Customer Review

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Good premise, poor story, 17 Sept. 2013
This review is from: The Painted Man (The Demon Cycle, Book 1) (Paperback)
Tells the tale of three people affected by the terrifying demon attacks that afflict the world every time the sun disappears beyond the horizon (or it's a dark, cloudy day... England wouldn't stand much chance!) Only by using the mysterious ancient power of drawn or carved 'wards' can the demons be kept at bay, with carefully constructed ward circles throwing demon attacks back with flashes of crackling magic - woe betide the person who smudges or covers a ward though, as they unwittingly create fatal gaps in their defence. With mankind perpetually on the back foot, have they lost their will to fight?

This premise is the strongest part of the book and is well constructed at the beginning, creating a bit of genuine tension that spurs you through the first few chapters. Unfortunately though, a few things quickly get in the way of this, like the apparent stupidity of most of the characters in the book and lengthy, boring chapters laboriously trying to create a backstory for the three leads.

I really did enjoy imagining the way the wards worked, and could very much picture the scenes where they play a significant part - but I can't help feeling like this idea was all the author had, and the rest of the book is just there so he has a reason to put it on paper.

The main characters and the whole fantasy world are wafer-thin, with zero originality to their situations. There is the farm boy who loses family members and vows to fight & get revenge, the girl who refuses to be just a pretty face & farmer's wife, instead proving talent and mettle as a healer, and the young orphan boy forced into life as a roguish jester with a heart of gold. You get a sense that the author himself knows this, getting their origin tales out of the way without any interest so they can start on their adventure with their personalities intact. The girl's backstory in particular is unbelievably dull and predictable. I came away feeling like the book could have just started with the final third, as these character types are so familiar we could have just been told about their backgrounds in a round-the-camp-fire emotional bonding sort of scene - in fact just hinting at their past rather than explaining it all would leave us to imagine it as at least being vaguely interesting!

They flit from place to place in a predictable way, picking up the skills or experiences they require to begin a quest (i.e. one spends time with - you guessed it - a warrior culture so he can leave as a great fighter; one spends time in a city 'hospit' so she can leave as - you guessed it - a precociously talented no-nonsense healer; one spends time scraping a living on the streets so he can develop - you guessed it! - natural charm and survival instincts) - it's all just there so the author can tell his real tale, which is about the emergence of a much rumoured 'painted man' who might be the one to turn the fortunes of mankind.

There is a half-hearted attempt at prophecy and religious fervour/doubt to fill out the world, along with a very basic class/political system, but it just doesn't really matter - the story seems to get going right at the end, and is clearly a launch pad for the later books in the series. I suspect this could have been a one-book story, but maybe the publishers wanted to push it to a trilogy.

Then you have the bone-headed side of the book, where having created the central conflict of the book (people vs demons), we then need to see why this conflict matters, is dangerous, has to be overturned, etc... but the author doesn't seem to know how to do this in a convincing way. So we get demons that relentlessly attack impenetrable wards (allegedly looking for weak spots...), furiously battering these invisible walls of magic. Even sheep stop charging electric fences when they realise it's going to hurt! What have the demons learned in the hundreds of years this has been going on? And why do the people even matter to them when they don't even live in the same place (demons come from 'the core' which they inhabit during the day) and can get food by hunting wildlife - and trying to get people is difficult and hurts? ...Anybody??

Then we have the people, who only seem capable of building one line of defence so that demons are bashing on ward shields right outside their front doors, rather than building 10 rings of these cheap-as-dirt bits of wood with carvings on them right around their house, and miles beyond the town/city walls just in case. I get that we need to have a bit of tension and drama with demons being a present and deadly threat - but the people just come across as idiotic for totally failing to protect themselves, and continually making the most obvious deadly mistakes in the book ("the dog's still outside!") You can see how it works - by making a world full of stupid demons and foolish people, common sense will save the day, but it will be presented as amazing innovation and heroic actions.

The concept of lost fighting wards is a good one, with eras of peace making people complacent - and again, the best parts of the book are all around how the wards work, what the effects of them are, etc etc. - but it's just nullified by the rest of the book (even the discovery of these forgotten wards is dull - the hero immediately stumbles on them using a treasure map, when they've allegedly been lost for hundreds of years)

Then I think, you get the very worst element of the book. You could perhaps forgive much of the above by thinking that maybe this is written for young adults - but the author dispels this notion in three brutal and efficient ways:

(***Sort of spoiler here***)

1. implied forced incest
2. almost totally unnecessary and baffling swearing in the weirdest context
3. shocking and way off-tone assault (not explicit, but horrible and unexpected). I don't really get what the author was trying to achieve, unless it was to somehow create two broken people who maybe will fall in love? I don't get it...

(***End of sort of spoiler***)

Also frustrating to read more female characters who have nothing to talk about/define themselves by except their relationships to men, and especially sex. You might think one of the girls' conflicts is more about her relationship with her mum and friendship with a wise old hag, but it isn't - both of those relationships are really to do with differing views of men and women. Boring and depressing.

I actually started writing this with the aim of being vaguely positive, but as I've been writing I've realised there is much less to be positive about than I thought! Sorry, I know it's not good to rant on.

I really do hope that the next book in the series improves on writing style and narrative development, and will read it - my guess is that it will be a big improvement, as nothing of interest has happened yet, with the real story probably starting at book 2.

Probably not worth reading this book, or if you do, start about 2/3 of the way through - but the underlying idea is a good one, and book 2 ('The Desert Spear') may be a much better read.
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L. Bailey

Location: England

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