes there's so much spitting and gasping in a conversation that you wonder if Brett has ever observed a real conversation. In fact every time someone hears something they don't like in the world of the Painted man, they lean over to spit somewhere. Women, men, children... I'm surprised that even the corelings didn't flob at things when they couldn't get past a magical ward! I genuinely wondered through the first few chapters whether I was reading a children's book (which would be no bad thing at all), and when the first adult subject matter came up it actually seemed starkly out of place.

The second point, is that it's slow, and boy is it really, painfully slow. You can boil the actual happenings of the first 8 chapters and summarise them on a post-it note, in fact you can even boil down the entire dramatic content of the book and scribble it on an envelope. I find it immensely hard to stick with books that seem so obsessed with 'world building' that they basically end up being nothing more than meticulously crafted settings looking for a story. The Painted man is probably one of the worst offenders for this I've read in a while. Brett writes hundreds of pages of mostly directionless village based drama with characters who exist purely to impart back story directly to the reader. There's the continually inviting questions of the 11 year old Arlen to permit older characters to prattle on endlessly about the world, there's Hogg, the shopkeeper who wastes the best part of a chapter pointing out how village trade works, and the Jongleur, whose sole purpose is to describe some 300 years of history, which he bizzarely and very handily does every year!

I appreciate there's scope, but it's hardly complicated or broad and even if it were, you only have to read something like George Martin's: A Game of Thrones to see how complex historical threads and richly detailed world building can be seemlessly integrated into an unfolding story. Brett always steps way beyond the line of what the reader needs to know at that moment in the tale and what they don't, which cripples pace and really sucks the pleasure to be had out of reading the book. Also Brett always seems to be ahead of his action, often relating exciting or interesting scenes retrospectively through character chatter or paragraphs of narrative. There are great opportunities in the book for hugely dramatic conflicts, excitement, and drama which end up being watered to a trickle and it's so frustrating to read!

The third problem is characterisation. The Warded/Painted Man is populated with characters that are either so one dimensional that it's like being hit over the head with them or so contradictory that they lack any kind of realism. Pretty much without exception, they are the most unsympathetic, downright unlikeable cast of characters I've ever read. I'm still not sure whether this was intentional or just a result of Brett favouring the use of events to drive character, rather than the other way around. Shopkeepers are greedy, mothers are verbally and physically abusive, fathers are cowardly, downtrodden and in one instance even sexually abusive. Wives are harlots and liars, husbands are subservient, young men are reactionary thugs who chop wood and little else, and sexuality itself is regarded with a base disdain that Brett seems to continually impart in lots of really superfluous dialog about "bloodied sheets", "de-flowering", "slapping stomachs", "budding breasts" and endless insults about various things "between legs". In fact his uneccessarily detailed accounts of the the sexuality of young girls and lecheous ways of women is either purile or decidedly uncomfortable, and the entire thing is so utterly pointless in narrative terms that you wonder why any of it had to take up so many pages.

To me great fantasy always has a basis in reality. If you make the characters, families, societies, conflict, troubles etc as human as possible, you'll capture the heart of the reader. At the end of the day fantasy is just a setting, the human condition is universal. It's very tough to care about the characters in the warded man, because they're victims of a poorly constructed story. They have so little of worth fighting for and so little to care about that I found them impossible to connect with. It's that connection that what makes you champion your heroes, understand and fear for them, cheer and love them. The only flashes of such empathy I had, came from much lesser characters and even in some cases, the Corelings themselves. But unfortunately even as the protagonists are pretty basic and unappealing, the antagonists are like clunky blundering monsters from straight out of a computer game.

And this leads to the novel's main theme: The demons. The story basically has little to offer other than this constant threat, which is pretty much the identical device used in the film "The Village". They ring bells to announce the arrival of the night, they paint symbols on things to keep them at bay etc. Obviously there's a more to Brett's interpretation, but because this is the central conflict, it becomes old very quickly and the drama that underpins it is nowhere near enough to cause any kind of page turning excitement. In fact it's pretty much the opposite. And then of course Brett even manages to pretty much ruin the main dramatic twist by the title of the book!

I really desperately wanted to like this book - especially as I heard it's just been optioned for a film - and I thought that from the synopsis it sounded like it could really have something good going on. Clearly for many people it does, but personally it was a real disappointment. I don't think Brett is exclusively to blame here, and I think you have to allow a certain slack to a first time writer. He clearly has some great ideas and some desire for interesting characters but somehow they never really take form in a succinct, dramatic or sympathetic way. It's like there's something good here trying to get out, and with some refinement, reevaluation, or even a restructuring it could well have been, but as it is, this was a really unrewarding chore to read. I think possibly if Brett had envisioned a single story rather than a trilogy (which so many fantasy writers seem so obsessed with) it might have worked better. It actually amazes me that there's a quote from Terry Brooks on the front of the Warded man, when if you read Terry's "sometimes the magic works", Brett seems to be a prime example of all of the writing pitfalls that Terry rebells against! Anyhow, regardless of my disappointment, Brett is clearly onto a very good thing with his demon trilogy and I wish him the best with it. Sadly there was nothing in this novel to make me want to read anything more.
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VINE VOICEon February 14, 2012
The first 80% of this novel represents why I read fiction - extensive character development, a well-thought world, heroes that are not black and white, and people wrestling with quandaries that reflect the larger ones readers can relate to. The problem is, the last 20% represent an utter failure by the author to keep that quality of writing. The last 100 pages switch to a noir style, then to romance, and then to the worst pulp fantasy. It is within these pages that heroes make stupid choices that they would have known were in err just a chapter earlier; it is here that the overpowered, dual-wielding hero appears to blast through the enemy horde. Some characters just seem to disappear for pages on end for implausible reasons (asleep is the biggest one), while others come back for no other reason than the main characters can have revenge. I really wish that the author had just stopped before those last 100 pages and left those events for the next novel, because they just seem too rushed and contrived to properly fit into this one.

Overall, I give _The Warded Man_ three stars, with a warning that those enjoying the first 80% will probably hate the ending, and those that found the beginning boring will probably *LUV* the last 20%. Only pick this up if you're low on other reading material.
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on August 17, 2011
All in all, this book is a strong debut that has its fair share of problems.

First of all, the positives. The book has strong characterization for its three leads and many of the supporting cast, especially Leesha's mentor Bruna, Rojer's master Arrick, and Arlen's mentors, Cob and Ragen. In addition, its demons are enjoyable unique, as it the magic that combats them: wards. It's a lot of fun watching characters use this magical tool inventively, and it's even more fun watching Arlen make discoveries about them throughout the book. Not only do the characters and the magic get good treatment, but the world itself is well-developed, with rivalries, cultures, and economies there for the discovery as characters make their way through the wold.

Secondly, the negatives. Mr. Brett's style is still developing, and he has a few idiosyncracies that grate, such as dialog attribution ("Here's some example dialog," I recommended) along with a lack of emotional weight to actions in the world. At one point, Rojer loses a favored Jongleur tool to rivals, and all that's described is the thing's destruction with no reaction from Rojer whatsoever. Besides the stylistic flaws, there's a development in the plot that I hesitate to even call a twist. It felt like it was played for cheap drama, and it even took away from a potential romantic culmination not 50 pages later. I wasn't quite offended by the development, but it felt like a cheap and tasteless trick just to keep tension high. The worst part is that the character seems to have completely brushed it off by the conclusion of the book, only lending credence to the perception that it was a cheap trick.

All that said, the positives still outweigh the negatives. I greatly anticipate reading the Desert Spear (the sequel to this book), especially if Mr. Brett avoids the pitfalls of this book.

Three stars.
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