In Review: Barren

If one hasn't read any of the series this novella springs from, it may not mean much.

Barren by Peter V. Brett

Published by Harper Voyager on September 25, 2018. Paperback of 136 pages at $14.99. E-book available for $4.99.

The cover: A faux green leather cover has a golden circle surrounded by several golden symbols. Within the circle is the novella’s title and that it’s part of the Demon Cycle. The bottom of the cover features the author’s name in a very fantasy influenced font. This is a pleasing cover that captures the look of what a book from this world would resemble. It’s neat, but not engrossing. Overall grade: B

The premise: From the back cover, “Each night, the world is overrun by bloodthirsty demons. For centuries, humanity has survived only by hiding behind defensive wards — magical symbols with the power to repel the demons. Now, the rediscovery of long-forgotten combat wards has given humans the magic they need to fight back. In Tibbet’s Brook, the fighting wards have brought change, but the factions and grudges of a troubled past remain. Selia Square, the woman they call Barren, has long been the force that holds the Brook together. As a terrifying new threat emerges, she rallies her people once again. But Selia has a past of her own. And in a small community, the personal and the political can never be divided. If Tibbet’s Brook is to survive, Selia must uncover memories she has buried deep — the woman she once was, and the woman she once loved — and retell her story.” I’ve not read any books by author Brett, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to understand all that’s going on. The focus is obviously going to be on Selia, so I’m interested to see what Brett does with this leader. Overall grade: B+

The characters: Selia is a very engaging character. She’s established as a lesbian in the first chapter and I’ve not read a fantasy character of this orientation, so this was new to me. Selia is very sympathetic, though she’s no pushover. She can fight demons like nobody’s business, but she’s not an over-the-top heroine like Red Sonja or Conan. She’s smart, but the politics of her surroundings threaten to doom everyone. I enjoyed her backstory, which was very believable. One character that’s also got considerable focus is Jeorje Watch. He and Selia have known each for a long time, since they were young, and there’s a very informative flashback that shows how they knew and felt about each other. This past is very important to events in the present. However, the events between characters in both timelines go as one would expect, which was a little disappointing. The villains of the book are the demons, which appear to be making a camp on one person’s land. They are vile creatures and cause considerable damage, violence, and death. They are truly horrible creatures. Overall grade: B-

The settings: I was a little confused at times where shops and homes were in relationship to each other. This is a novella, set between two books in a series, so I’m sure these locations would be more concretely established in the novels. Yes, there is a map in the front of the book, but I would rather depend on the writer’s words than a map. The center of town is very vivid, as is Selia’s home. All of the locations come across as the expected dwellings of those in the country in a medieval time period. They’re described well. Overall grade: B

The action: When the demon fighting occurs it’s good. It’s very exciting and defeating them is not an easy task, even for Selia. There is a large battle in the end that’s the best of the novella and it contains a few surprises. However, most of the action of the novel is the drama that Selia encounters from those of Tibbet’s Brook who are obstacles to her getting things done. This was very practical, and added realism to the story, but they didn’t thrill as much as the battling demons. Overall grade: B-

The conclusion: The final battle is good and the surprises that are revealed very good. However, the ultimate ending of this work is very abrupt and doesn’t solve any issues among the human characters. This had things feel unfinished. Overall grade: B-

The final line: A quick read that has some high points, but if one hasn’t read any of the series this springs from, it may not mean much. This was my first exposure to these characters and this world. This is definitely readable, but wasn’t satisfying. It doesn’t make me want to pick up the other books in this series. For those that are familiar with the other Demon Cycle books, it might. Overall grade: B-

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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