#SPFBO Review (3): Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens

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300 books           10 Judges            1 winner

The 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  My Introductory post is here.  Stage 1 is now complete and the finalists can be found here. My first and second finalist reviews can be found here and here.

The third book I’ve read for Stage 2 of the SPFBO Competition was Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens.  This is a very unique book in many ways, oil lit fantasy, based around the 18th Century, there is mention of swords and old fashioned style ships (I was picturing clippers) and also the use of gunpowder and guns.  The world here is also full of magic that uses an unseen (to some) form of energy known as the Faze.

As the book sets off we witness a tense scene with a young family as their two baby boys are examined to determine their readiness for something called ‘the binding.  Now, I’m not totally sure that I fully understand the Binding so I won’t over elaborate.  It seems that everyone is bound as a child, this involves a rather nasty process of injecting a formula into the child to prevent them from madness as they grow older.  This also serves as some sort of control system dictating the future roles that people undertake.  Unfortunately, some children react badly to the procedure and this leads to death.  So, you can imagine that most parents are not too keen.  Guyen and Yemelyan are about to undergo this process when their father intercedes (quite forcibly).

We then jump forward (17/18 years).  The family are aboard a ship, escaping their home in Krell which is under attack.  Long story short they effectively find themselves living in the land of their enemies.  Allocated with harsh working assignments and living on the charity of friends the family manage to scrape a living until further tragedy strikes and this event is the catalyst and driving force for much of the story, although there is also some political intrigue and scheming playing a secondary role.

So, we’re told the story by Guyen. Fundamentally this is a quest of sorts.  Guyen is trying to find a cure for his brother who lies in a coma following an accident.  His life is changed when it is discovered that he is a purebound and he’s moved to the capital, to an elite type of school called The Gates to undergo training. Initially hating the idea Guyen quickly realises that he stands more chance of helping his brother by learning more about his abilities.  On the face of it this is the main focus of the story although there is another storyline that eventually surfaces and both eventually come together in a dramatic finale.

Okay, I had issues with this book that leave me in two minds but I’m going to start on a positive note.

This is well written, there is plenty of description and clearly the author has a vivid imagination and a clear idea of the world he’s created.  To be honest, I can’t fault the writing itself.  It’s easy to get on with and after a few, let’s call them teething problems, you could see that the author had really got into his stride.

In terms of the characters, primarily this focuses on Guyen.  There are obviously a number of others during the course of the story but the only real standout character was Mist – who was actually my favourite.  I found Guyen a little too brooding or sulky at first.  Don’t get me wrong, his life hadn’t been a bowl of cherries up to this point but even acknowledging this didn’t make it any easier to really like him. Mist on the other hand was a breath of fresh air.  Very upbeat and something of a mystery.  However, in spite of finding Guyen a little difficult at first I must confess that he does grow as the story progresses. He realises that not everyone hates immigrants, he allows people in and he actually starts to trust and care for others.  I enjoyed that aspect to his story arc and from a certain point in the book I found myself rooting for him but it took a long while.

Now, the issues that I had.  I mentioned above that the writing is easy to read – and genuinely I like the way the author writes, but there’s just too much detail and its distracting – like it prevents you from focusing on what’s really happening.  And this is from someone who loves attention to detail.  I practically wallow around in it – but, at the same time, I want it to be relevant and to help me understand what’s really taking place.  Now, some of the detail pertained to setting, and that’s fundamental to help you gain your footing and form a picture in your mind but I can honestly say that I think the first third of this could reasonably be condensed to a few chapters.  I know that probably sounds harsh and so I apologise to the author because I really don’t want to be offensive, but I think we could have started with Guyen already in the Gates and much of what took place before could have been provided in flashbacks or other devices.  As it is, I couldn’t help feeling that the first 20% (maybe 30%) slowed the pace dramatically and was a little detrimental to the overall enjoyment I had.

I have mixed feelings for this one.  There’s some really good content and clearly this author can write but the pacing issues and lack of attachment to the main character made this one a little bit of a struggle for me although in fairness I think the author managed to pull me back round and I would add that I particularly enjoyed the trial scene (but I won’t giveaway anything here about that).

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

My rating 6.5 out of 10

Mid-Lich Crisis by Steve Thomas

Posted On 8 January 2021

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midlichMid-Lich Crisis is one of the books that was included in my batch for the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off and was a strong contender. I had some very good books this year which made choosing semi-finalists and an eventual finalist very difficult indeed and the fact that Mid-Lich Crisis was eventually cut stands testament to just how good this year’s selection actually was.

What I really liked about Mid-Lich Crisis is that it tells the story from the opposite side of the coin.  Instead of following in the footsteps of the typical ‘good’ hero we instead look at things from the villain’s perspective.  And here’s the thing, does a villain really think he’s the ‘villain’ or is he simply misunderstood?

If you put any faith in the meaning of names then you could be forgiven for thinking that Dread Wizard Darruk Darkbringer is immediately off to an unfair advantage, Dread and Darkbringer not really inspiring warm and happy thoughts after all, but Darruk is determined to be better understood.  He is definitely not evil and his ruthless actions were all undertaken in the pursuit of rescue.  Darruk is trying to save the world from the Doomclap – and so a few people died along the way – for the greater good.  He’s not ‘e***’ and he’s going to prove to the world that he isn’t.  First step, stop dying, second step become a celebrity, third step, save the world and show everyone that you’re really the hero that you claim to be.

So, how is it that Darruk keeps dying but then popping back up.  Well, he’s a lich.  Basically this means that he is a wizard who plans ahead and has the foresight to place his soul in a receptacle, that, provided it is kept safe, ensures he never truly dies.  Of course he might need a little help being resurrected, but that’s what furry talking minions are for, and although his last ‘death’ lasted longer than he would have liked, leaving him less time than ever to save the world, he’s still determined to do so.

I part read and part listened to this one which proved to be a winning combination, particularly as the audio narration is particularly impressive.

The world feels part mediaeval/part modern – there are certainly modern references thrown in but at the same time it has a middle age feel.  Strangely enough, this didn’t create any problems for me and perhaps that’s down to the overall style of writing which is very much in the style of ‘let’s not take things too seriously and just enjoy where the flow takes us’.

In terms of the characters.  This is pretty much a one man show, I mean, there are other characters, obviously, but Darruk is the star here and so if you find yourself unable to get on board with his peculiar brand of wit then you may struggle.  I didn’t have that problem and found the humour here very easy to get on with.

The plot is a little bit jumpy, or rambling maybe – or perhaps even chaotic.  Or at least that was my take on the whole thing.  We have all sorts thrown into the mix from rock bands to bread makers and the perfect flatbread recipe.  The only slight issue I had was a slight feeling that I’d lost the plot a little during the middle section, but, given my ‘covid brain’ this year, that could simply be due to a lack of concentration on my part.

Overall, this is an easy to read, slightly irreverent, satire that isn’t afraid to shake things up a little.  Obviously, it’s not always easy to achieve the right balance when aiming for laughs but the author certainly managed to give me a few laugh out loud moments which is always appreciated.

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

My rating – between 3.5 and 4 stars – rounded up to 4 stars

#SPFBO Review (2): The Fall of Erlon (Falling Empires Saga #1) by Robert H Fleming

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300 books           10 Judges            1 winner

The 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  My Introductory post is here.  Stage 1 is now complete and the finalists can be found here. My first finalist review can be found here.

FallofToday I’m posting my review for the second SPFBO finalist that I’ve read – The Fall of Erlon by Robert H Fleming.  This was an interesting read in that it steps away from the often used mediaeval fantasy setting and instead opts for a flintlock style with an alternative Napoleonic history.  The story very much focuses on military strategy and warfare with a fairly low fantasy feel (at the moment at least) involving interference from Gods and manipulation and use of animals such as birds (that share a connection with their handler allowing the person to literally experience a ‘bird’s eye view’ of things).  There are references to sorcery and sorcerers but magic is not really used during the course of the story (although the epilogue shows promise for more in further instalments).  At this point I enjoyed Fall of Erlon although I did have a few issues that I will get to below.

In terms of plot. Well, we start out with the failing Empire, an Emperor in exile and armies advancing on Erlon.  The Emperor’s daughter (Elisa) has been placed in a safe house of sorts and the Emperor’s wife (a sorcerer) is also missing.  The advancing armies, which combine allies from different countries, are on the march and Erlon is about to crumble under the force.  On top of this, one of the forces in particular is determined to find Elisa and the main focus of the book revolves around this pursuit.

In terms of characters I’ll point out a few for easy reference.  We have HRH King Nelson of Brun who spends the majority of the book in discussion with the exiled Emperor Lannes (master strategist and much beloved and respected by his people).  Elisa Lannes, daughter to the Emperor and Princess of Erlon who will, prompted by guidance from a God-like apparition, flee her home.  Prince Rapp of Wahring whose father King Charles currently leads a coalition of Brunian and Wahring forces on to the city of Erlon. Scythe Commander Andrei who leads an elite force in secret search of the Princess, Andrei is one of the Kurakins, currently allied with the other forces against Erlon.  The Scythes have a terrible reputation, elite soldiers made more fearsome by their pointed teeth and the vicious Wolverines that they ride upon.  Marshal Alexandre Lauriston, the Emperor’s most trusted leader and his counterpoint General Pitt who rides with King Charles but despairs a little about the progress they make.

Now, as you can see from the above, and I may have made this seem over complicated in which case apologies, there are a number of characters to take on board (in fact there are two other POVs that I haven’t mentioned at this point as their parts are fairly small), not to mention a lot of history and geography to absorb, so whilst this started out really well I did feel that things slowed down a little as I tried to take everything on board.  Essentially though this story focuses very much on Elisa, her flight from the enemies who seek her and the help she encounters along the way so I think you need to keep that in mind whilst reading.

In terms of what I liked here.  Obviously some of the characters appealed to me more than others and the last 30% or so really helped in that respect as the pacing picked up and the stakes became higher.  Each character has their own well defined role to play which is built upon as the treachery begins.  I think the writing is easy to get along with and considering how much information and history there is to be delivered the author does a remarkable job of keeping the page count under control.  In fact, if anything, I would say this could have been lengthened slightly.  I really like the setting and alternate history feel although I confess I’m no expert on the Napoleonic wars so any possible parallels here would be lost on me and so I’m not going into much detail in that respect. I’m also intrigued by the concept here – it’s more than a simple war or take over because there’s the whole mystery of why Elisa is so important to the overall outcome and what role the magic will eventually play – and whether that will work out well or not.

Now, in terms of criticisms.  Well, I think this may be a little over ambitious in terms of povs and whilst I understand the need for some of these in order to take onboard things happening in a large landscape,for me, some of the characters didn’t feel totally distinct, there were muddied lines and very similar feelings, particularly by way of insecurities and doubts.  I think rather than including more and more viewpoints in order to let the reader see what was taking place across the empire, I would perhaps have preferred interludes or field reports, or some such device instead.  I also felt like there was a bit of repetition in the first two thirds of the book where we jumped from character to character as they moved forward on the map but with some of the chapters feeling very similar to what had come before.  In this way I think some of the tension and fear was lost a little for me.  I think, what I’m trying to say, in a very round the houses fashion, is I would have preferred to really focus on a few of these characters and develop stronger feelings for them.  I also didn’t really enjoy the ‘summit’ storyline – I understand the purpose of it being included – but, it didn’t bring a great deal to the story in my opinion or at least the overall point seemed a little too obvious for me.

Overall, I enjoyed The Fall of Erlon and given the ending would be interested to see what happens next particularly as much of the mystery remains unsolved and there is still so much potential to explore.

My rating 3.5 of 5 stars or 7 out of 10

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

#SPFBO – Not a Review : Finalist Reading Schedule, Book #2

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300 books           10 Judges            1 winner

The 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  My Introductory post is here.  Stage 1 is now complete and the finalists can be found here .

During Stage 2 I will read, review and score the remaining 9 finalists as will the other judges until a winner is revealed.  As with previous years I have given each of the 9 books a number and randomly selected a reading order.  Today’s post is to highlight the second book I will be reading and provide information regarding that particular finalist.  The first finalist I read was Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire.  This was a great start to the finals and my review can be found here.

My second finalist will be :

The Fall of Erlon (The Falling Empires Saga #1) by Robert H. Fleming

The Fall of Erlon is the finalist selected this year by The Critiquing Chemist.  Their review can be found here and below is the description and author details:

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As empires burn, heroes must rise.

Elisa Lannes was once heiress to the mighty Erlonian Empire. But when her mother abandons the empire and her emperor father is defeated on the battlefield and sent into exile, the world she would rule collapses around her. As enemies converge on the capital, Elisa must join with the last of the empire’s loyal soldiers to escape the evil that hunts her and her family.

With the help of her father’s generals, can Elisa find the strength to fight for her people? Or will a twist in the tide of the empire’s last war awaken an evil far greater than the enemy’s blade?

The Fall of Erlon is the first in the new military fantasy series from author Robert H. Fleming. If you like deep fantasy worlds filled with colorful characters and massive battles, the gods and generals of the Falling Empires Saga is for you.

Author:

RHF

#SPFBO Review : Shadow of a Dead God (Mennik Thorn #1) by Patrick Samphire

ShadowThe 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  My Introductory post is here.  Stage 1 is now complete and the finalists can be found here.

Today I’m posting my review for the first SPFBO finalist that I’ve read and what a great start this turned out to be.  If this book sets the standard for the rest of the final then colour me happy.

On the face of it, and my early impressions, were that this didn’t bring much new to the table.  And, even upon completion, this feels familiar.  But, part of that ‘familiarity’ is what works so well here.  This is an easy book to read, it’s comfortable, like an old pair of slippers.  You can pick this up and pretty soon be swept away with the story, the setting seems to fall easily into place and the characters are confidently brought to mind.  This is a book that won’t hurt your brain and yet at the same time it provides a mystery that keeps you turning the pages into the early hours.

So, Mennik Thorn (Nik) is a second rate mage, however, he stands out because of his decision to run solo.  He’s a mage for hire and as the story begins he’s stuck in a pantry waiting for ghosts to appear so that he can banish them.  It’s a boring number, working for an overbearing client who treats him like something that sticks to the bottom of the shoe.  Worse still, there’s a real possibility that he’s going to lose the job if things don’t pick up very soon and he badly needs the money, rent and food not being free after all.

Now, enter the scene Nik’s lifelong buddy, and two bit thief, Benny.  Benny has a perfect job lined up and needs Nik’s help (and more to the point his magic abilities) in order to pull it off.  This is one of those jobs that can’t possibly go wrong so obviously things go to hell in a handcart, a vicious murder takes place and Nik and Benny are the only suspects.  Nik is hauled off in one direction by the ‘magical police’ (Ash Guards) and Benny is taken to ‘regular’ prison where the crime of theft will mean losing both his hands.  The prospects don’t look good so when Nik is released on a technicality he needs to investigate and clear both their names.

What did I really enjoy about Shadow of a Dead God?  I thought the world building was a winning combination of familiar and unique.  The setting, for example, felt like going down a well trodden path – and I mean that in a very positive way.  There are the segregations that occur between the rich and the poor that bring to us, on the one hand, palatial mansions, and in fact palaces with lush gardens, decadent decor and superfluous rooms, countered by the winding, rabbit warren style streets where the poorer inhabitants dwell. Then we have the Ash Guard.  I loved this aspect of the story.  The Ash Guard provide a counter to the Mages and prevent them running amok.  The ash they carry, wear and protect ferociously, nullifies magic often causing complete chaos when they run round the city wiping out charms and wards willy nilly.  I must say I think the Ash Guard are an inspired creation and I can’t wait to read more of one of their number in particular.

The magic is also really fascinating, powered by dead Gods – and speaking of Gods, some very unusual ones right here not to mention a plethora of ghosts.

The characters. Nik is a self deprecating, in a funny way, type of story teller.  He and Benny go back many years and although they can sometimes be a bit at odds with each other, when the chips are down the strength of their connection really comes through. The banter and dialogue between the two is well realised and quite refreshingly fun.  Benny’s daughter, Sereh, is something of an enigma. I’m not totally sure that I’ve bought into her very own brand of creepy and deadly just yet, particularly as she’s only 11, but, lets just say I’m prepared to be persuaded.

I also thought this was written really well and apart from a slight lag as I set off I suffered no hiccups, the pacing was good and there was a great mix of mystery and action.

In terms of criticisms.  I don’t have anything really strong to mention.  As the book set out I will admit that it felt perhaps a little too familiar but as I continued to read that feeling simply faded and I think that’s due to the winning combination of things that felt familiar coupled with those that felt refreshingly unique.  In terms of Nik, I would mention that he gave me strong Harry Dresden vibes.  He is a character that is basically a good egg but finds himself in dangerous predicaments as a result of being easy to manipulate.  He also got beaten up a lot and for the first (I would say) two thirds of the book he ran round like a headless chicken, his knee jerk reactions taking him from one dire situation to the next.  I have to hand it to the author though because he intuitively knew when that point would be reached and uncannily Nik seemed to realise that he needed to stop blundering around and use his brains at the very same time I did.

Overall, I thought this was a very entertaining read.  The writing was strong, the pacing and action kept me hooked, the central character is likable and I feel like I’ve found a series here that I would very much like to continue reading.

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

My rating 4 of 5 stars (8 of 10 for Goodreads)

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