This review marks a celebration of sorts for me – two years ago on the 29th of July, this blog was born with my review of Peat’s excellent debut, The Painted Man.
Beginning this blog was something that had opened so many doors and put me in touch with so many wonderful people -fellow SFF fans and bloggers, editors, agents, etc- and it’s absolutely great to be able to review Peat’s second novel on the blog – if it wasn’t for his book, and for the fact that Louise-Meny Gilbert at Jonathan Ball Publishers had a spare ARC, this blog would probably never have appeared anywhere. So, thank you, Peat, and thank you, Louise! I also have to thank Nicky (also at Jonathan Ball) for arranging a copy of The Desert Spear for me to review – thanks Nicky!
Let’s get into the review, shall we?
Since The Desert Spear has been reviewed on plenty of blogs and has been on sale for a while (as well as enjoying four reprints in the UK) I’m not going to give you a plot introduction – you should all know by now that this novel is the continuation of the story that began in The Painted Man.
At the end of that novel the residents of Cutter’s Hollow employed wards and courage (thanks to the The Painted Man’s example and knowledge) against a force of demons. The Battle of Cutter’s Hollow marked a turning point for its residents as well as for the rest of humanity, because it finally became clear to the people who lived in fear of the nights and demons that they could fight against the demons instead of hiding and hoping for survival. We were also left with the ominous knowledge that a man known as the Deliverer, wielding the Spear of Kaji, was marching out of the Krasian desert toward what used to be known as Thesa.
The Desert Spear opens with this Krasian Deliverer, Jardir, and in my opinion it was the perfect place to kick off this novel. You see (and I’m sure most of you will agree), after reading The Painted Man, I didn’t like Jardir. I thought he was an asshole, to be precise. The man pretends to befriend the character we’re most rooting for and betrays him, stealing from him and leaving him for dead. I was pleased (and intrigued) when I heard that Jardir would be getting his own POV sections in The Desert Spear, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Getting to really know Jardir was definitely one of the many highlights of the novel for me – not only do we get to witness how he came to be the most powerful man in Krasia, but also how he thinks, what kind of morality drives him, etc. Jardir is a hero to his people, just as The Painted Man is to the people of Cutter’s Hollow, but he is also a leader, and in growing into this leader Jardir shines and practically eclipses The Painted Man. I don’t mean that to say that Peat neglected Arlen in this novel; rather, he did something amazing – he made me wonder if there’s a chance that Arlen isn’t the Deliverer! Suffice it to say that Jardir has now become one of my favourite characters in The Demon War series, and that I’m rooting for him, too.
Through Jardir I also came to understand the Krasian’s better – these are a hard, extremely focused and proud people with their own flaws and virtues, and it was easy for me to understand just how they came to be (and revel in being) the warriors that they are. It also raised the interesting question for me: who would I rather have at my back – the Northerners (the people in Fort Rizon, Lakton, Cutter’s Hollow, Tibbet’s Brook, etc) who are more like the people we know and understand in our own lives, or the Krasians? Would you rather stand against the Night with people you can relate to (even if they have no idea how to fight) or people who’s ways would horrify you (even though they are, to a man, amazing fighters)? It also brings up the realization of the differences in cultures and that it is too easy to see the differences and, in many cases, too difficult to appreciate the differences.
Another character that was handled really well was Leesha Paper; Leesha passed through the flames in The Painted Man to emerge as a strong-willed, level-headed leader, and in The Desert Spear she learns to accept her place and role in this new world. Peat handles her skillfully, taking her through the types of situations we could find ourselves in – being in charge, making sure everything runs well, keeping a cool head when those around her are ready to start swinging, realizing that she’s negelcting her own needs to see to the needs of others, finding freedom and a semblance of peace because of that realization… She even begins to understand her mother, Elona (my my, what a woman, the kind who would have made mincemeat of Stiffler), and, more importantly, realizes that her own happiness is just as important as teaching and guiding people. Her progression from The Painted Man into the strong, confident woman in The Desert Spear was great to witness.
Leesha’s opposite number, now, Renna Tanner (and I was very pleasantly surprised when I heard that she was one of the POV characters in The Desert Spear) is the epitome of a lost little girl. I wont go into the kind of cruelties and abuses Renna had to live with (one of the many reasons that Arlen never forgot about her) but she’s been through plenty bad stuff, the kind of stuff that would leave scars on anyone. In The Desert Spear, Renna is forced into making a decision, forced to stand up for herself, and that made her the bravest character in the novel – fear had (and probably still has and will) a massive effect on her life, and it was in facing these fears and battling through them, head on, that Renna really blossomed. I’m definitely looking forward to more POVs from her – she’s just now realizing what courage and resolve she has and it’ll be great to see what Peat has planned for her in The Daylight War.
Rojer Halfgrip… well, Peat wasn’t lying about Rojer finally losing his – erm. *cough* Seriously, though, Rojer was great, but I feel that he was, also, Rojer. Let me explain – all the POV characters in the novel work through deep issues (Rojer included) but it was Rojer’s POV that wasn’t as fulfilling as the other character’s POVs – I’m not saying that I didn’t like his POV and didn’t enjoy it; far from it! Rojer just didn’t seem to grow as much as the other character’s did. He seemed to struggle a lot – struggling over his feelings for Leesha, struggling with the difficulty of trying to teach his gift to other musicians, struggling to stand on his own in both Leesha’s and Arlen’s shadows… He does make peace with some of the issues that have been difficult for him to work through, but I just felt that it wasn’t as impressive a arc as what the other characters enjoyed. It doesn’t diminish his status in my eyes, though – he’s still a vital member of the group and an awesome player of the fiddle, and I’m looking forward to seeing him at the head of a squad of fiddlers, advancing on a line of rock demons (not to mention finally getting the girl, whoever it turns out to be)
Before I get to Arlen, three other characters that I really enjoyed –
Inevera, Jardir’s awesome wife; really hope she gets POVs in The Daylight War!
Abban – what a crafty dude, much more intelligent, devious, and patient than what anyone gives him credit for; I’m really looking forward to more from him in The Daylight War.
And finally, Araine; what a lady! I really enjoyed the scenes she completely owned, awesome old girl, and I really hope that Peat brings us more from her.
Now to Arlen: Peat took a risk in The Desert Spear in that Arlen doesn’t get close to the POV-time that he did in The Painted Man – which made total sense, since The Desert Spear, by virtue of the title itself, was probably supposed to focus on the characters sharing the world and the events with. That said, Peat still manages to make sure that Arlen goes on his own journey and that it satisfies. Arlen is having to face some really terrifying side-effects of him tattooing his skin with Wards, and he also has to deal with everyone considering him to be the Deliverer.
The threat of the Krasians marching on the people and places he knows, matched with his relationships with people on both sides, made Arlen’s arc in The Desert Spear really interesting, because it forced him to make choices that he probably wouldn’t have made if he had been left to his own devices. Arlen was forced to begin the process of facing the changes the Ward-tattoos were putting him through, and so discovered ways in which he could use these changes and new abilities. Arlen also returned to Tibbet’s Brook, something I didn’t expect at all, and so met Renna Tanner, the one woman who Arlen could be himself with and the most important link to his past, something that he deeply needed to remember his own humanity.
Even though it wasn’t as much Arlen as I would have liked, it was also exactly the right amount for the story being told, so major kudos to Peat. The scene is definitely set for a major confrontation between Arlen and Jardir in The Daylight War, but if I know Peat, he’ll be surprising us plenty in the next novel.
The new demons that Peat reveals, and the bigger glimpse at their world -not to mention that everyone’s been fighting ‘drones’ for hundreds of years- are absolutely awesome, and am very pleased with the mind demons and the mimics; Peat’s thrown a major barrier against the myriad characters who’ll have to contend with these demons (and the legions that Arlen glimpsed), and it was these reveals that prove to everyone that Peat has a massive story to tell, a story that definitely wont be told in three novels
I’m really looking forward to The Desert Spear – it promises to be full of awesome battles, more mind demons and their machinations, and some great conflict between Arlen and Jardir, Arlen and Leesha and Abban and Inevera. Definitely a MUST-READ as soon as it’s released!
All in all, The Desert Spear was an awesome adventure – Peat took the characters in completely surprising directions but kept them true to themselves, he proved that he doesn’t need battles and war to showcase great conflict, and he managed to make me wonder just who I should be cheering on – an awesome sequel to The Painted Man!
8 / 10
You can order your copies of The Desert Spear here (Amazon UK) and here (Amazon US), and the book is available in South Africa at Exclusive Books branches practically countrywide, but you can also order your copies online from Exclus1ves. Head on over to Peat’s website for a browse – check out wards, artwork, excisions from The Painted Man and The Desert Spear, and much more!
Peat has also agreed to another interview, so look out for that!