As darkness falls after sunset, the corelings rise—demons who possess supernatural powers and burn with a consuming hatred of humanity. For hundreds of years the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards—symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile. It was not always this way. Once, men and women battled the corelings on equal terms, but those days are gone. Night by night the demons grow stronger, while human numbers dwindle under their relentless assault. Now, with hope for the future fading, three young survivors of vicious demon attacks will dare the impossible, stepping beyond the crumbling safety of the wards to risk everything in a desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past. Together, they will stand against the night.
I got around to reading this book a few weeks ago because both I and my friend Shannon (@conflictedesire) had copies, and we decided to read them together. As with pretty much everything I read these days, this is a book that I originally picked up in the first place because of a lot of people recommending that I pick it up and read it. The peer pressure can get kinda heavy when you hang out with a bunch of other book nerds.
Unlike the rest of the books they’ve recommended, though, I did not love this one. I’m sorry, Shannon, I really wish we’d picked something better for our first read together.
The book isn’t all bad, of course. It has many of the hallmarks of a standard fantasy, and I can see how, for a certain audience, it would be a good fit. It’s got a strong good versus evil plot, some exciting battles, and the tantalizing hints of more underlying story and a vast, ancient world, that usually draw me into longer fantasy epics, and are what I really enjoy about the genre.
The magic system is pretty cool, a ward-based system where wards drawn by the characters create magical barriers and have other effects on the demons that rise out of the ground every night. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get more specifics of the system, instead being limited to a very vague view of the character drawing “a warding circle”, a task which apparently requires great skill, but of which we know practically nothing. This complaint is probably more due to my personal preference for hard magic systems a la Sanderson, though, and it was a fun magic system overall.
Even without the other issues it suffers from, I found the writing to be a bit simplistic. There is a bit too much telling, and not enough showing, and I felt that several scenes could have done with more of an immersive feeling and less straight-up infodumping. It felt as if the author was only putting some of these scenes into the book to get from the previous action scene that he had written to the next he wanted to write. This, I feel, is probably something that will get much better in the series as it goes on, and, for a first book, it’s not an insurmountable problem. I also found the plot to be straightforward and predictable at times, again, something that usually gets better later in a series.
Unfortunately, I won’t be continuing with this series—not any time soon, certainly. I had much larger issues with the story than just the first-book writing style problems. The largest problem I had with this book was the portrayal of the female characters. Many of the female side characters seem to only be there as objects of desire, someone to be slept with, or saved from the demons. I had hopes at some points of the novel that these problems would be rectified, but they never were. The main culture of the novel respects women only as mothers, which reduces their value to essentially baby-making machines, and places a stigma on any woman unable to have children. When Arlen ventures to another country to visit another culture, instead of being shocked at how the women are treated completely as subservient property, he is only disappointed by how his male friend is treated poorly because he is a merchant and not a warrior. His only issue with being offered a wife—or wives—of his choosing is that he doesn’t want to be tied down.
Leesha, the female viewpoint character of the novel, gave me a bit of hope for a while. Bruna, her mentor, is awesome in many ways, but… Leesha can be best described as miss “Beautiful McBoobs.” She is the constant object of desire of her entire town. At one point, she travels on the road with a man who attempts to rape her. She managed to fend him off… by dosing his dinner every night so that he cannot perform in bed. The book seems to indicate that, even though he pulls her clothes off and does pretty much everything else to her, since he cannot “perform”, everything is fine. (Also, how thick does he have to be to not realize what’s happening?)
There is also rape later in the book, though it is offscreen. I did not feel like the results and reactions to it were handled very well. At all.
In summary, The Warded Man was a book that took a well-worn path that many fantasy novels have taken before, and started off with some cool action and an intriguing magic system. However, I got bogged down by the amateurish writing and, more than anything, the poor treatment of female characters across the board. I give it two of five stars because parts of the plot were enjoyable, but I definitely do not recommend it.