The Great Bazaar by Peter V. Brett
Shame on me for not having read Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man and The Desert Spear yet. I have them on audio and I look forward to reading them — I just keep thinking that I’ll let Mr. Brett get further along in the series before I jump in (the series has been progressing slowly, but book 3, The Daylight War, comes out next February). Yet I’m attracted to Brett’s world and after reading his novella Brayan’s Gold, I wanted more, so I picked up the audio version of The Great Bazaar, another novella set in this land that’s overrun by various types of demons every time it gets dark.
Peter V. Brett explains in his introduction to the print version of The Great Bazaar and Other Stories that The Great Bazaar is chapter 16.5 of The Warded Man. Similar to Brayan’s Gold, it’s one of the short tales detailing Arlen’s work as a messenger. The stories were cut out of the novel to save space and make the story move faster. Brett explains that he’s got plenty of tales to tell about Arlen during this period of his life, so I expect we’ll be seeing more of these tales. Some can already be read in the print version of The Great Bazaar and Other Stories (available on Kindle for $5) and other deleted scenes can be found at Peter V. Brett’s website.
In The Great Bazaar, Arlen is travelling through the desert of Krasia with a map provided by Abban, a dealer in the bazaar. He’s looking for Baha kad’Everam, a deserted city famous for its expensive pottery. Nobody had been there for years because the place has been overrun by demons (including a type that Arlen has never heard of before), but Arlen hopes to find some pottery that will make him rich. Besides these new demons, Arlen also has to deal with the immortal rock demon he calls “One-Arm” who holds a grudge against Arlen and has been pursuing him for years. At the end of the story, Arlen sets out on another interesting quest. Will it be successful? I’ll have to read The Warded Man and The Desert Spear to find out.
I listened to the audio version of The Great Bazaar which was produced earlier this year by Recorded Books. The recording is 1½ hours long and is expertly read by Pete Bradbury who also reads the Brett novels. He does a really nice job and I’m definitely looking forward to beginning The Warded Man.
The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold by Peter V. Brett
Since I’m unfamiliar with the works of Peter V. Brett, The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold seemed like a smart place for me to start. The two novellas of the title, along with some “deleted scenes” and a Ward Grimoire, gave me a very clear view of Brett’s style and a glimpse of the greater universe of the DEMON CYCLE series. While I was fascinated by the rune-warding system and the varieties of demons, the action scenes were clunky, and some of the world-building elements were disappointing.
“Brayan’s Gold,” the first novella, takes place when Arlen of Tibbet’s Brook is sixteen years old and still an apprentice Messenger. (Messengers are entrusted with the secure transport of goods or letters between settlements.) He’s got a brand-new suit of armor which he’s covered in defensive wards to protect him from the hordes of murderous demons which rise up out of the ground every night, and his latest assignment is to help Curk, a senior Messenger, take a cart full of “thundersticks” from the city of Miln to Brayan’s Gold, a remote mining town high up in the mountains. Thundersticks are explosive, highly dangerous, and very valuable. If everything went as planned, this wouldn’t be a terribly interesting story, would it?
Brett provides details about Arlen’s profession and daily life in a smooth, economical way, establishing characters and setting without derailing the story. One such detail that caught my eye was the mention of synchronized clocks placed in Free Cities; timekeeping is a small thing, but a necessary one, and often ignored in fantasy novels. Additionally, warding allows for all kinds of technological advances while still maintaining a medieval Europe-style society, which I thought was very clever. Mountain homes would need to be habitable, so why not absorb energy from demon attacks and redirect it into hot water or heated air?
The majority of Arlen’s journey is engaging and well-written, but as I wrote above, the scenes in which he does battle are not as well-crafted — especially in the second novella, “The Great Bazaar.” They’re straightforward to the point of repetition, relying on a “this happened, but then this happened” structure which occurs as often as once per paragraph. Arlen attacks, but a demon deflects it. A demon attacks, but Arlen dodges. I understand that action can be difficult to portray in a written medium, but variation of style and word usage are key to keeping the reader absorbed in the narrative. As a result, I found myself skimming through these scenes and focusing more on the dialogue and travel.
“The Great Bazaar” is set in the Krasian Desert, four years later. Arlen is on the hunt for valuable pottery in an abandoned hamlet, Baha kad’Everam, on the advice of a friend who is far more clever and devious than his behavior indicates. Abban, a merchant, is definitely playing a long con, and uses Arlen to settle a sore point of contention. In the end, however, after reading this novella and checking some details against Bill’s FanLit review of The Warded Man (titled The Painted Man in the UK), it seems that Arlen got the better end of the deal.
In this novella, we see some of the breadth of demon types, with different classifications and habits which are unique to each type. In the mountains, there were rock and snow demons; in the desert, there are sand and clay demons. Also, Brett stretches beyond the expected elemental types of magic, and gives each demon an interesting appearance. He’s clearly given a lot of thought to how geography and climate would influence demon physiology, and the evidence of that hard work enriches the reading experience.
Unfortunately, Krasian society is not so creative or inventive. They’re a desert-dwelling people who restrict their women’s daily lives and force them to wear head-to-toe black robes. Men are allowed to be warriors, priests, or merchants. Alcoholic drinks are forbidden, but imbibed anyhow, and pork is only eaten by unclean people. If a man is killed or shamed out of the community, his wives can expect to be raped and then sold as slaves. Arlen himself doesn’t approve of this, which is good to know, but why do so many fantasy writers seem to insist that life among the dunes automatically means misogyny and exotic barbarism? It’s disappointing and tiresome to see this trope, especially because it’s unnecessary.
The deleted scenes are “Arlen” and “Brianne Beaten.” The first story, “Arlen,” was the original germination point for the DEMON CYCLE series in Brett’s mind, and was written for a class Brett took in 1999. He writes in an introduction that he had intended for it to be the prologue to The Warded Man, but his editor persuaded him to cut it. I enjoyed reading about this mischievous little scamp, always pushing the boundaries of how late he could stay out or how far he could travel from home without being caught by demons. Again, it’s a good set-up for the world, the history of the demon attacks, and the circumstances which led to universal use of protective wards.
“Brianne Beaten” was cut from a chapter of The Warded Man because Brett felt that it wasn’t strictly needed to progress either the story or Leesha’s character development. Leesha is an “Herb Gatherer,” and seems to be in the process of outgrowing her small town. Her friend, Brianne, is married to a man who abuses her, and Leesha intervenes. Without any context for this character or her history, I couldn’t tell you whether it’s a good thing that this part was cut or not, but it was an interesting series of scenes.
Also included are a Krasian Dictionary and a Ward Grimoire. The dictionary seems superfluous, as any foreign terms were recognizable from context within dialogue or description. On the other hand, the Ward Grimoire is very useful. Not only does it provide a history of ward usage and the delineations of those wards — usefulness against which demons and whether it’s intended for offense or defense — but each ward’s entry is accompanied by a picture of the ward and a detailed description of the affected demon’s habitat and appearance. I was particularly glad that this was included because it’s further evidence of the care and thought which Brett has invested in these books.
The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold is a good introduction to Brett’s style for new readers, as well as the larger world of his DEMON CYCLE series. Readers who are already familiar with that series should also enjoy the extra glimpses into the life of Arlen as he battles demons and wanders the world. I’m intrigued enough to add The Warded Man to my to-be-read list, but not enough so that it’s going to zoom straight to the top.
I have read “the warded man” and “the desert spear” and I just can’t wait to have in my hands “The daylight war”… I just loved “Brayan’s Gold” but I can’t find “the great bazzar” printed, so I guess I’ll have to hear it instead of reading… thanks for the review Kat
Great Bazaar was a pretty limited run at Subterranean Press a while back. It sold out pretty quickly, so you’re only hope now is somewhere like eBay if you actually wanted to get a print copy of it. These kinds of things are great for obsessive collector types like me, but kind of suck for people who just want to read the story and don’t want to shell out a small fortune to do it (or just don’t hear about the book in time.)
What Gary says is true, which is why I was so happy to see it at Audible. Audible has produced a bunch of novellas that Sub Press has put out. Easier to get and cheaper at Audible.