Blog Archive

View My Stats
Wednesday, July 1, 2020

SPFBO: The First Cull & Semi-finalist Update




You know the drill. And you know there'll be no quarter. Only one can survive.





Before the bloodbath begins, know this -  while I did my best to remain fair and open-minded, I have my preferences and pet peeves. Some stories that appeal to me bore others, depress some, enrage others. All are perfectly valid, reasonable responses. And SPFBO rules are brutal. 

Here's our first batch of eight books (in alphabetical order). Let the bloodbath begin.

A Locket of No Particular Significance by Florien St John 
May 17, 2020, 618 p
Genre: historical romance
Series: Westerlee series



I won't lie. I find this cover visually offensive. It screams "stay away and don't touch me", and I'm not sure if that's what a cover should do. St John opens with a tongue-in-cheek apology for "both dangling and squinting modifiers, finishing too many sentences with a preposition, and writing in altogether the wrong tense with a passive voice." It made me smile. I always appreciate a healthy sense of humor.

A Locket of No Particular Significance tells a potentially interesting story and introduces interesting characters, both human and inhuman. Yes, there's a promise here. Unfortunately, the book could use another pass of editing to polish long and verbose sentences and make the story concise. 

It does have a whimsical charm, but I called it quits at 26% of the ebook version. Neither plot nor characters hooked me strongly enough to continue. An occasional excess of exposition and the narration based on telling rather than showing did little to arouse my interest. 

St. John writes with conviction and enthusiasm. I'm sure there's an audience for such books, I'm just not sure how to target them.

*---------------*---------------*---------------*

Another Dead Intern by Joel Spriggs
October 22, 2019, 243 p
Genre: humorous dark fantasy
Series: Henlock Connal series


Another Dead Intern entertains. Not always subtly, not every joke lands, but I can see it winning readers tired of way-too-serious end-of-the-world narratives. Its tone varies from the pulpy to the dramatic, with the occasional escalation of violence. 

Henlock, a snarky protagonist banished from the fae world for misbehavior, needs a new intern - their life span by her side is usually short. Her new applicant, Morgan, prefers to stay alive, though, as he helps her solve supernatural crimes. Will he succeed?

Another Dead Intern will appeal to fans of tongue-in-cheek narratives that poke fun at the tropes of urban fantasy and nod toward well-known stories (like the phrase Hells Bells appearing in the first chapter). Henlock and Morgan's interactions are fun but tend to get repetitious. Situational humor will be a hit and miss, depending on the reader. Bad guys remain cartoonish and underdeveloped and the book could use another pass of editing.

Not a bad book by any means, just for a specific reader. 

*---------------*---------------*---------------*

Currents of Change by Darian Smith 
March 20, 2015, 211 p
Genre: paranormal romance
Series: standalone

Currents of Change impressed me with good pacing, clear structure, and a captivating blend of Irish and Maori mythology. 

Set in a fictional town in rural New Zealand, it follows Sara, a troubled young woman fleeing her abusive relationship. She hopes to find a safe harbor in the house of her ancestors, early settlers of New Zealand. According to local rumors, the house is haunted. 

The story packs a lot (ghost story, romance, past and present storylines of abusive relationships and family dynamics) in just 211 pages. With short chapters and distinct characters, it forces readers to read one more chapter and before they realize the book is over. Impressive. But I have a few caveats.

Sara's partner felt utterly one-dimensional. Secondary characters made stupid calls to raise the stakes. The story twisted haunted house trope, true, but the resolution felt weaker than the genuinely creepy and atmospheric beginning and middle of the book. The ending should appeal to readers of Paranormal Romance but I found it naive and unconvincing. 

While not perfect, it's an engaging and quick read with a nice supernatural twist. Smith is a pro, no doubts about it.

*---------------*---------------*---------------*

Cycle of Blades by Christopher Keene
May 10, 2020, 679 p 
Genre: epic fantasy
Series: standalone


Cycle of Blades is a fast-paced epic fantasy with plenty of anime-like battles and training sequences. Thanks to the mastery of Lunari symbols characters gain preternatural skills (inhuman speed, teleportation, ability to fly, or to control blades). For ages, Lunari kept symbols secret, but nothing lasts forever. A Lunari renegade teaches them to Kessler, a mercenary hungry for revenge, who, in turn, teaches them to Faulk, a soldier-turned-mercenary and our protagonist. 

The less you know about the plot the better. Suffice to say it involves heresy and schemes that impact the world of humans and gods. Lunari symbols are ridiculously powerful. A weakling will trash powerful opponents moments after learning them. A skilled Lunari user will single-handedly massacre armies leaving only a trail of the dead.

There's a lot to like here. The magic system is imaginative, and the characters well-rounded. Plots and subplots tie nicely in a satisfying conclusion. Plus, you know, controlling blades with your mind is dope. That being said, if, like me, you're not a fan of anime aesthetic some of the battle/training sequences will tire you. Too much cool stuff is still too much. Because of Lunari symbols' instant effect, character development was rushed or, in one case, lacking. While the main characters feel distinct, I'm not so sure about secondary ones. 

Cycle of Blades has plenty to offer to action-hungry fans of epic fantasy and anime. It's well-written, polished, fast-paced, and engaging. Plus, it does contain a lot of cinematic scenes that beg to be translated into visual media.



*---------------*---------------*---------------*


Graveyard Gods by Joseph Daniel & Bryan Arneson
Genre: Sword&Sorcery
Series: The Raider and the Rapier

In Graveyard Gods, the first book in the Raider and The Rapier series, Daniel & Arneson invite readers to join a rollicking adventure. The setting involves ships, underwater tombs, and dangerous cities. The story starts with a bang and rarely slows down.

The main characters are well-rounded and memorable. Edmond Mondego, a grave robber and alchemist, seeks a God Grave hoping the hidden magic will allow him to bring back his murdered wife's soul. Instead of immense power, he finds an imprisoned goddess. Edmond's profane profession and notoriety make him a target of the Lord Captain Augustin Mora, newly appointed commander of His Imperial Majesty's Ship Intrepid. Things get complicated when unexpected events will force them to cooperate.

I absolutely loved Edmond's chapters. His cunning and guile make him intriguing. His deep love for his murdered wife makes him relatable. His interactions with others, especially with the mentioned goddess, are always fun. Augustin, on the other hand, is a much stiffer character. Definitely likable, but I felt his chapters lacked the spark and strength of Mondego's POV. I also felt Mora's chapters had weaker structure and lower stakes. In consequence, I impatiently looked for Edmond's POV while trudging through other POV.

Graveyard Gods tells a great story powered by great ideas. Unfortunately,  it needs another pass of editing to make the writing stronger (you'll find a bit of everything here: grammar errors, misspellings, awkward similes, weird sentence structure). This book can shine - it has strong characters, a great plot, and a fascinating setting. With the help of a ruthless editor, it can shake the Nautical Fantasy charts.

                                                     *---------------*---------------*---------------*

Oasis by Bharat Krishnan
December 11, 2018, 545 p
Genre: epic fantasy
Series: standalone


Oasis blends elements of Asian folklore with a tale of revenge. It includes magic, weird animals, and demons. With a diverse cast of characters, a solid story, and engrossing eastern-influenced settings, it offers something fresh to readers. 

While the story’s premise has potential, the overall narrative could use stronger writing. Too much of the things that should terrify the reader are omitted or simply told.
Recitations of the gods were enough to make the demons run in fear, and shortly afterwards Trey always woke to find Juno’s hand draped over him. His friend had seen him suffering, but offered aid too late. Now awake, he could hear sand whistling in the darkness. The desert, that eternal trickster, had been playing games with his mind. 
I mean, there's an awesome scene here. It has it all - great setting, supernatural threat, characters' relationship nad dynamic' in the face of the danger, and all we get is "recitations of the gods were enough to make the demons run in fear"? 

Zero tension.

Krishnan has a knack for good lines, but too much of his writing relies on telling and recounting events. As a result, the story, while thematically interesting, isn't exciting. 

*---------------*---------------*---------------*

The Dragon's Teeth by J.A. Clement
May 24, 2020, 298 p
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: On Dark Shores 


The Dragon's Teeth tells a compelling and well-thought-out story about three characters facing loss and an almost invincible enemy. No one can stop the Ice Lord. Unless the story's protagonists (maimed inventor, a blind woman with a vision, and a bard) find inspiration in the ancient ruins.


The prose is engaging, and the world-building brims with potential. From the emotionally-charged and action-packed opening to descriptive prose and the author's ability to shift narrative moods with ease, this book is a pleasure to read. It has all the elements of a successful series - a compelling and mysterious enemy, diverse characters, and an interesting world.

That said, it's rather a slower-burn type of book where, after a strong beginning, not much happens for a significant part of the story. We learn about the world through in-world tales and cheer for Maker rediscovering simple truths, like the obvious fact it's his mind that makes him an exceptional Maker. His disability can't steal it from him. While inn-world short stories are relevant to the plot and well-written, they slow down the narrative.


Technically, I have no complaints. The author took care to polish her story. Clement's writing is strong and has a nice rhythm to it.


Overall, The Dragon's Teeth tells a compelling story. It won't appeal to fans of edge-of-the-seat narratives - there's action here, no worries, but impatient readers will DNF the book before getting to it. 

*---------------*---------------*---------------*

The Hidden King by E.G. Radcliff
July 12, 2019, 310p
Genre: YA Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of Coming of Aed series



The Hidden King is about, yes, you've guessed it, the hidden king. Shocking, I know. 

Áed, a poor and illiterate boy from the Maze, lives with his partner and their adopted (sort of) son. An unexpected tragedy forces him to leave the place and seek refuge in the legendary White City, where he makes friends and enemies and discovers his secret origin. And powers. Although it sounds incredibly cliche, Radcliff's writing impressed me. I found the book polished, immersive, and engaging.  


Radcliff's beautiful, evocative writing coupled with a clear structure and a solid characterization mark The Hidden King apart from most books in this overcrowded subgenre. A strong scene-setting makes even the book’s darker moments (torture, mentions of sexual abuse, violence, and hate speech towards weaker and poorer) hold attention. Of course, the narrative takes shortcuts and some of the plot progression depends on main or secondary characters making incomprehensible choices (like King's detail allowing a captive alone with him in a room). Some things happen too conveniently and closer scrutiny reveals unconvincing (or maybe just too convenient) twists and turns. And yet it never distracts from the story.

I applaud Radcliff for masking minor issues with features (characters, prose, nuances) that make the narrative immersive and addicting. An impressive, if slightly formulaic, debut. 


*---------------*---------------*---------------*


Choosing a semi-finalist




We all know what happens next, right? Then let's get to the business at hand. 

All of these stories were entertaining and perfectly readable, but there were three novels that rose to the top of my list. Here they are, in a brutal fight for survival:



Cycle of Blades impressed me with its imaginative "magic" system based on Lunari symbols, cinematic fight and training scenes, likable (if rather two-dimensional) characters, and high stakes of the story. A must for fans of epic fantasy and overpowered characters able to single-handedly erase armies. 

Graveyard Gods I loved the story and characters, but the quality of writing and editing isn't on par with the other two books. I cut it at this stage, but I do it with a heavy heart - it tells an awesome story, my favorite of the three. I'm sure another pass of ruthless editing will make it amazing. 

The Hidden King is built on tropes. It doesn't break new ground. And yet I couldn't put it down. I especially loved Radcliff's polished and evocative writing. Coupled with a focused narrative, it made The Hidden King a pleasant surprise.

So, who stays in the game? 

After careful consideration, I've picked the book by the author offering the highest bribe I liked just a little bit more.

Our first semi-finalist is


.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

Almost there

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.


Congratulations E.G.! Aed is a strong and memorable character. Soon, he'll face our remaining semi-finalists in yet another battle for survival. For the moment, though, he can take a nap and relax.


2 comments:

E.G. Radcliff said...

Thank you, Lukasz, for reading and reviewing The Hidden King! I expected nothing but fun and new people when I entered The Hidden King into SPFBO6, so being a semifinalist exceeds all expectations. Which makes for a good day.

Xina Uhl said...

Love the thoughtful critiques!

Follow by Email

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “Right To The Kill ” by Craig Schaefer!!!
Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “Spit And Song” by Travis M. Riddle!!!
Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “The Arkhel Conundrum” by Sarah Ash!!!
Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “The Company Of Birds” by Nerine Dorman!!!
Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “The True Bastards” by Jonathan French!!!
Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “Rumble In Woodhollow” by Jonathan Pembroke!!!
Order HERE