Review: Tower of Mud and Straw by Yaroslav Barsukov

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Tower of Mud and Straw by Yaroslav Barsukov
Yaroslav Barsukov's Tower of Mud and Straw is a serialised novella published by Metaphorosis. The e-book and paperback editions will be published in February 2021.

You can read or listen to the first part here for free:

The first part was published on September 29th. The other parts will be published on October 30th, November 27th and December 25th.

About Yaroslav Barsukov:

After leaving his ball and chain at the workplace, Yaroslav Barsukov goes on to write stories that deal with things he himself, thankfully, doesn’t have to deal with. He’s a software engineer and a connoisseur of strong alcoholic beverages - but also, surprisingly, a member of SFWA and Codex (how did that happen?). At some point in his life, he’s left one former empire only to settle in another.

Click here to visit his official website.

About Tower of Mud and Straw:


Minister Shea Ashcroft refuses the queen's order to gas a crowd of protesters. After riots cripple the capital, he's banished to the border to oversee the construction of the biggest anti-airship tower in history. The use of otherworldly technology makes the tower volatile and dangerous; Shea has to fight the local hierarchy to ensure the construction succeeds - and to reclaim his own life.

He must survive an assassination attempt, find love, confront the place in his memory he'd rather erase, encounter an ancient legend, travel to the origin of a species - and through it all, stay true to his own principles.

Climbing back to the top is a slippery slope, and somewhere along the way, one is bound to fall.


Yaroslav Barsukov's Tower of Mud and Straw is an enjoyable and well written fantasy novella. I was impressed by this novella and found it elegant, entertaining and compelling. It's a tale about prejudice, political intrigue, cultural conflict and personal issues with a bittersweet atmosphere.

There's something about this novella that reminds me a bit of Anthony Huso and Rjurik Davidson, but it's clearly different from their stories. The author combines elements of epic fantasy and science fiction in an original way, and he has even included a few elements that are reminiscent of steampunk and New Weird elements. He uses these elements with care and precision to create a story that is something different and original.

Here are a few words about the story: This novella tells of Minister Shea Ashcroft who, after refusing to gas the crowd of protestors, is banished by the Queen Daelyn to oversee the construction of the Owenbeg tower, which will be the most radical defensive structure ever built by man. The tower is being built with the use of mysterious Drakiri technology. Others have no issues with using this otherworldly technology, but some are worried about what it might do to the world...

Shea is a well-created protagonist, because he's a man who is haunted by his past: the loss of his sister Lena weighs heavily on his mind. When he is banished to oversee the construction of the tower, he has to adjust to the new circumstances, and despite the changes in his life, he has to stay true to his own principles.

I was positively surprised by how fluently the author wrote about the characters and how they interacted with each other. The dialogues are good, because the author has created sufficient dynamics between the characters. I was also impressed by the author's prose and writing style, because he writes elegant and fluent prose (some of the sentences have an almost poetic feel to them).

The author has created an interesting fantasy world that is slightly different from the worlds that can be found in most fantasy novellas. I found the world sufficiently complex and diverse, because the author blends medieval elements with industrialisation and late 19th century, and also incorporates Russian and Austro-Hungarian influences to the whole.

Reading about the Drakiri legend was fascinating for me, because I've always been captivated by dark and ancient legends in fantasy stories. This legend adds a distinct dark fantasy flavour to the story. I also enjoyed reading about the Drakiri devices, "tulips", and how they were used to build the tower.

This novella is an enjoyable reading experience, because the story is fascinating and satisfyingly intimate. I would've liked to see more worldbuilding and a bit more attention to details, but I'm pleased with what I read, because the story is very good. I sincerely hope that the author will write more stories that take place in the same world, because this novella left me wanting more.

Based on this novella I can say that Yaroslav Barsukov is an author to watch, because he has a talent for engaging storytelling. If you want to read something fascinating, this novella is an excellent choice, because it's one of the best and most compelling fantasy novellas of the year.