Julia’s Favourite Self Published SFF Books – Update 4
Another year of SPFBO, and over on facebook Indie Fantasy Addicts is starting their Summer Reading Challenge today – what better time than to share some of my latest indie reads!
Today I got a good mix of epic, grimdark, urban, comedy and even a Scifi for you!
Burn Red Slies by Kerstin Espinosa Rosero
I really enjoyed the world, that has different regions which come with different abilities, elements and aspects.
I found the characters really well developed. They each felt like fully fleshed individuals, and I never struggled to know who was on the page at any time. I liked how divers the cast was, both in personalities as well as in abilities. One of the main characters is mute for example, while another one is weak and soft. Others are ruthless powerful fighters or even a gang of loveable pirates. For me this mix worked really well and gave more depth to both the world and the story itself.
Fortress of the lost Amulet by Michael Webb
A main strength for me was the group of 4 best friends as main characters. Two young men and two young women, from different parts of society who formed a close group and like to go on adventures, maybe break into a house or steal a little something as well.
The whole book is on the quick and easy side, with plenty of action and a fast pace. It also has some mysteries and riddles that might in the end lead to a treasure, or just a myth?
There are some bits that I thought could have used a little bit more depth. The villain for example is rather too stereotypical, and even comes with the obligatory “speech”.
These things didn’t ruin the story obviously, or I wouldn’t recommend it! However with a bit morework this could have been a pretty perfect read for me – especially as the story is pretty much zero romance, which was a big plus for me!
The Seventh Cadence by Jim Wilbourne
This book is a very promising epic fantasy debut, that offers readers a lot of things! A big world, politics, two nations at war, multiple POVs, intriguing world building, different cultures, dragons, and a personal favourite of mine: scholars!
If you like the classic feel of some good old tropes, but also with a few nice new ideas, this is definitely up your alley!
The characters took a bit too really show their depth, but I liked most of them from the start.
I adored Tele, as she’s a keeper, and as I said earlier, I love bookish characters who are all about studying. Learning along with them is definitely a favourite trope of mine! And a female scholar who also knows how to fight? Even better! She’s also socially awkward, which made it even easier for me to connect to her.
It’s a big book, and at times it definitely could have been trimmed down a bit, when there were 10 words where one would have sufficed. I still read this 700+ page book in just under two weeks, which speaks for how much I enjoyed it anyway!
The Umbral Storm by Alec Hutson
The Umbral Storm is a big sprawling epic fantasy, which is reflected in its pace. You either love the world building and discovering all the new lands, cultures, magics, creatures and mysteries, or you’ll probably find this a slog. I personally quite love some big tomes with a really deep feel to it, so I fell straight into this story and devoured all the backdrop and information.
The characters are a bit of a mixed batch for me. I found the two male main characters interesting and especially enjoyed seeing them change with their surroundings and circumstances. Alia, the female main character did grow a bit over the course of the story, but felt more like the glue to have a connection between the boys. I really hope she’ll get more agency and importance in the sequel.
There’s a classic feel to this, but with a fresh prose that avoids it feeling dates. A progression layer adds some quick gratifications, without being dragged down by whole pages of stats.
Tethered Spirits by T.A. Hernandez
The beginning is a bit weird, starting right after a battle and just throwing you into a scene that lacks a real hook. Only after some 50 pages did I finally start to care for the characters and get a footing in the story.
The characters started out a bit bland, but did grow over the course of the story. I especially enjoyed growing friendships that had a realistic feel to it. There’s some traumatic events, and I felt the repercussions were handled quite well, so that is definitely a plus for me.
There’s a nice mix of dark themes, but also some humour to make it feel rounded. By the end I was definitely gripped, and I will want to read more in the series to find out what will happen next!
A Storm of Silver and Ash
My personal biggest pro? Like absolutely need more of? It’s a young female lead, with a male best friend, and there is ZERO romance. I’d like to give 5 stars for that, as there’s just way too few female lead books that don’t have the whining and pining.
It’s quite dark and bloody at times, so definitely aimed at a (new) adult audience, but the characters often behave quite like teens. The sheer stupidity was at times annoying, however there’s a good deal of humour in it, and the chuckling made up for it. Even though old and supposedly wise elves who behave like teens, just like the young female lead, felt a bit anachronistic.
There’s some big twists – I might just have read too much fantasy, but non of them were surprising to me. The pace was fast and there was enough action to keep me hooked anyway.
If you’re looking for an easy high fantasy romp, this might be ideal!
Characters that don’t fit the norm
Hills od Heather and Bone by K.E. Andrews
I started this, expecting not to get on with it, as the cover looked like a romance to me, which is not my cup of tea. This was one of the exact books I love SPFBO for – trying books you’d never have picked up, but get totally surprised by! There’s also really pretty interior sketches of plants, which I loved.
The main character is a woman with arthritis, a lovely healer husband who’s smaller than her, a chicken with an attitude, oh and she’s also a boneweaver, so a necromancer in other words. Her chronic illness was well handled, and definitely added to the books strength!
The relationship between Morana and Percy is already established, and there is no back and forth, no wining and pining, instead there’s a strong bond that nothing can break. I really enjoyed how they interacted and complemented each other.
The story has a lot of action and adventure. They have to flee as boneweavers are hunted, and a group of Failinis find them in the small town they were hiding in, and burn down their home.
Hills of Heather and Bone features serious topics like loss and grief, but it also has a lot of hope, and quite some humour. For me the mix of tragedy and trauma with some rather cosy village scenes, the puns and jokes and the adventure worked perfectly well. It felt neither shallow, not depressing. Not fluffy, but still an easy and fast read, which I adored!
Marilia, the Warlord by Morgan Cole
I really enjoyed Marilia, the Warlord right from the start. At first it seemed to maybe be a young adult book, but it quickly turned into a coming of age story that definitely is geared toward adults. There’s plenty of violence, gore, murder, and some off the page rape as well.
Marilia and her brother flee and start a whole new life and adventure. From there on their relationship gets more complicated, as Annuweth gets all the martial arts training, while Marilia is getting prepared to becoming a lady and being married off. Only problem is Marilia having more interest and a way better grasp on military strategies than her brother… This basic conflict isn’t the main driver of the plot, but it keeps surfacing, and I thought it was really well handled all the way through the book.
The first half of the book is a lot slower than the second half, were all the actual war is happening, but I found the world and culture really intriguing, so was never bored. While it isn’t expressly said, the world to me had a distinct eastern flavour, while still being easy to understand and follow.
Different, not Damaged by Andy Peolquin
That’s the purpose of this collection of stories: to showcase physical, emotional, mental, and neurological disorders through a fantasy lens and bring them to light. By reading these short stories, you can understand more about what it means to live with these disabilities. Everything in this book is real. Sure, the stories are fantastical (it’s fantasy, after all!), but the emotions, the feelings, the im- pairments and limitations are all based on the experiences of real life people.
Seeing different perspectives and trying on other people’s shoes has always been a main hook for me, and a reason I love fantasy so much.
I adore books that let me experience other points of view, as well as those that represent my own wonky brain. Having anxiety and being on the spectrum myself, I don’t just enjoy seeing people who are like me, but also learning about how the word looks, feels and seems to others.
“Different, not Damaged” delivered very well on that, and I loved the divers range of disorders handled in here. While there’s some hope, it’s dark fantasy, so don’t expect it to be happy go lucky, though the cover might have suggested that already!
Grimdark / Dark Fantasy
Gunmetal Gods by Zamil Akhtar
Uhm, pretty much all the trigger warnings for Gunmetal God’s by Zamil Akhtar… Seriously, this is proper grimdark that doesn’t shy away from horrific scenes. To me it didn’t feel gratuitous, but fitting the tone and style of the book.
There’s two opposing sides in a long lasting war, which is clearly inspired by Christian / Muslim conflicts. This is an interesting world with angels, shas, paladins, djinns, gods, magic and I really enjoyed the different influences than just our usual western world, and the blend of the two made it both fresh and yet not too hard to settle into.
Two men who are bitter enemies, and we get to live the story through their eyes. I thought their personalities where well developed and their decisions made sense, even though I wanted to strangle them at times. Neither if them is an actual hero, which made this story all the more interesting to me.
Wolfeater by Anthony Mitchell
This an amazing grim and bloody story that still dangles enough hope in front of your nose to keep you hoked all the way through. This also works really fine as stand alone, which is rare in fantasy these days, which is a big plus in my eyes!
While the villain was really way over the top stereotype villainous, the rest of the cast more than made up for it. Having not just one, but three different groups of seasoned warriors on opposing sides also makes for enough friction outside of the bad guy problem.
The setting is a hard to live in land, with a very cold part, and I felt like I really vanished from my couch and instead wandered those frozen mountains right along with the characters. The bleakness, hunger and ice basically flowed from the pages, and was really well written.
Seeds of War by João F. Silva
A man pretending to be a god to get his hands on better medicine for his debilitating migraines. I loved the dark humour of trying to play god, mixed with the well written pain from his condition.
The head of a mercenary troupe, the best one out there, who forged his band of fighters to be able to care for orphans and those who need it. The blend of cold blooded killer, but also caring about his “kids” was well written.
Now nothing is ever perfect, and some of the monologue / dialogue felt a bit stilted or repetitive at times, but overall I really loved this rather different cast of people!
An Ocean of Others by Joshua Scott Edwards
A fast paced story full of adventure, banter, monsters, mysteries and magic! It’s on the darker side, but not a really grim read, but dark and entertaining.
A very snarky main character who has to form a group with strahngers, and I enjoyed seeing them work through things and grow together. Bound to happen if you have to fight for your life on a daily basis!
There’s plenty of mysteries, layered on top of more mysteries, and you don’t really know what it is all about until the very end.
All in all it was one hell of a lot of fun!
Tracking Trouble by Aldrea Alien
This is a bit of a cheat, as it’s not a favourite of mine, however I can absolutely see that it is a great book, just not my cup of tea!
There’s quite some graphic spice early on, and the main character is just utterly too sexy it seems – at least everyone, men, women, old and young, really everyone seems to want to have sex with him, grab bis crotch or flirt with him. I’m very much *not* a romance reader, even in the slightest. So the very fact that I even finished this book tells you it was very well written.
It’s a dark story as well, there’s plenty of killing, and some really disturbing details (not sex!) involving children, so beware if that’s not something you want to read.
Now we got all of this out of the way, I found the setting and world quite well done for such a short and quick story! It didn’t feel shallow, but it also wasn’t bogged down by info dumps. There’s a good mystery that keeps the story going, as the actual plot seems a bit meandering with the MC traveling around and fighting spellsters. The mystery was the exact glue the story needed to work well.
Aside from the grim topics, this was a really quick and easy read, not overly complex or complicated, but great as a quick bite between the giant tomes!
SciFi / Urban Fantasy
In the Orbit of Sirens by T.A. Bruno
I’ll get my few gripes out if the way at the start – the characters are supposedly mid 20, but they definitely felt a lot younger to me. Some bits of the book had a distinct YA feel to it, which I’m personally fine with.
Other parts where rather dark, and the world building was deeper and more fascinating than I’d expect from YA, so that have the book a bit of a disjointed feel.
Aside from not really managing to decide if it means to be adult or not, it was a really good and addictive read! I quite enjoyed exploring this new world with its different flora, fauna and new cultures. This story has elements of warfare, colonization, first contact, exploration, psychic abilities, betrayal and joining forces against the bigger evil.
I really liked how the book’s pace varied depending on what part of the story we’re in. The switch between action and exploring the world made it feel more rounded up.
I breezed through it in no time at all
Dyer Street Punk Witches by Phil Williams
I’m always, always on the lookout for Urban Fantasy that isn’t actually paranormal romance in disguise, and Dyer Street Punk Witches delivered well! Witches, magic, spells and curses, and all of it mixed with a a troubled past, including some gang rivalry.
The characters are all flawed, and there’s hidden depths to their past as well as mysteries all around. I really loved the shades of grey instead of an easy good versus evil sort of cast. While I wanted to shake the characters at times, I was also able to understand their motivations, and they felt realistic. I hate having people acting dumb and out of character just to drive the plot – and even the stupid decisions here didn’t feel like that.
The background of being a punk, a rebel, a feminist, someone trying to change things for the better – all while not always really being that great a human herself made Kit a fascinating protagonist to follow.
Small Miracles by Olivia Atwater
Small Miracles is funny, cosy, humourous, warm, inclusive and very entertaining. In short it is the utterly perfect book for me.
It starts out very easy, and I wasn’t sure if it would fully click with me. Ha. But how it did! Those weird people grew on me imperceptible, and before I knew it I loved them.
The way they interacted, the found family vibes, the budding friendships and growing love just was amazing to read.
The hilarious tone balanced it out, so it didn’t feel soppy, but fun.
It reminds me a lot of Pratchett books in that way.
Gadriel, the fallen angel with the super sweet tooth, is just such a matter of fact character. She, or he spouts amazing things in the most factual tone, reminiscent of characters like Discworld’s Death.
It’s easy and fun, but also hits on quite some deeper things. Be it loss, grief, or just being overwhelmed by everything. However it keeps the balance in between those, that makes it so much more than just fluff or a sob story.
I also adore how the book plays with things like gender. Angels don’t just adhere to human genders on their own, but when on earth they pretend to be humans, but switch genders all the time on a whim. This again kept the story humourous and fun on one hand, on the other hand people just taking that in stride really made me well warm and fuzzy.
I couldn’t get enough of this hot chocolate in book form.
Humourous / Comedy / LitRPG
Evil Overlord – The Makening by Michael McClung
If you like your books dark, but full of humour, this is for you!
I snorted, chuckled and grinned my way through this book, and was well entertained all the way.
While it’s bloody and grim, I’d still put it in my comfort book corner, as it’s very easy to read, short, quick and silly.
Ever wondered how someone turned from boring monk into an evil overloaded? No, me neither. But boy did I enjoy the ride!
Going from being blown around life like a leave in the wind, without any real agency – aside from finding alcohol, gambling and maybe boobs if lucky – to ruling your citizens, and making big plans for domination…
Meeting a sweary demon, a couple of cannibals, goblins and what not on the way… Life really never gets boring!
How to Defeat a Demon King in Ten Easy Steps By Andrew Rowe
I adored this! If you haven’t played Legends of Zelda, this is a fun, entertaining, character focused and cosy LitRPG. There is some leveling up and using skills, but there is no stats sheets, and only an occasional mention of a level up, so it’s not only for people who enjoy that subgenre
If you loved those games though, this is both a fun and comfortable fantasy romp, and also an homage to the green clad hero, his iconic set of items, the dungeons, and world. I definite enjoyed all the little bits and pieces along the way, and often had a big smile on my face.
The main character is a young girl who decides things need to change right now. As everyone else sticks with tradition and waits for the hero to return, obviously she had to do it herself. Not being of hero class, she instead uses her wits to cheat and making use of every loophole she can find.
I adored her tone and the banter that starts as soon as she makes a new friend to accompany her on her adventure to find and defeat the evil end boss.
The Castle of 1000 Doors by Kenny Gould
This is a really fun and silly LitRPG that was a fast paced and easy read. The main character, a famous ball game player, is thrown into a dungeon for supposed treason. As he’s the last to get to choose a weapon, he’s stuck with a sentient, talking potato. If this sounds weird and crazy, yes it is!
I for one enjoyed the banter and the sheer “what the hell?” moments!
Compared to some of my other favourite LitRPG books it does lack a bit of depth, both in plot and character. As it was still really entertaining and a quick read, and did exactly what it set out to do.