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Saturday, April 28, 2018

SPFBO Finalist Mini-Reviews: The Way Into Chaos, Tiger Lily, Chaos Trims My Beard, & The War Of Undoing (by Mihir Wanchoo)


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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Way Into Chaos is Harry Connolly’s debut epic fantasy foray and for fantasy fans while Harry Connolly might not be a familiar name. For urban fantasy fans (like myself) Harry Connolly is a talented author whose Twenty Palaces series struck a strong chord. The Way Into Chaos is a an epic fantasy with aspects of portal fantasy (reversed tropes) and a fantasy which does away from excessive gore and swearing.

This aspect I hear was an intentional one, also this book along with the rest of the trilogy was successfully kickstarted by the author. I was a backer for this trilogy and it was one that I truly cherish. I was glad to see The Way Into Chaos make it into the finals, this book has an explosive beginning and I mean it in all expressions of the word. We see a kingdom torn asunder due to the appearance of magic and nightmarish creatures. Our main characters are shown to be strewn apart and this book showcases their journey to their eventual zeniths. With this being an opening volume of the trilogy, we certainly aren’t getting the whole story but the ending is one which leaves the readers satisfied.

With this volume, I enjoyed the action packed and plot pace which kept me turning pages and engaged. But the book’s characters felt a bit flat and the world building wasn’t as complete as I thought it would be. Let me be clear, this book is definitely different than most current grimdark fantasies as even while the main characters are distraught, it never careens towards either grimdark or noblebright spectrum ends. It comfortable finds its own path and is in a way very reminiscent of 90s fantasy wherein epic fantasy wasn’t sullied by the grime and nilhistic seasoning that we find present nowadays. The Way Into Chaos is an interesting thriller read with a gorgeous cover (by Chris McGrath) and works more on those threads. As an epic fantasy, it has its shining moments and some drawbacks which made me enjoy it but not the degree that I thought I would.


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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Tiger Lily is the most unique book amongst all the ten finalists. The author had remarked upon this fact when her book won a place in the finals and I wholeheartedly agree with her. From its settings to its characters, to its prose Tiger Lily sets itself apart from its contemporaries by giving us accurate descriptions and then some.

Tiger Lily is set in a world which is inspired by Japanese history and world. The author has written this story so wonderfully that one cannot help but be drawn into the story. However the one main drawback of the story is that our main character is very indecisive and anxious, to the point that she seems whiny and more than a tad annoying. Perhaps the author wanted to showcase the constraints the society placed on Lily for not conforming and for being born in the wrong year. If that was the intent, then the author succeeded in her goal wildly. The problem is that while Lily is very distraught, the readers will not enjoy her indecision and constant mental struggle.

To a large degree this book will be very polarizing for the readers. The readers who love it will love it for the gorgeous prose, the incredibly detailed world settings and the unique story, for those who didn’t enjoy it, they might blame the tepid plot pace, the indecisive protagonist and lack of action in the book. As for me while this was a unique read, it was one that didn’t set my internal senses tingling. I appreciated the effort put into the story and will be checking out the author’s other works for sure because have no doubt, K. Bird Lincoln is a very talented wordsmith. Don’t let this book’s pitfalls deter you from exploring the author’s other works (why hello urban fantasy set in Portland, you are just what I would like to read).


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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Chaos Trims My Beard is an intriguing finalist and one which created a lot of discussions among the judges of Fantasy Faction. After reading it, I can see why it was selected as the finalist but also why it could have gone either way.

Chaos Trims My Beard is a nice mix of noir, fantasy and dark humor which will not be to everyone’s tastes. What also doesn’t help is that the author’s style of writing takes a while to get used to. This story was one which I enjoyed for the aspects that I enjoy in the fantasy genre. It had the wise-cracking humor present in urban fantasy and thrillers but also the wild, magical side present in its world. The story’s main narrator is certainly the highlight of the story and the humor is a close second. The story is hinged on these two factors and that’s what I believe its fans will enjoy.

For me this was a mixed bag as while I did enjoy those aspects, the story overall and its weird quotient wasn’t something that made me take notice of it. I appreciated the author’s efforts but they couldn’t entice me to care much more. It’s a debut that I wish was a bit more polished and the copy I had received had very few typos which is always appreciated. The main character is certainly a striking one and hopefully fans will be checking this book out. I wish Brett Herman all the very best and I will be interested to see what he writes about next.


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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The War Of Undoing is an interesting fantasy title as it deals with several different characters and the aftereffects of an ongoing conflict. Chief among them are the Raining siblings but the author goes one up and gives us a deep look into almost every character that’s highlighted within (case in point is its prologue). What I enjoyed about this title was its writing, the author has constructed an inherently in-depth plot which unfolds exactly as the author intended. Suffice to say this in-depth characterization and plot are certainly the highlights of this book.

For me however this book didn’t work as much as I hoped it would. The biggest drawback personally was its tepid pace, however this wasn’t on purpose but due to the story’s rich characterization. The author’s writing style, prose and descriptions leads to a storyline which takes its time to get set up which will work for some readers and might prove detrimental for some. For me though this book while being so fantastically written, just didn’t strike a chord because of its pacing. The author builds up the various plot threads, amasses several conflicting issues and then ends it on an epic note. So the eventual payoff certainly is worth the slow start and therefore the author’s plan makes sense.

The War Of Undoing is an ambitious debut that showcases Alex Perry’s deft skills and they are quite something but this debut didn’t win me over. So while I would be interested to see when he takes the story in the sequels, the story will have to up its deficiencies. The War Of Undoing seems to be a debut that will have its defenders and detractors and the twain might never agree about their choices.

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