The Barrow, Mark Smylie
Reviewed by Amanda
Prometheus Books, released March 4, 2014, 613 pages.
Action, horror, politics, and sensuality combine in this stand-alone fantasy novel with series potential. Set in the world of the Eisner-nominated Artesia comic books.
To find the Sword, unearth the Barrow. To unearth the Barrow, follow the Map.
When a small crew of scoundrels, would-be heroes, deviants, and ruffians discover a map that they believe will lead them to a fabled sword buried in the barrow of a long-dead wizard, they think they’ve struck it rich. But their hopes are dashed when the map turns out to be cursed and then is destroyed in a magical ritual. The loss of the map leaves them dreaming of what might have been, until they rediscover the map in a most unusual and unexpected place.
Stjepan Black-Heart, suspected murderer and renegade royal cartographer; Erim, a young woman masquerading as a man; Gilgwyr, brothel owner extraordinaire; Leigh, an exiled magus under an ignominious cloud; Godewyn Red-Hand, mercenary and troublemaker; Arduin Orwain, scion of a noble family brought low by scandal; and Arduin’s sister Annwyn, the beautiful cause of that scandal: together they form a cross-section of the Middle Kingdoms of the Known World, brought together by accident and dark design, on a quest that will either get them all in the history books, or get them all killed…
Thank you Prometheus Books and edelweis for this advance copy for review.
I just could not finish this one. I thought the premise of this fantasy sounded great. I don’t think I’m particularly prudish in my reading nor am I all that squeamish about violence. I don’t go seeking extremely violent books, nor do I read erotica, but some gore and some kinky sex aren’t going to turn me off a book.
I can say without a doubt I’m a feminist and I really don’t have the time or interest in reading misogynistic violent fantasies. So this is where The Barrow lost me and lost me early.
Erim-our young woman masquerading as a man and following Stjepan the fearless leader-is in a cave used for blood magic and sacrifice.
The statue they have found has nipples that are “two large spikes jutting out from its chest, and behind the brazier its long thin phalli emerged from its lap like a thick curved spear. Given the broadness of the idol — it was probably twenty feet wide at its base– the thinness of the phalli struck her as almost comical; but the bronze phalli had to be almost eight feet long, curving upward over the brazier to a sharp, barbed head.”
So naturally Erim “stared at the phallic spear. She couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like to be suspended spread-eagled in the air and lower onto that evil-looking tip. Which hole would they use as their entry point? Would it feel good at first, then turn to pain?”
Really? Ick. So we go on, Erim definitely having more kinky sex thoughts and feeling ashamed of her wickedness…
But as I read on and read Erim thinking “But there were none but the Damned that would take the likes of her, so the temple priests had assured her when she was young and they had played with her in the dark.”
WTAF. So she’s basically a survivor of sexual molestation as a child which makes her want to be impaled on an 8 foot spear for her turn ons?
The next character we follow is Gilgwyr, “brothel owner extraordinaire”. Okay, so he owns a brothel, fine, not going to turn me off a book. He does go on for pages and pages about the joy of his “freshly sucked cock”–way more than I needed, but hey, I’m a woman, maybe this is totally appropriate to the male mind. Where Gilgwyr lost me and I gave up on the Barrow was this image:
“his beautiful Palatian acrobat getting the wildest, hardest ride of her short, sweet life from a rutting, bellowing golden bull.”
And with that, I’m out.
Anyone with an opinion on this?