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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

SPFBO: The Fourth Jettisoning & Semifinalist Update (by D. C. Stewart & Lukasz Przywoski)

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

This is it! This is FBC’s last round of books, with eight cuts and one more book advancing into our blog’s list of semi-final hopefuls. We wish to reiterate that cutting anyone out of this contest is not an easy decision. It is one made with the knowledge that we are potentially putting someone’s career a step back, while advancing that of another. That is not a decision made lightly, and we hope those authors that did not advance understand that and can feel bolstered by the simple fact that every book in FBC’s batch has potential. There has not been an author that any of our bloggers have looked at that couldn’t, with a little more polish, shine out and find the eyes of many, many readers. With that said, here are the final choices that we have made.

Lukasz’s thoughts

A Spell in the Country by Heide Goody & Iain Grant

Genre: Humorous Urban Fantasy

Series/Standalone: Standalone

Dee is a Good Witch but she wonders if she could be a better witch. Caroline isn’t just a Good Witch, she’s a fricking awesome witch. Jenny is a Wicked Witch. She just wishes she wasn’t.

For very different reasons, they end up on the same training course and land in a lot of trouble when they discover that there’s a reason why their free country break sounds too good to be true. The story represents various cast of hilarious characters including foul-mouthed imps, wererats, naked gardeners, tree monsters, ghosts and stampeding donkeys.

ASINC is well plotted, nicely paced, and witty. It’s saturated with a gentle humour that leans toward the slap-stick and absurd. Even when it explores body-related jokes, it never does it in an offensive or gross way. The plot unfolds gradually, slowly revealing clever twists. Criticism? Well, I feel in some parts the book is bloated and gives way too much space to meaningless (but funny) banter that doesn’t move the plot in any significant way. I definitely recommend this book to those of you who look for lighter, uplifting book with a proper sense of humour. Just don’t pay attention to this atrocious cover–the book is much better than it would suggest.

Godmaker by Ingrid Seymour

Genre: YA Fantasy based on Greco-Roman myths

Standalone/Series: Book 1 of the series.

Who among us hasn’t dreamed about picking up a sword and going full Berserk (or Amazon) on the world?

The Godmaker is a short (160 pages), action-packed novel. Bia is a Skillbarren Goddess - her godly powers remain dormant, and no one knows if they’ll ever activate. Unfortunately, the time of trial has come and all young God aspirants will face each other on the arena and only one will ascend. Others will die or become mortals - a fate considered worse than death by most godlings. Once you become a supreme being, losing it is not a viable option.

There’s a lot to like about Godmaker - it focuses on storytelling rather than world-building. The story’s structure is clear and easy to follow. While the plot is rather straightforward, it remains exciting - the trials Bia faces are dangerous, fights are nicely choreographed and violent, and the tension never drops. The setting and plot are strongly influenced by Hunger Games, Roman Gladiators and Wonder Woman. The trials faced by Bia, her friends and foes kept me glued to pages, but they’re not inventive. We’ve seen all of it done in books and movies (gladiator-style games where kids fight to the death facing each other on the arena, pits filled with snakes and acid, facing inner fears and illusions).

Overall, it’s a solid page-turner with a strong final twist. A good pick for readers looking for a kick-ass warrior who’s ready to change her world.

Chaos Wolf by Sheryl R. Hayes

Genre: Paranormal & Urban Fantasy

Standalone/Series: I assume it’s book 1 of the series

Bitten by a stray werewolf and rescued by a vampire, a literature major Jordan Abbey lands in a lot of trouble. She has to master shape-shifting fast or else she and her patron may end dead. To make matters worse, Chaos Wolf looks for her and wants to make her his mate.

Chaos Wolf offers both action and steamy romance. The book didn’t surprise me plot wise - it follows tropes, but does it intelligently trying to give a broader scope of vampire/werewolf conflict and local packs’ customs. Contrary to more conservative books in the genre that focus on a budding romance between the two lovers, Jordan doesn’t limit herself to one sexy vampire. She does two (in a long and explicit scene).

Despite simple premise, the plot is engaging and interactions between characters never fail to entertain. Editors have done a stellar job, the prose feels polished, and you won’t find any spelling or grammar errors.

Chaos Wolf is a bit predictable, but I would definitely recommend it to paranormal romance readers. It won’t rock your world, but it should entertain you.

Under Everest by D.H.Dunn

Genre: High Fantasy

Standalone/Series: Book 1 of the Fractured Everest series

The story follows adventures of Sherpa girl Nima and American ex-sailor Drew. They fall through a mystical portal and find themselves caught in a magical war raging beneath Mount Everest.

Despite interesting premise, I struggled with this book. I tried to finish it, but finally DNF-ed it at around 53% of the ebook version. I feel that the plot relies heavily on a coincidence. The secondary characters remain underdeveloped and, truth be told, neither Nima nor Drew felt particularly interesting or convincing. The writing felt a bit rough and unclear in places. I had to force myself to read past first few chapters and it hasn’t changed along the way. I think Under Everest has interesting premise and potential for a good story. Having said that, it didn’t click between us.

David’s thoughts

Kingdom of Thieves, by Mitchell Edward Bell

Genre: High Fantasy/Sword and Sorcery

Standalone/Series: Book 1 of the Kingdoms of Ol’World series

The beautiful, evocative cover art and solid premise put Kingdom Of Thieves in good shape for potential readers to dive headlong into the fantasy equivalent of The Mod Squad. Patticus Mysticus is a thief trying to take back his nation from a tyrannical king, and his chance meeting with magician Tage and her barbarian bodyguard Iceskgard set the stage for what could have been an epic saga, reminiscent of the sword and sorcery classics of Leiber and Salvatore but with a dash of high fantasy.

Unfortunately, Bell’s writing lacks the kind of polish that would set him apart in this contest. The interactions of the book’s characters feel unnatural, forced even, as does the dialogue. The main characters feel shallow, lacking the depth so necessary to any novel in today’s literary climate, while side characters are so black and white as to seem satirical. It became apparent within the first few chapters that Kingdom Of Thieves would not beat out some of the fierce competition set against it.

Secret Realms of the Hidden Elves, by Jonathan J. Bowerman

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Standalone/Series: Presumably a series, this being “The Beginning”

Secret Realms of the Hidden Elves draws inspiration from some of the greatest fantasy novels of all time - The Chronicles of Narnia first among them. It is clear from the start that Bowerman is writing to a young audience that he holds dear. His main character is a 12-year old girl named Jasper, who, as in so many fantasy stories, moves into a new house and discovers that it houses a doorway to another world.

Perhaps if this contest were called Self-Published Children’s Fantasy Blog-Off, Secret Realms might have stood more of a chance. As it stands, the writing style, in a contest where in our batch this showed as the only children’s novel, is simplistic and overly familiar. There is tense switching that jars the adult eye, and a crossing of the fourth wall that is even more damaging. In short, Secret Realms could not advance when pit against the ruthless authors of the SPFBO.

The King’s Voice, by Karen Peradon

Genre: Fairy Tale

Standalone/Series: Standalone

The premise and style of The King’s Voice are unique in FBC’s batch of books. Fairy tales can be tricky to novelize, despite the glut of movies renditions we’ve been forced to endure in the past decade. These types of books require more suspension of disbelief than the ordinary fantasy novel. Peradon’s fairy tale takes place in Goaero. The king’s voice has been literally lost, and his evil brother seeks to find it and thus claim the land’s throne for himself. He sends Mallory, an Indiana Jones-like adventurer, out into the wild to find it.

Despite a fun and promising premise, The King’s Voice is troubled by its very format. Fairy tales, in general, are stories told, which works in a short-form format like that found in their genre. When entire chapters become told, it becomes problematic from a storytelling standpoint. Fantasy, and literature, greatly benefits from being shown action, and from a careful doling out of exposition. The King’s Voice, regrettably, could not stand up to the finely-crafted entries in our batch.

And now for our, perhaps predictable, final semi-finalist.

Death March, by Phil Tucker

Genre: LitRPG

Standalone/Series: Book 1 in the Euphoria series

Before beginning this contest, I had never read a LitRPG. I have now read two of them, and while I was curious after reading through the first, Death March has made me a convert to the sub-genre. It’s that good. It’s a damned genre-missionary.

To preface, I came to Death March, and to the LitRPG scene, having spent countless hours face-deep in half a dozen MMORPGs. I cut my teeth on Dark Age of Camelot in the early 2000s, and was there on day one of World of Warcraft’s thunderous debut. I still dive back into online darlings like Lord of the Rings Online and Final Fantasy XIV. That it never occurred to me to write books about these types of immersive experiences makes me a little angry.

Death March stars a regular Joe named Chris who receives an invitation to play in Euphoria Online, the world’s premier virtual reality getaway. This is not a cheap ticket, and most of the world’s gamers have to be satisfied with lesser experiences. Chris lucks out and finds himself amidst something far grander and more engrossing than he could have ever imagined. And because playing, and succeeding, in Euphoria can potentially grant Chris a wish from the overlord AI governing the game, Chris is lured into playing on the highest difficulty – Death March. It is what it sounds like, and much like in the Matrix, dying in the game means dying for real.

Phil Tucker’s experience in both table-top and video-gaming shine through in his potentially block-buster series. There is an intimacy with rule-sets and world-structures here that could only be learned with a mouse in one hand and a set of dice in another. Death March feels authentic, and the story told is one of high-adventure and risk, but also features human voices and a surprising amount of emotional depth for a genre that could be accused of superficiality. The only caveat to our choice of promoting Death March as our last semi-finalist is that it does not tell a complete story, but instead relies on its draw as a series to lure readers into the subsequent books. Thankfully, it’s good enough to do just that.

So there you have it, Fantasy Book Critic has selected the following seven semifinalists  over the past three and half months. Best of luck to all seven titles, we will be announcing our SPFBO finalist in a month:

- Death March by Phil Tucker
- The Blood Tartan by Raymond St. Elmo
- The Firebird by Nerine Dorman
- The Boy Who Walked Too Far by Dom Watson
- Here Be Dragons by David Macpherson
- By Raven's Call by J. A. Devenport
- Hell Comes To Hogtown by C. D. Gallant-King



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