As darkness falls after sunset, the corelings rise—demons who possess supernatural powers and burn with a consuming hatred of humanity. For hundreds of years the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards—symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile. It was not always this way. Once, men and women battled the corelings on equal terms, but those days are gone. Night by night the demons grow stronger, while human numbers dwindle under their relentless assault. Now, with hope for the future fading, three young survivors of vicious demon attacks will dare the impossible, stepping beyond the crumbling safety of the wards to risk everything in a desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past. Together, they will stand against the night.
I read this as an audiobook, narrated by Colin Mace. I've only recently started getting into audiobooks, and this is actually only the second novel I've listened to in that format (the others being non-fiction titles such as 'Fry's English Delight' and the like). I didn't think I would be able to immerse myself in the story properly if I was to listen to it rather than read it, but I've found that not to be the case – especially with The Painted Man (also known as The Warded Man).
(Just a quick note before I get into my review of the main story ... as I didn't read it, some character names may be spelt incorrectly. I apologise for that in advance.)
I was immediately gripped by this story, starting with Arlen as a young boy, then slowly introducing the two other main characters, Leesha and Rojer, both of whom are also young when we first meet them (Rojer being only 3). I was initially disappointed when the chapters moved on from one character to the next, but I soon lost that disappointment as I became better acquainted with the new character. I loved that the stories for each character started when they were young, and that we got to watch them all grow up and start to become the characters that would really drive this series forwards.
Although it took a long time for the three characters to meet and their stories to merge together, I still enjoyed seeing each of their backgrounds – almost like their origin stories in a way – and I enjoyed seeing this fantasy world from multiple perspectives. But now that the characters have met, the story has become even more exciting, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the three of them will push things forward in the next book.
Leesha was probably my favourite character – although this was a tough call between her and Arlen. She was strong and despite the overwhelming amount of things stacked against her, she still manages to come out on top and fighting. She knew what she wanted and she wouldn't settle for anything less.
Arlen, however, is the character who grows the most through the story, and is perhaps the most interesting of the three. He is somewhat unrecognisable as the young boy from the first chapter of the book by the time we reach the end. The experiences he has totally change him, and to a certain extent, warp him. He is much darker and far more complicated than either Leesha or Rojer, and there are definitely secrets behind his change to uncover in the following books.
As for the plot, it was incredibly compelling. I find with a lot of fantasy – especially fantasy where all the books are quite lengthy – that my interest wanes a little at least once; maybe the story slows down a little; maybe there's just a little too much detail; or maybe one character just isn't as interesting as the others. That didn't happen at all with this book! Every moment had me gripped and wanting more – so much so that I even got into the habit of listening to the audiobook in bed rather than reading my current paperback, which has never happened before. I was SO gripped by the story, in fact, that I went right ahead and got the second book in the series from Audible, and have already listened to the prologue and part of the first chapter.
A little more audiobook specific now. Colin Mace, as I have already mentioned, is the narrator for the UK edition of the audiobook. I usually find that with audiobooks, it's as much the narrator as the story that can make or break an audiobook, so I'm quite picky when it comes to which stories I read as a physical book, and which I opt to listen to on audio. From the sample on Audible, Colin sounded fairly good, so I decided to give it a try.
I was very pleasantly surprised by how good a job Colin did. He read dialogue well, giving the characters unique expression, and really added a special something to each scene (especially fight sequences and the more tense conflicts that occurred). I found him incredibly easy to listen to, so could stay immersed in the audiobook for long periods of time. I'm incredibly glad that the rest of the series is also narrated by him.
I adored this first novel to The Demon Cycle series. It was action-packed and compelling, with plenty of tension and edge-of-your-seat moments. The world building was fantastic, and although the ending of the book was left open enough for the sequel, it also gave a nice sense of closure to this chapter of the story.
Like I said, I'm already listening to book 2, which says all you need to know about how good this book really is.
Highly recommended, especially if you're new to audiobooks and/or enjoy action-packed fantasy.