I actually accepted a copy of The Vagrant from the publisher knowing just about nothing about the book. The synopsis coupled with an intriguing, if somewhat cliche, cover (but wait, a baby?!?) sold me alone. This doesn't happen all the time and usually when this is all that sells me on a book, I end up about as disappointed as you can get.
That's why I scour blogs and Goodreads so regularly. I can't trust my gut reaction on these things...normally.
The Vagrant is a hard book to nail down. It involves a mysterious man, the Vagrant, who can't speak and who's on some kind of pilgrimage with a baby in tow as well as a goat he picks up. He carries a huge, mythical sword and it seems like he's trying to save the world or some such thing.
Right away, you're thinking, epic fantasy right?
Well, that's not quite it. It obviously also takes place in some type of futuristic landscape because there are neon lights and all kinds of other technologies the reader begins to meet along the way.
The closest I can put it is probably Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire series. A good mix of fantasy and science fiction and lots of dark, unspeakable doings. I think I can firmly put it in grimdark at the very least ... whatever that means.
In a book where the main character can't speak, I'm quite impressed at the degree of emotions I felt, almost on par with Janny Wurts, who really gets the feels out of me.
The Vagrant, as mentioned, is on a quest and many are out to stop him. Demons have taken over the land, corrupted the people with a taint, though not all, and submitted humanity to their wills.
With their own factions vying for power, the demons have different ways of subjugating humanity. However, they end up hurting their cause with all the infighting. Filled with grotesque monsters, one which has literally built itself out of masses of dead humans, The Vagrant is dark and twisted and make for excellent juxtaposition of the goodness of The Vagrant and those who follow in his wake.
The novel itself is broken into chapters with interludes going back to the beginning of the demon infestation, starting with "Eight Years Ago" and moving up to the present. One of the things that threw me for a bit was during these sections, the action would go back to the present without a chapter break in between. This only happened a few times and I found myself wondering if it was an accident. It's not a huge deal, just an odd thing I wanted to discuss with anyone who's read it.
Though dark, more likely because of the dark, The Vagrant emphasizes the light. The emotions were deep, I was amazed how deeply I felt for this character who can't even speak. And then there's the goat, who also can't speak (he's not some magic goat, just a run-of-the-mill one) which was probably one of my favorite characters in this book.
I can't recommend The Vagrant enough. It's different than anything else I've read. It's dark and brooding, but filled with so much beauty at the same time. Peter Newman is an author to watch.
4.5 out of 5 Stars (very highly recommended)