In a desolate, demon blasted landscape, a lone Seraph night, and his winged, eyed sword, treads the road. Behind him trails a goat, and hidden under the flaps of his coat nestles a small baby girl. He finds corrupt and corrupted humans, out and out monsters and demon Lords on his travels. He eschews companions but where the need greatly outweighs the harm, and where it will aid his quest, he does take on various companions. A petty criminal named Harm, a raging demon yearning for its lost innocence and humanity called The Hammer, and other more transient helpers, some more ambivalent than others, join the quest. Their quest is to return the winged and eyed sword to the Seven, the original Seraph rulers. But what this will mean is uncertain…
Peter Newman has accomplished an incredible feat of world building. My initial feeling on starting this work was disorientation. Was this Earth of the far future or a different reality / dimension? The archetypes are ours (people, Hell, Knights, Demons, Animals etc.), and yet the strangeness, the otherness, is bewildering. Twin suns in the sky. A demonic invasion through a huge breach (crack) in the ground that has remained dormant for centuries. A demonic essence that infects and mutates like radiation. An ancient order of Seraph Knights that has ruled before the Infernal invasion. A technology including sky-ships, Centipede tanks, laser lances, all framed in medieval and feudal archetypes. It is head-spinning stuff. Then there’s the adventure, the quest, which is more straightforward; lone hero, a man with no name, must deliver a powerful talisman to the high powers to rid the world of a massive evil. But that itself is spun by the wonderful tricks in the narrative. The titular, eponymous Vagrant does not speak. Instead his thoughts are reflected by his expressions, actions and interactions, including with the baby he protects, and with his companions. And his goat! How the Vagrant got to this position is told in intervals in a thrilling back-story that begins with the demonic invasion.
Characterisation of subsidiary characters is also very well done. The baby (Vesper) and the Goat are powerful characters in their own right. In the audio-book, wonderfully voiced by Jot Davies, Vesper’s infant gurgles and expressions are convincingly done. Also, the main companion, Harm, is a wonderful piece of character development, from jittery low-life to a redeemed man both grateful and anxious about the shelf life of his redemption. Again, Jot Davies’s audio-book narration imbues him with humanity. Other characters such as snarling demons and Knight Commanders are given a wonderful range of expression. The monsters are truly alien and frightening. Shape shifters that feed off souls and clothe themselves in corpses, or inhabit and posses and mutate live bodies, they are a cross between Anime/Manga monsters and HP Lovecraft. The chief baddies have wonderful names like “The Uncivil.”
The Vagrant himself is a true Knight in that, where he can, he will right wrongs and save lives. He won’t where it will mean the failure of his mission and where he does have to leave people to die, it is shocking and he is racked with anguish. He also redeems others and wins followers of the most broken in humanity in a very Christ like way. Harm vocalises this more than anyone, speaking about how he has been changed and his life give new meaning. This goodness is set against an evil that can only consume, corrupt and destroy, not build anything new. The book portrays good versus evil with a refreshing (take note Game of Thrones) lack of cynicism.
If there are weaknesses, it’s that sometimes the multiple strangeness’s combine to make the action confusing. Events seem to be heading for an epic conflagration that never quite happens. Yet. There is so much here the book could have been much longer. There seems so much to explore. I hope there is more from this strange, compelling and yet familiar world. Very recommended.