Book Review: The Barrow by Mark Smylie


Paperback, 613 pages
Published  2014 by Pyr

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

There’s more than a hint of the graphic novel that inspired it in this vividly depicted and beautifully detailed debut. Combining dark elements, action, sex, magic and violence The Barrow instantly engages, dragging the reader deep into the earth in search of a map that promises to lead our heroes to Gladringer, a priceless sword. To that end, the storyline is at its heart fairly simplistic. Follow the map, get the prize and the untold riches it will bring.

The characters are beautifully grey; Stjepan Blackheart, the shrewd scoundrel and undisputed leader; Erim, a girl who behaves like a boy (in more ways than just fighting); Gilgwyr, the lascivious brothel owner and Harvald, a lordling not afraid to break the rules. Add to this a cast of cut-throats and low-lives, and up-tight aristocracy.

And now to the sex, and boy is there a lot of it, and not just the regular fare. Nothing is left off the table– incest, bestiality, prostitution, adultery, violent sex, and homoeroticism – Smylie fills the pages with shocking scenes that push the boundaries of acceptability. At times I found it too much, particularly the chapter early on in which [*warning: this next part of my review uses graphic language] Gilgwyr relates to the reader the enjoyment of having his ‘cock freshly sucked’ (a phrase which made me cringe harder, every time it was repeated) by a male priest looking to procure a prostitute to perform sexual rites with a bull. He is turned on by the thought of watching said prostitute be literally screwed to death. He then goes on to relate to the audience the sexual prowess of the different races of The Known World in what amounts to a geographical sex tour. If you can get past that scene, you’ve a good idea what you’re in for for the rest of the novel.

Structurally, this novel is ultimately a journey bookended by two dungeon raids. The barrow raids were far and away the best part of this novel; exciting, fast paced, nail-biting, terrifying at times and brutal with quick POV changes and tons of action. I read the final barrow raid in a rush, and from a hundred pages to the end the book is completely unputdownable.

Overall, intense and vivid, an enjoyable read, but too uncomfortable for me, and without a main character that I felt closely enough connected to.

7 lascivious dragons

7 dragons


    1. Thanks for dropping by Deby! It was a bit too much for me. A shame really, as the story was quite good. My husband’s name is Stjepan (a name you don’t see very much as a main character), so my sister in law was also keen to read it – I told her she was welcome to it – but be warned, and she decided against reading it. I’m sure there’s a good audience for it out there, and some people would love it, I just found it too over-the-top.

  1. I feel like reading it now after reading your well put review.. it would take me back to childhoos again.I seem to read hard stuff al the time and it;s wearing me out,:)

    1. Hi Peter, and thanks for stopping by. The Barrow is fantasy. I’d class it as sword and sorcery. I saw it described on Goodreads as grimdark (I had to look up what that meant, and for anyone else who doesn’t know it means that the world the book describes is one you’d definitely NOT want to live in, and everyone in it is pretty much a jerk, which sums up The Barrow pretty nicely).

  2. I haven’t read this yet, but it’s high on the list for when I’m ready for a light, fun read. Based on what I’ve heard, it having a graphic novel feel to it is a good thing, because it’s a novel set from graphic novels, and the author would have tried to make readers crossing over to read this a little more comfortable by sticking to his roots, I’d guess.

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