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Saturday, October 13, 2018

SPFBO: The Third Diminution & Semifinalist Update (by Mihir Wanchoo)


Read Fantasy Book Critic's First Semifinalist Update
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Second Semifinalist Update

This year’s SPFBO has been a trip and a good one at that. With Lukasz and David joining Cindy and me, it has been a very rewarding experience as it’s great to hear different views. Plus in all the last three editions, with me being the solo person, it has been a tremendous boost to not be the slowest judge. Within our lot, we had decided to split the books between the four of us and here are my thoughts on my lot of seven titles (I'll also be uploading them to GR & Amazon):


Truth Or Darkness by Craig Aird

Truth Or Darkness had one of the best covers in the competition and was our number 1 cover amidst our lot (special kudos to Felix Ortiz & Shawn King for it). The premise of the book is pretty cool too. The souls of the departed aren’t reaching heaven and the bridge to heaven has two demons who are blocking the path. We have a typical storyline wherein our protagonist Leoh is pushed into the story and soon learns more about the extra-corporeal happenings. There’s a reincarnated warrior who wants to set things right and couple of assassins (Daelin and Juliette) who get pulled into the happenings for their personal reasons. From there, the action and reveals happen continuously as the story veers towards its “out of this world” climax which was sheer fun to read.

Overall this story had a very interesting angle to its plot but the characterization didn’t match up to the worldbuilding. The book ends on a solid note and this book definitely can be read as standalone but there’s a thread left open for further sequels. Craig Aird has written a solid dark fantasy and I would like to read more of his work to see how he develops his craft.


The Bladesman of Darcliff by Jason A. Holt

I’ve read a previous book of the Edgewhen series in The Burglar Of Sliceharbor, it was a bit comical and featured a mix of human and humanoid races. The Bladesman of Darcliff is set in a different part of the same world and focuses Vinnagon and his wife Gwenshi. Forced by circumstances to become an outlaw, Vinnagon and Gwenshi will have to do the utmost to stay alive and finally prove Vinnagon’s reasons to be true. This story was a quick read and of a shorter length. The story is sprinkled with humor in likely and unlikely places and honestly for me, Gwenshi was the more intriguing character than Vinnagon. Overall this was a much better read than my previous Edgewhen experience and I would recommend readers to give this one a try so that can a fun read.

Jason A. Holt is trying a lot with his Edgewhen books and I have to applaud his efforts for giving readers a different read (genrewise, new characters, etc.) with each book and making them as standalone as possible as well.


The Firebird by Nerine Dorman

The Firebird is a novella and deals with a brother sister duo who are on opposite sides of a  mytho-religious struggle. Lada is burdened with legacy of familial betrayal that haunts her mind, but with the capture of her brother Ailas, old wounds are brought to the fore. It’s a novella but it packs a lot into it and Nerine Dorman is a writer who really shines in her efforts. The story settings are starkly different from the usual fare that we have seen. We are given a tropical island setting and the characters are fully realized within such a smaller setting. Even though we only get the story from Lada’s POV. It’s one that goes into a lot of things especially self-angst and family troubles. This is a story that will haunt you as it does Lada and Nerine Dorman absolutely aces the atmosphere which in turns is partly claustrophobic and yet does not stunt the read in any way.

Nerine Dorman packs so much into this novella and it easily is the one of the best stories among all the SPFBO books I’ve read so far in the last four editions. It almost seems like a tragedy that this is a novella only. A wonderfully unique story for its stark portrayal of a family in crisis and a people at war with themselves.


Fangs & Fins by Amy McNulty 

Fangs and Fins is a book that perhaps I’m mismatched for as a reader. It’s a paranormal story that focusses on two step sisters and the troubles that enter their lives as two separate races of Vampires and Merfolk bring their conflicts into them. I’m not a big PNR fan but I love urban fantasy quite a lot. This story has a lot going for it, characters who are their own personas, familial secrets that come out and action (though not as much as I would have preferred). Fangs & Fins is a quirky story focusing on Ember and Ivy who must figure out their own pathways whilst figuring out the newer complications in their lives.

Overall this was a decent book with some interesting plot angles. I especially enjoyed the supernatural conflict between vampires and Merfolk as I haven’t quite come across that in the urban fantasy books which I’ve read.


Missing by William C. Markham

I thought Missing by William C. Markham would turn out to be a typical urban fantasy story. I was wrong to a large degree about that. Missing does a lot of things differently than most urban fantasy stories, primarily this book takes a solidly noir tone to the story and infact in the first half, the supernatural elements are kept to a bare minimum. The story focusing tightly on Mason Grey, our gumshoe protagonist who is a cliché in every sense and knows it. The story slowly but methodiously unwinds leaving Mason and the readers knowing exactly what he’s up against. I enjoyed the noir aspect of the story as well as the touch of horror within the story.

Overall though this is a decent debut, it doesn’t offer anything new for urban fantasy lovers like me.


Chronicles of Nartesis Shazarack: Father Of Necromancy by J.D Hart

This is another novella that was an interesting read. It focuses on Nartesis Shazarack, a necromancer of repute and ambition no less. We had received this book and it does mention in the blurb that this is a companion story that would be better appreciated after reading the first two volumes of the Dragonbonded books. I feel after reading this novella that I would certainly have enjoyed it more that way. Not to say that this novella is full of fluff or hard to follow, in fact I would say that this was a certainly a dark and fun read. Nartesis is obviously an antagonist of the main books and here we are given a look into his past. This isn’t some quick trip but rather a solidly focused sojourn into what makes Nartesis tick and certainly makes him a fascinating antagonist to know more of.

I thought that this was a good companion piece and an excellent way to get newer readers interested about the series. The novella is good way to find out more about JD Hart’s writing style and whether you want to jump into his books.


The Blood Tartan by Raymond St. Elmo

The Blood Tartan is an odd book, I’m confident the author will not mind me saying that. I would go so far as to say he must have planned it so, otherwise how you explain the character of Rayne Gray who’s described as “three steps from madness, two steps from arrest, one step from death!”. If that description along with the blurb doesn’t make you reach for the book, then I’m not sure whether you are the target audience for Raymond’s work. Surprisingly when I first read this book, it didn’t grab me at all and I was not quite feeling it. However my teammates Lukasz and David had certainly enjoyed it and that spurred me on.

I restarted it and I must say, it took me a while but I could slowly enjoy the manic nature of the story as well as of the main character. Slowly but surely this book won me over and I’ll eventually go on to the sequels to see what happens next with Rayne Grey.

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Amidst my seven titles, there was quite a mix of genres, writing styles and story lengths. It was tricky to choose a single semifinalist as they were good ones in the mix. So far we have had four semifinalists, thanks to Lukasz’s & David’s diligence. So I decided to follow their example and select two more semifinalists who will be getting detailed reviews.

So amidst these seven titles, the two that will be joining the ranks of Hell Comes To Hogtown, By Raven’s Call, Here Be Dragons, & The Boy Who Walked Too Far are

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The Firebird & The Blood Tartan , both these stories were so refreshing and presented something vastly different than I've found in fantasy usually. With Firebird, Nerine Dorman has given us a very nuanced story within a unique setting. It’s a pity that this is only a novella, whereas with The Blood Tartan, Raymond St. Elmo unleashes his particular brand of crazy humour and wild action to make up a thrilling tale.

Both these books will get full reviews and of course will be one step closer to being chosen as the FBC finalist for the SPFBO finals. Many congratulations to Nerine and Raymond and best of luck ahead!

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