Many of the best fantasy stories are ones with some sort of unique plot hook. The driving force needs to be something more generic than “go slay the evil dragon”. Peter V. Brett hit that nail on the head by twisting an age-old concept into his own idea. Demons are real in this world, rising from the ground each and every night. Mankind’s only defense are walls protected by magical wards, whose own defenses are imperfect. But mankind was not always the prey and The Warded Man begins a tale of resurgence against their demon oppressors.
In a word: wow. The Warded Man just gets everything right. It does not show, at all, that this was Peter V. Brett’s first novel. This is the level of work typically seen of authors with decades of experience under their belts. The world-building here is absolutely beautiful. Brett guides viewers into the state of the world despite all the history humanity has lost after centuries of demon attacks. The rediscovery of some of this lost knowledge is extremely important to the plot. Even still, enough rocks are left unturned that they can be revealed in the later books.
But as simple yet engaging as the story and world-building is, the Demon Cycle is ultimately about the characters. The Warded Man bounces between three different perspectives as the main trio is slowly brought together. Stretching from early childhood into adulthood, readers see how people live in this demon-infested world. How some people are broken by it while others fight tooth and nail against it. Not to mention how people will play politics and can be as monstrous as the creatures lurking outside their wards. This first book gives us Brett’s world as it is while the other novels will show how it changes.
If something bad had to be said about The Warded Man, it would be the slow start. Aside from the occasional demon, a lot of what happens in the beginning is slice-of-life stuff. The opening of the book pours the soft clay of the main three protagonists while the rest of the story molds them. This first entry in the Demon Cycle series is letting readers know who these people are and why. As the series continues, the new hardships they face will either reshape or shatter them. Only time will tell. But either way, it is going to be a wild ride.