BOOK REVIEW: THE VAGRANT / AUTHOR: PETER NEWMAN / PUBLISHER: HARPER VOYAGER / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 23RD
Armed with a legendary sword and a perilously cute baby, the debut novel from Peter Newman charts the journey of the lonely, silent Vagrant to the Shining City – the last bastion of the human race and the final hope in the ongoing war against the Usurper and hordes of infernal demons. But as many junior philosophers and wise grandparents will dictate, it’s about the journey across the dangerous, war-torn landscape rather than the crumbling destination.
The Vagrant wraps this belief under his cloak and nonchalantly struts with it. As a silent protagonist, Newman uses the character like a muted wandering magnet for other beings to cling too. With each location presenting new faces which colour the world and who react to the Vagrant’s distanced ways with a varying mix of trepidation, uncertainty and hopeful trust.
Unfortunately, the Vagrant himself is an uninteresting mood suck. Newman’s attempts at crafting an alluring ‘mysterious’ type quickly wear thin when his reactions rarely go beyond smiling, nodding or feeling a bit exhausted by those surrounding him. Having two other non-speaking characters (the aforementioned baby and a comical goat) along for the ride doesn’t help either; causing some early sections to read like a fantasy Attenborough documentary – with expressions and movements feeling deciphered from behind a faraway rose bush via a battered set of binoculars.
Luckily, the supporting characters provide some welcome respite. Harm’s growing attachment to the carried baby proves more interesting than perhaps originally intentioned, considering how it goes ignored by the conclusion. The sleazy and bumbling Ezze also lights up the pages, giving Newman the chance to play with some interesting dialogue, which feels sorely missed elsewhere.
Even as the origins of the war and the Vagrant’s past are slowly drip-fed in flashbacks, you never truly feel the weight of what’s at stake. The world feels underdeveloped, and many of the locales and events breezily past by without a chance to leave a lasting impression. It’s a shame, especially in the latter half when the story gathers momentum and you feel yourself wanting to be invested.
While perfectly readable and possibly worth a look for diehard fantasy fans, The Vagrant never really ignites into the epic adventure it strives to be. With a stronger central character and a more engaging world to get lost in, Newman could become a fantasy author to watch.