How many times have I complained in recent months that the sequels I've picked up don't live up to their predecessors? Too many times, is the answer. So thank god for Peter Brett's The Desert Spear, the second book in his Demon Cycle Series.
This is a solid continuation of the story begun with the Warded Man, an almost perfect blend of fantasy and horror (my previous review here). That being said, there were still surprises. The story begins with Ahmann Jardir, the leader of the Krasian desert warriors who stole the warded spear Arlen had uncovered in the first book and left him for dead. In this book, we rewind a little bit to show Jardir's life story: being trained as a warrior in a harsh caste-like society, marrying a domineering woman who claims to read the future on demon bones, reclaiming the spear (as he puts it) from Arlen and declaring himself the returned deliverer, and delivering his message to the "greenlanders," impressing the men he hasn't killed in his conquest to fight demons at night while forcing his soldiers on the women during the day to breed more--you guessed it--warriors.
Brett's ability to create vivid characters that you either love or hate is on full display in this book, adding a lot more to the list of people I hate (Jardir's first wife Inevera, Renna Tanner's whole freakin' family), while still treating his previously introduced characters with all the care and attention they deserve. I was frustrated almost all the time with Leesha Paper, the prominent female character and powerful herb-gatherer/master warder in this book. She grows more and more powerful in this volume, eventually becoming the linchpin in Jardir's war on the free cities as he courts her to be his (15th? 16th? I lost count) bride. While seeing her and the wicked witch Inevera butt heads was satisfying, I can't say that Leesha made a whole lot of smart decisions in this book. Though I appreciate the caution she exercised when dealing with murderers and rapists, and she does save her hometown of Deliverer's Hollow from their predations.
But make no mistake - Jardir and his men are murderers and rapists. There seems to be some ambiguity about this in the writing, almost as if the author doesn't want me to come to that conclusion, or at least to come to it hastily - after all, so much time is spent trying to paint Jardir as a sympathetic character. But, as the lowly kafeet Ahben points out, he has failed many a test of character, possibly the worst of which was the theft and "murder" of his friend Arlen, who has become known in the free cities as the Warded Man, proclaimed by them to be the true Deliverer (not self-proclaimed, as Jardir is). This tension was just barely laid out in here: we have yet to see its resolution. When next these two "deliverers" meet, I will be there with bated breath.
Arlen's journey in this book is more of an emotional one, but there's no mistaking that he is becoming more powerful with each passing day, absorbing magic through the wards tattooed into every inch of his skin to combat demons, even while he fears becoming one himself. We get more insight into the core and the inner workings of the coreling princes in this book. The concept that Brett started in the first book has advanced from mindless monsters to calculating beasts with a culture of their own, interfering with people's minds and actions to sow discord. Arlen is struggling to understand what he is becoming, and resists thinking about himself as Arlen any longer. There are some painful scenes that drive this point home for him, but eventually it is his childhood betrothed Renna serves to remind him of who he was, and who he still is. With more self-conviction, perhaps he will become the Deliverer that the free cities, and maybe even the Krasians, truly need.
K. Rating: 4/5
**forgive the misspellings, I listened rather than read**