I received a galley of this book from the author via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
There’s something about the novella as an art form that is so different from its bookend siblings, the novel and the short story. Not as sharp and snappy as a short story, but without as much room for deep dives into development as novels, it can be a difficult and strangely unwieldy medium, for both author and audience. That being said, novellas can also pack an incredible amount of power into a scant few pages when done correctly. It’s a medium full of both promise and pitfalls. In the case of Tower of Mud and Straw, I think that the promise is that Barsukov himself shows a lot of promise as an author, and the main pitfall is the lack of development that would have deepened the story he penned.
Tower of Mud and Straw is Barsukov’s debut solo work. He’s had multiple short stories published in genre magazines, and it’s obvious that these publications gave him a great place to practice his craft before setting out on his own. The writing is impressively tight and polished for a debut. There were places where the tone felt a bit dissonant, such as within the main character’s inner conversations with his deceased sister. But for the most part, the prose was concise without being terse, smart if not exactly snappy. (Side note: Isn’t the cover art stunning?)
Shea Ashcroft is being sent by the Queen to oversee the construction of the gargantuan Tower she has commanded be built. He’s not sure if this is punishment or reward but, either way, he’s not happy about it. When he discovers how unstable the Tower is, and that dangerous alien tech is being used in the construction, his job becomes a lot more complicated than he anticipated. I found Shea to be an interesting character who could have been far more compelling had he been given more time to develop, but this lack made his motivations ephemeral and seemingly ever-changing to the point that he wasn’t relatable, which was a bit frustrating. As it stands with this novella, I found both characters and world building promising but ultimately unsatisfying because of the lack of any deep, meaningful development. There’s a lot of promise that could be explored, but that exploration didn’t take place within the pages of this particular book.
Barsukov’s debut novella is a very intriguing look into a world that I hope will be further explored. I couldn’t help being reminded of Josiah Bancroft’s Books of Babel series to begin with, as both books involve the Tower of Babel in a somewhat steampunk setting, but Barsukov was able to infuse a lot of originality into a short page count, and the two works eventually diverged in my mind. I’ll definitely be interested to see what Barsukov does next.
Expected publication date for Tower of Mud and Straw: February 21, 2021
Tower of Mud and Straw is not available for preorder, but you can find a link to part on on the author’s website here, as well as any upcoming news about publication.