by: Peter V. Brett
Ballantine Books New York, NY 2009
It seems I’ve gotten myself sucked into yet another series. Luckily for me this book is not only the first in the series, it also stands on its own. The sense I had at the end of the book was much like it is at the end of any book. We know the world and the characters go on even when the tale is complete. If we really like what we’ve read we sometimes wish for more story, or another book about what our favorite characters do next. But it’s like having a great meal at a restaurant. We’re satisfied, but would like to come back.
There are so few series these days that don’t end on a cliff-hanger. I am so grateful to have found an author who respects his work well enough to give me a complete novel, even as part of a series. It’s worth exploring the next books for that reason alone.
However, there are plenty of other reasons to appreciate this writing as well. This is a story in that blending of science fiction and fantasy. The world here is older than it seems. Mythology has replaced science, but there are hints of a time where great science was prevalent, or perhaps it was great magic. The warders use symbols, like runes or Chinese characters, to build nets of magic to keep out the demons that rise from the core each night.
During the time of technology the demons had been defeated and there were hundreds of years of peace and prosperity. When the demons returned, civilization collapsed into a semi-feudal structure. The farmers in the small towns on the edges have maintained wards that the city people have lost, and visa versa. In the city only warders know the symbols, In the country everyone knows them but clearly there are those with a stronger aptitude for constructing them. In the city placement of the wards is a science of geometry, trigonometry and physics. In the country you eyeball them in, or maybe use a straight stick to get the lines matched up.
There are three characters whose stories are told. Arlen, who is a master warder in a small town that would never recognize that. He is young, and brash, and talented and wants to learn about the times when men would fight the demons. He feels betrayed by the father he used to admire and runs away, eventually to the city. He wants to become a Messenger and travel the spaces between the towns looking for hints of the past.
Leesha’s family is at best verbally abusive. She’s a very bright girl with a strong ethic. Humiliated by her mother and the man her mother expects her to marry, she runs to the old herbalist for refuge. The old woman takes her as an apprentice and reveals records and secrets that the wise women have kept since before the demons returned.
Rojer is an orphan survivor of a demon attack. His father was the inn-keeper who let the wards around the inn deteriorate. At the time of the attack the inn was housing a Jongleur, a traveling player often found in the company of Messengers. In spite of himself, the Jongleur takes on the responsibility of the small boy and raises him in the trade. Rojer was crippled in the attack, losing a few fingers off of one hand to a demon bite. He doesn’t make a very good juggler, but he has a surprising skill with the violin.
I realized I was looking at a series when I was past the middle of the novel and the three had yet to meet up. When they finally do it is the demands that each of them makes upon the others, as well as the need each of them has for the others that allows them all to recognize what they have become in the course of the story.
This is the coming of age piece for all three of these characters. At the end of the novel the demons still rise and the world hasn’t changed. But the three characters have. We’re not sure where they are going next, but we know that there will be work for all of them. They have each come into their own and they live in “interesting times”.