The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett
The third novel in Peter Brett’s ‘Demon Cycle’ has got some pretty damning reviews, so I was a bit nervous going into it. Although it’s far from a masterpiece, comparisons to the notoriously moribund Crossroads of Twilight aren’t quite fair; Brett never manages to sink to middle period Wheel of Time levels of pacing. That said, the pacing is an issue, with all the best stuff crammed into 50 or so pages at the end to make way for reams of padding.
The Daylight War picks up immediately after The Desert Spear, just after Arlen and Renna took out their Mind Demon in the north and Jardir, Leesha and Inervera took out theirs in the south. The intelligences in the Core now know the threat the humans pose to them, and plan a terrible strike on Waning, the time when the moon is most dark and their power is most strong. Arlen and Jardir have a month to prepare their forces at Deliverer’s Hollow and Everam’s Bounty respectively , all whilst getting ready for the inevitable conflict between them. At the same time, just as we were with Jardir in The Desert Spear, we are given the story of Inervera, Jardir’s First Wife, a Machiavellian figure who seems to behind much of what goes on in the story.
The Daylight War doesn’t expand the world that much; in fact, we see almost nowhere new from the earlier books, but it does offer some wonderfully tantalising hints about the nature of the Core, and just how the magic of this world works. Brett is stingy with details about his world, preferring to tease them out, and although I’d like a little more clarity, it’s perhaps preferable to the info dumps we see in writers such as Steven Erikson or Brandon Sanderson.
The first two thirds of The Daylight War contain some of the worst excesses of the fantasy genre, with a staggering amount of lengthy travelling scenes whilst very little happens. The Inervera flashback stuff seems entirely unnecessary; it covers a lot of same ground as Jardir’s did in The Desert Spear, and even some stuff from back in The Painted Man. We’ve now seen Arlen’s betrayal by Jardir from three different perspectives. Thankfully, the last third is a grand improvement, with the actual battles at Waning being suitably epic, with a rare moment of joy in the latter third bringing a massive grin to my face. For all of its flaws, The Daylight War has one of the coolest endings that I’ve ever read in fantasy, and I can honestly say that the wait for the next book, The Skull Throne, is going to be quite unbearable. The ending is rushed, which is bizarre considering the padding out of dull bits at the beginning of the novel, but the brevity actually kind of worked for me.
Brett’s a capable writer, although with each book he finds another weird lapse. Where The Desert Spear had a gross overreliance on rape as a plot device, Brett instead makes a transition to ridiculously gratuitous, but consensual, sex scenes. The earlier books weren’t exactly chaste, but The Daylight War takes it to a whole, kind of gross, new level. I’m not opposed to a good sex scene, if done right they can actually be pretty beautiful (look at Jon and Ygritte’s cave scene in Martin’s A Storm of Swords to see a sex scene done right), but they just feel jarring and unnecessary here.
The characterisation was probably at its strongest here; Arlen is still a charmingly human and likeable lead, with his new love interest Renna Tanner standing as a much better character than the Mary Sue-ish Leesha Paper. Leesha’s characterisation is still all over the place, and I felt that Rojer took a bit of a step backwards in this novel. Maybe it was just because it was only here that I noticed just how similar Rojer is to Robert Jordan’s Mat Cauthon, but he just didn’t feel quite right to me. Jardir and Abban over on the Kraisian side are great characters, although Inervera’s flashback journey from timid young basket weaver to dangerous priestess sex goddess is very unconvincing.
The pacing for The Daylight War is bizarrely terrible, but I cannot deny that the closing pages had me utterly gripped. It’s ending leaves me very optimistic for the final couple of books, and hopefully The Daylight War simply stands as the mid series fatigue which hits almost every long running fantasy series. Brett still hasn’t quite refined his craft to Sanderson/Rothfuss/Martin levels, but he’s getting there, and I cannot wait for the next book in the series.