#SPFBO 8 Recap, Semi Finalists and What’s Next


What is SPFBO? Check out Mark Lawrence’s post here to look at this year’s entrants, judges and allocations list.

This year I am teaming up again with the ladies from The Critiquing Chemist.

So, we recently announced our finalist. To check out all the Finalists simply follow this link.

Our finalist this year was Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson – if you haven’t read this book I highly recommend it. It’s a great deal of fun and whilst it has a slightly more modern feel than Jane Austen I can without reservation say that it felt positively Austen(ish).  I loved it.

However, today I’d like to cast the light on our Semi Finalists.  In fact this year I’ve decided to use the second stage of the competition to take a look at the semi finalists chosen by our fellow judges.  At the end of the day these are good books that could easily have been finalists and so I’d love to take a look -wouldn’t want to miss out after all.

This post is about the three Semi Finalists we chose and why you should give them a read.

In no particular order:

The World BreakerThe World Breaker Requiem by Luke Tarzian

This is what my fantastic partners over at The Critiquing Chemist had to say

The World Breaker Requiem. … a story that’s equal parts dark, mercurial, and deep… The characters are constantly evolving as more is revealed. The story continually shifts between different characters, such that it may not be entirely clear which character is being featured or how the passage ties in until later on. The setting is hauntingly beautiful with endless possibilities for worldbuilding. And with poignant prose, Tarzian masterfully examines topics of guilt, intentions versus consequences, and how far you’d go to right a wrong’

I would add to this by saying ‘I thought this was a powerful story of grief and loss and the lengths people will go to in search of redemption or the possibility to turn back time.  It strongly sits in the grimdark genre and yet it has an hypnotic style that makes you stop and backtrack at certain points in order to really capture the essence of what’s being said.’

This is a layered book set in a grim world yet the author has a style that almost belies the horror and struggles that the characters encounter.  An author with a unique, hypnotic style.

BloodofThe Blood of Crows by Alex C Pierce

Here we have a fast paced and entertaining story which essentially turns into a race against time for the main POV who needs to solve a murder mystery before he finds himself framed for something he didn’t do.  Along the way there are heists and twists, gadgets and magic. This is a story that makes you form attachments to the characters and I found myself always keen to pick it up for the next instalment of mayhem.

On the face of it you could be forgiven for thinking that this doesn’t sound particularly groundbreaking, particularly if you read plenty of fantasy, however, the writing is great, the dialogue is witty, I liked the elemental magic and the pages practically turned themselves.  A pacy read with an ending that leaves so much more to look forward to – speaking of which – here’s what the CC had to say in that regard  ‘In many ways this novel feels like a prequel where the key players are established, but most of the reveals are kept waiting in the wings for the remainder of the series. The epilogue alone holds enough surprises to fuel a whole new line of questions, along with recasting several of the events throughout The Blood of Crows in a new light, while introducing a shadow party that adds a new layer of intrigue and danger.’

A nugget of a book.

EverAliceEver Alice by HJ Ramsay

Ahh, when is a retelling not a retelling?  Why, when it is a sequel of course.  A  return to the crazy that we know as Wonderland and a look at characters that we thought we knew, but when seen through the eyes of a teenager instead of a young girl, seem on reflection to be much more conniving.

Ever Alice certainly relies heavily on the original work and I enjoyed that aspect to the story.  We have many of the old characters along with some new introductions, although as I said above, these characters have lost some of their ‘silliness’ – now being observed by a more cynical teenager.  I loved the upside down, contradictory nature of everything – on the one hand (or should that be on the second foot?) there are descriptions of food, tea and cake, and in your head you have this delicious afternoon tea appearing in your brain until, what?  this doesn’t sound delicious at all.  And these contradictions are the same for everything which gives the full story a beautifully-twisted-upside down-nothing-is-as-it-should-be-or-what-you-initially-think-feel.

This also has an alternate history woven into the tale of the two Queens (Hearts and Spades) and I really enjoyed that aspect.  It felt like it put some meat on the bones of the story.

This is a story that gives you a different slice of Alice Pie.  Things have moved on and the author takes the opportunity to look at mental health issues and the treatments meted out by asylums.  Strangely enough, I’ve only just realised  how very appropriate the title of the book is.  Silly me.

Over the next few weeks I very much look forward to looking at Semi Finalists from the other judges so watch this space for some more ‘must read’ recommendations.  Wouldn’t want your Mount TBR to look achievable now would we.

Also,  I shall be selecting my Finalist reading order using a random number generator.  I wonder which book will be first?


#SPFBO 8 Ever Alice by HJ Ramsay : Review

Posted On 27 October 2022

Filed under Book Reviews
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What is SPFBO? Check out Mark Lawrence’s post here to look at this year’s entrants, judges and allocations list.

I am teaming up again with the ladies from The Critiquing Chemist.

This year we have chosen four Semi Finalists.  See the announcement posts here and here.  I have since read both of the CC’s SFs and will now be reviewing both in fairly short order.  Then we have the difficult job of choosing just one book to move forward.


Anyway, today I’m reviewing Ever Alice by HJ Ramsay.  I really enjoyed this, it’s beautifully written and made me feel quite whimsical as I read.

Ever Alice is not a retelling but a sequel. Alice’s Adventures involved a young girl named Alice who fell down a rabbit hole when she was chasing a white rabbit and from there ensued the utter magical chaos of Wonderland. The next instalment showed us a slightly older version of Alice as she travels through the looking glass to experience the back to front world of Wonderland.  In Ever Alice, a teenage version of Alice finds that her sweet ramblings about white rabbits are no longer cute or fanciful and her family, worried about her mental health, proceed to engage a string of doctors.  Eventually Alice is placed in an asylum where the treatment she will receive is scary to say the least.  Once again, she manages to escape to Wonderland but is it a mistake to come back, the Queen of Hearts once asked for her head after all.

What I really enjoyed about this is that the author brings to us with Ever Alice a sequel that very much moves the story forward whilst maintaining the essence of Wonderland.  So, we still have the utter chaos, the crazy behaviour and the nonsense and it all relies very heavily on the original body of works but at the same time we’re now observing this through the eyes of a 15 year old who is feeling disillusioned (to say the least) and her perspective lends the story a much darker view.  There’s also an alternate history running through this, what started in Alice’s adventure with the slightly veiled reference to the War of the Roses has progressed to the rivalry between Queen Elizabeth 1 (the Queen of Hearts) and Mary Queen of Scots (The Queen of Spades).  To be honest, that might be something that readers pick up on or not but I felt like it added an interesting layer and although I’m definitely not a history buff I could see certain elements leading the story, particularly the Queen of Heart’s paranoia about plots against the throne.

Alternate histories aside, I enjoyed returning to Wonderland and meeting up with familiar characters over again. In Ever Alice everyone is called by their own names which, whilst a little confusing at first, does actually make a certain sort of sense.  So, for example, the White Rabbit is Ralph and the Queen of Hearts is Rosamund. The characters here do feel different but this is an element to the story that I like, it makes you stop to consider, have the characters changed or is Alice seeing them more clearly now she’s a little older.  The Mad Hatter (William) is something of a schemer, Ralph isn’t quite the softie he first seemed although he’s still regularly late, often disappears and simply can’t be relied upon. Rosamund’s character has also intensified. Heads are now rolling at such an alarming rate that Wonderland might be empty if someone doesn’t put the breaks on soon!

Wonderland itself proved to still be crazily chaotic. I loved all the upside/downness of it all and thought the author managed to come up with some wonderfully witty and silly creations of her own.  I frequently found myself smiling at the world, the place and the characters and had no problem with racing to the conclusion.

In terms of criticisms. Well, not much from me. I do think this relies on a certain knowledge of the world and characters, that being said, having read the original works and a few adaptations over the years I don’t think I could reliably say that this couldn’t be read as a standalone – I just think it’s better to be read with some prior knowledge. I would also say to moderate your expectations.  This is not quite the charmingly innocent and silly children’s tale that you might want or expect.  This can be quite shockingly dark, even unexpectedly brutal and the ending is definitely one to ponder. Bittersweet- maybe.  Possibly leaves room for manoeuvre and undoubtedly provides plenty of food for thought.

I had a good time reading Ever Alice.  It’s definitely a lot of crazy mixed in with a strange alternate history and a harsh look at the brutality of asylums and early treatments where mental health issues were concerned.  It took me in a direction I didn’t expect and kept me thinking long after I’d turned the last page.

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