#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 : My Fourth Batch of Books – Update/final cuts and Semi Finalist(s) announcement

Posted On 25 October 2021

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Today I’m posting an update for my fourth (final) batch of SPFBO books (which can be found here).  This year I’m teaming up with the lovely ladies from the Critiquing Chemist and we split the batch of books equally – which gives me a little more time this year.

This month I read and reviewed all three books from my fourth batch and today I’m providing my feedback on which books will be cut or rolled forward. I’m also making the decision between all the books carried forward to this point of which will be cut and which will be semi finalists..

I would mention that this is ultimately the most difficult part of the competition for judges and authors.  I don’t find making cuts easy to be honest however it’s the nature of the competition.  There can be only one. I would also like to thank the authors of the books that are highlighted today for taking the decision to throw their hat into the ring.  It can’t be easy and I definitely applaud you for taking this step.

Without further ado here is my feedback from the fourth batch of books:

Little White Hands by Mark Cushen


Almost five hundred years have passed since the Seasons were at war. Half a millennium since Winter defied Spring, and lost.

Generations have come and gone, not knowing the bitter freeze and howling snows of Winter ever existed.

But now, after centuries of silence, the participants in this ancient struggle have resurfaced and reignited their feud on the doorstep of an unassuming little kitchen boy.

Garlan’s dreams of being just like the knights he idolizes may not be as impossible as he has always been led to believe, when he is chased from his home and thrust headlong into the kind of adventure he had only ever read about in books.

Setting out on a journey that spans the entire kingdom of Faeland, Garlan will traverse impossible mountains and stormy seas and battle terrible monsters, all to keep the world he knows safe from an enemy who will stop at nothing to bring about a never-ending winter.

With a cast of fantastical characters to aid him in his quest, can Garlan overcome his self-doubt and find the courage he needs to rise above his humble station and become the hero he always dreamed of being?

The fate of the world rests in his hands.

My review is here.

In a nutshell: A very enjoyable coming of age MG story.  Well written and with plenty of adventure.  To be completely honest this is probably a story aimed at a younger audience than I perhaps would normally read but I have to say it’s a really good story and very well executed.  

Conclusion : Cut

The Throne of Ice & Ash by JDL Rosell


A throne in peril, a tragic betrayal, two heirs struggling to save their land, and a prophesied war threatening to engulf the world…

Bjorn, youngest heir to the Mad Jarl of Oakharrow, has always felt more at ease with a quill than a sword. Yet when calamity strikes his family, he must draw a blade and lead a company of warriors into the cold, deadly mountains in pursuit of a mysterious foe. Though he seeks vengeance, an ancient power stirs within him, and the whispers of prophecy beckon him toward an ominous destiny…

Aelthena, Bjorn’s sister, was born with the aptitude to lead, and she’s eager to prove it. But her society’s rules for women, and her love for her brother, restrain her efforts to command. As she walks the fine line between ambition and virtue, enemies of both mankind and myth rise against Oakharrow’s throne, and even her allies question her right to rule…

A harrowing tale of the struggle for power and the dawning heroes who rise above it, The Throne of Ice & Ash is Book 1 of the Norse high fantasy, coming of age series The Runewar Saga. Fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, The Lord of the Rings, and The Wheel of Time won’t want to miss this new sweeping epic fantasy!

My review is here.

In a nutshell: I really enjoyed this. A norse style story of two siblings each following a different path.  Very well written and seems to go from strength to strength.

Conclusion: Roll Forward


Out of the Dust by Joe Coates


There are few things more dangerous or more destructive than a bad man who thinks that he is doing a good thing…

The Aska Isles are burning. An unseasonable drought is slowly killing the land; crushing it in a patient and merciless fist of rising fire and dust.

On the prosperous Northern Isle, King Taavi Fulbright, senile and raving, edges closer to death while his Viceroy, the flint-hearted Corbin Cadmael, continues with his plans for subjugating the South and bringing the contemptible, stinking peasants that farm it under his yolk.

On the beautiful and brutal highlands of the Southern Isle, an outfit of desperadoes, bandits and cattle-thieves, led by the infamous Shaw siblings, is in the midst of murdering a team of the Crown’s cattle drovers and nicking their stock. It’s a final payday before the head of their crew, Viggo Shaw, leaves the road-life for good and settles down to fatherhood. Viggo cares little for the fate of the many, being concerned only with the lives of those closest to him; his sister and brother, Ylva and Destin, his lifelong love, Erika, and their unborn child.

That is until the delightfully psychotic Cormac Latrell comes strolling back into their lives after a decade-long absence. Latrell is a monster and, like all good monsters, is a monster of Viggo’s own creation. Once a polite and conscientious young nobleman, Latrell is the bastard son of Viceroy Cadmael and has been twisted by a love unrequited, the scorn of those he wished only to help, and the revulsion of a father who only ever saw him as a disappointment.

Latrell is hunting Erika’s sister, Fenella, who is rumoured to be endowed with powers long believed to be lost to legend. They are the powers of the Empathy, an elemental magic that could bring the Aska Isles back from the brink of the fire –– or cast it into the flames.

Now, Viggo and his band find themselves inexorably drawn into a choking world of revisited childhood sins that have sown the seeds from which fiends grow, soul-ripping jealousies, false prophesies, and blood-soaked feuds that promise little in the way of relief for any of them.

Viggo Shaw must face a trifecta of hard questions and an even tougher choice; is the saving of his world, the keeping of a final promise and the defeating of a monster he helped mould worth becoming a monster himself for?

Or should he just do what he aches to do, and surrender to death?

Or perhaps, Viggo might learn on his journey that the human heart is a torment and a masterpiece.

My review is here.

In a nutshell: I loved the writing for this one, and also the setting. It’s a story that becomes more and more difficult to put down as the characters travel deeper into trouble.

In conclusion : Roll Forward


That concludes all my updates and reviews for the first stage of the competition.  All my reviews can be found below: 

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts
  5. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  6. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks
  7. Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood
  8. Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale
  9. Carrion by Alyson Tait
  10. Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens
  11. Rising Shadows (The Pillar of Creation, #1) by Phillip Blackwater
  12. By the Pact by Joanna Maciejewska
  13. Little White Hands by Mark Cushen
  14. Out of the Dust by Joe Coates
  15. The Throne of Ice and Ash by JDL Rosell

To date I have rolled forward the following books:

Deathborn(Sovereigns of Bright and Shadow #1) by CE Page

By the Pact (Pacts Arcane and Otherwise 1) by Joanna Maciejewska

The Throne of Ice & Ash by JDL Rosell

Out of the Dust by Joe Coates



So, with the greatest respect to the authors I’m not going to make this a longer process than absolutely necessary.   I had some very enjoyable reads and eventually carried forward the above four books to think about some more.  I eventually put forward books to the Critiquing Chemist for their consideration and likewise they made similar suggestions.  Following discussion we have put forward five Semi Finalists as follows:

Ten Thousand Stitches by Olivia Atwater



Out of the Dust by Joe Coates



Subversive by Colleen Cowley



Hall of Bones by Tim Hardie



The Throne of Ice and Ash by J.D.L. Rosell



Here’s the link to the Critiquing Chemist’s post.

During the next few days we will consider these semi finalists further and post further reviews following which we hope to announce our finalist in the next few days.

Our thanks to the authors and good luck to the remaining semi finalists.

#SPFBO : Semi-Finalist and Cuts Announcement (2)

Posted On 27 October 2020

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300 books           10 Judges            1 winner

The 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  My Introductory post is here.

You can find my updates for batch 1batch 2batch 3, Batch 4 and Batch 5 by clicking on the  links.

During the past week I have reviewed the final five of the ten books that I rolled forward.  Today I am announcing the cuts from that batch of five together with the final semi finalists (my first announcement can be found here).  I would say, again, that these cuts have been very difficult because I’ve enjoyed all of the books from both batches and so the decision comes down to really very minor issues.  My apologies to the authors from this next round of cuts and congratulations to the Semi Finalists.

Knightmare Arcanist (Frith Chronicles #1) by Shami Stovall

I enjoyed the Knightmare Arcanist.  It has a lot going for it, plenty of action and a school type setting where students who have bonded with a magical mythical creature come to learn.  Plenty of student bonding and adventure with a central mystery and an ending that promises more. My review is here.

Conclusion : Cut


Trial of Thorns (Wicked Fae #1) by Stacey Trombley

This is a book that I was looking forward to very much, I love stories of the fae and this one didn’t disappoint.  The main gist is that the land of the fae is being attacked by a plague, the fae are holding trials to find a champion to meet the problem head on.  The central character has been banished but makes her return to take part in the trials – even though the other participants all want her dead.  I think readers who enjoy reading stories of the fae might like this one.  There is also a slow burn romance that I imagine will progress in the next novel.  My review is here.  Also, please note that we have a new cover:

Conclusion : Cut

Trial of

The Child of Silence by Joseph O.Doran (The Burning Orbit Book 1)

The Child of Silence is an impressive novel with a unique protagonist, some strong world building and a surprise ending.  There’s a lot going on in this one with rebellion and war and then an unexpected element at the conclusion. I enjoyed this although it could benefit from a little sharpening.  My review is here.

Conclusion : Cut


Voice of War by Zack Argyle (Threadlight #1)

Voice of War is an impressive debut.  The writing gains in confidence as the story progresses and we follow, in the first instance two very different protagonists.  This is a story that captured my attention early and kept me intrigued.  My review is here.

Conclusion : Semi Finalist


Tuyo by Rachel Neumeier (Tuyo #1)

Tuyo is a very well written, character centric novel.  This is a tale of friendship that is found where least expected and a story of enemies joining together to address a greater threat.  My review is here.

Conclusion : Semi Finalist


#SPFBO : Semi-Finalist and Cuts Announcement

Posted On 19 October 2020

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Artboard 1

300 books           10 Judges            1 winner

The 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  My Introductory post is here.

You can find my updates for batch 1batch 2batch 3, Batch 4 and Batch 5 by clicking on the  links.

During the past week I have reviewed five of the ten books that I rolled forward.  Today I am announcing the first cuts from that batch of five together with the first semi finalists.  I would say that these cuts have been very difficult because I’ve enjoyed all of the books from both batches and so the decision comes down to really very minor issues.  My apologies to the authors from this next round of cuts and congratulations to the Semi Finalists.

The Usurper (Brutal Saga #0.50) by James Alderdice

I had a good time with the Usurper and really enjoyed the two different timelines.  Other than a couple of minor issues I think this is a series that I would really enjoy and fans of grimdark fantasy with a dash of heroic adventure might enjoy this one.  My review is here.

Conclusion : Cut


The Hammer of the Gods: So You Want To Be A Star (The Druid Trilogy #1) by Andrew Marc Rowe

The Hammer of the Gods is a tongue in cheek adventure that pokes a little fun at many well known characters, myths and gods from the fantasy genre.  If you don’t mind a bit of creative cursing and sexual references and a crazy and mixed up tale of two unlikely characters trying to change their way in life then this is a very promising start to series even with a slightly abrupt ending. My review is here.

Conclusion : Cut


Incursion (The Necromancer’s Key #1) by Mitchell Hogan

A tale of epic fantasy, on the face of it a story of good vs evil, scratch the surface and everything isn’t so clear cut of course.  Two characters discover there is more to their magic and in a realm of unrest dark abilities must remain hidden.  This is an impressive piece of writing and promises very good things to come.  I only had minor issues in terms of the level of detail but nothing that spoiled the read.  My review is here.

Conclusion : Cut


Calico Thunder Rides Again by T.A. Hernandez

Calico Thunder is a really very easy to read tale of a circus.  Set in an era of prohibition and speakeasies the bans here are on magic use not alcohol.  Calico Thunder is a dragon and part of the circus act.  Jake Strickland inherited the circus from his father.  Unfortunately he also inherited some rather huge problems at the same time and his attempts to solve said problems are the main driver of the story.  A very enjoyable read.  My review is here.

Conclusion : Semi-finalist


The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon by Benedict Patrick

I had such a good time reading Flight of the Darkstar Dragon.  The imagination and world building are absolutely fascinating.  This is a purple world where a dragon encircles the sun and rifts act as portals to other worlds.  A winning combination of super world building with the promise of many adventures yet to come.  My review is here.

Conclusion : Semi-finalist