Saturday, June 26, 2010

A book review: The Painted Man

As I mentioned it in my recent post(s), this week I am on vacation, so I though I would be able to enjoy my books in the "old way". Meaning, reading whole day. Unfortunately, I was constricted by the fact that I had only one book at home. I didn't want to do a reread, mostly because one week is not enough for that, and also, I'm saving rereading of "The Wheel of Time" for fall and "Malazan Book of the Fallen" for winter. That reminded me, announced a reread of "MBoF" few months ago, like they have it for "WoT", but it's very, very late.
But, let's get back to the book in the topic. It was "The Painted Man" (or, in some countries, "The Warded Man"), a first novel by Peter V. Brett. I am usually skeptic about first novels, but the second book, "The Desert Spear", was published recently. Reviews say that, even though it's not as good as first, is still very good. Also, I mentioned it before, I'm in a phase when I want classical high fantasy, and reviews agree with this. One more reason for buying it was that this will be a trilogy and the last book is announced for next year, so I would not have to wait long if I liked it.

I bought a paperback edition, which fooled me a bit. Judging from the size, I expected 1000 or near-so pages, but it has only 550 pages. Another my expectation about this book that proved to be false was that it is based on Tibetan mythology. Reason for this misconception was that some review on Amazon that I have read few months ago mentioned "Tibbet's Brook", which is the name of birth-village of the main character. This half-remembered name and mention of demons convinced me that the world is based on Buddhism, but I was wrong.

Now, to the book. It features the world where humanity of losing three-hundred-years long war against demons. There exist only seven cities and multitude of small villages, although the world was covered with civilization once. People struggle for survival during the day and keep themselves locked in their houses during the night. Because, night is time for demons. There are six well-defined species of demons, and their sole passion is killing and eating humans (although, they will attack animals if they have chance). Only protection humanity has are protective wards. People draw, chisel or imprint these wards in circles about their houses (and even towns) to protect themselves from the night. But, even the slightest mistake can mean the death of whole household, or even whole village. People accept this situation as their reality, which is encouraged by the Church, and live in constant terror of the night. Only people who dare travel longer distances are Messengers, who are paid very well for their effort. And only in the southern city of Krasia (based on Islam), people still try to fight demons instead covering in terror.

There are three main characters in the book. Most prominent one is Arlen. At the beginning of the book, he is eleven years old boy living in before-mentioned village of Tibbet's Brook, small hamlet of few hundreds souls. He will live trough a personal trauma and have a close encounter with demons. But, instead making him fearful of them, it will only serve to ingrain him with strong yearning for freedom. He will have a chance for it when he finds himself in the City of Miln, as an adopted son of a Messenger.

Leesha is some thirteen year old girl at the beginning. She lives in Cutter's Hollow and her only wish is to finally become a woman and marry her betrothed. But a series of coincidences will show her the dark side of human nature and strip her of her naivety. On the other hand, it will broaden her viewsApprenticeship under Bruna, an ancient Herbalist, although not wished for in the beginning, will give her a chance of a life she never dreamed of and bring her to the fortified City of Angiers.

And Rojer, who is only three years old kid at start, is character with least coverage in the book. After losing his parents in attack of demons, he will find himself in care of successful, but selfish, Jongleur Arrick. He will also find out that this is not an easy life, especially when you run out of luck.

Story is told in three phases, with few years skip between. First part describes Arlen's and Leesha's life as kids, second some of their training, and third is about the main plot-line of the book. And I believe that this second part is the weakest part of the book. Or to explain it better, it's best, but too short. I think I am not the only one who likes to read about apprenticeships and trainings of heroes-to-be (just look at success of "The Name of the Wind") and this part is mostly skipped here. Though, there is a nice part of book describing Arlen's training to become a Warder and his teen years, but I most certainly wouldn't mind additional hundred of two pages more about it.

Development of main characters in character and skill is probably the strongest part of the book, next to the unique world. Leesha and other Herbalists reminded me to village Wisdoms from "The Wheel of Time" world. Arlen is very likable character, with emotional scars that I think anybody can empathize with. Leesha also, you just must admire her strength, but also feel sorry for her sacrifices. Rojer is somewhat less likable, but also very believable character. He is sometimes selfish and coward, but manages to express and even realize his good intentions occasionally.

There is lot of mentions of sex in the book. Nothing too explicit, but the book deals with some disturbing themes like raping and incest. On the other hand, I can't say this is very violent book, even though a good portion of it describes fighting against demons. It just that violence it mild, if I have to put it in one word.

To summarize, I liked "The Painted Man" very much. It is not a best book that I have ever read, but it has a nicely imagined world with good potential and some strong characters. Story was intense and made leaving this book for the night hard. Nice book for the time between your favorite series, especially if you like lots of action and fighting in your books.

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