#SPFBO – down to the last four.

Posted On 12 December 2017

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I’m down to the final stage of round 1 of the SPFBO with 7 books chosen.  Having given each of these entries a good deal of thought I’ve now eliminated three more books from the final seven.  I’ve enjoyed all of the books that I selected and I confess it makes me feel bad having to choose between them but that’s the nature of a competition.  The first three books that I have now removed from my possibilities are reviewed below.  What I can say is that I enjoyed all of the books I chose as my first stage finalists:

dirtandThe Saga of Dirt and Poncho by Clayton Baker, Michael Kuecker

The write up on Goodreads is as follows:

Frank sucks. Or at least his life does, not that he’d know. When he meets Dirt and Poncho his life changes from sucks to really sucks. But hey, at least it’s interesting now. Now he gets to almost die on a daily basis and generally have no idea what it going on around him. His new friends make it a point to put him in harms way all while telling him how important he is. Murder doesn’t seem important to Frank but he ends up trapped by his own indecision and possibly idiocy in an insane plot to end the world, or save it. It’s pretty hard to tell.

Frank thinks it’s all B.S.

If you can’t guess from the write up I’ll clarify for you – this is actually a fun and entertaining read.  It reads as though the two authors didn’t really have a sense of direction, they just set out and waited to see where the story took them and along the way it feels like they definitely had some fun coming up with the various plot elements.

At the start of the story we make the acquaintance of Frank.  Frank is a PI, living alone following a divorce and with a slightly ambivalent attitude towards life until he meets two blokes in a bar who apparently want to hire him.  Could be for his detecting skills or perhaps he has some other innate ability that they have been able to spot.  Anyway, Frank takes the first job that they offer, the remuneration being rather attractive, and finds himself on a stakeout waiting to take pictures of a vampire.  Even though he doesn’t believe vampires exist he goes along with the job and from there Dirt and Poncho become a firm part of his life.  I won’t really elaborate further other than to say Frank’s new friends send him on a couple of further jobs involving werewolves and the fae before going to Frankenstein town.

So, this reads like an urban fantasy story with a difference.  Basically, Frank doesn’t really have any idea what’s going on, he keeps taking part in these insane plots because there seems almost no alternative, like the reader he’s gripped by the mystery and he’s just going with the flow and waiting to see what happens.

What I enjoyed about this story was the sense of mystery and the fun way it’s written.  Dirt and Poncho are an oddball double act, I couldn’t help picturing them as Jay and Silent Bob although I’m not going to try and pin down why that is.  Frank – well, he could have pressed the point a little more at times and in that way he’s a little bit irritating.  He never really tries to get any answers about what’s going on and part of me wonders if that’s because the authors didn’t have the answers either.  The whole story has a slightly tongue in cheek feel to it and the story seems to grow and gather momentum in an almost sporadic but amusing fashion.

In terms of criticisms.  I think the way the dialogue is written is a bit chaotic until you get used to it and perhaps a little bit of polishing and refining could help with that aspect.  The ending has a rushed feeling and is a bit of a let down in some respects – at the same time I couldn’t help wondering if the ending was a playful take on the SPFBO competition itself – I don’t want to spoil things other than to say ‘there can be only one’.  There are still no answers and part of me is still left wondering if that’s because there’s no real plan here – and perhaps there simply isn’t going to be a resolution, maybe there’ll just be more chaotically crazy adventures.

On the whole this was a fast paced read, it led me on a bit of a journey through the tropes of fantasy and I can’t deny that I had some fun whilst reading.  A book that doesn’t take itself too seriously and although humour can sometimes be difficult to pull off I think the comedy elements here work well.

warwitchWar Witch by Layla Nash

War Witch is a story full of creative world building and fantasy creatures such as witches, shifters and demons .  The world here is one in which an Alliance between humans and Others exist.  The Alliance was formed after a long and bloody war between humans and the Other’s and as part of the pact there are strict rules in place to keep the, albeit tentative, peace.  The witches agreed to answer to the wolf pack alpha and as such are now required to wear rings of identify to allow others to easily establish their ranking.  Externals are the human task force that monitor the supernaturals.  I hope I’ve not overly complicated that description – all this is delivered as part of the story and in an easy to understand fashion.

The main protagonist is Lily.  Lily is trying her best to live anonymously.  For her own reasons she refuses to be aligned and has no ring of identification which puts her at constant risk of being questioned and detained by the Externals.  Lily was a war witch and, although her actions were at the time considered heroic and fundamental in deciding the course of the war and the eventual alliance, she now suffers from her own terrible sense of guilt and also the fear and mistrust of others due to her actions at the time.

At the start of the story Lily intervenes in a dark magic attack that could leave her vulnerable to suspicion.  An investigation begins with Lily sitting as the prime suspect.  Of course this serves to highlight a number of other political issues and feelings of unrest.  A number of witches die in suspicious circumstances, dark magic has been detected and the wolf pack alpha wants to talk to Lily.  Underneath it all a sinister plot simmers.

I must say this was a fast paced and enjoyable read.  The world building is well developed and the plot keeps you on your toes.

The characters – whilst they don’t particularly break any moulds they’re easy to get on with.  There is a simmering romance bubbling under the surface but this in no way dominates the story.

In terms of criticisms.  I think my main issue was with Lily, she definitely had trust issues and whilst part of that is understandable in some respects in others she seemed to cause a lot of additional trouble for herself because she wouldn’t ask for help.  Sometimes I just wanted to shake her a little – I do appreciate a strong lead character and Lily came across like that in some ways but part of being a strong lead sometimes involves playing to your own strengths and also involving others where necessary and in that respect Lily definitely falters.  I also didn’t really get a feeling of her being all powerful as a war witch but I think that’s just my own lack of understanding more than anything else at this point.

Criticisms aside the conclusion ends on a note that promises more to follow and at this point this is a series that I would be interested in continuing to read.

everwinterEverwinter (The Wrath of the Northmen #1) by Elizabeth Baxter

Set in the land of Thanderlay Everwinter is a story about Old Gods breaking free from imprisonment and bringing a harsh winter to the world.  A winter that threatens to devour all.  Variss appears to have already fallen and it now seems to fall to the citizens of Ral Tora and Chellin to join together to try and save themselves from the winter that is coming their way.  The real issue here however is the nature of the cities and whether they can even agree to agree.  Ral Tora is a City based on invention, a city of engineers who are attempting to fight off the cold of winter by creating an underground heating system to keep it’s citizens alive.  The City of Chellin is heavily religious, it’s citizens believe their God will rescue them from the throes of the ever winter.  Added to this we have the main protagonist, Bram – who there appears to be more to than originally meets the eye.

Everwinter has the makings of a very good epic read.  It gets off to a good start and introduces us to interesting characters and fantasy creatures along the way.  I enjoyed the read but with a few reservations.

The prologue is very intriguing as we follow a battalion of soldiers accompanying their king into the hills on what turns out to be a deadly mission.  From there we meet up with Bram and get a feel for his life as an engineer.  As the story unfolds the City receives a delegation of visitors from Chellin, led by their Regal, Astrid.  Astrid is on a mission.  She is determined to get to Variss and has an idea of exactly who she wishes to accompany her.  As you may imagine Bram is one of these characters, the other being Falen Godwinsson, a native of Variss – who is also keen to return to her homeland and search for possible survivors.  Now obviously, everything isn’t going to be as easy as it seems, the two cities are far from seeing eye to eye, it seems both have secrets that will eventually be revealed and politics and back stabbing are taking the upper hand in the city of Chellin, particularly whilst the Regal is away.

In terms of criticisms.  I think this is a novel that maybe needs some paring down, or at least for me it lacked information in some areas but had a surfeit in others.  This led to the story dragging a little as the first half progressed.  It’s not unusual for first instalments to go a little overboard in setting up the story and this is definitely true for Everwinter, that being said I like the author’s style of writing, I just feel that the first half could have moved along a little quicker.  Bram felt like a good character, he feels young and a little naive and I liked that although he had obvious intelligence he didn’t jump to ridiculous conclusions about his future role in this story.  I wasn’t overly keen on the character Astrid and I’m not sure if that was the author’s intention or not.  The City of Chellin seems to be in the throes of political manoeuvring with devious characters plotting to take over – but I’m not sure those devious characters were any more sneaky than Astrid.

I thought this made a good start.  It has the promise of more goodness to come and in spite of a slow start it definitely picks up the pace during the last third of the book.

 

Those are my thoughts on the first three books to be reviewed.  As I mentioned I’ve now narrowed down my choice to the following four books which I will be reviewing and choosing a finalist from in the next couple of days:

  1. Jack Bloodfist: Fixer by James Jakins
  2. Today is Too Late by Burke Fitzpatrick
  3. The Archbishop’s Amulet by Watson Davis
  4. The Empire of the Dead by Phil Tucker

 

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5 Responses to “#SPFBO – down to the last four.”

  1. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Oooh, and the field narrows again! Looks like wee’re coming down to the wire.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yep, just four books – but it’s so difficult to choose.
      Lynn 😀

  2. sjhigbee

    Excellent reviews – and as ever I’m awestruck at the energy and painstaking time you put into your judgements. You are a star!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Thanks Sarah – I must admit this year the competition has been fierce and I have the last four now to choose between – so difficult.
      Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        I got the impression that it was going to be a fiendishly difficult judgement:))

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