Fiction Reviews

The Painted Man

(2008) Peter V. Brett, Voyager, 14.99, hrdbk, 544pp, ISBN 978-0-007-27613-4


This is a first novel, although the author has been raised on fantasy, comic books and Dungeons & Dragons and has written fantasy stories before (unpublished, presumably). Brett has created a world in which, every nightfall, demons or 'corelings' (as in, from the core of the Earth) materialise with the sole desire to kill and consume any living thing, human or animal. There are varying kinds of demon, e.g. fire, wind, wood, sand; a particular side effect in the hamlet where we start are fires caused by demons which can obliterate a village and kill inhabitants, quite aside from the demon predation itself. The majority of people shut themselves away every night behind rune-warded doors and windows. The knowledge of warding has deteriorated over the centuries, and in some places is almost a lost art, particularly in the efficacy. There is also a female-based herb/healing lore which has some demon-offensive applications.

The book has three main characters who we follow from childhood, into their young adulthood and eventual meeting up with each other. I am relieved to say that we do not have a bunch of irritating and/or foolish youngsters, as some SF/Fantasy writers seem prone to give us. These young people and, in fact, the whole cast of the novel are well-written, believable and realistic. Because travel is so dangerous, especially when requiring a night outdoors, they have a messenger corps who are particularly brave, adventurous types, who have undergone training and carry portable wards in order to travel safely, carrying goods and information from place to place. These are frequently accompanied by 'jongleurs' who entertain using various skills, but who also tell stories and news everywhere they go.

Brett gives us cultures and societies (reflecting the differences between hamlet- and city-life) in fully realised, plausible detail. Everyone lives in fear, and in some degree of decline, which our three young people grow up determined to do something about. Although this story could have easily been stretched to a series of novels, and certainly could be continued from where this book ends (like one of those successful TV series that goes on too long), it does not and I admire that. Instead we have an excellent, well-thought-out book with a brilliant concept, good dialogue, humour, action and suspense, with moments I actually found quite moving. An extremely enjoyable read.

Susanna Witch

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