I started reading this book without knowing anything about it other than the premise. It’s been hundreds of years since the demons returned to ravage the world. The demons only come at night and this situation has left humans isolated in their respective cities and heavily reliant on wards to repel their demonic adversaries. The Warded Man is truly different from what I thought it would be based on the cover. I honestly thought it would be a plot-driven book featuring one badass main character to focus on right from the start until the end; I was pleasantly surprised by how wrong I was. I never expected this book to be a multi character-driven fantasy, which I truly adore.
The plot unfolds really slowly. I know some readers can be disheartened by the pacing of the first 30% of the book as I find Brett’s storytelling style isn’t linear; it’s a bit unconventional. The story is told from the perspectives of three main characters and as soon as a character’s POV was about to get interesting, Brett immediately switched the narrative to another character. Some readers will find the pacing to be even slower because of this; however, I personally loved it. Brett really took his time developing the characters meticulously from their childhood to adulthood.
“Welcome to adulthood." Cob said. "Every child finds a day when they realize that adults can be weak and wrong just like everyone else. After that day, you are an adult. Like it or not.”
The Warded Man is after all, at its core, truly a character-driven coming of age tale. The characterization of the three main characters, Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer, is excellent. Reading about their struggles, convergence, and eventual determination to not succumb to the harsh world they live in is something I thoroughly enjoyed. Plus, the book also has a lot of similarity to The Name of the Wind—which is another favorite of mine—with its coming of age tale with tragic tone; an intellectual character who loved books; magic learning; and most of all, the emphasis on music.
Picture: Arlen Bales and Twilight Dancers by Dominik Broniek
The world-building is wonderful; Brett provides enough information on the history, magic system, the harsh world, and the variety of demons without being info-dumpy. At the same time, he also left some mystery for the future installments as well. This is truly how the world-building of the first book in a series should be presented. Accompanied with simple and engaging prose, even with the slow pacing, I found that there was always a sense of suspense while reading the book. I was addicted.
I had two minor cons with the book. The conclusion ended too quickly for my taste; a bit more exposition and it would’ve made an even greater, lasting impact. Also, call me nitpicky but I can’t help it, the repetition of a word disrupted my immersion; specifically, the word “succor”. I honestly don’t know why this word really stood out to me, but every time this word popped up I was like, “oh look, it’s this word again.” I feel like Brett could’ve used another replacement for this word, such as help, aid, assistance, or relief.
Overall, The Warded Man, being a debut work and the first book out of five in the Demon Cycle series, is a fantastic debut that every fan of character-driven fantasy should try to read. I’ll be continuing onto the second book immediately after posting this review, maybe even binge-read it all the way if the rest of the series is as good as this first installment. Highly recommended!
“Let others determine your worth and you're already lost, because no one wants people worth more than themselves.”