Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Barrow

Mulluane | Thursday, February 20, 2014 | 18 Comments so far

by Mark Smylie

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.
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The Barrow by Mark Smylie

| Genre: Epic Fantasy
| Content: Heroes, Dark, Adult
| ISBN-10: 1616148918
| ISBN-13: 9781616148911
| Publisher: Pyr (March 4, 2014)
| Paperback: 700 pages
| Cover Artist: Gene Mollica
| Source: Publisher
| Rating: 1/5 Stars
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The Barrow

♥ Mini Review ♥
Well, it had to happen sometime I guess. I have finally met my match. An Epic Fantasy I just could not finish, no matter how hard I tried. I got through about half of it and hit a wall where I just couldn't force myself pick it back up. I finally admitted defeat and set it back on my shelf.

Epic Fantasy ARC Review by Mulluane

♦ The Story. The story is pretty basic. A hidden map, a buried treasure, a band of unlikely compatriots comprised of members representing several levels of society. All of the elements needed for an adventure filled quest. What sets this tale apart is the worldbuilding. Dark, exotic, depraved, violent and the list goes on. This is no knight in shining armor type tale. 

♦ What I Liked. While I like knight in shining armor type stories I normally enjoy dark ones too. The premise here was solid. The oddball mix of characters were vivid and distinct, each with a voice all their own. The worldbuilding was just as vivid but in a depraved way. This is a horrible world and the author does nothing to sugar coat it. It is evil, depraved, perverted and quite frankly, horrible. It makes the Dark Ages look mild by comparison. This is also something that is pretty rare when it comes to epic fantasy. This book is a true standalone. Though I've seen it said that it is a standalone with the potential to become a series.

♦ What I didn't like. First off let me explain my views on profanity and sadistic sex. I am 53. I've pretty much seen, said or read it all and I use more than my own share of profanity when I am angry or in pain. I don't consider myself a prude and I think I am fairly open-minded about most things. This book however crossed a line with me. The use of profanity was constant. The sadistic sex was -- in my eyes -- over the top and disgusting in a way which made me very uncomfortable. 

On top of that, the language didn't fit the worldbuilding. Granted this was a uniquely harsh world but it is still basically medieval. Dropping the F bomb and other modern cuss words, occasionally a dozen times on one page, was jarring. And the frequency of use gave me the feeling it was more for shock value than anything else. Oh I am sure they used just as much profanity in medieval times as we use presently. I'm also reasonably sure their profanity wasn't comprised of the same exact words we use now. Unfortunately inconsistencies like that tend to pull me right out of an otherwise good story.

♦ My Thoughts. I wanted to like this book, I really did. I normally like dark fantasy but this was -- for me -- too dark. This isn't my first time reading a book with heavy doses of profanity but those books either used profanity that fit the era or made up phrases to fit the world. It also was not my first time reading about perverted, sadistic practices but they were mild compared to what happens here. Closest examples I can think of are Anne Bishop's Black Jewels series and Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series but those stories balanced the violent sadism with love, humor, respect and romance. Granted I didn't read but half of this book but if there was any good balancing the evil, I missed it.

♦ Conclusion. Maybe, as much as I hate to admit it, I am just not the right audience/age or maybe even gender for this book. I hear and use enough profanity in real life and see enough horror in the news. I don't want that level of dark in my fiction. Instead of giving me an "escape" this story gave me nightmares. I am also sure that the same things that turned me off, will appeal to other readers. So in conclusion I am not going to claim, by any stretch of the imagination, that this isn't a well plotted, well written book with layer upon layer of detailed worldbuilding. What I will say is it simply wasn't very enjoyable for me.

I also want to note that the 1 star rating may seem unfair but since a 1 star rating means I could not finish the book that is what I'm giving it. It may very well deserve much better but I am not in a position to make that assessment.  

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Librarything 4.25/5

Amazon: 0.0/5
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What Should I Read Next?
Kindle: The Barrow

Audible: Not Yet

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♦ About The Author ♦

While The Barrow marks his first published prose novel, Mark Smylie has worked as a writer, illustrator, editor, and publisher for over a decade.

Already read the book? Please add your own rating!

Epic Fantasy ARC Review of The Barrow by Mark Smylie - Reviewed by Mulluane - on February 20, 2014 - Rating: 1 of 5 Stars

Mulluane is a 55-year-old proud grandmother of 4, who is passionate about her pets, blogging, traditional fantasy, and tinkering with webdesign. She is obssesively photo shy but she uses an avatar that accurately represents her dreams. ♥ You can also find her on:

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Dragons, Heroes and Wizards


  1. So far I have seen six reviews. Four of them raved and two were DNF's. And I understand both. There is no doubt that this book will turn off a large swath of people due to its crudeness; especially the extremely sexual nature. Hell, I think the male sexual organ should have got billing as a main character.

    I guess I am saying, our differing tastes hit on this one didn't they? =)

    I disagree on the language thing though. Not, mind, how much crude language was used which is obviously a matter of taste. But rather I guess I am more forgiving on which words were chosen. As the narrative and dialog is in English I would expect the cursing to be within reason- I am more turned off by fake curse words when every other word is in English. My language problem in books usually involved grammar lessons in the middle of them, that's when I am jerked out of the world and start wondering if they are ACTUALLY speaking English.

    Stopping because I didn't mean this to be a lecture, just found it interesting how similar things bother us, but in different ways. And couldn't figure out how to say it without a long winded comment.

    1. You aren't the first person I've seen who dislikes made up profanity but I look at it this way. If it is clearly a secondary world, especially if it is one with unique religions (and lets face it, alot of profanity uses religious references) somebody saying "Oh JC!" would be inappropriate. However "oh (insert local god's name here)!" would fit the world.

      IMO, unique religions, governments and cultures would develop unique terminology. I look at fake profanity as part of the world building.

      However the characters referring to a certain part of the female anatomy as a slang term for cat, is just not something I'd expect from a loosely medieval secondary world. Especially when I am not even sure it has cats.

      Plus I had a deep seated objection to the notion that it is ok to do anything we want to this woman as long as we can make her enjoy it. Then heal her horrific injuries afterwards so we can do even worse things to her later.

      LOL, and it is NOT a lecture! It is a discussion :>)

      Exchanging opinions and ideas is one of the priceless pleasures of blogging.

    2. 'Plus I had a deep seated objection to the notion that it is ok to do anything we want to this woman as long as we can make her enjoy it. Then heal her horrific injuries afterwards so we can do even worse things to her later. '

      --Can't defend this. I will say that later on something comes from it besides pure sexual depravity, but in no way will I defend each act and scene- no book is perfect and I recognize problematic scenes 100%. Yes there was a reason for the scene that wasn't apparent until later, but I can't expect such an offensive scene to be forgiven and the reader to just 'move on.'

      I guess on profanity, the feline nick name I get, and i probably missed it upon reading. Your right, it is unlikely we would share the same nicknames for body parts.

      But as profanity is oft based on things that are taboo in culture i forgive most English cursing based on sexuality, excrement, and body parts. And like you, deity based cursing better involve the books deities. I just consider them a translation as much as the rest of the dialog is. But that is just me.

    3. Great points and I think it entirely possible that by having that problematic scene appear so early it put me in a frame of mind to dislike anything that came after.

      I also believe it highly probable that the promise of worse things to come contributed to my reluctance to continue reading. The constant and crude profanity being the proverbial "straw" that broke the camel's back.

      You've intrigued me though. I may have to revisit the book someday to find out how that scene and any similar ones that followed, affected the ending. But not soon. Right now I'm still cringing over what I did read.

      And thanks for the discussion! This is one book I sorely wanted to discuss. It is always helpful to explore other opinions :>)

    4. I have the feeling this one will get a few discussions like this, hopefully always so civil. I am a big fan of 'put what ever you want in your book.' But I am also a big fan of be prepared for backlash when you put in problematic scenes, whether justified in the mind of your fans or not.

      Keeps things interesting, to say the least.

  2. This sounds like one I'll be happier skipping. I can only handle so much profanity, and less darkness. {lop-sided smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

    1. Yep, just turn on the news. All the darkness you could ever want right there.

    2. Exactly. At least then if I get upset, it's because of something real. When it's real, I can hope to make a difference in the future. With fiction, there's no hope that the reader can make a positive difference. I end up getting upset, then having no good place for the upset to go. {half-smile}

      Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  3. Well... I noticed this book on your TBR list and since it sounded interesting I was looking forward to your review. Now I'm somewhat wary about it...

    Not that violence and/or profanity in a fantasy book can make me run away screaming: I'm no blushing teenager (LOL) myself, and I've read and enjoyed GRR Martin and Joe Abercrombie, and even made it through the first book of Richard Morgan's "A Land fit for Heroes" - but somehow, from your words, I get the impression that the darker aspects of this story are not there as an integral part of it, but rather as a means of taking the "shock factor" to the next level.

    I might be totally wrong, of course - particularly considering that I have no direct experience with the book - but still I wonder if the gore/violence/whatever you describe would turn me off the story or not...

    1. The thought did run through my head that in striving to "stand out" some authors are going to great lengths to out dark each other. Hence the new term "grimdark" which is floating around. I just personally think this author went too far with some extremely graphic and violent sexual content. The language I likely could have ignored if the other had not been present.

      Besides that, I don't think there was a single male protagonist that didn't spend an inordinate amount of time thinking with the wrong head. And the female member of the group was no better.


      Nathan has read it and has suggested that there is a rhyme and reason behind it all. At that rate it is an integral part of the story. So don't let my review decide it for you. Search out a few more instead. I've seen exactly what Nathan has. People either love it or leave it.

  4. (quote)
    don't let my review decide it for you. Search out a few more instead

    I have read a few - not many, since the book is quite recent and there are not many reviews out, yet. What they all agree on is the warning about certain elements in the story: it might not be enough to prevent me from trying out the book - at this point I would want to see for myself - but still words like "disturbing" and "extreme" seem to recur often.

    I'll take them - as they are intended - as the warning they mean to be and see how it works out. Or doesn't...

    1. For what it is worth based on your reading. More depraved than anything Abercrombie has done, and much more graphic. More on par with R Scott Bakker's work if you have read that, though from my memories of Richard Morgan's fantasy it is on the same level.

    2. Thank you for the information: I have not read anything by Scott Bakker (but a quick look at GoodReads seems to put him in the same... controversial waters :-) as Smylie), but I think the other comparisons help me put this in perspective. We'll see how it goes when I get to it...

  5. I've heard out was pretty crazy dark. I realized from some of the other reviews as well that I wouldn't be able to handle this one. I dint mind dark fiction either but this would be way outside my comfort zone for some of the content I think.

    1. Yeah I noticed that even people who love it feel compelled to add a content warning.

  6. I had to read this since everyone has raved about it and I gave up on page 200. I am just glad I am not alone ;:)

  7. Ugh, I barely made it through this one honestly. I think I gave it 2 stars? And it wasn't particularly because of the crudeness, at least I don't remember being bothered by that, it was because of how poorly plotted and paced this tome was! I definitely wouldn't have finished it if I hadn't been reading it during a read-a-thon day where I just buckled down and pushed/skimmed through to the end. But yeah, good call.

    1. Nathan still has me intrigued though. The idea that such horrible acts could serve a purpose other than pure depravity does make me curious.

      Winter is coming. My reading tastes turn darker then. We'll see if I can summon up the courage to follow it through.


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