Wow. As The Warded Man wrapped up, I thought I knew precisely where the story was going, with the ominous march of the Deliverer's army across the desert setting up the next logical chapter. Imagine my surprise when The Desert Spear opened not with their march, and not with the Painted Man's journey, but with the introduction of a new class of demon. Peter V. Brett raises the stakes right from page one, exposing us to a hierarchy of cold, calculating princes and sinister mimics within the demon ranks. It takes a while before we make our way back to this new threat, but it makes for a climactic ending that puts many similar novels to shame.
As if that weren't enough of a shock to system, Brett takes the bold step of rewinding matters to the opening chronology of the first novel, and then switching the dominant focus from Arlen (the Painted Man) to Jardir (the Deliver). We get to re-experience much of their relationship, this time from the other side, providing deeper insights into just who Jardir is, and what made him the kind of man who could so coldly put duty and destiny before comradeship. Like I said, it's a bold move, establishing him as a protagonist in his own right, rather than just the villain he seemed set up to be in the first book. It took me a while to settle into his world, anxious as I was to get on with the story, but I really appreciate the way in which it creates a conflicted sense of loyalty for the author, the reader, and the characters.
Jardir's opening arc ends with the first stage of his Northern conquest, and that's largely where the core plot stops moving forward. It's another gamble on Brett's part, taking us to what we expect to be the main thrust of the novel, and then hitting 'pause' on the war. Instead, what he does is layer on the character development, bringing back all the key characters from the first book. If that sounds like a complaint, it most definitely is not. He allows his characters to mature, to grow, to explore their relationships, and to take on new responsibilities within a world on the cusp of war. Main characters become fully-fleshed out, with Arlen, Leesha, Rojer, and Jardir carrying the weight of the tale, but even the secondary characters taking on new life.
It's interesting the way in which Brett adds a political aspect to the story, offering us an alternative to war that relies on the tenuous relationships of challenged, damaged individuals. The culture clash is just as harsh as you would expect, and the ways in which it's dealt with are as entertaining as they are original. I truly appreciated how Leesha and Rojer became involved in Jardir's world, and the long-simmering conflict between Leesha and Inevera was a high point of the tale. It's not just a culture clash between the North and the South, however, but between those who would fight and those who would hide. In taking his wards to the people, the Painted Man demands that they prove themselves up to the challenge of making use of those wards. It's a journey that ultimately leads him back to Renna, with their relationship forged anew, contributing to an ending that's as dark and dangerous as it is exciting.
At this point, I'm not entirely sure what to expect with The Daylight War, given the ways in which Brett so surprised me with the transition between the first two volumes. I do know that I'm far more invested in the characters than I was in the first volume, and that the revelations regarding demon hierarchies has me intrigued to see where he's taking the story next. The Demon Cycle is quickly proving to be a favourite of mine, with the back-to-back-to-back journey between books precisely the kind of exhilarating ride I always envy in readers who are new to a series.
Published March 1st 2011 by Del Rey
Paperback, 638 pages