SPFBO 6: Last Eliminations Post
Every week, we’ll be announcing a batch of five books.
Three will be eliminated on the Wednesday, carrying two forward to the Friday, when we’ll announce a semi-finalist.
Last week, we eliminated another three books, and revealed LAST OF THE EXALTED by Derek Prior as our fifth quarter-finalist and QUEENS OF THE WYRD by Timandra Whitecastle as our fifth semi-finalist.
So, without further preamble, here are our next last eliminations, followed by the announcement of this week’s Quarter-finalists from which we will be choosing our last semi-finalist in our Friday post.
A Prince’s Errand
Dan Zangari and Robert Zangari
Several millennia ago a war raged between the factions of dragonkind. With their world ravaged, the Kaldean Alliance forged the Amulet of Draconic Control and the Tethering Stone, and banished their foes to other realms, saving Kalda from utter destruction. Fearing the power of the Amulet, the survivors secreted it away. But now knowledge of the Amulet has resurfaced–and in the wrong hands, war could erupt anew.
A PRINCE’S ERRAND
Long ago, men harnessed the Channels of Power, creating tevisrals-devices capable of manifesting magic. But men weren’t the only ones to accomplish such feats. Dragons crafted the most sophisticated tevisrals. These shaped the world, defining civilization of man and elf alike.
Over the centuries… READ MORE
The book starts with a selection of pretty looking coloured maps, though the kindle format rarely does justice to the detail in these things. There feels like a lot of description of clothing which, combined with quite a bit of passive voice “telling” rather than showing, tends to slow the pace and flatten the story. Something an editor told me to watch out for once were excessive uses of “was” as a bit of a telltale sign for passivity/telling.
I got to 20%, which in a long book is quite a lot of reading, so I have more thoughts/comments than I might for a shorter book. The writing and production values are sound in that I didn’t see any typos, and thought and care has gone into the presentation. The setup aspires to be epic and there are quite a few shades of Tolkein in the climactic long ago battle, not quite dead big bad guy and the lethal magic weapon tying him still to the world that must be kept hidden.
We then flash forward several millennia to a prince in an empire under attack, a warrior adventurer contemplating retirement, and his friend a mage with a bad dreams/visions problem. These last two have a lot of named friends and apprentices which makes for a baffling profusion of characters and minor PoV perspectives.
Now I like complexity and I’m not averse to a languid opening to a tale, but my problems with A Prince’s Errand are around:
(1) pace and passivity, the writing does have a lot of passive phrases to it and lots of authorial asides of exposition in the middle of a scene, giving us world or character history in a very “telly” way which also slows down the story’s momentum.
(2) Representation; there are a few female characters and one who it seems has joined the 40+ band of adventurers on their quest, but the women appear mostly to be shallow paper cutouts offering housewifely support and a thin excuse for angst in our so-definitely-never-was-going-to-stay-retired warrior. They were frequently described by reference to their attractiveness/non-attractiveness and their looks seem to be the key to the often rehearsed and mostly told (rather than shown adulation) in which their partners hold them. While there is a kind of respect in the way the women are placed on pedestals by the male characters, it still doesn’t give them the role or agency I’d like to see.
There are some intriguing mysteries, and the world building has an interesting diversity in its magic system and there is a strong sense of the whole story being built on firm foundations of well thought out history. I am curious about the mage with the tormented visions but neither the story nor the writing has grabbed me yet – and it has had its chances. So this is at best an orange for me.
Although a lot of people have liked the cover, I don’t particularly sorry! It looks almost exactly like the cover of The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan, down to the font and everything. It doesn’t jump out to me. It suggests that this is going to be tropey, cliché, old fashioned. I was hoping it would prove me wrong…
This is one of the few books this year that I’ve struggled to remember when it came to writing the review. I’ve made notes, but I’m having to dive back into the book to refresh myself.
First of all, we have a prelude, in which there is a battle, a magical amulet, elves fearful of its power in the hands of humans, a protagonist who turns invisible in order to protect the magical amulet… The writing style is easy enough to read and flows well enough for the most part, except for quite heavy descriptions on unnecessary aspects, such as clothing, as Theo has already mentioned. There was a section that focused on all the different types of armour the protagonist could see and none of it really sank in… this didn’t leave a lasting impression on me whatsoever. Possibly because it felt so familiar to a certain other work of fantasy.
After this, we reach the prologue! There is a very nicely worked chapter heading, but again like the cover and the prelude I felt like it was familiar… I have since seen a post online comparing the artwork to that in Sanderson’s Stormlight series and resemblance is quite strong!
Theo’s already brought up the ridiculously over-the-top descriptions of clothing, and they continued into the prologue:
He wore a fanciful crimson coat with tails hanging partway down the backs of his thighs. The coat was adorned with gold-and-white tassels and embroidered with patterns all paired in groups of seven. Seven was an important number in Mindolarn. He wore a ruffled beige shirt and charcoal-colored pants with matching boots.
Despite this, for the most part, I was really enjoying the writing style; the pace was now clicking along nicely and the political intrigue had me intrigued. Our cocky protagonist was amusing as he recounted the various family ties. However, when the attack begins, the pace actually slowed down, and we’re quite suddenly dumped into quite a lot of exposition. The narrative became informative, rather than reading like a story:
The light was a type of magic called barsion. It was a protective magic and could prevent anything, both physical and magical in nature, from passing through it.
Again, as Theo has detailed, the writers start falling into the habit of telling the reader things, rather than showing them:
Kaescis glanced to her calmly. Hostility didn’t bother him. He was accustomed to it—
I’m very sorry to say, I fell a little short of reaching chapter one. I found myself struggling to read to the bottom of the page, past the repeatedly and uselessly screaming woman, and our protagonist’s impotent rage and emotion. I felt completely unconnected to the events and the protagonist to really appreciate and sympathise with his plight. I just didn’t find the action sequence exciting, and following the very heavy Tolkien and Eddings vibes (authors who I love but who I’m not looking to re-read over and over again in other people’s works), I didn’t feel particularly motivated to keep reading.
Also, as a note, that blurb could really do with condensing!
I really like the retro cover even though, as Beth said, it is almost identical to Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan. However it kind of brought back that classical high fantasy feeling, which is nostalgic for me. There are also really elaborate chapter headings, with swords and dragons, which I felt was a lovely touch even though it’s been criticised for copying Sanderson’s style. I do feel that borrowing styles from various well established authors is fine to a point, but at least add a twist of something different, something to distinguish your book from theirs. So I do have conflicting feelings here.
On first impressions the writing, although fairly easy to read, I found could have done with some tweaking. There were a few repetitions, a bit too much ’telling’ rather than ‘showing’, and it also felt overly simplistic. Other than that, the opening prelude and prologue are enjoyable and I like the heavy use of magic.
However, after the initial beginning, like with the cover, the author takes lots of ideas from different books, and mashes them together but in a rather boring way. I normally don’t mind when an author has a classic fantasy feel to their writing and when stories include some of the usual tropes, again, I quite like the nostalgia, but I like when an author brings something fresh to the table. I want something that makes an old trope even more exciting, or in a way which redefines it, instead of straight up copying, which it seems to do here.
By around 15% I found myself not wanting to pick it up, and found the narrative to be rather bland. The whole thing began to feel really dry, and overly descriptive.
Another issue I had – where are the strong, well rounded female characters?! The one which was briefly mentioned wasn’t exactly depicted in a satisfying way. It seems the book is heavily male orientated, with women being confined to maternal, housewife roles, with literally no personality to them. To be honest the interactions men and women had with one another left me nauseated!
I actually made it to the 20% mark of this one – and I can tell you that was a lot of reading… This one was a really giant beast of a book!
It had a very old school feel to it. That includes a lot of descriptions of food and clothing and sadly also the handling of female characters as well. We are told frequently if women are wearing make-up, or aren’t for example. Also they are all really beautiful! Or not at all. We are also told over and over just how important the female characters are (to the male ones) but they don’t seem to have much agency aside from the men in their lives. Like telling their very mopey husbands (because they gave up adventuring to stay home with their family) that they should actually leave, as sitting around makes them depressed and not the man they fell in love anymore and so the happy man is obviously more important than the happy wife. (Also obviously the wife kind of tricked her husband into that promise, because that’s what women do, manipulate men until they think it was their idea in the first place…)
Here’s a few of the makeup moments:
She wore makeup and sat on his lap to draw him from his woes. Those were things a normal woman might do to try to divert a man’s attention. It was odd coming from her.
She looked fierce with the extra makeup.
Her face was plain, as when they first arrived in Midolarn-after all, Belsina wouldn’t have any makeup for her to wear.
She was plain, to say the least. Belsina never wore makeup. Iltar didn’t know why. He paid her enough to afford such things.
As always, her face was free of makeup. Her eyelashes were short, giving her eyes a masculine appearance for a woman. Those yellow irises didn’t help either. Though Laeyit was not ugly, she definitely wasn’t the ideal specimen of a fetching lady.
It’s not bad, and if it wasn’t that long I might finish it, but some things are really annoying me.
Also (just like with Wheel of Time) soooooooo much description about clothes and food and everything.
Plot and world sound well enough and could be quite good for those looking for a very traditional fantasy, but I’m just trying to get to 8 hours so I did my 20%
Oh wow I’m so glad I didn’t reach those points, I’d have thrown my device against a wall…
I found myself reading a very small percentage of this book. I never connected to it, and as all my fellow judges have waxed poetic over the issues at hand, I’ll say only that I thought it a bland piece, overlong and familiar. A Prince’s Errand is a book that, at its opening at least, begins to tell stories better told elsewhere. In a contest dominated by fantasy unafraid to embrace new horizons and venture past them, nostalgia doesn’t hold much worth.
Two Worlds, one nightmare…
Cait Weerd has no idea she’s being sought by the undain: sorcerous creatures that feed off the spirit of the living. She doesn’t know they need her blood to survive. She doesn’t even know she’s a witch, descended from a long line of witches. Cait Weerd doesn’t know a lot, really, but all that’s about to change.
At Manchester Central Library she’s caught up in sudden violence. In the chaos she’s given an old book that’s been hidden there. Given it and told to run. Hide the book or destroy it. The book contains all the secrets of the undains’ existence. They and their human servants want to find it as much as they want to find her.
Cait learns the fates of two worlds are at stake. Just what she needs. Along with definitely-not-a-boyfriend Danny, she has to decide what the hell to do. Run, fight or hope it all goes away.
It’s only then she learns who she really is, along with the terrible truth of what the undain have been doing in our world all this time…
I found this book readable but not skimmable – at least in the first 22% – and that is a strength. There’s quite a complicated story involving our own world (specifically Manchester) and a more usual fantasy world of two lands Angere and Andar separated by the impossibly wide but constantly flowing river An – uncrossable by boat due to the giant serpents that swim within it.
The book opens in Manchester with a sad school girl Cait and her grandmother the librarian (yay – big shout out to librarians, heroes of stories everywhere). Things quickly go drastically pear-shaped in Manchester and then we move to follow a different set of characters in fantasy land.
In its coven of long-lived witches and parallel worlds themes, this has a touch of Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. I like the writing, there were nice lines
“Cait had the distinct feeling of all the books settling back down to sleep in the darkness, like disappointed dogs in a rescue home.”
Yeah way to go, make me think of my TBR list like lost dogs and really leverage up the guilt levels!
There is also a digression to a third world – more a cyberpunk SFF style place – some corruption of our own with Nox a motorbike riding enforcer wielding a spiked baseball bat and sparking a Mad Max aesthetic.
By 22% none of these threads had met at all, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but hopefully, they will come together soon. However, there is a briskness to the story – the introduction of characters and world-building feels a little rushed in places – so that I didn’t feel I knew enough about the people to care about them. Entertained and curious, but not yet wholly invested.
But there are a couple of lines that resonated with me
“You could tell people the truth all you liked, but you couldn’t always make them believe it.”
“The necromancer was no fool. He chose his victims for his early experiments carefully: those that people didn’t care much about, thieves and pirates and beggars.”
Yes – maybe multiple worlds, but some familiar common threads. I’m up for reading on.
I’ll be honest, I strongly dislike the cover, in fact, it put me off picking this one up. I’m not at all keen on faces on covers, and this one, excuse the pun, is right in your face! It’s just my personal preference but artwork as opposed to ‘real people’ appeals to me far more.
Hedge Witch is undeniably an Urban Fantasy, and once again I’ll be transparent, this is not a genre I generally enjoy. There are exceptions of course, but on the whole, I prefer my fantasy reads to be pure escapism, (cliched I know, but we like what we like) and therefore any story which involves a modern-day setting and technology resembling our own, tends to pull me out of a story.
Unfortunately, Hedge Witch did just that, and so I only managed to read about 10%. So I only have brief thoughts here but, in terms of the narrative, it was fairly fast-paced, and we see a nice bond between the main character Cait and her grandmother, which I enjoyed. There were a few really odd similes used, and the dialogue felt quite clunky at times. I also didn’t warm to the two main characters Cait and Nox at all. I’m told by my fellow judges that the narrative takes a turn later and we are introduced to another world, so perhaps I’ll like that better. However for now I feel like this book simply isn’t for me but I’d certainly recommend those who love urban fantasy to pick this up.
Again, I’m with Nils on the cover: I quite like the title and the kind of story it implies, but I really disliked the cover. Is she supposed to look ‘edgy’, with her piercings and blue hair? As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t like being told how to imagine the character before I even ‘meet’ them. And why is she naked? It comes to pass that this is actually our protagonist – a teenage school-girl. And again like Nils, it screams Urban Fantasy – a genre I have such mixed feelings about.
I was oddly relieved to find it set in Manchester. I think that’s one of the reasons I dislike certain urban fantasies – they’re set in America and riddled with references I don’t get. My immediate impression of the writing style was favourable, I really liked the presentation of this misunderstood teenager; I found it quite sympathetic and actually true to life, unlike your typical description of a ‘moody teenager.’
However, as the story progressed, I found myself feeling annoyed by the odd overly-detailed description, the strange detail of a security guard for a library (is this typical in cities maybe? I don’t know but I found it strange).
I think what saved this book as a ‘maybe’ for me was the second world and its older protagonist. This was a part of the story I instantly felt better connected to. It was hampered slightly by the character of Johnny Electric and his Deep Purple boat, what had felt like an interesting and authentic world now felt cheapened by this intrusion of a person painfully obviously from another world.
Ultimately, I ended up feeling torn by this one. Wanting to read more of Hellen, the witch from the secondary world, but not looking forward to returning to Cait in Manchester…
An ambitious, intriguing urban fantasy that simply did not grab me the way I’d have liked it to. If you enjoy this subgenre of fantasy, chances are, you’ll find plenty here. I don’t have much to say — the prose was good, the dialogue was captivating, and there even was a mystery that managed to engage with me — but not enough to want to continue reading on.
I was sad to see this one go, as I rather enjoyed it.
Yes, it is a bit rough around the edges at times, and some of the early chapters felt a bit stilted, but I was definitely intrigued!
Usually, I am not too big a fan of genre mixes, and this one seems to mix Urban Fantasy, secondary world portal fantasy and a dash of the Fae added in…
Especially the UF parts didn’t work perfectly for me, but they were well enough – and short enough to not deter me from reading on. They do have potential, so I think a bit of an edit could make them well enough to grip me on their own. However, where the story really set its hooks into me was when we got to visit what seems to be a different world with witches and magic and get an older woman POV who I clicked with right away plus some added mystery…
I might finish this once SPFBO reading is done and I have more time again!
M. J. Padgett
The land of Goranin has survived the rule of the dreaded Allurigard bloodline for centuries. Suffering perpetual winter at the hands of a tyrannical, bloodthirsty queen, the people seek out a savior to restore their land to its former glory.
They find one in Moriarian of Varrow. Moriarian makes grand promises, and the people of Goranin invite him in as their new leader.
Eiagan Allurigard, the feared dragon-riding Winter Queen, wants nothing more than peace and quiet. Her people push her to the edge, stage uprisings, and revolt against her absolute authority. When her immortality is stolen and Moriarian attacks, Eiagan barely escapes her castle alive. With a gaping abdominal wound and nowhere to hide, she seeks out an unlikely ally in her quest to reclaim her throne.
Moriarian’s promise of salvation is too good to be true, and the people are subjugated to a fate worse than death. As Moriarian ravages her land, Eiagan seeks revenge against him and those who betrayed her. Haunted by memories of her past, Eiagan joins forces with a band of rebels, a healer who believes he can save her blackened soul, and a den of dragon-shifters determined to free the land of oppression once and for all.
Traitors, a wicked sorcerer, and deadly creatures threaten their survival, but the queen is determined to win back her birthright at all costs—even if it means sacrificing everything.
We have the odd ball pairing which is good for generating a bit of conflict. There is the defeated but vengeful queen Eiagan who has somewhat carelessly lost her immortality, been deserted by her most faithful allies and badly wounded. Porvarth – a loxmore, which seems to be a strange luminescent winged kind of human/fairy – heals her in accordance with the eternal obligation of his species.
The two then set out on a journey, and this is interspersed with chapters of back story which give an insight into Eiagan’s upbringing and her utterly tyrannical father. Eiagan is a difficult character to like, she is arrogant, boastful, vengeful – a tyrant in her father’s image, but one fallen on hard times and who considers herself less tyrannical than the usurper who overthrew her. That makes for an interesting plot dynamic and – mortal though she may be, Eiagan can still kick ass with the best of them.
So there’s quite a bit I can like about in this story – if not in its protagonist. The writing style is a little harder to get to grips with. There’s a certain archness to it with hard edged prose almost brusque like Eiagan herself, though sometimes that slips into awkward constructions eg
“Eiagan angered but held herself.”
There is an inventiveness to the world – though shape-shifting dragons who can become human is, I understand, something of a trope. The glimpses into Eiagan’s past show a parent so brutal he makes Caligula look humane, throwing a cook into what I assume is a “we are sparta” type “pit” for hard boiling potatoes.
The problem with such frequent “senseless to the point of parody” violence is it desensitises the reader, and stretches the world to the limits of credibility. At 21% I guess this book is the story of the monstrous tyrant Eiagan, how she was made, how she triumphed, how she fell and her journey to some form of redemption. It is a book of extremes, a sense of setting out to shock and unsettle the reader and with some slightly odd stylistic choices. It’s not grabbed me as strongly as some others did, but there is a story being told here that has stirred my curiosity.
I liked Eiagan!
The cover wasn’t very striking to me, but then I’m not really drawn to ones where real people are featured, as I’ve mentioned.
It just so happened that myself and Beth both were reading this one at the exact same time and we both were equally enjoying it!
My first impressions were that I actually quite liked the two Bible references which were included right at the beginning, they both intrigued me as to what their relation to the book would be. During a WhatsApp chat Beth made a very good point; using actual religious references can suggest the book is set in our ‘real’ world, which would put some readers, including myself, off instantly. However, as Beth had already told me it was set in a secondary world, I was compelled to read onwards.
I think Eiagan’s Winter has a really strong opening. I immediately loved the dark tone and was hooked by the mystery of an immortal queen suddenly made mortal and dying in the snow. Why had she been dethroned? Why was she wounded? When we learn she is a tyrant queen – well this was just brilliant! It was fascinating being inside the head of a villain. As we meet Porvarth (a loxmore, which is a kind of winged man) who is bound to heal Eiagan even though it’s against his wishes, I became even more invested in the story and enjoyed the banter/snipes between them both.
We also have a second POV where we meet Eiagan’s father – Icluedian, who is, to put it bluntly, really fucked up. He’s a despicable character, but I feel the author does a fantastic job here of reflecting the immortals obsession with power.
In terms of world-building, I loved the dragons and various other creatures. I do feel some aspects of the prose could use some editing and refining – the dialogue feels a bit Disney villain-esque at times and often somewhat forced. There were also a few odd word choices such as ‘lop’, this wasn’t enough to put me off though and I’m kind of sad to say goodbye to this one. Although I will be continuing it after the SPFBO is finished, hopefully I’ll convince Beth to join me too!
Yes Nils! We can buddy read it! I’m so disappointed this one didn’t strike a stronger note with the other judges.
So again, like Nils, I dislike the face on the cover. I love the snow, but honestly – the cover made me think of those adverts for that insurance company Scottish Widows. Nils has brought up our discussion about the Bible references – in my notes, I’d written; “My first impression is that this is not going to be a secondary-world fantasy.” As it turns out, it is a secondary-world fantasy, but my verisimilitude had already been broken before the narrative even began.
The first line was so strong and really hooked me in:
Blood. Each fractal of snow absorbed the warm liquid, melting and mixing with it until the pool surrounded Eiagan’s war-torn body.
It seems the eponymous character is dying in the snow after a battle, and I immediately wanted to know what was happening, and whether she would indeed die. However, there’s a hint here of what continues throughout the rest of the writing style; beautiful prose which just occasionally goes a little too far and swamps the clarity.
However, once I was used to the style, I couldn’t put the story down. I read on and on, until my eyes were gritty and I had to put it down. We meet Eiagan at her lowest point, and I found it a gripping place to enter into a story. I found Eiagan herself as a character so interesting in her unlikeability. Padgett does not shy away from presenting her as a winter tyrant queen, very much reminiscent of C. S. Lewis’ Witch who held Narnia in thrall, and I really enjoyed exploring her mindset. Her skewed immortal perspective and that sense of controlling power that results.
An interesting opening, which showcases a villainous protagonist and an imaginative world. Eiagan, our villain, is going through a time of change, what with being dethroned, no longer immortal, and a touch angry about it. That’s all par for the course with villains, I suppose, though my personal favourite ones cackle maniacally while asking young folks with laser swords to strike them down. Eiagan is decidedly the kind of villain which will stab first, ask questions later.
She is joined by Porvarth, a fae creature whose species is called loxmore. Porvath’s faith in some small piece of light withing Eiagan paints him as a naif with a deathwish. Not a bad character to have in tandem with a character who’d likely call herself ‘the queen-bitch of the universe’ without a moment’s self-deprecation.
The dialogue bothers me a little. It’s too high-brow too often, almost to the extent of an epic poem but without the lyric power behind it. Sometimes, it works. Often, it does not. Some turns of phrase try too hard for originality and suffer for it. Certainly, there are times when the dark epic tone the prose aims for works, and it works well–but its unevenness forced me to hold off on giving it a green for the semi-finalist spot. I might take a look at it further down the line – Eiagan’s character is strong enough for that, at the very least.
This one has some prose I liked, but it drops morality on the reader in a really heavy-handed way.
A lot of the dialogue feels completely artificial to me, which really didn’t help matters.
Also some things just don’t seem to make any sense to me, a very big example being these two characters [Eiagan and Porvarth] working together in the first place.
Plenty of little things really rubbed me the wrong way and I’ve marked at least one bit per page that had me rolling my eyes, so I didn’t make it to the 20% mark.
The earth shook, vibrating her across the rough terrain with each rumble.
Eiagan ambled toward the light using the wall as a guide, The light. The light never appealed to Eiagan. It was far too bright, too cheerful, and unwelcoming of her darkness. Still, she sought its warmth and comfort in her darkest moment.
Porvarth dipped his head to his work again, and a knowing grin spread across his face. “Ah, do you admit you are weak?”
The very word cut her like a fiery blade. Weak. Eiagan detested the insinuation she was anything but fearless, but if she denied Porvarth his fleeting moment of satisfaction, he would be allowed to turn her away. She could not allow her pride to set her servant free. Eiagan swallowed the horrible taste in her mouth and spit out the distasteful word that would delight the silly-looking man. “Yes.”
This week’s Quarter Finalists are:
Commiserations to the eliminated books, and congratulations to our quarter-finalists!