Rejoice! The Deliverer has come back to help mankind against the nightly threat of the demonic corelings that rise out of the earth every night. But there are two men that might be the Deliverer. How can there be two?
Is it Arlen Boles, the so called Painted Man, who travels between the cities of the North, seeking to rally them against the coreling threat? Or is it Jardir, the Shar’Dama Ka of Krasia? He holds what is ostensibly a weapon of the Deliverer himself, and he has an army at his beck and call. And, even more so, he has a plan for that army, and an ambition, perhaps a destiny, to reshape the world.
Which of them is the real Deliverer? And is their inevitable conflict destined to doom them from facing the real threat of the Corelings?
The Desert Spear is the second novel of Peter V. Brett and second in his Demon Cycle series.
It would have been easy for the author to continue the second novel on the heels of the first, and continue the narrative, intercut between his point of view characters as he did the first. Arlen, Rojer and Leesha provide three interesting, and different perspectives. However, redounding to his credit, Brett decides to expand the field by “promoting” a couple of characters to full point of view status, primarily Jardir of Kresia.
In contrast to the back and forth cutting between Arlen, Rojer and Leesha in the first novel, seeing how they rise to adulthood and prominence, The Desert Spear takes a very different approach with Jardir. In Steven Erikson’s Malazan series, a major force of nature of a character, Karsa Orlong, is given a large unwavering point of view in House of Chains to explain his backstory and how he came to enter into the major conflicts in that series.
Brett, in The Desert Spear, tries the same thing with Jardir. A good third of the early part of the novel is a single shot look at Jardir, bringing him from youth to his current position and rank. Not coincidentally, this also allows us to get a view of Krasia culture and society from the inside, and we get a much more rounded view of it, and some of the characters we briefly glimpsed in Arlen’s visit there in The Warded Man. In particular, Inevera, who becomes Jardir’s first and primary wife, leaps off of the page as an interesting person. (It is no wonder that Brett has picked her to be highlighted in the third volume)
In addition to Jardir and his extensive backstory, we get some other new point of view characters and some more backstories and filling in of events, especially with Renna Tanner. Although we saw her in The Painted Man and her relationship to Arlen, there, the Desert Spear promotes her to a full fledged character with conflicts, hopes and goals fully realized. Her story, though, from the inside, does go much darker than I was expecting, and reading some of it might be triggering. On the other hand, she provides an excellent contrast to Arlen, and a way for us to see how his story, both as Deliverer, and the dark side of the powers he has unleashed, are playing out. There are consequences, you see, in painting yourself in wards, consequences that Arlen himself does not fully understand.
One unusual innovation in the novel, though, is getting a point of view from the enemy. We get into the mind, as it were, of a Demon Prince who is extremely curious as to what Arlen has been doing, what he has learned, and his efforts against the Coreling forces. Point of view solves everything, and this point of view gives us a new window into the conflict. We also get to see new kinds and new subvarieties of corelings. There is a definite wide ecosystem and variety to the creatures, and even aside from the aforementioned Demon Prince, start to really fix in the readers mind as much more than a mindless threat of nature.
The lack of momentum for the forward narrative of the novel in getting us up to speed on Jardir, and to a lesser extent, Renna, is a problem for the novel, though. There are several series which have had the problem of not being able to advance plot and narrative forward in meaningful ways. It is a concern for wide-screen epic fantasies, one that I hope the author will keep in mind going forward in the series. While a book series is far more than just its plot, a series where the characters turn and advance slowly can become tiresome. Fortunately, after Jardir’s opening, things do happen and progress, and the chessboard of conflicts, both personal and geopolitical, does advance significantly. Again, there isn’t really an epicycle of a plot that ends here, but its difficult to expect one in the middle of a series like this.
Overall, though,The Desert Spear, joyfully, shows that Brett is not a one-trick pony, and is willing to try new things, and develop and grow as a writer rather than rewriting books in the same way every time. This suggests good things in store for readers of the subsequent novels in the Demon Cycle.