The Vagrant by Peter Newman

April 23, 2015

The Vagrant is his name. He has no other. Friendless and alone he walks across a desolate, war-torn landscape, carrying nothing but a kit-bag, a legendary sword and a baby. His purpose is to reach the Shining City, last bastion of the human race, and deliver the sword, the only weapon that may make a difference in the ongoing war. But the Shining City is far away and the world is a very dangerous place.

There is something magical about the idea of an isolated warrior or the single gunslinger. The thought of a solitary one-man army who has to take on, and win out against, seemingly insurmountable odds is endlessly appealing. In his debut novel, Peter Newman brings us one such character, a tortured individual driven by a strict warrior code to always protect those who are unable to protect themselves. The Vagrant is a creature of action. For reasons that become obvious later on in the plot, he doesn’t speak. Our taciturn protagonist is the living embodiment of grim determination. He refuses to let any obstacle stand between him and reaching his goal. Unfortunately the obstacles come thick and fast.

As he moves across a desolate, apocalyptic landscape The Vagrant tries to stay one step ahead of his enemies. His only real company is a mouthy sidekick acting as his squire, known as Harm. Ex-criminal, ex-rebel, and flawed on many levels, Harm acts as the mouthpiece for our silent protagonist. Trying to out run his own personal demons when he first meets The Vagrant, a bond is quickly formed between the two men and an unexpected alliance develops.

If The Vagrant is the brains and the brawn of the outfit, and Harm is the mouth, then Vesper is the group’s heart. During his travels, our hero has inherited a baby and she is just as important as any of the other characters. She is the one member of the cast who consistently made me smile every time she appeared on a page.

It’s interesting to watch as a family dynamic begins to develop within this eclectic little quartet. Sorry, did I forget to mention the goat? There is also a goat. I never thought I would type this, but she may have been my favourite character in the entire novel. I know, I wasn’t expecting that either. This cantankerous, stubborn headed beastie gets to play her own unique part in events, often to quite startling effect. As the plot unfolds, you begin to see how everyone starts to fit together and rely on one another. There are a handful of moments, particularly between the three main characters, minus the goat, that are guaranteed to melt even the iciest of hearts. I was surprised, and more than a little impressed, that on more than one occasion events made me grin like the sentimental fuzzy-headed buffoon that I am. Who would have thought it, fast paced fantasy action with genuine heart. Turns out I’m sold. Where do I sign?

I don’t often comment on book covers, but the art featured on the cover of The Vagrant is really rather wonderful. It’s the sort of thing I would happily frame and hang on a wall in my house. Artist Jamie Jones has done a great job and captured the essence of the whole novel with a single, striking image.

There are hordes of villains hell bent on stopping The Vagrant completing his quest. When they are not trying to take out one another that is. Demons and their demonically infused offspring are a power-crazed bunch, and it turn out that they’re not great team players. There are many factions, all with their own nefarious schemes. The Vagrant has to somehow try to avoid them all, easier said than done.

The narrative is split over a couple of different time periods. The first following The Vagrant on his main quest while the second is a series of flashbacks that explore some of his murky history. Weaving the action between both of these strands the plot moves along at a perfect pace. There are some brutal action set pieces which are nicely counterpointed by more introspective moments. You get to discover character motivations and the event that have shaped their lives.

Like the keen edge of a Seraph Knight’s sword, the writing is razor sharp. Chock full of wonderfully evocative descriptions, Newman really has a knack when it comes to depicting strange lands. I had little difficulty imagining these blasted lands where demons and half-breeds battle with what is left of humanity. I kept picturing events in a retro Heavy Metal era Jean Giraud style. Someone needs to take note and get this author together with a kick ass illustrator, *cough* Jamie Jones *cough*. I’d love to see a comic book version of this story.

As first books go, The Vagrant is a winner. It blends together the best elements from multiple genres. Taking its cues not just from science fiction and fantasy, but also Westerns and just a hint of samurai mythology; Peter Newman has created a unique beast. I tell you what, are you listening Harper Voyager? There had better be more books coming out featuring these characters. Well done Mr Newman, you have successfully captured my attention with your freshman effort. Not an easy task at the best of times. I’ll be keeping a beady eye out for more in future.

The Vagrant is published by Harper Voyager and available now.

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