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Thursday, July 9, 2020

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



Read Fantasy Book Critic's First Semifinalist Update

Last week we had posted our first cut and Lukasz picked the first semifinalist. Today we are having our second round of cuts. As explained in our introductory post, we have divided up the thirty titles among the four of us. These were the titles in my lot:

Feast of the Mother by Miranda Hornfleur & Nicolette Andrews

Lasera by Danielle M. Pederson

Pradyutita by Geetha Krishnan

The Assassin's Gift by Claire Boston

A Voice That Thunders by Cully Mack

Wings of Fate by Skye Horn

The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin

To start with, I read through about 20-25% of each of them before deciding whether to continue or not. This time around, I wasn’t able to read all of them. Of the seven books in my lot, I stopped at around 50 % for most of them and eventually finished about half of them. However there were two titles that really hooked me in all the way.

Here are my brief thoughts on all of them:


Feast of the Mother by Miranda Hornfleur & Nicolette Andrews

This was the first title I chose to read because of its blurb matter and the Slavic settings. The story begins with Brygida, a witch who doubles a death’s reaper/detective. Brygida is called upon to investigate a murder of a village girl. She has only three days to complete her task.

Set over such a short time span, this story has a slow-burn effect with its main mystery and while there’s a bit of a romance as well. I enjoyed the main character and her interactions with both her mothers as well as the various villagers. The story is very well written and with this being a collaboration, it appeared seamless. The characterization mainly focuses on Brygida and the remaining characters don’t get that much of a spotlight. This book was a charming but a bit slow paced read. I enjoyed the mystery and magical aspect of the plot and it was definitely a different sort of a read.


Lasera by Danielle Matheson Pederson

Lasera was a bit of an odd read for me. It focuses on a teenager (Valerie) whose life gets saved by a Merman and she literally can’t believe it. This book was a bit of a mix of urban fantasy and SF and unfortunately didn’t quite strike a precise balance with me. The writing was clear and concise and the plot moved along pretty fast. However the romance aspect of the story really didn’t capture my attention as it was instantaneous and didn’t make much sense to me at least. Overall this book would work better for readers of PNR or YA urban fantasy, unfortunately I wasn’t the best audience for it.


Pradyutita by Geetha Krishnan

With Pradyutita, it was the exact opposite of my experience with Lasera. With this book, I felt I was the perfect (and perhaps the only) audience for it. It’s based on the Indian epic Mahabharata (which I consider to be the greatest story ever told) and it basically focuses on the socio-political angles and completely flips the personalities of the members involved. I raced through this book easily and was left stunned at the author’s ingenuity. She switched character personas and situations and made the start of this epic story even more exciting. I was constantly surprised at the plot twists and the way the story ends, I knew I wanted to read more.


The Assassin's Gift by Claire Boston

This was a title which really intrigued me because of the East Asian (Chinese & Mongolian influences) settings of the story. The story focuses on princess Lien who’s been trained to be an assassin for the glory of the empire and the emperor (her uncle). She however wakes up in the enemy camp and is forced to reconcile her beliefs and understanding of the world. This story was a straightforward one and a pretty fun one at that. The good guys are good and the evil ones are bad throughout. Claire Boston’s writing style makes the story very accessible and the main character while being naïve is still a likeable one. This is a clean fantasy story where the action and deeds are kept at a PG level. I enjoyed reading it and while it would appeal more to me 25 years ago, it was a definitely a 3 star read.


A Voice That Thunders by Cully Mack

A Voice That Thunders focuses on a pair of siblings Gabe and Mirah. The story opens with Mirah’s abduction of sorts while Gabe is a bit lost in the forest due to an attack on their village. From then on, Gabe disappears while Mirah learns about Shemyaza and his progeny (one of whom is Nate who has lead the abduction). The story progresses while we the readers are exposed to a variety of magic and gods. Gabe when he reappears after the first half is a changed person. The story was a very interesting one and while it had dark themes, it wasn’t a dark fantasy story. There are romantic elements which make it a bit of a light read.

I wanted to like this book but there were a lot of things that didn’t work. As the story focuses on Mirah solely showing her transformation while glossing over Gabe’s. It felt uneven as Gabe is supposed to be a co-protagonist. The story might work for readers who are looking for fantasy with a slight romantic bent as well as a few dark elements. Again this turned out to be a title for which perhaps I’m not the ideal reading audience.


Wings of Fate by Skye Horn

Wings Of Fate was another title with romantic elements (it seems this is my year for romantic fantasy titles). This book deals with a lost Faerie princess Thea who finds out about her past after the death of her adopted parents. The story is of the YA level and this was the one factor that perhaps didn’t lead me to enjoy it as much. There’s also a strong romantic element and that’s nicely offset with comedy and action which make the story a lively read.

Overall this story was a fun story. The author certainly knows how to write an engaging story and makes it quite fast paced. There was never a dull moment and even though it was  very predictable. I can very well see it score solidly among a YA crowd.


The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin

This book was quite different from all of the rest of the titles in my batch and it started slowly and was full of tropes. However it had heart and focused on Cego a young lad who’s discovered by Murray Pearson whose job as a Greivar scout is to unearthen hidden warriors. From then on we get a rousing tale wherein many one-on-one battles are fought. Plus with likeable characters as well as a mystery about the protagonist’s past, this debut story really grabbed my attention and I was able to read without taking any breaks. This story was an action-packed one and the characters even though while sticking to a bit to tropes are written refreshingly well.

So that was my batch and as you can see while it was a varied batch (with quite a few featuring romantic elements). I was able to finish four titles that really held my attention with their story telling prowess:

Feast Of The Mother
Pradyutita
The Assassin’s Gift
The Combat Codes

Now begins the hard part of parsing through my recollections and trying to choose one semifinalist. This was more than a bit tricky as among these four, there were two titles that I felt rather strongly about because the authors were able to provide an immersive story, solid characterization and an end twist that left me wanting the sequel immediately.

Therein lies my dichotomy as one title hearkens to my cultural past and was written in such a way that even while knowing the original story, it left me stunned with the authorial plot twists and character turns. The second story is a quintessential action drama that plays on your emotions and gives some amazing action sequences. It very much reminded me of some of my favourite action movies.

So again I was back to square one and at this stage I didn’t want to lose either title but I did have to make my decision so here we go


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And so my semifinalists are:


The Combat Codes (Alexander Darwin) & Pradyutita (Geetha Krishnan)

Yes I’m selecting two semifinalists as I believe both titles are worthy stories and I wish for my blog mates to read and see if they can choose one over the other. So my hearty congratulations to Geetha and Alexander, you both are proceeding to the next part and joining E.G. Radcliff as Fantasy Book Critic's semifinalists.

I’ll be reviewing both titles in the next couple of weeks as well as doing interviews with both of the authors. So checkout both of these amazing stories and now onward with Adam who will also be announcing his semifinalist soon in the forthcoming weeks.

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