#SPFBO An Empire of Tears (Tales of a Prodigy #1) by Tim Marquitz

EmpireOfTearsAn Empire of Tears is one of the nine books that I chose to roll forward and read completely as part of the first stage of the SPFBO competition.

This is without doubt a story for readers of grimdark that can be quite brutal in parts involving an unusual character, a man bred to kill who finds a chance of redemption when he least expected.

Gryl was a slave of Avantr.  Magic lies beneath his skin and his memories are all unkind usually involving insights into the pain inflicted upon him in order to increase his endurance.  He’s a man of war, shaped to feel no remorse and to fight to the bitter end.  As the story sets out Gryl, and the rest of the prodigies created for war, are sailing across the sea to make war on the Shytan Empire.  Unfortunately the invasion fails and Gryl finds himself a survivor in enemy territory.  Under the circumstances he turns to the only way of life likely to ensure his survival.  He becomes a sellsword, taking work where he can, although it’s not always easy with a price on his head and bounty hunters keen to collect.

This is a story that, for me, improved as the chapters went by.  The start was undoubtedly bloody and in fact I was almost reaching a threshold in terms of the fighting and violence – I will also mention at this point that there are potential triggers contained within in terms of the brutality and scenes of rape/molestation – to be honest, I didn’t feel that these were dwelled on but be aware this can be a most unpleasant world.

What I enjoyed about this is that each chapter is told almost like a small story in itself which makes Gryl’s tale move forward at a fairly fast clip, without all the filler in-between. The writing is definitely a strong point, there’s enough detail to give you an idea of the place and I think Marquitz does a good job in turning Gryl’s character around.  He’s definitely got a dark past and as the story begins his lack of emotion can be grating, particularly when he makes a number of mistakes that lead to deaths that could have been avoided, but he finds a cause and it helps to bring out some redeeming qualities that gave his character a chance to grow.

There were a number of other characters involved along the way, most notably the Priest who sees something more to Gryl than simply a killer, and the young children in the priest’s care who became a cause for Gryl to fight for.  Gryl undoubtedly plays the main role though.

In terms of criticisms.  I think the first thing I would mention falls more into the realms of personal taste.  This is dark fantasy, it’s bloody and the world created is a nasty place to say the least.  It won’t be for everyone to be frank and I did have a moment where I was starting to feel like it was too much, as it happened the author changed tack and I found myself pulled in – although, to be clear, this is still dark reading, it morphs into something different than simply a bloodfest but it’s still a long shot from a Disney extravaganza.  I found Gryl’s attitude a little annoying at the beginning, he made a number of mistakes that felt like they occured due to his over-confidence and, well, he had very little remorse when such things happened – that being said, he’s been tortured and manipulated to leave him an almost emotion-free zone so I guess that’s to be expected.  The only other thing I would mention is that I think an injection of some humour might have lessened the dark feel – I realise that humour probably isn’t appropriate for a lot of the content here but I just feel like the inclusion of something to relieve the tension every now and again would have been welcome, snarkdark if you will – perhaps that’s one of the drawbacks of the episodic chapter style – we were moving forward with such haste that there was very little time for moments of light relief.

Overall, I thought this was a good read.  It definitely had a decent pace and I read it relatively quickly.  The writing was self-assured and the ending left me wanting to read more.

I would rate this 3.4/3.5 on Goodreads.

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





#SPFBO The Purple Haze (The Western Lands and All That Really Matters, #1) by Andrew Einspruch

purplehazeThe Purple Haze was one of the nine books that I rolled forward and read completely as part of the first stage of the SPFBO competition.  This is a YA read that is fun, quirky and quite charming.

As the story begins we meet Eloise, Eloise is heir to the throne of the Western Lands and All That Really Matters and she finds herself with the unusual predicament of being offered the hand in marriage of her childhood friend Jerome, the Chipmunk. Not wanting to upset Jerome’s mother, a powerful seer, but at the same time not really thinking a marriage between a chipmunk and a human is truly viable, Eloise comes up with an alternative suggestion, to appoint Jerome as her Champion (not to be confused with champignon!)  I would say that this opening sequence pretty much sets out the stall for the tone of the book which involves a good deal of fun and a crazy adventure.

The main thrust of the story revolves around the kidnapping of Eloise’s twin sister, the spare to the heir.  But for a few minutes and random chance Johanna would be the future heir, the rivalry between the two acts as a barrier between the two forming a friendship, that is until Johanna is taken by her uncle who has hatched a nefarious plot to marry his niece in a bid to have more power and Eloise realises she’s closer to her sister than she realised and steps up to rescue her.  From here there are plenty of  unusual capers that seem to lead down one false trail after another.

The title of the book refers to a strange purple haze that covers part of the country providing a division between the different realms.  Very little is known about the whys and wherefores of this strange and rather dense like fog – people who go into the haze never return to tell tales and in fact it is used in some places as a punishment for criminals!

I liked Eloise, she has a good personality and is a snowball character in that she seems to gather others to her plight ensuring that we have an entertaining group to read about along the way.  She’s also resourceful and doesn’t panic in an emergency.  She can be terribly proper but also kind and thoughtful.

In terms of criticisms.  I don’t have anything major.  I think the style of this might not work for everyone, it meanders and ducks and dithers somewhat and it involves a lot of humour and puns along the way.  I like the style and actually think it takes a lot of skill to write a novel of this nature but at the same time I recognise that this particular brand of crazy might not be for everyone.   I’m also not sure how viable it is to send off the heir to the throne in search of her sister – I mean effectively this means both children are now out there in the wilds with the potential to not return should all go awry. So, no heir and no spare!

Think Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz.  An unusual world with oddball characters, magic and all sorts of talking animals.  This is a lovely, charming read that ends on a note that makes me want to read more.  It’s a journey – not just a physical journey but a coming of age style story in which Eloise comes into her own.

My rating would be 3.5 of 5 stars.



#SPFBO4 Interview with Jacob Sannox, author of Dark Oak

Posted On 11 August 2018

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The SPFBO has got off to a great start already with plenty of attention on the authors and their work.  You can follow the comings and goings on Twitter using the #SPFBO hashtag or by checking into Mark Lawrence’s blog.  Last week I posted an interview with Phil Parker which can be found here and today I’m really pleased to welcome to my blog another of my SPFBO authors, Jacob Sannox.

Jacob is the author of Dark Oak, the first in a series which takes us to a world after the war has concluded and the Dark Lord has been defeated.  We discussed inspiration, conflicted characters, challenges and favourite quotes.

Hi Jacob, thanks for agreeing to take part in an interview.

So, When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? 

It sounds cheesy, but I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, probably thanks to my parents. They were both big readers and both journalists. My mum worked freelance while my sister and I were little, so the last thing I’d hear before falling asleep each night was the sound of her typing in her little study down the hall.  Mum taught me to touch-type, and she’d let me use her word processor to write. The earliest things I remember writing were three-sentence stories and, a little later, an attempt at turning one of my favourite books into a play. I seem to remember my teacher cast the rest of the class, and we acted it out. It wasn’t good!

Not cheesy. I love that. My dad very strongly influenced my reading. What were your early reads. Did they lure you into fantasy?? Anything that still stands out for you?  

Early reads. I don’t think there are many curve balls. My Mum read me The Hobbit, and it left a massive impression on me. So much so, in fact, that I dismissed The Lord of the Rings as just ‘a sequel’ for a long time, refusing to read it until I was seventeen, when I bunked off school and read it Neverending Story style. I can remember being fascinated by Tolkien’s initials and wondering what he was like as a person. Mum also read me the Narnia books, but whereas the obsession with Tolkien and Middle-Earth has endured, I left Narnia in childhood and could never go back.

What else? I loved Robin Hood (cue a surprise trip to Sherwood Forest) and King Arthur too.  Another huge book from my childhood was Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell, a non-fiction book about a man living with otters on the west coast of Scotland.

I think most of my early favourites are still favourites – I still can’t walk through the countryside without imagining something from those books. Reading all of them definitely inspired me to create my own characters and stories, both in how I played (every action figure had a back story) and how I wrote as a kid.

One does not simply dismiss LotR as a sequel – it is folly!


Without any spoilers can you give readers an idea of your spfbo book and what to expect and would you say those early influences have played a part?  

The early influences definitely played a part in the sense that I decided that Dark Oak would begin at the point where traditional fantasy stories would end.

I wanted the Dark Lord to be killed immediately, and to tell the story from the perspective of a man who fought on the wrong side against his will, faced with having to prove his true loyalties while trying to get back to his family.

I wanted to explore how all those classic, heroic characters would act when faced with making uncomfortable choices in a world that has gone from being very black & white, where there was a readily identifiable evil, to a place where everything is grey and morally ambiguous.

Dark Oak is pretty grim at times. it’s told from the perspective of those high and low in human society, but also of the Dryads who emerge in the aftermath of the book’s opening sequence. I like the Dryads. I worked hard at trying to get inside their minds, as creatures with a different psychology, a different physiology and few limitations. I won’t say much about them, but they have some, I think, unique abilities and features which really set them apart.

It’s fair to say that Dark Oak is very pro-nature!

I like the idea of looking at what comes next after the ‘big events’ have taken place. It almost feels like we still have a ‘happily ever after’ feeling when reading stories and yet history teaches us that the period after a war can be devastating. How did taking the ‘dark lord’ out of the picture affect your story. We all love a good ‘baddie’ so how difficult was it to come up with somebody or something to act as an antagonist? 

Oh he walks forward to stand front and centre practically straight away, and that’s because I believe, as you said, the aftermath is often as interesting as the war.

A simplistic way of looking at it could be that in Middle-Earth, the evil things are quite definitively evil – we rarely mourn an orc or a balrog, whereas in A Song of Ice and Fire, evil is a little more pernicious and harder to identify. My fantasy world switches from one sort of world to the other overnight, and while humanity is made up of humans, there will never be a lack of an antagonist! For a thousand years everyone was united to fight the Dark Lord, and the minute he’s killed, they’re all shooting each other sidelong glances and getting twitchy.

I try not to have bad guys who couldn’t look in a mirror every morning and think, ‘Sure, they don’t like you, but you’re fundamentally misunderstood’ as I feel not many people would ever consider themselves the bad guy.

True.  Did you find that some of your bad guys were maybe not so bad and that some of your good guys were sometimes not so good?  In terms of your characters did you really lean heavily on people from your own experience?  

That duality is something I definitely wanted to explore. I wanted to write characters that readers would root for, but who would also make them frown or gasp on occasion. I also wanted to have ‘villains’ whose motivations make sense on some level and who are acting on a desire to do good as they see it…even if objectively, it really doesn’t look that way.

I think it’s difficult not to inject your life experience and influences into your characters, but hopefully what you create is something unique, even if an individual trait or the way a character thinks is reminiscent of someone you’ve known. It’d be fair to say that some figures from recent history have informed a few of the characters, for sure.

I’d say that Dark Oak, being the first in the series, is not the most cheery! I feel a little sorry for the characters as you are mostly seeing them work through strife, but book 2 is a rather different animal.

What led you to self publish and can you give any tips to others out there wishing to take this route?

I’ve always geared up for traditional publishing, and I received some good feedback about my first novel from agents, although no takers. While writing Dark Oak I got to know a few friends who were supporting themselves through self-publishing, and I started watching Joanna Penn’s, Creative Penn videos on Youtube. I found many of the arguments for self-publishing persuasive, so thought I would give it a go.

As for tips, I’m really only starting out myself, but the main thing that has been invaluable is interacting with the the self-publishing community. People have so much knowledge and are willing to help newbies out with learning what sort of advertising works, when to release, what is selling at the moment and so much more; there are lots of little points of wisdom that I just would not even have thought about as ‘a thing’ until somebody mentioned them, for example the pros and cons of indicating that a book is the first in a series on the cover.

I didn’t take all the advice for Dark Oak, and I spent more on the wrong advertising than was wise in the first few months. I know better for next time!

The main arguments for self-publishing are chiefly that the author retains complete control of the content of the book, the cover, the marketing and the price. Making these decisions is fun and it is a nice feeling have control of the reins.

Do you have a favourite character in the book?  And, if so, why??

My favourite character is Lachlan, the Lord of the Isles. He’s got responsibilities on his shoulders, living a life he would not have chosen for himself in the shadow of his wife and is suffering something of a personal crisis. I enjoyed writing his journey as he tries to balance his own needs with his duties. I also imagine him with a truly fantastic beard.

What aspect of the story did you find the most challenging to write??

The first chapter was challenging because although I wanted it to convey the chaos and confusion of the dying minutes of a battle, it had to be understandable, and I also had to get across the history so you knew what the battle was about and why Morrick, the main character, is in such a dangerous situation. It’s told from the perspective of the Dark Lord’s troops.

In general I have a tendency to disperse my characters all over the map so it can be a real challenge bringing them all back together again with credible reasoning! It’s such a relief when I get the main characters in a room together.

Do you have a particular quote or a couple of quotes that you would like to share here?

‘He came upon a spot deep in the midst of the forest where the light splatter of blood-spray coloured the grass. As he walked, he found crimson pools in which scraps of leather armour now floated like barren islands.’  

‘Riark thought of death and he became it. He felt the living pulse of the Mother Tree and turned its sap to poison even as it flowed. He decayed the bark, rotted the wood and caused the branches to break.

Finally (you may be pleased to hear). Can you tell me three random things about yourself that I can share with readers??

Not at all! It’s fun.

Random thing #1: I get terrible vertigo. I once went to see Patrick Stewart in The Tempest, and we were sitting in the upper circle. I had to crawl out at the interval. I then sold my tickets to see Ian McKellen in King Lear because I couldn’t face the same seats. I recently failed to climb a mountain for charity and started to get dizzy whilst standing on the floor at the O2 Arena in London while watching Tim McGraw and Faith Hill because the ceiling was so high.

Random thing #2: I have a Tolkien tattoo. There will be more.

Random thing #3: I used to run a business writing personalised letters from Santa. You could order ones for kids who had been good and ones to hand out during the year as a reminder that Santa is watching and would not approve of certain behaviours. We used to write with green ink, include confetti shapes of Christmas trees and seal the envelopes with wax.

Jacob, thank you so much for taking part.  I wish you every success in the SPFBO contest and I’m really looking forward to reading Dark Oak – I’m really interested in the ‘what came after’ – it’s something that has intrigued me for a while so I’m keen to see what you’ve come up with.

Details of Jacob’s book can be found here.




#SPFBO Cover Contest Update

Posted On 12 July 2018

Filed under Book Reviews
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People.  A quick update just in case you’re absolutely gagging to know how the cover contest is progressing (and why wouldn’t you be).  All ten blogs have now chosen their three entries and all thirty covers are copied below for your ease of reference.  Each blog will now choose four favourite covers from this bevy of beauties and hopefully a winner will come to the fore.

If you’re interested in casting a vote there is a poll set up here and anyone can take part – Be aware that the votes cast by the judges will determine the winner but it’s really interesting to see how a general vote pans out compared to the judge choice.  Drop on by and cast your vote – and obviously if you want to choose my three books then that would be rather jolly decent of you – however, in fairness, there are some damned impressive covers this year and choosing is going to be mighty difficult.  Wow.  Just wow.

Here they be:

1. Bookworm Blues

A Dance of Silver and Shadow: A Retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses (Beyond the Four Kingdoms Book 1) by [Cellier, Melanie]The Snowtiger's Trail (The Windhaven Chronicles) by [Davis, Watson]Dragonsphere (The Fallen King Chronicles Book 1) by [Fierce, Richard]

2. Fantasy-Faction
The Rise of the Fallen (The Rotting Empire Book 1) by [Fugazzotto, Peter]Carnifex (Legends of the Nameless Dwarf Book 1) by [Prior, D.P.]Blood-Stained Heir (Ascent Archives Book 1) by [Norman, T.]

3. Fantasy Book Critic

4. Lynn’s Book

The Great Hearts: A swords & sorcery fantasy epic by [Oliver, David]Banebringer (The Heretic Gods Book 1) by [Park, Carol A.]Those Brave, Foolish Souls from the City of Swords: A standalone Yarnsworld novel by [Patrick, Benedict]

6. The Alliterates

Fallen Empire (Ironstone Saga Book 1) by [McArdle, Keith]Whiskey and Dragon Fire: A Dragon Shifter Paranormal Romance by [Peake, Marilyn]Darkmage (The Rhenwars Saga Book 1) by [Spencer, M.L.]
7. The Weatherwax Report
Image may contain: one or more people and textImage may contain: textImage may contain: mountain, text and nature

8. Fantasy Book Review
Revenant Winds (The Tainted Cabal Book 1) by [Hogan, Mitchell]Moroda (World of Linaria) by [McNeil, L. L.]The Vale: Behind The Vale by [Anderson, Brian D.]
9. Booknest
We Ride the Storm (The Reborn Empire Book 1) by [Madson, Devin]The Tainted Crown: The First Book of Caledan (Books of Caledan 1) by [Cowley, Meg]
The First Fear (The Empowered Ones Book 1) by [Olney, Matthew]Song (The Manhunters Book 1) by [Teller, Jesse]Oathbreaker (Legend of the Gods Book 1) by [Hodges, Aaron]


#SPFBO : The Way Into Chaos (The Great Way #1) by Harry Connolly


wayintoThe Way into Chaos is my seventh book of the finalists from the #SPFBO leaving me with two final books to review to complete the competition.  WiC was a very pleasant surprise, an easy read and an epic feeling fantasy that I felt brought something new to the table.

The book gets off to a quick start with the introduction of a number of characters all making ready for a big event.  The Evening People are due to visit.  Using a portal this race of beings visit Peradain (I think annually although I’m not 100% on that) and dependent upon whether the visit goes well and the events are well received the Evening People bestow a ‘gift’.  These ‘gifts’ are then used and adapted to achieve various forms of magic.  Of course the people in Peradain are anxious to please, they sit at the heart of the kingdom and are a force to be reckoned with due to their magical prowess.  Until the latest visit, when instead of the Evening People coming through the portal a swathe of monsters breaks through and runs amok killing people, destroying the city and murdering the King and Queen.  Named ‘Grunts’ these beasts resemble bears to a certain extent but they are much quicker and stronger and their killing ferocity is impossible to resist.  A few people manage to escape the massacre and from there forward the story really begins.  A sort of cat and mouse chase really.  A group of survivors trying to reach other cities and warn others of the threat which now looms.  Monsters running amok killing in an almost, what feels to be random fashion and, unfortunately, at the same time, politics and back stabbing rearing their ugly heads when other Tyrs (Lords) of the Kingdom decide to use this as an opportunity to amass power.

The story follows two main characters.  Tyr Tejohn Treygar, became a Lord for his services to the kingdom.  He’s an older guy with a wealth of experience and a rather no nonsense manner that has earned him the nickname ‘Stoneface’.  He owns no land due to his humble beginnings and acts as bodyguard/fight master to the Prince.  Cazia Freewell is a scholar in Predain.  She’s actually a ward, a hostage to good behaviour following a failed rebellion by her father, but she’s lived at the Court, taking part in lessons with the Prince for so long, that she is completely loyal at this point.  The two escape from the City in a flying machine, accompanied by the Prince, Cazia’s brother and a number of others amongst them an Indregai Princess, betrothed to the Prince, known as Ivy.  The characters then split with both taking different routes.  Fortunately I enjoyed both of these storylines for very different reasons and felt like the supporting characters were also really good additions.  Particularly the Princess.  She’s only 12/13 but she’s such a good character to read about – I loved her background and the maturity she showed under such duress and for me she made that storyline carry more of an emotional impact that actually changed the way I felt about Cazia.

The world feels like a standard fantasy style setting but with the addition of magic (gifted) that allows things such as healing stones, and flying machines.  The magic comes with a cost and those magicians that become too ambitious can find themselves ‘hollowed’ out – which does sound rather unpleasant to say the least.  We don’t really get a lot of information about the Evening People, have they too been massacred by the Grunts or is this part of a bigger plan?  These things remain unanswered at this stage.  The Grunts themselves are one of a number of very interesting creatures.  Their own development is a twist I didn’t see coming to be honest and it felt very unique in this sort of story.  There are plenty of other fascinating beasties which I won’t delve into here so as not to spoil the surprises along the way.

In terms of criticisms.  I think the pacing was a little inconsistent. As mentioned the story bolts out of the starting gates with great fervour, it then dithers a little and almost has a feel of repetition until again, around a third of the way in the action picks up and with two different threads there is plenty to spark the interest.  Also, be aware that this is very much the start of the series.  There are no resolutions at the end of the book and so if that’s a pet niggle you might want to bear it in mind.  As it is, it makes me keen to see what comes next.

I enjoyed this, it kept my attention really well, apart from an initial pacing blip, and I found myself becoming invested in the characters.  It has an older style fantasy feel in that I wouldn’t describe it as ‘grimdark’ – there is plenty of killing and bloodshed but it feels a little more old school and a little less visceral, the language is also kept clean by the invention of some creatively clean cursing.

Overall I rated this 7.5 – not quite sure how that translates on Goodreads – 3.75 I suppose.

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



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