The Desert Spear is book 2 in Peter V. Brett's 5 book Demon Cycle series, and it directly follows the events of The Warded Man. I've been reading this book slowly, enjoying a deep dive into a fascinating world.
The book opens with a bold decision that I ended up respecting a lot. Instead of following our protagonists from the first book, we are treated to Ahmann Jardir's backstory. Jardir was an instrumental secondary character in The Warded Man, responsible for what I would consider to be Arlen's greatest transformation. Here, we are finally treated to his history, and in no small measure. A substantial chunk of the opening is dedicated to telling Jardir's story properly.
Right away, we get a chance to see Brett's worldbuilding skills on full display. The Krasians have built a culture wholly unlike the one readers were introduced to in The Warded Man. I enjoyed how Brett shows us, so clearly, how different cultures would adapt to a demon invasion. Perhaps more impressive, it lets us into this world while developing Jardir's character and pulling the reader forward. This is worldbuilding as I love it. There's no long classroom lectures, no massive pieces of exposition. Everything flowed naturally from the story.
As much as I enjoyed my time with Jardir and the Krasians, it continues to be Arlen who captures most of my attention and wins most of my praise.
I probably spend more time than I should thinking about heroes. It feels to me that fantasy as a genre goes back and forth on the subject. For a time, there were the heroes we'd now call white knights, who were exemplars of courage, martial skill, and honor, and who had few, if any, flaws. Then, perhaps no one moved that needle farther the other way than George R.R. Martin in A Song of Ice and Fire. There are people who perform heroic deeds in Game of Thrones, but it's tough to call any of them a hero.
In most of the fantasy I read, it feels like we've found a bit of a middle ground. Heroes are flawed, but still capable of great deeds. Arlen sits squarely in this territory, but there's something to him that makes him feel unique about heroes.
In The Warded Man, we see Arlen's courage to stand against the night and root for him to triumph against the foes, both human and demon, that stand before him. But in The Desert Spear, we see more clearly what that courage and single-minded focus has cost him. It's a fascinating study, and if I have any complaint about the book, it's that we don't spend enough time with Arlen as the scope of the story expands.
One last point that I'll mention is that Jardir as a foil for Arlen is beautifully done. Both men want to save the world, but their approaches couldn't be more different. Jardir wants to be the Deliverer, and we see that throughout the book, he has the capability to be just that. Arlen, by contrast, wants nothing to do with the prophecy, and yet just as much potential to fulfill the role.
From a wider story perspective, The Desert Spear is definitely a book 2. It expands the world, increases the stakes, and sets us up for a book 3, which I plan on starting soon!