23 April 2015
“In answer, the Vagrant raises his blade. At its hilt, silvered wings unfurl.
An eye opens.”
The Vagrant by Peter Newman
It was a complete accident that I stumbled across an uncorrected proof of The Vagrant by Peter Newman. I picked it up for free from Books for Free Stratford, and I will admit it was the cover and the brief description that sold me on the book. It was not until I returned to my house from London, that I realized it was a proof copy. As I started to read the first chapter I realized I had made an excellent find.
The Vagrant is an epic story of a quest that seems impossible. The main character, known only as the Vagrant, is mute and carries a baby and a magical sword while he tries to make it to the Shining City, the last bastion of the human race. However, between him and his destination is a world that was devastated by an evil that killed the people’s protection, the Seraph Knights, and it has transformed many of the survivors into things no longer human. It is a dark world, with many horrific creatures, where you never know who you can trust, especially as the evil is searching for the Vagrant and what he carries.
As you can probably tell, I loved this book. I was hooked from the beginning, and honestly had trouble putting it down. The Vagrant had excellent pacing and even though it is 400 pages I finished in a couple days. One of the best things for me was that the writing style felt a bit like poetry, but without being so complex as to pull away from the story. If I had not found out that The Vagrant was a debut novel, I would have never guessed it with how expertly everything was tied together. Especially interesting is the use of two timelines, there is the main one that is happening currently, and flashbacks interspersed between chapters to fill in the gaps, which is used brilliantly.
Before I dive further into why I loved The Vagrant so much, I do need to discuss my one issue with the book; which is how hard it was to figure out what was going on at first. I could see where people might be tempted to put the book down, if I had not been so intrigued by the premise and loved the style of writing it might have been tempting to put it down. For fans that are not usually science fiction/fantasy, especially with more complex worlds, this may be a book that is difficult to follow at first. However, if you push through things begin to come together amazingly, and the beginning makes more sense. In the end it was a bit like a mystery novel with the pieces only coming together as you read on. I am rather excited to re-read the beginning now that I know where the book is going, as I think there was a lot that I missed.
In the novel it was a very brave choice by Newman to have a main character that does not speak, and the other main characters are a baby and a goat. On top of this, as it is written in third person, with shifting focus, we never actually see into the Vagrant’s head, which again is more complicated. However, Newman really made this work. With looks and small motions the Vagrant is able to convey his point. While he is wrapped in mystery, as we never hear the Vagrant’s story from his point of view, he was still a completely realized character. My favorite interactions though are the ones between the Vagrant and the baby. You can see one of their interactions below.
“The next kick is more vigorous. Pulling back his coat once again, the Vagrant frowns down at the baby. It stops kicking and looks up at him. He raises his eyebrows at it and the baby smiles. The cycle repeats several times, the baby smiling a little more with each repetition. The Vagrant stops walking and sighs.”
Adding to the Vagrant’s appeal is the fact that he does not fall into many of the conventions that readers can expect from a character completing a massive quest. Instead, whilst he is brave the Vagrant is also fallible. He fails people, he can’t save everyone every time, he is not able to dodge everything and gets injured, there are times when he is so exhausted he passes out, and he also occasionally does not know what to do. There were times he reminded me of Captain America (which is a great thing for me), in that the Vagrant is devoted to the ideals he supports and he will occasionally go against those from the institution that should align with those ideals. More than that the Vagrant acts, without his knowledge, as a beacon within a dark world that gives some people the first hope in a long time.
The characters that the Vagrant interacts with are all interesting and rather varied. It is hard to talk about any of them specifically without giving plot points away. Mostly it is interesting to realize that in such a dark world it is never clear what people’s intentions are, and who can be trusted. It was also remarkable how the different characters interacted with the Vagrant’s muteness. There is one character in particular that I really loved, especially in how he was able to really read the Vagrant, and their interactions always made me smile!
For me a hero is nothing without a good villain, and there are number of evil characters that the Vagrant faces. The main evil is the Usurper (who has several other names as well), who in turn has many minions. There is also the Uncivil, the First, and a plethora of other dark creatures. It took me a while to figure out that the Usurper and the Uncivil were different entities, but once I had that figures out the plot was easier to follow. It also was a bit hard to figure out how all the different terms associated with evil in the story fit together, but I feel that has more to do with my unfamiliarity with high fantasy novels. The villains and their alliances and infighting are part of the story that I am most looking forward to re-reading.
It has been a long time since I was so completely blown away by a book, and this one really did that. One of my main worries when reading a book that I love right away is what is going to happen at the end? I have had many books ruined at the end for me, whether I disagree with what the author did, or things are left unexplained, or the books changes direction abruptly. I admit I was so worried going into the last few chapters of this book (and was very worried it would actually turn out to be a series with no real ending). However, I absolutely loved the ending, especially the last few sentences. Honestly, I couldn’t stop smiling because it was such a perfect ending for the story! This book is going on my favorite list, and I will be forcing several of my friends to read it. I think people who enjoy the worlds of Garth Nix in the Old Kingdom books will like this world, and fans of slightly flawed heroes will appreciate the Vagrant.
Final Verdict: An amazing and complex journey with amazing characters that I am already planning to re-read!