It's been a little while since I've done my "literary" segment and I've managed to read a couple of books since tackling the epic tome that was Great North Road. Of course, true to personal style, my scatty writing habits mean I skipped over the last two books I read but not for this one. You see, this is one is by a man I regard as an absolute dude, Mr Peter V. Brett.
Fantasy is a genre that I'm still...getting into, in the context of books anyway. I've always enjoyed it, but the collection of fantasy in my library has always been a bit lacking. The acquisition of The Painted Man was mostly due to going to see Peter V. Brett in person and naturally wanting a book that could be signed by the man himself, but also a further effort in expanding my fantasy collection.
So, to the metaphorical meat of this particular meal, The Painted Man.
We are introduced to a world where demons of various kinds come out at night to terrorise the poor unfortunate humans. The only protection for these humans are magical wards that, if arranged in the proper way, keep the demons from breaching protective barriers. Legend tells of a time where humans also had not only defensive wards, but offensive wards that allowed them to wage war on demons. But three hundred years have passed and the wards have fallen into antiquity. Humans are now clustered in a handful of settlements - a few small hamlets dotted on the roads between the five major cities: Fort Miln, Fort Angiers, Fort Rizon, Fort Lakton and Fort Krasia.
There are three major characters in The Painted Man. The first is Arlen Bales, a young boy from a hamlet called Tibbet's Brook. He has a talent for painting wards (even though not formally trained as a Warder) and a curiosity for how to fight demons - a thing that no one but the fanatical inhabitants of Fort Krasia ever attempt. During his formative years in Tibbet's Brook, Arlen becomes fascinated by the lifestyle of the Messengers, men who travel from city to city (via the hamlets) trading valuable goods and bringing letters to the people. This fascination with the Messenger lifestyle, coupled with an incident that we shan't go into here, leads Arlen to leave Tibbet's Brook and seek out the life of a Messenger in Fort Miln.
Next up in our selection of major characters is Leesha, from the small hamlet of Cutter's Hollow, near Fort Angiers. Her arc sees her finding a talent for being an Herb Gatherer, a profession seemingly only occupied by women and can be described as essentially being a doctor. Previously, Leesha had been "promised" (i.e. engaged) to a boy in Cutter's Hollow, but when he spreads lies about her virtue she shuns the life her overbearing mother wants for her and takes up the life of Herb Gathering, eventually finding her way to the (metaphorical) bright lights of Fort Angiers.
Finally, there's Rojer. Hailing from Riverbridge, this settlement is destroyed in a demon attack when we met Rojer, who at the time is merely a toddler. He his rescued by Arrick Sweetsong, a Jongleur (a profession that appears to be similar to a court jester) working directly for the Duke of Angiers. However, after the destruction of Riverbridge, Arrick loses his commission with the Duke and finds himself with the burden of raising a child. As befits the situation, he trains Rojer in his own profession, though the demon attack did leave Rojer without two of his fingers which means the juggling part of being a Jongleur is a little tricky for him. He does, however, have a significant talent for playing the fiddle.
Through the various arcs of these characters, we are shown the majority of the length and breadth of the world they inhabit, known (very infrequently in the text) as Thesa. We are introduced to the various forms of demon (fire, wind, rock and wood to name the most frequently seen) and the scattered legends and stories of the "Age of Science" that led to the return of the demons from "the Core". Peter Brett uses a narrative style I'm rather fond of and have used myself - multiple major characters, each with their own piece of the puzzle, wandering through the world until a major event brings them together. And what I love about this style is watching these seemingly unrelated people, knowing that they'll be drawn together and watching how far away they get from each other before the inexplicable fates drag them all to the same place.
Okay, so this is the awkward phase of things. The honest opinion moment. I cannot deny that I enjoyed this book. I really did. Just not...overwhelmingly. Which confuses me, because as I mentioned on several occasions in my post about meeting Peter Brett, the man is a frakkin' dude. I guess, if I had to give it a rating out of ten (this will not become a tradition!) I'd mark it as a seven. This book is definitely worth reading. It's a good book. I just feel bad that I wasn't as wowed by it as I was by the man. BUT. And this is in capital letters because it's real important. The Painted Man is but the first in a series. And the finale definitely picked up the pace and opens some very interesting doors. I look forward to going through the doors when I reach The Desert Spear, book two, as I trudge through my ever growing list of books to read. Honestly. Went out and bought seven more books the other day. It's something of an addiction I suspect.
Until then...I hope you do read this book, in spite of my apparent underwhelmed reaction. It is really rather good and the man who writes these books is really rather awesome and I would like for people to keep him in business.