The Kitschies: Seraphina and vN
Underground Reading: The Confession by Dominic Stansberry

New Releases: The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett

Daylight WarHere's your spoiler-free review in 15 words:

If you liked the first two, you'll like this one. If you didn't, you won't

Or read on.

The Daylight War is the third book in Peter V. Brett's series about a demon-plagued dying earth. The set-up is still the series' most appealing attribute: a world where, every night, brutish monsters rise from the earth to rend and slay. Prior to the events of The Warded Man (the first book in the series), people merely cowered behind 'warded' walls after the sun goes down, but the rediscovery of combat magic has led to a counter-attack by humanity. 

Arlen Bales, the rediscoverer in question, is believed by most right-thinkin' people to be the "Deliverer", a messianic figure, here to save folks from the demons. Jardir, the leader of a country of shameless Arabic analogues, also has possession of the combat magic - courtesy of some devious backstabbery. He's believed to be the Deliverer by his people. Although the two are mature enough to recognise that the demons are the main problem, both Arlen and Jardir each want to be the one and only Chosen One. Thus the "daylight war" - puny human vs puny human while the demons lick their chops and wait for sundown.

Caught between Arlen and Jardir are their wimmenfolks - Inevera, Jardir's first wife, and Leesha, a healer who has earned the affections (nudge, wink) of both men. The two women are powerful rivals and this book is their story...

...except it isn't.

Just check out the plot blurb on Amazon and the summary on the publisher's site. Neither one even mentions the name of a female character. Inevera and Leesha may be the point of view characters for the vast majority of The Daylight War, but, as the blurbs confirm, the book is in no way about them.

Lots and lots of spoilers from here on out. If you're still trying to figure out if you should read this book, please see the 15 word review at the top of the page. 

Inevera, whose background story fills much of this volume, spends her entire life being trained to become the bride of the Deliverer. But let's be clear: she wants to be the Deliverer's bride, and that's her only ambition. Her own successes are meaningless. One charming example: as the most powerful sorceress in her class, she earns a magical McGuffin that essentially grants her a single wish. Inevera promptly restores her virginity (lost to a statue, in one of the book's squickier scenes) as to better please her future husband.

Those parts of her story set in the present day are no better. Inevera is driven by a jealousy of Leesha and a compulsive fear that she may have married the wrong Deliverer. It doesn't matter that she's the most powerful user of magic in the known world - her self-worth hinges entirely on the identity of the man she married. If she hitches her wagon to the wrong star? Her life is wasted.

Inevera's story also uncomplicates Jardir's. She's the Machiavellian force behind his throne; the one who forced him to betray Arlen and conquer the white folks. Yet, at the same time, her power over him isn't absolute. As we learn from their first night together, her extensive training in the bedroom (which has already given us many of the book's most prurient scenes) is nothing when compared to the prowess of a Real Man. Inevera's control of Jardir is a convenient thing: on one hand, she's there to blame for all of Jardir's morally ambiguous decisions, but on the other, he's fucked all the superiority right out of her. Hoo-ah.

Leesha spent The Warded Man being gang-raped and then having 'recovery sex' in a mud puddle (during which Arlen turns into a demon and floats away - yikes). She spent The Desert Spear seducing Jardir, because her role as the most powerful user of magic in the white half of the world was nothing compared to being a hottie. The Daylight War finds Leesha heading back to her own people, a people who have now been conquered by Jardir's (due warning: when the Arab analogues come, they will take away your children).

Leesha's conflict? She's pregnant - and she knows Jardir will come for the child (despite having 42 of his own already with his harem, it is assumed that this magickal half-whitefolk child will be moar speshul). It is a plot twist made frustrating on several levels. Female characters in The Desert Spear set records for the amount of time they spent discussing their "wombs", but at least that book made clear that Leesha was a pragmatic Wise Woman stereotype who knew mysterious, hand-wavey "herb" things about birth control. Sadly, Leesha's magic condoms must've slipped into a plot hole one fateful night.

Similarly, a discussion of abortion is... brief. Leesha decides that "if it is far along for her to be sick, it is a child and not a notion", and the Creator (the god she's largely discounted up until this point) wants her to keep it. Whether or not the reader agrees with her conclusion, Leesha reaches it after a discussion that lasts all of a single sentence. Given the vast personal and political issues that she knows her pregnancy will cause, it seems out of character for Leesha to dismiss the option in a single line.

A third character, Renna, also nabs a bit of the book's page count. Renna spent most of the first book being raped by her father and the second shagging Arlen. In the third, she's fallen into the same trap as Inevera and Leesha. She's graced with her own point of view, but all she sees is Arlen. She follows in his shadow, steeped in her own insecurity. Upon seeing the horrific sacrifices Arlen's made to gain his superhuman powers, Renna follows suit. Not because she could be the Deliverer (Creator forbid!). Nor because she wants to save the world (what, a woman?). But simply because she's worried about Arlen and wants to be able to assist him wherever he goes.

As the three women grow powerful - as political players, magic users or ninja warriors - the men grow even more so, ensuring that whatever agency the female characters gain, it never means anything. By the end of the book, Arlen and Jardir are stomping around like colossi, able to read minds and heal with a touch. Hilariously, this renders a lot of the plotting for naught, for what are the schemes of lowly women when confronted by the omniscience of a man? Renna's superhuman augmentation, Leesha's pregnancy and Inevara's plans, despite 800 pages of secret squirrel, are spotted immediately when the Eye of Plot-Sauron chooses to turn upon them. (Of course, at the end of the day all the women want is love, so they're easy to mollify.)

An equally progressive sub-plot involves Rojer the Bard learning to love both svelte young wives that have been foisted upon him. As a threesome, they make magical music (both literally and figuratively). But The Daylight War is quick to point out that only Rojer can lead and generate the special magic music. His two talented ladywives can merely find the right harmonies. In a book far from subtle, this may be the most heavy-handed metaphor of all. In case you've missed the point: men lead, women follow.

Two more quibbles:

First, the language in this book drove me nuts. The folksy "ents" and dropped g's and slang are ridiculous, especially coming from Arlen, who has spent the first two books being the most well-travelled, well-educated man in the universe. Apparently his accent stuck. Except when he's whipping out metaphors like "recharging batteries" and "networks of wards". Which, although deliberate anachronisms, are no less glaring.

Second - and seriously, if you ever intend to read this book, don't read on - I didn't buy the ending. Both Jardir and Arlen have spent their lives obsessed with fighting demons. They'd made every sacrifice to win the war against the demons, up to and including sweeping changes to their own societies. But then they set all that aside because they're keen on a duel to the death? Arlen and Jardir are the two most effective anti-demon agents in their world. So the fact that they insist on resolving their personal quarrel before settling the Big War Against Teh Evil seems out of character for both of them. (It is particularly hypocritical of Arlen, who has spent the entire book lecturing Renna on putting her emotions ahead of The Cause.)

(Also, what kind of a cliff-hanger is the ending, really? We've spent most of the book establishing that Arlen can heal people magically, so when he chucks Jardir off a cliff, it doesn't have quite the finality to it that it should. But then again, Jardir is the false messiah, so maybe he deserves to be splattered all over the landscape for his temerity. Either way, I'm not losing sleep.)

Which ties it all up to my initial response: if you liked the first two books, nothing I've said about the third will dissuade you from reading it. You've already had rapiness, perpetual womb-talk and evil foreigners enslavin' our children and takin' our wimmenfolk into their hay-rems. There's nothing worse in this book, so if you've come this far... Enjoy.

However, if you didn't like the first two, The Daylight War contains no reason for you to give the series a second chance. This series remains what it is - unrepentantly and flamboyantly so.