Review: Barloc by E.L. Esch

barlocRating: 3.75 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Short Story


Decimated by what’s called the Last War, the human race is now reduced to scraping out a mean living among the ruins of their once great civilization. Nothing thrives, nothing grows, and it doesn’t take long to lose the battle for survival—especially if you happen to get displaced from the rest of your group.

Noah is one such unfortunate soul. Having long since lost his arm in the turbulent world, he has now lost his survival group. Wandering around the rubble of an old city and breathing the caustic air leaves him physically weak and, he imagines, mentally compromised. Collapsed and struggling to stay conscious, Noah begins to hallucinate and realizes the end is near. Just when his eyes close for the last time, Noah thinks he catches a glimpse of his deceased lover and hopes they’ll be reunited in the afterlife.

Ban is a man who was made to break the rules. One of his favorite rules to break is the one about not going “upstairs.” He has two reasons for this: one is so that he may find bits of metal and other materials he can use in his trade as a purveyor of bionic body parts, and the other is to help the odd lost survivor. When he comes across a one-armed man all but dead among the dusty ruins of a building, however, it’s more than just thumbing his nose at the rules that compels Ban to help.

Waking up was not something Noah had ever planned on—waking up in the home of a burly, surly man even less so. Nevertheless, that is exactly how Noah regains consciousness. What’s more, Noah never knew of any survivors making a life for themselves underground. He marvels at this previously unknown (to him at least) resilience of the human race—and why a man as rough as Ban clearly is would take pity on Noah. Noah is not alone in this quandary; the man who’s been warming Ban’s bed as his on-again-off-again lover takes umbrage at Ban’s generosity. Despite these obviously displays of jealousy, Ban refuses to kick Noah out and instead offers to teach Noah the trade of building bionic arms.

Ban’s show of generosity is too much for his lover, who literally and emotionally leaves him in a spectacularly cruel fashion. Noah tries to help; he knows Ban is the kind of guy who’s looking for a forever kind of commitment. But Ban is a proud man and wary of accepting anything Noah may have to offer, even when Noah is offering everything Ban wants.

There is a lot going on in this story, but in some pretty interesting ways. For one thing, both Noah and Ban have missing limbs (Noah’s missing an arm and Ban’s missing part of a leg). As an angst queen myself, I enjoyed seeing Noah lament his physical imperfections when he first wakes up in Ban’s underground abode. I enjoyed that this is followed by Ban himself challenging Noah to claim missing a limb would make anyone ugly or less desirable by showing Noah his own missing leg. Even the official blurb takes pains to explain that Ban is a bionic limb maker. My expectations were that this theme of missing limbs would be a significant plot device. However, beyond the scene I’ve described above and as a means of keeping Ban and Noah employed, the fact that they’re short a limb apiece is immaterial.

This is also what happens with the upstairs/downstairs dynamic in the plot as well. Having a world split into an “upstairs” and “downstairs” doesn’t really seem to add anything to the plot beyond giving the author a device through which Ban and Noah meet. The characters themselves can’t provide any context for the Last War or how/why life above ground is actually unlivable. It just is what it is. Admittedly, this split world does account for some major angst in the story. Ban’s soon-to-be-ex-lover is incredibly jealous that Ban takes in Noah—I particularly enjoyed the ex-boyfriend character (in a love-to-hate sort of way, make no mistake, this guy is not a sympathetic character). I felt that thread was well established without going into too much detail. I liked how Ban and this guy were obviously still together when Ban brings Noah in; I liked how Noah is obviously the reason the boyfriend splits; I liked how Ban kind of goes sexually self-destructive with a series of one-night-stands rather than take a chance on starting something with Noah.

At the risk of sounding too vague, the main point of this story is bringing Noah and Ban together and Ban’s actions are driven by an episode in his past. I loved reading the big reveal about this particular episode and how it tied to something mentioned earlier in the book that I’d completely dismissed. This device centers on Noah’s surname, Barloc, and once the truth is out, it immediately explains some of Ban’s actions while reinforcing some of Noah’s sort of altruistic actions.

As for criticisms—I thought both Noah and Ban were pretty strongly melodramatic in nature. Noah suffers a bit from sounding far younger than his thirty-plus years old, especially for someone who’s apparently spent most of his life living in such mean circumstances. His dialogue makes him sound like he’s still a teenager. Ban, on the other hand, comes off as being wildly mercurial—when we first get introduced to him, it almost borders on egregious. Funnily enough, though, Ban’s wild mood swings where Noah are concerned, however, seem more reasonable once we learn the truth about the importance of the name “Barloc.”

If you’re in the mood for a quick read that features imperfect characters, vindictive lovers, and a surprisingly satisfying twist, this would be a great read.

camille sig

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