4 out of 4 stars
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Roan: The Tales of Conor Archer, by debut author E.R. Barr, is classified as an Urban Fantasy. While I agree with that notion, I contend that the novel is so much more. This tale is epic in scope, destined to become a saga. Despite the story’s magnitude, however, it takes the life of a classic campfire story. Barr’s writing style is at once fast-paced, richly complex, and intensely engaging. Not to play my hand too quickly, but I thoroughly enjoyed Roan. If the author made a mistake with this novel, it can only be that he set an extremely high bar for his future writing. This book is a perfect read for Urban Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, and Dark Fantasy enthusiasts alike.
Roan, as implied by its full title, centers on Conor Archer, a Chicago teen who learns of his mysterious Celtic ancestry in the midst of a family tragedy. Whisked away to a rural village in Wisconsin, Conor begins to unravel the puzzle of his bloodline even as he learns that some of the residents of Tinker’s Grove share a common heritage and even darker secrets. Moreover, Conor soon realizes that his new home is a convergence of Christian tradition, Celtic myth, and Native American folklore. In Tinker’s Grove, legends are not only a reality, but Conor Archer is actually a part of the town's mythology! The prophecies aren’t complete, however, and if Conor can’t accept his place as a warrior of Light, then he is destined to be the harbinger of Darkness. An engrossing novel that deluges the present day with the legends of a time before time, once Roan has you in its clutches, it will refuse to let go, even long after the last page has been read.
I award Roan 4 out of 4 Stars. There’s honestly no other rating to bestow upon this novel, as E.R. Barr delivered so much more than I was expecting. Because of the genre’s ever deepening talent pool, Urban Fantasy is simply not an easy genre to break into; direct competitors include Jim Butcher, Cassandra Clare, Holly Black, and Lilith Saintcrow, just to name a few. Barr, however, jumps in feet first with this novel and doesn’t look back. The world of Conor Archer is carefully crafted to include real history and incorporate cross-cultural legends and lore in a manner that allows the book to be complex and multi-faceted yet easy to follow. World-building is such a crucial element to fantasy fiction, and the failure of authors to define real rules for supernatural beings or powers often leads poor storytelling. E.R. Barr does not make this mistake; as a result, the story is allowed to grow and build upon itself in a reasonable manner.
In addition to world-building, the author performs superlatively in character development. A character is but a useless plot element if the reader feels no emotion toward it. There are no useless plot elements to be found here, though. The sordid history of the town’s outcasts, the dark ones, is painful to uncover. Conor’s passion to make his own destiny is real in all of us. The reader can’t help but feel the evil dripping from the veins of the McNabb boys and their mother, Cate. It’s impossible not to have a vested interest in the people of Tinker’s Grove as the story progresses.
Finally, the story itself is original and compelling. On the surface, Roan is a coming-of-age tale about a boy caught between making his own way and evolving into a destiny that was spoken over him thousands of years before his birth. However, it is also a tale of the battle between Good and Evil, both in flesh and spirit. Mythical heroes and legendary creatures are given a little insight as to what it means to be human. What is the ultimate Good, service or sacrifice? What is the ultimate Evil, the devil you see or the devil in your mind? Every character, from the wicked water beast Piasa to the great Roan Prince Madoc, will have to answer these questions before the final chapter is concluded.
If you like fantasy, or even if you don’t mind a little magic and mysticism in an otherwise excellent story, then Roan: The Tales of Conor Archer is for you. There’s not much negative to say about this first work from E.R. Barr. He has his own narrative style, which was sometimes off-putting as he likes to begin his sentences with verbs, but it’s easy to get used to. All in all, Roan is one of the better books I’ve read this year, and I’m highly anticipating a sequel. E.R. Barr has definitely made an impact on me as a reader. This is a book you need to read.
Roan: The Tales Of Conor Archer
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