#SPFBO 7 : My Third Batch of Books

Posted On 3 August 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 eight books and my updates for Batch 1 and 2 can be found here and here.  All going to plan I should have only three books left to read, from my allocation of 15, come the end of this 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 four books that I will be reading from my third batch are:



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.

About the Author

If you found your way here, then you must already know I love to write. I am a fan of fiction, mostly fantasy, sci-fi, and post-apocalyptic (amongst others), and in all its forms, whether it is books, video games, movies, or tv-shows.

The first time I truly realized how much I loved fiction, was through The Lord of the Rings’ movies (like probably a lot of people). Since then, I traveled to so many different worlds: Halo, Mass Effect, Warcraft, Elder Scrolls, Witcher, and Fallout (to only name a few). It made me want to explore my own imagination and see what worlds I could create. This is what led me, among other things, to writing.

What can you expect from my books? I don’t bother myself trying to be a flowery writer, I want my writing to be available to everyone. And what I want above all when people read my books, is for them to have a good time and some fun. This is what truly matters to me.

When I’m not writing, I am: A husband. A father of three cats. Reading, gaming, or watching movies and tv shows. A big hockey fan. And when I’m done with all of that, I’m a big geek and collect a lot of stuff (No, I’m not a hoarder, I swear!).

You can follow my Twitter (@phil_blackwater) or my Instagram (@phil_blackwater), or register to the newsletter on my website, to know when new stories are available.




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


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?

JMAbout the Author

Born in Poland, Joanna spent most of her childhood in Poznan, then moved to Dublin, Ireland, where she lived for over 8 years. In 2016 she moved to the US, where she hopes to finally settle.

She writes speculative fiction, so it goes without saying that she’s a fan of science-fiction and fantasy – mainly books, but also movies, comics and games (both video games and tabletop RPGs).

When she’s not busy writing, reading, or gaming, she enjoys crafts and drawing.




Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens


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? The riveting new historical fantasy adventure from the author of FROM THE HILL OF MEGIDDO and the ARMAGEDDON’S OFFSPRING series!

About the Author



Carrion by Alyson Tait


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?

About the Author:

(I’m a little puzzled with the author info for Carrion.  On Amazon the author shows as Alyson Tate, on Goodreads as Jamie Benson and Alyson Tait, and on the cover Alyson Tait – apologies if I have the wrong author information here).



Good luck to this month’s authors.

#SPFBO : My Second Batch of Books – Update


Today I’m posting an update for my second 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 second 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 second batch of books:

Berserker (Apocosmos #1) by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris 


Alex is a game developer though he’d much rather stream RPG classics or spend time with Louie. That’s his  adorable corgi. He also hates people.  Not in a homicidal way but rather in an extremely-antisocial one.Unless you hurt Louie.

In such an instant, Alex is pulled in the Apocosmos, where our whole world is just a blip in a colorful tapestry of million others. A multiverse ruled by a strict system. Where Norse, Greek, and Celtic pantheons clash. Where dwarves craft, dragons hoard, and vampires don’t glitter. A world that is as cruel as epic.

Alex wants none of that though. He just wants to earn an early retirement somewhere in Spain. There’s money to be made in the Apocosmos. Alex will take advantage of the market just like he did in his MMORPG days, in what seems like an error-proof plan. But it’s a zero-sum game and some would do anything to eliminate competition.

My review is here.

In a nutshell, I had fun with Berserker, it was an enjoyable read that I had a few issues with but nothing that really spoiled the read.  If you like litRPG this could be your next read, I would certainly be interested to see what happens in the next instalment.

Conclusion: Cut


Stone Magus (Hidden Gems Saga #1) by Stephanie C. Marks


In life, love, and family, there is always strength in numbers.

Something is off balance between the Windsong Sisters, and for Opal and Ruby, the terrible might of their powers may just lead them to catastrophe—or clarity. As half-elf mages in the service of the Order of Aiuna, the sisters spend their days collecting and preserving anything that magic touches, and as their mission takes them further back into their past, the darkness that awaits them there threatens to destroy everything they hold dear.

Despite the dark smoke rising around them, Opal is finding it hard to ignore the flames flickering between herself and Baerdun. There’s just something about it that makes her feel weak, and not just in the knees. With so much happening around them, it’s becoming much harder to keep her head above water and her heart her own.

After everything they’ve lost—what if they lose themselves as well?

Enter a world where shadows exist within and without, and follow Opal, Ruby, and Baerdun down a path that will either bring them together or force them apart.

My review is here.

In a nutshell, this is fantasy and romance combined.  It has a very unusual and unique concept and was easy to get along with.  I think readers of romance who like a fantasy setting may enjoy this one – warning: it does become a little ‘steamy’ as the storyline progresses.

Conclusion : Cut


Book of Secrets (Merged Series #1) by Claudia Blood 


Joshua Lighthouse never wanted to save the world, but now he has no choice.

Three hundred years ago, the human world and the world of Myth underwent a cataclysmic Merge. Those who survived – both human and Others – formed factions. Joshua led one faction, the Human Protection Agency, which is charged with maintaining the safety of the humans in his city. He secretly protects an artifact more powerful than even he knows…

My review is here.

In a nutshell, urban fantasy that manages to deliver a unique idea in terms of the Merge.  It felt a little rushed in parts that made it difficult to connect to the central characters but for UF lovers this could be the start of an interesting series.

Conclusion : Cut


Dragonbirth byRaina Nightingale


In a world where dragons are considered demons and Dragonriders are hunted and killed as witches…

A devout village-girl, Silmavalien, meets a dragon hatchling and discovers a love she could never have dreamed. At the same time, her world is ripped apart as she discovers the gods she has worshipped and everything she has ever been taught or believed is a monstrous lie. Not knowing what to believe – or even if she can trust her engaged, Noren, with her new secret – she must find a way to care for herself and her dragon, Minth, in a wild and hostile world, a world which only grows stranger as the days pass.

My review is here.

In a nutshell this reads like a coming of age story about a young girl who bonds with a baby dragon and must then leave behind everything and everyone she knows in order to keep them both alive.  The writing didn’t quite work for me with this one and the repetition prevented me from connecting to the characters as much as I would have liked.  There are plenty of dragons though and maybe this is aimed more at a MG audience.

Conclusion : cut


My thanks again to the authors.

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

#SPFBO Review : Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale


Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale is the fourth and final book from my Second Batch of books that I’m aiming to read and review this month which will be followed by my update post on Monday.  I have seven books remaining and will post my third batch of books during the forthcoming week.  My reviews so far are linked below and you can find feedback from my first batch of books here and further information on SPFBO here.


As the title suggests, this is a book of dragons.  A young village girl, Silmavalien, finds what she thinks is an unusual stone that eventually hatches into a dragon that bonds with her.  In a world where dragons are thought of as demons the birth of this dragon must be kept secret and the obvious and only course for Silmavalien seems to be to leave her village and family behind and go into hiding with her new companion.

Essentially this book is about Silmavlien’s journey with her dragon and her struggles to keep them both alive along the way.

This one reads almost like a journal with a lot of focus on the everyday essentials of survival whilst keeping a young dragon with a large appetite alive.  To be honest, in some respects there is such a lot of attention paid to these everyday tasks that it makes it difficult to form any real attachments to either the dragon or the young girl and in fact the plot feels a little thin with a lot of repetition.

To be fair to the author she mentions in her foreword that she wrote this story when she was in her early teens and in that respect this is an achievement but, for me, it feels unpolished in its current form and not a book that I would really recommend.

I do love dragons and so I really wanted to love this one but it didn’t quite work out for me.

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

Books already reviewed for SPFBO :

  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

#SPFBO Review : Book of Secrets (Merged Series #1) by Claudia Blood


Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood is the third book from my Second Batch of books that I’m aiming to read and review this month (my fourth and final book from this batch will be posted on Saturday followed by an update post on the following Monday.  I have read the fourth book now so I have eight books tucked under my belt and 7 more remaining.  You can find feedback from my first batch of books here and further information on SPFBO here. (Links to all reviews so far are posted below).


Joshua Lighthouse is the main character of Book of Secrets and also the reluctant hero.  Almost 300 years ago the world as we know it experienced an event that has become known as the Merge.  During a meteor shower the earth and the world of myth collided.  Since that time humans and those known as Others (a term that covers many species of fictional supernatural characters) have existed on the same plane – although not amicably so.

As a result of tension the Human Protection Agency was established, as the name suggests, to protect humans.  Over the course of the years Joshua worked his way to the top of the Agency, always closely guarding a secret that could change his fortune – at the same time becoming (ironically) responsible for a powerful book known as the Book of Secrets.  With the 300th anniversary of the Merge fast approaching it seems that this knew world is under threat from those who want to see their fortunes reversed.  Joshua finds himself discredited and the Book of Secrets stolen out from under him.  He’s in a race against time before the world he now knows is unmerged and his unlikely ally is a Pack member called Serene – herself one of the ‘most wanted’ from the Human Protection Agency.

I would describe Book of Secrets as urban fantasy.  I quite liked the idea of the merge although I did find the execution a little clunky as the book began and also maybe a little rushed as we immediately jump forward almost 300 years to reconnect with Joshua – who has matured and is now an adult, but clearly an adult with an unusually long lifespan – this is accounted for but I won’t share the explanation here.

We largely follow Joshua as he is dragged unknowingly into  a string of events that will bring everything he knows crashing down – at the same time he meets Serena who has experienced the loss of her pack and is determined to find out who is responsible and why. This element of the story develops into a romance although this doesn’t take over the main story.

Book of Secrets is, I felt, quite plot focused.  The pacing is fast, you’re thrown into Joshua’s new world and expected to hit the ground running.  Having read a good deal of UF in the past I didn’t particularly find this a problem, I didn’t mind the fast pace and thought the author came up with some original ideas which is quite an achievement given that this is a popular genre of fantasy.

However, I did have a few issues.  I felt like the characters were a little flat and this made it difficult for me to connect with them or really invest in any potential threats and I struggled in some ways to visualise the world – in my head I was picturing this as a modern world but then in others I was wondering how the Others fit in – what did their part of the world look like, and what developments had occurred in the time that had expired (300 years is a long time after all).  I guess in some respects it felt as though plot dominated the other elements but at the same time I recognise that this is a first in series and I always feel with UF that the first book is usually trying to hook readers and more substance and backstories will follow in later editions.

Book of Secrets didn’t completely win me over in the way I’d hoped, mainly due to the intense pace of the story which prevented other areas from being fully explored or attachments to form but, I think, if you like urban fantasy with a hint of romance and a story that bursts out of the starting blocks then maybe this could be the one for you.

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

Books already reviewed for SPFBO :

  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

#SPFBO Review : Berserker (Apocosmos #1) by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris


Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris is the first book from my Second Batch of books that I’m aiming to read and review this month.  You can find feedback from my first batch of books here and further information on SPFBO here.

Without further ado let’s get to the review (plus check out this fantastic cover):


Berserker is the first book in the Apocosmos series that features a rather angry young man called Alex and his young dog, a Corgi known as Louie.  The book is an example of LitRPG (a genre that combines computer role playing games with science fiction and fantasy.

The story gets off to a rather dramatic start as we meet a bunch of characters who seem to be enslaved and forced to fight in violent (gladiatorial style) games.  This is where we are introduced to Alex as he starts to relate his tale to the other fighters. I confess that I’m rather fond of this style of story telling where we have a character casting back to relate his experiences so for me this got off to an interesting start.

From here we discover Alex works for a gaming company in New York.  His best (well, only) friend is called Leo and his closest companion is Louie, his dog.  Alex seems to have suffered a loss that he makes reference to on a number of occasions but this hasn’t been explored in detail other than it has left him feeling incredibly sad.  Anyhow, following a day in the office Alex and Louie leave to get takeaway and head home.  Unfortunately, they get caught up with a group of unsavoury characters that leads to something of an altercation and without warning Alex’s world is turned upside down when he’s pulled into a multiverse of possibilities known as the Apocosmos where our tiny corner of the universe is barely the tip of the iceberg.

The Apocosmos runs parallel to our world (the Cosmos) – fortunately most of us mundane muggles are happily unaware of the existence of this second world that seems to have actually been the inspiration for many stories, myths and legends that we believe to be fictional.  It appears that natives from the Apocosmos are living amongst us, disguised or hidden in plain sight and occasionally they pull an unsuspecting human into their world for one reason or another.

This is how Alex finds himself, unwittingly, begrudgingly even, a part of a much bigger universe.  Fortunately, it appears that Leo is also a part of this universe and so Alex isn’t left completely floundering around, although his natural inclinations to be anti-social don’t exactly help him as he never wants to leave his own domain.  In fact Alex has no desire to become further embroiled in this strange new world and has every intention of avoiding it until he realises that he might be able to make some money by crafting items and selling them on a platform not unsimilar to Amazon but much, much bigger in scale and possibility.  What could possibly go wrong with a ‘lets get rich quick’ idea?

I won’t elaborate further on the plot, suffice to say that this is only the first slice of Alex’s story so the ending doesn’t complete his tale.

What I liked about this.  I think it’s an interesting idea with a lot of potential storylines given the size of the Apocosmos.  The author has already come up with a number of cool notions such as gargoyles acting as postmen not to mention the idea of allowing Louie to communicate as a result of a successfully completed quest.  I confess that I’m not a gamer but to be honest I really don’t think this was a deterrent. The story feels like urban fantasy with a contemporary world with supernatural elements and the inclusion of the gaming aspects.

The characters.  I have to say that Louie was my favourite – I can’t really resist the inclusion of a cute Corgi that can communicate – particularly about his desire to eat bacon.  Also the partner that Alex takes on board – a dwarf called Rory – I did like this character especially as he started to open up.  Alex and Leo – well, Alex I find a little over aggressive.  Which I guess definitely feeds into his fighting character becoming something of a ‘berserker’ and for that reason I could relate a little more to what the author was doing.  However, I found him a bit judgemental of others, he makes quite a lot of remarks about other people that seem unnecessary  and he jumps with almost indecent haste from regular, ‘nothing to see here, just walking my dog’ calm to  ‘I want to knock everyone’s block off, mad as a box of snakes’ insanity. Like I said though – Berserker – the clue is in the title I guess.  Leo, well his inclusion feels a little contrived.  He’s a good friend (although not going to lie – I’m not always sure why), he’s indescribably rich, connected and knowledgeable about the Apocosmos – what were the odds?  Maybe there’s a further storyline about this in the pipeline though in fact it will be interesting to see how his inclusion develops.

In terms of criticisms.  I understand the need to include gaming stats in litrpg but, there is a lot of it here and to be honest I think it pulled me out of the story quite frequently.  Like I said, I do understand the need for this but I think maybe some of the lesser characters could be referred to without as much detail or maybe some of the terms could be elaborated upon in a glossary.  Anyway, it did distract from the story a little for me personally.  Also, there’s a heck of a lot of Alex ruminating about his business idea – again, maybe a bit too much information which felt a little dry and again was a bit distracting.

Overall, I enjoyed Berserker, probably more than I expected given that in terms of the RPG elements I’m not really the intended audience.  I think it had a few blips but it was a quick read and I find myself curious about just exactly how Alex comes to find himself in the slave barracks where we first make his acquaintance.  Plus, I’m worried about Louie – if anything happens to that dog – well, we’ll have another berserker on our hands.

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

Books already reviewed for SPFBO :

  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
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