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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

SPFBO: The Second Reaping & Semifinalist Update (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read Fantasy Book Critic's First Semifinalist Update

As with Lukasz's post a few weeks earlier, today we have our second round of cuts. As explained in our introductory post, all five of us have randomly been assigned six titles. These were the titles in my lot:

The Stolen Karma of Nathaniel Valentine by Justin Bloch

Ayana by Geeta Krishnan

Shadowless by Randall McNally

A Halo of Mushrooms by Andrew Hiller

Children of Shadows by A. M. Hall

Enchantress Undercover by AC Spahn

To start with, I read through about 25-30% of each of them before deciding whether to continue or not. I eventually did read almost all of them fully and only two of them were titles that I thoroughly enjoyed. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on all six of them:

Ayana by Geetha Krishnan РThis book while having such a pass̩ cover, really intrigued me as the blurb indicated that this was going to be a story about the Indian epic Ramayana. I dove into it with a high amount of anticipation. The story focuses on Ravana, Rama & Sita, the three main characters of the epic and we get a very streamlined story.

For someone who already knows the complete saga, this story was a fun iteration. Those who have no idea or background about the epic. This book will be a great segue into the epic story and perhaps can find other books that dwell deeper. Overall I enjoyed this story as it really simplifies the entire epic to a few characters while presenting it as something more. The author’s writing style has to be commended for making this Indian epic so accessible to a non-desi audience. My only complaint about it was that it perhaps didn’t go deep enough and maybe that’s a personal preference.

The Stolen Karma of Nathaniel Valentine by Justin Bloch – This was a very intriguing story as from the blurb it promised an epic story but told from a single person’s perspective. The story opens up with an attack on our titular character by a spider demon and from then on, the tale just spirals into a weird wonderland of sorts. Similar to Nathan Valentine, the reader is equally confused about the nature of the person who brought Nathaniel into the strange world and the world itself.

I read nearly a third of the story and while it was captivating with regards to the Alice In Wonderland aspect, the main character and a couple of the other characters that were introduced by then didn’t really hold my interest. I would have read more in to the story if the prose and characterization would have been more striking. As the story goes, the prose and characterization was good but not exciting enough for me to continue. The central plot mystery was a good one and I was definitely intrigued by that. Maybe in the near future, I’ll read the rest of the book to see how the book fares in its entirety.

Children Of Shadows by A. M. Hall – This was another of those books whose mysterious blurb drew me in. The book deals with four characters mainly Kyra, Emerald, Tom and Sam who deal with various events and are taken away from their rural lives. This story was an interesting one and had quite a slow start.

Overall this story had a mix of high fantasy and a YA feel to it. The story takes a while to get going and takes nearly half of its length before we find out what it is it about. This aspect didn’t quite work for me as I was hoping that the pace would pick up soon. Alas that didn’t quite happen as soon as I hoped it would. The ending though is quite an action packed one and it helped me to enjoy the book a lot more than I thought I would.

A Halo Of Mushrooms by Andrew Hiller – This was one of the stranger books in my lot. It combined a bunch of genres and it left me thinking a lot. First the title is definitely something that will throw you off. The plot is just bonkers, it begins on a different planet and then with our protagonist Derik. It combines marauding monsters, magic focused on cooking and other food items, hunters and much more colourful characters. All in all, this story just started of on a weird tangent and kept on going off in weirder directions.

This book though isn’t for everyone. The writing style is a simplistic one and makes it easy to read. The imagination which is prevalent in this story is very, very cool. Lastly the story kept me intrigued with its weird twists and turns and then ended on an unpredictable note. A Halo Of Mushrooms indeed seems like someone wrote while chewing on the aforementioned mushrooms, such is the weird genre mix in the story. Read a sample to see if it draws your interest.

Shadowless by Randall McNally – This book firstly has a lot of going for it. Namely that awesome cover which turns out is a pivotal moment in the book. Secondly the godpunk nature of the plot which blew my mind. The world scenario is a very dark one and the author definitely pairs it with a complex world and magic system. There’s also the unique nature of the POV structure which could have gone wrong horribly but the author manages it quite well.

Overall this book is a monster with over 220k words but with a fascinating writing style and a darker bent to the magic and world-building, the author kept me invested in the story throughout till its excellent climax and then a twisted epilogue. Shadowless is an absolute blast to read. 

Enchantress Undercover by AC Spahn – I’m a fan of urban fantasy so I was very excited for this book. Focusing on alternate historical America wherein people with paranormal powers live among the normal folks trying to frantically avoid the presence of the “Voids”. The main narrator Adrienne Morales is of Columbian origin and is running away from some horrific things in her past. Adrienne is an enchantress who channels magic through her artwork and also can pass of charms through her pieces. Things however catch up with her as the Voids are alerted to her presence.

The best thing about this book is magic system which is thoroughly explained and is grounded. The humour is also a strong point and I’ve to mention Kendall the squirrel shifter who gets most of the punch lines. I would have really enjoyed reading this book ten years ago when I was new to the UF genre. However now it just is a mish-mash of the same tropes that are highly visible in the UF genre. Not to say that’s a bad thing but this book just didn't offer anything new for me and that reduced my enjoyment. Those readers wanting to have a quick, fun read in the UF subgenre, then Enchantress Undercover is certainly the book for you. For those who seek a little extra in your urban fantasy reads might want to skip this one.

So those were the titles in my lot and as I mentioned before, of the six, only two books really struck a chord in my mind and those two were:

- Ayana

- Shadowless

Both these titles intrigued me with their plots and overall they were really solid reads. Shadowless wowed me with its premise of alien gods and a Clash of the Titans-like atmosphere. Ayana was a solid retelling of the Ramayana epic while also simplifying it nicely to increase its accessibility and make it more about the characters within.

Overall I’m a tad torn between both of the titles as ideally I wanted to select a single semifinalist. But since both of them were good for different reasons (I’m still conflicted as I write this). I’m going to go ahead and review them both.

So congratulations to Randall McNally & Geetha Krishnan, your books beguiled and thoroughly entertained me and hence are the second and third FBC semifinalists. I’ll be reviewing Shadowless this coming Friday and my Ayana review will be posted next week.


Reflections said...

Is Ayana still in the running?


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