Blog Archive

View My Stats
Friday, July 30, 2021

SPFBO: The Fourth Depletion & Semifinalist Update (by Mihir Wanchoo)

 


Read Fantasy Book Critic’s first semifinalist update

Read Fantasy Book Critic’s second semifinalist update

Read Fantasy Book Critic’s third semifinalist update

 

Hullo folks, thank you for your patience as I get to complete our lot of 30 books. These were the seven books that were randomly assigned to me and it is my pleasure to read them. I want to point out to the authors that these thoughts are my own and I’ve to be as fair as possible. Other readers/reviewers can of course disagree.


But as things stand, only one title can proceed ahead as a semifinalist. So to discern which title would it be, I read nearly 25% of all titles before deciding which titles to continue ahead with. Here are my thoughts on all seven based on what I read:


Bad Dreams by Kenneth Buff – This book had a very intriguing promise, a troubled and bullied teen John who commits suicide, is given a very specific task by the devil and the denizens of hell to torment those that they deem as sinners. John is a dream (Nightmare) forger who’s main job is to send them horrific nightmares and he quite enjoys this. Things however, come to a tricky situation when his next project is a 15 year old girl Danielle. Who the devil has ascertained is guilty of not protecting her younger brother from her father’s wrath. This is where the story gets interesting as John thinks she is not at fault and what happens next forms the crux of the story.

This book definitely had an original hook to it and I read the 25-30% of the story really quickly.  The way the book was unfolding and with its pace, I was able to quickly read through the book in its entirety. The writing was simple and easy to follow and the author definitely made John a very likeable character. The book’s plot is a standalone story and the way the book ends it certainly felt complete.

I really enjoyed this story and the story certainly would translate well to a cinematic medium. While it has a dark aspect to it, the book definitely had a unique riff about hell and one’s life afterwards. The negative parts for it were the writing style that was very Spartan and perhaps took a bit of shine off the story. Lastly the characterization besides John isn’t all that spectacular and this will definitely be a point against the book.

 


Mirror Shards by Olga Werby – This was such a different story as I was reading throughout the first 25%. It was really hard to predict where the plot would go next. It begins on a very normal real world scenario, we meet Hig a disabled boy who lives with his loving family and upon visiting a local fair gets access to a different life via a portal but things are different as his uncle is missing and his mother has passed away. Years later he gets a chance to redo his life, will he take it?

This was a book, which inherently threads the SF and fantasy genres and was a little bit tricky for me to navigate. The writing style and the characterization were very simplistic and while the premise promised a lot of zany but meaningful stuff. The book didn’t land at all with me, now I must STRESS that this is purely a “me” thing. I wasn’t the right reader for this sort of a story and so I had to stop reading around the 22-25% mark.

 


King of The Hollow Dark by Cat Hellisen – This was another of those books that from its blurb, I knew I was in for a bit of wildly unique read. The King Of The Hollow Dark is a book that’s hard to classify but if I had describe it, I would call it a contemporary secondary world fantasy with a focus of necromancy.

The main story focusses on Georgina, a daughter of a necromancer who was sentenced to death for practicing necromancy. Georgina however has lived all of her life under that dark shadow and now finds herself lost from her physical existence. Things take a stranger turn as she notices that the fate of reality is at stake.

This was my first Cat Hellisen book and in a word, it is BRILLIANT. The writing, the complex world building, the mix of technology within a contemporary magical fantasy world and the concept of death as a religion. All of this and more is explored in this book and what a story it is. For those who love Josiah Bancroft, will find a kindred spirit in Cat Hellisen. She writes with a similar flair and perhaps a touch of Le Guin with her imaginative and detailed world. The only thing that I can say, as a mild detracting point was that this book s lacks is the pace which is quite languid. This is not a complaint but I believe a very (very) mild factor that perhaps might stop it from being a proper 5 star read.

 


The Clarity Of Cold Steel by Kevin Wright - This was a book that had me the most excited as it featured a protagonist of Indian origin and a world, which seemed a bit post-apocalyptic but also has a lot of Indian/subcontinental elements. 

 The story is a seemingly straightforward one that features a Dalit detective Avinash Shakteel (keep the name in mind, I’ll get back to it), who gets strong-armed into a search for a young boy who perhaps might be dead. The story is set in Machine City which is the last bastion of humanity and the people that live within it perhaps can’t be called as the best of humanity. 

What I liked about the story was its pace and the genre mix of the main plot. It’s a solid mix of procedural noir with SF and fantasy. The additional cherry on the cake were the Indian elements that were sprinkled within the story. But while the genre mix of the story worked very well for me, what also spoiled the read for me was the inconsistency of the Indian cultural elements. Namely beginning with the protagonist’s name, Avinash is supposed to be a dalit but his last name Shakteel is nonsensical (for example, imagine a protagonist says he’s an American and his last name is Pavis instead of Davis). The Indian names mentioned within the book are accurate for some and nonsensical for others. 


There’s a thing going around on twitter a few weeks ago about what a Japanese gaming company imagined American surnames to be and I believe it’s very appropriate here. I wish the author had explained why he choose to go with made-up names for some characters as otherwise it seems that the author didn’t do research properly and he was being lazy. I’m unable to confirm as to what the cause was and even if I gave the author the benefit of the doubt. My read was still marred by this. 

 Overall while this was a decent and innovative story, the inconsistencies in the world building left me a bit sour and hence I had to cut this one as well.

 


Uncharted by Alli Temple – This was a book that I really liked based on the blurb, the main plot of the story deals with pirate captain Cinder who is a right terror. Georgina is a resistance fighter against the current royalty of Redmere. Soon to be bethroted to the Prince of Redmere in seven days, Georgina becomes aware about a plot against her life and then finds her abducted by pirates. Therein she finds herself in the presence of feared captain Cinder and her deadly crew.

The story then jumps off from there and is quite action-packed. The main plot of the story is also the romance between Cinder and Georgina who also share a connection from their past. I also enjoyed the romance aspect of the story which is tad slow-burn and then culminating a strong finish. The book thankfully does not abandon its action-adventure elements for the romance and successfully manages a precise balancing job. The side character cast is also three-dimensional and I really enjoyed getting to know most of them. The story is a standalone but the world is rich enough to warrant more stories and I for one would love to see more.

The world setting and political machinations of the story make me want to know more about what happens next. While there’s a solid conclusion to Georgina and Cinder’s story, there’s space for more and for other characters to be featured next. Overall this was a solidly fun story and one that left me wanting to read more from the author, plus I saw that the audiobook is narrated Emily Woo Zeller so I’ll be wanting to check it out as well as I really enjoyed her narration for the DFZ trilogy.

 


The Ridden by Joshua Kern – This was promised as a Gamelit Apocalypse Progression Fantasy story and while that’s a long list of subgenres tagged along. I have to give kudos to the author for attempting to write this fusion.

The story begins with a prologue and then we are taken into the past where Chris our protagonist finds himself being cuckolded and has a near nervous breakdown because of it. Chris is told to be a sensitive guy and this betrayal really does a number on him. Soon however, he finds himself amidst a “zombie” apocalypse of sorts and this is how the book kicks into high gear.

First things first, kudos to the author for just jumping into the story without any major preambles and then having just amp up with each chapter. This is unfortunately where I’ve to stop my praise as the writing just didn’t do much to capture my attention. Chris as a main POV character also was not an engaging one and I had to quit the story around the 30% mark.

Again I reiterate this was a book that didn’t work for me, akin to Mirror Shards above, I wasn’t the right audience for it. I’m sure there will be readers who might enjoy this fast paced story about zombies and the apocalypse in which the humans turn out to be the worse ones.

 


Norylska Groans by M. R. Fletcher & Clayton Snyder – This book had me hooked when I found out about its Russian-inspired setting and because it was written by dark fantasy aficionados Messrs. Snyder & Fletcher. They both write the sort of stories that might make your hair curl or have you besotted with their worlds or both at the same time. This collaborative book was the one that I read and savored all the way through.

The story focusses on two POV characters Gendy and Katyusha, both seemingly insignificant people who are stuck in a city that sucks the joy out of their and everyone’s lives. But then things take a left turn and they are set on a collision course with the city, each other and a special kind of villain who almost nobody knows about.

This story was a crime-noir story wrapped in a low fantasy world (that’s either secondary fantasy seemingly or maybe something else as mentioned by the authors in their interview). The first thing that bowled me over was the world settings that are frankly fantabulous. Even though Norylska is an icy hellhole, Messrs Fletcher and Snyder have written it so vividly and elegantly that it’s hard to not imagine it. In this regards, they very much create a unique story genre and for once I was not complaining at all.

The story ends and it left me wanting more and more stories set within the world. My only complaints for it was the end resolution truly did not provide much about the villain’s actual reasons as well as more history about the world. Otherwise it’s a bloody and fantastic story.


So there we have it, my lot was varied and exciting to say the least. So when it came down to narrowing down to one eventual semifinalist, it was bloody hard. I could not do it because two books blew my mind and they were these two:



King Of The Hollow Dark was a mesmerizing story about the past, and how one’s actions can redeem the past and possibly change the future. Surprising Norylska Groans follows a similar tract. Norylska Groans also has an immersive world that just invites the readers to drop in and stay entranced, The very same compliment can be told of KOTHD.

So you can see why I was having such a hard time, the only way I could have a single semifinalist is if I tried to eliminate title that had the more drawbacks and in this regard, one book fell just a little behind.

So without any further ado, my semifinalist is

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Almost there

 

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

 

Norylskya Groans, kudos to you both Clayton and Michael and now the hard task begins for Jen, Jonathan, Lukasz and me to select a worthy finalist from our four magnificient semifinalists.


0 comments:

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “The Combat Codes” by Alexander Darwin!!!


Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “Grievar's Blood” by Alexander Darwin


Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “TSairĊ’s Claw” by Virginia McClain!!!
Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “The Company Of Birds” by Nerine Dorman!!!
Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “The True Bastards” by Jonathan French!!!
Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click Here To Order “Rumble In Woodhollow” by Jonathan Pembroke!!!
Order HERE