#SPFBO 8 Second Batch of Books: Feedback


What is SPFBO? Check out Mark Lawrence’s post here to look at this year’s entrants, judges and allocations list.

I am teaming up again with the ladies from The Critiquing Chemist.

Today’s post is about giving feedback on the second batch of SPFBO books I picked up.  I have fifteen books altogether and I’ve tried out a different process this year.  I had three batches of randomly chosen books equalling five books a month for the first three months.   As previously mentioned I will be giving every book in my batch a fair chance and in fact I’ve read at least 30% (and more often than that more) of each book.  Having  partially read all 15 books I’m now in a position to start to make cuts and choose which books I will be fully reading before choosing a semi finalist. I will provide a short review of my initial thoughts for the books that I have to say goodbye to – always the saddest part of the competition which is why I find myself delaying the inevitable.  Before the end of September I will post two further updates with further cuts.  At this point, and to be clear, the books I’m rolling forward at this stage are not Semi Finalists but are in the running to become so. I aim to complete all my potential SFs by the end of September at which point I hope to select one or two books as Semi Finalists for the Critiquing Chemist to read (and they will do likewise) – we will then decide on our Finalist.

Without further ado:

Candle and Claw by Stephen James Taylor


Giovel Ullin’s job is to stop witches from crafting experimental magic and destroying the world. It’s a job he never wanted. Every time he hunts a witch, he’s reminded of the ones who stole his wife away and sent her back distant, delusional, and dying. Even worse, the same magic that ruined her life is now part of his​​-a tool Giovel’s expected to master for the sake of his duties.

When a coterie of witches begins systematically removing Giovel’s companions, he has little choice but to fight back. But the more he learns about his own power, the more he sees himself in the very witches he hunts.

Candle and Claw is the first volume in The Witherclaw Trilogy. Packed with hard magic, nuanced characters, and epic conflicts, Candle and Claw will appeal to fans of Brent Weeks and Brandon Sanderson.

My thoughts:

I found Candle and Claw interesting to the point I read up to – which was roughly a third. This is a story set in a world full of strife and magic.  War is a constant, temporarily held at bay by inclement weather alone.  Magic exists, fueled by a Sun and magical glyphs, anyone can wield magic although it needs to awaken. When magic awakens In a person they must report their newfound abilities to the Order.  Those that fail to do so are sought out by Mages before they cause havoc.  Meanwhile, across the country ‘spiritings’ take place – the reason behind which is yet to be discovered.  People simply disappear and if/when they reappear they are altered or die.

Giovel’s wife was spirited away – The Order believe that witches are the cause – and subsequently passed away.  Now, part of the Order, he seeks the witches responsible for his wife’s death.  

Varan appears mysteriously, apparently spirited away herself.  She is under the protection of the Order until they can find out more about her mystery.  She is powerful with magic and thus the witches will seek her out.

Claravena is a witch – ambitious and a bit reckless.

There are more characters but these are the ones that stood out.

I enjoyed this, it reads well, I particularly liked the opening snippets that started each chapter and I can see that these storylines are going to come together well.  That being said, at this point,I hadn’t developed any strong attachments, although Varan seemed to be the voice of reason.  The Order all seem to be at loggerheads with each other, which, while I’m sure is all part of the grand design, is slightly annoying nonetheless.  I think I wanted a slight spattering of lightness here and there which felt lacking at this point.

Slight issues aside this gets off to a good start. It felt similar in some respects to other novels but I think it stands on its own merit.

Conclusion: Cut


The Lich of Thandorien by Zak Dragon


Old high school classmates and current drinking buddies, Phil and Don find themselves transported into a Crypts & Crusades role-playing adventure they had abandoned five years earlier. If that wasn’t bad enough, it seems that some of the non-player characters, or Extra Dungeon Personalities (EDPs) as they now prefer to be called, have taken on a life of their own during the extended downtime and have veered away from the normal script. Fortunately for the daring duo, there is plenty of beer and they manage to get a little help along the way from an inquisitive but emotional ranger, a home-brewing, pub-owning dwarf and his ogre bartender, a grumpy old gardener and a host of other colorful characters. But will it be enough to defeat the crypt’s antagonist, locate a powerful relic and get out alive?

My thoughts:

This is a book that falls into litRPG.  Two men find themselves transported into an old D&D style game that they played previously but lost interest in a few years prior.  As the book begins we meet Phil and Don, they wake up in their own places  of residence, suffering hangovers, to discover outside their front doors a totally different landscape.  Eventually, the two realise that they’ve been pulled back into their old game although some of the rules seem to have changed.  Basically, Phil and Don fairly quickly figure out that they need to complete the game in order to return to their normal lives – however, things have become more complicated during their absence and some of the rules have changed.

This is an easy to engage with story with a fun feel.  The two characters, as would be expected, soon discover that they can pick up artefacts along the way and use certain characters that are positioned in order to engage players and provide information.  Within short order they’ve found a bar – because, beer – and asked another character to join their quest.  I read up to about 37% or thereabouts, by which time the two characters had been given the heads up about a number of issues by their new teammate and a gardener who seems to live next door to them.

So, as I mentioned this was certainly very easy to read by the point I broke off, but, to be fair to the author I’m not a gamer and litRPG wouldn’t be my first choice of book to pick up.  Some of the references probably just go over my head and I find quite often that the plot involves info dumps in order, no doubt, to bring non players like myself up to speed.

I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading this one even if it’s not the perfect fit for me.

Conclusion: Cut


The Blood of Crows by Alex C Pierce


Ren, a state-trained thief working in a world where everyone has magical ability except for him, doesn’t kill people.

Tensions are already high in the walled realm of Lenmar, and when the nobility start dying with no trace of magic that isn’t from the victims, Ren immediately becomes the prime, and only suspect. Hunted by magic-eating Inquisitors and the Captain of the Royal Guard, his life becomes one of flight and fear through a realm on the brink of civil war.

All Ren wants to do is stop a serial killer, clear his name, find his mentor, and protect the people he cares about.

To do that, he’ll have to pull one more high-stakes heist— And steal the proof he needs from the very people who want to catch him.

My thoughts: 

I won’t be posting a review for The Blood of Crows today as this is one of the books I’ve decided to continue reading so a review will follow at a later stage.

Conclusion: Roll forward


Scarlight by Evid Marceau


A life saved is a soul owned.

When she was six years old, Bryn was saved from a wolf attack by a prince from a rival kingdom. Rangar Barendur’s people believe that a life saved is a soul owned, and ten years later, Rangar returns to collect his prize: Bryn. Yet Bryn is the youngest daughter of a ruthless royal family, and Rangar arrives on the night the Mir people rise up against their despotic rulers. With her castle on fire and most of her family dead, Bryn has no choice but to escape with Rangar’s help.

Is she rescued…or abducted?

Taken to Rangar’s wild seaside kingdom, Bryn slowly finds beauty in the harsh Outlands. There, she discovers magic is not the sin she’s been led to believe it is. Magic can heal the sick and summon rain for the crops. As she learns the full truth of her own family’s tyrannical rule and plans to take back her kingdom by the sword or by marriage, Bryn falls under the spell of each of the three Barendur brothers. But which one will end up with her hand—and her heart—not even magic can foretell.

My thoughts:

I won’t be posting a review for Scarlight today as this is one of the books I’ve decided to continue reading so a review will follow at a later stage.

Conclusion: Roll forward


The Fantastically Underwhelming Epic of a Dead Wizard and an Average Bard by Kian N Ardalan


George is a legendary hero… wait, no. George is an incredibly powerful sorcerer…also no? Okay, fine. George is an unremarkable human bard who made a promise a long time ago. A promise that set him on a path to find the remains of Simantiar, the greatest wizard who ever lived. Though all that was left were bones, Simantiar was still very much alive and quite…underwhelming. This is their story.

My thoughts:

This is a story of a young man, a bard known as George.  George is in search of a gate behind which will lie that which he desires the most. In his search he has the assistance of a skeleton, the skull of which can talk. The bones once belonged to a great wizard who for the most part can remember little of his past.  George, being a young man needs help on his quest and also enlists the services of a mercenary.  The three set off on their journey, pursued by a trio of thieves that eventually chase them into the most dangerous part of the Dead Forest.  I won’t go any further into the plot thus far.

I enjoyed my read of the first 30% of the story.  The pacing is good, there is plenty going on with skirmishes and all sorts of undesirables (the robbers being the least of the problem).  I really liked that the author provides flashbacks for his main characters as this helps the reader to build a better picture of their personalities and motivations and I also can’t help but feel that these flashbacks are eventually going to reveal something huge, particularly in terms of the wizard maybe.

If this continues in its current vein I would definitely say this is a very character focused story, which is something that I enjoy.  I think the author is making good inroads into developing his cast whilst keeping the pace very punchy.  The downside for me is that I have very little understanding of the world in which the story takes place – again though, this statement comes with the proviso that I’ve not read the entire story.

Overall this is an entertaining tale and an epic quest into dangers unknown.  It felt a little young for my own personal taste but time allowing I would like to pick this one up again to see how the adventure eventually concludes.

Conclusion : Cut


Again, my thanks to the authors for submitting their beloved books.  There wouldn’t be a competition without you and I really appreciate that you took such a huge leap.

4 Responses to “#SPFBO 8 Second Batch of Books: Feedback”

  1. Susy's Cozy World

    I think I am in love with The Lich of… Cover. It is sort of bad, but I am in love all the same! And all the books you mentioned sound intriguing or at least interesting enough! Thanks for sharing them!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, I was very lucky this year with plenty of really good reading in my batch.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Tammy

    Two roll forwards, that’s fantastic. Looking forward to hearing more😁

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