I finished The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett the other day and figured I ought to review it– for a few reasons. Mainly because it has great promise, but doesn’t deliver as well as hoped, but also because friends might be considering reading it and there are a few scenes worth knowing about– by way of warning.

The Warded Man takes place in a land where corelings, or demons, rise from the earth at sundown every evening, whereupon they viciously attack any humans who are not sufficiently protected by mystical wards. These wards apparently have to be drawn just so, and arranged in a way that creates a solid ‘ward net’ in order to ward off the corelings.

The story follows Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer, three young people who either survive coreling attacks or otherwise traumatic experiences. Their stories are separate, but as these books go, we know they will somehow intersect.

Arlen is a young lad who is disgusted by his father’s cowardice and ends up running away. The circumstances around his leaving his remaining family behind are, in my mind, problematic and not motivated enough by the character, at least early on. Brett does make an effort to motivate Arlen’s treatment of those who love him later in the book; I just wish this had been done better and earlier. However, he is the most proactive of the characters and that wins him a place in our hearts.

Leesha is a young woman who is promised to a powerful young man in her village. Due to various awful events, Leesha ends up learning the lore of healing and herbs. Her story is potentially very intriguing, but she is rather passive until the end of the book.

Rojer is also quite a passive character who goes from one tragedy to another. He is crippled in the attack that takes his family, and ends up becoming an apprentice to the traveling entertainer whom he ended up in a basement with.

It’s clear from the start that these characters have a destiny to fulfill. Their choices affect their lives and world adequately, and the choices they are presented with are well motivated by the world they live in. What’s more, the world is robust and replete with different cultures and a solid history.

The peripheral characters are not bad, with Ragan and Gared and Bruna taking top place, while others tend to be foils or fit molds that are needed for the development of the story.

To this point, I fear I sound pretty hard on this book. Good. It started out so well. Arlen’s experiences are tragic and his heart and emotional reactions are wonderfully painted. His reaction to his father’s cowardice makes for an excellent conflict and the loss of his mother really gets the ball rolling. We get a feeling that Arlen is going to break out of the fear that rules the populace and do great things.

Which he does. But somewhere along the way we lose the heart. It feels like the book will be about remarkable heroism as these characters struggle and fight to do what they know is right and change the world they live in, but the pay-off is a bit of a letdown. So I was excited to get into the book and it grabbed me right away, but because of the letdown that began at the middle of the book- where the heart seemed to go out of it and accomplishments came so easily to the characters, I just lost a bit of interest.

I think the problem is that the book tries to do too much in too small a span. These people live about 14 years of their lives and the things they do mostly seem quite effortless. As readers, we want to see struggle and difficulty; we want our characters to go through hell and get the snot beaten out of them- but then we want to watch them overcome and take down the bad guys in an epic finale.

The Warded Man didn’t quite deliver on the promise at the beginning of the book.

That being said, the battles are well done, with tension remaining more or less strong throughout. The world is intriguing and a nice twist that happens to Arlen toward the end of the book make me want to keep going to the next book, The Desert Spear.

Now for a bit of scathing commentary:

Is there some kind of statement on saving yourself for true love in this book? The horrible things that happen to Leesha don’t necessarily seem like a statement against her approach to sex, but something’s going on there.

Also, we don’t know anything about the enemy- their nature, origin or what drives them. Why do wards and other things affect them the way they do? Brett plays this area of the book far too close to the chest. The reader will lose interest in an antagonist that seems mindlessly evil. At least we knew were Tolkien’s orcs came from and who was running that particular show.

Finally, I just don’t get the point of graphic sex scenes. Who actually enjoys reading that? I feel that it did nothing to enhance the book or the story, but there was plenty of it. It wasn’t on the level of Goodkind (gracious, man, keep your fantasies and political lectures away from storytelling!), but there was too much of it anyway.

All in all, I give this book 2.5 out of 5 stars. It was probably better than that, but the promise of the beginning was so strong, and it just didn’t get paid off.