THE VAGRANT by PETER NEWMAN
HB, 406 pages, Harper Voyager
It’s not the beginning of a really drawn out joke, but the central premise of Peter Newman’s debut novel, The Vagrant. The hero of the title is a mute, bearer of a magic, god-tinged sword and protector of a baby girl, striding through the ruined lands some decade after humanity lost its last stand against the monsters that poured through a giant crack in the earth known as The Breach. His destination is the Shining City, to deliver a weapon that may help to turn back the dark tide.
The novel is written in the present tense – I confess, I’m not a great fan of reading in the present tense, but you may not feel the same – and it skillfully interweaves the story of humanity since its fall with the Vagrant’s current progress through the wasteland. The writing style is quite unusual, hard to get into at first but once you become used to it, it feels more natural. And the story, while incredibly dark in places, is laced with humour and some tender moments between the main characters.
The fact that the Vagrant himself is a mute, that three of the four main characters can’t talk, means most of the dialogue falls to Harm, a damaged civilian who throws his lot in with the Vagrant for reasons of his own. It often feels like Harm is the beating heart of the book, while the nameless, voiceless Vagrant is distant and elusive, his tragic history only revealed by the events unfolding in the chapters set in the past.
An intriguing read, hard going in places but worth sticking with. Fab cover too!