Reviewed by Stephen Aryan
The Desert Spear is the second book by relative newcomer Peter V. Brett. This review contains some spoilers for the first book. At the end of the Painted Man there is a noticeable change in the world. The old battle wards have been discovered, Arlen has been transformed and many call him the Deliverer, even if he refutes it. So the landscape has shifted a bit, but if you boil the book down then at its core it’s still about fear. Fear of the dark and fear of what lurks out there. So now there is a fundamental shift in the world, or rather the possibility exists. But of course, people are still divided by their culture, their prejudice, desires and greed. A Deliverer, if not the Deliverer, a figure of myth and legend walks among them, who brings them weapons to fight back and yet, it’s still not enough for most people. Arlen’s approach is to arm people and leave them to fight back by themselves in their own time, but that’s not enough for some people. Just because they now have the weapons it doesn’t mean everyone will use them. The culture in the Free Cities that has existed for many years is to hide at night and wait for the dawn. Breaking that cycle is going to be incredibly difficult for some people as it is deeply engrained in them, whereas others, younger bolder people, eagerly embrace the new and want to be free of their fear.
At the start of the Desert Spear we are introduced to a different view of the world and a new point of view from someone who wants to unify all the people and destroy the corelings as one army. Before I get onto the other character, this idea of unifying the people, be it Deliverer or another, hints at the idea of something bigger happening, a global feel to the book and it becoming an epic fantasy book. Part of what I enjoyed about the first book, but didn’t realise until a few months after reading it, was the local feel of the book. Despite world changing events, it’s about the lives of two boys and one girl. We saw their villages, their daily struggles and the small moments in their lives, as well as the life changing ones, and I was afraid that feeling would be lost in The Desert Spear. Falling back on old business studies adage (Tom Peters or someone said it) Think Global, Act Local. I wanted The Desert Spear to follow this pattern from the first, and thankfully it did.
The person who you are supposed to dislike in the Painted Man is Ahman Jadir, someone who betrays Arlen. He did a harsh thing to Arlen, someone who was his friend and spear brother. Arlen earned their respect and then Jardir turned his back on Arlen and left him in the desert to die. But Arlen lived and that sent him down the path to becoming someone who no longer fears the night, but that accomplishment was also not without its own price.
The Desert Spear starts from Jardir’s point of view and we see his life, progressing from his time as a young boy in training to manhood as a respected warrior. But we also see how he is manipulated by others and by his own desire for greatness. He takes many risks because of what he thinks they will deliver, never fully realising the cost, or feeling the invisible vines that wrap about him, binding him to certain people more tightly than he realised. Eventually he becomes locked on a course of action and there is little he can do to prevent it, despite all his power.
Again we see the most important moments in his life, those that shaped him, in what up to now has been a foreign and mysterious culture that is unwrapped. We are told more about the different classes in the Krasian society, and it is revealed to be a harsh place to live. In the Free Cities the rule is to hide at night, whereas the Krasians fight the demons every single night, despite the fact that they have no warded weapons. They would rather die young than live to be old and frail. They also live in a hot desert land and this has made them into a tough race of warriors. Some aspects of the Krasian culture are harsh, women are mostly second class citizens, apart from the mystics, merchants and those that cannot or will not fight are seen as scum, and there is a lot of kicking and cursing aplenty. Although some aspects of the Krasian culture and religion can easily find their reflection in the real world, I don’t think for a minute this was done to be political or to preach, although I’m sure there are those who will see it that way.
After establishing Jardir and his society, the story progresses in the present, moving between the different points of view with Arlen, Leesha and Rojer coming back into the spotlight again. There are still a lot of questions about the Deliverer and what the future holds for mankind, and there are new complications that I won’t spoil, that cloud the issue further.
The story remains easy to follow but the situation for the characters grows more complex as Arlen and Jardir’s methods for defeating the demons start to intersect and then inevitably clash. The two cultures also meet and at first do not seem to be compatible. There are a lot of differences but also many similarities, and the more time the people spend them together the more they realise this. Ultimately both cultures want to be free of the demons and if they fought as one they would stand a better chance, but of course it’s not that simple. There are many social, political cultural and religious barriers. Faith and belief underline the whole story with talk of the Deliverer and a new future free of the demons.
New elements introduced in this book hint at a larger picture beyond humans as we have our first glimpse at demon culture. There is a lot more going on than has been revealed up to this point, and with so much still to be resolved I was glad to read this series is going to extend to five books rather than trying to cram it in to create a trilogy.
This book proves Brett is a talented author. His characterisation remains consistently strong and interesting and he is very good at pulling the rug out from under your feet and making you reassess what you thought you knew. Nothing is as simple as it first appears and The Desert Spear is peppered with clues about what is to come. It’s an incredibly engaging read and I thoroughly enjoyed it and cannot wait to see what happens next. In many ways it’s not a typical fantasy book, as there are no familiar archetypes, which helps the book and Brett’s voice stand out from the crowd and I highly recommend you take a look.