#SPFBO – Finalists No.2 and No.3

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Today I’m highlighting the second and third books that I will be reading for the SPFBO Competition (more details here).  The first finalist I read was Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc and my review can be found here.  The purpose of this post is to shine a spotlight on those books and give readers a chance to see what they’re all about.  As already mentioned all my books are randomly selected and my 2nd and 3rd finalists will be:

Symphony of the Wind (The Raincatcher’s Ballad #1) by Steven McKinnon

SymphonyA bounty hunter with a death wish. A girl with fearsome powers. A kingdom on the brink of destruction.

Serena dreams of leaving her harsh desert home behind in her very own airship. But when an assassin’s knife meant for Serena kills her friend instead, the rebellious orphan ventures into the corrupt heart of Dalthea to discover who put a price on her head. With each new turn, she edges closer to uncovering the awful truth… And the mystical powers brewing deep within her.

After his fiancée’s death, soldier-turned-bounty hunter Tyson Gallows is eager to sacrifice his life in the line of duty. When a foreign enemy assassinates a high-ranking official, he vows to bring them to justice. On the hunt for a killer, Gallows exposes a sinister plot that proves his fiancée’s death was no accident.

Driven by revenge, Serena and Gallows must join forces to take down the conspiracy before the kingdom falls to ruin.

Symphony of the Wind is the first book in a gritty epic fantasy trilogy. If you like hardened heroes, steampunk airships, and dark magic and monsters, then you’ll love Steven McKinnon’s visceral adventure.

 

The Anointed (Red Proxy #3) by Keith Ward

The Anointed.jpgBeing a hero is a choice.

Xinlas’s life goal is modest: he wants to be a living legend, revered in song and story. And he’s off to a good start. He faced death once, and won. His legend grew — at least in his own mind.

Fame comes calling on Xinlas again, or so he thinks, when he stumbles on a hidden village. The village has a resource that no one’s ever seen before. A resource that can be used to conquer other lands. A resource that a power-mad ruler will kill for.

Can Xinlas — with the help of a mysterious orange-haired girl he meets on a river — stop the man who would enslave millions? It will take a kind of courage found in legendary heroes.

Will Xinlas become that hero, or break under the weight of his destiny? The fate of civilization rests on his choices.

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#SPFBO Forsaken Kingdom (The Last Prince #1) by J.R. Rasmussen

forsakenkForsaken Kingdom was another of my SPFBO books that I enjoyed enough initially to roll forward and read completely.  This is a fantasy adventure that is engaging and easy to read.  It has a YA feel to it although that’s just my perception – it doesn’t have the grim and brutal quality that many books in the realms of fantasy seem to have these days and I think it would make a good read for somebody just beginning to explore the genre.

The story sets off with an introduction to three friends training in magic.  One of the young people, Wardin Rath is a Prince, Wardin’s father has been fighting a war and when news reaches the magistery of his father’s death Wardin takes drastic action to prevent the Magistery from being discovered – he hands himself over to the new king – Bramwell.  At this point things take a rather unexpected turn, the new king, rather than kill the Prince, leaving no heirs with a claim to the throne, instead has him put under a spell so that he forgets who he is.  For seven years Wardin lives as a tutor at the court of his enemy until one day the spell begins to unravel and little snatches of his memory return.  Realising he’s in danger Wardin once again goes on the run and without really planning to do so finds himself subconsciously heading in the direction of his former magical school.

What I really liked about Forsaken Kingdom is that it’s written in a very accessible style, it isn’t overloaded with minutiae and the main character is easy to get along with.  On top of that it has an interesting system of magic where the users have to balance their magical acts out either by performing physical or mental work – or face the consequences.  I liked the friendships that eventually develop between Wardin and his two childhood friends Arun and Erietta and between the three of them I thought their magic (which was different for each of them) made for entertaining reading.

This is basically a quest style story of a rightful heir returning to claim what is his.  I think it shows a lot of promise in a number of ways.  For example, when the friends eventually reunite there is a good deal of mistrust and this is something that has to be regained gradually.  Wardin was realistically portrayed – he may be the rightful heir, and many people may flock to his banner, but for the last seven years he’s only known life as a quiet and humble tutor and I was pleased that he didn’t have a miraculous overnight transformation into an eloquent and driven Prince who can rally the masses with ease and a bit of sabre rattling.

The world building felt a bit thin to be honest but I wouldn’t say that it detracted from the novel.  I imagined the place as a medieval world, swords and sorcery, castles, magical hounds. etc.  There is talk of enchanted objects and also mention of an enchanted sword – which I suspect will crop up at some point in the series.

In terms of criticisms.  I didn’t have anything that really hindered the read for me but there were a couple of small issues that stuck with me.  Wardin’s original reasoning for running away for example.  I understood that he wanted to protect the Magistery, I also understand that he was a young boy trying to do the right thing, but placing yourself in the hands of your enemy always feels like a strange step – surely if somebody used magic, or torture – your secrets would come spilling out and your sacrifice would be in vain.  In that respect I don’t really understand Bramwell keeping alive the last remaining heir – particularly after his previous actions which were neither just or merciful.

All that being said though, I enjoyed Forsaken Kingdom.  It’s not reinventing the wheel or trying to be overly ambitious in terms of avoiding tropes but it was easy to read, fun and had an ending that was entertaining and promising in terms of future books in the series.

I would rate this as 7 out of 10.

My thanks to the author for providing a copy.

#SPFBO Under Ordshaw by Phil Williams

Under OrdshawUnder Ordshaw was one of the nine books that I read completely from the first stage of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off competition.  Urban fantasy is a genre that I really enjoy and this book was no exception.  The writing is on point, there’s a city with a labyrinth lying beneath full of monsters lurking in tunnels, an easy to engage with MC, cheeky fae and a secret undercover agency reminiscent of Men in Black.  What’s not to like?  This is an other book that had me going round in circles when it came to choosing a winner and I have no hesitation in recommending this.

As the story sets out we make the acquaintance of Pax who is brimming over with good humour following a successful card game.  She stops by a bar for a couple of celebratory drinks.  This win will fund her a stake in a large tournament and all going well help her pay the rent – maybe even win enough to be able to eat! Unfortunately, Pax’s luck is about to run out, her stash is stolen by a young man who appears to have been taken into custody by a secret Government Agency (the MEE).  Not content to sit by and brood Pax goes in search of the thief’s lair and in the process becomes embroiled even deeper in the secrets of the City.

In terms of world building. I think, in common with most UF I’ve read, this is minimal.  This is a modern world and an easily imagined city.  Where the difference comes into play is the labyrinth of tunnels that lies beneath.  There’s a whole other world going on here, one that I’m keen to explore further. The tunnels and their inhabitants have a monstrous and unique feel although at the moment I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface at this point and it feels like there is plenty more to come in future instalments.

I really enjoyed the characters.  Pax is very easy to like.  She’s resourceful and basically decent.  I found myself immediately hooked to the story and I think that’s a testament to her strong and compelling voice.  On top of this we also encounter a very cheeky, 3 inch fae character called Letty.  Don’t let her short stature kid you – she means business.  The other two main characters are Casaria and Barton.  Casaria is an MEE agent.  He’s an odd character.  He doesn’t really follow rules very well and he has a very skewed perception of both himself and Pax – it makes for comic reading sometimes to read his dreamed up scenarios of how things will play out.  He comes across as something of a wild card and whilst Pax doesn’t trust him she seems to be able to play him well and keep him just on the right side of going totally AWOL.  Barton is a civilian who has been aware of the ‘goings on’ beneath the City for some time.  He’s kept his encounters with the tunnels a secret from his wife and daughter in an attempt to keep them safe but his family are about to be thrown into the middle of things with life threatening results.

The writing is sharp, the dialogue flows well and feels natural and the pacing is very good.  I didn’t have any lulls that I can recall and I was pretty much hooked to the story from start to finish.

In terms of criticisms.  I don’t really have anything – so you may be wondering is this a five star read?  I’d say this is four stars and that isn’t because of any issues I had at all with the read but more what I would call a symptom of UF and also a refelection of the future potential.  Personally, I feel that the first in any UF is the hook, there will always be areas left unexplored to be revealed in future story lines and in this instant I think the author sets the scene perfectly.  He doesn’t overload the story with too much detail or reveal too much at this stage, just enough to secure your interest and whet the appetite for what is to come next.  I think it takes restraint and a notion of what you intend in terms of the bigger picture and at the moment I’d say those elements are both clearly present.  Of course, this is a double edged sword, holding things in check can leave readers feeling that things haven’t been fully explored but, for me, I think Under Ordshaw succeeds really well as a first in series.

I would rate this as a 4 star read and I look forward to reading the second in series.

 

 

 

Kingshold (The Wildfire Cycle #1) by D.P. Woolliscroft #SPFBO Review

KingsholdKingshold was one of the books that I chose to read completely and review for the first phase of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off.  It is, without doubt, an impressive debut and a strong foundation for the rest of the series and in fact was a very close contender for my finalist spot.

The story begins with the murder of the King and Queen by none other than their own wizard, Jyuth.  It seems Jyuth had finally had enough of their wicked ways and decided to take drastic action to remove them from further rule of Edland.  Jyuth, tired of the scheming nobility decrees that the monarchy be abolished and replaced instead with a democracy.  Of course this sounds like it could be ideal, an elected Lord Protector, chosen by the majority vote.  The reality is somewhat different.  Few people are eligible to stand as candidates and even fewer people can afford to vote – certainly the unwashed masses could not afford to whisper their favoured candidate into a pixie ear.  But, there is strength in numbers and with that in mind a small band of unlikely friends come together to promote their own champion and rally the masses. What could possibly go wrong?  Well, in a city that has its own guild of assassins I leave you to reach your own conclusion.

The book contains a number of characters and it’s easy to find favourites.  Jyuth is an ancient wizard.  He seems to be incredibly powerful, a bit curmudgeonly and has a dreadful reputation for not suffering fools.  I found myself liking Jyuth immediately but I liked his daughter, Neenahwi, even more.  We meet Neenahwi as she is undertaking a dangerous quest involving a demon and a search for a powerful gem.  She’s a very easy to like character.  Resourceful, calm and intelligent.  She’s not very happy with Jyuth, not only for throwing the City into a turmoil with the deaths of the monarchs and the introduction of a new democracy but also because he plans to slope off into retirement leaving her smack bang in the middle of all the mess.  Alana is a young woman who takes a position at the palace only to find herself being allocated to serve Jyuth.  This actually turns out in her favour.  Alana is keen to learn and Jyuth enjoys teaching a lively young mind keen for information. Mareth is a bard.  He’s a bit of a drunk and a womaniser to boot but his songs seem to hold power over people and when his talents for charming the crowds are spotted by others he’s enlisted to help one of the candidates.  The plan goes somewhat askew as candidates start to be picked off one by one.  The other players are Hoskins, who acts as a type of administrator and stand-in Lord Protector at the palace and a trio of mercenaries in search of their next job.

At first, it felt like there were quite a few characters to come to terms with but they pretty soon all slotted into place and eventually they come together as their storylines intersect.  Obviously, everyone will have their own favourites but thankfully I didn’t dislike any of the povs and in fact thought the secondary characters were also easy to like.

The story, whilst it revolves primarily around the election and the candidates rush to curry favour and accumulate votes (not to mention desperately trying to stay alive) also takes a couple of side tracks – a diversion involving dwarves and a threat of invasion.  The pacing felt a little slow at the beginning whilst I became familiar with everyone but it pretty quickly gathered momentum.  I think, to be honest, this could probably be trimmed a little to make it a little more punchy but in fairness, I really didn’t struggle at all and I never experienced the dreaded ‘not wanting to pick the book back up after stopping reading’ which sometimes happens.

In terms of setting the majority of the story takes place in Edland.  This is a mediaeval type city that is fairly easy to imagine.  I wouldn’t say there’s anything groundbreaking here but it feels easily recognisable and quite well drawn without the need for weighty descriptions. I guess you could say it has a comfortable feel.

I don’t really have any major criticisms.  I think this is a very well executed book.  The writing is good, the concept pretty unique and the characters come together in a pleasing way.  Personally, I didn’t love Mareth as much as I felt I should.  In his favour, his character really does make some positive changes but I remain on the fence about him for the time being.  The other thing that puzzled me when I read it and in fact still puzzles me now writing this review is the invasion/pirate scene.  I don’t want to give away spoilers so my comments are necessarily vague but, firstly, I didn’t see that coming – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but, secondly, I’m not quite sure what it brought to the story and I feel like I’ve missed something important somehow – however, I put that down to myself, clearly I’ve overlooked something fundamental.

All told, this is a great start to a series that I look forward to continuing.  I have to say that going into this read I had my doubts.  I figured that reading a fantasy story centred around an election process would probably be a little dry.  As it turned out this was a fun read with some well placed humour, the election is more a backdrop and a catalyst for change in a story that becomes more about taking up a cause and doing the right thing in order to succeed, well, that and all the scurrying around trying to stay alive.

I received a copy of the book courtesy of the author, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating – 4 of 5 stars

 

#SPFBO 2018 : Batch 5, Books 1-6

Posted On 2 December 2018

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As mentioned in my post here as part of the SPFBO competition I’ll be randomly choosing six books per month for the next five months, I will then aim to check out at least the first 30% of each book during that month – this is my fifth and final month.  Each month I’ve posted information about the first three books chosen at the start of the month and then about the remaining three during the mid way point with a conclusion around the end of the month about which books will be going forward or which will be eliminated.  The conclusion for my first, second, third and fourth month’s reading can be found herehere, here and here. Ultimately, the aim is to choose one book from the thirty I’ve been assigned – that chosen one will then be my finalist.

I’m taking a slightly different approach to my next batch of books – not in terms of the reading element, just that I’m posting my final six books as one batch and I’m aiming to post my outcome of the final batch by the 10th all going well (and I have already made a start).  This gives me plenty of time then to go through those books I’ve rolled forward and decide upon my final book.

Books 1-6 in my fifth batch of books are as follows:

HighBarrensHigh Barrens by Alice Sabo

Seeing into a soul is easy for Flint.

She can change a life or even the world with her words.

She should have kept her mouth shut.

Flint thought that having six older brothers and growing up in a dangerous frontier town would prepare her for anything. She soon discovers that the world is a lot more complex than she expected, and it’s going to take more than a strong back and good intentions to achieve her goals.

When it comes to magic, all the wishes in the world won’t change who you really are. And sometimes that’s okay

 

ParagonParagon by K.D Wloch

The future is uncertain. The era of god-slaying heroes like Kato is gone, and the people of the Four Realms have spent years recovering from war. But now, thanks to the ruins of the vanished Forerunners and close to unlocking their secrets, they are on the cusp of a new age.

It is now that Dan finds himself dismissed from the militia without reason. At the same time a village has been burned and his home is no longer safe. Ruins have been discovered, people are disappearing, and a man claims to be the reincarnation of Kato himself. People wait to see if he will be captured, killed – or become famous. But as Dan flees the danger, he starts to learn why Kato’s legacy is so dividing, why it is linked to the fall of an entire people – and why, now of all times, he is having dreams of a life he had never live

 

DeadmarshDeadmarsh Fay by Melika Dannese Lux

Flesh and bone and hearts unknown, lead to the rath and your fate will be shown…

Deadmarsh. The name struck terror into the hearts of all who heard it. But to Roger Knightley, neither Deadmarsh the house, nor Deadmarsh the family, had ever been anything to fear. Nearly each summer of his young life had been spent in that manor on the moors, having wild adventures with his cousin, Lockie, the Deadmarsh heir. This year should have been no different, but when Roger arrives, he finds everything, and everyone, changed. The grounds are unkempt, the servants long gone. Kip, the family cat, has inexplicably grown and glares at Roger as if he is trying to read the boy’s mind. Roger’s eldest cousin, Travers, always treated as a servant, now dresses like a duchess and wears round her neck a strange moonstone given to her by someone known as Master Coffyn, who has taken over the teaching of Lockie at a school in Wales called Nethermarrow.

And soon after he crosses the threshold of Deadmarsh, Roger discovers that Coffyn has overtaken Lockie. The boy is deceitful, riddled with fear, and has returned bearing tales of creatures called Jagged Ones that claim to be of the Fey and can somehow conceal themselves while standing in the full light of the moon. What they want with Lockie, Roger cannot fathom, until the horror within his cousin lashes out, and it becomes savagely clear that these Jagged Ones and the Dark Wreaker they serve are not only after Lockie and Travers, but Roger, too.

Joining forces with an ally whose true nature remains hidden, Roger seeks to unravel the tapestry of lies woven round his family’s connection to the death-haunted world of Everl’aria—and the Dark Wreaker who calls it home. The deeper Roger delves into the past, the more he begins to suspect that the tales of dark deeds done in the forest behind Deadmarsh, deeds in which village children made sacrifice to an otherworldly beast and were never seen or heard from again, are true. And if there is truth in these outlandish stories, what of the rumor that it was not an earthquake which rocked the moors surrounding Deadmarsh sixteen years ago, but a winged nightmare attempting to break free of its underground prison? Enlisting the aid of a monster equipped with enough inborn firepower to blast his enemies into oblivion might be as suicidal as Roger’s friends insist, yet the boy knows he needs all the help he can get if there is to be any hope of defeating not only the Dark Wreaker and his servants, but an unholy trinity known as the Bear, the Wolf, and the Curse That Walks The Earth.

And then there is the foe named Blood Wood, who might be the deadliest of them all.

Racing against time, Roger must find a way to end the battle being waged across worlds before the night of Lockie’s eleventh birthday—two days hence. If he fails, blood will drown the earth. And Roger and his entire family will fulfill the prophecy of fey’s older, more lethal meaning…
Fated to die.

 

SongsofSongs of Insurrection by J.C Kang

Only the lost art of evoking magic through music can prevent Cathay from descending into chaos.

Blessed with an unrivaled voice, Kaiya dreams of a time when a song liberated enslaved humans from their orc masters. Maybe then, the imperial court would see the awkward, gangly princess as more than a singing fool.

When members of the emperor’s elite spy clan uncover a brewing rebellion, the court hopes to appease the ringleader by offering Kaiya as a bride.

Obediently wedding the depraved rebel leader means giving up her music. Confronting him with the growing power of her voice could kill her.

 

ArgenterraArgenterra by Donna Maree Hanson

Every one hundred years a woman comes to Argenterra through the Crystal Tree Woods. This time two women came…

While on a ghost tour in Castle Crioch, Sophy and her best friend and foster sister, Aria, are sucked into the world of Argenterra, where they encounter a strange Crystal Tree. Two leaves fall from it, one of which Aria catches and the other mysteriously delves into Sophy’s chest.

Met by Dellbright, the prince of Valley Keep, and Oakheart, the high king’s ambassador, the girls learn they are expected. Aria has beauty and talent with the given, the land’s native magic. She finds a home and a husband in Prince Dellbright and is revered as the legendary Gift of Crystal Tree Woods.
Sophy is out of place as anything made with the given makes her ill.

Sophy accompanies Oakheart to the capital to find out why the crystal leaf is in her chest. A sinister force is tracking her—trying to snatch her away or kill her. Only Oakheart suspects her importance: she is the talisman that can cause great harm to the world of Argenterra if she falls into the wrong hands.

The Silverlands Series Overview
In a land where oaths can’t be broken be careful what promises you make.
To break the binding oath is to risk the very magic of Argenterra.

Vorn and the first comers fleeing death and destruction came to Argenterra through the Crystal Gate. On arrival, they made a binding oath to not kill and in return the land gave them the given, a native magic. For over a thousand years they have prospered but now the ancient evil seeks Vorn’s descendants and reaches a hand into the land.

Oaths are bound with the given and every promise must be kept or the land’s magic will compel completion of the oath or prevent its breaking. Only a murder can sunder the binding oath. In his later years, Vorn prophesied that a time would come when the land would be ungiven. That time is near.

 

HeartotDHeart of the Destroyer by Kent Corlain

A disturbing tale of dark fantasy.

Ashley is not a hero living in a world of darkness.
She is the worst person you could ever meet.

This is the story of her life, and of the death of others.

She has been trained as an assassin, but killing is not just a profession for her. Not when she gets to kill pretty girls. Has she met her match in a wayward princess with venomous habits, or will unimaginable terror from beyond the stars destroy them both?

This is not a typical fantasy adventure, so this book is not recommended to people who are against graphic descriptions of immoral debauchery. This is a nasty story about nasty people in the realm of swords and sorcery.

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