Five years ago, the females of every species in Yarn died. Since that time the kingdom has struggled to survive the devastating loss. The young king of Yarn, still a child but wise enough to know something must be done, decides to send a pair of trusted investigators to find out what happened. Blair is a battle-hardened warrior with a quietly understated intelligence and a knack for keeping his head when others lose theirs. Ren is a prickly, but brilliant scholar, who hopes to solve the mystery that threatens to cripple the kingdom and its existence.
Two others, Eli and Adon, join these men and together the quartet explores the dark reality of the world in which they now live. They are confronted by hatred, devastation, and increasingly violent amounts of danger. Though Blair and Ren begin to grow closer, any thoughts of a relationship must wait as they slowly unravel exactly what happened to the women of their world. The truths they discover threaten to destroy them all and what little remains of Yarn.
The general premise to Barren intrigued me from the start, but it was one of those books that got lost in the shuffle, as they so often do. So I was thrilled when Jay came up with this particular challenge because it was the perfect excuse to pull a couple books from the TBR pile. Barren can be summed up in a single word: bizarre. Now that doesn’t mean bad necessarily, but on more than one occasion I was left scratching my head. The entire book had the feel of video game play from World of Warcraft or Skyrim. And while that works well enough in the game world, it didn’t always translate here. The basic plot is strong and draws you in pretty quickly. There is an easy flow to the entire book, one that is only broken by the oddly jarring character names. Ren and Adon work in this fantastical world. Blair, Bob, and Eli don’t ring quite as true and this little quirk, which may be mine alone, often jerked me out of the action. While the overall plot is decent, the characters in Barren are often sidetracked by multiple quests, which is a word used far too often in this book. These quests become somewhat convoluted and time consuming and while they ultimately provide some answers to the questions Blair and Ren have, they don’t add much to the overall story. I think about 100 pages could have been trimmed without sacrificing the plot. This would have provided a much tighter storyline and given an overall boost to the pacing, which drags at times.
The characters in Barren are varied, each from different backgrounds but all of them unique in their own way. Ren and Blair aren’t exactly a natural fit as a couple, which is one of the things I appreciated about them. While I didn’t always buy into the passion they felt for one another, they worked as a couple overall and both were engaging and easy to connect with. Adon and Eli are not a couple but equally important to the story and though their personalities are slightly less distinct, they are still generally fleshed out and just as enjoyable as Ren and Blair. Normally when an author writes about a quartet, of either friends or lovers, someone always seems to get the short straw. But Hedley has done a great job of balancing out the strengths and weakness of each character and giving them their time to shine. This was a real strong point of Barren and it made some of the other, weaker areas seem more palatable.
I called Barren bizarre and I wish I could explain that more clearly. It is a fairly enjoyable book and parts of it work very well and seem inherently a part of the world Hedley created. But other parts, aside from occasionally being needless, don’t seem to fit at all. They almost feel like sections of another book that have been wedged unsuccessfully into Barren’s narrative. To try and describe this further risks spoiling aspects of the book and while they don’t completely undermine the plot, they do detract from it.
Barren isn’t a perfect book. The plot needs a serious culling to remove useless and too lengthy scenes and there are some odd portions of the book that don’t seem to mesh very well with the rest of the story. But it has several engaging characters and the basic plot is fairly interesting. So while Barren doesn’t work on every level, it is still a fun read and one that I would recommend to those of you who enjoy fantasy and an old-fashioned adventure tale.
This review is part of our September Reading Challenge Month for TBR Pile Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win this week’s fabulous prize of a loaded iPad Mini sponsored by Dreamspinner Press, as well as our amazing grand prize sponsored by Riptide Publishing. You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on TBR Pile week here. And be sure to check out our prize post for more about the awesome prizes!