#SPFBO Finalists: My eighth book : The Crimson Queen (The Raveling #1) by Alec Hutson


Below is a round up of the ten finalists that have been put forward in this year’s SPFBO (Self Published Fantasy Blog Off).  A link with more information about the competition can be found here.


Today’s post is to highlight my randomly chosen eighth book for the SPFBO.  The books I’ve read so far are:  The War of Undoing by Alex Perry, Chaos Trims my Beard by Brett Herman,  Pilgrimage to Skara by Jonathan S Pembroke, Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe, Tiger Lily by K BIrd Lincoln,  Devil’s Night Dawning (Broken Stone Chronicle #1) by Damien Black ad The Way Into Chaos by Harry Connolly (review to follow shortly.  My eighth book is The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson – a book put forward by The Fantasy Book Critic.

A little bit more about the book:

the crimsonThe Crimson Queen (The Raveling #1) by Alec Hutson

Long ago the world fell into twilight, when the great empires of old consumed each other in sorcerous cataclysms. In the south the Star Towers fell, swallowed by the sea, while the black glaciers descended upon the northern holdfasts, entombing the cities of Min-Ceruth in ice and sorcery. Then from the ancient empire of Menekar the paladins of Ama came, putting every surviving sorcerer to the sword and cleansing their taint from the land for the radiant glory of their lord.

The pulse of magic slowed, fading like the heartbeat of a dying man.

But after a thousand years it has begun to quicken again.

In a small fishing village a boy with strange powers comes of age…

A young queen rises in the west, fanning the long-smoldering embers of magic into a blaze once more…

Something of great importance is stolen – or freed – from the mysterious Empire of Swords and Flowers…

And the immortals who survived the ancient cataclysms bestir themselves, casting about for why the world is suddenly changing…

 The first book in The Raveling, a new epic fantasy saga

Sufficiently Advanced Magic (Arcane Ascension #1) by Andrew Rowe #SPFBO


sufficiently advancedSufficiently Advanced Magic is the fourth book I read from the nine finalists of the #SPFBO.  I enjoyed this, with a few reservations, and would definitely be interested in reading more in the Arcane Ascension series.

The book gets off to a good start opening as Corin Cadence is about to enter the Serpent Spire for his attunement trial.  Corin has been anxiously awaiting his trial.  Five years ago his brother entered the tower and never came out again.  Corin wants to find out why.

Survivors of the trials, and yes, they are the real deal with some of the participants meeting an unfortunate end, receive an attunement mark that basically bestows magical powers on the bearer of the mark.    Corin is hoping to reach the top of the tower to earn a boon from the goddess and find out what happened to his brother.  The tower itself is like a labyrinth of puzzles and traps.  Things shift unaccountably, walkways trigger deathly contraptions and taking the easy route is not really a good idea.

Now, it’s not spoilery to say that Corin survives the trials (otherwise this would be a fairly short story).  He receives an attunement although it’s not the one his ambitious family were hoping for.  This is a family that’s all about power and they were hoping that Corin would receive a mark befitting their status.  His survival of the tower is barely given a second thought when he returns home with an inadequate mark and one that means he will spend his life as an Enchanter.  I have to say for the record that coming up with creative ways of making simple things into weapons or protective items appeals to me much more than rushing headlong into battle and I found Corin’s attunement fascinating.

From here Corin goes to school.  Yes, this does seem a very well used trope but it’s a good one and no exception here.  I like magic schools and this one has plenty to keep the reader entertained.  On top of Corin’s learning, trying to improve his magical ability and gain friends there’s also an underlying story involving a message that Corin was given whilst in the tower.  I won’t elaborate further but not everything is as it first appears.

So, to the goodies first.

Magical schooling.  It’s a well used trope because it’s well loved.  I always enjoy this sort of setting and SAM is no exception.  Don’t be fooled into thinking this is aimed at a younger audience due to the school setting though because I don’t think that’s the case.

The writing is good, the dialogue is entertaining, the magical system has been thoroughly thought out.  Corin is a great character who you can’t help but like.  He’s not the usual ‘chosen one’ – something I breathed a real sigh of relief about.  He’s bookish and a bit awkward and he has some little quirks or oddities that just endear him to you.  Plus, he makes mistakes.  Who doesn’t make mistakes?  This makes him a lot more relatable and that plus his desire to improve just came across very strongly.  Put simply, he isn’t the best, he knows it, but he’s willing to do everything he can to improve.

There is no shortage of action whether it’s in the school or outside, there are plenty of fight scenes and a whole bunch of different critters and monsters are thrown into the mix which make for great entertainment.

I really enjoyed watching Corin’s struggles to make friends. He’s been out of the school scene since his brother’s disappearance.  His parents took him out of school to tutor him privately and make sure he was at his best before entering the tower.  Corin’s father is greatly disappointed in Corin.  His first son carried all his hopes and aspirations and Corin is a weaker and more bookish version who can just about avoid stabbing himself when armed with a sword.  Well, actually, that’s not entirely true.  Corin is, in fairness, quite adept at looking after himself but his father will never acknowledge it.

In terms of my niggles.

It feels a little like a book of two halves.  The first half loses a lot of pace due to all the explanation about the magic involved.  It feels like there’s a lot of information to relay and it becomes a bit much and also a little repetitive in parts.  It definitely slowed the read down quite a bit for me and although the second half picks up momentum it took a while to get to that point where I couldn’t put the book down.

The idea of Corin being on a quest to find his brother lost some of its urgency.  In fact I didn’t really buy into the quest to be honest.  It got lost in the background a little bit when Corin went to school and I never really felt any emotion from Corin in terms of his brother.

There was an element of predictability about some of the final twists.  This was due to the actions of some of the characters that just didn’t sit right for me when I read them.  This wasn’t a massive concern but there were just a couple of times when it brought me up short but obviously I’m not going to elaborate as that will lead to spoilers.

Overall, this is a very good read.  I thought the ending was excellent and a great set up for the next instalment.  It suffered a little in terms of predictability and pacing but it makes a very good start to series.

I’ve rated this a 7, which equates to 3.5 on Goodreads.

My thanks to the author for a copy of the book.  The above is my own opinion.



#SPFBO Finalists: My fifth book: Tiger Lily (Tiger Lily #1) by K. Bird Lincoln


Below is a round up of the ten finalists that have been put forward in this year’s SPFBO (Self Published Fantasy Blog Off).  A link with more information about the competition can be found here.


I’ve now randomly chosen my fifth book for the SPFBO.  The books I’ve read so far are:  The War of Undoing by Alex Perry, Chaos Trims my Beard by Brett Herman,  Pilgrimage to Skara by Jonathan S Pembroke and Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe (review to follow shortly).  The fifth book that I’m about to embark on is Tiger Lily (Tiger Lily #1) by K. Bird Lincoln. This book was the finalist put forward by The Qwillery.

A little bit more about the book:

Tiger Lily (Tiger Lily #1) by K. Bird Lincoln


tigerlilyLily isn’t supposed to hunt game in the Daimyo’s woods. She’s just the cook’s daughter. It isn’t her place to talk to nobility. And she definitely isn’t supposed to sing the forbidden old, Jindo religion songs.

But Lily was born in the year of the Tiger, and can’t ever be like other village girls. In the woods snaring rabbits one day, she finds instead the Daimyo’s son, Ashikaga, wounded, in the gooseberry brush. When the Pretender Emperor’s men arrive to kill Ashikaga, Lily, desperate, sings a forbidden Jindo song.

The song wakes a powerful spirit – as well as Ashikaga’s interest. The prickly lord has hidden secrets of his own and a burning desire to prove himself to his father. He will stop at nothing to defeat his father’s greatest enemy.

All Lily wants to do is take care of her sisters. But the Pretender-Emperor’s forces are drawing near, and now the Daimyo’s son knows she communes with Jindo gods. She wants to trust Ashikaga when he swears he will not tell her secret, but he is a noble – and Lily only a peasant. Lily’s heart is leading her down a dangerous path. She may have to defy her father, Ashikaga, and even the spirits themselves in order to defeat the Pretender-Emperor’s magic and keep safe all that she loves.

Pilgrimage to Skara by Jonathan Pembroke #SPFBO


skaraPilgrimage to Skara is the third book I read from the nine finalists of the #SPFBO. It’s a story that follows a journey, over harsh terrain in search of magic.

As the story begins we make the introduction of Pell Wendt.  Pell is a farmer but clearly there is more to him than at first meets the eye which becomes immediately apparent when he receives two visitors who want him to take on a quest.  Pell was a pathfinder, which means he took promising young people out to shrines where some form of magical ability would be bestowed upon them.  This isn’t a possibility for everyone mind, this is only for those who have passed an initiation test that shows they are able to wield magic.  Pell accepts the mission even though this is a more dangerous journey than any he has encountered before and the chances of survival are slim.  The young hopeful, Kellie, is the daughter of the Baroness of Kettiburg.  The usual promise of riches are made but the motivation for Pell accepting the challenge is that he was once in love with the woman who is now Baroness and although she left him in pursuit of her own ambitions he still carries a torch.

On the face of it this is the type of fantasy that I enjoy.  The promise of a journey over unforgiving terrain in search of magic whilst encountering dangers and difficulties along the way.  I do love this type of tale and in fairness I thought the book got off to a good start, but, ultimately, this one didn’t work quite as well as I’d hoped.

I’d say that the world here is post apocalyptic – although that might be the wrong description so please feel free to correct me.  Collum is broken up into the Hightown and Lowtown – no surprises that the former is filled with vying nobles, all jockeying for position and power.  Lowtown is filled with the peasants who the nobility barely deem worthy of notice even though they cleary do all the work.  The whole place feels, for want of a better word, unhappy, disillusioned and on the bring of disorder.  Life is hard, food is difficult to grow and beyond the safety of the walls lies the Outlands and the promise of plague.  The Lowlands are dangerous and populated with barbarians.  It’s not groundbreaking world building but it’s easy to read and form a picture in the mind’s eye.

In terms of characters.  We mainly follow Pell and Kellie, obvious I suppose as they’re the ones on the pilgrimage.  Neither of them come across particularly well although both of them have back stories that colour their actions.  Pell’s history has been harsh.  We eventually discover that he was at one point a fairly ruthless criminal until he found his true calling was to take potential magical adepts through the outlands in search of shrines of power.  He fell in love but ultimately the relationship failed and at this point, discouraged and miserable with life in general Pell took himself off and lived a life of solitude on the remote farm where we first made his acquaintance.  Kellie on the other hand has led a spoiled and pampered life at court.  She’s betrothed to a young man from one of the other noble houses which will effectively help to form a strong alliance and secure her house’s position.  When it is discovered that Kellie has magical promise her ambitious mother will  do anything to ensure that her daughter gains the magic within her grasp – even if it means putting Kellie’s life in danger to do so.  So, we have Pell undertaking a quest for the love of a woman who spurned him and Kellie undertaking the same quest because her hand has been forced by the same woman.  Finding out that her mother’s ambitions outweighed her affections was something of a blow to Kellie.  Both of them are consequently unhappy and coupled with their own prejudices this leads to animosity along the way.

On the face of it this is a book that I very much expected to like but as much as I wanted to love this there were elements that just got in the way.

As I mentioned above this isn’t a particularly unique idea but it’s still a good one.  A quest, a travel to find magic, an embittered adventurer and his young charge.  Tropes became tropes for a reason but there has to be something else thrown into the mix.  I liked the writing, it’s easy to get along with, not overly descriptive or filled with info dumps, but at the same time it just didn’t wow me.  The pacing was good and there was plenty of action but again the threat didn’t feel real and the problems felt easily overcome.  The characters were a little bit cheesy and the dialogue stilted.  Pell is constantly being referred to as ‘the best’ (he even describes himself as the best – no false humility there) – he’s been in retirement for 20 years.  How is it possible in those 20 years that he’s still the best?  Okay, I could overcome my disbelief if Pell’s actions spoke of his brilliance along the way but he was anything but impressive.  This is one of those examples in writing of being ‘told’ something and therefore being expected to run with it.  I don’t want to be told that Pell is the best, I want to read it through his actions, his creative thinking, the way he gets out of a difficult situation.  Show me he’s the best don’t tell me.  I never found myself liking Pell and to a certain extent that’s fine, you don’t have to like everybody you read about in fact it’s unrealistic to expect to like everyone. It’s more that I found myself constantly querying his motivations and actions.  And, then, of course, the young girl falls hopelessly in love with him.  Again, fine.  This I could understand in some respects although it’s a particular trope that I could really have done without.  He’s protecting her, even rescuing her on occasion – but, again, it just didn’t ring true.  Why on earth would she fall in love with him?  I just can’t get my head around it because none of his actions along the way ever made that scenario a possibility – other than, again, being told so – I needed convincing along the way and it didn’t happen.

This isn’t a bad book, it has some very good ideas, and I’m not against anti-heros or flawed characters – but, for me this had too many things that I felt like I was constantly railing against that prevented me from really immersing myself in the story.

I gave this book 4 out of 10 which equates to 2 of 5 stars on Goodreads.  Sadly this simply didn’t work out for me and so it’s not a book that I would ultimately recommend.

My thanks to the author for a copy of this book.  The above is my own opinion.



Chaos Trims My Beard by Brett Herman #SPFBO


chaosChaos Trims My Beard is the second book I read from the nine finalists I am due to read as part of the #SPFBO and I can say from the outset that this is a very entertaining number.  Not only does it have a crazy title and an equally matched cover but the content absolutely lives up to the expectations created by both.  In other words there is plenty of chaos and a little bit of beard trimming is thrown in for good measure.

Chaos is a crazy book to review and I’m not totally sure that I’m going to do it justice or resist the urge to overcomplicate things, but I’ll give it a go.  The story gets off to a fairly speedy start.  Our main protagonist, Edwayn Sattler  (half dwarf) is working at a society shindig when all hell breaks loose.  One of the partygoers, overrun with magic, has become a human fireball and is tearing the place up.  Edwayn intervenes, chasing the guy down and using the magic stashed in his beard to bring the fireball to a stop (I confess this is all a bit unusual given that Edwayn is part of the catering staff not security – but go with it).  Far from being the hero of the moment Edwayn finds himself an outcast, unemployed and worse, being chased down by local law enforcers.  At this point he makes the acquaintance of two unusual characters, one a suicidal ghost called Elara who needs Edwayn’s help to finally free herself from the world and the other a ratman called Venrick the Unabashed, or ‘This One’ as he likes to call himself, who also enlists Edwayns help.  From here on out the story turns into a fast paced conspiracy, far too many ‘overruns’ are taking place and Edwayn and ‘This One’ are in a race to stop more before the city spirals into chaos.  This is a cheeky blend of noir/urban fantasy that brings a hell of a lot of creativity to the story and is definitely a world that I would return to if future instalments were planned.

To the world building.   This is a fascinating concept, a world where magic was unleashed following a cataclysmic event known as the ‘burst’.  The world is occupied by all sorts of fantasy critters such as orcs, ogres and trolls not to mention many others.  The majority of the action takes place in New Sketlin – which the best description I can come up with is a world on top of a world populated, or held together, by lots of bridges.  Basically Sketlin proper is the original city state, this was built on top of creating New Sketlin, effectively a city in the clouds, and a place for the rich and privileged.  It’s a precarious world full of prejudices and one that threatens to crumble at any moment.  The magic is well thought out and uses elements such as rock and water with people consuming ‘dust’ to help fuel their everyday needs.  To be honest there’s so much more to the world than I could possible fit in – I would suggest that before reading this you flip to the back and scroll through the glossary.  It’s actually relatively short, full of useful explanations and written by Edwayn himself is a witty narrative in itself.

The Characters.  Undoubtedly my favourite aspect of the story.  The way that Edwayn and Venrick play off each other and the resultant dialogue is very amusing.  I also wouldn’t mind making friends with my own ghost if she turned out to be half as useful as Elara.  Basically, I cared about them all – I even cared about Edwayne’s beard, which is practically the fourth character in this scenario.

The plot is a bit chaotic with all sorts of action, arrests, dramatic escapes and other fast fuelled escapades. Strangely enough I think in some respects this is maybe the weakest element of the story – and that isn’t because it’s not a good plot, or interesting or well thought out even – more that it becomes a little bit lost in everything else that is going on here.  There’s such an abundance of invention and creativity that the plot could probably have been simplified a little, it’s just mind boggling fest at times and I almost found myself losing focus on what the story was actually about.  Also, really difficult to explain but there are definitely moments where the tension and the plot just loses momentum – which sounds like a contradiction given all the chaos taking place.  I think overall this could probably be edited to make the story sharper and improve the pace.

Overall I had a really good time with Chaos Trims my beard.  The dialogue is highly amusing, the characters are fun, I wouldn’t mind partaking of a drink or two at the Bawdville and frankly I think this would make a fantastic adaptation onto the screen.  It would be eye catching and dramatic to say the least.

In terms of criticisms and probably what brought the story down in terms of my overall star rating.  I think it’s too ambitious.  It needs to slow down a little bit.  It has the feeling of a series in the making, but one where everything is being crammed into one book and it’s just too much to take on in one sitting.  If you think of other urban fantasy the fantasy world and characters are built upon a little more with each instalment which allows you to get to know things in a more realistic way.  I would definitely recommend you read the glossary and wish that I’d read it before starting the story – but, strictly speaking, you shouldn’t need to read a glossary beforehand (imho) this should be something that grows naturally as the story unfolds and these descriptions of Edwayn’s would be better incorporated into the body of the book.  There are also lulls which had me dragging my feet a little.  I felt like one moment I was tearing through the book, eating up the words as fast as possible only to find that there was then something of a lull – the pacing needs tempering a little bit.

I think with some decent editing to unravel the above issues this could be the start of a winning series.

I’ve rated this a 7, which equates to 3.5 on Goodreads.

My thanks to the author for a copy of the book.  The above is my own opinion.

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