Kingshold (The Wildfire Cycle #1) by D.P. Woolliscroft #SPFBO Review

KingsholdKingshold was one of the books that I chose to read completely and review for the first phase of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off.  It is, without doubt, an impressive debut and a strong foundation for the rest of the series and in fact was a very close contender for my finalist spot.

The story begins with the murder of the King and Queen by none other than their own wizard, Jyuth.  It seems Jyuth had finally had enough of their wicked ways and decided to take drastic action to remove them from further rule of Edland.  Jyuth, tired of the scheming nobility decrees that the monarchy be abolished and replaced instead with a democracy.  Of course this sounds like it could be ideal, an elected Lord Protector, chosen by the majority vote.  The reality is somewhat different.  Few people are eligible to stand as candidates and even fewer people can afford to vote – certainly the unwashed masses could not afford to whisper their favoured candidate into a pixie ear.  But, there is strength in numbers and with that in mind a small band of unlikely friends come together to promote their own champion and rally the masses. What could possibly go wrong?  Well, in a city that has its own guild of assassins I leave you to reach your own conclusion.

The book contains a number of characters and it’s easy to find favourites.  Jyuth is an ancient wizard.  He seems to be incredibly powerful, a bit curmudgeonly and has a dreadful reputation for not suffering fools.  I found myself liking Jyuth immediately but I liked his daughter, Neenahwi, even more.  We meet Neenahwi as she is undertaking a dangerous quest involving a demon and a search for a powerful gem.  She’s a very easy to like character.  Resourceful, calm and intelligent.  She’s not very happy with Jyuth, not only for throwing the City into a turmoil with the deaths of the monarchs and the introduction of a new democracy but also because he plans to slope off into retirement leaving her smack bang in the middle of all the mess.  Alana is a young woman who takes a position at the palace only to find herself being allocated to serve Jyuth.  This actually turns out in her favour.  Alana is keen to learn and Jyuth enjoys teaching a lively young mind keen for information. Mareth is a bard.  He’s a bit of a drunk and a womaniser to boot but his songs seem to hold power over people and when his talents for charming the crowds are spotted by others he’s enlisted to help one of the candidates.  The plan goes somewhat askew as candidates start to be picked off one by one.  The other players are Hoskins, who acts as a type of administrator and stand-in Lord Protector at the palace and a trio of mercenaries in search of their next job.

At first, it felt like there were quite a few characters to come to terms with but they pretty soon all slotted into place and eventually they come together as their storylines intersect.  Obviously, everyone will have their own favourites but thankfully I didn’t dislike any of the povs and in fact thought the secondary characters were also easy to like.

The story, whilst it revolves primarily around the election and the candidates rush to curry favour and accumulate votes (not to mention desperately trying to stay alive) also takes a couple of side tracks – a diversion involving dwarves and a threat of invasion.  The pacing felt a little slow at the beginning whilst I became familiar with everyone but it pretty quickly gathered momentum.  I think, to be honest, this could probably be trimmed a little to make it a little more punchy but in fairness, I really didn’t struggle at all and I never experienced the dreaded ‘not wanting to pick the book back up after stopping reading’ which sometimes happens.

In terms of setting the majority of the story takes place in Edland.  This is a mediaeval type city that is fairly easy to imagine.  I wouldn’t say there’s anything groundbreaking here but it feels easily recognisable and quite well drawn without the need for weighty descriptions. I guess you could say it has a comfortable feel.

I don’t really have any major criticisms.  I think this is a very well executed book.  The writing is good, the concept pretty unique and the characters come together in a pleasing way.  Personally, I didn’t love Mareth as much as I felt I should.  In his favour, his character really does make some positive changes but I remain on the fence about him for the time being.  The other thing that puzzled me when I read it and in fact still puzzles me now writing this review is the invasion/pirate scene.  I don’t want to give away spoilers so my comments are necessarily vague but, firstly, I didn’t see that coming – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but, secondly, I’m not quite sure what it brought to the story and I feel like I’ve missed something important somehow – however, I put that down to myself, clearly I’ve overlooked something fundamental.

All told, this is a great start to a series that I look forward to continuing.  I have to say that going into this read I had my doubts.  I figured that reading a fantasy story centred around an election process would probably be a little dry.  As it turned out this was a fun read with some well placed humour, the election is more a backdrop and a catalyst for change in a story that becomes more about taking up a cause and doing the right thing in order to succeed, well, that and all the scurrying around trying to stay alive.

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

My rating – 4 of 5 stars

 

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#SPFBO Sworn to the Night (The Wisdom’s Grave Trilogy #1) by Craig Schaefer

Sworn to the NightSworn to the Night is the book I’ve chosen to be my finalist to move forward to the second stage of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off competition.

Where to begin.  I can’t deny, fickle as I am, that the cover really drew my eye, and in fact I submitted this book for the cover competition, so I had a fairly good feeling about it before I picked it up.  Sometimes, of course, good feelings can lead to the slippery slope of high expectations that can often send readers sliding into misery.   Clearly that didn’t happen here.  The contents of this book are just as good as the outside promises and as soon as I started to read it I was immediately hooked.

In terms of description, there’s a lot going on here and so I hope I can keep this review clear and concise.  As the story sets out we make the acquaintance of Marie Reinhart and her partner Tony Fisher, both NYPD detectives.  They’re working a case that points towards a serial killer.  The latest case is the disappearance of a call girl named Baby Blue who has disappeared mysteriously.  Marie is determined to find BB and believes if this disappearance follows the usual MO she has only two weeks before a body will be discovered.  I like police procedurals and so I loved how the story starts.  You have an immediately good impression of Marie who is steadfast in her determination to find the missing woman and you also get a really good feel for the place.  The story takes you to the seedy side of town especially when the investigation begins to develop links to a designer drug called Ink and ultimately the two detectives find themselves in a shootout at an ink storage house.

Simultaneously we make the acquaintance of Nessa (Vanessa Roth).  On the face of it Nessa appears to be a timid housewife to a successful and high powered businessman named Richard Roth (whose father is a politician of apparently good standing).  Richard and his father are all about appearances and so when Nessa, the beautiful trophy wife and intelligent professor, displayed signs of mental instability she was immediately placed on drugs, not so much to control the condition as to control her.  Nothing, however, is as it first seems.  Nessa seems to have a different side to her character that comes out in the form of dark artistic paintings and amateur dabbling in witchcraft – of course, as a reader, you’re not entirely sure at first if that’s another symptom of her mental condition but at the same time you can feel that something underlying her actions is simmering away and is about to burst out of the pot.

The final thread to the story involves a strange and secret society made up of powerful men.   One particular branch of this organisation appear to enjoy unspeakable depravities and take part in ritual killings using an abandoned and rather creepy zoo.

Now, to get tricky, as well as the police investigation and the storyline that follows Nessa we have a few other things taking place.  Namely, the introduction of a number of characters, who I won’t elaborate on, who seem to be influencing the way the story will progress, we also have a character called Carolyn Saunders, an author no less, who has been detained by an organisation known mysteriously as the ‘Network’ who wish her to tell them about one of her novels entitled ‘The Witch and the Knight’.

I will point out at this juncture that STTN is not the first book set in this world so if there seems to be a lot going on then that’s probably the reason why.  Apparently this story brings together a number of characters and threads from previous works.  To be honest though, I didn’t struggle at all with the storyline, I would say that there is a deal of jumping back and forth and the introduction of characters that at first seem to make little sense, but that happens with stories of this nature.  My advice, is to stick with it as things definitely become clear as the story progresses and little light bulbs start to switch on as things click into place.  Personally I don’t feel as though I suffered by not having read the previous books (although I do now feel the desire to pick some of them up on the strength of this novel).  This is after all the start of a new series and I think the author makes a good job of giving the information necessary for a firm footing.

In terms of the characters.  Well, this is perhaps one of my only issues with the book but it’s also something that whilst I had a bit of conflict with at first I did feel resolved itself with the introduction of relevant information.  The thing is – I don’t want to give away spoilers.  Basically Maria and Nessa’s storylines eventually cross paths and with it comes an undeniable attraction and a powerful sense of having met before that is so strong that the two are instantaneously drawn together.  This is where my only real niggle entered the scene.  As soon as Marie met Nessa her character seemed to have an about face.  For the majority of the story she was a resourceful and determined woman, she had real agency and she was, whilst a bit reckless in the pursuit of her goals, a force to be reckoned with.  Nessa on the other hand seemed to come across as a bit wishy washy, good looking and rich but without much backbone to stand up to her manipulative husband.  The two of them apart were definitely interesting but once they met their characters altered.  Well, to be clear, Marie was still the same in terms of her NYPD role, but whenever she was in the company of Nessa she seemed to turn into a meek and mild, subservient ninny whilst Nessa seemed to become a domineering 50 Shades of Grey bossy boots who I struggled to like.  It was a bit odd and at the same time it made me feel less inclined to like Nessa.  However.  Stick with this – there is a reasoning here that definitely shapes their behaviour, something that I can’t divulge but will definitely lend explanations to the way the two of them behave and one that I’m really curious to see explored further.

So, after a temporary blip, the story then leaps into dramatic life.  What started out as a police procedural style novel takes on a whole new persona involving black magic, witchcraft and other forces and the final third of the book is positively break neck action and crazy goings on that had me glued to the page.

Finally, the whole story works as a standalone but at the same time is the perfect set up for the next slice of Marie and Nessa’s story.

In conclusion I think Sworn to the Night is an impressive and clever piece of writing.  It manages to pull together murder, mystery, action, witchcraft, a tad of horror and an overarching theme of characters dancing to the tune of an unseen force that is pulling their strings in a relentless pattern.

My thanks to the author for a copy of the book and my best wishes for the remainder of the competition.

 

 

#SPFBO Finalist Announcement

You may have noticed that my blog has been very quiet during the month of December.  I decided to focus on reading the nine books I’d rolled forward for the first stage of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off and with all nine now complete I’ve chosen my finalist.  It wasn’t an easy decision and in fact I have 3 very close runners up but without further ado my finalist for #SPFBO 2018 is :

Sworn to the Night (The Wisdom’s Grave Trilogy #1) by Craig Schaefer.

Sworn to the Night

I have to say I had a great batch of books and I’d like to thank all the authors who took part in the competition.

My second, third and fourth place books are:

As promised I will be reviewing all nine books in the forthcoming weeks starting with Sworn to the Night.

My thanks again to all the authors who took part.  I wish I could have chosen more books but at the end of the day there can be only one and with that in mind I would conclude by wishing all the finalists the best of luck in the second stage of the competition.

Details of the other finalists can be found here.

 

 

 

#SPFBO Cover Share: Blue Angel by Phil Williams (#2 Ordshaw)

Today I’m really pleased to share with you the cover for the second book in Phil Williams’s Ordshaw series.  Phil’s book, Under Ordshaw is one of the books I’ve been reading as part of the SPFBO competition and in fact his book is one of the ones that I chose to take forward.

So, without further ado please feast your eyes on the cover for Blue Angel (Ordshaw #2):

 

Blue Angel_M.jpg

And here are the two covers together so you can see how good they both look:

Also I can share with you the blurb for Blue Angel (please be aware though that this blurb may contain spoilers if you’re considering reading the first book and it may also be subject to further revision):

She’s touched the underworld. Can she survive its legacy?
 
Waking on an unfamiliar floor, Pax is faced with two hard truths. A murderous government agency wants her dead – and monsters really do exist. What’s more, her body’s going haywire, which she desperately hopes isn’t a side-effect of her encounters in the city’s tunnels.
 
To survive, and protect Ordshaw, she’s got to expose who, or what, is behind the chaos – and she can’t do it alone.
 
But with only the trigger-happy Fae to turn to, Pax’s allies might kill her before her enemies do…
Due for release in January.

www.phil-williams.co.uk  Goodreads page

The link for book #1 is:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07CXYSZVN/

#SPFBO Final Batch Update

Posted On 10 December 2018

Filed under Book Reviews
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blackThis is the fifth update which covers my final batch of books.  The fifth month of the SPFBO has come to an end which means I have now read the first 30% of my final six books.   At the start of the month I posted information about my final books.  You can find out more information here. The aim of today’s post is to provide an update on my reading progress and also to decide which book/s have been chosen to stay in the contest.  I really don’t like this part of the competition, I don’t like cutting books and I feel bad for the authors of the books that are being cut but this is a competition and I only have one space.  So, these are my thoughts this month with deepest apologies to all the authors whose books have been cut, I can’t deny that these were difficult decisions and there’s obviously an element on occasion of ‘it’s not you it’s me’.  I’ve provided ratings for the books, but these are based on the first third of the book and therefore could be subject to change.

For my final batch of books I’m rolling two books forward.

The next 4 books that I will be cutting are as follows with a short review of my thoughts on each:

ParagonParagon by K.D Wloch

I must say that the first 30% of Paragon is quite impressive and I enjoyed the read.  The story gave me Lord of the Rings vibes to be honest, the writing is good and the description makes the setting easy to imagine.   We make the acquaintance of Dan.  Dan is a scout in the militia and is given one final job – to deliver news of trouble and a burned village to his own homestead.  It seems that Dan is being dismissed with very little explanation as to why.  It would appear that things are escalating.  A burned village with no survivors, talk of the reincarnation of a god-slayer, the discovery of ancient ruins and other strange potents.  Dan finds himself on a quest with a number of companions and it seems that they’re being pursued.

As I mentioned above I think this gets off to a good start and it’s another of my books that I would be interested in continuing once I have more time.  At this stage however and having read 30% I haven’t progressed deeply enough with the story to make this one of my semi finalists.  Assuming the story continues as strongly as it starts I would say this would make a good fantasy read.

I would rate this 3.5 out of 5 stars to the point at which I stopped reading.

DeadmarshDeadmarsh Fey by Melika Dannese Lux

I was excited to pick up Deadmarsh because I love stories of the fae.  As the story begins we meet Roger who is on his way to Deadmarsh to spend another summer with his cousin Lockie.  Deadmarsh has a scary reputation although Roger loves the place and can’t wait to arrive.  However, when he finally arrives he finds things have changed and not for the better.

His cousin Travers seems to have had a personality transplant, Roger’s been switched to a different bedroom in a dark and dusty part of the house, the cat is behaving weirdly and when his cousin Lockie finally arrives he is also acting very oddly.  There is an overall feel of dark foreboding and the start of the story has a gothic feel.

To be honest it’s difficult to tell you too much more about the story as at the point at which I stopped reading I hadn’t really been able to get a good grip on it.  I think one of the issues I found I had with the read so far is the narration.  Roger is a 10 year old but for me he didn’t read that way but felt a good deal older both in his speculations and his vocabulary.  It’s still the early stages of the book but I just found it difficult to accept him as a 10 year old which in turn prevented me from immersing myself in the story as much as I would like.  I would also mention that the pacing is a little slow with lots of detail which meant that my allotted reading didn’t really see a great deal of progress in terms of the storyline although it did feel as though that was about to change.

I think this is one of those instances where it’s more a ‘me not you’ scenario.  This book, with its detailed descriptions and gothic feel could work very well for other readers but it felt a little slow to me.

I would rate this as a 3 out of 5 star read.

ArgenterraArgenterra by Donna Maree Hanson

Argenterra was quite an interesting read although it has a YA feel that felt a little too young for my reading taste.

The story starts with two young girls on a ghost tour in a castle.  They stumble accidentally into a portal that takes them to the mediaeval world of Argenterra – a place where magic known as ‘the Given’ is all around.  Unfortunately only one woman was supposed to cross through the portal and receive a gift from the Crystal Tree.  Sophy and her friend Aria have upset the balance although it would appear to all intents that Sophy is the chosen one.  She shines with radiance, her gift seems to have enhanced her beauty and she seems at peace in this strange new land.  Aria, by comparison has become a shadow of her former self, she seems to have not received the the gift of the ‘Given’ and with this lack of magic the natural inhabitants of the land distrust her presence.

Sophy, it seems, is to win the heart and hand of the Prince who is a besotted by her from the moment they meet.  Aria’s future is not quite as plain sailing.

Argenterra felt a little too young for me and I felt myself having niggles that prevented me from enjoying the story as much as I would have like.  I like the concept but it felt a little rushed and a bit light on detail, particularly at the point I read up to.  The girls seemed to accept this strange new land really easily and on top of that I didn’t really get a good feel for their friendship, in fact I thought Sophy was very careless towards Aria at the start of the story.  Obviously I’ve only read up to a certain point so can’t say with 100% assurance but I would think this would appeal to a younger audience.

I would rate this between 2.5 and 3 out of 5 stars.

HeartotDHeart of the Destroyer by Kent Corlain

Heart of the Destroyer is a difficult book to review, particularly as I’ve only read the first 30% of the story.

The story is fairly quick paced.  We meet Ashley and her brother when they’re both children – both destined to become assassins.  We learn virtually immediately that Ashley is certainly not a hero – she likes killing people – in fact she seems to be strangely gifted in that particular area and also has an unfortunate predisposition that enjoys cruelty and torture. We then jump forward, both are now trained assassins, they have been sent on an almost impossible mission – a punishment for transgressions committed by Ashley.  Her brother is no longer in any doubt as to her true nature but he still needs her help.

I really like the author’s absolute candour about the nature of the book and it’s main character.  At the same time it’s the very nature of that main character that left me unable to really enjoy this.  The author says ‘this is a nasty story about nasty people’ – and I appreciate that brutal honesty.  It didn’t really work it’s magic on me because I just couldn’t find anything to like or enjoy about Ashley herself and I always find it difficult to enjoy a book when I don’t like the main character.  But it may appeal to others and providing you read the blurb and take into account what the author himself has to say about this book and the nature of the characters then this could work well for you.

I would rate this between 2.5 and 3 out of 5 stars.

The two books I’m taking forward are:

High Barrens by Alice Sabo

Songs of Insurrection by J.C Kang

 

The books I’ve carried forward and will be reviewing over the next few days are:

  1. An Empire of Tears by Tim Marquitz
  2. Purple Haze by Andrew Einspruch
  3. Kingshold by D P Wooliscroft
  4. Dark Oak by Jacob Sannox
  5. Sworn to the Night by Craig Schaefer
  6. Forsaken Kingdom by RJ Rasmussen
  7. Under Ordshaw by Phil Williams
  8. High Barrens by Alice Sabo
  9. Songs of Insurrection by J.C Kang

 

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