With the impending release of Peter V. Brett’s The Daylight War, the latest installment of his Demon Cycle, I thought the time was ripe to have a look back at where it all started, with a fresh review of The Painted Man. I read this book for the first time recently and if it lay undiscovered so long for me, perhaps I can tempt a few more readers to get lost in this demon infested ride as well.

Our story starts some 300 years AR (After the Return). Humanity is scant and scattered across the world, existing in hamlets or as part of the Free Cities. Every night people retreat behind the safety of their warded homes in fear as demons rise up from the Core and sow terror and havoc wherever they go. The only things able to keep them at bay are these defensive wards, which the demons are unable to penetrate.

Brett does a fantastic job of introducing this world to the reader, showing just how isolated and spread out the human race have become. By introducing the concept of Messengers, men who are brave enough to face the horrors of the night and travel to the villages and hamlets, he shows how dependant the smaller communities are on this tenuous life line.

The book follows three youngsters on their journeys, both in time and distance. Arlen, the main protagonist, is only eleven when we first meet him. Soon after this meeting we see firsthand the devastation that the demons can wreak when the wards fail. This then turns into the spur which leads Arlen to try and find a different way of life.

Leesha, a thirteen year-old-girl, introduces us to some of the attitudes towards women which are quite prevalent throughout the book, whilst Rojer, at only three-years-old, loses his entire family in a demon attack.

This is a good character story with the backdrop of a very well realised world. You genuinely care for the characters and their trials and, even though the story jumps several years at a time, Brett makes it feel as if you’ve been with them through it all. As we grow with Arlen we learn more about warding and why so little is done to fight the demons. We learn herb lore and history with Leesha and music and tumbling with Rojer.

The book isn’t without faults, as some of the discoveries made during the book come very easily and makes you wonder why no-one has found them out before. The Krasians, especially their attitude towards women, seem over the top at times, though you get the suspicion this is a necessary device to create more depth to some of the character’s arcs and potentially for the nation as a whole into the next book (I’ve not read Desert Spear, so this isn’t a spoiler).

Despite those minor faults, I loved this book. Brett gives us tantalising teases as to what may be to come in the future, with mention of various, unknown species of demon still to surface and some subtle little hints about how the cycle may unfurl. His characters face genuine peril and some horrible experiences, but he deals with these with compassion and realism.

If you haven’t tried this series yet, please do. It has magic, demons, grit and drama. What more could a fantasy fan want?

The first two books in the Demon Cycle, The Painted Man (The Warded Man in the US) and The Desert Spear, are available now. Peter Brett’s newest novel, The Daylight War, is due out February 11th in the UK and February 12th in the US. For more information on this series, visit Peter’s website here or you can follow him on Twitter.


By Alex Shepherd

Alex can be found in the rolling hills of Oxfordshire, splitting his time unevenly between fighting crime and raising two little boys (which is surprisingly similar). When he does find a spare moment he crams it full of fantasy or basketball, and due to rapidly ageing knees it's mostly fantasy these days. He's trying to learn the writing craft through sheer bloody mindedness and dreams of the day he has to do nothing else. If you're so inclined you can watch him stalk writers on Twitter - @shep5377

7 thoughts on “The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett”
  1. I’m reading this at the moment and greatly enjoying it – I risked spoilers to read this, but thanks for not giving anything much away. I’m looking forward to the rest of the book.

  2. Please allow me to make a negative comment, not about the review, but the book itself.

    The world-building is great, the storyline interesting etc etc, but…

    I regret to say that the writing is sub-par, to say the least – especially regarding body language. It’s impossible to count how many times the characters nod, shrug or shake their heads. Sometimes, it’s like they’re only capable of these three reactions to anything said or done. I can remember a point when the dialogue goes something like this:

    A says something.
    B shakes his head and answers
    A shakes his head and says something again.
    B -guess what- shakes his head and answers back.

    Those are not the only ‘standardized’ phrases that are repeated throughout the book, but they’re the most prominent example. Actually, after a close inspection, one can find out that the writer fails to follow just too many of the basic and simple rules or writing.

    I really hope Mr Brett’s writing has evolved since then. Honestly, it’s a shame, because the prose was so naive that I was unable to enjoy an otherwise interesting story.

    I’m not trying to be offensive or anything, it’s just a different view on the book.


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