A WIND FROM THE WILDERNESS by Suzannah Rowntree (SPFBO 6 Finalist Announcement and Review)
The sixth Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO) has readed the end of Round 1.
We hope you’ve enjoyed following our progress as we cut our batch of thirty down to six semi-finalists.
Queens of the Wyrd | Code of the Communer
The place of Finalist was certainly hotly contended – we had an incredibly strong top three. But ultimately, only one can move forward to Round 2…
Congratulations to our SPFBO 6 FINALIST:
A Wind from the Wilderness
Hunted by demons. Lost in time.
Welcome to the First Crusade.
Syria, 636: As heretic invaders circle Jerusalem, young Lukas Bessarion vows to defend his people. Instead, disaster strikes.
His family is ripped apart. His allies are slaughtered. And Lukas is hurled across the centuries to a future where his worst nightmares have come true…
Constantinople, 1097: Ayla may be a heretic beggar, but she knows one thing for sure: nine months from now, she will die. Before then, she must avenge her father’s murder–or risk losing her soul.
Desperate to find their way home, Lukas and Ayla join the seven armies marching east to liberate Jerusalem. If Lukas succeeds in his quest, he’ll undo the invasion and change the course of history.
But only if he survives the war.
Only if his enemies from the past don’t catch him.
And only as long as Ayla never finds out who he really is.
(The cover? Production value? Prose? Editing?)
I love the colourful cover that looks so different to what I am used to seeing! I also liked the blurb, so I was going into this one quite hopeful…
I liked the cover, it has a distinctive aesthetic that reminds me a bit of Jane Johnson’s Court of Lions, another impeccably researched piece of historical fiction which draws links between events centuries apart.
I too absolutely loved the cover for this one: I felt it immediately sets the scene of the novel and gives you an idea of what to expect, as well as being eye-catching and appealing.
I must confess that aside from the setting, I didn’t like the very start of the book overly much. The prologue just felt a bit uneven, and made me expect “cheap” fantasy, like a B movie instead of a well thought out book. That changed very quickly though, once I got to chapter one and the second main character! I loved her introduction and clicked with her from the very start. I only started to care for the main character Lukas once he met and interacted with Ayla.
The setting was fascinating, and I definitely liked exploring a time and country that I didn’t see much in fantasy books before, which is always a plus. As I am absolutely no history buff I don’t know how accurate it is, but it felt well researched to me at least!
The prose flows well and the whole book is extremely readable. Having got to 20% in the first stage I picked it up again on a Friday at around 11.00 am and read through in a bit of a rush to finish it at 2.30 am on the Sunday morning. Staying awake late to finish a book and then finding you can’t leave the characters you have just read about and get to sleep for another hour and a half or so is the mark of a compelling story.
There were a few typos I spotted, hoses that should have been horses and the odd missing small word in a sentence, but no outright misspellings. I’ve seen this in other self-published books this year and I think it may be down to an over-reliance on the editing power of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform. Before upload they will do a pretty comprehensive spelling check but that doesn’t help with issues of grammar or sentence sense.
Theo’s already mentioned the numerous mistakes, but despite them, the standard of the writing is very high indeed. Not just how clearly very well researched Rowntree’s subject matter is, but her prose, dialogue, world-building… It reads so well, and like Theo I found myself unable to put it down, reading a good 50% of it in one day.
This isn’t strictly the case from the get though. Initially, coming back to this for my semi-finalist read, I felt I needed to reread it from the start as I only had a rough gist of what had happened last time and I didn’t want to miss out on any details (and this is most definitely one for the small details!). The second time around, I did struggle with the prologue; it opens with exposition via dialogue which was particularly difficult as we hadn’t yet had a chance to get a sense of who these characters are yet, so it was difficult to focus on the facts they were telling each other. I think the first time I read it, I was swept up by the idea of the setting and time period; the second time round, I tried to tread more slowly, and I realised that between the various titles and different factions, I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. However, this feeling was quickly overtaken by the mystery that kicks in, the eerie message, the enemies that show up, the danger…
Chapter one had a brilliant opening:
“Ayla knew that she would die at the hands of a Christian, but according to her father’s foretelling, this would not happen until the third day of the month Zulqida in the year 490. Six months from now.”
As Julia, Beth and Theo have mentioned the cover is very striking, and I loved how it depicts the Middle-Eastern setting. If I saw this in a bookshop it would definitely make me intrigued enough to pick it up and have a closer look.
Immediately I found that the editing is of high quality, as is Rowntree’s prose which is both richly detailed but easy to be swept away by. Yes, there are typos like the others have mentioned, but not enough for me to feel jarred out of the story.
Unlike Beth, I thoroughly enjoyed the prologue, there is quite a bit of fantasy involved in this part and all the mystery reeled me in.
A very fine cover that immediately forecasts subject matter and conflict both: see the domed shape in the foreground, and the crescent moon resting atop it? On the smaller domes are crosses, two of them, perhaps reflecting the dual Christian fates at display in the book, Orthodox and Catholic. Here’s the main conflict we will face, at one of its bloodiest phases, the First Crusade. To the left and to the right are ruins of the Old World — they come into play.
An excellent composition, that much is certain. Whatever shall we say for the rest?
Oh wow Filip I hadn’t looked at the cover in that much detail at all, but I now have a whole new respect for it!
Opposed to the other judges I can’t say I did see any glaring typos or errors, so it seems I was so hooked I didn’t even notice….
Thoughts on… THE CHARACTERS
(Do you have a favourite? Is the main character sympathetic? How’s the dialogue? Are the protagonists believable? Do we care about their plight?)
As I said before I loved Ayla right from the start! She enters the story with a bang, and is surrounded by a mystery that had me glued to the pages as well as just being a character who I definitely would want to spend time with in real life as well as in a book!
Lukas was harder for me to care for. I did after a while, and it didn’t really make me enjoy the book less, it rather made it feel even a bit more real and rounded to me. Having connected so well to one of them I did actually enjoy having the other one develop in front of my eyes, instead of having two characters that were just a bit too exactly my personal cup of tea… His character arc was very well done and it felt as if the characters almost got out of the book they felt so real to me!
The side characters were interesting too, and I was surprised how well I could follow the rather complex political maneuvering (for such a short book). Usually if a lot of that is crammed into a small amount of pages the harder it is for me to take it in. But here I wasn’t lost, or wondered who was who even once, which is a definite plus for me! I’m usually not overly enthusiastic about the very detailed bickering between different factions, but this book actually made it work for me somehow!
I don’t often come out with favourites, but Ayla was definitely my favourite character in this book, streetwise, resourceful, honourable, burdened by fate and a kick ass warrior with a wicked sling. What’s not to like? Lukas, by comparison, while not without his moments came across as pompous and proud – the patrician who never seemed quite reconciled to the hard times he had fallen upon. His pride certainly comes before several falls, his own and other people’s such that at times he struggles to be a sympathetic character. That said, I think Rowntree gives him an honest and credible persona – it is the flaws that add depth to a character.
The other main character is Raymond St Gilles, the crusading count through whose eyes we see most of the complex strategising and politicking that bedevilled the first crusade. Through him Rowntree gives us a vivid insight into the mindsight of a feudal lord burying himself under obligations to God, his people and his oaths.
I agree with Theo and Julia, Ayla was hands-down my favourite character, not just because of her personality, but also her story itself – of needing to find worth in her life before the ending that was foretold. Her need to feel like she’d earned her place, with her people, with her family, in the afterlife. And then the turmoil created by her feelings for Lukas, how they complicated what she felt she needed to do, and the growing understanding of why they complicated matters.
I also really liked the character of Raymond Saint-Gilles. I loved the way Rowntree brought this historic figure to life, his motivations, honour, and beliefs felt so authentic and believable. To be fair, I think that can be said for all of the characters within A Wind from the Wilderness, not just our three main protagonists – Rowntree’s portrayals of these people during these turmoils they found themselves in was masterly. From Saint-Gilles’ perspective, I particularly loved that sense of not knowing who to trust, I thought Rowntree balanced that very well; I shared Saint-Gilles’ suspicions, and felt that the dishonesties and betrayals were wonderfully subtle.
Oh yes, I 100% agree, Ayla’s character was by far my favourite too. I was very much attached to her from the onset when we discover she doesn’t have long to live and so she tasks herself to avenge her father’s murder. We are shown a lot of emotion from her character and this made me deeply care for her plight. That’s not to say I didn’t like Lukas, but I did find him more immature than Ayla and as Theo mentions he could be very pompous and insensitive too.
However, and I’m sorry Beth, but I never warmed to Raymond Saint Gilles, and actually was quite bored by his chapters early on in the novel.
Ha, we can’t agree all the time Nils!
Too true, Beth!
So, in terms of character’s interactions, I found the dialogue to be extremely realistic, particularly for the historical period the book was written in, where religion was deeply seated.
Lukas’s flaws made of him a character I invested heavily into; to Theo’s note that he’s pompous and proud, I nod with affirmation; I would argue, however, that to reconcile to the hard times Lucas has fallen upon any faster than he did wouldn’t be realistic. The world of the eleventh century lacks social mobility — a lesson beaten into Lukas again and again. To learn it quickly would go against who he is, exactly because Lukas comes from a place of the greatest privilege in the seventh century. The notion that he would be treated as anything less than his position in that other time demands is as alien as the notion of a knight dueling with a peasant would be to a Frankish nobleman.
Excellent points Filip. Although it made for some frustrating reading at times, it was at least realistic and gave him depth!
Thank you, Beth! One of the reasons I so very much appreciate this novel has to do with the way it manages to adopt the viewpoint of the time period it seeks to represent.
As for our young Turk, Ayla is a phenomenal character whose arc is nothing short of breathtaking — for many different reasons. Her conflict, her need to make a difference before the hour of her death, her relationship with Lukas (and his with her) made for one of the most believable, memorable and downright likeable characters I’ve come across in a while.
Glad you’re in the Ayla fan-club too, Filip!
There’s a bunch of us, Nils!
I shared in Beth’s appreciation of Saint-Gilles, but I liked Bohemond even more — his is a fascinating story of ambition, success and failure, and Rowntree captures that well. He might lean towards the villainous due to our limited perception of him through Saint-Gilles, but the man is very much a tragic hero in his own narrative, and his ambition…well, off you go to Wikipedia, then.
Indeed, it’s difficult to divorce many of these characters from the historical records we have of them — and that should be the greatest compliment to Rowntree. This isn’t just great low fantasy; it’s brilliant historical fiction, down to the verisimilitude of the dialogue these characters use. Brilliantly-captured is the conflict between the leaders of the First Crusade (also known as the Princes’ Crusade, which should tip you off to the strength and egoes of the personalities involved).
Thoughts on… PLOT/STRUCTURE/PACING
(Slow start? Hard to keep up? Does the author use flashbacks/POV shifts? Do these work well or not? Did each chapter keep you turning the pages?)
Once started I hardly could put it down. When we started phase one we read 20% of each book before we moved on to the next to be able to choose our semi finalists. And I was deeply annoyed when I reached those 20%, as I definitely wanted to keep reading! So I’d say the pacing worked wonderfully on me… I liked the blend of historical setting and fantasy and thought it worked out really well.
Rowntree braids two plot elements tightly together as she weds Ayla and Lukas’s fates to the faltering journey south of the warriors of the first Crusade. The crusade’s progress may have been frustrating for the frankish knights. However, Rowntree flits her attention from set piece to set piece and from character to character, such that the story rattles along briskly enough with Ayla and Lukas trapped in an ever-tightening spiral of history.
There is a heavy historical element to the story which I loved. Bernard Cornwell in his Saxon series has done a wonderful job of bringing dry dark ages English history to life around the tale of Uthred of Bebbanburg. Rowntree is, if anything, more faithful to the historical record even than Cornwell. A quick skim of the wikipedia page on the first crusade ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Crusade ) immediately throws up links to the major characters events and even a helpful map. It has the authenticity of the Titanic movie, with Jack and Rose’s story entwined with the real people and events of history.
However, there is a fantastic element to the story too, with magic, time travel and demons, conspiring to throw Ayla and Lukas together and apart like a storm sending waves crashing and receding against a rocky seashore. It is a tightly woven blend of history, fantasy and budding romance.
I was so impressed by how Rowntree had been able to stay so true to historical fact and yet at the same time weave into it this story of fantasy, and ensure the fantasy elements felt authentic to the cultures and religious beliefs of the time. There was very much this feel of the old testament to these people in their pilgrimage tormented by a demon, of Lukas calling upon the Lord’s name to banish his foe upon the mountain top.
Having said that, I don’t think there was quite enough of the fantasy element. This felt very much like an historical fiction flirting with time travel and magic. I’d have loved for there to have been more magic, and perhaps we would have had more of a sense of where this magic came from – whether it’s something god or demon-given, or whether it’s something of the world itself.
There is an aspect of the plot I really struggled with. I want to avoid spoilers of course. But suffice to say, that something happens really quite late in the book, that has been set up for some time but which I didn’t actually think would happen. I’m not sure why it had to happen. Usually with these big plot points, I can experience them emotionally as a reader, but there is an editor/writer part of me that can step back and see what effect the event has on a character’s developmental arc and the storyline as a whole. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t see the benefit here, and it actually left me feeling rather nonplussed about finishing the story.
The plot is set around the First Crusade, of which Theo mentions and knows far more about than I do. From what I gather solely from the book, there’s a war between these two opposing nations and two opposing religions. Like I have said, I don’t know much of the historical context this book is set in, so I can’t judge it on its authenticity of depicting events or characters. This did make me feel slightly disconnected from the main story arc, as it is historical fiction far more than it is fantasy, so my expectations were disappointed.
However, running through the book Rowntree also incorporates a Romeo and Juliet type plot between Ayla and Lukas. They are quite literally two characters from opposing sides who slowly fall in love over the course of the book. Romance is not always something I enjoy in books, particularly when it’s heavily used. However, I quite like it as a backdrop to larger narrative arcs, which is exactly what Rowntree does here.
I do agree with Beth about the ending though, did it really need to happen that way? What was its purpose? Yet, I did especially love the prose in the last few chapters, where the tone became so poignant and dark. I was left with such a sense of loss and yearning.
A main question of Christianity is that of predestination. In Islam, a similar concept exists – Qadar. Predestination is hotly contested by various theologians and religious scholars; but for the purpose of this, I’ll look to the Calvinist doctrine. The Calvinist Westminister Confession of Faith states that God “freely and unchangeably ordains whatsoever comes to pass.” The Islamic philosophical school of the Jabariyah held to a similar belief: “that humans are controlled by predestination, without having choice of free will” (as per Wikipedia).
It might be hard on the modern reader to accept the concept of predestination, for it eschews the notions of individual human agency which are the foundational blocks of modern Western society. But this is a different society in a world far removed from the one we know, and it’s on this basis that I disagree with Beth about this late twist’s necessity. It is a brutal, painful moment to read; but it is a brutal and painful world where the force of the individual cannot overcome the weight of prophecy. This twist is one final brush in the Abrahamic fresco that Rowntree draws for the reader, and, ugly as it is, it’s a very fine finishing touch which unifies the fantastic with the religious motifs.
Nope. Still sulking. Get out of here with your illogical religious logic.
Yep, I’m with Beth. Forever sulking!
Woe is me! Three years of theological classes for naught!
This, then, is my note of dissent to Theo, and to you, Beth and Nils’, and your dislike for that certain late-chapter event. As for the rest? The novel doesn’t sit on its…covers? The point is, you better believe it adopts a–what was it Theo called it?–brisk pace; downright breathtaking how well Rowntree manages to move the Crusade’s enormous host along.
Agreeing with Filip here, especially that particular ending is what made me close the book and go “Wow, this was something special” instead of “Oh, a good book.” For me it definitely closed the story in a far better way than any other ending would have, and I wouldn’t want it any other way! (Also, I was expecting this all along?)
Thoughts on… WORLDBUILDING
(Does it have a magic system? How immersed do you feel in the world? Does it feel original? Why?)
I loved it! I usually get bored easily by long political discussions and maneuvering, but this one had me breezing through it all in no time. I wasn’t bored for even one page, and I think always having a bit of a personal view on top of the big scale one was what made me connect so well with it.
Opposed to some others, I had no problem at all with the amount of magic in this one, and rather enjoyed the subtle way it was used. But then I am as happy to read a full on magic system like Brandon Sanderson as much as I like something with just a little touch of it like Guy Gavriel Kay….
I for one felt the heat and the cold, the wind on my skin and the stink of the army. I was fully immersed and felt like I was an actual part of the world. It surely isn’t especially original, being a major point in human history, but I haven’t seen it used in fantasy before, so I definitely thought it special and a big plus for the book. So definitely a very strong point!
The historical aspect of the story is very faithfully rendered. The battles were not just real events, but also realistically depicted. The clash of technology, tactics and culture never feels less than authentic. Ridley Scott’s 2005 film “Kingdom of Heaven” set nearly a hundred years later than A Wind From the Wilderness has that same gift for illuminating the challenges facing heavily armoured mounted knights in a hot dry climate fighting skilled horse archers. At times in the siege warfare and chaotic battle maneuvers it reminded me of my “Medieval Total War” game playing and trying to exploit my own forces’ strengths without exposing their weaknesses.
It can be slightly confusing in that the term Greeks is applied to the rulers and people of the Byzantine empire, centred on Constantinople, rather than just what either modern or ancient history would think of as Greece. Against them, the muslim Turks subsume modern Turkey within an empire that stretches through Syria to the Euphrates.
The Byzanthine Greeks thought of themselves simply as “Romans,” but Latin speakers and Western European cultures, as well as Suljuk Turks referred to them as “Greeks” — Rowntree does well in keeping to that, as no Byzanthine ever refers to themself as “Greek”.
Thanks for the correction, Filip, and again – the reinforcement of Rowntree’s stunning fidelity to historical fact.
The magic and demons remain an ephemeral presence. Lukas and Ayla are forced to become surrogates in the conflict between the shadowy Watchers and the sorcerous Vowed, and the plot twists sharply at the end as demonic hands turn out to have been driving our characters in strange directions for world ending motivations.
Rowntree’s worldbuilding was wonderful. I loved how she brought these ancient vistas to life, not just for us as the reader, but for the characters too. Their interaction within Rowntree’s portrayal of the early medieval Middle East was so authentic. For example, I loved Ayla’s reaction to the Hagia Sophia, I really connected with this as it reminded me so much of how I felt in the Vatican:
“For a long time she stood with her head craned back, feeling as though she was about to fall up, up into the airy gold heavens and float away with them.”
Oh yes, Beth, the evocation of the Hagia Sophia was brilliant and particularly poignant given the current controversy over it in Erodagan’s Turkey.
As authentically and detailed Rowntree’s recreation of this world was, I’d have loved to have a map! Theo handily provides the wikipedia link to the first crusade, and I found myself googling each new location, but a map to better understand their direction and the borders of the time would have been a great addition.
As I said earlier, I would have loved Rowntree to have expanded on her magic and sorcery elements of her worldbuilding. I wish there had been more people who could do some kind of magic; it almost felt like, except for the rare element, the magic almost book-ends the story.
Yes, Beth! I needed a map too! I’d have referred to it a lot whilst reading so I could visually understand where the characters were in each scene and how far they had travelled.
For me personally, the world-building was something I struggled with. I appreciated the Middle-Eastern setting, and felt each place was beautifully described, to the point where I became immersed and felt I was witnessing it myself alongside Ayla and Lukas.
Yet as I’ve mentioned, there just wasn’t enough fantasy for me. I generally don’t mind subtle magic, I mean Joe Abercrombie is one of my favourite authors and his use of fantastical elements are always secondary to everything else – but to enter a competition that’s clearly for fantasy books I found it strange that Wilderness was sorely lacking in magic.
During the prologue we were led to believe that sorcery would be a predominant theme throughout the narrative, yet this wasn’t the case, as during the middle section it felt as though the fantasy aspects had been pushed aside to explore historical aspects instead.
Sure, there was a sorcerer, time travel, a possessed vulture, there were orders of ‘Watchers’ and the ‘Vowed’, all extremely fascinating ideas, but these were never explored in depth and therefore they pretty much seemed redundant up until the end. At which point it felt rushed, almost as though it was an afterthought.
The understated magic, I’d argue, is a great boon to Rowntree’s rendition of the First Crusade. The influence of sorcery is just out of sight, but it defines no small amount of what is going on. It’s this influence that propels Ayla on her path, and it is direct sorcery that propels Lukas forwards in time. True, only a few moments will stun with overwhelming displays of it, but magic is imbued in the very DNA of this story. Rowntree banks on the notion that less is more, and that’s a calculated risk that pays off dividends — if she had embraced the use of greater feats of sorcery throughout, this would no longer have the merits it does as historical fiction; the faithful rendering of the Princes’ Crusade would’ve turned very different indeed.
Quotations that resonated with you
The politicking shows up nicely in this exchange between two crusaders:
Bohemond pursed his lips. “You wash your hands of me? Don’t be so hasty. I flatter myself Alexius does have some interest in my welfare”
“Yes, but is he for it or against it?”
Or the use of ‘rolled to smooth pebbles’ in this lovely line:
…although the djinn who had once inhabited the place was long gone, and his statue rolled to smooth pebbles in the stream, the villagers who lived on the hill above still knew his name…
There were a couple of points I bookmarked, which I don’t normally do!
“The memory was bright, and far away, like a tiny window painted in gold: the time when she had people to love, nothing to hide, and nothing to fear. It was only a child’s wish. The truth was, she was a prisoner, and she had everything to hide, everything to fear.”
I also loved this moment with Saint-Gilles as he loses his restraint at last:
“If you have reparations to make, they will be better offered to men who are calm.”
“Then I will offer them to you.”
Crash! The one-eyed count thumped the table with both fists. Glass and earthenware jumped.
“Should I be calm?” he bellowed. “The sword brothers I have lost today are men I raised from boys! Now they are dead because of your deceit! I ask you, should I be calm?”
These made me feel all warm and fuzzy but simultaneously sad too.
‘In the weeks since he had washed up on the shores of this distant future, Ayla had become his one point of reference, his fixed star. Until today, he had forgotten that she was a heretic.’
“Wars don’t just end with victory, Lukas.” She pulled him closer, slipped a hand up to his cheek, and kissed him. “They can also end with peace.”
I really enjoyed the little humour that was interspersed in the rather serious story!
“You Greeks. You’re all so smug and condescending.”
“And hungry.” He sighed.
She gave a strangled snort. “Now you know what it’s like for the rest of us.”
By now Lukas knew that Adhemar himself rarely elected to fight, but like many of the Frankish non-com batants, even churchmen and ladies, he had a knight’s training and was a competent leader in battle. Just another of the strange Frankish ways. Barbaric, some of the Greeks called it. Lukas didn’t know about that. He would rather be victorious than civilised. And the Franks! What warriors they were!
They were on opposite sides of something much, much bigger than themselves. Something that had begun before either of them was born, and would go on long after both of them were dead. Something that not even love would conquer.
He reached out, slowly. All the generations of this war weighed on his back, and Lukas felt as ancient as the hills. Gently, he took Ayla’s hand in both his own and pressed it to his bowed forehead. When he looked up, there were tears in her eyes.
Better to leave it all unsaid.
I loved this one! After the slightly wonky prologue I was utterly enthralled and could hardly put it down. An amazing blend of history and fantasy with characters I found fascinating and couldn’t get enough of! The tone and voice between complex and serious story and witty banter combined with very realistic and fluent dialogue was exactly what I was looking for! And when I closed it, it was with that deep “Wow, that was something else!” feeling that I only get with very few books…
This book made me ache. I loved the history and I loved Ayla’s and Lukas’s story so expertly entwined with real events. For me it highlighted how books are different from films and video, you inhabit the characters, you are in their heads, you empathise with them, you construct a sense of who they are in your own mind. It is an entirely different experience from the spectator business of receiving an actor and director’s vision of who a character is. In between spells of reading A Wind from the Wilderness I binge watched the Netflix series Ratched. Glorious as the cinematography of Ratched was and is, and sharp as its characters, as switchback as its plot twists were, I have to say the gut-punches in A Wind from the Wilderness landed harder and deeper, as fierce even as any Josiah Bancroft delivered, and kept me from sleeping even in the small hours of a Sunday morning.
I feel so confused about this book.
I found myself so utterly immersed in the story and the world and I couldn’t put it down.
But at the same time, that bit near the end made me so genuinely cross, and made me question whether certain points of the story were even merited. I fell into a spiral of wondering whether certain things had even needed to happen. When a certain revelation is revealed, I found myself disappointed, thinking Oh, well that actually makes a lot of sense, why hadn’t he considered that much earlier?
I also think, in terms of judging this story within the realms of a contest for fantasy books, that the fantasy elements of this book were overshadowed by the historical fiction elements. Like I said in my review of God of Small Affairs, any other time, this would not be an issue at all, but in judging these books in our batch I have to compare them to each other to best decide which to go forward, and I would have preferred to see a story that evoked the fantasy genre more go forward.
Excellent point, Beth, I feel the same as you. For the most part I enjoyed this book, in particularly the characters, stunning prose and overall poignant, yearning tone. Yet I couldn’t help but feel annoyed and let down by the lack of fantasy. We have other semi-finalists who embraced the fantastical a lot more and I’m afraid I’m far more drawn to those.
In the span of picking our finalist, I have argued to the effect that it’s not the quantity of magic that matters but its quality. I struggle to judge this book harshly because it has chosen a minimalist approach towards its fantasy elements. In the fragmented response to some of what Rowntree has done here, you, dear reader, should see a writer whose authorial decisions are — whether you like or dislike them — brave. Despite the possibility of creating dissent in the readers of her work, Suzannah Rowntree has told the story she set out to.
You have to respect that, one way or another.
Phase 2 of the contest begins next week! Keep track of the finalists’ scoreboard over the next five months here.
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.
And if you have no idea what’s going on here, go ahead and check out our introduction to round 1!