So I find myself a bit conflicted and at a loss for what to write. I think my status updates on Goodreads for The Barrow are a bit misleading; after all, I didn’t say the Seven Deadly Words or anything. There was more than enough there to keep me going, even if a bit slowly. It did take a long time to finish, even for a 600-page novel.
I think my main problem with the book was pacing, when all is said and done. The book opens with a heist movie prologue — you know what I mean, right? Introduce the characters and what they do while they do a different job than the one they’ll do in the main story. I was quite happy when I figured out what the gimmick to this section was. It’s exciting, and sets up the characters and stakes well, and firmly grounds the novel as a long-form version of an RPG campaign. (In fact, the type of story told here is pretty much what I was planning to run in an Artesia game that never really got off the ground.)
Then, the book floundered a bit with a long, dry city-based bit, introducing new characters, setting things up. Very detailed, and maybe not to its overall benefit. This ends with a good action sequence and then finally the party is on the road, and travelling, and I thought, yes, here we go, only to have the travelling move in fits and starts, through some well-detailed and moderately overexplained fantastic scenery.
Once we get to the eponymous barrow (I’ve tried very hard to avoid spoilers in this review — hope nobody’s upset to find out that they go to a barrow in the book called The Barrow) things tumble forward and, after it’s all said and done, the story quite adeptly opens outward and becomes much wider than it originally appeared.
One more thing. My status updates seemed focused on ridiculous sexual content, so I think I need to talk about this a bit. With a novel based in the same world as the Artesia comics, I knew there would be some sex. I understand why it is there. I’m not a prude, or incapable of enjoying a good sex scene when one comes along. I just think that some of that type of stuff in The Barrow — with the worst being a certain character’s introduction — wasn’t handled as well as it could been, or not well enough to justify its inclusion.
So there we go. A bit disjoint, and I apologize for that. I ended up liking The Barrow — not a lot, but well enough — and I’ll read another if Smylie writes one. It made me pull my copy of the Artesia RPG off the shelf, and until I went looking, I had no idea that there was a new version being worked on…