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Introducing the Barrow

Occasionally, our running of Westeros.org leads to opportunities only tangentially related to A Song of Ice and Fire, but they can lead to some very interesting things (such as the contest we’ll be announcing further below…)

In the past, I’ve made some noise about an independent comic book series, Artesia, written and illustrated by Mark Smylie. Inspired by, among other things, A Song of Ice and Fire, Smylie set out to create an epic fantasy following the eponymous character and the world-changing events around her. His “Known World” setting grew to enormous proportions, spanning continents, containing dozens of gods and recounting events over thousands of years (and multiple dating systems, while he was at it). The scope of it was on par with what one sees in literary epic fantasy, but in comic book form? Pretty much unheard of in the English-language market. Smylie’s terrific watercolor artwork was paired with a formal, Shakespearian sort of prose and an extremely earthy, gritty setting. There’s high magic, there’s ghouls and demons and vampires, there’s incredibly-realized battles between armored knights, there’s intrigue and murder, there’s sex and sexual politics—it has it all.

Smylie ended up forming Archaia Studio Press—one of the finest independent comic book publishers in the business, by the by—and as matters developed and the publishing business grew, he began to find himself having too little time to keep Artesia to the sort of schedule he dreamed of. The writing wasn’t the problem, he’s noted: it’s the art that proved most time consuming. Which leads us to The Barrow. The announcement of it came out of nowhere, which I can say reasonably well since I’d check up on the official site every month or so to see if there was any news on a new issue (still waiting for that one), and nothing was said there. No, instead, it was first brought to our attention via the auspices of noted SF/F publisher Pyr, who told us…

... well, they told us that Mark, not having had time to illustrate in a long while, but able to write, had gone ahead and written an entire novel set in the Known World, a prequel following a character from the comics and a whole new caste of characters besides. The Barrow is interesting in a number of respects: its origin as, originally, a script; the way that it presents the setting in a much more sword-and-sorcery way than seen in the comic; its revealing even greater depths to the world-building than the comics and associated roleplaying game. The marketing line is that it should appeal to fans of George R.R. Martin’s work, and in some ways they’re definitely on to something: bloody violence, complicated familial relations, plots and ploys, and a distinct grittiness in how it presents the characters and what’s going on in the story. On the other hand, there’s some distinct differences, as well, most notably the extremely visible, high level of magic in the setting, magic that’s used quite casually and widely. For some, that’d be a hinderance, but for others definitely not. On the whole, it was exciting to be able to dive back into the Known World, and to learn a bit more about it. As Smylie’s first novel, it’s not necessarily perfect—there are some small niggling points here and there, some of them connected (we think) to his being a visual artist, some of it due to the origin of the novel in a screenplay, others simply to never having worked in such a long form before—but it shows the kind of promise that makes us very hopeful indeed that Smylie will be able to write more novels set in the Known World (at least while waiting to carve out time to return to Artesia!)

Mark Smylie’s The Barrow is due out March 4th, but if you’re interested you can learn more about it at the official site, which hosts such things as sourcebooks and short comic story collections illuminating the setting and the story of Artesia... and before then, Pyr’s given us the opportunity to hold a contest!

The prize: an advanced reading copy of The Barrow. What do you need to do? Simply share this post via Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ to get the word out about the book. Who can enter? Anyone who Fed Ex or DHL can get to, so yes, international entries are welcome!