SPFBO 7 – The First Quarter-Final
On Wednesday, we announced our first three eliminations and revealed that our two quarter-finalists are DOWNCAST by Cait Reynolds and IN THE JADED GROVE by Anela Deen.
Having eliminated three books on Wednesday, the auspicious date of Friday 13th brings us to the Hive’s first quarter-final.
Read on to find out (in alphabetical order) what our judges thought of these two contenders and which one made it to the coveted semi-finalist stage.
by Cait Reynolds
The epub-file came with a rather revealing/spoilerish subtitle that I’m glad I didn’t read before charging into the first 20% or so. This presents as a YA paranormal romance where the geeky protagonist entering her final year of high school finds two contrastingly smouldering and enigmatic brothers have turned up on her doorstep as owners of the lockers next door to hers. Now that I know where the inspiration for brothers Hayley and Zak comes from, I will never be able to unsee it – and I would have preferred to discover it. The book does some things very well, Stephanie’s mother is as cloying in her environmental and politically correct/aware ways as Steven King’s Carrie’s mother was in her religious zeal. The depiction of high school life and social politics is well done. Stephanie – as first person – protagonist has a wry engaging voice and the prose, delivered through her thoughts, has a number of nice lines. There is one part where an Edgar Allen Poe poem is delivered in its entirety that I found irked me a little – much as the author may love the (out of copyright) poem, I felt we could have managed with just a few selected lines to convey the effect its reading was having on the reader. Sometimes the descriptions of scenery and setting can get a little convoluted, but generally the author describes place and people in an engaging and well crafted style.
Unlike Theo, I did see the subtitle before starting, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all. I am rather bad at spotting things like that, so it was more like a peek behind the curtains followed by a knowing smirk as you watch the main character going on a journey to discover it.
In fact I was enjoying it enough at 20% that I didn’t want to stop, and read to the end.
I quite liked the relationships between all the characters, romantic or otherwise. The dynamic between Stephanie and her overprotective mother was really interesting, and I enjoyed watching Stephanie navigate challenging her mother’s rules for the first time.
There was one aspect that disappointed me but, as that happened quite late in the book, I won’t discuss it now. It was a really solid read though, and I will definitely be on the lookout for more of the author’s work.
I didn’t manage to see the subtitle before starting this one either, and being familiar with the legend it deals with I was curious to see where this story would go. Now I will say that I curiously read a bit more than 20% of this book, I enjoyed the dynamics between the characters and the relationship between Stephanie and her mother was very well handled. The rebellious nature of Stephanie and her challenge of her mother’s rule was an aspect that interested me, and the first person perspective of Stephanie were all points in the book’s favour. I just found myself not very engaged with the story, again if YA paranormal romance is your thing then I feel you will enjoy this one.
This YA novel read with an easy flow about a socially awkward teen as the main character, her overprotective mom, and that new guy in school…interested in her of all! There is a darkness that enters the novel around 15% into it that adds a bit more interest to the awkward banter in school and Stephanie’s thoughts. What this novel has going for itself is how authentic it feels. It isn’t too sweet and the main character knows her mother’s faults, while trying to manoeuvre around the obstacles she faces to appease her as well as following her own curiosities. I enjoyed reading this easy-going story, but it didn’t knock my socks off. Perhaps a younger reader would enjoy this a bit more than I did.
The subtitle itself on this one is a little bit of a spoiler, as I came to discover. So I’ll try to present my thoughts with as little spoilery material as possible. In this case, let’s just say that Downcast is a sort of modern take on a mythological tale. In this one, the prose flows well and the dialog feels authentic. The relationship between Stephanie and her mother was interesting, I was able to easily empathize with Stephanie’s feelings of being smothered. Unfortunately, while I did find the main character believable, there wasn’t much about this one that really pulled me in. Those for whom YA paranormal romance is a favorite genre may find plenty to engage with, but for me while I couldn’t quite put my finger on any specific problems knocking me out of the story, I just didn’t feel that engaged or compelled by it.
In The Jaded Grove
by Anela Dean
I guess it’s a good sign that I found myself reading past 20% up to 24% and doing so while we had houseguests who I was supposed to be hospitable with. It’s an interesting book – more intrusive than pure portal, in that the fantastic is intruding into our world (well Michigan to be specific). We have two characters we meet in media-res, both haltingly in recovery from personal grief. The exposition is suitably minimal, which keeps the pace flowing along nicely and – so far – our protagonists have been entirely sensible in what they have done, while staying true to their context and circumstances. (I do so hate protagonists who move the plot along by making stupid mistakes). It’s different, but it also has Fae and I am curious to read on to see how these two resolve their personal and world dilemmas!
I was quite tickled to have this land in our batch, as I absolutely loved Beneath Cruel Fathoms in SPFBO5.
I also read this to the end, but again, will try to stick to talking about the first 20% or so.
This book is quite different to Beneath Cruel Fathoms, but just as enjoyable. I hesitate to call it true portal fantasy as there is some back and forth, and while portal fantasies are not usually my jam, the prose, worldbuilding and magic system kept me hooked.
I really liked how the plot did all the legwork of establishing the various races and their relationships (or lack of) with each other, rather than relying on exposition. I didn’t connect with Jessa very well, but really liked Simith and learning about his magic.
Now I really enjoyed this one, it’s another book I found myself reading more off. From the beginning I was intrigued, I found the world and the characters interesting and this really isn’t your typical portal fantasy. It takes the idea of the fantasy world spilling into our world, it’s a fast paced and an engaging story. I would also like to point out the way Deen distinguishes between the two narrative voices of the main characters, it’s rewarding for any reader to experience that. It helps with the portal aspect of the story, the way the two characters mirror each other and contrast one another is wonderful. I am also very interested in the Fae aspect of the story, also how the personal and more worldly dilemmas of the story are resolved.
I was very curious about this one as the cover alone had me think up all kinds of ideas about what it is about. Since I don’t read the blurb of books before I jump into them, I was filled with joy over the fantasy world found with the character of Simith, but a bit less excited about the setting in Michigan and Jessa as its counterpart. Overall, this story was well written, albeit when the two characters meet near a closed portal by a sunflower field where Simith has entered Jessa’s world, I found several moments too predictable. Most of the appeal in this novel to me lies in the conflict between the Thistle court and the troll kingdom that Simith left behind, and I’m curious as to what consequences will follow Simith and where the two of them will go. I’m intrigued by the creatures and politics of Drifthorn and enjoy that aspect of the literal perspective given I have not read it in any story before. I’m enticed for more.
Now here is one that I could hardly put down. From the first pages I found the characters intriguing and the world fascinating. This isn’t quite your typical portal fantasy. Instead, there is an element of the otherworldly spilling over into our own world. In fairness, there are also some of the typical portal elements you might imagine. One thing that really stood out to me in the first 20% was the pacing here. It was definitely fast-paced and engaging, but in the midst of that it still felt like I was able to get to know the characters and world. I was particularly engaged with the way in which the personal struggles of the two protagonists mirror and contrast with one another while simultaneously revealing the realities of their worlds. Deen has also done an excellent job of distinguishing the two viewpoint characters in terms of the narrative voice. I’m very excited for the remainder of this one!
And our chosen semi-finalist is…
IN THE JADED GROVE – congratulations to Anela Deen and commiserations to Cait Reynolds.
Akeyo, Emmanuel – The Tears of the Old Gods
Bapaye, Rebecca – Legacy of Flame
Barbuzano, Israel – The Last of the Wicked
Bennett, A. E. – Gathering of the Four
Bennett, Toby – The Spear of Akvaloon
Deen, Anela – In the Jaded Grove (*semi-finalist)
Gale, Scarlett – His Secret Illuminations
Gibbs, Olga – Heavenward
Greylock, T L & O’Connor, Bryce – Shadows of Ivory
Gutman, U. G. – Winds of Strife
Holt, Jason A. – The Klindrel Invasion
Jackson, Daniel T. – Illborn
Kaelen, Scott – The Nameless and the Fallen
Kaeth, S. – Windward
Kinnaman, V. L. – Sasha of the Feral Sons: Adolescence
Lumsden, Douglas – A Troll Walks into a Bar: A Noir Urban Fantasy Novel
Lyness, C. A. – Raiders (The Dying Light Saga)
Maltman, Amy – A Journey Unveiled
Marquitz, Tim – War God Rising
Mickley, Rebecca – Ghosts of the Nightmare Gods
Montgomery, Drew – The Burial
Neil, Val – Dark Apprentice
Preston, T. R. – Wenworld
Reign, Chris – Dive: Endless Skies
Reynolds, Cait – Downcast (*quarter-finalist)
Street, Liza – Blood Bounty
Thom, Michael E. – The Vanguards of Scion
Wills, KE – Faye in the City
Wolfsbane, D. – The Ninth Scripture
Woods, Willow – Where I Belong