I never read this series before, even though it’s usually on must-read fantasy lists and it came out in 2009. But of course it’s never too late to start reading a book (one of the best things about them, probably – it’s like reaching back through the years). My brother told me he was going to start reading it and because we have never really read in sync before, this was the perfect opportunity to change our ways. I do have to admit that I read this so fast, I was done by the time my brother had gotten around to the first few pages. But I have to wait a few more days until book 2 comes in, so he’ll have time to catch up.
Onto the book! The Warded Man is that classic epic fantasy that starts of with three unrelated children who have their separate storylines. They grow up, experience the things that shape their personalities and eventually find their way to one another to do what must be done: in this series, to rid the world of corelings. I don’t mind the set up one bit. I loved delving back into epic fantasy after reading a lot of YA, and the familiar paces of the story made me feel like I was coming home. Now, if you’ve been reading a lot of epic fantasy this might be a bit more-of-the-same for you, but on the other hand – the story itself is still plenty compelling despite the known tropes.
I enjoyed Arlen’s storyline the most. He is the titular character and he is the epitome of the coming-of-age kid in fantasy. Clever, full of fight and ready to question the status quo. The sequence in which he saves his mother had me on the edge of my seat, really showing his resourcefulness. As he grows up, it is the one thing that he lives by: he will fight the corelings and deliver the people. About halfway through the book, when he is an adult and makes an important discovery, he realises that he kind of wants to be seen as the hero.
I enjoyed Leesha’s storyline just as much, and we spend ample time with them to really get invested in their characters before switching back. I come from a judgmental small town myself, and I really felt for her. I admit I liked Gared at first, I could see her settling down and her wanting that future, blending into the village in a way she never could before. But Leesha is as principled as Arlen is, and she will stand up for what is right even if everything comes down around her. What immediately struck me about Peter V. Brett’s writing is that he talks a lot about women (succesfully) protecting themselves from rape and having the right to do with their bodies as they please – even if it means sleeping around with any man you can find. You do not often see that reflected in a man’s writing.
I had the least of a connection to Rojer. I don’t know if that is because I don’t like his character much (and I don’t), or if we just didn’t get to spend enough time with him. He has far fewer chapters than Arlen and Leesha, and he is a bit different from the other two. Rojer is very much a liar and a cheat if necessary, and he is far more self-absorbed. He is also a lot younger than the other two, so there is a lot to forgive here. You could even say that Arlen and Leesha are too much alike, and that Rojer makes a welcome change.
The main reason I’m not giving this book 4.5 or even 5 stars, is because of the strange jump near the end of the book. We leave Arlen realising he has to let go of his need to be a hero, and to choose a lonelier path by giving service and succor – not seeking glory. But when we get back after another time jump, everything has changed. Normally, we would get a jump to a significant time in which something is about to happen for our main characters. This time, it has already happened and it feels disconnected. Arlen is VERY different from what we remember. Leesha, who has protected her maidenhood so vehemently, is raped soon after the story starts up again and it’s mentioned after the fact at the beginning of a new chapter – it really feels as if you’re missing a big section of the book.
After all the slow build up, watching these kids grow up, I don’t think they should have met in The Warded Man already. It felt hurried, and a bit forced for the sake of the grand battle at the end. I would have liked to give Leesha more time to return to her village and face her demons, rather than face actual demons. I really would have liked more time to build Arlen’s character. Why is he so changed? He is hardly recognisable, and I was mourning the loss of that idealistic boy far too much to enjoy the final battle.
His romance with Leesha also felt hella forced. We as readers know how well suited they are because they are much alike, but with Arlen so different and Leesha freshly raped, that kiss-and-tumble in the woods was just… wrong. This should have built up very slowly over the course of the next book or so, instead of this disconnected get together and then telling each other they love one another. You don’t even know each other and Arlen is not exactly the nice boy next door any more! Arlen’s transformation because of eating the demon flesh also could have used far more words. I would have loved to see him realising the effects and worrying about losing his humanity.
In short, I adored every bit of this book, right until the disconnected time jump at the end. From there on out, I felt almost another book should have been in between to get us there. After the satisfyingly slow build up of all three characters from kids into adults, I don’t see why Peter V. Brett chose to do this the way he did. Maybe his editor wanted him to finish with a bang to compel readers to continue reading. It’s possible you might not be bothered by it, but I was. Yet, I am very curious about the next books in the series. There are five in total and I have no idea what he’s going to add to fill them. I do know I can’t wait for book 2 to arrive.