WHEN THE SUN SETS THE NIGHT BELONGS TO DEMONS
The Painted Man
(The Demon Cycle, Book 1)
Peter V. Brett
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Format: Paperback, 560 Pages
Date: 31st January 2013 (First Published 2008)
For three centuries humanity has lived in fear of the setting of the sun, for dusk marks the rising of the demons from the earth―to spend the hours of darkness slaughtering anyone and everyone they can find. The only protection against the ravenous hordes from the Core are magical, defensive wards to keep the demons at bay until the sun rises once more. For one young boy, a life of cowering inside warded habitations at night, hoping not to be torn to pieces, is no life at all. Inspired by ancient tales of a time when humanity successfully waged war against the demons, killing the seemingly unkillable with the long lost knowledge of offensive wards, Arlen Bales resolves to one day take the fight to the denizens of the Core, once again.
The terrifying premise at the heart of The Painted Man (aka The Warded Man) is one that author, Peter V. Brett, really makes the most of. The depiction of the nightly terror experienced by the dwindling human population of his world is genuinely frightening, and it’s made abundantly clear, very early on, that readers should be wary of getting attached to any characters because almost anyone can die, or come to harm, at any time. As a result, there is a pervasive sense of peril that will cause many readers to fear for the safety and well-being of all the main characters.
Brett’s world building, particularly in relation to the lore that is so integral to the plot, is the most impressive aspect of the book. It’s imaginative and well conceived, making it very easy to become immersed into both the world and the story being told. There’s no question the author invested a lot of time and thought into the creation of his setting, and this is evident in the distinctive cultures and lifestyles of the various locales depicted. And though not every mystery about how this world came to be in the state in which it is in is answered, the author reveals enough to ensure readers aren’t left frustrated―with the promise of further answers to come in the next book in the series.
The story utilises a multiple third person viewpoints narrative, following three child protagonists over the course of several years. Consequently, the story can feel a little disjointed at times because the three characters, Arlen, Leesha and Rojer, and their respective journey’s, aren’t always equally compelling. So, on occasion, the transition from one character’s story to another’s will potentially stir feelings of annoyance in some readers. This issue is certainly more pronounced during the first two acts of the book on account of the three characters not crossing paths with each other until much later in the story, though, in truth, it is specifically the narrative of the youngest character, Rojer, that proves to be the weak link. He simply isn’t as interesting as either Arlen or Leesha, so the transition to him frequently feels egregious because very little of significance would have been lost by excising his storyline from the book, completely.
It is actually the case that many of the most interesting characters of the book are minor, supporting characters, some of whom could have made compelling protagonists, so the author’s decision to focus on three child characters seems like a strange choice with so many stronger adult characters at his disposal. That said, it’s worth stating that since the story takes place over the course of years, the protagonists obviously don’t remain children for the duration.
In spite of the excellent premise of the book, and the mostly strong characterisation, The Painted Man has one notable flaw that ultimately prevents it from rising above being merely a good novel: it is entirely predictable, pretty much throughout. For many readers this is a criticism that won’t likely detract from their enjoyment of the book. But for those who prefer to read a story without knowing with certainty where the narrative is heading, the lack of unexpected twists and surprises may prove a source of disappointment.
Nonetheless, The Painted Man is a truly engaging fantasy tale―epic in scope―with a generous dose of horror, that successfully does what every first book of a series needs to do: entice readers into wanting to read the second book. The world, and the characters who inhabit it, has been well established by the author, as has the high stakes at play for the protagonists. All that remains is for the sequel to build upon this very solid foundation by advancing the story, further elucidating the history of the conflict between humanity and the demons, and maybe throw in the odd, unexpected twist to make the narrative less predictable.