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The Breach has been guarded for more than a thousand years, a rent in the landscape, pregnant with the threat of demonic invasion. Time has made the watchers lax allowing the Breach to erupt, spewing forth a hoard of such magnitude that the army sent to oppose it are decimated. Now ten years later the lone Vagrant walks the blasted lands, heading north with his precious burden, an untainted baby...
The Vagrant (2015 406 Pages) is the debut novel from Peter Newman, set in a post demonic apocalyptic world.
Newman has created a world, which whilst it has many attributes of Earth (a substantially human population, a goat which forms part of the Vagrant triumvirate of travelling companions and a familiar landscape), it is obvious from the culture prior to the fall that this is somewhere else.
Newman creates a technological world of flying palaces combined with knights who carry magical swords, which appear to be alive, akin to Elric of Melniboné’s Stormbringer, who are led by the enigmatic Seven. Yet with all of their power, the essences which escape the Breach quickly overwhelm the army sent against it. The essence takes on forms derived from the corpses littered over the battlefield giving form to The Usurper, the strongest of the demons as well as The Uncivil, its reluctant subordinate. Where they travel they corrupt the humans, tainting them, creating the half-breeds, the Usurperkin. It is through this changed world the Vagrant travels.
Newman has a very distinct writing style. The story is told in the first person, even the flashback chapters which slowly build up a picture of the intervening ten years between the emergences of the Usurper and the invading hoard. Reading the book is an odd, if interesting, experience as all the characters are imbued with titles or designations rather than proper names which gives a feeling of disassociation, as you struggle with the context of the story. This is further enhanced by having the central character of the Vagrant be mute.
The story grips you precisely because Newman initially refuses to offer up a context for the Vagrant's journey north. Obviously it has something to do with the baby he is carrying, an unusual child who seems to be able to understand what is happening around her and to communicate her silent wishes to the Vagrant, as well as the seemingly sentient sword.
As the Vagrant does not speak we can only judge him by his actions, which seem to mark him as an honourable man. He never steals if he can pay for goods, is willing to help others even when this feels like a bad idea and is devoted to the baby. Along the way the duo becomes a trio when they acquire a goat, who like the baby appears to have a level of intelligence and whose character is often used to create humour in an otherwise bleak story. Later the trio are joined by Harm, previously a rebel, who is on his own journey of redemption, and the demonic Hammer. As the story progresses the Vagrant continues to collect followers in his wake.
Newman’s world building is effective, if a little frustrating, the lack of explanation can quickly lead to disorientation and it is difficult to judge distances, given that we are offered few points of reference. What we do have is a journey through a phantasmagorical landscape whose disjointedness best expresses the nightmare quality of the post apocalyptic landscape.
From the lyrical writing to the physical and spiritual journey of the main characters, the book oozes quality, a worthy read indeed.