Yaroslav Barsukov‘s Tower of Mud and Straw blends science fantasy in a short novella that goes a long way. My warm thanks to Metaphorosis Publishing for the ARC!
|Series: –||Genre: Gaslamp, Science Fantasy|
|Date of Publishing: Feb 21, 2021||Trigger Warnings: Alcohol abuse, PTSD, death of loved one, xenophobia, forced displacement|
|Page count: 155||Publisher: Metaphorosis Publishing|
THE QUEEN RUINED HIS LIFE. HE WOULD DO ANYTHING TO RECLAIM IT… OR SO HE THOUGHT.
Minister Shea Ashcroft refuses the queen’s order to gas a crowd of protesters. After riots cripple the capital, he’s banished to the border to oversee the construction of the biggest anti-airship tower in history. The use of otherworldly technology makes the tower volatile and dangerous; Shea has to fight the local hierarchy to ensure the construction succeeds—and to reclaim his own life.
He must survive an assassination attempt, find love, confront the place in his memory he’d rather erase, encounter an ancient legend, travel to the origin of a species—and through it all, stay true to his own principles.
Climbing back to the top is a slippery slope, and somewhere along the way, one is bound to fall.
“(…) that maybe life carried more facets than even the scholars knew.”
I woke up in 2021 and fate said “no thoughts, only great reads”. And then it dropped Tower of Mud and Straw into my lap (or well, my NG shelf).
Yaroslav‘s debut is a fantastically thought-out novella, character-driven with a political soul. In it, a deeply personal story of trauma wraps around themes of forced displacement, xenophobia, totalitarianism, and the neglect of rulers. It’s driven by the memory of its main character, caring for his trauma and grief, and peppered with exciting bits of worldbuilding that merge fantasy and sci-fi seamlessly.
Though worldbuilding isn’t the full focus of the story, it introduces unique concepts and adds an essence that creates immersion for the full, short length of the novella. There are more than a couple of surprises to twist expectations and deliver the premise strongly and unexpectedly. For fans of gaslamp fantasy, this world will enrapture, and I enjoyed every second of its atmospheric narrative and its cast.
Shea Ashcroft’s honesty and sensibility will pull in anyone who loves a good reluctant hero thrown into a world of magic, secrets, and myth. Within it, the novella explores the fear one has of things they don’t quite understand, as well as what it takes to confront the past.
Like a good opera, Yaroslav is a master at setting the stage and pulling at heartstrings. He draws his writing on a page like a creative painting and draws your attention to every moment. He does it so by centering Shea’s attentive, almost romantic, eye in a detail and then expanding it to the whole. Beautiful, clever, and careful writing without relying on lyricism for points.
Tower of Mud and Straw makes perfect use of the novella format, an awesome gaslamp science fantasy with a mystery punch. I can see myself coming back to this world again and again.