Listening to The Demon Cycle

Audiobooks are a large part of how I consume books. They make riding in the car much more enjoyable. Mostly, I listen to audiobooks that I’ve read in print form first. They’re helpful when a new installment in a series is coming out; I can listen to the previous book and get ready for the new one. Or they’re like visiting an old friend. I love Terry Pratchett’s audiobooks because they take me back to the Discworld that I love, and the performances are masterful. Occasionally, I will give new series or authors a chance through audiobooks. I don’t do this often because it doesn’t seem like a good way to test out something new. Usually this happens because I really, really want to try out an author I haven’t read before but can’t fit their book into my To Be Read pile. This is how I came to read Brandon Sanderson’s original fiction, but since I’d read his contribution to the Wheel of Time, I had an idea of his level of craft. Most of the time that I try a new author out on audiobook, it doesn’t work out well. Naturally, I hold this against myself and not the author. But rarely a story and a narrator hit that right note that drags me into a new world. This year, Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle has been an excellent find for me as I’ve gone through the first four books on audio back to back.

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The series is about a world that has fallen due to nightly rising of demons. They come from the earth, the core, and terrorize people. As long as the humans are behind the magical wards that form a defensive system, they are safe. The wards are painted on houses, walls, and messenger circles. To leave the wards is almost certain death. The series starts with The Warded Man, which introduces us to the world and to some interesting characters. The Desert Spear picks up where that novel lets off and gives us a different perspective on some events from the first installment while introducing us to new characters and a new culture. The Daylight War gives us yet another perspective on events from the first book and continues to advance the overall plot. Finally, The Skull Throne sets the stage for a truly devastating ending coming this October in The Core. Due to the nature of the books, it is important to start with The Warded Man because as the series progresses, subsequent books give different perspectives on previous events. The effect of seeing something one way and then having to reframe the same event would be lost if read out of order.

First things first, the series is set in an interesting world if generic medieval world. The demons rising in the night and the wards of protection aren’t what make this original; they are just tools to push the characters. While the characters are just medieval peasants, the audiobook narrator gives them a twang of an American farmer almost. The folksy feel of the characters belies an intellectual depth hinted at by the sophistication of the ward system and the medical knowledge of the healers. The backstory makes it clear that the world has fallen from a more advanced state. There is knowledge hidden that exceeds the current technology level of the civilization. One of my questions is why is the knowledge hidden? There are two main factions that keep the knowledge hidden – the herb gatherers and the faith. It would be interesting to explore this lost knowledge, but the author isn’t concerned with that aspect of his story. The world also features a generic middle eastern culture that is based upon medieval Islamic warrior culture. Sadly, it leaves out the science and mathematics portion of the Arabic culture to focus on a battle obsessed culture. Neither the vaguely European nor generic middle eastern societies possess much depth, and I think there is an in-world explanation for this that isn’t brought up until the fourth book and even then near the end. Much of the criticism of the unevenness of the plot could have been mitigated by introducing this idea earlier in the series. Periodic mass cullings by the demons could explain why the humans can’t maintain a level of technology or accrued knowledge. Constantly rebuilding doesn’t allow much time for passing esoteric knowledge.

The demons are fascinating. Their forms come from the environment and elements. For example, there are fire demons, rock demons, wood demons, and more. We soon learn that more powerful versions exist in the core. They are terrifying but ultimately alien. We eventually get some POVs from the demons, but there is no insight. Overall, I’m reminded of the Eloi/Moorlock situation with the symbiotic relationship. The demons seem to just enjoy tormenting the human population.

This series features many, many flashbacks and origin stories. I enjoyed this part but can see how it’d be frustrating for the average reader. There is a school of thought to jump right in and get to the action. However, by seeing the characters backgrounds, we get motivations for why they do what they do. Mistakes that are made tend to be rooted in character, and without that background, the mistakes would look like plot points as opposed to organic errors. As an artistic choice, I like seeing a key betrayal from multiple viewpoints. It doesn’t excuse the action or make the villains any less villainous. It provides insight. No one is the villain of their own story, and these chances to understand why they did what they did works. While it retreads the same action, it changes the perspective on the action. Again, this doesn’t excuse the action or make it any less horrible. It’s an opportunity to see that humans do evil things for what they believe are good reasons. While this isn’t a lesson that is new or original, it’s one that contemporary fiction comes to again and again.

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The series is obsessed with reproduction, sex, and sexual violence. These societies are obsessed with sex and reproduction while maintaining puritan values of reproduction only through marriage. If reproduction is so important to bolster the human population, why are such narrow views held by society. The easy answer is because their religions dictate that, but I don’t buy it. If the human species were as close to extinction as possible, any birth would be celebrated. The books assume that men’s possessiveness extends to these dire times. While I could believe it about marital fidelity, why would pregnancy outside of wedlock be so shameful? Honestly, this didn’t bother me as much as all the sexual violence. Many, if not most, characters are victims and in some cases perpetrators as well. It recurs too frequently. Some situations make sense story-wise, and some seem to be thrown in for shock value or for that important grimdark cred. A number of instances could have been cut with zero impact to the story. And in general the constant obsession with sex gets old quickly. It’s so prevalent the title of the series should be revised to The Demon and Sex Cycle. As yet, we have yet to meet a sex demon, which would kill the story for me. Any recommendation has to come with a huge trigger warning that sexual violence is prominent in the series.

Despite the weaknesses of the series, I’m enjoying it. The whole story is based around the worst aspects of humans trying to save humanity. Occasionally goodness shines through, but quickly the pettiness follows. Grudges and old wounds are as constant in this story as the sexual violence. Forgiveness is not a strength of these peoples. But it’s compelling. I want to know where Arlen and Jardir’s stories go. Will this time that the humans rise up be enough to defeat the demons? Or will they be brought low again? I can’t find myself making arguments for or against this series, which makes me feel wishy-washy. But I am enjoying it. There are serious flaws, and it is problematic. It also is suspenseful and compelling. With many trigger warnings, I will highly recommend this series. It’s frustrating; it’s flawed; and it’s uneven, but I can’t stop listening.

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More Details | Brooks Wheelan | 最后发表: 半小时前