I’d hazard a guess that a sizable majority of readers become readers in the first place because at one point in time a book swept them away. An aesthetic appreciation for imagery or turn of phrase is all well and good, but most if not all of us hunger for a novel that seizes us by the throat and drags us into another world. Whatever else it may be, The Daylight War is such a novel, compulsively readable. I found myself putting off real life to finish it, and it was a good feeling. A lot of it is down to Peter V. Brett’s deft styling and plotting, keeping his reader hooked without sacrificing artistic integrity. He does it so well that he even manages to keep his reader enthralled despite the fact that — in comparison to his two previous novels — very little actually happens in The Daylight War.
In the aforementioned first two books, Brett introduced readers to his world of fear and faint hope, where humanity cowers behind magical symbols called “wards” to avoid a gruesome death at the claws of demons that rise each night. By the time of The Daylight War’s predecessor, The Desert Spear, two men have arisen to offer humanity hope of deliverance from the otherworldly scourge. These two men, Ahmann Jardir and Arlen Bales, were once friends but have become bitter nemeses — in no small part because they represent very different ideals of leadership. Where Bales is a kind of grass-roots champion, holding staunchly to his simple farming origins and attempting to inspire humanity to take responsibility for its own destiny, Jardir takes the path of the heroic conqueror, seeking to unite humans beneath his banner. It’s clever stuff: Brett shows his readership the pros and cons of each viewpoint, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each man. Bales is self-effacing and morally centered, but his idealism may not be the pragmatic decision in the face of a fast-approaching war. Jardir is a dynamic leader with a firm vision of the future and a plan to enable humanity’s survival, but he is haunted by atrocities committed in the name of the greater good. Much of The Daylight War is concerned with the build-up to the inevitable conflict between the two, but also with the introduction of a new point-of-view character in Jardir’s wife Inevera, a previously enigmatic soothsayer.
The focus given Inevera is, for me, something of a mixed bag. Her perspective on events certainly makes it clear just how at sea all of these characters are, as well as affording Brett a chance to expand his world and complicate some of his system of magic. That said, Inevera’s personality, while interesting and fully realized, is not particularly original or refreshing: what you see — it turns out — is more or less what you get. Inevera has family ties to humanize her and a harsh back-story to justify her cold-blooded decisions, but she remains the more-or-less archetypal “Machiavellian femme fatale.” While much of her back-story is interesting and fun to read, it is yet another retelling of the same years we have seen depicted twice already from the perspectives of the two male protagonists, and may for some readers add up to a lot of page space for not a lot of new (or at least unexpected) information. Even once the story returns to the modern day, Inevera’s perspective often serves to remind readers of something they were probably fairly clear on already: that Inevera is jealous of her husband’s romantic affections and resents the intrusion of the other main female, Leesha Paper.
Indeed, perhaps because Inevera (probably the series’ most overtly sexual character) is the major figure of this installment, much more focus is given in this book to sex, romance, and jealousy — particularly female jealousy. Obviously, the strain between Inevera and Jardir over Leesha’s presence or importance is a major plot point, but we also get two marriages, numerous marital disputes, a sizable focus on how homosexuality works and is regarded in this universe, and seemingly endless love triangles (a sizeable number of which Leesha seems to drop into headfirst, until I wasn’t sure whether to feel sorry for the woman herself or her legion of confused suitors).
This isn’t to say that nothing involving demons happens. There are several substantial revelations on that score, and two major battle sequences, but these points come in more or less at the end of the novel, and the whole sequence of events takes place over only a single month. If I had to accurately title this novel, I would not choose The Daylight War — warring is firmly subordinate to politicking, mostly sexual politicking. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, but readers who may have been led to expect a bit more action from previous installments may find themselves eager for a bit more conflict and a faster pace to the Jardir/Bales rivalry over and above the Leesha/Inevera one or any of the other romantic spats.
On the whole, though, I must say that Brett has crafted an effective and engrossing installment for his DEMON CYCLE, and if events are moving a bit slower here, the book does not feel much the poorer for it. The interpersonal conflicts are fascinating in their own right, and once the action does begin, it is as gripping as ever and builds to a shocking finale that — though perhaps just a bit too rushed to have the emotional impact it should have had — left me gasping for more.
More, Mr. Brett. More.