cover image The Barrow

The Barrow

Mark Smylie. Pyr, $18 trade paper (614p) ISBN 978-1-61614-891-1

Thieves with high connections conspire to find a lost treasure in a grim quest fantasy that gradually heats to a satisfying boil. Stjepan, called Black-Heart, joins two old friends from his college days, brothel owner Gilgwyr and crazed magician Leigh, on a trip to find the legendary sword Gladringer. They bring along new companion Erim, who wears male garb to survive in a world where men treat women as inferiors, and two disgraced nobles hoping to redeem their house's reputation. After a very slow start, the story hits its stride once the adventurers begin the trip to near-certain doom at the titular barrow. Plot twists and character work are the highlights, with Smylie doing a great job of developing individual personalities within the large cast. The novel shares a setting with Smylie's Artesia graphic novels, but it's entirely accessible to new readers. Despite the book's pacing flaws and a preponderance of casual violence and sexism, fans of quest-centered stories will find this well worth their time. (Mar.)