Audiobook Score: 95/100 (9.5 out of 10)
Paperback Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
The Well is an enchanting fantasy/adventure novel by the brilliant Barbara Hills. Despite being a bit of a prequel to The Sun and the Starlings, a previous Outstanding Creator Awards winner, it is a solid stand-alone story that is sure to charm you.
Legends speak of a magical wishing well which can grant you anything you want: fame, fortune, beauty, or power. However, those who've found this well have never returned the same. Many have never been the same again.
Despite this, the promise of ultimate power appeals to King Garribold of Pendlefyr, a man who already possesses great power and control over the surrounding lands. However, the hope of using the well to surpass Emperor Argad of Skrard is too much of a temptation to ignore. To that aim, and under the pretense of protecting Pendlefyr from conquest, Garribold sends his son, a prince simply called Messenger, to find the titular well. His explanation for choosing and sending Messenger for this task is that he feels he can't trust anyone else to make the wish, possibly realizing that they would pursue their own selfish desires instead.
Messenger is a person of high character and integrity, something he demonstrates throughout the book. Honor and doing the right thing means a lot to him. He is also very polite and shows great self-control and etiquette. It is a bit odd considering that he's such a different character from the man who raised him, but we guess we can deal with that for the sake of the tale.
Messenger also endures great difficulty including traveling many miles, being exposed to the elements, being attacked, and going multiple days without food. He meets a lot of very interesting people along the way, developing relationships with people. It can be argued that Messenger's encounters with this colorful cast of characters forms the crux of the book.
These include Chucklegorgan the juggler (a character in The Sun and the Starlings), Tumblehorn the troll/giant (another character in The Sun and the Starlings), Gorruck, Chief Salien, and Salien's beautiful, hot, and very single daughter, Larken, the love interest of the book.
This book sorely missed Larken during the earlier time when she wasn't involved. There seemed to be an overload of male characters. Larken added a much needed feminine touch.
With that said, all of the other characters had a charm of their own, whether it be a goofy moment, a speech pattern, or a charming personality.
Even Starn, the enigmatic and manipulative villain, has a special charm to him. You can really believe why people fall for his tricks and believe his claims.
You also learn about other characters who've found the well and encountered its lone inhabitant such as Malpotero, a man who went from a beloved and fascinating magician to a husk of himself.
“Charm” is perhaps the key quality of this book. There's a fantastical, enchanting, and oddly relaxing way in which it is told.
This is especially evident in the incredible audiobook which features the author herself as the narrator. Believe us when we tell you: Barbara Hills was the perfect narrator for this audiobook! Her voice is gentle and delicate, enhanced by a rich and majestic British/Welsh accent that just screams “high fantasy.” She's the narrator that any fantasy author would want to read their audiobook.
Furthermore, the musical score and sound effects that she produced for this audiobook are borderline perfect. They're phenomenal!
Now, there is one funny, awkward instance of us sitting through the clickity-clack of horses walking for an extended period of time (without narration). It kinda reminded us of the coconuts from Monte Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail, which is a thought that softened the blow of that moment.
One thing you need to realize about both the novel and audiobook is that it has a very relaxed, laid-back tone. In a sense, this is the perfect book to read before bed. Yes, that's true even when there's brief discussion of heads on pikes and a man becoming zombified. Even then, the book never loses its light tone.
Everything about the audiobook comes together to accommodate this: the narration, the music, and the sound effects. Every chapter begins with an enchanting, alluring tune and ends with the strumming of a harp. It almost has a kind of hypnotic effect. It is very possible you'll fall asleep while listening to this. Again, this makes it great for bedtime.
Going back to the narration, Hills does several great voices in this book including the nasty, intimidating, terrifying voice of Marog the troll and the sly, sleazy, yet alluring voice of Starn the slug. There are also times when there's a bit of ambiance added to the dialogue like an echo when in a hollow area (like a tunnel or a home).
If anything holds this book and audiobook back at all, it's just how calm and relaxed it is. The opening music at the beginning of each chapter, for example, is very beautiful, but it does disrupt the pacing.
For the most part, this is such a charming and enchanting read/listen!
Check it out on Amazon!