#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 The Gods of Men (The Gods of Men #1) by Barbara Kloss

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TheGodsofMenThe Gods of Men is the seventh finalist I’ve read as part of the SPFBO and brings to us a story of two people, with very different backgrounds, thrown together by need and both with secrets about their true identity.

The story begins with an introduction to a young girl, Imari, as she waits to perform a musical number for guests at an event, unfortunately, the performance is a little more powerful than anticipated.  It seems that Imari is capable of wielding magic and her lack of control or knowledge proves fatal and she is forced to flee.

We then jump forward ten years.  Imari lives under the alias Sable and works as a healer in a harsh place appropriately named the Wilds.  She takes risks to help others in some desperate attempt to redeem herself but it seems that she is drawing the wrong sort of attention and her life is about to once again take a dramatic turn forcing her to flee her home for the second time.

Jeric is a prince, second in line to the Corinthian throne, he has become a ruthless killing machine in the war against magic.  He is known as the Wolf and has killed many in his pursuit to seemingly wipe out a race of people.  His latest mission however sends him into the Wilds in search of a healer for his sick father.  I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers by saying the healer in question is Sable and the two are forced into an unlikely coupling as events come to a dramatic head and Sable is forced to flee the Wilds with Jeric (or Jos as he is known for much of the novel) her only protection.

Now, obviously a large part of this story focuses on Sable and Jos and clearly this takes a romantic turn, but, I have to say that this is a budding romance that is very well done.  There is no insta love here I’m pleased to say and the interactions between the two feels frayed by the tension they have through the need for secrecy and the dislike and distrust the two have for each other which is countered by the simple desire they feel creating an enjoyable chemistry on page.  I guess the obvious comparison here is Romeo and Juliet.  Sable and Jos are two characters that couldn’t be further apart and would in fact be likely to despise each other if their identities were immediately known.  As it is, their time running from danger allows them time to see things differently and to break down their own fierce prejudices.  In fact it gave me Pride and Prejudice vibes in that respect – although to be clear – this isn’t like that particular book in any other respect than the breaking down of barriers and the eventual seeing of things from another’s pov.

In terms of the world building.  I thought this was quite well done in terms of coming through easily during the read as opposed to huge info dumps – but, I felt I would have liked a little more information.  I wouldn’t say that I felt I had a firm grip of the whys and wherefores about the place itself or a really solid picture in my mind of the different people, their religions and the history between them although that could be down to me not taking things on board or missing things.

The characters.  Primarily we focus on the central pairing but there are others, namely the villains of the piece.  Jos’s brother for example who is cruel and manipulative, he uses his younger brother quite ruthlessly and is something of a nasty piece and it’s very easy to dislike him.  There are a number of other dark characters with their own motivations but I’m going to leave readers to discover them along the way – although I would give a quick mention to the Shades -which are a particularly nasty type of critter living outside the villages.  Very violent and poisonous and only prevented from creating havoc by magical wards placed around the outer boundaries that stop their entry.

Gods of Men is a book that I enjoyed but with a few reservations.  Firstly, I was a little bit disappointed that the initial story jumped forward so quickly. I would have liked to know something more of Imari’s time before she progressed to a healer known as Sable – but that’s only a small quibble really and not a deal breaker at all.  Jeric was a character that I struggled with a little bit to be honest.  I didn’t dislike him in some respects and obviously he has a story of his own that is gradually revealed but I struggled with a couple of things.  Firstly, he’s almost invincible, an excellent tracker and fighter by all accounts and yet I didn’t really feel that his abilities were convincing.  It felt a little like I was being told he was ‘brilliant’ rather than it coming across on the page.  And then there’s his own hatred of a race of people that he seems determined to eliminate single handedly.  Now, there is a reasoning behind this that will be revealed as the story progresses but I just found it difficult to reconcile ever really liking him when I couldn’t help think of all the people he had killed so ruthlessly.  Now, in some respects this conflict makes him a really good character to read about and also gives his character the chance for a very good story arc but I think he needed more internal conflict and regret to make that really plausible.

To be honest, I think Gods of Men is a very good start to series and definitely one I would recommend.  I did have some issues with it but nothing that would prevent me from continuing with the series as I think there’s still a lot left to explore.

I would rate this book 7.5 out of 10 for the purposes of the competition which equates to just over 3.5 out of 5 on Goodreads.

 

 

#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:

#SPFBO Ruthless Magic (Conspiracy of Magic #1) by Megan Crewe

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RuthlessMagicRuthless Magic is the sixth finalist I’ve read as part of the SPFBO.   Ruthless Magic is a book that follows a group of young people who are taking part in a, well, ruthless exam that is their final hope to hold onto their magical ability.  Basically, at the age of 16 all magical novices are assessed by the Confederation of Mages.  Some will pass the assessment while others will not and for those who fail their magic will be muted.  The only hope is to declare for the Mages Exam and hope to become a champion – but hope more to simply survive.

I enjoyed Ruthless Magic but it didn’t completely win me over as I had a number of issues that I wanted more information on.  Obviously, the second book might deliver on those issues so time will tell.  First a bit more about the story.

We follow two main POVs.  Finn, who comes from a family of high standing within the magical community.  His own talents are mediocre at best and yet in spite of this he passes his assessment without any problems, for which he feels a great deal of guilt, especially as his close friend fails her own assessment even though she has far more talent.  Finn is aware of his own privileged background and because of his awareness of the unfairness he declares for the Mages Exam – even though he could be killed during the process.  Rocio is a young woman from the wrong sides of the tracks.  Her magical ability is outstanding and yet she fails the assessment.  She also declares for the exam even though her brother was killed taking part a couple of years earlier.  There are a number of other characters but Finn and Rocio are the central protagonists and they develop not only a firm friendship during the days of the exam but also become romantically involved.  To be honest, I don’t have a problem with the romantic aspects here, they weren’t overdone, although there is a serious case of instalove going on.

The world building.  This is one of the areas that I struggled with a little.  I think there was insufficient information to really help me draw a mental picture.  This is a modern setting, there are cars mentioned and other modern day items – the clothing described included jeans, etc.  But, this was one of my first issues.  We have a modern setting in which certain people have magical ability.   I can get on board with that easily enough but I struggled to come to grips with such a contemporary setting wherein brutal exams, where children frequently die, take place and yet there is no public outcry.  It just doesn’t sit well for me, it’s a little like saying we have a modern day setting of Rome where gladiators still take part in games to the death.  We’ve moved on, we’ve changed.  For me, if you’re going to have a world, so resembling our own but with something that is so fundamentally at odds, then there needs to be an explanation of sorts. I would like a little bit of history of the hows and whys this world has reached this point.  Again, this might come in the next instalment but for this read it left me feeling slightly agitated.

The characters.  I quite liked both Rocio and Finn.  They’re both likable people who are determined to do what’s right in a world that is determined to treat them unfairly.  They’re very different in terms of upbringing and yet they’re both ‘nice people’.  However, I can’t deny that I quite often lost track of which character I was reading about – their voices weren’t distinct enough for me and I found if I didn’t pay particular attention to the chapter headings then it sometimes led to confusion and back tracking.

In terms of the story itself.  I liked the idea of the Mage Exam itself but I found the similarity to the Hunger Games just a bit much, particularly the final event.  That won’t be a problem if you haven’t read the Hunger Games of course but I just found it to be too familiar.  Don’t get me wrong, I really liked The Hunger Games, but I think if you’re going to do something so similar you have to own it, there has to be something that makes it rise above somehow and I didn’t really feel that here.

I enjoyed the writing and thought the pacing was good, I’m not sure that I would read this series further but I would certainly pick up more by this author in the future.

I realise this probably comes across as quite negative, which isn’t my intention.  I think there will be plenty of readers who will enjoy this and I certainly wouldn’t want to persuade others not to give it a shot.  I can be a little bit like a dog with a bone when I become stuck on an issue where I feel the information is lacking and I admit it can become a real distraction for me.

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

I would rate Ruthless Magic as 6.5 out of 10 for the SPFBO or 3 out of 5 on Goodreads.

 

 

 

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