Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle has gained readers over the course of the first two installments, The Warded Man and The Desert Spear, and reader anticipation for The Daylight War has been quite high. In the first two novels the demons, which rise in the night, were the greatest threat facing humanity. While the demons are still very present in The Daylight War, humanity’s remnants need to get their collective heads together before the demon threat can effectively be vanquished. In many post-apocalyptic stories—and a case can be made for The Demon Cycle as a post-apocalyptic story—the trigger event marginalizing human society becomes window dressing as the story progresses and the human character’s conflict takes center stage.
Perhaps the most popular current example of a human conflict against an apocalyptic backdrop is The Walking Dead (in both comic and TV format). Sure the zombies are still an ever-present threat, but the characters’ struggles against each other is what drives the story, as their competing ideologies and beliefs define each individual character’s reaction to the threats. The same can be said of The Daylight War, as the clash of cultures between those who consider Arlen to be the Deliverer and the desert dwellers claiming Jardir as the Deliverer.
As in previous installments, Brett intertwines the origin story of a major character with the current conflicts, namely the looming threat of Waning, when the position of the moon gives rise to a greater number of demons in the night. This time the “secret origin” of Inevera’s past—her growth as a sorceress-priestess and eventual self-maneuvered union with Jardir—parallels and directly relates to the “current” action of the novel. This structure of character origin intertwined with a progressing storyline is an extremely effective narrative device that echoes the landmark graphic novel/comic book series Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Brett has worked with the same framework of the story for the first three volumes (Arlen, and to a lesser extent Renna, Rojer, and Leesha in The Warded Man and Jardir and Abban in The Desert Spear), and for me, his parallel storytelling allows for ample dramatic tension on multiple levels.
The mythology/worldbuilding behind the demons hinted in the previous volume is revealed slightly more here in The Daylight War, as Brett peppers in chapter passages from the POV of the demons, providing readers with a glimpse of their society and race as a whole. Whether he will continue to expose more of the demons’ nature and origins remains to be seen, but I enjoyed the slow reveal unfolding here and I am very curious to see how much of the demons’ history Brett will allow readers to see.
The characters of Rojer and his two wives, as well as Leesha and Inevera, become caught up in the ideological clashes between the two cultures. Rojer becomes even more closely entangled with the Krasnian people, Leesha has a very intense sexual relationship with Jardir—so much that Jardir wishes to marry her—and Inevera continually pushes Jardir to ensure that Arlen is dead so that he may, without doubt, be appointed the Deliverer.
Brett’s three Demon Cycle novels thus far have showcased humanity and its most extreme reactions to the demon apocalypse. Violence, sex, violent sex, attitudes towards fear, destiny, and greed are all amped to eleven in The Daylight War. Whereas some have leveled criticism that the previous installment included rape as too predominant of a theme, here in the third volume it does not factor in as much, as a plot device. Rather, sex is a powerful tool to be used for manipulating people, showcasing weakness and power, while also a physical expression of love between characters. In other words, sex is a very powerful and integral element in life in Brett’s world just as it is in our world.
While I enjoyed the novel immensely, I have to admit to some minor issues I had with The Daylight War. One of those problems (and admittedly this may be my ownpedantic preferences at work) stemmed from the fact that several characters’ names were either very similar, or worse, all began with the same letter (for example, quite a few Krasnian characters’ names begin with the letter “A.”). My other minor problem is more of an internal conflict as a reader, because while it makes complete logical sense from the standpoint of the story and the characters’ development over the course of the three novels and this novel specifically, the ending was rather abrupt. Again, these were only minor issues for me. On the other hand, credit is due to Peter Brett for ending the novel in the fashion he did—let’s just say a cliff is involved. It may frustrate and anger some, but regardless, I admire Brett’s gumption in not shying away from what—at this point—seems to be an ending to this novel that best suits the overall story he’s telling in The Demon Cycle.
Brett has indicated that he’s a fan of Terry Brooks, and much of that comes through in these books. Though I haven’t read the entirety of Brooks’ output, I’ve often likened these books to Terry Brooks’ Shannara series with more of an edge, more of a bite, and maturity. Along with Brandon Sanderson and Daniel Abraham, Peter V. Brett is at the forefront of purveyors of epic fantasy whose teeth were ground on the likes of Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, Terry Brooks, and David Eddings…in other words, with The Daylight War, he’s at the top of his game.
I give this my highest recommendation (including the first two novels in the series.)
The Daylight War is out on February 12 from Del Rey.