Heartwood
by Barbara Campbell
Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes—editor 
(Also, read an interview with the author)


I picked up this book because Barbara is a fellow graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. After wading through the first thirty pages or so, I wondered what compelled me to keep going, why did it seem so slow, and why was I enjoying it

And suddenly I realized: description. Wonderful, rich description. Barbara takes us deep into the world of the Darak the hunter in this Celtic-style fantasy story reminiscent of the best of early 20th century writing. She doesn’t hesitate to dwell on the landscape, a lushly described, sylvan forest, the finest starting off point for any fantasy. 


The mythology and customs of the people come vividly to life. And we get deep inside the characters’ heads--a place many modern authors fear to tread.

The basic tropes reign: Something is wrong with the world; a manipulative Trickster god; a diabolical mage; a reluctant, flawed hero and, of course, a love story. But then, Heinlein asserted that there are only three plots. Christopher Booker suggests seven. Two things make a story original: author voice and character. And Campbell has those in droves.

A quick plot summary: Darak’s tribe worships the gods of the turning of the seasons when the Holly God of winter gives way to the Oak god of summer. But the turn does not happen, Oak is destroyed and winter threatens to reign forever. The heroes must return the Holly god to his body before the change becomes permanent. Each character bears the weight of the plot well, and mixed motivations keep the reader guessing until the end. 

In some ways, Heartwood reads like a romance novel. We get deeper into character than in most fantasy stories, and plot blossoms from character motivations rather than the characters being tools to wander through the plot. I rather like Campbell’s approach; some people will not.

If you enjoy rich description and vivid characterization, this novel is for you. If you want a fast pace with little description to slow you down, there are other choices out there. One word of warning, some of the later scenes are intense.

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