Not too long ago, I finally got around to reading Peter V. Brett’s popular debut, The Painted Man. It was an extremely enjoyable read (as you can see from my review) and its sequel, The Desert Spear, stands just as strongly besides it. This tale continues the Demon Cycle series, ramping the tensions ever more up and turns out to be an excellent second volume in this outstandingly fun series. That it is just as good as it’s predecessor is an achievement, seeing as sequels are often such a lag. Brett’s second effort isn’t without flaw, but it is sure to pleasantly fill many hours of your time.
The sun is setting on humanity. The night now belongs to voracious demons that arise as the sun sets, preying upon a dwindling population forced to cower behind ancient and half-forgotten symbols of power. These wars alone can keep the demons at bay, but legends tell of a Deliverer who once bound all mankind into a single force that defeated the demons. Those times, if they ever existed, are long past. The demons are back, and the return of the Deliver is just another myth... or is it?
Out of the desert rides Ahmann Jardir, who has forged the warlike desert tribes of Krasia into a demon-killing army. He has proclaimed himself Shar’Dama Ka, the Deliverer, and he carries weapons that give credence to his claim. Sworn to follow the path of the first Deliverer, he has come north to bring the scattered city-states of the green lands together in a war against demonkind - whether they like it or not.
But the northerners claim their own Deliverer. His name was Arlen, but all know him now as the Painted Man: a dark, forbidding figure whose skin is tattooed with wards so powerful they make him a match for any demon. The Painted Man denies that he is the Deliverer, but his actions speak louder than words, for he teaches men and women to face their fears and stand fast against the creatures that have tormented them for centuries.
Once the Shar’Dama La and the Painted man were friends, brothers in arms. But betrayal has turned them into fierce adversaries.
As old allegiances are tested and fresh alliances creates, the people are ignorant of the emergence of a new breed of demon, more intelligent - and deadly - than any that have come before.
As much as you would want it to, The Desert Spear doesn’t quite pick up right where we left off in The Painted Man. Sort of. We are at the same time as the end, but for the first part of the book, the story is told from the angle of Jarid, self-proclaimed Deliverer. But there is very little actual time spent in the present, instead we are plunged deep into flashback territory, pursuing the life story of said self-proclaimed Deliverer. Though not exactly what was expected, this break in the direct narrative of the series offers the opportunity to get re-accustomed with the world of Free Cities and the chance to get some intriguing insight into the origins of a character that has been antagonized by the other characters. Soon enough, we are left to delve back into the lives of the inhabitants of Deliverer’s Hollow and the otherworldly (and worldly) concerns of the Painted Man. It sure is good to be back, and things neatly take up a brisk pace as battles, intrigue and loads of demon-fighting (read: ass-kicking) brew just over the horizon.
The break-neck pace that Brett instills in The Desert Spear doesn’t relent one bit at any time in the novel. All the threads sadly left dangling at the conclusion of The Painted Man are picked up once more. The sore love-stories are addressed once more and a journey for the Painted Man offers a generous amount of occasions for him to face his troubled past. This is perhaps the bits of the book I found the most engaging, having loved the “beginning of the quest” section of The Painted Man. There is somewhat less action in this sequel, but it is immediately obvious that much of The Desert Spear’s job is to pull the tension chord ever tighter, with Brett spinning together more and more characters and storylines.
I adore the character that Arlen has become. He started out as your usual boy-on-a-quest but has grown to be so much more. His inner turmoil over his own humanity is touching and plays well into his interactions with other characters. Jadir is one of the new additions to the point of view characters, reminding us that the demons are the true enemies, and even from a writer’s standpoint Brett cannot deny the Krasians a voice in the story, and who better than their leader? And he’s a pretty cool character. New also is Renna, who was briefly a part of The Painted Man but really come into her own in this novel with her own, well-explored storyline. All the characters are challenged further, and Brett is not afraid to play with their emotions, concocting an ever changing mix of pain, fear, anger and love.
You’ll not be surprised when I say that this is one to be thoroughly enjoyed. The Desert Spear perhaps isn’t the smartest or most complex piece of fantasy out there but it is a genuinely fun and engaging read of a kind that comes only too rarely. I can only highly recommend it. We’ll have to wait a bit until the third volume of the Demon Cycle is released. The novel, entitled The Daylight War, is tentatively scheduled for 2012. There is only one thing left to say: Brett, bring it on!
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
Peter V. Brett's Website: http://www.petervbrett.com/
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