SPFBO 5: Another 4 Eliminations – And Fourth Semi-Finalist Announcement!
The fifth Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) is well underway! Check out our introduction here, read all about the contest’s origins here, and keep track of phase one here. Continue reading for the Fantasy Hive’s fourth batch of eliminations – and to find out who our fourth semi-finalist is! (Here are our first and second and third lot of eliminations, in case you missed them.)
Here are our next four eliminations, followed by our fourth semi-finalist:
Remember the Dawn
Starlight. Steel. Ahryn and Ezai must unite.
Ten years ago, the Starsingers–tyrannical magicians who draw their power from the stars–suffered a brutal defeat at the hands of an ancient order of magic-resistant peacekeepers.
Their rebellion quelled, their magic controlled, the five families of starlight magicians have been forced to live in a fragile truce with the starless commoners…until now.
When an assassin begins killing Starsingers, the defiant peacekeepers are blamed, for who else could slay a magician?
EZAI is a storied peacekeeper. He has been tasked with finding the true killer, and he must do so before the balance of power is disrupted. But the Starsingers plot against him.
AHRYN is the eldest child of an Astral House, and she alone survives the murder of her family. She seeks justice, but the other families wish to use her fury, and her family’s legacy.
As another war approaches, Ezai and Ahryn form an unlikely alliance. Together, they must unlock a secret of the past and find the assassin before it’s too late, for a greater evil looms.
REMEMBER THE DAWN is the first book of the STARSINGERS, a sword and sorcery saga that takes place in a world with a distinct magic system and an elaborate and expansive history.
I really wasn’t sure about this one at first, but the more I read, the more I was intrigued. I read up to 20%, and the worldbuilding was pretty strong (though the continual typos were a bit jarring). The plot was also gradually thickening, which was fun, and kept my interest piqued despite the general lack of action. However, it wasn’t quite engaging enough for me to champion it as a semi-finalist.
The cover was engaging if a little traditional, relying not so much on the “cowled figure, face in darkness” as “woman with back to us” to secure that enigmatic anonymity so popular these days. It opened well with action, though some sense-typos (as opposed to spelling-typos) seemed to have got missed in the edit (e.g. “dark fairly tale” and “of course note”). These little bumps do jar the reader’s immersion, so always worth watching for.
The opening is quite immersive – world building bleeding in through what the characters say to each other, rather than what the narrator tells the reader. There were some good action scenes and factions emerging in a swirl of overmighty elite magic users, a monkish police force and a resurgent faith.
With a lot of worldbuilding to feed in – the perennial problem of fantasy – the author tests every avenue to avoid the infodump. Not just through character interaction and discussion, or more specifically a grieving father filling in some relevant political backstory for the investigating policeman, but art critique as exposition in a “does this mural tell the tale of our world correctly?” kind of way.
This book had some interesting political machinations and power dynamics developed through a variety of points of view. I liked the factions and how the story was developing, but just felt I had stronger contenders to support as semi-finalists.
I’m sorry to say this did not make a lasting impression on me at all. After what was an intriguing opening, the odd turns of phrase and exposition-heavy dialogue lost me. I don’t think there was anything overtly bad with this one, but it didn’t grip me as well as other stories in our batch, certainly not enough that I can remember the details of it with any clarity!
Picking up on what TO said, this does have a traditional, or better yet, typical fantasy cover, and it does have a typical magic vs non-magic setup, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. If these things weren’t so successful they wouldn’t be typical in the first place, would they? And on the note of the cover, while it isn’t my personal style of choice, it’s professionally done. This level of quality extends internally, with graphics on the title page making for some fantastic production value.
(Note: while it’s things like these internal graphics that prove a self-published book can flex its muscles just as much as any mass market traditionally published work, not all self-published authors can afford this, and that’s FINE! Don’t measure your work with doodles – do it with scribbles. I mean words. Do it with words).
This jumps straight into the action, which is something I personally enjoy. Val immediately commands your attention, though the arrival of her brother was a little list-like in its description – but this generally relaxes as the story continues, with a reasonable balance of worldbuilding with infodumping. What isn’t so relaxing is the typos. For a book with such strong production values the typos let the side down, but I won’t hold this against it.
I’m a big fan of the starsinger magic concept. One line in particular really shone for me: ‘You are the singer, not the song’. Kick. Ass.
All that said, there’s lots going on, but not a lot actually HAPPENS in the opening chapters. Just lots of talking about socio-political tensions. Which is a shame, as this has a lot of promise, and the story delivers as it unfolds. The pacing didn’t put me off reading it (this wasn’t a DNF for me) but it did make me think HURRY UP AND GET ON WITH IT! And it did, but it took too long to get there.
This one didn’t hook me. I started it, and didn’t like the first chapter. I like the concept and the world building that we get to see, but the characters actually were annoying me more than anything. The first scenes also felt a bit random and I couldn’t actually dive in.
I liked the second chapter quite a bit more, but aside from dialogue and some info there just isn’t really anything happening. Lots of political info and more setting up the world, but it kind of flowed me by instead of sucking me in. It isn’t bad, but it also didn’t have me glued to the pages.
The Not-So-Grim Reaper
Sergio C. Pereira
Because death should be a laughing matter!
Already down on his luck, Claudio Chillwell has a day that goes from bad to worse – he dies on his way to a job interview. A chatty grim reaper named Gee feels horrible about the embarrassing way that Claudio slipped off this mortal coil and decides to give him a second chance at living.
However, the Dead Council frowns upon necromancy, and there are consequences for those who contravene the rules. Gee ends up on the run and seeks sanctuary at Claudio’s home. The suits are having none of it, though, and track down Gee and his new human friends, promising to torment them with hellhounds, soap operas, and bad haircuts.
Will Claudio and Gee survive the bureaucracy and live to tell the tale?
WARNING: This book combines the outrageous quirk of Deadpool with the adventure of Bill & Ted. Your stomach may hurt afterwards.
I read up to 21%, and enjoyed it a lot. The concept is funny, the characters are Pratchett-esque, and on the whole it’s well executed. A bit shallow, maybe, and not a whole lot of substance, but I have a soft spot for comic fantasy, and this is fun and easy to read (if a bit of a sausage fest). However, the more I read, the less I sympathised with the protagonist; this and the lack of substance made me set the book aside, despite the fact that it made me laugh.
The opening paragraph swept me up in its entirety and I was hopeful that the rest of the book would sustain that level of engagement. The eponymous reaper appears – as the title suggests – to be a very different kind of DEATH from Pratchett’s, positively overflowing with bonhomie and tasteless remarks.
I liked the banter between Claudio/Claude and Gee the reaper man. And there was enough interest in the situation and the odd couple pairing to keep me reading beyond the (very short) kindle free sample all the way up to the 20% mark. I wanted to see some meat put on the bare bones of the story I’d seen so far, but unfortunately it didn’t hold my attention as fully as I would have liked.
It felt like the situation was still searching for a story – the premise might make a Hollywood comedy but it needed more of a plot. In the absence of that clear sense of direction it squeezed its lines and characters too hard: a receptionist appeared beyond awful to the point where I couldn’t find her credible; the reaperman’s callous presumption and banter become a little samey; and Claudio, while not as bad as the receptionist, still didn’t appear to be a sufficiently nice or relatable person. Good opening aside, without that essential interest in the characters and where they are going, this one dropped out of my semi-finalist contenders.
I have to say, apologetically, that I did not get very far with this one at all. I have a very narrow tolerance for humour in my fantasy – I suppose I have a somewhat specific sense of humour, so there’s a great deal of “comedy” fantasy that just doesn’t work for me. And this was definitely one. The language used – “jeepers creepers”, “bejesus” (I don’t think they’re Irish?), “yowzer” – was a constant annoyance. It just felt like the story didn’t take itself seriously, therefore I couldn’t take it seriously either. Or maybe my issue is I haven’t seen Terminator 2.
This book doesn’t take itself too seriously – which is what makes it work.
But it’s also the thing that doesn’t work.
From the moment I read the title in the Hive list, to seeing the cover, I knew this was something different. Special. Stand out from the crowd. And it started off that way. But when language like ‘yowzer’ started popping up, I felt like that person STANDING next to the person in the crowd who is drawing all the looks for saying ‘yowzer’ too loudly. And as the jokes got cruder, what had started off as a rich chuckle of enjoyment started to feel a bit like a cheap laugh. This will definitely tickle the funny bone of some readers, but for me it wasn’t a great fit. And as the story relies quite heavily on the humour, and the turn of phrase, or tangential wit, I found that the story itself was a little thin. So for me, this was a no – but for others, who knows?
I like a funny and easy book, and I am a big fan of death as a character! So I wasn’t surprised I really liked the start of this one. The dedication already had me snort (in a good way) and I loved the introductory scene! The humour sat well with me and I enjoyed the main character even though he’s quite a bit off.
Second scene didn’t work as well with me, and it went downhill from there. The jokes were getting more and more crude and instead of smirking I found myself rolling my eyes every so often. Add to that the prose that could do with a bit of a polish and the characters who should be fleshed out some more, and I stopped reading at about 60 pages as I simply lost interest.
The Branded Rose Prophecy
Book 1 of The Kine Prophecies, a Norse mythology romance series …
Enduring, undying love …
A woman caught between two worlds …
The man she can never have …
The Kine and the Alfar, enemies since before Odin sat upon the throne of Asgard…
When Charlee Montgomery discovers Asher Strand’s true nature and the feelings he has for her, she also learns Asher’s love puts her in mortal danger.
Prophesied long ago, the ancient bridges connecting Earth to the other eight worlds are opened. The Alfar descend upon Earth and the Kine must emerge from their hidden life to take up their role as Man’s protectors.
Without Asher, the Kine will fall and Man with them.
To defeat the Alfar, Asher must give up any hope of a human life with Charlee.
Love … Duty …
An impossible choice that must be made …
Man’s survival depends on it …
This was a really mixed bag for me. I read up to 20% – which is a bigger deal than it sounds, because this is a LONG book. It’s a bit slow going, and kind of repetitive, and I wish it was clearer about when exactly the time jumps were happening. Despite this, I found myself quite invested in the story and characters, though the time jumps – and the sense that what I was reading had already happened – served to distance me more and more. I also wish there had been more Norseness! It kept promising, but had yet to deliver by the 20% mark.
I know the flip phone on the cover was a bit of a jolt for some, but I skated past that apparent anachronism and a slight condescension in the initial authorial asides. I barely noticed the wikipedia quotes/definitions on the chapter headings and dived into the story. Thereafter my experience of the start of the book is in two parts.
I found a raw energy to this contemporary set piece that grabbed me. We meet a wee child from the Bronx walking the streets of New York and into danger. The opening suggests we are looking back over some years of a relationship – Jane Eyre looking back at meeting Mr Rochester, the second Mrs DeWinter looking back in a dream towards Manderley – and I settled down to see how Charlee and Asher’s relationship would develop in backstory.
At first it reminded me of the 1994 film Leon where the eponymous assassin, played by Jean Reno, befriends an orphaned Mathilde, played by Natalie Portman. That dynamic of powerful protector and feisty child was appealing. There were lines too where the writing caught my eye. “Her skin was very pale, as if her hair had stolen all the life and colour from it.” There was a great deal of world-building information, even though this was a contemporary setting, and I felt this was delivered skilfully without resorting to infodumping. For example, we hear Charlee’s understanding that she was a child conceived as a means to fix her parents’ relationship but “she wasn’t entirely sure how she’d been expected to fix anything, and that was probably why she’d failed.” I found myself really liking the interactions between Asher and Charlee. Stories should be about people, people – and I felt this was. Asking myself if I would read on beyond the kindle sample the answer was “abso-fucking-lutely.”
Where I struggled a little in the run up to the 20% point was trying to work out where the story was going. Is it a kind of “Highlander” or a “Time Traveller’s Wife” or “Leon”? The second tenth was a slower brew, settling us further into the characters – not unpleasantly – but it was more relationships and prospects than action. There did seem to be a bad guy, and he seemed to have a plan, but I couldn’t tell if he was setting out to break the world or merely be a bit of a distraction to how Asher and Charlee’s relationship develops. The opening hinted that we were looking back 20 years into the past to “When Asher met Charlee” – so I was getting impatient if not to “get to the now” at least to see “how we would get to the now.” I got to the point where I thought I might even have to read the blurb as I wasn’t really sure what the story was going to be. But I much prefer the story to tell me what it is. (Blurbs are for selling books, not synopsising/introducing them – if the reader has already bought the book, why read the blurb? That’s my rule anyway.)
A book this length is a big investment of time and, in the end, I just felt I needed to see some firmer early dividends on that investment to make it onto my semi-finalist list.
I haven’t spoken much about covers during our elimination posts, but I have to say that the first cover I saw for The Branded Rose Prophecy had a sword and a flip phone on it – and it immediately put me on the back foot. I have since seen a different cover which is much more appealing. I know we apparently shouldn’t, but of course people judge books by their covers. Things didn’t improve for me with the somewhat patronising “reader advisory note” (I happen to like long books, thank you very much), or the Wikipedia entry defining “modern humans”.
So before the story even started, I wasn’t feeling particularly positive about the book.
I did struggle with the opening of the story. I found the child’s obsession with the stray dog irritating rather than endearing, and the gang members unrealistic. I didn’t particularly like the writing style; I found it overly descriptive, but not in any prosaic sense. The descriptions felt too explanatory, instead of setting the scene in a story-telling manner.
I much preferred the second point of view, and the concept of the other and magic hiding in plain sight. I think the book could be greatly improved by starting at this point! It was much more intriguing.
Not to labour the point but: flip phone + sword = well, I would never have guessed Norse romance. Did Vikings have Tinder? Thor-der? Swipe right for Heimdahl or Loki, you can only choose one…
I digress. The cover has been changed and it now works much better.
I appreciate the blurb admitting to the fact this is a long book, but it really is guilty of that. The opening feeeeeels long. And I found myself wanting to skip to get to the good bit. Problem is, there’s lots to skip.
I’ll let you in on a secret. Despite being a big fan of mercs and murder and guts and glory, I am a sucker for romance. Love at first sight, the slow smoulder from ember to flame, or the blazing passion of a….*cough* excuse me. But this book didn’t inspire any of that for me. It’s interesting, sure, but it wasn’t intriguing enough to hold my attention to the end, and by its own admission, it is a long book (and it doesn’t need to be that long, with some edits to cut back on the fluff, and get down to the good stuff).
This one didn’t work for me at all.
I was already a bit annoyed by “praise for this book” (one from an “Amazon reader”) in front of chapter one – if I already started the sampler I am obviously interested, so give me a story, not advertisement. This belongs on the book’s page, not in the book if you ask me.
Next there was a quote – straight from Wikipedia. So I was already a bit moody starting in.
There’s things that simply don’t seem to make any sense to me right at the start. Someone witnesses something and it’s a big deal and they should possibly have been silenced. When two other people saw it too, and that’s apparently no problem?
Added to that sooo much description. Not just of visuals, but you get info like the character taking the stairs as he hasn’t been to the gym in too long…. It felt so slow and bogged down I was bored. While in the first scene the dialogue at least felt fine, in the second one it felt a bit stilted and not as fluent.
My biggest peeve is this though: the book is not in first person POV and yet we get personal thoughts interspersed in a sentence like this:
“She had noticed and pushed the knowledge aside. The idea of Lucas changing (and not loving me anymore) was uncomfortable.”
That sort of breaking the barrier throws me right out of a story and back in the real world. If it’s a whole thought, put it in italics; it’s annoying me a bit, but it’s not as bad. But just a part of the sentence from the character’s POV within a sentence from third person POV is not working for me.
“If he was listening to opera, he was in a bad mood. Asher headed for the doorway. Time to face the music. Pun intended… but that didn’t make him feel any better.”
This again throws me out of the book. Whose pun then? Is Asher thinking this? Or the authors pun? I don’t want to imagine the author when reading, as I want to be IN the story, not in the real world reading a story…
I gave up early on, this definitely didn’t click with me at all.
War between dragons and humans has been renewed.
Eighteen-year-old Valeria is being hunted by dragons for an egg she wishes she’d never found. Tapping into mysterious powers she can’t explain or understand, she stays one step ahead of the cursed beasts, but she’s quickly losing her grip on sanity.
Seeking answers from a bloodwitch of ill-repute, Valeria learns the horrifying secret behind the dragon egg and what its existence means for humanity. Perhaps worse, she discovers who she truly is. Or rather, what she is.
With humanity facing the grim threat of extinction, its future lies in Valeria’s hands. But harnessing her power may have devastating consequences.
This started off well for me. The first few scenes are pretty well written, and the bloodforger’s setup in particular is intriguing. Both main characters are sympathetic and engaging, and I like that the book includes representation of disabilities (both physical and mental). My notes while reading said something like ‘How it actually deals with those things remains to be seen, but it’s a good start.’
Unfortunately, it did not deal with either of those things in a way that was acceptable to me, and I DNFd the book at 18%. Not only is the female protagonist super calm about the sudden violent death of her parents (one of whom was mentally ill, the other who was paraplegic), she’s also comforted by it, because they’d been ‘beyond saving’ anyway. I’d been wavering a bit before that anyway, because of the way some major revelations are introduced and then dealt with in a very underwhelming way, but when I got to that point… yeah, sorry, but fuck that.
That might seem harsh of me, but even from a purely storytelling perspective, her parents’ deaths don’t feel consequential. I feel like we learned more about Valeria’s character in the early pages when they were alive – the way she deals with her mum’s madness, for instance, and the fact that she considers taking her disabled dad some food but knows that he doesn’t like to eat until later in the day. Little touches like this made me feel really sympathetic to the protagonist and her family, and it’s a shame the story then takes such a shocking U-turn.
That’s not the only thing that left me feeling naffed off. The second protagonist, Tibor, struggles with anxiety. This isn’t something you see very often in fantasy, and as someone who deals with anxiety myself, I immediately warmed to him. However, apart from the occasional mention of it, it doesn’t actually seem to affect him very much at all, and the fact that he’s so easily able to overcome it – even in life-threatening situations – undermines (in my opinion) the experience of everyone who’s ever suffered the paralysing dread of anxiety.
The baby dragon was cute, though, so there’s that.
The two protagonists caught my attention quite well – the scavenging female finding an egg in a twisted tree, and the young blacksmith being informed of a threat to more than his livelihood. It all hung together quite well at the start. And then a bunch of inquisitors with the charm of The Order from Myke Cole’s “The Armoured Saint” arrived chez blacksmith boy.
The crises that both protagonists faced lacked subtlety. The inquisitors’ evil plumbed a depth of vileness that came close to parody of Victorian moustache-twirling melodrama level of unpleasantness. The devastation that tore through scavenger girl’s home and family left her – as Laura noted – far too emotionally unscathed, making both the situation and the character feel quite shallow.
This felt very much a paired quest story, with two different “farm boy” heroes launched on a path to save the world. After a brisk efficient tour of backstory to explain the world-threatening dilemma, our two protagonists were stumbling their way into each other and through a forest en route to some swamp-dwelling mystic’s house, where we/they (foolishly?) expect all will be revealed. A few Star Wars parallels here seeing I am.
The pacing was quite good, but there were points where the writing creaked; similes or turns of phrase that just don’t work for me (e.g. “The whelp widened its eye, its expressions too numerous to count.”). There was an element of world building that piqued my curiosity in Valeria (aka scavenger girl – sorry, reading the starts of so many books gives you a kind of name blindness. I think I’ve already met two Dravens in different books and that’s not even a standard name in our world). While Valeria has a secret power, it is balanced by a penalty which makes using that power a risk. I like that. It’s always good to keep your protagonists on a short leash – not letting anything be too easy.
However, I hadn’t yet seen enough depth to the protagonists to engage me in their plight and to show me it was worth the while of those people who died in their place
This was another one where I felt really quite mixed about the perspectives! I didn’t find the first chapter/perspective particularly gripping or exciting. I found myself disconnected from and therefore uncaring of the character.
I much preferred the second perspective. I found it a much more interesting and engaging chapter, and liked the representation of mental health. Ultimately though, I only really wanted to continue reading the second character’s story. And unfortunately, in this competition, that isn’t quite enough.
First, let me just say, I LOVE this cover. The dragon and backdrop reminded me of Reign of Fire (which if you haven’t seen is AMAZING) and the female in the foreground reminded me of Eowyn of ‘I am no man’ fame.
Things start off well, too. Both Val and Tibor are intriguing characters, and their individual stories have the light of destiny about them without being too bright to eclipse the other. And with the arrival of the Inquisitor-like enemies, there’s a clear good vs evil contest at play. But it’s remarkably shallow.
The good girls and guys are good because they’re ‘good’ and the evil ones are evil because they’re evil. That’s a really simplistic way of putting it, but essentially that’s how the book presents it, at least at first. While it does flesh things out as you go, the lack of depth from the get-go makes everything seem more shallow than it really is. Which is a shame, because this book actually covers some pretty important themes and topics – especially that of representation of disabled characters.
However, I will add that while I applauded the inclusion of differently-abled characters with both mental and physical aspects to their lives, I felt that these weren’t necessarily explored as well as they could have been, and Val’s reaction to a certain incident involving her parents could be potentially upsetting for some. It wasn’t necessarily upsetting for me (I have lost a parent to mental health, and have lived with my own demons), but it did leave me feeling uncomfortable in its treatment of a sensitive topic.
Not a bad book by any means – just not for me.
I enjoyed the start of this one and was quite looking forward to more. I always like a book with dragons, and the characters were interesting when introduced. Especially learning that one MC suffers from anxiety and the other MC’s parents are mentally / bodily disabled was promising.
Sadly the characters didn’t evolve, but seemed to get blander instead of developing depth. The tragedies around them didn’t seem to touch them, and they just shrugged off things that should have made an impact. As someone who suffers from (social) anxiety myself I felt like I was only told the character has anxiety, but I didn’t *feel* it. It even says “He wouldn’t abide cowardice” once – followed by him hiding from the enemy right away… It is not as easy as just thinking “Oh hell, I am scared, but I’ll just have to be brave” to face up to anxiety – and watching everyone be slaughtered while you have a sword in your lap doesn’t seem very much like avoiding cowardice to me either. (And staying rather cool about it to boot.)
This one has promise and I liked the prose and tone and found the world interesting – but the characters simply weren’t fleshed out enough for me to really settle in for the long run.
Commiserations to the eliminated authors. On a more positive note…
Our fourth semi-finalist is:
The Steel Discord
Zarachius Skie is presumed dead.
His mentor, the Arcanist Mordekai Gethsemane, had been arrested for conspiracy to commit regicide. Zarachius knew it was false. He did what had to, and snuck onto a military train to break Mordekai out.
But now, the Ancien Legion, vengeful anarchists, and Mordekai’s old co-conspirators are doing whatever it takes to bring Zarachius out of hiding. They need to know what he knows.
They need to know the secret he uncovered on that train.
I read up to 21% and would definitely like to read more. Though the writing is disjointed at times, and the time jumps are disorienting, the prose is strong and the worldbuilding is original and immersive. There are some really clever lines and observations, and while it’s a shame the whole thing isn’t quite polished enough for them to truly shine, I’m still more than happy to put this one through to the semi-finals.
The opening didn’t grab me. I was put off by some formatting issues and a kind of stream-of-consciousness approach that confused me. I was really struggling for a sense of place here after a walk down memory lane left me disoriented. However, my interest spiked up when we discovered that someone was trying to spy on Zarachius even as he was casting a spell. My confusion gave way to immersion as Zarachius’s intent and dangers became clear.
A flashback showed Zarachius doing an impressive Sherlock Holmes-style deduction at an aristocratic soiree, which made me wonder if the preceding section was a kind of Reichenbach Falls and was Zarachius being Holmes or Moriarty?
Lines to make me smile began to crop up with more regularity. E.g.:
“By calm and studious reflection, you mean drink until we can’t feel.”
And I found myself warming to the second chapter where Zarachius and Kyran make a good pair drinking their woes away and subtly filling in incidental details of their backstories – in a way that felt natural, not forced.
Then we had, “The woman started by diving into an Aeonic drinking song called ‘Landing the Serpent’ that had nothing to do with sea serpents.” -and I cheered bravo! ever a fan of a little innuendo.
By the time we shifted to a new point of view in a debtor’s prison I had gone from thinking The Steel Discord was a potential early bath to thinking it a definite contender – which is, to be honest, the reverse of a lot of my SPFBO experience, where promising openings and premises aren’t sustained enough to keep me reading. There is an engaging Victorian/Dickensian vibe to The Steel Discord, mixed in with magic, intrigue, sparkling writing and engaging characters, so I am very much looking forward to reading on.
Initially I was somewhat conflicted by The Steel Discord; I struggled with the opening and the unusual sentence structure… I had the faint sense that perhaps English is not this author’s first language? Although I found the first couple of pages confusing, the plot very quickly picks up; it grabbed my attention, and I found myself suddenly flying through it. The dialogue was occasionally jarring, and there was the odd repetition (for example, a character reappears but is described in almost exactly the same manner as previously); but I am looking forward to reading on and discovering what happens to the characters!
For me this one took too long to actually get going. The first scene was confusing (and not in a good way) and the unique setting and cool ideas were not enough to make up for it. Same with the second scene – it does get better in the second half, but I found myself skipping paragraphs as I wasn’t hooked or settled in the scene. While it isn’t bad at all, compared to other entries this was not a semi-finalist for me personally. This is precisely why we do read as a team though, so different tastes and views are taken into account. As the others liked it much more than me I’m happy for it to go forward another round!
Some books you either hit the ground running, or fall flat on your face at the first hurdle. This is somewhere between the two, where you stumble along between the jumps, and somewhere along the way pick up the pace and really go with it.
This is a story with VOICE. It’s equal parts plot, prose and, dare I say it, performance. It’s by no means an Anna Smith Spark opera-house epic, but if you ever get the chance to see/hear RJ Barker read, he transforms his stories from what are quite easy-reading standard fantasy fare, to something unlike anything you have ever witnessed. I’m not saying that this is a transformative piece of work, but it packs promise by the bucketload. There’s so much character to the story that I for one couldn’t help but read it with a voice.
There’s plenty that made this stand out as a contender in our SPFBO batch – from the characters to the setting, and yes, the style and tone – and when you can’t help but think about a book when you’re supposed to be reading 20+ other ones, you know you’re onto something…
And in this case, that something was a semi-finalist. Congratulations!
*** Congratulations to Ryan Howse and THE STEEL DISCORD! ***
We’ll be posting more updates in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, check out the graphic and list below for our full roster of entries, as well as links to more SPFBO 5 goodness!
A.B. Endacott, Queendom of the Seven Lakes A.M. MacDonald, Remember the Dawn
- Antoine Bandele, The Kishi* (*semi-finalist)
Becka Sutton, Haventon Born
- Brad Carsten, The Wretched
- Brian McClellan, Uncanny Collateral* (*semi-finalist)
C.Z. Edwards, Kingdom: Rien’s Rebellion
- Deck Matthews, The First of Shadows
- Deston J. Munden, Tavern
E.L. Drayton, Daxton Eli Celata, The One That Lives Frank G. Albelo, The Hall
- Gaia J. Kos and Boris Kos, Evenfall
- Harry Young, These Forgotten Gods
- Jack Massa, Cloak of the Two Winds
Jacob Rasmussen, The Fall Jeffrey L. Kohanek, The Buried Symbol Justin DePaoli, Dragonsoul
- K. Vale Nagle, Eyrie
Kade Cook, Grey
- Lisa Cassidy, A Tale of Stars and Shadow
- Madeleine D’Este, Women of Wasps and War
Matthew Satterlee, Forlorn Dimension
- Miriam R. Dumitra, Brightshade
- Ryan Howse, The Steel Discord* (*semi-finalist)
Sean Monaghan, The Map Maker of Morgenfeld Sergio C. Pereira, The Not-So-Grim Reaper
- Stephanie Burgis, Snowspelled* (*semi-finalist)
Tracy Cooper-Posey, The Branded Rose Prophecy Zamil Akhtar, Song of a Dead Star
One of the surviving books is a future SPFBO 5 finalist – perhaps even the winner! Can you guess which one? (We can’t… yet! Though it’s getting closer…)
If you’re following SPFBO 5, let us know about any entries that have caught your fancy! Join the discussion on social media (there’s a Facebook group here) and weigh in on Twitter using the hashtag #SPFBO.
Stay tuned over the following five months as we review and eliminate 29 of the 30 books in our batch, and check out our introduction to round 1!