What separated The Warded Man from the detritus of epic fantasy was that it was written with intent. Not only intending to tell a wide ranging and intricate fantasy story, Peter Brett wrote a novel about fear, and terror, and how people respond under those circumstances. At least partially inspired by the events of September 11, 2001, it’s my contention that the positive response to his first novel had more to do with that resonance, and his execution of it, than any particular fantasy epicness. It would also be my contention that the progression of the narrative, beyond that theme, has fundamentally diluted that theme, leaving subsequent volumes to rely far more on how effectively they engaged as epic fantasy.
By that statement I’m not implying that there’s something wrong with Desert Spear, Brett’s follow up to the Warded Man. It is in many ways a better book, but Arlen can’t always be the brave boy daring to go into the night, and his father can’t always be too afraid to save his wife. As Arlen grows in power, along with his foil, Jardir, they spread knowledge, inspiring more and more denizens of Brett’s world to challenge their fear. The thematic discussion, and allegory to 9/11, have been put more to the side as the characters and world develop. It’s with that backdrop in mind that I began The Daylight War, Brett’s long awaited third installment (of five) to his Demon Cycle.
The Desert Spear, Brett’s second novel, began with a lengthy look at the life of Jardir, one of the more vilified figures from Warded Man. Through this section, he tells somewhat the same story through another point of view to demonstrate that reality is merely a question of perspective. Brett applies a similar strategy in Daylight War using Inevera, Jardir’s wife, and ostensibly the “villain-behind-the-man” in Desert Spear. This newest novel reveals her reasons behind her seemingly cold blooded machinations, resulting in a more sympathetic outlook.
Of course, the result of that “perspective” is a look inside the Krasnian society (patterned off Middle Eastern and Asian cultures), which, truth be told, puts women in some objectionable roles. There are moments throughout the book where I cringed, confronting the outmoded gender roles. Reminding myself that Brett’s narrative is informed by his characters’ bias helped, but I found myself realizing that I no longer find much enjoyment in reading these kinds situations or perspectives. Enjoyment doesn’t equal interest though, and all the Inevera sections are riveting, a testament in my eyes to Brett’s talent as a writer.
In a change from Desert Spear, Brett divvies up these “flashbacks” throughout the book. One of the most frustrating aspects of the previous novel was the huge amount of time before the reader caught up with his favorites. Fans will be pleased to see plenty of Arlen, Renna, Rojer, Leesha, and Jardir from early on, making a novel that paces much more like Warded Man.
Above I described that Desert Spear was more reliant on being fantasy, and the same holds true of Daylight War. Brett pulls back additional layers of his world in this novel, revealing the secrets of the Krasnian women and the world of demon-kind inside the core. He powers up his characters to inhuman levels and sets them against one another and the adversary. All of it leads to explosive conflicts at a scale unseen thus far in the series, all while promising even larger things to come. As a critical reader I wonder how Brett will maintain a sense of wonder and hold his characters at risk as they continue to progress, but I never lack for interest in finding out.
All told Daylight War is excellent epic fantasy–one of the most compelling in recent memory–albeit no longer as successful at discussing the esoteric ideas of Warded Man. However, as it drew to a close on the final page, he asks a question of his reader. What will a man do when confronted with an impossible choice? That question manifests as a massive cliffhanger, something many will find inexcusable. For me it’s quite the opposite. It’s a promise that Peter V. Brett is finding his way back to the crux of the questions he began with in The Warded Man. If he chooses to continue down that path, the Demon Cycle will be long remembered.