Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Barrow of the Damned is a young and new adult horror novel written by Jonathan J. Drake. Gavin, Dale, Katie and Jane were having a blast during the week-long extended role-play event hosted by Mr. Stephens at the Wardhope Centre, but the foam swords and rubber-tipped arrows seemed to nullify the authenticity of their experiences. To make matters worse, they had questions about the scoring of points that made them wish they had a games master involved to answer their questions. They all wondered about the special dungeon experience Mr. Stephens had promised that would be complete with a Games Master. It might just be the thing that redeemed a rather disappointing week. When they finally got word of the challenge, which was called Hoelbrad, or the Barrow of the Damned, they were intrigued and determined to give it their all. After they chose their costumes, Mr. Stephens explained that they would be fighting two orcs who would already be familiar with the terrain, and traps and snares were already set out for them. The Barrow was a good distance from Wardhope, entailing a hike through farm fields and onto the lands of Mr. Stephen’s neighbor, old Lady Hamilton. He assured them that they had her permission to enter the Barrow, which was located on her property. When they got there, the Barrow was defended by spiky bushes and brambles, and it seemed menacing and alluring all at once with its wooden pillars supporting the dark tunnel that lead within. This was real live role-play, and they would accept all challenges.
Jonathan J. Drake’s horror adventure novel for young and new adults, Barrow of the Damned, is an intriguing blend of role-play fantasy and Greek mythology as the four friends find themselves in a hellish and unreal struggle for survival. Drake’s Barrow is an ancient thing guarded by a stinking and generally loathsome being known as Bloater, who collects the heads of his victims and nails them outside his lair. I enjoyed seeing the parallels between the four friends’ efforts to navigate and escape the mazes, and the efforts of Theseus to escape the maze King Minos had designed to keep the Minotaur in check -- and Bloater makes a neat modern-day Minotaur. The presence of two of the three Fates also lends a strong mythological presence to the tale as well. The four role-players’ quest to survive their experience and regain their access to the world above is fascinating and filled with suspense, terror and the unexpected. I had a grand time reading this disquieting and thought-provoking gem of a horror story. Barrow of the Damned is most highly recommended.