#SPFBO Forsaken Kingdom (The Last Prince #1) by J.R. Rasmussen

forsakenkForsaken Kingdom was another of my SPFBO books that I enjoyed enough initially to roll forward and read completely.  This is a fantasy adventure that is engaging and easy to read.  It has a YA feel to it although that’s just my perception – it doesn’t have the grim and brutal quality that many books in the realms of fantasy seem to have these days and I think it would make a good read for somebody just beginning to explore the genre.

The story sets off with an introduction to three friends training in magic.  One of the young people, Wardin Rath is a Prince, Wardin’s father has been fighting a war and when news reaches the magistery of his father’s death Wardin takes drastic action to prevent the Magistery from being discovered – he hands himself over to the new king – Bramwell.  At this point things take a rather unexpected turn, the new king, rather than kill the Prince, leaving no heirs with a claim to the throne, instead has him put under a spell so that he forgets who he is.  For seven years Wardin lives as a tutor at the court of his enemy until one day the spell begins to unravel and little snatches of his memory return.  Realising he’s in danger Wardin once again goes on the run and without really planning to do so finds himself subconsciously heading in the direction of his former magical school.

What I really liked about Forsaken Kingdom is that it’s written in a very accessible style, it isn’t overloaded with minutiae and the main character is easy to get along with.  On top of that it has an interesting system of magic where the users have to balance their magical acts out either by performing physical or mental work – or face the consequences.  I liked the friendships that eventually develop between Wardin and his two childhood friends Arun and Erietta and between the three of them I thought their magic (which was different for each of them) made for entertaining reading.

This is basically a quest style story of a rightful heir returning to claim what is his.  I think it shows a lot of promise in a number of ways.  For example, when the friends eventually reunite there is a good deal of mistrust and this is something that has to be regained gradually.  Wardin was realistically portrayed – he may be the rightful heir, and many people may flock to his banner, but for the last seven years he’s only known life as a quiet and humble tutor and I was pleased that he didn’t have a miraculous overnight transformation into an eloquent and driven Prince who can rally the masses with ease and a bit of sabre rattling.

The world building felt a bit thin to be honest but I wouldn’t say that it detracted from the novel.  I imagined the place as a medieval world, swords and sorcery, castles, magical hounds. etc.  There is talk of enchanted objects and also mention of an enchanted sword – which I suspect will crop up at some point in the series.

In terms of criticisms.  I didn’t have anything that really hindered the read for me but there were a couple of small issues that stuck with me.  Wardin’s original reasoning for running away for example.  I understood that he wanted to protect the Magistery, I also understand that he was a young boy trying to do the right thing, but placing yourself in the hands of your enemy always feels like a strange step – surely if somebody used magic, or torture – your secrets would come spilling out and your sacrifice would be in vain.  In that respect I don’t really understand Bramwell keeping alive the last remaining heir – particularly after his previous actions which were neither just or merciful.

All that being said though, I enjoyed Forsaken Kingdom.  It’s not reinventing the wheel or trying to be overly ambitious in terms of avoiding tropes but it was easy to read, fun and had an ending that was entertaining and promising in terms of future books in the series.

I would rate this as 7 out of 10.

My thanks to the author for providing a copy.

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#SPFBO Under Ordshaw by Phil Williams

Under OrdshawUnder Ordshaw was one of the nine books that I read completely from the first stage of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off competition.  Urban fantasy is a genre that I really enjoy and this book was no exception.  The writing is on point, there’s a city with a labyrinth lying beneath full of monsters lurking in tunnels, an easy to engage with MC, cheeky fae and a secret undercover agency reminiscent of Men in Black.  What’s not to like?  This is an other book that had me going round in circles when it came to choosing a winner and I have no hesitation in recommending this.

As the story sets out we make the acquaintance of Pax who is brimming over with good humour following a successful card game.  She stops by a bar for a couple of celebratory drinks.  This win will fund her a stake in a large tournament and all going well help her pay the rent – maybe even win enough to be able to eat! Unfortunately, Pax’s luck is about to run out, her stash is stolen by a young man who appears to have been taken into custody by a secret Government Agency (the MEE).  Not content to sit by and brood Pax goes in search of the thief’s lair and in the process becomes embroiled even deeper in the secrets of the City.

In terms of world building. I think, in common with most UF I’ve read, this is minimal.  This is a modern world and an easily imagined city.  Where the difference comes into play is the labyrinth of tunnels that lies beneath.  There’s a whole other world going on here, one that I’m keen to explore further. The tunnels and their inhabitants have a monstrous and unique feel although at the moment I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface at this point and it feels like there is plenty more to come in future instalments.

I really enjoyed the characters.  Pax is very easy to like.  She’s resourceful and basically decent.  I found myself immediately hooked to the story and I think that’s a testament to her strong and compelling voice.  On top of this we also encounter a very cheeky, 3 inch fae character called Letty.  Don’t let her short stature kid you – she means business.  The other two main characters are Casaria and Barton.  Casaria is an MEE agent.  He’s an odd character.  He doesn’t really follow rules very well and he has a very skewed perception of both himself and Pax – it makes for comic reading sometimes to read his dreamed up scenarios of how things will play out.  He comes across as something of a wild card and whilst Pax doesn’t trust him she seems to be able to play him well and keep him just on the right side of going totally AWOL.  Barton is a civilian who has been aware of the ‘goings on’ beneath the City for some time.  He’s kept his encounters with the tunnels a secret from his wife and daughter in an attempt to keep them safe but his family are about to be thrown into the middle of things with life threatening results.

The writing is sharp, the dialogue flows well and feels natural and the pacing is very good.  I didn’t have any lulls that I can recall and I was pretty much hooked to the story from start to finish.

In terms of criticisms.  I don’t really have anything – so you may be wondering is this a five star read?  I’d say this is four stars and that isn’t because of any issues I had at all with the read but more what I would call a symptom of UF and also a refelection of the future potential.  Personally, I feel that the first in any UF is the hook, there will always be areas left unexplored to be revealed in future story lines and in this instant I think the author sets the scene perfectly.  He doesn’t overload the story with too much detail or reveal too much at this stage, just enough to secure your interest and whet the appetite for what is to come next.  I think it takes restraint and a notion of what you intend in terms of the bigger picture and at the moment I’d say those elements are both clearly present.  Of course, this is a double edged sword, holding things in check can leave readers feeling that things haven’t been fully explored but, for me, I think Under Ordshaw succeeds really well as a first in series.

I would rate this as a 4 star read and I look forward to reading the second in series.

 

 

 

#SPFBO 2018: The Finals

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You may have noticed if you visit this blog that the first stage of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off concluded at the end of 2018.  Three hundred books have been narrowed down to ten finalists.  One each selected by the ten judges/team of judges taking part.  You can check out my finalist here.  And here is my post that also outlined the final nine and the runners up.

So, firstly feast your eyes on these lovelies: all the finalists in one beautiful display:

Check out this link to find out more about the competition and the scoreboard.

I’ve randomly chosen the order of my books and the first book I will be reading is: Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc.  I’ve put the description below for information:

outofnowhereAn urban fantasy, pacy, funny and compelling to the last page…

Healer Sean Danet is immortal—a fact he has cloaked for centuries, behind army lines and now a paramedic’s uniform. Having forgotten most of his distant past, he has finally found peace—and love.

But there are some things you cannot escape, however much distance you put behind you.

When Sean heals the wrong man, he uncovers a lethal enemy who holds all the cards. And this time he can’t run. It’s time to stand and fight, for himself, for his friends, for the woman he loves. It’s time, finally, for Sean to face his past—and choose a future.

A story of love, of battle—and of facing your true self when there’s nowhere left to hide.

 

 

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

 

#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.

 

 

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