#SPFBO Cry Havoc (Jack Frey #1) by Mike Morris

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CryHavocCry Havoc was in my first batch of SPFBO books.  The feedback from that batch can be found here and Cry Havoc was the first book that I decided to fully read and at the moment is still in the running to be a potential semi finalist.

As the story begins we meet two young boys, Jack and his older brother Brendan.  They live with their mother in rather abject poverty and frequently resort to robbery in order simply to eat.  Their father is no longer around and their mother struggles to cope, seeking solace in a bottle of alcohol more often than not.  It’s easy to see that the two are going to grow up somewhat wild until fate intervenes.  Caught attempting a burglary the two are taken by the Black Dogs, a religious order of priests who learn to fight to protect Abios from invasion by their mortal enemies, the Nostros.

The Nostros are the monsters/demons of the story.  They share a number of similarities with vampires in both their eating and sleep patterns.  They have conquered the humans of the Northlands in fact Abios seems to be the only place that they don’t yet rule.  The journey across the waters makes it difficult for them as they cannot be caught outside during the hours of sunlight.

The story is told by two different characters.  Lin, a slave of the Nostros who seems to live in constant fear of either death by the hand of one of the Masters or by one of her fellow slaves.  It’s something of a dog eat dog world that the slaves live in, they spend their nights working exhausting hours for very little reward and with barely enough to eat.  Jack is the alternating POV.  In many respects he and his brother fell on their feet when they were caught stealing.  They are now fed, clothed and taught.  They have a roof over their head and a purpose – although this doesn’t stop Jack from railing against everything to begin with.

The two storylines will eventually cross paths although not for a good portion of the story when the Black Dogs become aware of an increased threat from the Nostros and are forced to take proactive measures.

I thought that Cry Havoc was a promising start to the series.  The writing was good once the author found his feet and although it did get off to something of a slow start the alternating POV chapters helped to keep the momentum going, plus the fact that I was curious about both characters also helped.

The characters themselves.  They feel like they need something more at the moment, they’ve not completely wowed me in fact I found myself liking some of the peripheral characters more – particularly during the action scenes towards the end of the book.  But, this is a first in series and without making it into a weighty tome it can be difficult to balance everything.

The world building.  This has a mediaeval feel to it in terms of modes of transport, dress and weapons – although surprisingly there are guns – which I wasn’t expecting.  I would have liked more information about the Nostros.  They felt a little under developed at this point.  They’re very unsavoury characters indeed, human lives being absolutely nothing to them, but I would have liked to feel more tension and fear whenever they entered the scene. And I think I would like a little bit more detail about this war between good vs evil.  Again, it’s that balancing act though and no doubt more information will be forthcoming in future instalments.

In terms of criticisms.  Wel, I enjoyed this but it does have a ‘first in series’ feel.  I have yet to fall in love with Jack or Lin and this lack of attachment did make me feel a little ambivalent towards their safety during the ensuing fight scenes.  That being said this certainly wasn’t a difficult read, I didn’t feel the need to DNF and it was a fairly easy page turner.

I would rate this as a 3.5 of 5 stars or 7 out of 10.

My thanks to the author for a review copy and for entering the SPFBO competition.  The above is my own opinion.

#SPFBO Finalist: The Weight of a Crown by Tavish Kaeden

The Weight of a Crown by Tavish Kaeden was one of my SPFBO reads and in fact is the book I’ve put forward to the next round.  I really enjoyed this, not without some reservations, but on the whole I thought it was well written and entertaining and a good start to a series that I will definitely continue to read.

I’m going to try and be brief with the plot – to be honest with you this story is set on an epic scale and so to really do it justice here would probably take too much time and eventually turn into a short story in itself.

The setting is Esmoria, which has known more than it’s fair share of conflict but is finally being ruled by one king (or at least they were until his death) – not, however, without a fair share of resentment on the parts of the other two races outlined in the story.The Bloodmarsh are the conquerors – the king-that-was had visions of a great empire living in peace, his death leaves a great void, felt even more by his people as the Prince is also missing (believed dead).  In their place serves a regent known as Bokrham.  The court is becoming a difficult place to rule though and trouble is brewing.

The other two races that we meet in this story are the Curahshar – a desert people with fierce warriors.  They are ultimately ruled by a Grand Johalid who reigns in The Heart of Sands (a sacred city that lies deep within the desert).  The Curahsar seem to be cursed by a strange plague which attacks their warriors leaving them vulnerable, weak and confused and which ultimately led to their defeat.

The Hinnjar live in the Silver Mountains.  They were conquered after a protracted siege where starvation became their biggest enemy.

That’s the make up and lie of the land in a nutshell – albeit a tiny nutshell for the purpose of this review.

Now to the characters, of which there is no shortage.  The four main pov characters are as follows:

We start off reading about Jeina.  After being caught stealing Jeina has been sent to a mining camp (where silver is sought to help fund Prince Tobin’s exploits (Tobin is Hinnjar and has dreams of retaking his throne).  Life in the camp is hard, cold and lonely.  Jeina spends the majority of her day crawling through tiny tunnels looking for the telltale signs of silver – that is until she makes a scary discovery that results in the mine being closed indefinitely.  Jeina is going to meet with an unexpected opportunity to escape – she will be followed however and by something quite unspeakably evil.

Next we meet Nicolas, an engraver’s apprentice whose livelihood is threatened by the strange seizures that he sometimes experiences and which now seem to be occurring with more frequency.  His life is about to be changed irrevocably by a chance encounter with a mysterious stranger who wishes to buy out his bond.

Xasho is a Curahshar warrior.  Accompanied by a small band of warriors and their captain Boskaheed, they’re about to try and reclaim one of their lost cities – an enterprise that frankly goes horribly wrong.  Xasho manages to escape but becomes confused along the way and comes across a strange place where he finds a pair of short swords that possess strange magic and start to control the way in which Xasho fights.  At this stage we have no idea whether this magic is good or evil but we share the visions that Xasho is now experiencing and that will eventually tell the story of these weapons and their previous owner.

Bokhram is the regent currently taking the reins over the Blood Marsh.  Court politics and internal bickering are becoming more of a problem by the day whilst the nobles fight for position.  Some of them directly claiming rights to the throne.  Bokhram is barely keeping control and not knowing just how tentative his position really is is about to make something of a dubious deal himself.

Obviously there are more characters.  We spend time with Tobin – a very unsavoury character who enlists the help of a blacksmith named Isic.  Tobin and Isic both have their own ambitions and between them they’re about to release something dark and sinister from within the mines – not just to release either – but to try and control.  We have the strange character that Nicolas’ fate has become entwined with and we have Jeina who manages to find help from a character called Fezi.

All of the four pov characters are about to set off on their own journey, a couple of them meet up during the course of this story and I suspect that they may all finally meet at some point.  In the meantime we have a great combination of battles, championship jousts, court politics, intrigue, evil creatures who have the ability to control minds, escape, and, well, more.

This is a very readable story and it’s well written.  I’m totally intrigued with where it will go next and will certainly continue the journey to see where book 2 takes me.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, whilst I think the characters were well thought out I think I would have liked a bit more spark from them as at the moment I’m not sure how I really feel about them.  For example Jeina.  She’s a contradictory type of character who goes from an almost death situation to being helped by a kind stranger to then making demands – and this is something that she does tend to do quite often.  I also felt that she lacked something somehow.  She’s just kind of buffeted along and relies quite heavily on others.  However, I also have the strange feeling that there’s more to her that we haven’t yet discovered and I wonder if, even unbeknownst to herself, she has some sort of magic that allows her to compel people to help her or bend them to her will – I guess we’ll see.  I do think the characters are well done but I think maybe some sharper dialogue or banter would have brought them more to life somehow.  That being said I do think the characters showed improvement in that respect as the story moved forward.  There is also very much a set up feel to this story – it’s not something that I mind to be honest because there’s a lot going on here (plus no shortage of plot and action) and I’m glad that the author takes the time to properly line things up.

On the whole I really enjoyed this.  I think the writing is very good.  It’s a big book and yet I never had the inclination to put it down and leave it to one side in fact I think that there is nothing wasted in the writing at all – it kept me entertained throughout and compelled me to keep reading.