The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett is the third instalment of The Demon Cycle, which began with The Warded Man in 2010, and brings to fruition a number of storylines that have been developing throughout the previous two novels. Brett has taken an incredibly novel concept and built it into a series that is an absolute delight to read. Full of action, intrigue, and some of the most deeply -real- character development I’ve read in a long time, The Demon Cycle is pretty much a must-read series for any fan of Fantasy.
Continuing the impressive debut fantasy series from author Peter V. Brett, The Daylight War is book three of the Demon Cycle, pulling the reader into a world of demons, darkness and heroes.
On the night of a new moon all shadows deepen. Humanity has thirty days to prepare for the next demon attack, but one month is scarcely enough time to train a village to defend themselves, let alone an entire continent caught in the throes of civil war.
Arlen Bales understands the coreling threat better than anyone. Born ordinary, the demon plague has shaped him into a weapon so powerful he has been given the unwanted title of saviour, and attracted the attention of deadly enemies both above and below ground.
Unlike Arlen, Ahmann Jardir embraces the title of Deliverer. His strength resides not only in the legendary relics he carries, but also in the magic wielded by his first wife, Inevera, a cunning and powerful priestess whose allegiance even Jardir cannot be certain of.
Once Arlen and Jardir were like brothers. Now they are the bitterest of rivals. As humanity’s enemies prepare, the only two men capable of defeating them are divided against each other by the most deadly demons of all: those that lurk in the human heart.
If I had to pick what it was about these books that grabbed me the most, I feel I would have to go with the characters. There’s been a bit of a sea change in the last five or ten years on protagonist-building in fantasy. We passed through the age of the pure and stalwart flawless hero and dove headlong into the gritty dark anti-hero. We’re slowly starting to level off into a world where our characters can be complex without being morally grey semi-villains, and can be capital G Good Guys without being boring, and nobody in recent memory has nailed it quite like Brett.
The eponymous Warded Man from the first novel in this series, Arlen Bales, is quickly becoming one of my favourite characters in fantasy. He is pretty much the epitome of the ‘Neutral Good’ alignment trope from role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons: he is definitely on the side of -good- above all else, but rather than come to his good through a strict ‘Lawful’ adherence to the rules, or the ‘Chaotic’ desire to do good and damn the consequences, he holds very strictly to his own personal code of ethics and behaviour, even when it gets him into trouble. But unlike many of these kinds of characters that descend into scoundrelry to be interesting (see Han Solo), he keeps a core dignity and steadfastness that, instead of making him boring as all hell, keeps him grounded as he becomes more and more of a superhero.
His interactions with Ahmann Jardir the…hmm…sort of co-protagonist semi-antagonist character of the series, really put me in mind of the relationship between Mazrim Taim and Rand Al’Thor in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, if those two had been written interestingly instead of being flat and boring. (Please direct all WoT related hate-mail to email@example.com). The interplay between Arlen and Jardir as they both are assumed to be The Deliverer is somewhat reminiscent of the way that the Wheel caused all kinds of false Dragons to appear throughout the world in its attempts to get the actual Dragon to be reborn; there is a lot of doubt to a lot of people which one may be the real Deliverer, and this really creates some memorable scenes.
A fair amount of this book is also flashbacks into the childhood and rise to power of Jardir’s wife, Inevera. She is the one who pushes Jardir into his own rise to power and claim of the mantle of The Deliverer, and her treatment in The Daylight War really breathes life into a character that felt…not so much flat in the earlier works, but certainly not as deep as the other major players. The Daylight War is as much her origin story as The Warded Man was Arlen’s and The Desert Spear was Jardir’s. While certain elements of her story are a little explicit, they are handled very well by Brett; the parts that are supposed to be uncomfortable to read are properly uncomfortable, and the parts that aren’t, aren’t. This is a book for adults for certain, but nowhere in the story does anything feel prurient, or added just for the titillation factor. When the story doesn’t need to show what is going on, we fade out, when it does, we see it. That’s how it should be handled. You just tell the story that needs to be told, and if a reader is too squeamish to handle it, nuts to them.
Another great element of the design of these books is the fact that they take place in the future of what appears to be our actual Earth. This has also been done a million times, but it is a very subtle touch here. Brett barely ever mentions it, and when he does, it is in passing. This makes it a powerful tool for the reader to work with. If this is our actual future, what the crap is the deal with the demons everywhere? Part of me hopes for some expository reveal later on, but a larger part of me hopes Brett resists, and just leaves us to wonder what happened.
Fans of the post-apocalyptic future presented in The Daylight War should also check out Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey. If you like a rich character-driven story with a bit of a mature or dark turn, you should look into the Tales of Egil and Nix by Paul S. Kemp.