SPFBO 7 – The Sixth Quarter Final
On Wednesday, we announced our sixth trio of eliminations and revealed that this week’s two quarter-finalists from the “different” batch are SHADOWS OF IVORY by T.L. Greylock/Bryce O’Connor and WINDS OF STRIFE by U.G .Gutman. These two battle it out in our final quarterfinal of SPFBO 7
In treading a different path in fantasy fiction, our two quarter-finalists stretched our expectations of fantasy protagonists. One gave us a cruel man who finds and murders witches but considers that a mercy, even as his actions eat away at him. The other gave us a young woman gifted by position and wealth, but who sets out to find battles she can win by virtue of her wit and intellect. Read on to find out what the judges thought with the books – as before – listed in alphabetical order!
Shadows of Ivory
by T.L.Greylock/Bryce O’Connor
This is the easiest green I’ve had in a long while. At 20% in I really can’t fault it. The worldbuilding manages to be detailed and incidental, avoiding the clumsiness of exposition yet delivering descriptions of food that make your mouth water and setting that make you feel you are actually there. The cast is large, yet by description, title, position and interaction, they all manage to be totally different and easily recognisable. The story is structured around chapters that move the present story forward with a main character Eska and a few other PoV characters. These are interspersed with interludes, letters, scenes, glimpses of the past that fill in aspects of the back story. There is a whirl of politics and forbidden magic, and Eska is an archaeologist – in the tradition perhaps of Jen Williams’ Vintage, but with a refreshing respect for wit and academia over brute force and power. In the book’s kind of renaissance city state vibe, it feels like a milieu you might encounter Locke Lamora in. All in all one I am really eager to read on in.
Hellooooo. This is yet another book I’ve already read to the end, but will try to contain my comments to the first 20% or so. Like everyone else, I’m pretty delighted by the main character having a different background to what we would usually see in a similar story. Apart from bringing something fresh, it made room for exploration of the impacts of colonialism, and how archaeology plays into that. I did find the beginning a little slow, but I loved getting to know the characters and world so didn’t mind too much. This was a really solid and enjoyable read.
I really didn’t want to put this down, at 20% I wanted to keep reading. One of the best aspects was the world building, it was wonderful. It was detailed without info dumping, but achieving something that allowed me to envision the food they were eating. A wonderful cast of characters is on show, and while it is large they all play a part and are wonderful. The story is structured around the characters, they drive it along and what wonderful characters we have, the focus is Eska, an archaeologist. I loved the idea of the mc not being an atypical fantasy race or archetype, it was refreshing. The plot of the story is very interesting as well, coupled with the magic system, there is much to like here and well constructed back stories for the characters makes this a very easy green for me.
Shadows of Ivory has all the right and high interest components for me that make a story great and enjoyable. First off, the main character is an archaeologist and in search of an important relic. Awesome! This involves some detailed history as well as a rival character, also an archaeologist, who needs to save his family’s name and is in it mainly for the money. Yess! Their connection is a dance of interaction of the ‘cat and mouse’ style without being sappy. The writing of this novel was superb and I had no hang ups what-so-ever. Quite the opposite, actually! I enjoyed the highly engaging prose and attention to detail without weighing down the overall story. It was very well done and the characters were well fleshed out. The overall history, magic system and setting complimented each other and formed a solid, well constructed and sound novel with the right amount of profundity. I would enjoy reading this novel in full. It receives a green light from me.
At 20% I don’t want to put this one down and plan to continue pressing on and completing the whole thing. The prose is smooth, well-edited, and evocative without being overly flowery or languishing in paragraphs and paragraphs and description. There’s an interesting cast of characters that each seem–as far as one can tell in the early going–to be unique and well-drawn. The main character, Eska, is an archaeologist! Actually, maybe I should have lead with that, because the authors really had me at archaeologist. It’s very interesting to have a fantasy book where the main character is not a warrior or a mage or a thief–though I’m sure we’ll get to see characters who overlap with those archetypes in various ways. Also, the story touches on questions around archaeology and colonialism. The magic, while not explained or shown in detail early on, is certainly engaging and has enough mystery on its own to keep me reading. The plot itself manages to feel epic while also feeling personal. That’s a hard line to walk, and I think in the early chapters of Shadows of Ivory the authors have nailed it.
Winds of Strife
by U. G. Gutman
OK, reasons to like this book. (1) cool innovative magic system? check! The idea of magic linked to people’s ability to master and channel their emotions is pretty cool, so calmness can work like a shield spell, confidence can work like a haste spell – but only one kind of spell/emotion can be used at a time. All the emotions/spells – in accordance with Sanderson’s laws – have their downsides and costs so that no sensespiriter can risk over indulging. In particular I really love how hate is a powerful destructive emotion when channelled into a spell but one that also (usually) destroys the caster like a kind of suicide bomb. (2) misogynistic patriarchal society ripe for being overthrown? check! Of course women aren’t allowed to worry their little heads with magic for fear they might become world destroying witches, and any women who do display magical talent must be assassinated. Meanwhile, male witches can use the emotion of love to exert control over women in a kind of magical gaslighting. (3) tortured protagonist depicted in shades of grey, rather than simple black and white? check! Nye the merciful witch assassin, wrestling down the insanity that talks to him as he pursues his own quest for the ultimate revenge. Shades of the Charles Bronson character in “Once upon a time in the West” (4) leading female character ? check! Ivy, the enigmatic princess with peculiar abilities who must on no account be allowed to get in touch with her magical side! (5) an intriguing backstory to the world ? check! The nights are getting steadily longer under some ancient witch’s curse, the same curse that flooded the world drowning much of civilisation under a deluge of tidal wave proportions (hence drown and drowning have become inworld curse words – I found myself mentally substituting “fuck” for every “drown” I read) Of course I also see climate change (or maybe Atlantis) parallels, an ancient civilisation punished by nature for its arrogance! So yeah, overall, intriguing characters pitched into situations full of multifaceted conflict and differing aspirations. This is a solid green from me.
I think I am somewhat in the minority on this one – I couldn’t move past the misogynistic elements of the society and characters to find much enjoyment in the book, and as a result, I didn’t read quite as far in as everyone else. I think the structure of the magic system was well done, and I’d like to think the misogyny is challenged throughout the book, but overall it was too grimdarky and ick for me to continue.
Okay this one was interesting, I was curious about it and it was a tough decision between this and Shadows of Ivory. The story was interesting, the MC has a well developed back story but is mysterious enough at the 20% to keep the reader guessing. The magic system was fascinating! Linking into your emotions and it had rules as well, the best kind as only one spell could be used at a time. The superstitious nature that male characters hold over female characters is perhaps the books greatest weakness, it brings to mind visions of witch hunts from the Middle Ages, although I was sensing there might be something more to our MC, but by 20% I had made my decision about this one and well… I’ll let you find out.
This is an intriguing one! The novel begins with a conflict that is deeply engraved onto the hearts and minds of the main and other characters’ futures and creates a great way to lure a reader in. Written with an aura of mystery, it automatically becomes a page turner. The premise of the novel isn’t necessarily new, a world of wronged characters due to oppression, but the presentation and wayfinding solutions offers a sharp allure in terms of writing, a unique magic system and distinctive tools utilized to guide the flow of the narrative.
As it has been picked up on, there are a few parallels or tropes/cliches found in here, and I thought they were a way to shed light onto dark spaces and offer hope for a turnaround and possibilities. I haven’t figured out yet how I feel about all the characters, but I like the message sent thus far and the set up. I understand the undercurrents and I imagine the story will pick up in pace and events after the 20% read up to this point. Unlike a fast read, vital attention to detail is needed beyond the enjoyment factor and requires some investment here. The magic structure herein used is very unique. It is based on emotions where characters can harness powers by summoning emotions and they come at a price and consequence. This system is nicely visualized with charts of emotions, senspritic powers and auralogy maps along the way as the reader learns more and more about the characters, their motives and abilities. The author’s insight into cognitive behavior was well utilized in writing such a uniquely crafted novel combined with a love for fantasy and I can’t wait to finish reading it. The Winds of Strive comes in with a strong gust in its sails, dark, sharp and well imagined.
The magic system in this one is quite interesting, and I’d like to know more about it. There’s quite a bit of potential with that for a fascinating story. The MC also appears to have an interesting background, though in the first 20% we don’t get a full sense of what that is or how it will play out and affect the present story, obviously. There is a heavy bit of misogyny, though it’s presented as a Bad Thing(™), it may turn some readers off to the larger tale that’s being told. My biggest disappointment with the book is probably that our protagonist engages in some heavy manipulation and control of the other viewpoint character. A big turnoff for me with books is loss of character agency. In this case, there are hints that this is not a good thing and that the manipulation may not continue. But that could also be me hoping desperately for a sort of redemption arc that isn’t going to materialize. It is rather dark at times, after all, so that’s what’s giving me pause with this one.
And our chosen semi-finalist is…
Shadows of Ivory
So congratulations to T.L. Greylock/Bryce O’Connor and commiserations to U.G. Gutman.
Of course we haven’t forgotten our two quarter finals that went to extra time and we will return to them on Wednesday and Friday of next week to find out which two books will join the four confirmed semi-finalists in the Fantasy-Hive’s SPFBO 7 line up.
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 (* quarter-finalist ET)
Deen, Anela – In the Jaded Grove (*semi-finalist)
Gale, Scarlett – His Secret Illuminations (* quarter-finalist ET)
Gibbs, Olga – Heavenward
Greylock, T L & O’Connor, Bryce – Shadows of Ivory (*semi-finalist)
Gutman, U. G. – Winds of Strife (*quarter-finalist) Holt, Jason A. – The Klindrel Invasion
Jackson, Daniel T. – Illborn (*semi-finalist)
Kaelen, Scott – The Nameless and the Fallen (*quarter-finalist)
Kaeth, S. – Windward (* quarter-finalist ET)
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 (*Semi-finalist)
Thom, Michael E. – The Vanguards of Scion Wills, KE – Faye in the City
Wolfsbane, D. – The Ninth Scripture (*quarter-finalist ET)
Woods, Willow – Where I Belong