#SPFBO 7 : My Fourth/Final Batch of Books

Posted On 18 September 2021

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SPFBO 7 is now into its third month and today I’m highlighting my next batch of four books.  To date I’ve read and reviewed 12  books and my updates for Batch 1, 2 and 3 can be found here, here and here.  I am a little late posting my final batch of books but I have already completed one of these and so hopefully will finish the final two books by the end of the month.

For those of you unfamiliar with SPFBO here and here are two posts that might provide some enlightenment.  Basically, SPFBO is the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off, brainchild of Mark Lawrence.  300 hopeful authors submit their word babies.  10 Judges are allocated 30 books each.  Each judge chooses a finalist, the competition narrows to 10 hopeful candidates.  Alas, there can be only one winner so following an intense reading session where all the judges read and score each others finalists a winner finally emerges.

The main change for myself this year is that I am joining up with the wonderful Critiquing Chemist and her lovely boffin.  We are very excited to start reading our batch (at the moment equally divided between the two blogs).  I love this part of the competition, it’s full of expectations and hope.  As in previous years  I will give a brief introduction to the books and authors that I’m picking up that month together with an update at the end of the month where I may roll some books forwards and cut others.  I know!  It’s a part of the competition that I’m not overly fond of but it is unavoidable.  Personally, I like to think that as the competition begins we already have 300 winners who each took that bold step to throw their hat into the ring and join in.  So, enjoy yourselves, take the opportunity to make friends and become part of the community.

This month the three books that I will be reading from my fourth and final batch are:

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Little White Hands by Mark Cushen

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Almost five hundred years have passed since the Seasons were at war. Half a millennium since Winter defied Spring, and lost.

Generations have come and gone, not knowing the bitter freeze and howling snows of Winter ever existed.

But now, after centuries of silence, the participants in this ancient struggle have resurfaced and reignited their feud on the doorstep of an unassuming little kitchen boy.

Garlan’s dreams of being just like the knights he idolizes may not be as impossible as he has always been led to believe, when he is chased from his home and thrust headlong into the kind of adventure he had only ever read about in books.

Setting out on a journey that spans the entire kingdom of Faeland, Garlan will traverse impossible mountains and stormy seas and battle terrible monsters, all to keep the world he knows safe from an enemy who will stop at nothing to bring about a never-ending winter.

With a cast of fantastical characters to aid him in his quest, can Garlan overcome his self-doubt and find the courage he needs to rise above his humble station and become the hero he always dreamed of being?

The fate of the world rests in his hands.

About the Author

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The Throne of Ice & Ash by JDL Rosell

TOIAA

A throne in peril, a tragic betrayal, two heirs struggling to save their land, and a prophesied war threatening to engulf the world…

Bjorn, youngest heir to the Mad Jarl of Oakharrow, has always felt more at ease with a quill than a sword. Yet when calamity strikes his family, he must draw a blade and lead a company of warriors into the cold, deadly mountains in pursuit of a mysterious foe. Though he seeks vengeance, an ancient power stirs within him, and the whispers of prophecy beckon him toward an ominous destiny…

Aelthena, Bjorn’s sister, was born with the aptitude to lead, and she’s eager to prove it. But her society’s rules for women, and her love for her brother, restrain her efforts to command. As she walks the fine line between ambition and virtue, enemies of both mankind and myth rise against Oakharrow’s throne, and even her allies question her right to rule…

A harrowing tale of the struggle for power and the dawning heroes who rise above it, The Throne of Ice & Ash is Book 1 of the Norse high fantasy, coming of age series The Runewar Saga. Fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, The Lord of the Rings, and The Wheel of Time won’t want to miss this new sweeping epic fantasy!

About the Author

J.D.L. Rosell is the internationally bestselling author of Legend of Tal, Ranger of the Titan Wilds, The Runewar Saga, The Famine Cycle, and Godslayer Rising. He has earned an MA in creative writing and has previously written as a ghostwriter.

Always drawn to the outdoors, he ventures out into nature whenever he can to indulge in his hobbies of hiking and photography. Most of the time, he can be found curled up with a good book at home with his wife and two cats, Zelda and Abenthy.

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Out of the Dust by Joe Coates

OOTD

There are few things more dangerous or more destructive than a bad man who thinks that he is doing a good thing…

The Aska Isles are burning. An unseasonable drought is slowly killing the land; crushing it in a patient and merciless fist of rising fire and dust.

On the prosperous Northern Isle, King Taavi Fulbright, senile and raving, edges closer to death while his Viceroy, the flint-hearted Corbin Cadmael, continues with his plans for subjugating the South and bringing the contemptible, stinking peasants that farm it under his yolk.

On the beautiful and brutal highlands of the Southern Isle, an outfit of desperadoes, bandits and cattle-thieves, led by the infamous Shaw siblings, is in the midst of murdering a team of the Crown’s cattle drovers and nicking their stock. It’s a final payday before the head of their crew, Viggo Shaw, leaves the road-life for good and settles down to fatherhood. Viggo cares little for the fate of the many, being concerned only with the lives of those closest to him; his sister and brother, Ylva and Destin, his lifelong love, Erika, and their unborn child.

That is until the delightfully psychotic Cormac Latrell comes strolling back into their lives after a decade-long absence. Latrell is a monster and, like all good monsters, is a monster of Viggo’s own creation. Once a polite and conscientious young nobleman, Latrell is the bastard son of Viceroy Cadmael and has been twisted by a love unrequited, the scorn of those he wished only to help, and the revulsion of a father who only ever saw him as a disappointment.

Latrell is hunting Erika’s sister, Fenella, who is rumoured to be endowed with powers long believed to be lost to legend. They are the powers of the Empathy, an elemental magic that could bring the Aska Isles back from the brink of the fire –– or cast it into the flames.

Now, Viggo and his band find themselves inexorably drawn into a choking world of revisited childhood sins that have sown the seeds from which fiends grow, soul-ripping jealousies, false prophesies, and blood-soaked feuds that promise little in the way of relief for any of them.

Viggo Shaw must face a trifecta of hard questions and an even tougher choice; is the saving of his world, the keeping of a final promise and the defeating of a monster he helped mould worth becoming a monster himself for?

Or should he just do what he aches to do, and surrender to death?

Or perhaps, Viggo might learn on his journey that the human heart is a torment and a masterpiece.

About the Author

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Good luck to this month’s authors.

#SPFBO : My Third Batch of Books – Update

Posted On 11 September 2021

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Today I’m posting an update for my third batch of SPFBO books (which can be found here).  This year I’m teaming up with the lovely ladies from the Critiquing Chemist and we split the batch of books equally – which gives me a little more time this year.

This month I read and reviewed all four books from my third batch and today I’m providing my feedback on which books will be cut or rolled forward.  At this point I’m not making any decisions on semi-finalists as the semi finalists will be decided by both blogs before agreement on a finalist is reached. We will each put forward hopefuls and then take it from there.

I would mention that this is ultimately the most difficult part of the competition for judges and authors.  I don’t find making cuts easy to be honest however it’s the nature of the competition.  There can be only one. I would also like to thank the authors of the books that are highlighted today for taking the decision to throw their hat into the ring.  It can’t be easy and I definitely applaud you for taking this step.

Without further ado here is my feedback from the third batch of books:

Rising Shadows (The Pillar of Creation #1) by Phillip Blackwater

Rising Shadows

As tension rises between the southern and northern nations of the small continent of Exitium in the world of Anteris, the Elves turn to their eastern neighbors, the Humans, for help. They wish to learn the ways of combat, which they are not accustomed to, for they have always wielded a power far greater than forged steel. The Shards of Creation, mystical artifacts of great and virtually infinite power, have always been their prized weapon, but times have changed. They now face the same threat as the Humans: the southern nation known as the Ethula.

Wariel Ritch, general of the Human army, will take upon his shoulders this burden. But when a shadow of a past long forgotten threatens what little stability is left in the world, he will have to leave everything behind to stop it. Medregal Tergrast, an Ethulan king, dead for a thousand years, plans his return to the world of the living to gain back his former glory and finally fulfill his destiny by gaining control of the Shards of Creation. But is he really the threat people make him out to be?

In the meantime, in the bowels of the Human Kingdom, the reign of Dana Crystaloak is put into jeopardy when people around her start questioning her decisions. If she falls, war could break out across all lands.

My review is here.

In a nutshell: Rising Shadows is a quest style fantasy story involving a number of characters, racing against time, before an army of souls is released to fight for a King who has returned from the dead.  There are a number of different threads to the story that all provide their own element of added threat.  I didn’t struggle to read this but I did have a few issues and whilst this might not have totally worked for me it could be a gateway into fantasy for readers new to the genre

Conclusion: Cut

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By the Pact (Pacts Arcane and Otherwise 1) by Joanna Maciejewska

Bythepact

High mages lied: Veranesh, the demon who destroyed the continent is still alive. And it’s up to their former student to expose the truth—even if it means another Cataclysm.

When Kamira, a once high mage student turned arcanist, discovers an imprisoned demon in underground ruins, she is forced into a pact that grants her powerful magic, but also ties her to the very demon that once devastated the continent… and Veranesh wants his freedom.

With one friend by her side, Veelk, a mage killer bound on protecting her, Kamira will have to outwit the archmages, other demons, and possibly her own demonic benefactor to survive. Her chances are slim, but with Veelk’s ever-present sarcastic repartee, Kamira might just pull through.

Plots and schemes, power and means—sometimes the price for victory is choosing which friend will die, but when you only have one friend, the choice is… easy?

My Review is here.

In a nutshell: I enjoyed By the Pact.  It has some new (to me at least) notions around demons and magic that I haven’t seen explored before.  I enjoyed the central characters and apart from a few issues related to editing (as opposed to the story itself) I would undoubtedly like to read the next instalment.

Conclusion: Roll Forward

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Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens

Iarr

ON THE NIGHT THAT HE WAS BORN, THE DEVIL CAME TO KILL HIM The son of a farmer in Iron Age Britain, Nuadhu finds himself thrust into a destiny he is ill-prepared for. After his king murders his parents, he and his brother are forced to flee into the Roman Empire under the protection of the archangel Anael. Meanwhile, a plague of the undead is sweeping across Europe from the east, raising their slain enemies as new allies. Their goal is not the conquest of one tribe or nation, but the subjugation of all humanity. Can one warrior-in-exile, hungry for vengeance, build a force to repel this existential threat?

My review is here

In a nutshell: This was a short but enjoyable story about a man who is born to be the ‘champion’ of the people, a protector from evil if you will.  Set in the Iron Age we follow a young man as he trains with a celestial being.  My only problem here is that I felt the length of the book worked against it in terms of the author really being able to draw a picture of the way of life, or to really given strength to the characters.  As it is it felt like a fairly quick, episodic narrative that quickly sees the main POV grow up and finally face the threat he’s been training for.  I think readers who like a quick read and fast pacing might enjoy this one.

Conclusion: Cut

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Carrion by Alyson Tait

carrion

The Rook legacy: duty at all Costs. Regina’s family are the last living members after a long line of magical families. Their heritage is a promise to the world; they can be trusted to keep magic from corrupting power hungry witches — In doing so they keep an unearthly evil from crushing humanity.

When Regina Rook’s mother dies a sudden, violent death, the living coven members come from around the world to attend the funeral, and begin breathing down her neck as next in line to lead. Trying to find a balance between her own goals and her family’s demands, all the while keeping her recent nightmares hidden where she becomes the very thing they fighting.

But when those things become intertwined, can she do anything but watch as the world around her crumbles to ancient horrors?

My review is here.

In a nutshell: Carrion is a story about a coven of witches who use their magic to protect the world.  When the coven’s lead witch dies it falls to her eldest daughter to pick up the reins.  The eldest daughter however has long rebelled against the coven’s ways and traditions and with a new threat emerging this could spell trouble for the world we know.  Again, this is a very quick read and a fairly short novel. I found myself struggling to really connect with the main character though and that could simply be because I wanted more backstory.  I admit that shorter stories often leave me wanting more detail so this could potentially appeal to other readers who want something a bit more snappy.

Conclusion: Cut 

 

My thanks again to the authors.

I will be posting my final batch of books very soon.

#SPFBO Review : By the Pact (Pacts Arcane and Otherwise #1) by Joanna Maciejewska 

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By the Pact by Joanna Maciejewska is the fourth book from my Third Batch of books. My update post will be up soon and I shall be posting further information about my final three books asap.   My reviews so far are linked below and you can find feedback from my first and second batch of books here and here and further information on SPFBO here.

Bythepact

By the Pact is a tale of demons and mages, sand and sorcery, I confess that I liked the way the author turns certain tropes on their head a little and I also found myself connecting quite well with the central duo.

As the story begins we step into a sort of Indiana Jones type adventure with two characters searching the desert for an old ruin and a valuable artefact.  Of course, you could be forgiven for immediately suspecting traps and trickery and you’d be spot on, up to a point – however, this particular trap has been laid by a demon. Imprisoned many years ago by archmages and believed to be dead by the majority of the world following a cataclysmic event, Veranesh is very much alive and not entirely happy at having spent the last few centuries entombed in crystal beneath the sand. The only way for the two to escape alive, albeit a temporary reprieve, is for one of them to make a pact.  Ultimately Veranesh wants freedom but how can anyone justify releasing the very monster who caused such widespread death and destruction?  Regardless, a pact is formed and the two main characters buy themselves a little time in which to think up a Plan B.

Now, I would point out that as I started this I felt a little overwhelmed at first, well, perhaps not overwhelmed so much as in the dark a little.  There were lots of references about past events, mages, highmages, archmages, demons and their ranks not to mention arcanists and mage killers.  So, yes, at first I was trying to figure out all the whys and wherefores at the same time as wondering if I was being incredibly dim witted.  As it happens, I think that you simply have to run with this because the author does a great job in gradually bringing you up to speed with the world, the characters and the demons and their own hierarchy – so, be patient.

The two central characters are Kamira, who potentially gave up a promising career as a highmage following a dispute with one of her teachers and turned instead onto the path of the arcanist and her friend and adventuring partner Veelk who is a very capable warrior and mage killer. Alongside this there are a couple of other plotlines involving certain characters.  A queen whose lands have been taken over by an army of demons following an unlikely pact between four stronger demons who has been forced to flee and seek refuge.  Her people have become dependent on magic that they thought kept them protected, they’re also addicted to the essence of magic that has been constantly available to them through a structure or relic that is now destroyed.  The other storyline involves one of the Archmages who seeks power and is constantly trying to manipulate those around him.  As these three storylines develop the nature of the demons and the role they play is revealed and it definitely turns things on their head a little in a rather surprising way.

I found By the Pact very easy to read.  I may have got off to a slightly hesitant start but as the story progressed I found myself forming attachments to the two central characters.  They have clearly been on a lot of adventures together and obviously care about each other and this comes through in their banter.  I also really appreciated the twist on the demon trope.  Don’t get me wrong – the demons are still, well, demonic, but at the same time they have their reasons for behaving the way they do, the pacts they form are usually beneficial to both parties and there is a well thought out element to why humans really need them (probably more so than the reverse). That’s not to say I’d be rushing to make any pacts myself but I think what basically comes to light is that, as with any race there are elements of good and bad and so whilst I wouldn’t say that you’re going to get any soft and fluffy demons here you do encounter those that live by a certain code of conduct – (although even those might rip your arms and legs off if you annoy them too much). Just saying.

In terms of the pacing.  Well, certainly this seemed to gather in strength as the story got underway.  The author steadily adds layer by layer to the characters.  We find a little more of their back stories and definitely in terms of Kamira her character arc was really quite pleasing as certain traits were teased out of her.  Veelk was perhaps a little less well drawn.  He came across like a Conan the Destroyer type warrior, hench, rushing into the fray with a smile on his face like a killing machine and womanising on his days off.  I didn’t dislike him, I enjoyed the friendship he shared with Kamira but he was a little bit predictable. Veranesh? Well, I ‘m not going to say I liked him – he’s a demon, can you really trust him? I mean, your basic definition of ‘demon’ is ‘an evil spirit or devil’ – however, he definitely added a certain something here even if I don’t buy into his ‘nicey-nicey’ side.

Criticisms.  Well, a slightly slow start whilst I was getting used to all the dynamics. One of the central characters could use a little more fleshing out, but, I think the only issue I really encountered was quite a number of mistakes or perhaps typos.  I mentioned in a previous review that I don’t usually mention such things but this one felt like it needed another once over with a red pen and whilst it didn’t spoil the read I think it could very easily annoy other readers.

My thanks to the author for providing a copy for review.

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts
  5. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  6. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks
  7. Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood
  8. Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale
  9. Carrion by Alyson Tait
  10. Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens
  11. Rising Shadows (The Pillar of Creation, #1) by Phillip Blackwater 

#SPFBO Review : Rising Shadows (The Pillar of Creation, #1) by Phillip Blackwater 

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Rising Shadows by Phillip Blackwater is the third book that I picked up from my Third Batch of books.  I’ve actually completed all four books now so will be posting my final review and update post very soon.  I then have three books remaining to be read which I shall elaborate on very soon.  My reviews so far are linked below and you can find feedback from my first and second batch of books here and here and further information on SPFBO here.

Rising Shadows

Rising Shadows is a return to old school fantasy in many respects.  Set on the continent of Exitium the story centres on the ongoing war between North and South and the eventual pacts that will need to be forged between humans and elves in order to hold back the forces of Ethula.  The world of Anteris has many different inhabitants (at least those we viewed from this first instalment, humans, elves and dwarves to mention a few.  There are also some fantastical creatures such as griffins and wendigoes.  The magic of this world is provided through the Shards of Creation – most of which seem to reside within the world of the elves who, to all intents and purposes, misuse them greatly relying on their magical qualities simply to live comfortably within a beautifully carved city.

As the story begins we make the acquaintance of Wariel Ritch, general of the human army.  Summoned by the Queen, Dana Crystaloak, Wariel is sent on a mission to train the Elves in swordsmanship following an agreement reached by the Queen and the King of the Elves.  It is hoped this sharing of knowledge will help to create a strong alliance between the two.  At the same time, Medregal Tergrast, once the proud king of Ethula but dead these past thousand or so years, seeks to return to the land of the living.  He needs five keys to unlock the realm of the dead and flood the world with his army of souls.  Finally, during Wariel’s absence, the ruling Council seek to undermine the Queen’s rule, plotting to replace her with a more pliable alternative.  Eventually, the quest to find the keys overrides all other instructions as Wariel and Medregal race to find the pieces.

In terms of the characters.  Wariel is the main focus.  He is joined on his journey by a number of others including two brothers who seem to share some genetic makeup with the tall warriors of the Northdran race and a woman fighter who joins the group for personal reasons, her identity remains hidden for a good portion of the story and so I shalln’t elaborate further at this point.

The setting will be familiar to fantasy readings.  It has a typical mediaeval feel to it in terms of weapons, mode of travel etc.  The author succeeds in showing readers quite a good portion of this particular continent as we follow the quest for the keys.  We obviously travel to the main Elven city, we visit the dwarves in their mountain and risk the cold heights where the Northdran live.

For the most part I found this an easy read.  It put me in mind of a strange mash up of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, but, I don’t think it shares the complexity of those novels.  Not necessarily a bad thing as this could work as a gateway novel for some.

Personally, I had a couple of issues.  Primarily relating to language.  Firstly the dialogue which felt too modern.  Without going into particular examples the word ‘sure’ is used a lot.  And, I know it probably sounds a bit trivial but it actually pulled me out of my reading wormhole on a number of occasions.  There were other modern terms used but ‘sure’ is the one that immediately springs to mind.  The second element relates to some of the ‘naming’ elements, such as ‘the Human Army’ – I couldn’t help thinking that giving the army a name might have worked better somehow – but that’s obviously a very small personal preference. Perhaps the author is going for a very easy to access novel that won’t put off ‘new to fantasy’ readers.and I confess, I wasn’t expecting lots of olde worlde language – but this really struck a chord with me and unfortunately it wasn’t one that I really enjoyed.  Now, on top of this, I have mentioned that this has an old school feel and that leads to my other issue.  This felt too familiar.  Sometimes that familiarity is a source of comfort and so it could be a ‘mood’ experience as much as anything else, but, I didn’t really feel like this tested some of the overused tropes or brought anything new to the fantasy scene.

Little quibbles aside, I had no problem reading through this one and I think it could appeal to new readers, plus, I don’t think there was any (that I can recall) profanity or other issues such as an overabundance of violence (although there were clearly a number of fight scenes) or sexual content (which I think occurred off page) making this quite a clean read (although, I could be wrong – such things don’t always jump out at me so check with the author first!)

My thanks to the author for providing a copy for review.

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts
  5. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  6. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks
  7. Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood
  8. Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale
  9. Carrion by Alyson Tait
  10. Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens

#SPFBO Review : Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens

Posted On 26 August 2021

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Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens is the second book that I picked up from my Third Batch of books that I’m aiming to read and review this month which will then be followed by my update post.  After this batch I will have three books remaining and will post my fourth and final batch of books during the following month.  My reviews so far are linked below and you can find feedback from my first and second batch of books here and here and further information on SPFBO here.

Iarr

Iarraindorn took me a little by surprise because I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this one and it fairly quickly managed to intrigue me with it’s unique style.

As the story begins three Druids, under the cover of night, make an animal sacrifice to the gods and watch for a sign.  Unfortunately, what unfolds as the storm clouds gather is the last thing they expected.  They are beset by demons like beasts with red eyes and sharp teeth who storm the village.  At the same time, in an inconspicuous mud hut a man and wife (Caiside and Genovefa) await the birth of their first son (Nuadhu).  The timing of these events is no coincidence and it soon becomes apparent that the attack on the village was driven by an enemy eventually known as the Great Adversary and his army, the Sons of Cain, who seek the newborn child.  The warriors make a good stand and eventually, with some divine assistance the village succeeds against this deadly threat.  The Archangel Anael came to their aid, her mission to protect Nuadhu who becomes known as the Champion of Man.

From there onwards we follow Nuadhu through the years and observe his training and relationships with his parents, his younger brother Pwyll and Anael.  Eventually the villagers begin to resent what they see as a potential threat and Nuadhu’s position becomes a little more difficult until one day the King of the tribes visits the village.  He has heard of Nuadhu and has made the decision that the risk he poses is to great and his life is forfeit.  Anael manages to escape the village with Nuadhu and Pwyll after their parents are murdered and the brothers are determined to seek revenge.

I must admit that the early chapters were probably my favourite parts of the read with Nuadhu and his brother growing up and training – however, I would point out that these chapters move at a rapid pace with little time spent on descriptions and the like.  To be honest this is another fairly short read at a little shy of 200 pages and so there’s a lot to get through and I guess it could have become quite wieldy if the author dwelled too long.  As it is, we are fairly soon introduced to an adult Nuadhu – a young man who plans to bring down his enemies.

In terms of setting.  The story takes place during the Iron Age, I think towards the latter years as we have the inclusion of the Roman army as the story unfolds.  I’m certainly not an expert though so I could be wrong on that score.

Overall I found this an easy read, it went in a direction that I hadn’t seen coming at all and was a bit shocking but at the same time I have a little light bulb at the back of my head about where the story might go next and I am intrigued enough to want to see what actually happens.

In terms of criticisms. Well, I hate to sound like a broken record, but, I think that the length of this is perhaps my biggest issue.  I think with a little extra the characters could have had a lot more impact and felt more rounded, the same really with the setting which was very thinly drawn with little detail about everyday life thrown into the mix.  It is an interesting concept but I would have liked to have a better feel for the people and place is all.  Obviously this is a personal preference and short and sweet works well for some readers.

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

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts
  5. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  6. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks
  7. Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood
  8. Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale
  9. Carrion by Alyson Tait
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