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Sunday, August 7, 2022

SPFBO 8: The Fifth Winnowing (Mihir's Batch)


 This year is the 8th edition of this wonderful competition and also our 8th time participating in it. It’s my pleasure to be able to review our last mini-lot. The books in my lot have been a wide variety across the fantasy spectrum.  I also had the unique distinction of having the biggest book (in terms of page count for this SPFBO edition) in my lot of six titles.

I must reiterate that the thoughts below are entirely my own and are subjective in  terms of opinion. Any reader might find their experience with any of these titles to be different than mine and so please keep that in mind. Here are the six titles that were randomly selected for me to read:


We Break Immortals – This was the first title, which I jumped into because of the exciting nature of the story, and of course I had heard praise for the innovative worldbuilding showcased within the book. I went in to the story with an open mind and while it was really a strange and exciting world. The story didn’t quite come together until I reached about 17-20% of the book. Now that’s not a lot to decide about the book but looking at the 1000-page plus page count that roughly meant that I had read about 150-200 pages and finally the story and characters started to make sense to me. I couldn’t in good conscience put this forward knowing that you have to read at least 150-200 pages to get intrigued by it (Malazan fans however might feel differently). I have to point out though, the worldbuilding is possibly one of the best I've read in indie fantasy and I plan to read it separately to see how the characterization & plot fare. 

I had to cut this book however I will be reading this book on its own and will be reviewing down the line as I do wish to see what happens next for the story. Kudos to the author for creating such a 


Quenched In Blood – This was a cool multi-genre book which based on the blurb was very exciting. It focuses on a dystopian world that has Norse gods and mythology and is also an action packed fantasy thriller. I dove into this book in with lots of anticipation. First things first, Sean Crow has to be lauded for coming up with the premise of this story that mixes corporate espionage, Norse magic, military action and the Fae. Seriously if that set up doesn’t excite your imagination, then I gotta wonder why are you even reading fantasy. The book is a bit confusing as it’s book 2 of a series but book 1 is a collection of short stories that flesh out character and world backstories. So this book 2 is the first full-length story and hence it qualifies for the SPFBO.

For me, this book was a mixed bag because while the world settings enamoured me, the story execution left me a little cold. The main reason was that often in the story, the characters refer to previous scenarios or reference certain events that were a tad confusing. Again maybe this would have made a bit more sense if I had read the previous book (short story collection). This was the biggest flaw of the book for me and so I had to DNF it at around 30%.


The Reborn PrinceJulianne Munich's debut had a very cool set up, the main character of Prince Renaud (Luc) has magically induced amnesia and what he does not know is that his own mother is the person doing so. I liked this set up and dove into it. The author recreates a historical and magical version of Paris, which was a real pleasure to read. The story takes a while to get going and the author takes her time to build up the characters and the plot scenario. The author also showcases a lot of politics and society nuances within this story and I enjoyed it. The central romance of the story plays out very slowly and solidly.  The one drawback was the pace was very, very slow and this was why I had to DNF the book around the 40% mark.

Again perhaps I wasn’t the best reader for this story and maybe other romance readers might have enjoyed this more than me.


Dying Wishes – This was a book that I was attracted too based on what the plot details were announced in the blurb. Focusing on dual timelines, we get to meet Infinity a collector of dying people’s wishes that helps them attain Moksha. In the past timeline, we meet a young child named Ananya who faces a rough upbringing and is loved by her mother. These two timelines are very enticing and kept me rooted. I must say though the past timeline was my favourite as it was set in the southern part of India. The story then slowly and surely causes the two timelines to converge and along the way, we get a solid dollop of Indian mythology (which I loved).

I have to highlight the author’s characterization with the young Ananya as well the elder Infinity. We are drawn in to a world wherein characters hold the interest throughout. The biggest drawback for me was the pace of the story that stayed on the slower side throughout and the ending was more on a personal note than an earth-shattering one. This was entirely a personal choice by the author and I respect her trying to buck the genre’s demands. The story leaves a decent opening for a sequel if the author should decide to do so. Overall this was a three-star read.


Yellow Tape and Coffee – This was an interesting book in terms of its plot setting. The story is set in and around Portland (Oregon) and features a war between a clan of werewolves. This isn’t a traditional urban fantasy and it was great to read something that had more of a horror edge to it. One of the biggest plus points of the story is set in Portland and now being a native Oregonian, it was fun to read a story set in the same city. The author is also a native and drops in a lot of cultural and geographical observations, which were spot on and fun to read.

The main story is more of a mystery as to what is causing this war and all the murders and the author lays down the metaphorical bread crumbs for the readers to make sense of it. There’s a myriad of characters (Veer Rosen, Gordon, Carl, detective Diaz, Victor the alpha etc.) and each of the their subplots begins and seemingly goes its own way. The author does eventually make it all come together in the end but that’s after nearly 700-plus pages. The plot pace is solid throughout which is a plus. For me I didn’t quite connect with the characters as much as I wished to. Overall while I finished this story, I would rate it as a 3-star read.


Wild Lands – This book was one that I wish I had read when I was started reading fantasy books more than twenty years ago. This book has a very effective hook in its set up about a potential powerful magic user in our MC Bree. She flees her poor life as otherwise she would be stuck in an abysmal situation however her father joins her to help her make the journey. The story is again a big one and the characterization wasn’t special for me to connect with the characters. Bree’s father is a unlikeable character & while I’ve no problem with unlikeable characters. Here there’s no reasoning given besides the plot needing him to be as such. For me this story didn’t work at all from a narrative purpose, neither did I connect with the characters nor the pace wasn’t anything to brag about. I had to DNF it around the 25% mark.


So those are my quick thoughts about the books in my lot, which brings to me to the next step of deciding which book could be a semifinalist. Here’s where I have to be truly apologize to all of the authors. None of the titles in my lot made an indelible mark in my mind and hence I cannot nominate any of the titles as a semifinalist.

I must reiterate that there’s nothing bad about these books and they will have their fans. For me, they didn’t quite work and hence I had to either DNF them or if I finished reading them, they were a 3-star read IMHO. Hence at the end of this round, Fantasy Book Critic has announced three semifinalists so far and that number will be staying constant. We will be presenting our joint reviews on all three semifinalists soon and will be revealing our SPFBO finalist in the next month or so.


Anitha Krishnan said...

Hi Mihir,

I'm absolutely over the moon after reading your thoughts on and your rating of my work, Dying Wishes! Going into the competition, I was really hoping the book would land in your lap given its focus on Indian mythology, and I'm very very happy that you enjoyed various aspects of the story! I did entertain the thought of a sequel at one point, but I wanted to step away from that world for a bit ... now that you've suggested it, I'm very tempted to head that way again, keeping in mind your feedback on pacing and ending. Thank you for reading my work until the end. I absolutely treasure the 3 stars you gave it! :)

(I posted this over on the FB group of SPFBO, and thought I'd leave this here too.) Thanks again for your time and feedback!



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