Peter V. Brett, author of the debut novel The Warded Man, told Tor.com that the book is set in a world where demons called corelings rise from the ground each night, hunting and killing any living thing they can find, humans in particular, until they are banished by the dawn.
“Humanity’s only defense against the creatures are mystic symbols called wards, which can be drawn around a home or plot of land to form a magical barrier through which the demons cannot pass,” Brett said in an interview. “The story follows three characters from separate villages from childhood to adulthood, showing how each has had their life’s path irrevocably altered by a demon event at a formative age, and how it gives them the will to break the cycle of fear that has crippled humanity. They each grow to find unique and dramatic ways of resisting the corelings’ nightly onslaught.”
The book started out as a short story Brett wrote for an evening SF writing class he was taking at NYU in 1998. “It was about a little boy named Arlen who loved to wander, but he could never go more than half a day from home, because if he wasn’t back before dark, the demons would get him,” Brett said.
Brett had wanted to write a book about demons ever since reading Terry Brooks’s Elfstones of Shannara as a kid. “[I] was always wondering what Arlen would find when he finally got up the nerve to find out what was on the other side of that last hill, past the point of no return,” Brett said. “The story didn’t really click in my head, however, until after September 11, when I decided to write about fear and what it does to people. I used the demons as the generator of that fear, and the tale of The Warded Man grew out of that. It’s a story of three people who refused to let their fears get the better of them.”
The main protagonist of The Warded Man is Arlen, an apprentice Warder who, having faced the aftermath of a coreling attack that killed dozens in his village, has come to believe that humanity is held back more by their fear of the corelings than by the demons themselves. “The accepted belief is that the demons are a punishment for humanity’s sins, and when the punishment is to end, the almighty Creator will send a Deliverer to save them,” Brett said. “Arlen rejects this belief out of hand, and spends his life trying to find the ancient fighting wards of legend that will allow humanity to fight the corelings on even terms as the ancient stories say they once did.”
The world of The Warded Man is somewhat low-magic, with the only real fantasy elements being the demons themselves and the magical ward symbols that provide humanity’s only defense against them. “The corelings are creatures of magic, and the wards absorb and repurpose some of that energy, reflecting it back at them to create the barrier, or other effects,” Brett said. “I intentionally designed the magic system this way to take away the crutch I think a lot of authors use, where magic unbalances some parts of human interaction, or comes in and inexplicably saves the day at the last minute. Ward magic requires preparation, forethought, and doesn’t help humans in their dealings with one another. This, I feel, forces characters to take more responsibility for their own fates.”
Although The Warded Man is a fantasy novel, it was written in a very SF fashion: Brett wrote much of it on a smartphone while commuting. “The most significant challenge in writing the book was finding the time to do it,” Brett said. “My breakthrough was when I began to write during my commute, at first taking notes on my Palm Pilot, and then moving on to writing full prose on the tiny QWERTY keyboard of my iPaq smartphone. I got so fast that I was averaging 400 words during the 35 minutes or so I spent on the subway each way, or 800 words round trip. It’s a word-to-minute ratio I’ve never been able to match at home, where there are so many distractions. Probably 60% of The Warded Man was written thusly. I would then spend an hour or two each night after my wife had gone to bed cleaning up the text on my desktop and adding more prose.”
While The Warded Man is the first book in a series, Brett says it was also designed to be a stand-alone novel with a full story arc, so readers need not fear they will be left with an unresolved plot or cliffhanger. “Just a little teaser of things to come,” he said.