SPFBO 7 – The Second Quarter-Final
On Wednesday, we announced our second three eliminations and revealed that our two quarter-finalists are ILLBORN by Daniel T. Jackson and LEGACY OF FLAME by Rebecca Bapaye.
Of course epic encompasses a range of styles and contexts and our two quarter-finalists certainly made for a sharply contrasting pair, listed below in alphabetical order!
by Daniel T Jackson
I’ve read up to 20%, I like the diverse cast of characters, the engaging prologue with a twist, the sense of a theme drawing the characters together. The world religion has so much of a Christian feel to it, with their key prophet having been nailed to a tree, that I wonder if the parallels are more than just a homage or a worldbuilding convenience. The prose hasn’t soared yet for me and there are places where sentence construction draws attention to itself with an convoluted awkwardness. There are also quite a few bits of exposition where the characters’ back stories are rather bluntly told, rather than shown. However, the story is an interesting one and I am curious how the very different collection of protagonists might combine their different callings and conflicts. Also – the first “interlude” features five characters from the distant past that seem like a match for the five featured characters in the present-time of the story, so I am wondering… reincarnation? and curious to find out if I am right. So yellow-green for me.
This book ticked pretty much all of my boxes right from the beginning, and was another that I couldn’t stop reading until I reached the end. While some of the prose and word choice felt a bit clunky to me, which was a bit jarring, I was mostly able to overlook it and stay immersed in the story. I really liked the worldbuilding and the characters, and the plot was very intriguing. The differences between all the characters had me hooked in the first quarter of the book as I really wanted to see how and if they’d come together, and what that would look like. Beyond the introduction of their powers, they had very little in common and that always makes for an interesting band of adventurers. I won’t talk about the remainder of the book, but I will say it was a very compelling read.
I was excited about this one, the prologue drew me in straight away and read to 20%…and then a bit more. There is a very interesting blend of historical style fiction with fantasy here, there is a very interesting and well developed balance between peaceful characters and the dark events that develop quickly. As my fellow judges have pointed out, the world religion has parallels to Christianity, this is the wonder that is secondary creation at work. This provided an interesting backdrop to this world, reminding me of a few of my favourite fantasy series. The story takes a very interesting turn though, as a group of anti-heroes are cast out for various reasons and they are pursued by a figure who is determined to find them. There are some very interesting ideas put forward in this book, as Theo mentions the idea of reincarnation is possible and I am excited to read more. I did have a couple of issues with the prose, it did feel a bit awkward at times but I am more than willing to read this as the story is compelling and I am excited to read the book in full.
The prologue of this novel had me at ‘hello’ and drew me in right away. There is a historical feel to the overall story and I am keen on it’s darker and mysterious parts. The balance of peaceful characters and settings contrasted by stark, violent events gives way to an impending sweep of evil. A unique cast of anti-heroes find themselves ousted after independently developing supernatural powers and visions, while a motivated dark figure closes in on them. As my fellow judges mentioned, there are what feels like parallels to Christianity albeit different motivators, and hints mirroring the times of the middle ages in setting. I’m a big fan of the historical fiction and fantasy blend, so this is right up my alley. The novel feels gritty and captivating to me, which perhaps let’s me oversee minor flaws that others have picked up on. I would enjoy reading this book in full.
Illborn gripped me from the prologue. There are interesting twists, the feel of a huge, living world being revealed, a diverse and fascinating cast of characters with their own strengths, weaknesses, and struggles, and hints of what I hope will prove to be a fun magic system. There also an interesting backstory told through interludes that I’m very, very curious about. There are some awkward turns of phrase from time to time and the world religion seems like a very closely mapped version of Christianity. I also wish the world was more unique than the medieval European analog it appears to be. Nevertheless, the prose largely stays out of the way of the story, and the characters are intriguing and have completely drawn me in.
Legacy of Flame
by Rebecca Bapaye
It’s an interesting premise of two narratives, one the propagandised ancient history novella which is being read by its protagonist’s present-time descendant and ruler of the ice realm. In its way that enables what might otherwise be exposition of back-history to be delivered as story and – by the 20% mark – there is an interesting connection between the two stories emerging. However, I feel there needs to be more difference in tone between the two narratives, a stronger sense that they had different authors, because at the moment it is does feel like they are written by the same person (as in fact they are!) but that similarity of tone sort of spoils the conceit of a story within a story. The present-time main intrigue appears to be more political (and romantic) than overtly battle strewn. Violence so far has happened away from the protagonists and we don’t get a sense that they are themselves in physical peril – which is not a criticism, just an observation that this book has a slightly different focus. The magic system intrigues me, fire priests, mages and druids and there are some interesting themes of prejudice and weaponised religion as an incitement to persecution. It’s those things that make me curious (though not entirely committed) to reading on to see where the story goes.
At risk of being predictable with our quarter-finalists, I read Legacy of Flame the whole way through, but I will try to keep this focused on the beginning. One of the things that caught my attention right from the beginning was the dual narratives – having one not just as a past narrative but one that is commonly known to be propaganda in the present narrative was really cleverly done. I admit I was a little disappointed after finishing the first chapter to find that the focus wouldn’t be there the whole time, as I would have been quite happy to just read that story, but I soon warmed up to the present cast and really enjoyed both narratives.
I have to admit I was intrigued by this one, the premise of two narratives was interesting. As Theo points out, it allows for the back-history of the world to be delivered as a story instead and reading to the 20% mark this was proving to be interesting. We have the ancient history being read by the present day ruler of the Ice Realm, the idea of someone turning to the past to help the present was a nice idea. The issues I encountered were similar to Theo, in fact also from my fellow judges, is that the two narratives felt very similar and I would like to have seen some variation. In the first 20% this is not a particularly action focused story, it is focusing more on the political and turmoil aspect and this again was an interesting approach. I also liked the magic system, all based around the idea of fire and this is coupled with a weaponised style religion, again secondary creation working well. It just had too many points not in it’s favour but it doesn’t mean I won’t read on to see where the story goes.
It took me a little while to get into Legacy of Flame until I had figured out the historical patterns in dates. Told in a back and forth manner, the story of the Ice Queen reads partially through historical excerpts of the writings from THE MAGE KING, and the queens present time. Both storylines feel respectfully different in narration but have an easy flow to them. I did enjoy the imaginative setting of the human realms and set up of the magical order. The story of the mages, druids and fire priests was interesting, though I wish I had something that grabbed me more to hold on to. The two different narrations begin to converge at some point and my hope is an increased depth of intrigue will procure further reading investment.
This one has an interesting frame story that took me a little while to get into. The main character is reading an historical novelization of her ancestors, while the main story takes place millennia later. The time hopping was a little confusing at first, but once I settled in the central conflict between the mages/druids on the one hand and the fire priests on the other was engaging. I’m definitely curious about where this may lead and what the characters will discover along the way. The magic system itself was also intriguing and I would definitely like to learn more about that. My largest complaint is that the characters felt largely one dimensional and vanilla–with perhaps one exception. So while I was interested in the central mysteries of the plot, I wasn’t as interested in the stakes for any of the characters. The prose, particularly the dialog, also felt a bit rough at times.
And our chosen semi-finalist is…
ILLBORN – congratulations to Daniel T. Jackson and commiserations to Rebecca Bapaye.
Akeyo, Emmanuel – The Tears of the Old Gods Bapaye, Rebecca – Legacy of Flame (*quarter-finalist)
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 (*semi-finalist)
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