Continuing the impressive debut fantasy series from author Peter V. Brett, The Desert Spear is book two of the Demon trilogy, pulling the reader into a world of demons, darkness and heroes.
The Deliverer has returned, but who is he? Arlen Bales, formerly of the small hamlet of Tibbet’s Brook, learnt harsh lessons about life as he grew up in a world where hungry demons stalk the night and humanity is trapped by its own fear. He chose a different path; chose to fight inherited apathy and the corelings, and eventually he became the Painted Man, a reluctant saviour. But the figure emerging from the desert, calling himself the Deliverer, is not Arlen. He is a friend and betrayer, and though he carries the spear from the Deliverer’s tomb, he also heads a vast army intent on a holy war against the demon plague… and anyone else who stands in his way.
I really can’t put into words how eager I was for The Desert Spear to be released this year. I loved The Painted Man when I read it last year, and The Great Bazaar short collection just whetted my appetite for it even more. In my eyes there was a lot of pressure on Brett to deliver (no pun intended) a superior novel that would build on the foundations of The Painted Man, but I can’t deny that I had a slight worry that it would fall short of my huge expectations. As soon as it arrived in early April I put everything else to one side to get it read, which I did in a couple of sessions – it’s that enjoyable!
The format Brett used in The Painted Man following the lives of the main characters from childhood onwards is once again present here, but this time we get to see the history of a familiar, but now much more important, character – Jardir, the self-proclaimed Deliverer and leader of the Krasian people. The first couple of hundred pages focus on Jardir and the Krasian culture that is brutal to the core. I knew that this was the case before picking up The Desert Spear and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it. Jardir was a character in The Painted Man that I did not like, he seemed arrogant and uncaring towards Arlen during the time when Arlen used the old combat warded spear. However, these early glimpses into his life made him a character that turned out to be more than I expected, his culture leading him to the man he is.
The Krasian culture that is presented is truly a brutal and unforgiving one. Children are taken from their families at a young age to undergo years of training and practice at fighting the demons, eventually allowing them to take part in the battle and the chance at an honourable death. The treatment of women and outcasts is a stark reminder that this is a most unpleasant culture to grow up in. Brett’s prose is extremely easy to read, and I felt that these subjects were well portrayed given the society. It’s not a nice thing to read about at all, but in context it works and shows us just how unforgiving the Krasian ways are.
Once this back story is done we return to the present with the events of The Painted Man only recently taken place. This is where the pace and format takes a different direction, following each of the main characters – Arlen, Leesha, Rojer and Jardir – as they continue on their respective paths in the world.
Jardir is now taking his army across the desert to the green lands to unite the people of the world under his rule to fight the demons. But it is done in typical Krasian fashion, conquering rather than by diplomatic means. It’s done well and it’s done unforgivingly, Brett not hesitant to use the less favourable aspects of the Krasian society in his narrative. Leesha and Rojer are still at Deliverer’s Hollow, rebuilding and expanding it after the events at the climax of The Painted Man. With Jardir’s army marching on the free cities many travel to Deliverer’s Hollow in the hope of finding a safe place to stay during the strife that is facing the lands, and in doing so cause the village to swell in numbers and struggle to cope with the influx. Arlen is still travelling the land and slaying demons at night, but he’s struggling to come to terms with what he has become, and the discovery of Jardir’s plans do nothing to improve his mood.
While the demons take a back seat to some extent here, there is a very important addition to their numbers – the demon prince. Introduced in the first chapter, it adds another depth to that side of the story and raises many questions about the nature of the corelings. It does feel like a side story due to the main events of the novel, but it’s an aspect of The Desert Spear that works in its favour, adding to the mythos but never quite taking centre stage.
The speed at which the story unfolds is also very different to The Painted Man. Instead of focusing on the important events from the characters past with large leaps forward in time, the story takes a slower approach and takes place over only a few months. While this does slow down the story, it helps it in many ways. We start to get a deeper understanding of the characters and their motivations rather than building them from scratch as happened in The Painted Man. I liked this approach and felt that it enhanced the story rather than detracted from it, building to a climax that will make the third book, The Daylight War, one of my most anticipated books when it gets its release.
Overall The Desert Spear is successful at what it does, building a picture of a world thrown into chaos by an impending war with the Krasians, a war that could not come at a worst time. Brett’s prose is improved this time around and goes to show that he’s not just a one hit wonder. His skill at telling the story is always masterful and at times completely absorbing. I really can’t recommend this highly enough.