Barrow of Winter is the third book set in H.M. Long’s Hall of Smoke world. Although Barrow of Winter could be viewed chronologically as the third book in the series, it feels more like a standalone title. So although a knowledge of the other novels in this series may offer a greater understanding of the “historical” events that Long makes the odd reference to in Barrow of Winter, they are not essential reading. A reader could easily enjoy this latest novel without prior knowledge as it is set well over a decade from the ending of Temple of No God. The main characters in the earlier books play a minor role in this.
Set in a Viking-inspired land, Barrow of Winter is an epic fantasy novel with a single narrative point of view from Thray, the last daughter of Ogam, who was part of the pantheon of gods in Long’s world. His death occurs in Long’s first novel, but that and any other relevant details are summarised as part of the story in Barrow of Winter, which is why you do not have to have read the previous novels. Long is excellent at world-building, in particular, the religion and history of this world, which played a much more significant part in the first two novels than they do in this one. Thray is both a demi-god and a warrior priestess, struggling to find her place in a society where she does not seem to fit. I felt this made Barrow of Winter feel a bit more like a coming-of-age saga than a truly epic fantasy, but Long’s writing is compelling and flows well. I finished it in a few days, which is a rare feat for me.
Thray’s restlessness is what triggers her and a small group of her fellow Eangen warriors to travel north to meet the rest of Thray’s immortal demi-god siblings in the frozen northern wasteland of Duamel. Her journey north begins with the deception of her friends, and there are further layers of duplicity to be found as she travels northwards. Thray does not know who to trust, and nor do we the reader, and this intrigue and slow reveal was one of my favourite parts of the novel. Long’s writing is atmospheric and detailed; it is a great story to curl up with (particularly in the darker winter evenings, so it is very apt in that respect), but it is not the grimmest or darkest of novels out there. There are some perilous moments, some gory bits, and the novel’s final battle was an excellent conclusion, but it does not quite tick the dark fantasy box.
That said, however, it was a good read. I enjoyed it, and I was entertained for the time I spent reading it. I like Long’s world, and I am glad to have been able to return to it and look forward to the fourth novel set in this world Pillar of Ash, which is due out sometime in 2024. Barrow of Winter might not be for everyone following the Grimdark Magazine reviews, but it will be a worthwhile reading investment for some. If you liked Long’s other works, picking this up should be a no-brainer; you will enjoy it. If you are a bit on the fence but like female-led fantasy, with minimal faffy romance stuff, some magic, and battles (but not overly violent) then you will have a good time settling down with Barrow of Winter. I certainly did! So thank you very much to H.M. Long and the team over at Titan for
sending me a copy.