Chances are good that I never would have read this book if not for seeing it mentioned and recommended by someone I know. As I've mentioned a few times, I'm not a big reader of fantasy (despite the fact that four of my last eleven books read were all fantasy), so it wouldn't have caught my attention without someone else's encouragement. I would hate for that to happen to someone else, so let me sum this up for you before I go into more detail: this is an extraordinary book.
The book tells the story of the three main characters, Arlen (a young boy from an isolated village who grows up to become a legend), Leesha (a young woman from another isolated village who grows up to be a powerful healer), and Rojer (a young boy from yet another isolated village who grows up to become a talented entertainer). The three of them live in a world where, when the sun sets, demons rise up from the earth to kill humans and destroy homes. People can protect themselves with wards, but the wards are all designed to hold the demons out; there aren't any offensive wards that they can use to battle the demons, so much of the world lives in fear. That's where the novel starts, and it spends most of its time building this world and showing us the lives of the three main characters as they grow from villagers to adults, adults whose portent will grow to encompass their world.
Brett does an exceptional job creating these characters. He gives them histories that drive their present actions; he makes them likable and kind, while also making them strong and moral; he gives them foibles and has them make bad decisions so we can better sympathize with them. Because this novel is really about the growth of these three characters, it's good that he's created them this well. Other than the continuing battle against the demons, there's not a single plot that carries the story forward. In fact, it isn't until near the end of the novel, when the three main characters meet up (and I don't think this is a spoiler; it's pretty clear from the way Brett writes these characters that they're going to wind up together at some point), that a more overarching plotline develops. The Warded Man isn't strictly an expository novel (there's far too much action and suspense to label it such), but this is clearly the first in a larger series, as this one serves to bring the three central characters together.
Something else I liked about this book is that there are hints that this book is set in the far future. Like Star Wars beginning with the words "Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away," The Warded Man tricks us into thinking this is set in an alternate, medieval past, when in fact the current state of the world follows from a past full of hubris, machines, and technology, but this is only mentioned in passing. It's a subtle thing, but I like it when a story surprises me with little touches like this.
That being said, some surprises are less subtle, and affect me differently. Leesha is presented as a strong-willed, principled, and attractive woman who pushes aside the necessity of a man in her life to devote herself to her responsibilities. She's not presented as an old maid by any means (though other women in her time seem to see her as such), and isn't one who looks at sex and love as some sort of sin or something to avoid, but when she does finally meet someone she likes, it happens rather quickly and suddenly. I don't know if it's supposed to be a "love at first sight" sort of thing, but it did take me by surprise, even if it wasn't strictly out of character for her.
The Warded Man isn't perfect, but it does what it sets out to do very well, and it's a damned good story. After struggling through The Blade Itself and having to force myself to sit down and finish it, The Warded Man was a book where I was looking for snippets of time at any point in my day to keep reading. I'm very much looking forward to seeing where the story goes from here.