Because I’ve sat on a few Nebula juries in the past or perhaps due to the fact that a few thousand people are bored enough to stop by my blog every day, publishers send me books from time to time. The vast majority of them aren’t just bad, but amazingly bad, and I usually attempt to do the kindest thing I can do for them, which is to say nothing at all about them. I don’t know what has gone wrong at some of the genre’s leading publishing houses, but someone needs to send them a very strong message to stop publishing novels where the central theme involves the importance of being true to oneself, features a strong, independent, sarcastic hero who don’t take no crap from nobody, concerns love triangles with the angst-laden but irresistible reader stand-in at the center, or incorporates sex scenes involving more than four different individuals and at least two different species. Weve been there, a lot. We’ve done that, a lot.
The nadir has got to be what I like to consider “were-seal porn” due to one unforgettable book about a lonely, but beautiful lighthouse keeper and her mysterious lover. You probably think I’m kidding, but I swear, not only did someone actually write that book, someone decided to publish it! So, my expectations were extremely low when I picked up a book out of the PR pile, mostly because I badly needed a break from the history of economic analysis. I was surprised, then delighted, and ended up blowing off the rest of the evening in order to finish what was really a very good fantasy novel.
The Warded Man isn’t exactly low fantasy, but it’s probably closer to low fantasy than high fantasy. More to the point, it’s original, it’s well-written, and it’s extremely absorbing. It’s a strange world, one of the weirdest post-apocalyptic worlds that I’ve encountered, as the greater part of both magic and science have been forgotten in the face of a plague of demonic forces that rise from the ground at night and can only be fended off by scripted or carved wards. The author does an excellent job of conveying the essential horror and helplessness of the common people, while portraying a realistic picture of the way in which no situation is so dire that petty human weaknesses can’t stir up unrelated conflicts of their own.
The book is one of the best debut novels I’ve ever encountered in the genre, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if it ended up claiming an award or two along the way. The author rewards the reader by seldom going for the obvious, and the character development tends to be a little deeper and more original than is the norm. If you feel that the fantasy field has been a bit barren of late, you should give The Warded Man a shot. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.