Friday, 6 July 2012

Book Review | The Great Bazaar and Other Stories by Peter V. Brett

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Humanity has been brought to the brink of extinction. Each night, the world is overrun by demons - bloodthirsty creatures of nightmare that have been hunting and killing humanity for over 300 years. A scant few hamlets and half-starved city-states are all that remain of a once proud civilization, and it is only by hiding behind wards, ancient symbols with the power to repel the demons, that they survive. A handful of Messengers brave the night to keep the lines of communication open between the increasingly isolated populace.

But there was a time when the demons were not so bold. A time when wards did more than hold the demons at bay. They allowed man to fight back, and to win. Messenger Arlen Bales will search anywhere, dare anything, to return this magic to the world.

Abban, a merchant in the Great Bazaar of Krasia, purports to sell everything a man's heart could desire, including, perhaps, the key to Arlen's quest.


The Painted Man was a fabulous first novel. Exuberant and inventive in equal measure. A touch unvarnished, perhaps, but that only endeared it all the more to me, when I read it.

Understand, though, that this was way back when: back before The Speculative Scotsman was even a twinkle in the back of my mind's eye. Can you imagine? Anyway, I wasn't thinking particularly critically about the genre fiction I choose to spend my time and my money on then. I could tell a good book from a bad book, sure, but I don't know that I often took the time to parse my feelings on the matter any further, as I've taken to doing these past years in the reviews from me you read here and elsewhere.

Now I dare say I'd think differently about The Painted Man were I to read it again, under such terms, so when The Desert Spear came out in early 2010, much as I had been anticipating it, I opted to let it lie a little while. The second book of The Demon Cycle has laboured on my bookshelves ever since, as yet unread; in part because I missed my window, then got so gosh-darned busy it's hardly occurred to me to give it a go since, and in part because the critical reaction to it was substantially more mixed than that which met The Painted Man, which redoubled my aforementioned nervousness.

However I've had a hankering for good, fun fantasy this last little while. The day is coming, I think, when my attention will return, at long last, to The Desert Spear — and what better way to wet the ol' whistle than with this strictly limited edition novella?

The Great Bazaar and Other Stories is, as per usual from the industry exemplars at the helm of Subterranean Press, a truly beautiful book. From the lovely cover - which seems a case in point that hooded dudes can too be cool - through the generous paper stock it's printed upon and on, The Great Bazaar and Other Stories is every inch the definition of a collector's item; and indeed, since it's long since sold out, copies appear to be fetching serious sums of money.

But never mind all that. There's a cheap e-book available now, anyway.

What The Great Bazaar and Other Stories is, is a single longish short story - a sidequel of sorts which Brett himself calls Chapter 16.5 - alongside a couple of so-called "deleted scenes" from The Painted Man and an abbreviated grimoire of the wards and monsters of the world of The Demon Cycle to bump up the still slight word count. Even then, The Great Bazaar and Other Stories only comes in at 100 pages. You have been warned.

But you know what? All the warnings in the world couldn't have kept me away. The chance to spend another hour or so in this wonderful world of corelings and commerce, well... what an absolute pleasure it was. Peter V. Brett remains every inch the refreshingly down-to-earth storyteller I remember so fondly from my time with The Painted Man. There's action in the "The Great Bazaar" - wherein would-be warded man Arlen Bales ventures out during his messenger days to a devastated settlement in search of priceless pottery to pawn off on his merchant friend Abban, and finds, unsurprisingly, some trouble thereabouts - as well as a light dusting of wheeler-dealing and a bit of back-street intrigue. And if few of the aforementioned aspects are developed in quite the way I'd like, that only speaks to a certain hunger reinvigorated in me — for more of this. Please sir, may I?

"Arlen" and "Brianne Beaten," meanwhile, are somewhat short of what I want: instead, they are excerpts from the original manuscript of The Painted Man, and they read exactly as you'd imagine deleted scenes would. Without the context of the novel they are of around them, and in lieu of any attempt at make-good on specific events and character arcs one may or may not recall - which for whatever it's worth, I did remember, if only vaguely - these excerpts unfortunately feel little more than curiosities. "Brianne Beaten" is at least substantially more... substantial, I suppose, than "Arlen," which is an early and apparently much-treasured (by the author) take on the prologue of The Painted Man. Alas, "Arlen" feels like old news.

I'd stress, then, that the narrative espoused in the title tale of this slim volume - which is all there really is to The Great Bazaar and Other Stories - is a tad on the inconsequential side, and not likely much meaningful to readers without both the grounding of and some fondness for Peter V. Brett's fantastic first novel, but with those caveats re-iterated... hell, I'd heartily recommend this beautiful limited edition to devotees of The Demon Cycle. What little there is of it, I for one enjoyed the hell out of.


The Great Bazaar
and Other Stories
by Peter V. Brett

US Publication: February 2010, Subterranean Press

Buy this book from / IndieBound

Or get the Kindle edition

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