Beyond Barlow by Jason R. Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
After an unfortunate accident, young Ford Barlow goes on the lam and joins a group of young bandits, the Wayward Boys. Will Ford ever leave his new life behind and go home to Barlow to meet his fate?
I have to say I didn't go in it without a bias. J-to-the-K and I are so tight we're partners in a fictional detective agency ("Book Bros Unite!"). The year was 2016 when Jason Koivu first told me about this book at the Goodreads Summit. The mighty Bill Kerwin was also there. "Huckberry Finn meets Lord of the Rings" was how he described it. He eventually sent me a copy and then I lost it during a remodel. I unearthed it last week and here we are.
The prose was denser than I expected, possibly because it's been a LONG time since I read any straight up fantasy. I got used to it, though, and was soon drawn into Ford's plight. Stuck with an angry stepmother, Ford returns from his first battle only to find tragedy has struck. Then tragedy strikes a second time and Ford's off in the wind. People who follow Jason on social media will be happy to know the Koivu wit is present, although not so much that it detracts from the more serious moments.
The Wayward Boys reminded me of Peter Pan's Lost Boys with some Lord of the Flies thrown in. It's all fun and games, robbing people and sleeping rough, until it isn't. Big Jay said it was a prequel to the tale he really wanted to write and I'm guessing Ford will factor heavily into that one. This story is part fantasy, part coming-of-age tale.
That's about all I have to say. Beyond Barlow shows that good fantasy doesn't have to be all dragons, elves, and doorstop-sized volumes that don't go anywhere. Four out of five stars.
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