#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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#SPFBO – Finalists No.4 and No.5

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Today I’m highlighting the fourth and fifth 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 .  (My reviews for Symphony of the Wind and The Anointed will follow in the next week or so).  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 4th and 5th finalists will be:

Aching God (Iconoclasts #1) by Mike Shel

Aching God“Closer, mortal. You are here, finally, to feed the Aching God…”

The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. That is, until old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, heralding an urgent summons back to that old life.

To save his only daughter, Auric must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands. With only a few inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization. Auric has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god?

First book in the Iconoclasts trilogy, Aching God is the debut novel of RPG adventure designer Mike Shel. He is working on book 2, Sin Eater. The first two chapters of Sin Eater are included at the end of Aching God.

 

Sowing (The Purification Era #1) by Angie Grigaliunas

Sowing.jpgThey can take your house, your daughter, whatever they want.

For Ariliah, life under the militarized Hulcondans is one of order and safety. Despite the soldiers’ ruthless policies, she trusts their judgment. They alone provide protection from the enemies lurking beyond the city wall.

For her older sister, Rabreah, every glance from a Hulcondan is a threat. Though even a whisper against them is treason worthy of death, Rabreah is determined to end their tyranny. Joining an underground resistance is her only hope – until she realizes she doesn’t know the people she’s aligned herself with at all. Unsure who to trust but unable to back out, she must work alongside the attractive yet infuriating rebel leader who reminds her far too much of the soldiers she hates.

But with subversive posters appearing throughout the city and people dying on the blade of an unknown assailant, the sisters’ world begins to crumble.

And as the line between friend and enemy blurs, both girls must face the truth: everything is about to change.

#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.

#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.

 

 

 

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