The Desert Prince

I'm quite behind on Peter V. Brett's Demon Cycle series and I have no excuses to account for that sad state of affairs. So when I was asked if I'd like an early read of his forthcoming The Desert Prince, I knew I couldn't say no. Especially given the fact that the novel is supposedly a good starting point for new readers to jump in.

In retrospect, Brett's latest work shares a lot of similarities with his debut, The Warded Man. As such, it is an introduction to what appears to be a much bigger and multilayered story arc. Time will tell if this new trilogy will manage to live up to the potential generated by the Demon Cycle. This is not readily apparent based on this first installment, but little did people know that the author's first series would reach such heights.

Here's the blurb:

Fifteen years have passed since the end of the war with demons, creatures of darkness who have hunted the night and plagued humanity since time out of mind. The heroes of mankind’s hour of need have become legend, and those who remain struggle to escape their shadows.

Olive Paper and Darin Bales have grown up in this new peaceful world. Demons have been all but destroyed, but dangers still lurk for the children of heroes.

Olive, Princess of Hollow, has her entire life planned out by her mother, Duchess Leesha Paper: a steady march on a checklist to prepare her for succession. The more her mother writes the script, the more Olive rails against playing the parts she is assigned.

Darin faces challenges of a different kind. Though free to choose his own path, the weight of legacy hangs heavy around his shoulders. It isn’t easy being the son of the man people say saved the world. Everyone expects greatness from Darin, but the only thing he’s ever been great at is hiding.

But when Olive and Darin step across the wards one night, they learn the demons are not all gone, and those that remain hunger for revenge. Events are set in motion that only prophecy can foresee as Olive and Darin seek to find their own places in the world in time to save it again.

So is this the perfect opportunity for new readers to jump in? Well, yes and no. A lot of efforts were made to make sure readers unfamiliar with the original series would understand what's going on. Other than missing out on certain nuances, The Desert Prince stands very well on its own. It does spoil the Demon Cycle rather thoroughly, however. For someone like me, who had yet to read the whole thing, it made me realize how much I have missed. And how I can't really go back and enjoy these books as much as I should have. Hence, it's up to you to decide whether or not you want to begin with Brett's newest offering, or go back and start with his international bestselling sequence beforehand.

Long-time fans will relish the opportunity to return to Brett's universe and get reacquainted with characters from the first series and be introduced to their offspring and new faces. I was surprised how similar in style and tone The Desert Prince was compared to The Warded Man. Both are character-driven novels, first and foremost. Which means that the worldbuilding essentially remains in the background throughout most of the tale. In that regard, fans who have read the Demon Cycle might get a bit more out of the story than newbies. As I mentioned, this book is an introduction meant to set the stage for what comes next and readers get few answers to the many questions that come to mind as one reads on. For the most part, I felt that Brett lays the groundwork for a lot of things to come. But like the protagonists, until the end we are left in the dark regarding most of what goes on. The story is never dull, mind you. It just makes you want to read the sequel ASAP.

In style and tone, The Desert Prince is YA through and through. So much so that I contacted Brett to see if this was a YA series. Way back when in 2008, during our first interview, the author addressed the "dreaded" YA moniker in regards to his work. He understood how his writing style, along with the fact that the early parts of The Warded Man dealt with the protagonists’ childhoods, could make the book appear to be meant for a younger audience. But his target readers were always adults. The author felt that he dealt frankly with a lot of harsh adult themes and topics, and tried to engage the reader directly with them. He showcased characters in their childhoods to let the reader share the pivotal moments of their lives that shape their characters and adult motivations, not as an attempt to market to young readers. Brett told me that it was the same with his latest work. He and his publishers are treating it as adult fiction and it will be interesting to see what the upcoming installments will bring in terms of character growth and maturity. God knows the Demon Cycle was no YA series by any stretch of the imagination. Having said that, The Desert Prince doesn't really show any signs that its sequels will veer toward adult fiction. Indeed, it's chock-full of teenage angst, black-and-white views, and often dumb decisions. You may or may not find that off-putting. Your mileage will vary in that regard and will likely influence how much you like/dislike this book.

First-person narratives are always tricky. It can be even trickier to capture the imagination of adult readers and suck them into your tale when your main protagonists are all teenagers. We witness events through the perspectives of two characters: Olive Paper and Darin Bales. Both are well-drawn and three-dimensional, and I felt that there was a good balance between the two POVs. I understand that there was no way to dodge the bullet and we had to go through the feeling of the "ugh-I'm-so-misunderstood-what-is-life?" part of adolescence with both protagonists. But I must admit that it grated on my nerves from time to time. I would have liked to have a third point of view, an adult perspective, to help dilute all that teenage angst. Thankfully, the supporting cast comprised of old and new characters helps with that. I just wish one of them could have had his or her own POV. Micha's especially, who was a personal favorite of mine. 

Kudos to Peter V. Brett for taking one hell of a chance with one of the protagonists. This is something I would have expected from someone like Jacqueline Carey, who is no stranger to such things. Brett did something that will take certain readers far out of their comfort zone and it remains to be seen how this will be received by his fans. When asked about it, Brett explained that sensitivity reads made him feel that he handled it rather well and that as an author it's his job to take readers out of their comfort zone. Time will tell if that's the case or not. I don't want to spoil this and I hope no advance reviews will do so. But I'm curious to see how readers will react and how it will affect the story in the subsequent volumes. Because it's kind of a big deal. . . A very big deal, actually!

The YA tone ensures that the language will not shock virgin ears. Indeed, The Desert Prince would receive the Brandon Sanderson seal of approval. I mean, I swear more and let fly more expletives when I bang my toe on something than what you get in the 600+ pages of this novel. In terms of action, Peter V. Brett can give Sanderson and Salvatore a run for their money and his latest is full of choreographed battle scenes.

The pace can be quite uneven, especially in the early portions of the book. But once it gets rolling, there's no denying that The Desert Prince maintains a good rhythm from here on out. The finale and the ending, in particular, are thrilling. Revelations come late, alas, but they do leave the door open for what should be an interesting set of sequels. Hopefully, as was the case with the Demon Cycle, character growth and maturity will make our protagonists easier to root for.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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