The Malice by Peter Newman (The Vagrant Trilogy #2)

This is an awesome mash-up of fantasy, science-fiction and postapocalyptic fiction. It builds on the first book, The Vagrant, establishing a world that is far more complex and morally grey. And, in all honesty, I wish I’d read it sooner. 

I first read The Vagrant back in 2015 and was mesmerised by the use of a protagonist that never utters a word. Such a thing didn’t seem possible, but Newman pulled it off (somehow.) In doing so, he clearly established how sharp a writer he is. So, I was surprised to see the Vagrant pushed to the background, and Vesper, his daughter, become the bearer of Gamma’s sword (known only to her enemies as The Malice.) That much so, I didn’t read this book until two years after I originally bought it. 

It’s always risky changing a protagonist. It’s a bold move, and a completely necessary one to push this story forward though it may not seem that way in the beginning. I really should have picked this up sooner. Vesper is thrust into a situation she is completely unprepared for in order to protect her father. She doesn’t want him to carry the burden of the sword any longer, so she steals it and quickly finds herself in charge of a small army heading towards the frontlines. Her mission is to close the breach, a gaping hole in the earth that allows Infernals (shapeless nightmares seeking a body to inhabit) to pour forth and taint the land. She has no idea what she’s doing. She is not ready for it. And she messes up, big time. 

She spends the rest of the book running for her life from some terribly dangerous foes not realising how potent the weapon she carries sheathed on her back actually is. And the anticipation building up to the point where she drew it was incredible. Readers of The Vagrant will remember how powerful it is and exactly what it can do to Infernals. But Vesper is reluctant to kill, and such reluctance makes her a far more interesting character than her silent father. I loved the journey she went on, she is experiencing this world for the first time and it changes her (in surprising ways.)  She learns that there is more to her enemy, that they are not entirely evil despite how horrific they may appear to the eye. The monsters are that grotesque and twisted, that it becomes very hard to visualise them in their contortedness. Newman does wonders though with his vivid prose to conjure up the unimaginable. Their master is dead and now the Infernals seek purpose in a world alien to them. They no longer inherently possess a desire to conquer and kill, but instead seek their own directions (whether good, bad or plain weird.) Vesper makes her own judgments based upon the things she sees, not the horror stories told to her. A such I found myself quite invested in her character. 

Told alongside the story is the history of the breach and the build up to it. And this made the novel so much more compelling. There are often big gaps in postapocalyptic fantasy, so it’s great to see Newman build so strongly on the foundations and clearly define everything that has caused this big mess of a situation. It’s not a simple case of light verses dark, of knights verses demons, anymore. The world that deals with the aftermath of such a conflict could not be quite as linear and simple.

It’s such a clever idea, one of the best fantasy has seen in years, the story flowed out of it. 

9/10 An awesome mash-up of fantasy, science-fiction and postapocalyptic fiction.

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