Firstly, let me say that ‘The Painted Man’ is a special, special book. I want to declare this book ‘The single best Novel I have ever read’. There is a series that I would rate higher as a collective than this (see my Night Angel Trilogy review), but in terms of a single novel – this is untouchable… If you enjoy modern fantasy… you will enjoy ‘The Painted Man’.
The Painted Man is set in a World where demons rule the nights. As soon as the sun sets Demons rise from ‘the core’ and begin to cause havoc. There are thousands of them that walk the planet and multiple different species. Ranging from the size of a small dog through to ones as big as a tree – all are dangerous and have a thirst for blood. If they come across buildings, animals or humans they won’t stop until they have killed or destroyed them. In fact, the only means of protection humans have are ‘wards’. Symbols that can be linked together in order to form protection around a perimeter. The majority of buildings and towns have a good amount of ‘warding’ around them that stops demons from killing the inhabitants – however because these wards tend to be in the ground or in wood or brick – they easily corrode. if not regularly serviced.
The majority of humans have frozen. They have accepted that the extent of their life is simply to spend 12 hours working their ass off and building protection in order to survive past the next 12 hours. If they make it… they repeat the cycle, day after day.
The Book is set across a number of years and follows the lives of Arlen, Lessa and Rojer. Each has been greatly affected by the Corelings in their own way and each has found a way to ‘rise above’ the general trend of farming for 12 hours and sleeping for 12 hours. Arlen, who I would call the main character is from a village that is frequently attacked by demons. During one of these attacks he finds the courage to fight back against one and although he has little success, he realises that they are not invincible. Arlen’s mother is attacked at the same time and he watches his father do literally nothing to help her. He realises that his dads cowardliness is what has made the world what is is today and decides he is not going to be anything like him. Instead he trains as a messenger… travelling between villages to deliver messages and organise trade. It is a profession that is taken by very, very few individuals. Often a messenger will travel for weeks without reaching a village and that means that they are stuck in the wilderness with literally hundreds of demons. They use wards as the village and city dwellers do, but it is still very dangerous because they are much weaker. Arlen uses his travels to learn more about the demons and promises that one day he shall find a way to fight back.
We follow Arlen from youth through to early adulthood and at the same time follow Leesha and Rojer as I mentioned earlier. Leesha is just 13 at the beginning of the book and lives with her mother who is highly abusive towards her. In addition to her mother treating her like a slave and trying to decide who she marries – she is having an affair with a local blacksmith right under her farther’s nose. To make things worse - rumours about Lessha are spread around saying that she has slept with a young man – something that is seen as ‘slutty’ before marriage. Her only escape is the tuition of her village Herb Gather ‘Bruna’. Bruna is ‘an old hag’ and is very strict in her ways. The whole village is scared of Bruna due to her vast knowledge, willingness to beat you will a stick and the fact that they all rely on her for their medicine. They therefore have no choice but to leave Leesha alone when she is working under her.
Finally we have Rojer. Rojer is an interesting character. He is almost the opposite of ‘Arlen’. He enters the book as a baby… His mother is killed in the same scene and he is rescued by ‘a Jongleur’. The Jongleur is basically a jester that travels with a messenger. Although they are known for their fun displays and tricks – The Jongleur that rescues Rojer never quite recovers mentally from the demon attack. He ends up drinking a lot and sleeping around to such an extent that him and Rojer are not only broke, but seen as losers by their guild. The Jongleur has long since lost his ability to attract a crowd and Rojer has a deformed hand from the demon attack. Tricks like Jugling, flipping and so on are impossible. Rojer’s abilities are that he can play a fiddle better than anyone has ever played. When he begins to play it is said that the villagers are entranced and stunned by the beautiful sounds he can create… During the book we find his fiddle playing has an effect on the Corelings. Whilst travelling he meets Leesha and he begins to develop feelings for her.
One thing that might strike you about what I have said so far is ‘nothing is all that original’. Basically the storyline is ‘Demons come out at night, humans must hide from them. One human is sick of that and decides to fight against it.’ It is a story that has been told in a number of different ways over the years – however the way in which Peter V. Brett does it is simply ground-breaking. In terms of readability – If the average fantasy book pulls you in like the flow of a river, then The Painted Man drags you down a water-fall.
The characters are so likeable and so complex that you can’t help but ‘need’ to know what happens next. Arlen’s character has been done so much wrong, as have Leesha and Rojer and we genuinely want him to do something. We share his thoughts of anger and hatred towards not only the Corelings, but his race that has sat back and done nothing whilst the demons took over. We share his believes that humans could fight back and we read this book at a relentless pace to find out if he achieves it or it the human race is too far gone. It is that age old question of ‘Can one man change the world?’ I guess.
Eventually of course there is a point in the book where the story-lines overlap and the characters come together. At this point things speed up even more and the book ends although completing the story to some extent – leaving so many open questions that you are dying to pick up the next book.
I have to once again tell you that this book is something special. Peter V. Brett has done something that very few authors today can do. He has taken the ‘fantasy template’ of a farmboy goes out to save the world and avenge a family members death – and succeeded in creating unique characters with a thought provoking and fast paced story… What’s more is that this is only the first book and judging how this one ends I can quite confidently say that the books that follow will not be anywhere near as ‘conventional’ in terms of the story. Now that the characters have met and certain events have unfolded, things in ‘The Desert Spear’ his second book is sure to be an even more intriguing ride.