If you’re unfamiliar with the first book in The Demon Cycle series (The Warded Man, aka The Painted Man), you may very well want to stop reading this post now, as it is impossible to write a review about the second book without referencing the first, and I’d really hate to ruin any of it for you!
The Desert Spear (The Demon Cycle #2)
Author: Peter V. Brett
Version: Amazon Kindle
“The sun is setting on humanity. The night now belongs to voracious demons that prey upon a dwindling population forced to cower behind half-forgotten symbols of power. Legends tell of a Deliverer: a general who once bound all mankind into a single force that defeated the demons. But is the return of the Deliverer just another myth?
“Perhaps not. Out of the desert rides Ahmann Jardir, who has forged the desert tribes into a demon-killing army. He has proclaimed himself Shar’Dama Ka, the Deliverer, and he carries ancient weapons – a spear and a crown – that give credence to his claim. But the Northerners claim their own Deliverer: the Warded Man.
“Once, the Shar’Dama Ka and the Warded Man were friends. Now, they are fierce adversaries. Yet as old allegiances are tested and fresh alliances forged, all are unaware of the appearance of a new breed of demon, more intelligent – and deadly – than any that have come before.”
The Desert Spear picks up shortly after The Warded Man left off and continues to follow the journey of Arlen Bales as he fights the hordes of demons that rise up from the Core to plague the world in which he lives. One of my favorite aspects of this series (the fact that the characters simply are, and whether they are good or bad is determined by the point of view from which the reader is being supplied information) is amplified considerably in this novel, while a majority of the story itself focuses on the rise of a minor supporting character from The Warded Man, Ahmann Jardir, whose pride and quest for glory ultimately led him to betray Arlen. In The Desert Spear, however, we are given a glimpse of things from the perspective of Jardir, whose story begins when he is just a child and continues as he fights his way through the ranks to consolidate and eventually lead the desert tribes, coming right up to the point where he is forced to make the decision to betray his friend in order to ensure the survival of an entire people and possibly the human race as a whole.
Perception, perception, perception.
I will say that it is far more evident that the two factions represented in this novel – the Northerners, or Greenlanders, and the desert tribes – are obviously taken from the Western and Eastern cultures, respectively. The Greenlanders live in sprawling cities and towns with villages scattered along busy roads, they are ruled by dukes and kings, their names are relatively familiar and roll easily off of Western-trained tongues, and they have ideals similar to those of the West during the Late Middle Ages (i.e., the household is the center of family life, women are typically married off in their teens, the greatest demonstration of a man’s power is his material wealth, farming and livestock make up a large amount of village life while guilds dominate a majority of the urban districts, and soldiering is something best left to soldiers and those who have receive specialized training such as Messengers). By contrast, the desert tribes are very insular, highly traditional, and have strict social codes similar to those found in many Asian and Middle Eastern countries: their ruling power resembles a caliphate with a touch of imperial Persian superstition and magic; their names are exotic and musical with emphasis on the male line and progenitor; and they value an entirely different set of ideals (i.e., the family life orbits around the needs of a central male figure, men are expected to be warriors and following any other path for any reason is to bring shame and dishonor to not only himself but his entire family, religion and spirituality are extremely important factors in daily life, power is maintained with brute force, wealth is measured in a man’s strength and how many sons he has given his tribe, and women typically have a single purpose: to carry the tribe’s sons into the world).
The Desert Spear begins with an intense and lengthy look at the latter culture, an introduction which is entirely necessary in order to prevent readers from labeling the Krasians and their allies as the enemies of the novel. The Warded Man was comfortable, it didn’t expect the typical Western reader to stray too far from familiar ideas of how things should be done; The Desert Spear could have been challenging had we not had that inside look of life among the desert tribes – their history, culture, and religious beliefs set the stage for the entire novel, and it’s important that readers understand where they are coming from as a race before leaping to conclusions about their methods, which, it must be said, are ruthless but effective. Ahmann Jardir chooses to become the Deliverer his people so desperately need, taking the warded spear from Arlen and proclaiming himself Shar’Dama Ka in order to gather the tribes and march out to unite the entire human race against the demons. We can understand that – one of us is not as strong as all of us, after all – but the brutality of their unification and their unwavering requirement that those northern lands which fall to their fury be assimilated into their culture is hard to wrap one’s head around: leaders are tortured, all females physically capable to breed are raped in order to provide future warriors, and boys are conscripted into the army and forced to fight demons.
Of course, Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer are all present and accounted for, as well, not to mention Arlen’s promised girl of yesteryear, Renna Tanner. And there are, of course, the demons. So many demons…
Which brings me to a few of my contentions with this novel, all of which are relatively minor, but they do exist and are the sole factors I rated this novel with three yarn balls rather than four.
First is the new breed of demon promised in the summary and all of the blurbs about this novel. The fact is that, short of the first and last chapters, these new demons are absent from the tale. Their brief inclusions in the story are integral, as their existence mirrors that of Jardir and Arlen: two devils for two saviors. And the chapters which include these demons are some of the most intense and action-filled of the entire book. But the summaries make it seem as if these demons will make up a good portion of the story, which they in fact do not.
Second is Brett’s tendency to cater to new readers. I am of the firm belief that people who wish to read a series and simultaneously have a full understanding of every character and situation should begin with the first book in that series, and I become genuinely irritated when an author, rather than rewarding loyal readers by simply continuing the story and building upon the known facts set up in the preceding novels, instead chooses to indulge those who skip ahead by repetitively explaining in great detail those things which were established in previous installments. The Desert Spear is already a long novel with a lot of story to tell, there is absolutely no reason to make it all the longer by halting forward momentum to look back and describe the road we’ve traveled.
And my third and final complaint is a general one pertaining to the women of this series. Brett does a brilliant job describing his world: a journey along a road is described so vividly you can hear the leaves rustling in the breeze, and battles are laid out so well that you can almost scent blood on the air and hear the clash of metal on metal. His races of people are each strikingly different, his demons are creatures of nightmare, and his male characters are striking and believable. But the women of this world have little purpose other than to serve as romantic interests of one sort or another; despite the fact that each of the major female characters possesses some undeniably valuable skill necessary to the war effort, they spend a majority of their time pining over this male character or that or pondering whether the object of their own affections finds them desirable. In fact, the strongest female characters of the series thus far have been an aged old wise woman described as a hag who lives alone and seemingly loveless in a hut in the woods and a grasping, manipulative, back-stabbing, self-serving sorceress.
All things considered, this was a great read and a fitting sequel to The Warded Man, and I fully intend to the read the next installment, The Daylight War.