The Malice (Vagrant Trilogy)
by Peter Newman
Cover Artist: Jamie Jones
Review by Katie Carmien
Harper Voyager Trade Paperback / eBook ISBN/ITEM#: 9780008201036
Date: 07 March 2017 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The Vagrant no longer bears the sword of Gamma, known now as the Malice. He has built a life with his partner Harm and his daughter Vesper, now a young girl. But in the south, the Breach stirs, and Gamma's sword will not rest. It calls to Vesper, who, unknowing, takes it up and marks herself as its bearer. The forces of the Empire of the Winged Eye form a task force to bring her to the Breach, but when an attack destroys their ship, Vesper is left only with the sword, her goat, and a half-dead knight. But the Breach still must be closed. Entwined with Vesper's story is the tale of Massassi, a young girl in a repressive pre-Empire society who discovers she has an immense power.
A protagonist change is always risky, but Vesper more than lives up to her father. As an exuberant child who hasn't spent years living in a demon-infested wasteland, she is, of course, very different--and she often makes a child's mistakes, it's true. (She could certainly have told her parents she was leaving before she ran off with the sword, for one thing!) That just makes her feel all the realer. But Vesper's not all flaws. She's is a deeply caring protagonist, and also possessed of extreme guile. I love how she immediately leaps to using the sword as her mouthpiece. As the bearer. she's the only one who can "talk" to what's left of Gamma, and she takes full advantage of that. Newman deftly portrays this kind of duality in her, someone who can lie so easily but is also incredibly kind.
Likewise, the world is also excellent. Newman shows us more worldbuilding, both via the flashbacks to Massassi and cuts to the viewpoint of the infernal Samael. Massassi's chapters show us how the world of the Breach eventually came to be, while Samael provides a window into both infernal politics and the life of someone who has been transformed. As in the previous book, morality is complicated, no matter what the Empire wants people to think. Words like "tainted" and "demon" carry certain meanings, meanings the warrior Duet fully believes and Vesper certainly doesn't--meanings that are at least half propaganda. Here, Newman explores this theme more deeply, which is part of what keeps this book from feeling like a backwards retread of the last one.
If I have any complaints, it's about the pacing. The end feels like it went a little too quickly. I would have liked to see Newman spend more time wrapping things up. I'd also have liked to see more of Vesper with her family before Gamma's sword overturned the nest, so that it would be easier to picture what she's trying to return to, as well as more of the Vagrant himself.
While readers may miss the Vagrant, they'll certainly be satisfied by the action and continued complexity of the world. The Malice is an excellent sequel to The Vagrant.