#SPFBO 2018 – all wrapped up

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SPFBO 2018 has finally come to an end – all the scores and reviews are now published and the final chart with links to the different blog sites and other information can be found here.

Huge congratulations to the winner of the competition – Orconomics by J Zachary Pike (which concluded with an excellent and impressive final score) and the final line up looked like this:

Orconomics 8.65
Gods of Men 8.05
We Ride The Storm 8.05
Sworn to the Night 8.00
Symphony of the Wind 7.40
Aching God 6.90
Ruthless Magic 6.35
Out of Nowhere 5.50
The Anointed 5.10
Sowing 4.55

I would like to give a huge thank you to all the authors who took part.  It’s been a great competition with some amazing books.  Thanks also to Mark Lawrence and all the other bloggers for making this such a memorable year.

Below are the 10 finalists, all together, looking absolutely gorgeous:

and finally, here are my reviews of all the finalists:

  1. The Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss
  2. Orconomics by J Zachary Pike
  3. Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas
  4. We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson
  5. Symphony of the Wind by Steven McKinnon
  6. The Anointed by Keith Ward
  7. Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe
  8. Sworn to the Night by Craig Schaefer
  9. Aching God by Mike Shel
  10. Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc

** ‘SPFBO 2018’ signing out **

#SPFBO We Ride the Storm (The Reborn Empire #1) by Devin Madson

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WeRideWe Ride the Storm is the eighth finalist I’ve read as part of the SPFBO leaving me with only one more book to read and review to complete the journey.  This is a story of war and is a book that is very appropriately named as it brings us three characters who are indeed trying to ride out the storm of war and stay alive. The Kisian Empire has a bloody history, built on war it’s reign is tenuous and this first instalment throws readers into a volatile, Asian inspired story of conflict and survival.

The story is told through three characters, each with very different backgrounds and motivations.  Strangely enough, all three of them find themselves in situations where they are being manipulated by others to achieve a desired outcome.

Captain Rah e’Torin commands the Second Swords.  A nomadic tribe of horse warriors.  Exiled from their own lands and struggling to stay alive they are becoming fractious and discontent.  Rah finds his command under threat, his people becoming less likely to follow him willingly and to be honest, when they’re captured and forced to fight in a war not of their own making you can’t help but think they just may have had a point.  Basically, they have two choices.  They can fight with the Chiltaen army (and possibly die in the process) or they can decline to fight and be executed.

Miko is a Princess living within the Imperial Court.  Everyday she trains to fight and her and her twin brother, Tanaka, dream of ruling together.  This is a complex situation.  Miko and her brother live on a knife edge of fear.  Fathered by a traitor but named as the Emperor’s children it’s a situation where everyone knows the truth but no one dares speak it. At the start of the story Miko’s mother informs her that she is to be married.  A marriage of convenience to unite two warring factions.  Unfortunately the plans go awry somewhat and what started as an attempt to form allies ends instead in war with Miko choosing a most unexpected route.

Cassandra is the final narrator.  A prostitute and assassin – the first certainly helps her to get into certain situations that sometimes makes achieving the second easier!  She has a little bit of a drink problem, usually squandering her hard earned cash on bottles of Stiff – expensive and potent alcohol that Cassandra devours to try and kill the voice in her head!  Yes, Cassandra has a passenger on board, who she refers to as ‘her/she’ – this isn’t her own inner consciousness though, this is an individual entity that very rarely agrees with anything that Cassandra does.  Cassandra comes across as hard, street wise and yet she finds herself, along with the other two narrators, being manipulated in ways that she didn’t truly understand until she’s too far in to turn back.  She also has her own motivation for taking part, the chance to meet somebody who she’s been searching out for a long time.

This is truly a character driven novel and one that feels like it’s only just scraped the surface of what’s really going on.  In some respects it feels a little like a set up novel because when it concludes many threads remain unanswered – I don’t mean that as a criticism though – this is a novel with plenty going on with many ideas waiting to be explored more fully.

The world building.  As mentioned this is an Asian inspired story, the nomadic horse tribes originate from a land akin to the Steppe and the Kisian Empire seems to draw influence from Japanese culture (although I confess I’m not an expert on either so could be totally jumping to the wrong conclusion so don’t quote me).  I would say the world building is not the strongest element of the story.  We spend a lot of the time in up close and personal situations with the three main characters and so we pick up bits and pieces from each but we don’t really take a look at the bigger picture.  I didn’t find this to be a problem.  I had a fairly good sense of place but I wonder if reading the author’s earlier books would have helped more with the set up.   As I said, I didn’t find it an issue.

The writing is very good to be honest.  It was easy to distinguish the characters, the dialogue was a really strong point and the author has a certain flair which really adds to the read.  The pacing was pretty even although I did experience a little bit of a lull, maybe around halfway – to be honest, I was feeling under the weather so it could be ‘me’ and not the book that is the blame for that slight blip.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I would find it difficult to say which of the three characters I liked the best.  They all suffered from flaws in some ways – the dilemma of which is that these flaws, I think, made them more interesting and allowed for a greater character arc.  I only mention it as a criticism because it can be sometimes irritating when reading them.  Rah, for example,  He has a very strong moral compass – in terms of his own beliefs – but, at the same time as applauding this it also made me want to slap him occasionally because he comes across as too rigid.  People change, situations change, and people who can’t bend may just break.  But (of course there’s a but) I also kind of liked his stubbornness and in fact I found myself really looking forward to his chapters.  Cassandra – here is a very intriguing character.  I liked the whole ‘inner voice’ thread and really would like to know more but I didn’t completely buy her as an assassin and things often felt too easy which in turn made them seem a little contrived.  Miko. She definitely made some decisions that appeared strange, but, I don’t really feel like I knew her well enough to say whether they were out of character.  She was probably my least favourite of the three, at the beginning at least, but she definitely improved as the story progressed and her final chapters were a whirl of action.  Actually, my favourite character, one I found really fascinating and would love to know more about – was Leo.  I hope he has more page space in later instalments.  Fingers crossed.

Overall I had a very good time with We Ride the Storm and will definitely continue with the series. I thought this was a solid start to a series that has a lot of promise and plenty yet to explore.

I would mention, as a final point, that the story can be a little bit dark and bloody at points, I wouldn’t say that it was gratuitous, it didn’t make me uncomfortable at all but there are a good deal of people losing their heads here so be warned.  Decapitation is a key element of one of the main character’s cultures, they remove the heads of the dead in order to release the soul – during war times that’s a lot of heads being removed, using a knife – just saying.

My rating for the purpose of the competition is a very strong 8 out of 10 and 4 of 5 for Goodreads.

My thanks to the author for providing a copy for review purposes.  The above is my own opinion.

#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: