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Friday, May 19, 2023

SPFBO 9 Introduction Post - meet the Fantasy Book Critic Team + Top 3 covers

We're excited to announce we'll be participating in SPFBO for the ninth time. WooHoo! This year, we will have five judges on board and we're happy to welcome two new ones: Esmay and Chels. Here is a brief introduction to all of us involved in the contest:

Adam:  Born and raised in New Jersey strong and currently residing outside Philadelphia, Adam has had an unwavering passion for reading his entire life. With the help of his favorite toy, Speak'n'Spell, he started reading at age two and hasn't stopped reading ever since. He enjoys fantasy and science fiction, 20th-century noir, historical fiction, and satire. 

Favorite writers include Mark Lawrence, Elmore Leonard, Jim Thompson, Devin Madson, Robert Jackson Bennett, David Sedaris, Tina Fey, Josiah Bancroft, and Richard Nell. 

While not reading, you can find Adam doing a poor impression of working out at the gym, telling Dad jokes to his daughters or glued to the nearest New Jersey Devils' hockey game. Often at the same time. 

Follow his reading progress through his Goodreads page. 

Chels: Chelsea has been an avid reader since childhood. With a chaotic ability to read multiple books at the same time, her TBR is never ending. A lifelong lover of fantasy, she’s always looking for her next adventure.

Favourite authors include D W Ross, Ryan Cahill, Fonda Lee and S A Chakraborty to name a few.

Esmay: Esmay is a 21-year-old ‘professional’ book devourer from The Netherlands. Her main hobbies include reading books, reviewing books, talking about books, and watching videos of other people talking about books. She admits that she might have a (slight) obsession with anything related to books, but she does not think that is a problem. She is also a big indie/self-pub enthusiast and loves everything about the indie (SFF) community.

Fantasy will forever be her true love, but her tastes are quite eclectic and she will probably read anything if the premise sounds even slightly intriguing... or if the cover is really gorgeous. Also, bonus points if the story will cause emotional destruction because she is weird that way. 

Some of her favourite authors include Krystle Matar, Tim Hardie, Ryan Cahill, Sarah Chorn, Jay Kristoff, Brian Staveley, M.A. Carrick, Maggie Stiefvater, T. Kingfisher, Michael J. Sullivan and Ken Liu. 

She can be found on nearly every single social media platform under the name esmayrosalyne.

Lukasz: An avid fiction reader from Poland, Lukasz's biggest passions are reading and movement in various forms. He reads widely, although fantasy is his favorite genre, and his favorite authors include Terry Pratchett, Mark Lawrence, Philip K. Dick, Brian Evenson, and Robert McCammon. He is also active on r/fantasy as barb4ry1. Goodreads profile.

Mihir: Born and raised in Mumbai, India, Mihir is an avid book collector and longtime reader of fantasy, thrillers, and Indian mythology. He is also interested in historical fiction and urban fantasy and enjoys cricket and football. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest and is always eager to discover new authors and old books.

We would like to thank Mark Lawrence for his dedication to running this contest and for being a patron of self-published authors. 

All ten blogs have been assigned their respective lots, and the following are the titles (along with the FBC team members assigned to read them) from which the FBC finalist is most likely to emerge:


We divided our batch into five smaller ones. Here's the list of our books and judges who'll read them. If something catches your attention, add it to your Goodreads TBR.


Hack, Slash & Burn by Todd Herzman
Out of Shadows by Oliver Carman
Rada by Tracy M. Jones
That Good Mischief by Lyra Wolf
The Last Ranger by J.D.L. Rosell


Crucible of Lies by Mitchell Hogan
Curse of the Fallen by H.C. Newell
Red Mage by H.D. Woolf
Volcano City by Grace Bridges


Beautiful Undone by Melissa Polk
Death's Disciple by Emma L. Adams
The Heart of Jesparia by Alex Hanson
The Ruptured Sky by Jessica A. McMinn
The Vow That Twisted Fate by Katherine D. Graham
Where Madness Lies by Heidi K. Allen



Night's Reign by Daan Katz
The Cataclysm by Aaron Jackson
The Daughter of the Ice by Luis Filcao de Magalhaes
The Girl and Her Demon by M.X. Walker

The Process

Each team member will pick a semi-finalist from their mini-batch of six titles. Each judge will read all the semi-finalists, and the finalist will be chosen based on criteria such as story/plot, characterization, world-building, and writing style. By having five team members involved in reading each semi-finalist, we hope to counter any potential bias.

While we'll try to post our thoughts on each book, it may not always be possible. Ideally, we'll announce a semi-finalist after going through a batch of six books, but there may be instances when we don't select any book from a particular batch. We'll provide proper reviews for our semi-finalists and offer each author an interview to go along with the review.

We want to ensure that our reviews reflect our honest opinions about the books we read. If your book isn't selected, it doesn't mean that it's a poor-quality book, but simply that it didn't match our tastes. The books we love might not always be the ones that you like and vice versa. We'll do our best to select the book that we feel is the best of our lot, irrespective of the sub-genre it belongs to within fantasy.

Some thoughts

We're excited to discover new books and titles! That being said, we would like to share a few thoughts. Firstly, covers matter. They sell your books, so try to make them as visually appealing as possible. While cover art can be expensive, it's worth looking for artists building their portfolios or using professional book templates when the budget is an issue. We want readers to notice your books, and having unappealing cover art may deter potential readers from even opening your book.

Having your book's metadata in the proper places is also important. SPFBO's biggest strength is in providing a free spotlight to books, so don't deprive yourself of this opportunity by not listing your book on Goodreads or listing it with an outdated cover or no metadata. This can confuse potential readers and make them lose interest.

Cover Contest - out Top 3 picks

Lastly, we're also posting our top three covers. To determine the top three, we rated all the books with a maximum score of 50 (10 from each judge), and we're delighted to present our top picks. You can view the other judges picks at the official cover contest page

1. Curse of the Fallen by H.C. Newell; Cover Design by Thea Magerand

2. Death's Disciple by Emma L. Adams; Cover art by Deranged Doctor Design

3. Forge of the Fallout by Ben Green; Cover art by



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