SPFBO9 Semifinalist: A Gallery For The Barbarian by Taylor Hartley (reviewed by Esmay Rosalyne)

 



OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: As you might have
guessed from the cover, A Gallery For The
Barbarian
is not your typical run of the mill fantasy. It is unconventional
in every sense of the word and defies both genre conventions and reader
expectations at every possible opportunity, but that is exactly where its charm
lies. 

The set-up of this story is that we are following the undead artist, Violetto, as he provides the backstory
behind some of the paintings in his gallery. As a result, this book feels like
a collection of short stories where
Violetto
and his muse,
Brask the barbarian,
are the only red threads weaving it all together into a cohesive narrative.
Some stories are cosy, others are dark and disturbing, but they all have one
thing in common: they are positively delightful in their eccentricity.


I personally found Violetto a very
intriguing unreliable narrator/protagonist and I am quite impressed with how
much personality and depth this character has, especially considering he can’t
remember his own back story (or first life). His character voice is extremely
strong and I was fully on-board for the understated homoerotic vibe that
permeates every aspect of his dynamic with
Brask.


That said, because all of these characters are intentionally written in an
almost theatrical and caricaturish way, I just wasn’t able to connect to them
and that really hindered my enjoyment as a primarily character-driven reader.


Now, the prose is without a doubt the highlight of this book. It’s extremely
descriptive, evocative and visual, which makes perfect sense considering the
fact that the narrator of this story is an artist. Yet, as someone who is not a
visual reader, all the metaphors, similes and overly lush descriptions
unfortunately resulted in a very difficult and emotionally distant reading
experience for me. Especially when combined with the already zany nature and
purposefully disjointed structure of this book, I just could not be invested
and mostly felt like I was experiencing a weird fever dream.


I truly cannot deny that this author is an absolute wordsmith and I think that
this flowery writing style will make for a very immersive reading experience
for the right type of reader, but it unfortunately wasn’t the perfect fit for
me. 
All that said, behind the slightly befuddling prose, there was actually still a
lot I could appreciate about this story. The world is casually queer, the
atmosphere is absolutely mesmerising, and even all the most minor side characters
leap off the page with their vibrant and slightly overexaggerated
personalities. I also quite enjoyed the quirky, familiar and intimate vibe that
Violetto creates by addressing the
reader as if they are a native of this world.
 


And I think one of my favourite aspects of this book was how each of the
chapters/stories gracefully explored a specific sensitive theme or served as a
sort of cautionary tale, almost in the same way that Grimm’s fairy tales often
do. There are a lot of poignant lines and deep philosophical musings in this
book that will reach into your soul and make you ponder your own life
situation, which made this story much more impactful than I was initially
anticipating.


Overall, I can honestly say that this is one of the most impressive and bold
debuts that I have ever read. It may not have suited my personal tastes
perfectly, but I definitely think there is a large audience out there that will
adore this book. If you are looking for an experimental story with an episodic
narrative structure, eccentric characters, authentic queer representation, and
extremely lush and descriptive prose then you have to check out
A Gallery For The Barbarian.

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