4 out of 4 stars
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Roan: The Tales of Conor Archer by E.R. Barr immerses readers in the unique reality of a little Wisconsin town called Tinker’s Grove with a blend of myth, otherworldly powers, and mysterious shapeshifters known as the Roan. In the opening pages, readers experience the death-defying escape of Walter Johnson, a fisherman of Tinker’s Grove, from a gruesome river demon named Piasa, and then meet Conor Archer on the streets of Chicago. Conor suffers an attack by a biker, and as he rushes home, Conor encounters a woman washing in a public fountain who speaks prophetically about Conor’s future. Conor arrives home to find his ailing mother dying as she urges him to return to his hometown of Tinker’s Grove. Conor boards a bus and thus begins the “Tales of Conor Archer.”
The story’s beginning sequence sets the stage for twists and turns that constantly surprise the reader in a classic tale of good versus evil. Barr’s characters exhibit depth and a rich variety of backgrounds from simple townsfolk to mystical dwellers of the hollow hills near the town. Conor arrives in Tinker’s Grove gravely ill and grieving the loss of his mother, which is enough to up-end the most stable of people emotionally, but add to that arriving alone and knowing no one, and you have a situation that would crush most teenagers. Conor meets his Aunt Emily and many supportive people in the town and against the odds, Conor rises to the challenges that he must face. He discovers that he is the son of Madoc, who is a mound dweller and something other than human, and that the "fate of two worlds" depends on his actions. Conor begins to change and realizes that he has “second sight,” interesting physical abilities, but he desires to retain his humanity. These facets of Conor make the reader pull for him in his ultimate quest to prevail over evil.
Barr creates supporting characters that range from friends like Beth and Jace Michaels, Father Abbott Malachy, and his dog Troubles to enemies like Dr. Nicholas Drake, Caithness McNabb, and her sons. Purity, goodness, and strength on the one hand versus cunning, inhumanity, and evil on the other, keep the reader guessing as to the fate of Conor, the people of Tinker’s Grove, and the forces of good and evil in the world. Barr’s worldbuilding provides richness, believable yet surreal situations for his characters, and steeps them in mysticism and mystery.
I enjoyed the scientific and mystic aspects that clashed in this story through the actions of Dr. Drake, a genetic researcher and founder of DIOGENE in Tinker’s Grove, who also exhibited shaman-like characteristics in his servitude of the river monster, Piasa. In this character, Barr creates the perfect villain: smart, charismatic, and evil to the core. Dr. Drake’s research of the “dark ones”- inhabitants of the Grove who exhibit animal-like characteristics - puts him on the path that ultimately could destroy Conor and all he has grown to love. When the increasing conflicts lead to battle, I enjoyed how each character, both good and evil, had a part to play. Each conflict becomes increasingly fierce, and tension builds throughout the story.
Overall, there was nothing that I did not like about this story. The chapters were short and flowed together well. Stories full of myth and legend require details that provide the threads that tie the story together into a coherent whole. Barr proved exceptional at this allowing readers to empathize with the protagonists, appreciate a sense of community within Tinker’s Grove, and understand how the past and present realities of the Grove brought Conor to accept his fate and be a hero for the people. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy fantasy, science fiction, and stories where good prevails over evil. I rate this story 4 out of 4 stars! I look forward to seeing what comes next for Conor in future installments of Roan: The Tales of Conor Archer. On a further note, I not only read the book but also listened to the audiobook for this story. The narrator of this audiobook, Alan Ross, brought the story to life with amazing accents, different voices, and unbelievable singing talent. I would recommend the audiobook as well!
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