Some have said that The Desert Spear has all the same components (good and bad) from The Warded Man, only more. I think that’s an apt description. In the second installment of the Demon Cycle, Peter V. Brett expands the scope of his story, spending more time on his pseudo Islamic/Samurai culture (Krasnians) and offering the demon’s point of view for the first time. He brings new characters into the fold and expands the reader’s understanding of his magic system and world. Despite some persistent problems that return from the first novel, Desert Spear is a delightful read that calls to mind the great epic fantasies of years gone by.
The novel begins through the point of view of Jardir, the Krasnian leader so vilified in Warded Man. Structured much like the first novel, Brett jumps through different points in time to tell the story of Jardir’s childhood and rise to power without losing track of his holy war of unification against the north. Later, Arlen, Leesha, Rojer, and a new point of view character, Renna, reconnect to the story as they struggle to confront the encroachment of the Krasnian army.
If that brief summary lacks in plot movement, it’s because there isn’t a ton. Desert Spear is a middle book in the tradition of Empire Strikes Back. In order for the war between Krasnia and the north (and humanity and demon-kind) to happen, Brett needs to get all his chess pieces in the proper place. It requires him to show Jardir’s motivations, setting him up as the foil to Arlen. Two Deliverers on a different end of the same continuum — one representing a universal world view and a united front, the other an ideal of self-sufficiency and independence.
Critics might think by looking inside Jardir’s head, Brett is trying to justify his deplorable actions or even worse, further bastardize non-western points of view. I think it’s more to provide an understanding of Jardir’s motives. I’ve heard Brett speak a few times, and he’s said that his novels are in many ways an expression of the fear he witnessed on September 11. A New Yorker in the city that day, he watched as some ran toward the towers, others ran away, and others froze, unable to do either. If the demons and humanity in Brett’s world are that paradigm writ large, then I can’t help but wonder if Jardir is an embodiment of both those who attacked America that day and the nation’s reaction to that threat.
That’s not to say that Brett is in anyway condoning Al-Qaeda or the war on terror — I suspect he doesn’t much care for either — but I found the early parts of the novel, and every scene with Jardir there after, an exercise in cultural understanding. As incompatible as the Krasnian way of life is to Arlen and Leesha, their’s is equally as foreign to Jardir. Brett seems to be speaking to those differences and through Jardir he reaches a hand out to bridge the cultural gap that only willful understanding can span. Could Brett be wondering aloud that, ‘if we could see through each other’s eyes would this violence seem so necessary?’ In that dialogue, Desert Spear is a far more powerful novel than its predecessor. A better novel though? I can’t go that far.
Brett’s a big deal in the
What Desert Spear gives in thematic oomph, it gives back nearly as much in terms of pacing and character. The early sections with Jardir drag as Brett covers some of the same ground witnessed at the end of Warded Man. Likewise, returning to a childhood story feels like starting over after growing up with Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer in the first book. Leesha gives me particular pause as her character has yet to feel real to me two books into the series. I would call her actions unsupported by her character, but I can’t because I don’t find her remotely believable in the first place. Arlen, Rojer, and Renna all feel much more authentic, but the first two stagnate throughout the novel as they wait for the plot (Jardir) to catch up to them.
That paragraph is awful critical, which is perhaps unfair. None of my quibbles impacted my enjoyment of the novel beyond a raised eyebrow or three. Brett’s action sequences and dialogue continue to impress me, and I never lack for a crystal clear picture of his characters and setting. Additionally, the tighter narrative and thematic focus (i.e. – not foaming at the mouth with unnecessary digressions) continue to elevate it, doing nothing to dispel my assertions that the Demon Cycle may one day be considered on par with The Wheel of Time and other fantasy icons.
I devoured The Desert Spear, compelled to know more about Peter V. Brett’s world. Why do demons plague the night? Who is the true Deliverer? Are the wards more than they seem? I dare anyone to read it and not demand those answers. To anyone who enjoyed The Warded Man, this second novel will provide more to love. A third installment, The Daylight War, is due to be released in 2013. I’ll be at the front of the line to see what happens next.