Prequel fantasy novel which works well as a standalone. The Barrenlands of the title are a magical wasteland that forms an almost impassable border territory between two countries. But where there is a border, there will be crossings, and people who make a living bringing things across that border, whether it is with or without the blessing of the governments concerned. Ehran, head of the King’s Guard, will end up tangling with it more than once in his quest first to find the murderers of his beloved king, and then to find and dispose of the family of the king’s brother. He’s been sent on the latter mission supposedly to prevent the exile trying to seize the throne from the king’s young son, a mission he rightly sees as a means of getting him out of the way of an unknown traitor within the court.
Some nice world-building here, with appealing characters and a worthwhile mystery. It’s obvious from the first who the villain is, because Ehren’s not stupid and already has his suspicions. But means and motive are another matter, and untangling those make for an entertaining story. A short novel offering an enjoyable way to pass a few hours.