#SPFBO Stage 2

Posted On 5 December 2019

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The first stage of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off is now complete which means we have ten finalists lined up for stage two.  For this stage of the competition I will be assigning each of the nine books I need to read a number from 1 – 9 and then I will use a randomly selected sequence generator to give me the reading order.

Today I would like to highlight the ten finalists.  You can follow the progress of each book here.  Now, feast your eyes on these lovelies – I can’t wait to get started on this line up:

Blood of Heirs (The Coraidic Sagas #1) by  Alicia Wanstall-Burke :

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Lidan Tolak is the fiercest of her father’s daughters; more than capable of one day leading her clan. But caught between her warring parents, Lidan’s world begins to unravel when another of her father’s wives falls pregnant. Before she has time to consider the threat of a brother, a bloody swathe is cut through the heart of the clan and Lidan must fight, not only to prove her worth, but simply to survive.

Ranoth Olseta wants nothing more than to be a worthy successor to his father’s throne. When his home is threatened by the aggressive Woaden Empire, Ran becomes his city’s saviour, but powers within him are revealed by the enemy and he is condemned to death. Confused and betrayed, Ran is forced to flee his homeland, vowing to reclaim what he has lost, even if it kills him.

Facing an unknown future, and battling forces both familiar and foreign, can Lidan and Ran overcome the odds threatening to drag them into inescapable darkness?

Beggar’s Rebellion (Resonant Saga #1) by Levi Jacobs:

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The Councilate controls everything except the truth. I have nothing save my discovery—but with this shall I destroy an empire.

Tai Kulga lost the rebellion and his best friend on the same day, stripping him of his will to live even as a strange power flooded his bones. When the friend returns as a spirit guide, it feels like a second chance—but his friend is not who he was, and the Councilate is not done oppressing his people. When trouble with lawkeepers lands Tai’s surviving friends in a prison camp, he must go underground to find the last of the rebels and convince them to break his friends free.

Along the way he meets Ellumia Aygla, runaway Councilate daughter posing as an accountant to escape her family and the avarice of the capital. Curious about the link between spirit guides and magic, her insights earn her a place among the rebels, and along with Tai’s power help turn the tide against the colonialists.

But as the rebels begin to repeat the Councilate’s mistakes, Tai and Ellumia must confront their own pasts and prejudices, before the brewing war turns them into the monsters they fight.

Never Die by Rob J Hayes – this is the finalist that I chose (already reviewed here)

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Ein is on a mission from God. A God of Death.

Time is up for the Emperor of Ten Kings and it falls to a murdered eight year old boy to render the judgement of a God. Ein knows he can’t do it alone, but the empire is rife with heroes. The only problem; in order to serve, they must first die.

Ein has four legendary heroes in mind, names from story books read to him by his father. Now he must find them and kill them, so he can bring them back to fight the Reaper’s war.

Blade’s Edge (Chronicles of Gensokai #1) by Virginia McClain

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Mishi and Taka live each day of their lives with the shadow of death lurking behind them. The struggle to hide the elemental powers that mark the two girls as Kisōshi separates them from the other orphans, yet forges a deep bond between them.

When Mishi is dragged from the orphanage at the age of eight, the girls are unsure if or when they will find each other again. While their powers grow with each season-cycle, the girls must come to terms with their true selves–Mishi as a warrior, Taka as a healer–as they forge separate paths which lead to the same horrifying discovery.

The Rōjū council’s dark secret is one that it has spent centuries killing to keep, and Mishi and Taka know too much. The two young women have overcome desperate odds in a society where their very existence is a crime, but now that they know the Rōjū’s secret they find themselves fighting for much more than their own survival.

Spark City (Spark City Cycle #1) by Robert J. Power

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Erroh has a plan. A simple plan. It’ll never work.

Despite his family’s warrior pedigree, he’d rather gamble and drink while living from one tavern to the next. But when his wanderings bring him upon a gruesome slaughter of innocents he is torn from carefree ways.

Spark City is on the horizon and with it the mysterious trials of The Cull. After a life spent rejecting his birth right, the time has come to pick up his sword and accept his destiny.

With an army marching forward, and unlikely companions buy his side, does Erroh have what it takes to stop the coming war?

Spark City is the gripping first novel in Robert J Power’s new epic fantasy series. If you like spectacular combat, unlikely heroes, and  slow burn romance, you’ll love this thrilling tale.

The Sword of Kaigen (Theonite) by M.L. Wang

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A mother struggling to repress her violent past,
A son struggling to grasp his violent future,
A father blind to the danger that threatens them all.

When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores?

High on a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful warriors in the world, superhumans capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For hundreds of years, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their frozen spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’

Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies.

Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface.

Fortune’s Fool (Eterean Empire #1) by Angela Boord

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A secret affair. A disfiguring punishment. A burning need for revenge.

Kyrra d’Aliente has a bad reputation and an arm made of metal.

Cast out of the safe and luxurious world of silk to which she was born, played as a pawn in a game of feuding Houses, Kyrra navigates a dangerous world of mercenaries, spies, and smugglers while disguising herself as a man.

War destroyed her family and the man she loved.

Vengeance is within her grasp.

But is she willing to pay its price?

Kalanon’s Rising (Agents of Kalanon #1) by Darian Smith

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Solve the murder. Stop the war. Save the world.

Sir Brannon Kesh spent years building a new life as a physician, leaving the name Bloodhawk and the war that spawned it behind. But when the King’s cousin is murdered, duty calls him back. The crime scene suggests dark magic and the evidence points to the ambassador of Nilar, an alluring woman with secrets of her own, who sees Bloodhawk as little more than a war criminal.

As bodies pile up and political ramifications escalate, Brannon must join forces with a vain mage, a socially awkward priest, and a corpse animating shaman to solve the murders and prevent another war. But who can he trust when the phases of a bigger plan take shape?

The Risen are the greatest danger Brannon has ever faced. If he and his team cannot stop the killer then all of Kalanon – and the world – will descend into darkness.

A Tale of Stars and Shadow by Lisa Cassidy

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Dumnorix princess and born warrior, Talyn Dynan was the finest fighter of her generation. With her Callanan partner at her side, she was invincible, reckless, a death-knell to their enemies. But after her partner is torn away from her, Talyn is left broken, wracked with guilt and unable to regain the confidence she once had. Could an unexpected mission to the mysterious country of Mithranar, home of the magical winged folk, be the thing that saves her? Or will the danger and secrets she finds there finally break her completely?

The Shadowhawk lives a life in the shadows. Constantly hunted for his criminal exploits, yet desperate to help the human folk of Mithranar who are oppressed by their winged folk rulers, he haunts the streets of Dock City. The arrival of a foreign warrior threatens to upset the carefully balanced life he leads, but when she begins to offer a hope for the humans he’s only ever dreamed of, can he risk trusting her?

And unbeknownst to both, a mysterious foe stalks the dark corners of Dock City. One that answers to a single purpose…

Vengeance.

A Sea of Broken Glass (The Lady & The Darkness #1) by Sonya M. Black

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Secrets have a price.

After enduring weeks of torture and being convicted of witchery, Ris escapes, only to discover the Darkness and the Lady are hunting her. They need the magic that sings within her.

Creator of all, the imprisoned Lady needs Ris, her last vessel, to find the Heart of Creation. The Darkness seeks to corrupt the vessel and retain his hold on the Lady, and with it, the world.

Ris finds help from a pair of Paladins of Light who aid her in cleansing the evil taint from the lands. As her power grows, so do her questions. How can she restore balance to the world and free the Lady? Should the Lady be trusted or is she as much at fault for the evil in the world as the Darkness? With powerful demons War, Ruin, and Plague at her heels, Ris struggles to stay alive as she tries to unravel the secrets hidden within her before it’s too late.

Secrets that may cost Ris her soul even if she does succeed.

 

#SPFBO Review of Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

Posted On 22 November 2019

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NeverDieNever Die is one of the titles on my list of books for the SPFBO competition and was one of the books that I decided to roll forward after having read the first 30% with the idea of reading and reviewing fully.  In this respect I have 4 more reviews to follow which I’m hoping will be in fairly quick succession followed by a post to reveal my semi finalists and the book I will be taking to stage two of the competition.  So, straight to my review of Never Die

Okay, Never Die is a story of revenge, but it’s one of the most unusual and unique revenge stories that I’ve ever encountered.  This is a story of heroes and honour, it’s packed to the rafters with action, steeped in Asian culture and folklore and delivers a fast paced tale that ends on a, well, I’m lost for words exactly how to best describe the ending, ‘it’s a little jaw dropping’ is the first thing that springs to mind.

Here we meet a young boy on a mission to bring down an Emperor.  Of course he can’t do this by himself.  He’s a young boy of eight or nine years maybe, he doesn’t have the strength, he isn’t a fighter, he doesn’t really have a plan for that matter, come to think of it he has very little, not a pot to piss in or even a pair of shoes.  But he knows his heroes and embarks on a hero recruitment drive if you will – the only slight deterrent for anybody wanting to take up a position, they have to be dead in order to do so. It’s not the best incentive to apply for the role.  As it happens the heroes have very little say in the matter, they need to die and so die they must.

Now, first things first.  I am not going to be discussing the plot at all other than the above paragraph.  This is a story that delivers a number of twists and I’d sooner leave further elaboration well alone in order to avoid spoilers.  Strangely enough, and although I obviously now know the final reveals this is a book that I would very much like to revisit.  I think it would be really interesting to see how, or if, the knowledge of the ending affects the rest of the story for me.

So, what really shone for me with Never Die.

I have to applaud Hayes’ ability to come up with such an action packed novel that plowed forward relentlessly and intensely yet at the same time invited me to get to know the characters.  How many times do you read a book where the characters suffer from the intensity of world building, or the furious nature of the adventure takes centre stage and you can’t get a feel for the place.  This really is an incredibly well rounded novel which is even more impressive when you consider it’s just shy of 300 pages.  The action is delivered at breakneck speed.  The story, in fact, opens with a battle sequence where the fighting is portrayed so well that I could see the characters playing out their deadly dances.  The characters are introduced one at a time which gives you the chance to get a feel for them without becoming overwhelmed.  And the world building – well, it’s taking place in every sentence really.  Names, places, clothing, food, back stories, they’re all related with an effortless grace that really belies the skill that it must take.

The characters are all so very different.  And they start out with no small degree of hatred for each other not to mention a good deal of competitive swaggering and banter.  Eventually though, they begin to develop bonds which I suppose gives weight to the idea that there’s nothing like a shared goal to bring people together.  They’re all masters in their own way, whether with the sword or with fighting without the use of weapons.  I’m not going to try to describe all the different techniques, frankly I’d just make an absolute mess of it.  Just lets say they’re all masters in their given fields and leave well enough alone.  They all have some pretty cool names and some of their abilities make for great reading during the throes of battle – I’m definitely looking at Emerald Wind right now!

In terms of criticisms.  Well, this is a conundrum because I did have a couple of little issues as the story progressed, but, the ending kind of answered my qualms and it’s really difficult to discuss what they were because, obviously I’m being all secretive. I will say that I did guess one of the twists part way through the story.  I actually have no idea how because I wasn’t reading the book at the time, in fact I was doing something a bit brain numbingly mundane when suddenly a light bulb went on in my head in a most unexpected and comic book style fashion.  I wasn’t aware I’d even be thinking of the book but there you go.  So, yes, I had my little ‘ah-ha’ moment and of course I was feeling quite smug and also not a little bit disappointed (like, if this is what the ending is all about then really….) but, of course there’s a but, yes, I had guessed what I will call one third of the twists – but (again with the buts) it was only the smallest element of the twist in the tale and the other two revelations – well, hot damn – and that’s why I need to do a reread.

I guess this leaves me with only one downside, or maybe two.  This was shorter than I would have liked (even though it does have a certain epicyness to it – that is a word, I’ve seen it on the internet so it must be true) and it’s a standalone.  In a world where series of books can sometimes reach double digits I guess I should be applauding a standalone – but, please sir, I would like more.

Oh, and I suppose I forgot to mention all the fantasy elements, ghosts, and monsters and the like, but – go and pick up a copy and discover them for yourself.

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

 

#SPFBO5 : Friday Cover Love

Posted On 21 June 2019

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SPFBO5 will commence at the start of July.  The books have been assigned and as with previous years the first stage of the competition is all about the cover art.  Each of the 10 judges will choose their three favourite covers from the 30 books they’ve been allocated.  Once the entries are all chosen the voting begins (I’ll post more details about the competition soon).  Anyway, this isn’t my opening post – I’ll be sorting something out shortly to let everyone know how I intend to proceed this year.  In the meantime feast your eyes on my assigned books.  This is a good opportunity for me to ruminate on my covers and also gives authors the chance to shout out if I’m not displaying the  most uptodate cover (just leave me a comment if I need to make changes).

#SPFBO – Finalists No.8 and No.9

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Today I’m highlighting the final two books that I will be reading this month for the SPFBO Competition (more details here).  The reviews for the finalists I’ve read to date are below.  My review for Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss will follow shortly.  The purpose of this post is to shine a spotlight on the finalists and give readers a chance to see what they’re all about.  As already mentioned all my books are randomly selected and my final two books will be:

We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

WeRideWar built the Kisian Empire and war will tear it down. And as an empire falls, three warriors rise.

Caught in a foreign war, Captain Rah e’Torin and his exiled warriors will have to fight or die. Their honour code is all they have left until orders from within stress them to breaking point, and the very bonds that hold them together will be ripped apart.

Cassandra wants the voice in her head to go away. Willing to do anything for peace, the ageing whore takes an assassination contract that promises answers, only the true price may be everyone and everything she knows.

A prisoner in her own castle, Princess Miko doesn’t dream of freedom but of the power to fight for her empire. As the daughter of a traitor the path to redemption could as easily tear it, and her family, asunder.

As an empire dies they will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.

Orconomics by J Zachary Pike

Orconomics.jpgBrimming with swords, sorcery, and wit, Orconomics: A Satire introduces Arth, a world much like our own but with more magic and fewer vowels. For the licensed wizards and warriors of Arth, slaying and looting the forces of evil is just a job. The Heroes’ Guild has turned adventuring into a career, selling the rights to monsters’ hoards of treasure as investment opportunities. Corporations spend immense sums sponsoring heroes to undertake quests, betting they’ll reap the profits in plunder funds when the loot is divvied up.

Questing was all business for famous Dwarven berserker Gorm Ingerson, until a botched expedition wiped out his party, disgraced his name, and reduced him to a thieving vagabond. Twenty years later, a chance encounter sees Gorm forcibly recruited by a priest of a mad goddess to undertake a quest that has a reputation for getting heroes killed. But there’s more to Gorm’s new job than an insane prophecy; powerful corporations and governments have shown an unusual interest in the job. Gorm might be able to turn a bad deal into a golden opportunity and win back the fame and fortune he lost so long ago.

Promising fun, fantasy, and financial calamity, Orconomics: A Satire is the first book in The Dark Profit Saga, an economically epic trilogy.

 

The finalists I’ve read so far and reviewed:

#SPFBO The Anointed (Red Proxy #3) by Keith Ward

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The AnointedThe Anointed is the third finalist I’ve read as part of the SPFBO and I’ve been struggling to write this review due to mixed feelings and a general inability to really pin down why this one didn’t work out better for me.

I must admit that I was puzzled when I saw that this was book No.3 set in this world and I wonder if some of the issues I experienced might have been things strengthened by reading the earlier books – that being said this can apparently be read as a standalone.  Anyway, not to put the cart before the horse.

As the book starts we make the introduction of a family who are on the brink of a coming of age ceremony.  Ketram and Danak are ranchers, they raise and train dragons and they’re prosperous and well respected.  They have three children, triplets, although Danak is not the biological mother,  Their biological mother was murdered shortly after they were born and the three babies were stolen to be used as proxies (more of that later).  That the three were recovered is almost a miracle in itself but one of the children, Xinlas, died before his rescue but was somehow returned to life.  Having been raised with this story Xinlas has developed something of a superiority complex believing himself a future hero in the making.  The only thing he worries about is his lifespan and he’ll find out how many years he has to work on his own legend at the coming of age ceremony.  Unfortunately things don’t go well for Xinlas and he storms off, taking one of the dragons and trying to cool off which is when he spots a small village (Peacewood) that literally appears and disappears within the blink of an eye.  This he believes is the start of his adventure and he’s absolutely determined to find out more.

Meanwhile, the village in question, contains a few hundred people they’ve lived within the protection of a magical boundary for as long as they can remember – remaining unseen by the rest of the world.  The trees and the villagers of Peacewood seem to have an almost symbiotic relationship.  They’re a gentle people, with no frivolous extravagances, simply living their lives and with no desire to explore the outside world.  Except one young girl, Greengrass, who really does want to travel and is determined to break out.  In all this the key thing to the village is the trees, the wood from these trees floats and the villagers in fact craft both small and large boats to use on their lake.  If word of these boats and ships reaches certain people in the outside world it will be like an invitation to go a warring!  Especially if you have a crazy-arsed king who is hell bent not only on using the proxy system enough times to make him immortal but also using that extra time to dominate the rest of the world.

So, Ward introduces us to a very different world here with some interesting concepts.  Imagine a world where people cannot swim and wood and other substances cannot float on water.  It kind of puts a hamper on world domination – no way to sail your armies to distant shores to claim them as your own.  Of course there are dragons in this world which does make flying possible, but even so, you’d need a whole lot of beasties to transport an army and on top of that they would struggle to make it across the seas. Now also imagine a world where people are given a sort of prediction, if you like, at birth, that tells them their expected lifespan, on top of this it’s possible to transfer one person’s lifespan to somebody else (this is the proxy system and the person transferring their life obviously dies in the process), thereby extending the recipient’s lifespan  – it really doesn’t bode well does it and the possibilities for corruption are vast.

Now, on the one hand I really think these are interesting ideas but on the other they’re not explored well enough for me to enjoy reading about them which is a bit frustrating. The world building feels sort of flimsy.  Personally, once I start having questions that remain unanswered it almost becomes like a vicious circle and I can’t deny that it distracts me somewhat.  That being said it’s possible that this book is intended for a younger audience, it has a coming of age, chosen one feel and I appreciate that deeper world building sometimes takes a back seat.

Unfortunately I also didn’t really connect with the characters.  Xinlas in particular came across as anything but a hero.  He instead came across as incredibly spoilt, vain and rather annoying.  Privileged and indulged he couldn’t accept, when he finally met a girl  that he liked, and she didn’t return his affection and he behaved very badly.  His story arc just didn’t make sense from that point on – or more to the point his  change of character.

This all sounds incredibly negative which is something that I really didn’t intend.  Basically, the Anointed didn’t work out for me but that could be because it’s aimed at a younger audience and perhaps I would have had a stronger feel for the world if I’d read the previous books in the series.

As it is I’d rate this at just over 2.5 out of 5 on Goodreads which equates to 5.5 out of 10 for the competition.

My thanks to the author for a copy of the book.  The above is my own opinion.

 

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