The Vagrant by Peter Newman
|Book Name:||The Vagrant|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook|
|Genre(s):||Fantasy / Dystopia|
|Release Date:||April 23, 2015|
Peter Newman’s debut novel, The Vagrant, tells of a man who “friendless and alone…walks a desolate, war-torn landscape”. After recently enjoying the latest Mad Max movie, I was immediately struck with the feeling that this would be a fantasy equivalent, swapping engines for horses and guns for swords. The Vagrant’s cover depicts the man himself, but it’s also noticeable that, along with a blade, he’s carrying a baby. A book shouldn’t be judged by its cover, but artist Jaime Jones has captured the spirit of Newman’s protagonist incredibly well, piquing interest before the book has even been opened.
I dove straight in, drowning in Newman’s prose, not resurfacing until I was two-thirds through the novel. Newman’s made the choice of writing in present tense, which gives the book an instant sense of immediacy; what we’re reading about is happening now, we’re watching the action as it unfolds, drawn into events that feel like they’re all around us. It’s a story that grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and refused to let go, a showcase for the author’s superb world-building skills. It’s a story built on a fantastic concept, one I’m reluctant to spoil, that never feels like a pale imitation of its inspirations. What I found really impressive was the way in which the backstory was subtly drip fed, becoming more personal as it progressed to gradually reveal the origin of the vagrant and his young ward.
Newman writes in short, sharp sentences that are reminiscent of sci-fi author William Gibson, giving details in as few words as possible. The down side of this is that is sometimes feels like the descriptions leave too many blanks for the reader to fill in; while locations are brought to life well enough, there still seems like there’s a some extra work for the reader to do. That said, it’s highly likely that anyone reading this will have the imagination needed to put the pieces together well enough, making the book an almost interactive experience. This works with great effect in the descriptions of the monsters, the hideous mutated beats that populate the wilderness. Newman gives enough information to plant a seed, allowing our imaginations to run riot as to how gruesome these creatures are; in this instance, less is certainly more.
While it was the fast pace of the novel that had me gripped for so long, there were times when scenes did feel rushed, as if the author was already a step ahead in his writing, thinking about what was going to happen next and wanting to get the current scene out of the way. This seemed especially true of the final quarter, where events come to a head and everything happens extremely quickly. This, combined with a shift in the setting, made these pages feel almost like a different book, lacking some of the subtleties and grace that had gone before. It made me wonder of this single volume would have made a better trilogy, more meat on the bones enabling the author to dwell on his characters further, let his readers know them better as well as the places they inhabit. That said, perhaps the point of the book is that we – like the vagrant – are just drifting through on our journey.
As it is, Newman tells a good story, and does so very well. By the end, all thoughts of potential expansion were pushed aside, and I liked that this was a self-contained single volume. The vagrant himself is a Man With No Name style character, one we can only judge by his actions, whose presence alters those around him with little change to himself. As such, I found him fascinating, an enigma who is revealed to be more than he would first appear. Newman has hinted at a sequel; on one hand it’s a shame as the finale ends everything wonderfully, while on the other it’ll be great to see more from this talented author, who is deserving of a stellar career if this stunning debut novel is anything to go by. The Vagrant is a solid foundation to build upon, and I’m already wondering if the next will be a direct follow on, or different story set in the same world. Only time – and Peter Newman – will tell, and I can’t wait for the answer.