It’s the sign of a good story when, with one word, it can strike a sense of fear into the reader’s heart. The Vagrant is one of these rarities, which manages to build a subtle but powerful neurosis around the word ‘infernal’.
The story follows an unnamed hero, the vagrant himself (one of the last of the Seraph Knights), as he attempts to deliver the only weapon that could save humanity. It’s the infernals, however, that are attempting to thwart the vagrant’s attempts – a growing race of reanimated corpses or possessed humans filled with the essence of the Usurper, an enemy that’s building its own army to overthrow humanity.
Peter Newman’s debut novel is incredibly well written, with eloquent, concise and almost poetic language that really brings the story to life. The narrative leaps predominantly between two perspectives, both told from our unnamed vagrant’s point of view – the current day, while he makes his journey to the Shining City, carrying only the bare necessities, a baby, and an infamous sword – and the younger vagrant, up to eight years before he began his treacherous journey, giving the reader a slow, gradual sense of history. However, the occasional insight into our enemies’ minds provides a deeper context, which really adds meat to the bones of the story.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the book is that it seems solidly built on the foundations of Newman’s imaginary world. Much like The Lord Of The Rings, The Vagrant has a rich and diverse world that’s thoroughly plotted out. While the worlds are nowhere near as deep and explored as in JRR Tolkien’s epic trilogy, and there’s no featured map with which to visualise the lands, The Vagrant’s world is easy enough to follow through the narrative of the story.
It’s surprisingly easy to compare it to many of the classics within the canon of sci-fi literature. Channelling the best of classic sci-fi, Newman’s captured the post-apocalyptic atmosphere of The Handmaid’s Tale and merged it with the expansive world of The Lord Of The Rings, resulting in a John Wyndham-like novel with a fantasy twist.
Unfortunately, not everything is perfect with The Vagrant. Much like the classics that it’s readily comparable to, Newman’s story requires a real commitment. In particular, two of the story’s biggest enemies – the Usurper and the Uncivil – are easily confused, and it’s only halfway into the novel that you really get to see the difference.
On top of this, the novel ends somewhat abruptly, leaving its finality open to question. It wasn’t particularly clear whether there’s room for sequels, or whether the closing chapter marked the end of the story – full stop. It’s a jarring ending, but thankfully it doesn’t mar the memory of the rest of the novel.
Any faults are easily overlooked, however, as The Vagrant really is a compelling read. For fans of classic science-fiction literature, this is a must-read, and with such a captivating first novel, Newman is undoubtedly an author to keep a sharp eye on.