SPFBO 7 – The Fourth Elimations
Welcome to our Fourth Eliminations post for SPFBO 7.
This week, we have grouped our five brave entrants together into a “Kick Ass” batch. You can find out more about this week’s posts in our Meet the Batch post. Read on to find out which three of them fell in our third batch of eliminations, listed in alphabetical order.
Gathering of the Four
It’s an interesting premise – a far future America where amber eyed magic using aliens (Xanthi) live alongside humans in a realm that has echoes of the founding fathers. The aliens have become subjugated, an indentured form of service known as servantry evokes strong parallels with slavery. An illegally-magic-wielding Cinderella-style Xanthos must flee her adoptive parents, and teams up with an illegally bisexual rogue, meanwhile the daughter of one of the heads of one of the realms’ founding families has an extremely bad wedding day, and the head of a janisserie style elite force of white riders is forced to reflect on his career choices. Above all of this the returned twin tailed comet Hale-Bopp hangs in the sky as a loud if incomprehensible portent of something. I think there is promise in the world and the story. There is a bit of an issue with formatting which we’ve seen in other books too, eg page numbers appearing in the middle of text, which I understand might arise when pdf files are converted into mobi format. Something to watch out for maybe. I think the prose could be more sharply crafted to do better justice to the promise of world and story. There are parts which are quite heavy with exposition (info dump) through character reflection, and some of the character actions seem inconsistent – eg bounty hunters slaughtering entirely innocent people who were not obstructing their path to their quarry. Despite the heavy trigger warning at the start of the book the first 20% at least does not stray beyond the bounds of what might be considered “normal grimdark” – if that isn’t an oxymoron!
I’m not sure whether this is supposed to be sci fi, fantasy or sci-fantasy, but it definitely felt a lot closer to sci fi to me, despite the magic system. The worldbuilding was interesting, with a strong dystopian feel, although sometimes it was a bit too info dumpy for my tastes. I think there is more room for us to discover the world as Leora leaves her adoptive family behind, rather than having everything explained to us.
While this one ultimately fell short for me, I do think there is potential. Another edit will help with the issues Theo mentioned, as well as help tighten up dialogue and unclear POV changes.
This was an interesting one, I enjoyed the idea of the far future setting but like Belle I wasn’t quite sure if this was supposed to be Sci-Fi or Fantasy. The dystopian theme was well done and the world building was well handled, but in places it did feel like information overload.
This one fell short for me, partially due to it really needing another edit. This would certainly help tighten up the dialogue and some slightly mistimed POV changes, I enjoyed the magic system as well, but the info dump and heavy exposition scenes disrupted the flow of the book. I would be curious though to continue Leora’s story though.
In general, I do not seek out post-apocalyptic stories, even though the ones I have read, I have mostly always enjoyed. With a mix of sci-fi, and Western elements, rounded out with a touch of historical feel, this novel combines magical elements, the unexplainable (science/comets), and the unlikely hero girl Leora of Mae, destined to servitude, who will define and lead a revolution after running into the overconfident Roland Shallowbrook, traveller extraordinaire.
What leads into the novel was the research of Julius Quin that reads, what I presume to be interspersed throughout, as his research memoirs the telling of the tale of the Xanthcraft magic and the Realm. I enjoyed that approach and thought it was a nice way to tackle the story from different angles to broaden the reader’s understanding. I enjoyed the main characters, though not so much Leora of Mae’s stepmother, who was very well made to dislike. The setting of a post-apocalyptic USA in the future where we find fragments of enslaved aliens was a neat concept. As observed by my fellow judges, there were some issues with the formatting and random numbers and spacings. This is always a bit disruptive of the flow, and though I didn’t get fully hooked to this novel, I think it has some real potential to shine after a few more rounds of edits, and beta reads under its belt.
This one had some interesting worldbuilding that I was intrigued by. This is essentially a post-apocalyptic story set in a far future USA where the descendants of aliens are enslaved. As Theo and Belle already mentioned, there were some editing issues with this one. Some might have been introduced during file conversion, but other issues might have been cleaned up by a careful copy edit. Like Belle, I found some infodumpy moments in the early story that didn’t work for me. In the end, while I wanted to learn more about the magic, the entire story felt a little too much science fiction for SPFBO.
by CA Lyness
There is an interesting mix of characters in the eponymous Raiders, six person crew of the ship Dreadnaught, and – after a brief and enigmatic prologue – we start in the middle of the action with the Dreadnaught pursued by two dangerous enemy ships as they hurry to complete an important mission. As events unfold we glimpse some intriguing bits of world building and magic systems which show that the tale has promise. However, the opening 20% feels a bit contrived in how the characters are manoeuvred into what is the start of the “main quest.” The tactics in battle seem a bit odd – eg not using your cannons because the enemy ships are too close for them to be effective?! The pace of those action scenes is also hampered a bit by digressions into quite lengthy character descriptions (back story, appearance, name and operation of weapon of choice) when each crew member appears. I’ve read a lot of naval fiction in a misspent youth, so I may be more demanding of nautical detail and logic but the opening unfortunately didn’t grab me as firmly as the longclaw ballista-like grappling hooks that their enemies launched at the Dreadnaught.
I think there’s a lot of potential in this book, but I have to admit I was also bothered by the naval battle descriptions and obvious manoeuvring to get everyone where they needed to go to start the “real” story.
The crew of the Dreadnaught all seem well fleshed out, although I think I would have preferred those details to not be shared in the middle of a battle scene. Beyond that niggle, I did enjoy the writing, I just don’t think this is the book for me.
I have really started to enjoy nautical fantasy adventures and this book has some exciting potential. The author handled the action scenes at the beginning very well, I was not particularly bothered by the naval battle scenes as I don’t have any real knowledge of this. I enjoyed the banter of the six man crew aboard the Dreadnaught, it felt like they had some real history together. I also enjoyed the author’s writing as well, but I think with another edit the issues pointed out by my fellow judges could be sorted. I would be curious to continue the story as well.
I do enjoy swashbuckling fantasy adventures and wasn’t quite as fickle about the battle scene choice in cannons etc, or how the things were fought out at sea because what I don’t know, I don’t know. If I read a novel by someone who is very firm and knowledgeable in using certain instruments/equipment/tactics etc. I could probably pick that up due to much detail, but not being a subject matter expert, I couldn’t tell you any different, I just took it for what it was. I noticed some wording issues /inconsistencies, but from a pure entertainment point of view, I sort of liked this rough and rowdy rag-tag team of six aboard the Dreadnaught. The first couple of scenes were purely for set-up purposes to me, as everything was just about to fall into motion. Yes, there was a lot of information about some historical things, but the banter was great, and I enjoyed it overall. With another critical look on editing some technical nautical issues perhaps and the tightening of some of the plot inconsistencies, I think this will be a great read.
I typically enjoy nautical adventures–there is something magical about the sea. The prologue for the book throws us some mysteries to get started, and then we are thrust into the action. The cast of characters seem colourful and interesting, and they have enough of a history with each other that it feels like the world is living and real. However, as others have pointed out, the descriptions of the action are sometimes maddening. Not using your cannons because it’s too dangerous, but then managing a daring escape using a massive grappling hook between the two ships is certainly logically inconsistent. It also reveals a tendency to err on the side of the most flagrant action possible. There was also the issue that a three-masted carrack was crewed by a tiny crew of six. Perhaps the ship’s functions were somehow magicked and the reader isn’t privy to that information yet, but otherwise it’s the sort of impossible thing that takes me right out of the story. As a result, it just didn’t work for me.
War God Rising
by Tim Marquitz
This reminds me of the Mel Brooks film “The Producers” in that it is built on a fraud, a patsy duped by an unscrupulous pair to win them a fortune by the ultimate failure. In this case a pit fighter (Kaede) and a mage (Bess) are trying to get a drunk reprobate (Sand) fit to get through the early rounds of a fighting competition (with their illicit help). Its competitive fighting setting also has echoes of The Headlock of Destiny – that was in the Hive batch in SPFBO6 and made quarterfinalist. However, War God Rising shares with The Producers a theme that treads the boundary between comedy and distastefulness. The Producers found their patsy in an embittered WW2 German soldier, intending to produce his musical absurd homage “Springtime for Hitler” to certain first night failure and a fortune in multiple insurance pay-outs. The film, both in its embedded musical and in its overall storytelling does pull off the difficult feat of making its theme funny. Kaede and Bess’s patsy Sand, as an unrepentant sheep rapist and murderer, is also a difficult fruit to squeeze any comedy out of. Marquitz gives it a good shot but the lewd and crude lines and references don’t always fire as well as they might with fart and bestiality gags vying for the the reader’s attention.
However, those constraints aside the story rattles along at a good pace and does have some nice lines that lift the writing. For example of a grave robber
“He smiled and his teeth were speckled like robin’s eggs as if he’d been eating the dirt instead of shovelling it.”
Comedy in fantasy writing (or indeed in any writing) is always tricky and Marquitz does well to not try too hard. The humour is in the characters’ situations and patterns of speech, more observational than telegraphed intended jokes. Which is by way of saying you can read this as a straight story of extraordinarily crude rude people. Production values are good – no typos in the section I’ve read – and good pace from a short book. There are a few plot questions (mostly bodies) left in the wake of our characters’ excesses. I do wonder if these will come back to haunt them, or if the dead mages and lizards were literally throw away characters of no further relevance. Overall, this is an orange for me – well written, pacey but somewhat dodgy material to build a fantasy on.
While I didn’t find it as funny as I was probably supposed to, I think I wouldn’t mind reading it to the end – I have to hope that the reliance on crudity eases as the plot picks up.
The writing flowed really well, and if one can ignore the near-constant references to bestiality (both references to, and partaking in), the characters were interesting. While I did stop at 20%, I could see myself going back and reading the rest, if only to see how the plot pans out, but it did leave me feeling quite ambivalent.
I have to admit that I was curious about this one, it felt a bit different. I get this book is supposed to be funny, we know that fantasy can be comical and funny. I just couldn’t connect with the characters, and while I enjoyed the drinking to get through the competition, it just felt a bit weird. The changing narratives disrupted the flow of the story and coupled with interesting ideas of characterisation. The story felt like it was in a hurry and the humour did not hit home with me I am afraid.
I have to admit right up front that this one wasn’t for me. As much as I tried to get on with Kaede and Bess drinking to get through a fighting competition, I felt disconnected with the ever changing narratives and shallow characterization. I understand it is meant to be comical, but it didn’t come across that way to me. The cover of the novel is great and satirical with the “Monty Python meets Gladiator” image well achieved. Part of the problem for me was that the story felt rushed, and that it wasn’t my kind of humour. The right readership might enjoy this one just fine.
This one is funny, in a middle-school boys locker room sort of way. What is humorous to one person may not be to another, however, so you can really only find out if this is up your alley by giving it a shot, I suppose. While there is a predilection toward constant references to bestiality (as Belle points out), there is enough of interest with the plot that I was curious to see where things went. Unfortunately, there were moments when the prose didn’t work for me. The perspective also seemed to move and jump freely between a couple different characters. This tendency felt jarring and confusing. In the end, however, the largest issue was simply that I wasn’t engaged by the characters.
And so our quarter-finalists are
Blood Bounty by Liza Street and The Nameless and the Fallen by Scott Kaelen