Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"The Warded Man"

Peter Brett has been writing fantasy stories for as long as he can remember. He received a bachelor of arts degree in English literature and art history from the University at Buffalo in 1995, then worked for a decade in pharmaceutical publishing before returning to his bliss.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Warded Man, his first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 (commentary to follow):

... stretching from the stream to the blaze, passing up full buckets and handing back empty ones. Gared was called back to the fire with the cart, his strong arms needed to throw water.

It wasn’t long before the cart returned, this time pulled by Tender Michel and laden with wounded. The sight brought mixed feelings. Seeing fellow villagers, friends all, burned and savaged cut her deeply, but a breach that left survivors was rare, and each one was a gift she thanked the Creator for.

The Holy Man and his acolyte, Child Jona, laid the injured out by the stream. Michel left the young man to comfort them while he brought the cart back for more.

Leesha turned from the sight, focusing on filling buckets. Her feet went numb in the cold water and her arms grew leaden, but she lost herself in the work until a whisper got her attention.

“Hag Bruna is coming,” someone said, and Leesha’s head snapped up. Sure enough, the ancient Herb Gatherer was coming down the path, led by her apprentice, Darsy.

No one knew for sure how old Bruna was. It was said she was old when the village elders were young. She had delivered most of them herself. She had outlived her husband, children, and grandchildren, and had no family left in the world.

Now, she was little more than a wrinkle of translucent skin stretched over sharp bone. Half-blind, she could walk only at a slow shuffle, but Bruna could still shout to be heard from the far end of the village, and she swung her gnarled walking stick with surprising strength and accuracy when her ire was roused.

Leesha, like most everyone in the village, was terrified of her.

Bruna’s apprentice was a homely woman of twenty summers, thick of limb and wide of face. After Bruna outlived her last apprentice, a number of young girls had been sent to her for training. After a constant stream of abuse from the old woman, all but Darsy had been driven off.

“She’s ugly as a bull and just as strong,” Elona once said of Darsy, cackling. “What does she have to fear from that sour hag? It’s not as if Bruna will drive the suitors from her door.”

Bruna knelt beside the injured, inspecting them with firm hands as Darsy unrolled a heavy cloth covered in pockets, each marked with symbols and holding a tool, vial, or pouch. Injured villagers moaned or cried out as she worked, but Bruna paid them no mind, pinching wounds and sniffing her fingers, working as much from touch and smell as sight. Without looking, Bruna’s hands darted to the pockets of the cloth, mixing herbs with a mortar and pestle.

The Page 69 Test: is page 69 representative of the rest of the book? would a reader skimming that page be inclined to read on?

When I first glanced at page 69 of The Warded Man, I was worried it would “fail” the Page 69 Test. The POV character in the scene, Leesha, is not the book’s primary protagonist, there are no demons on the page, no ward magic, no hard action, nothing fancy or flashy.

But then I thought about it a little more, and realized that none of those things mattered. The Warded Man is not a book about demons, magic, and kickass action, even though it does contain those things from time to time. It is a story about people who are faced with horror so frequently that it’s become commonplace, and their struggle to go on in spite of it. In this respect, I think the page actually captures the theme of the book pretty well.

In the scene, a group of villagers is banding together to fight fires and treat wounded stemming from a demon attack that happened in the night. Leesha is a young and innocent girl here, so beaten down by horror that she is partly thankful for the wounded, even as she looks upon friends who have been mutilated and crippled, because most demon attacks leave only dead.

But instead of falling to pieces at the sight, as most any other sane person might, this twelve year old girl puts her head down and gets back to work, even as Hag Bruna, the woman who will change her life forever, walks onstage.

As for the second part of the question, whether I think it will make a casual browser read on, I hope that it would. It’s a nice active page introducing a fairly broad ensemble of interesting characters that puts the reader squarely in the middle of an exciting situation. If that sort of thing doesn’t excite a browser, well, they’re probably not going to like the rest of the book, either.
Read a long excerpt from The Warded Man, and learn more about the author and his work at Peter V. Brett's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue