You may recall my less-than-stellar review of the best-selling first novel in Peter Brett’s Demon Cycle series, The Warded Man. In that review, I complained that there were too many clichés, too many fantasy tropes that felt weak, too little that made the book really stand out as exemplary. There was a significant caveat to those statements, you may also recall. I emphasized that many of the issues I took with the book were most likely caused by the Graphic Audio production, which left me confused more often than not, and generally whitewashed the characters by making nearly everyone a boorish country bumpkin. Ultimately, I found the story beneath the sound effects, accents, and ear-splitting shrieks to be one that I knew I would enjoy if I’d read it myself. I haven’t read The Warded Man on paper yet, but I will, and soon. Why, you ask?
A few weeks ago I was contacted by San-Francisco-based Tachyon Publications, who asked if I’d like to review an upcoming release of Peter Brett’s. The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold contains two novellas from the Demon Cycle, as well as two deleted scenes from The Warded Man. I jumped at the opportunity, and am glad to report that my prediction was entirely accurate. Sitting down and reading the book, I found myself transported in a way that the audio version of The Warded Man was never able to achieve. In these two novellas, I got a taste for how great the “real” thing is, and an understanding of why so many people are so entranced by the series.
In The Warded Man, we meet Arlen as a young man, witness the most pivotal moments in his childhood that set him upon his journey, then meet two other characters, hear about their beginnings, and finally reconnect with Arlan when he’s much older and has already seen much of the world. The novellas in this book are stories from the “between” years, and help to fill in the gap left to the readers’ imagination of a large swath of the protagonist’s life. The author has created a wonderful opportunity for himself in skipping a large chunk of time in the main story: he can expand his world, and build Arlan’s legend through additional stories like these two. They were both great reads.
“Brayan’s Gold” is the story of Arlan’s first overnight excursion as a messenger, and introduces a setting new to readers that had only been implied by The Warded Man. The lore of the world of the Demon Cycle is deceptive in its simplicity. There are demons, that rise from the core (hence the name “corelings”) of the earth every night and terrorize humanity. There are magical wards that can protect humanity from the demons, but the art of warding is largely forgotten, and civilizations basically know enough to get by and survive the nights. As a result the development of society is significantly slowed. Sounds simple, but the simplicity allows Brett to introduce new kinds of demons, new types of wards, and build a depth to the world that seems to creep out of nowhere. The way he makes you believe in the reality of the world, the completion of the illusion, is in the emotional responses of the characters who inhabit the world. For most people, the corelings are a feared enemy, and a good reason to never stray too far from home. For people like Arlan, they’re an obsession to study, and eventually kill.
In “Brayan’s Gold,” we get a taste of Arlan’s youthful thirst to prove himself and learn more about his enemy and how to fight them. He heads up to the gold mining town of Brayan’s Gold to make a delivery of “thundersticks,” encounters treachery and bandits along the way, as well as an entirely new class of demon. He learns new wards there, as well. We also get yet another chance to see his unwavering — and perhaps foolish — courage, which makes him simultaneously lovable and unrelatable in a world so overcome with hopelessness and fear. Wherever he goes, he seems to inspire hope or incredulity, and in this story he leaves a bit of both behind. The action is wonderfully crafted, the characters (though many of them exist only for the brief tale,) are well developed, and the story feels complete. It made me want to read more from that world. Fortunately for me, it was followed by another novella — “The Great Bazaar.”
“The Great Bazaar” takes us back to Krasia, that one area of the world with the “crazy middle easterners” which is, by and large, exactly that. There was just something about reading it that made it feel much less hackneyed than the audio version. In “The Great Bazaar,” we find Arlan, a bit older and more experienced, encountering yet another new kind of demon, and living to tell the tale. His daring is demonstrated again, in the face of this new danger, and he livest to collect his valuable treasure and return to barter it. Where this story gets most interesting is in the point-of-view shift from Arlan to Abban, the Krasian merchant who who befriended Arlan some time before. Abban’s perspective on Kraisa is fresh, and provides insight to what I previously thought of as a very one-dimensional part of the world of the Demon Cycle. Through Abban’s eyes, we see that it is more nuanced, more colorful, and “free” than the initial impression we’re given leads us to believe. Krasia appears to us originally as a male-dominated warrior society with a cruel caste system, and nothing more. And it is that, on the surface. When we ride behind Abban’s eyes, we see that the Krasian society functions on many levels. Castes within castes, if you will. It’s still a bit banal, in a way, but it’s eminently believable with the introduced depth. The most exciting action in “The Great Bazaar” takes place within Krasia, during a robbery orchestrated by Abban and Arlan. With a final twist at the end, “The Great Bazaar” was a splendid read, and perfect counterpoint in setting and character to “Brayan’s Gold.”
The book also includes two deleted scenes from The Warded Man. The first provides fans with the source of the whole shebang — Peter Brett’s first foray into this world, in the form of a short story written for a classroom assignment. It’s pretty good too, despite the (necessary) caveat that it was written in one night, as homework. The second is a moment where Leesha — one of the protagonists in The Demon Cycle — in the course of her studies to become a medicine woman, years-since ostracized by her community for perceived indecency, confronts one of her old friends, whom she discovers is being beaten by her husband. Leesha is a character who is hardened by the cruelty of her world, threatened by demons from without and social constructs from within. No splitting hairs here — this world isn’t kind to women. Leesha is empowered by Bruna, the healer before her, and with the mantle of a healer grows into her own. In this scene we find a Leesha who manages to be impartial and objective, and simply help someone who desperately needs it, despite the difficulties this particular young woman caused her. I can understand why Peter Brett cut it from the final version of The Warded Man, but I was glad to read it here.
The bottom line is that I was on the fence about the Demon Cycle. I went into great detail about that in my review of The Warded Man. These stories helped me fall to one side — the one that’s ready to read more. Now I want to hop into The Desert Spear and keep the momentum going. I highly recommend this to fans of the Demon Cycle. It’d be a bit tough to pick up and digest if you’re new to the world, but not hard enough that you won’t enjoy yourself. An altogether great read.