Since I’m always interested in getting a reader’s attention and keeping it, I’m starting a new feature. First Fifty Pages is going to be a simple assessment of the first fifty pages of whatever book I’m reading now. First up, since it’s the book I’m reading now, is Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man (known as The Painted Man in a large part of the world).
Of the main characters, only Arlen is featured, in part because the first fifty pages only gets us through the first two chapters. This isn’t a problem in the least, because there is only the lightest amount of plot at this point. Instead, we get an extended section that could almost work as a novella by itself, connected to later events by sharing the same overall setting.
Immediately, we are thrust into a very simple locale, one I could relate to easily since, like Arlen, I am a farmer’s son who grew up in a farming community. What makes the setting of The Warded Man so different and fascinating is that if anything is going to be done in this world, it MUST happen during the day. There is no threat of thieves at night, spies in the shadows, or anything like that. Society has had ages to acclimate to doing all business during daylight hours only. The threat of the corelings–demons that rise from the ground each night–is so dire that the lingering effects of what they’ve done are simple enough to comprehend, even though they’ve changed things on a variety of fronts.
The first thing that’s changed to a massive degree is that people are never buried when they die, but are instead burned. After all, why would one want to be buried in the same earth that each night gives rise to demons bent on humanity’s extermination? There are still hard deals being made by traders, messengers who come only once a year–though they can be held up for months in some circumstances. There is still joy to be found from a parent’s kind advice to being given a front row seat to watch an entertainer.
There are only slight differences between the world of The Warded Man and our own historical development, that it’s easy to get drawn into the story. What keeps that attention in place is the eventual rise of the corelings, the demons all people must protect their homes and property against nightly. Usually this is done with the wards mentioned in the title, though most of the symbols humanity as a whole can remember are defensive only. Thus, when the corelings strike an advantage and do kill, the loss is even more crippling.
Not only are the corelings powerful and terrifying, they are varied in size, shape, and structure. In many ways, it’s like there’s a separate group of life forms, like fungi or protists, that work as a group to try and exterminate all other animals. And, in a pair of impressive scenes, Brett demonstrates that his corelings don’t just take shape at night and disperse with the dawn, but actually bear the same marks and shape from one night to the next.
I’m looking forward to reading more. This has been a strong start and I find myself relating to the characters with ease and understanding all the elements of their society as it they were truly familiar. While light on plot now, I’m sure the story will strengthen more once the plot asserts itself.