It wasn’t too very long ago that I reviewed a novel by Peter Newman entitled The Vagrant (you can find that review here). The main character was elusive and dangerous, but also mute throughout the story. It was a challenging read that pushed the boundaries of regular science fiction and fantasy books. The author’s newest offering, The Malice, is considerably different from its predecessor. As a matter of fact, it was actually more difficult for me to read this more traditionally written story based on my expectations. And I admit it was those expectations that caused me the most trouble with this book.
Whereas the first book in the Vagrant series was wrapped in an enigmatic cloak, this follow-up is quite straightforward. We pick up the tale a few years after the completion of the first book and I expected the story to have our tight-lipped warrior back in the fray, saving the world from the horrors that are attacking it. Not so, apparently. In fact, this book could have actually been the first of the series with The Vagrant being a prequel or flashback. In more standard form than expected, Newman has our young protagonist Vesper start off her quest quite innocently with no idea what she was doing. As the story unfolds, she is quickly made aware that her actions will have serious and long-lasting repercussions.
For you see, Vesper’s entire childhood has been spent as the daughter of the man called the Vagrant. He has protected her for so long that she has had limited contact with almost no one. As we all know, it is not just cats that are curious, children can be far more inquisitive and capricious when they feel like it. Taking The Malice, the famed Winged Eye sword of the demi-god Gamma, the young girl becomes embroiled in a quest to close the Breach from whence comes all of the Infernals that plague the land. As you might guess, she is overwhelmed by the responsibilities that this entails. Were it not for the myriad of supporting characters in this story, I have no doubt she would have either floundered or retreated. Luckily, there are always others willing to lend a hand, up to, and including the Kid, a baby goat that is the progeny of the Goat from the original tale.
Additionally, the first book revolved around slowly building a team during a ridiculously long trek to a safe haven, while this one is almost a polar opposite. In fact, a lot of ground is covered quite literally by flying towards their destination. This novel also explores the world in depth, creating a deeper understanding of how the demonic Infernals have corrupted mankind. For they must possess a body in order to interact. In this particular story, though, the evil that has been seeping out of the Breach has been manageable, until now. Now there is a presence, a power heretofore unmatched; malevolent and tireless, it seeks the eradication of all things. And only the holy blade of Gamma seems ready to stop it.
During the original tale, much importance was placed on the fact that Vesper was untainted by their touch. It is interesting to watch as the young girl grows more mature and worldly, shouldering the task better by the page. I won’t spoil the story in any way but will only say that the ending makes it obvious that the next book will be the culmination, bringing all the loose threads together. It is important to note that, much like book one, there is a second story within this novel. Unlike the last one that was particular to one individual, this one is more historically oriented and follows the path of a talented child named Massassi. The vast majority of that tale explores the creation and expansion of the Empire of the Winged Eye. And while some of it is relevant to the current book, I am sure that much will pertain to the final installment in this trilogy.
I hedged on the first book a little, loving the style and liking the content. This one, however, is spot one my favorite of the two. I think it was a hundred pages in or so before I was struck by the thought that while the first book was named after the main character, this one is not. It is named after the sword. Once your mindset changes, the book takes on a whole new dimension. It’s crazy to think that it is unintentional and as the reader delves deeper, it becomes more obvious. One wonders, though, if the next book will be called Vesper or Gamma.
Differences aside, I loved this book. I mentioned earlier that I hedged on The Vagrant, unsure of my feelings about it. The Malice was entertaining and riveting, with almost never a dull moment. The comic relief of the original Goat is surpassed by the stubbornness of the Kid, causing the protagonists no end of grief. I didn’t mention much about the Infernals, but the variety and depth of personas within those characters make me want a separate book just about them. So do yourself a favor, buy this book. And the first one, too, if you don’t already own it. You will regret nothing.
Following Peter Newman’s brilliant debut, THE VAGRANT. This is the much-anticipated sequel, THE MALICE.
In the south, the Breach stirs.
Gamma’s sword, the Malice, wakes, calling to be taken to battle once more.
But the Vagrant has found a home now, made a life and so he turns his back, ignoring its call.
The sword cries out, frustrated, until another answers.