The Vagrant tells the story of a lone Seraph Knight (The Vagrant) as he travels across a post-demonic and apocalyptic landscape with only a legendary sword and a baby for companionship. He must deliver this sword to the Shining City, the last bastion of humanity, if there is to be any hope of defeating the demonic plague. But the Shining City is far away, and the blasted lands are a very dangerous place.
I was lucky enough to be the recipient of an early ARC of the Vagrant many months ago. At the time I was blown away by the ambition and scope of the story, and following its release my opinion has only grown after reading it again in its final form. The Vagrant is one of the most fresh and compelling books I've read in years, with Newman weaving an imaginative and enthralling story that is set in arguably one of my favourite worlds since I read Frank Herbert's Dune a long time ago.
So what did I love about this book that warranted me giving it a full rating of five stars? Oh so many things.
The titular Vagrant is arguably one of the most fascinating protagonists I've come across in years. A mute, he doesn't speak (although he can sing, which reminded me of people with speech impediments who can't speak but sing beautifully without any trouble) throughout the entire book. Instead, he communicates solely via facial expressions, gestures and cues, and body language. In fact Newman does a superb job of showing rather than telling throughout the entire book, and it made for absolutely enthralling reading. I adored how the Vagrant interacted with those around him, and a simple thing such as a waved hand or a raised eyebrow drove the story along and made for such a wonderful and unique reading experience. The Vagrant's background as a Seraph Knight also remained mysterious right to the end, despite the use of flashbacks throughout the book. This for me added to his mystique and compelling nature, but may leave some readers who want things fully fleshed out disappointed.
I also loved the other characters in this book. Vesper, the infant on the cover, brought a real sense of innocence and fragility to the story. Her bond and relationship with the Vagrant is one of the highlights of the book. I adored how he watched over and protected her (as a stay at home father for my beautiful little girl I can relate) as they travelled, and I laughed out loud at parental moments like nappies that needed changing at the worst possible place and time. The constant struggle to feed and protect Vesper from both demons and humans alike was also incredibly vivid and real, adding a real tension as they travelled across the blasted lands. Harm was another fascinating character who joins the Vagrant and Vesper as they travel. His redemptive evolution into another surrogate parent of Vesper is wonderful, and made even more so by the fact that he is tainted by demonic energies. There are so many other compelling characters in this story, far too many for me to go into in this review. One however that has to be mentioned is the goat. A point of view character in some sections of the book, the goat provides many hilarious moments of stubbornness that made me laugh and shake my head at it all. I've had goats, and trust me they are infuriating buggers that somehow manage to find a way into your heart. The goat in the Vagrant is the same.
The world building in The Vagrant is also stunning beyond belief. Weaving together elements borrowed from fantasy, science fiction, and apocalyptic fiction, Newman has produced one of the most amazing and jaw-dropping settings I've read in many years. The blasted lands come to life before your eyes in a way that reminded me of Stephen King's Gunslinger, the Warhmmer universe (the forces of Chaos especially) and the Fallout games. I felt very alone and alienated playing those games, and I got the same sense of hopelessness and danger around every corner from this book. The blasted lands are gritty, dark, and incredibly dangerous, with the demonic hordes and their leaders changing the face of literally everything. The humans that survived the invasion are mostly tainted (some by choice), and deformed cities and ruins that pockmark the landscape are shadows of their former selves. In showcasing this ruined world Newman also describes what existed before the invasion, a world where an advanced civilisation reigned supreme. Sky ships traversed the skies, armoured tanks and trains powered over the land, and the power of the Seven and the Seraph Knights was unchallenged. This distinction between the two worlds is also what makes The Vagrant so addictive. I loved reading about the broken and tainted remnants of humanity cannibalising technology in order to try and eke out a vestige of their former existence, and the environmental changes brought about by the release of demonic energies alone made this book worth it.
The action itself is also top notch, and I licked my lips at the many battles and fights that unfolded throughout the book. The prologue, depicting the initial invasion from the Breach and the downfall of Gamma, was poetic and enthralling from the outset, and the fights that followed also were amazing and gruesome in nature. In fact I'd argue that Newman has a real knack for choreographing a fight scene (it comes as no surprise that he has a background in Drama), with his use of language, tone and emotion in these parts keeping me glued to the book from start to finish. The plot raced along at a fast pace, and at no stage did I feel that it laboured or slowed down. By the end of the book I still had many questions unanswered, but I felt that the foundations of what is truly going to be an amazing series had been well and truly laid.
To put it simply... I cannot find any fault with this book. I loved every single part of it. It is that bloody good! Newman has achieved something truly magical with this book in my opinion, and I haven't been as excited for a series since I first read Frank Herbert's Dune back in high school.
The Vagrant is a unique tale that is both wondrous and epic in scope and execution. An amazing debut, with an amazing future ahead. The Vagrant will now take pride of place on my bookshelves, and I cannot wait for more. An absolute must read!
5 out of 5 stars.
A review copy was provided.