#SPFBO Aching God (Iconoclasts #1) by Mike Shel

Posted On 20 April 2019

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Aching GodAching God is the fifth finalist I’ve read as part of the SPFBO.  Aching God brings to us a retired adventurer who receives a summons from the Order he once served and as a result is forced out of retirement to take up a mission that might save his daughter’s life.  I enjoyed this, it’s well written, perhaps a little drawn out in places but overall an entertaining story.

Auric Manteo is the retired adventurer.  He put his relic hunting days behind him and tried to live out a peaceful life although his past still haunts him, particularly of late when his sleeping hours are plagued with nightmares from previous adventures.  The last thing Auric desires is a return to ancient ruins but a strange plague has swept through the City and his daughter now lies in the grips of the disease.  It appears that an ancient artifact maybe at the root of the problem and so the Syraeic Order have deemed that it must be returned to the temple from which it was taken.  This is a more difficult task than at first appears, all records of the mission have mysteriously been destroyed and the original team seem to have been scattered and lost.  Auric and his companions need to hunt down what clues they can and return the relic before more lives are lost.  And so begins this quest.

There were a number of things that stood out for me with Aching God.  The writing is very good and there is plenty of imagination exercised during the course of the journey.  I think Shel has done a great job in creating the world whilst at the same time leaving plenty of issues yet to be explored, the Queen being a really good example of one such mystery.  There were a good number of twists in the tale, particularly during the last quarter and I can genuinely say they came as a surprise to me which I think is a real credit to the writing.

I particularly liked the main protagonist.  He’s an older man, experienced but also a little bit haunted and suffering from self doubt over past decisions that didn’t end well.  I liked that he didn’t overnight become the ‘best thing since sliced bread’.  He struggled and his struggles made him realistic.  He’s also basically a decent character at heart.  Of course he’s made mistakes in the past, his relationship with his daughter has been fractured and he now regrets some of the paths he has chosen.  I would also say that it was so wonderfully refreshing to read a bunch of characters, struggling on a quest, who don’t immediately succumb to each other’s charms.  Just saying.

The story here is a swords and sorcery style quest that follows a linear route.  We move from one adventure to the next along the way and the tension is really ramped up as we approach the concluding chapters.  Shel manages to inject enough horror into the story through the use of flashbacks and dreams that give you a real sense of impending dread about what these adventures are working towards.

In terms of criticisms.  The characters who join Auric feel very flat.  I didn’t really feel enough attachment to them which led to a general ambivalence about their overall survival.  I also think that there were a couple of episodes along the way, well, one in particular, that felt very contrived and felt like it was written into the story just to bring a certain object to bear in future chapters.  I think perhaps my main problem with Aching God was the length.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a lengthy book, in fact I particularly enjoy detail, however, I have to say that it felt like it took a long time to reach the real drama.  Without doubt, the last 25-30% was very gripping indeed and I thoroughly enjoyed it but I think some of the earlier chapters could have maybe been tightened.

Overall, I have to say that this is a really good start to series and I enjoyed the read, even if it felt a little weighty at times.

I would rate this 7.5 out of 10 for the purposes of the competition which would equate to 3.5 of 5 stars on Goodreads.

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




#SPFBO – Finalists No.6 and No.7


Today I’m highlighting the sixth and seventh books that I will be reading for the SPFBO Competition (more details here).  The first finalist I read was Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc and my review can be found here .  My reviews for Symphony of the Wind and The Anointed are here and here.  My reviews for Sowing and Aching God will follow very soon.  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 next two finalists will be:

RuthlessMagicRuthless Magic (Conspiracy of Magic #1) by Megan Crewe

In the contest to keep their magic, the only options may be die… or kill.

Each year, the North American Confederation of Mages assesses every sixteen-year-old novice. Some will be chosen. The rest must undergo a procedure to destroy their magical ability unless they prove themselves in the mysterious and brutal Mages’ Exam.

Disadvantaged by her parents’ low standing, Rocío Lopez has dedicated herself to expanding her considerable talent to earn a place in the Confederation. Their rejection leaves her reeling—and determined to fight to keep her magic.

Long ashamed of his mediocre abilities, Finn Lockwood knows the Confederation accepted him only because of his prominent family. Declaring for the Exam instead means a chance to confirm his true worth.

Thrown into the testing with little preparation, Rocío and Finn find themselves becoming unlikely allies—and possibly more. But the Exam holds secrets more horrifying than either could have imagined. What are the examiners really testing them for? And as the trials become increasingly vicious, how much are they willing to sacrifice to win?

The first in a new series by USA Today bestselling author Megan Crewe, Ruthless Magic combines the magic of Harry Potter with the ferocity of The Hunger Games alongside a poignant romance. Fans of Cassandra Clare and Holly Black, look no further for your next urban fantasy fix.


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

Sable hated the gods. She hated what men did in their name.

Magic is forbidden throughout the Five Provinces; those born with it are hunted and killed. Sable doesn’t know her music holds power over souls—not until, at age nine, she plays her flute before the desert court and accidentally stops her baby sister’s heart, killing her. Horrified by what she’s done and fearing for her life, she flees north, out of Provincial jurisdiction and into the frigid land of exiles and thieves, known as The Wilds. There, Sable lives in hiding, burdened by guilt, and survives as a healer. But now, ten years later, someone—or something—is hunting her.

On the run again, Sable’s best chance for survival is Jos, a lethal man from the Five Provinces, who claims to need her skills as a healer to save his dying father, and she needs the large sum of money he’s offered. There’s something about him Sable doesn’t trust, but she doesn’t have many options. A spirit of the dead is hunting her, summoned by a mysterious necromancer, and it’s getting closer.

Sable soon discovers she’s just the start of the necromancer’s plan to take over the Five Provinces, and she’s the only one with the power to stop it. But harnessing her forbidden power means revealing it to the world, and the dangerous Provincial, Jos, she’s beginning to fall for.

Fans of Brandon Sanderson, Naomi Novik, and Victoria Schwab will love this dark and epic fantasy adventure.

#SPFBO Symphony of the Wind (The Raincatcher’s Ballad #1) by Steven McKinnon


SymphonySymphony of the Wind is the second finalist I’ve read as part of the SPFBO and I can say that I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read.  I will also mention that there’s a heck of a lot going on here and it all takes part over a fairly short period of time with lots of different people and organisations, many levels of deception and a whole heap of action all topped by quite a hefty page count – long story short, this isn’t a book that you’re going to romp through with gay abandon!  You need to pay attention, to everything.

The story begins with an introduction to one of the main characters, Serena. Serena lives in an orphanage and as such is apprenticed to become a raincatcher, the nuns wanting the children to be capable of taking care of themselves when they come of age.  Serena is out with the crew, working overtime to bring in more water into the city.  The City of Dalthea is struggling to recover following the recent war with Idari and the fall out from that war means water is in short supply.  In this steampunk novel airships take to the air to gather that most rare commodity that so many take for granted but unfortunately on this occasion things go horribly wrong.  The crew that survive, upon their return, fall under suspicion and from here on out things escalate.  A friend of Serena’s is murdered and having recently died her hair to the rather unique green of Serena’s own the obvious conclusion is that the murderer killed the wrong girl.  This is enough to send Serena seeking answers.  Serena is a mystery character and there’s something unusual about her that will be slowly revealed.

Now, I’m not going to really go into the plot any further.  Twists and turns don’t even cover this and it would become just plain silly to try and give any sort of an outline here.

I think the world building is really impressive.  It’s really thoroughly thought through and it just plain makes sense.  Things are introduced in a very casual style as the story progresses, although there is the odd conversation here or there that has an exposition feel – but nothing that spoils the read.  The writing is really good and the place is easy to imagine.  Dalthea is struggling to recover from the war with Idari.  This is very much a post war setting with all the grim reality that the fallout serves.  Poverty, slums, starvation, drugs, criminals and an extreme shortage of water that means many people die of thirst whilst at the other end of the scale the privileged few use their water tokens to shower and bathe.  For most, this is a difficult world in which to survive made even grimer by the loss of loved ones when the bomb that finally ended the war killed people in their thousands and became known as the ‘Night of the Amberfire’.

Tyson Gallows is struggling to come to terms with the death of his fiancee.  He still desperately seeks any information about what happened to her on that infamous night.  Gallows is a hunter and he and his partner Damien Fieri undertake work on behalf of the Hunter’s Guild, like bounty hunters they track down criminals and bring them to justice.   Dalthea has a wealth of Guilds – Hunters, Raincatchers, Courtesans, Musicians – well, you name it and there’s probably a Guild.  On top of this there is the Watch, controlled by the Government – All these different factions have their place although some of them seem to sit tentatively on a knife edge that threatens chaos at any moment.  At the same time that Serena is trying to stay ahead of her would-be killer Gallows and Damien find themselves following an unusual trail that leads to their discovery of betrayal and corruption, putting their own lives in danger in the process and eventually leading their paths to cross with Serena’s.

I think I mentioned above that this story has plenty going on and I really wasn’t joking.  We uncover some bitter truths about the war and the atrocities that took place under cover of a nation under attack.  People being taken for questioning, never to be seen again.  Hidden bunkers with labs that point to experimentation and genetic modifications, not only on animals but on humans too – the results of which led not only to the creation of powerful wolves but also the reanimation of the dead to form an army of wraiths.

There are so many different aspects to this tale that it staggers me that the author managed to keep it all under control in such an impressive way.  I want to tell you so much more about what actually happens and what is involved but seriously I simply couldn’t do it justice.

Gallows and Serena are the main protagonists and whilst they’re well fleshed out they’re not actually my favourites. Which isn’t to say I disliked either of them and I certainly would like a little more background about Serena.  I find myself totally fascinated by Damien and Tiera.  I have no idea what Damien actually is although we do acquire some of his history – I would like to know more – and similarly with Tiera.  Both of them seem to have gone through experiences that have honed them into something quite lethal – thankfully both still have a conscience that keeps them in check – to a degree.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I think I mentioned there’s a lot going on?  It’s not really a problem in terms of keeping the pace cranked up but I did at points feel like I wanted something of a lull, you know, that quiet before the next storm.  The whole story seems to take place in a very short period of time and to an extent I think it could have been slowed down just a tad.  As it is the revelations come thick and fast, the momentum is furious and at times I had to reread things just to make sure I had a proper grip of what was going on – and even then I’m pretty sure I missed things.  On top of this there’s a lot of action and fight sequences.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re all very vividly executed and there’s plenty of drama, we go from burning buildings to racing through underground tunnels to escape scary animals to almost Star Wars-esque fight sequences in the sky.  It’s a bit mind blowing but at the same time I almost became exhausted with it all.  I don’t really know how to put it into words, I suppose a good example would be Gallows, who is under a constant barrage of torment.  Fights, saving people from burning buildings, running at length, being stabbed and almost beaten to within an inch of his life – only to undertake it all again, in spite of his severe exhaustion, a few hours later. At the same time that I feel this could have been cut slightly to tighten some of the chapters I also think the action could have been spread out a little.

All that aside I think this was a very good read.  It’s gritty and dark but also tempered with some proper laugh out loud moments and it manages to impressively straddle both the genres of sci-fi and fantasy.

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

I would rate this as just above a four star read on Goodreads and 8.5 for the terms of the SPFBO.


#SPFBO – Finalists No.4 and No.5


Today I’m highlighting the fourth and fifth books that I will be reading for the SPFBO Competition (more details here).  The first finalist I read was Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc and my review can be found here .  (My reviews for Symphony of the Wind and The Anointed will follow in the next week or so).  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 4th and 5th finalists will be:

Aching God (Iconoclasts #1) by Mike Shel

Aching God“Closer, mortal. You are here, finally, to feed the Aching God…”

The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. That is, until old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, heralding an urgent summons back to that old life.

To save his only daughter, Auric must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands. With only a few inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization. Auric has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god?

First book in the Iconoclasts trilogy, Aching God is the debut novel of RPG adventure designer Mike Shel. He is working on book 2, Sin Eater. The first two chapters of Sin Eater are included at the end of Aching God.


Sowing (The Purification Era #1) by Angie Grigaliunas

Sowing.jpgThey can take your house, your daughter, whatever they want.

For Ariliah, life under the militarized Hulcondans is one of order and safety. Despite the soldiers’ ruthless policies, she trusts their judgment. They alone provide protection from the enemies lurking beyond the city wall.

For her older sister, Rabreah, every glance from a Hulcondan is a threat. Though even a whisper against them is treason worthy of death, Rabreah is determined to end their tyranny. Joining an underground resistance is her only hope – until she realizes she doesn’t know the people she’s aligned herself with at all. Unsure who to trust but unable to back out, she must work alongside the attractive yet infuriating rebel leader who reminds her far too much of the soldiers she hates.

But with subversive posters appearing throughout the city and people dying on the blade of an unknown assailant, the sisters’ world begins to crumble.

And as the line between friend and enemy blurs, both girls must face the truth: everything is about to change.

#SPFBO – Finalists No.2 and No.3


Today I’m highlighting the second and third books that I will be reading for the SPFBO Competition (more details here).  The first finalist I read was Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc and my review can be found here.  The purpose of this post is to shine a spotlight on those books and give readers a chance to see what they’re all about.  As already mentioned all my books are randomly selected and my 2nd and 3rd finalists will be:

Symphony of the Wind (The Raincatcher’s Ballad #1) by Steven McKinnon

SymphonyA bounty hunter with a death wish. A girl with fearsome powers. A kingdom on the brink of destruction.

Serena dreams of leaving her harsh desert home behind in her very own airship. But when an assassin’s knife meant for Serena kills her friend instead, the rebellious orphan ventures into the corrupt heart of Dalthea to discover who put a price on her head. With each new turn, she edges closer to uncovering the awful truth… And the mystical powers brewing deep within her.

After his fiancée’s death, soldier-turned-bounty hunter Tyson Gallows is eager to sacrifice his life in the line of duty. When a foreign enemy assassinates a high-ranking official, he vows to bring them to justice. On the hunt for a killer, Gallows exposes a sinister plot that proves his fiancée’s death was no accident.

Driven by revenge, Serena and Gallows must join forces to take down the conspiracy before the kingdom falls to ruin.

Symphony of the Wind is the first book in a gritty epic fantasy trilogy. If you like hardened heroes, steampunk airships, and dark magic and monsters, then you’ll love Steven McKinnon’s visceral adventure.


The Anointed (Red Proxy #3) by Keith Ward

The Anointed.jpgBeing a hero is a choice.

Xinlas’s life goal is modest: he wants to be a living legend, revered in song and story. And he’s off to a good start. He faced death once, and won. His legend grew — at least in his own mind.

Fame comes calling on Xinlas again, or so he thinks, when he stumbles on a hidden village. The village has a resource that no one’s ever seen before. A resource that can be used to conquer other lands. A resource that a power-mad ruler will kill for.

Can Xinlas — with the help of a mysterious orange-haired girl he meets on a river — stop the man who would enslave millions? It will take a kind of courage found in legendary heroes.

Will Xinlas become that hero, or break under the weight of his destiny? The fate of civilization rests on his choices.

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