I’m slightly hindered in my choice of Book Nook topics this week, as I’m currently packing to move out of college for the summer holiday, and have already taken most of my books home! So, a traditional (but negative) book review for you this week, on one of the few things I have left with me: Peter V. Brett’s The Desert Spear.
The Desert Spear is the second book in the project quintet The Demon Cycle (begun with The Painted/Warded Man). I picked this up for £3 from a second-hand bookshop last month, having read The Painted Man in April last year – it should be clear from the time gap that I wasn’t thrilled enough with the first book to rush out and buy the second immediately, but I was interested to see how the story continued.
A bit spoilery for both The Painted Man and The Desert Spear.
To provide some background, the world of The Demon Cycle is plagued by ‘corelings’ or ‘demons’, which stalk the earth after dark, meaning that all humans have to stay inside, hiding behind defensive wards. The first book was set entirely in the North of the world, focusing on the inhabitants of a typical magical-Medieval European village setting, and how they defend themselves from the demons. The main characters were Arlen, the titular Painted Man, Leesha, a feisty healer, and Rojer, a Jongleur; where The Desert Spear deviates from this is in devoting the first third of the book to the backstory of Jardir, supposedly the Big Bad Ruler of a magical-Middle East warrior society, and then bringing him into the North and focusing on their interactions, with the demons being somewhat sidelined.
I was disappointed by The Desert Spear. I didn’t adore The Painted Man, but I did find the concept of the demons and the lifestyle of the travelling bards very interesting. However, much of that was dispensed with in the second book, which meant that the elements of Brett’s writing that I didn’t like were far more noticeable. I found the backstory of Jardir to be slightly tedious, in part due to the lacklustre, lazy world-building of the psuedo-Muslim warrior society, and in part due to the fact that his rise to power felt like some sort of motivational montage: youngest ever to be accepted into this, weedy looking but quickly becomes top dog in that, accepted here, gosh, you’re how old?, becomes first among warriors, blah blah blah. I never felt like there was any struggle, especially once he’d ditched his fat sidekick and gained a wife with prophetic powers. I spent most of this section feeling like I’d seen it all before, and longing to get back to the North to find out how the original characters were getting on.
Once there, though, I wished I were back in the magical-Middle East! I was pleased that the brutalised English names took a back seat; I got very annoyed in The Painted Man with the endless string of Steaves and Mairys and Ernys and Lorrens. However, as I’ve mentioned, we also lost a lot of things that were keeping me going: inventive ways to kill demons (Arlen just gives everyone magical weapons) and the bardic life (Rojer has settled down in Cutter’s Hollow), for two big ones. I dislike feeling like what I’m reading is filler build-up for a global war – war with demons, relatively interesting at least, but war with the East? Boring. Jardir’s political manoeuvring didn’t achieve much, Arlen’s journey around the villages of the North is ongoing, and although the introduction of a higher echelon of demons is a good addition, I felt like their five or so appearances were very much building up for a future event.
From a feminist point of view, I also hate Brett’s female characters, and indeed the way he treats them. Literally every major female character (and 2 out of 3 of the main male ones) have been raped and abused as their backstory, and not in a misguided attempt to show the realism of the world (a la GRRM), but with a rather voyeuristic tone. Brett makes all the characters dwell deeply and often on the sexuality, sexual availability and “status” as rape victim of the female leads, and this is sickening to the point where I began to skim conversations that looked like they were heading in that direction. I understand that medieval Europe was a dangerous place for young women, but this is not a sensitive portrayal of those issues, but an exploitation.
Essentially, while I feel like the poor writing of The Painted Man was pulled through into readability by Brett’s innovation, The Desert Spear suffered greatly from the lack of it’s predecessor’s exciting elements, letting it fall down into slushy, poorly-characterised global war fantasy, which I really dislike. I don’t think I’ll be continuing with this series.
Sorry for such a negative review, guys, I know it’s not a cheerful sort of thing to read. I’m really looking forward to getting home to my book piles and having a bit more choice in books! Anyway, have you read this? What do you think?