#SPFBO Review : A Tale of Stars and Shadow (A Tale of Stars and Shadow #1) by Lisa Cassidy

ATaleofA Tale of Stars and Shadows is my fifth finalist review for the SPFBO.  I’m obviously behind with my reviews for the finalists so April will be the month of catching up for me!

I have to say I really had a good time with A Tale of Stars and Shadow.  As far as fantasy stories go this isn’t exactly breaking the mould or coming up with anything particularly unique but it’s a tale well told and it has characters that you can really get on board with even if it takes a little time to do so.  I enjoyed the world building and having finished the first in series I can say without doubt that I would like to read more.

This is a tale with two POVs.  The central character is Talyn, a Princess and a warrior who has recently suffered the loss of her partner and her confidence.  Talyn has been putting off being given a new placement.  Following the death of her partner she took the unprecedented move of standing down as a Callanan warrior and instead taking up the role of Kingshield and this move sees her being placed as, well, bodyguard to a ‘winged’ prince in the country of Mithranar and given the unenviable task of recruiting and training a squad of guards for protection purposes.  Talyn’s arrival in Mithranar is something of an upset though.  The city is divided into two.  The arrogant winged folk who live in the upper echelons, they seem to have very little regard for humans and see them as little more than grist for the mill, and the people who live in the lower city, mostly underfed and living in poverty.  This is a society that feels a little ‘behind times’ in certain respects.  There are no women recruited to the Falcons (the winged army) and Talyn’s appearance as a female bodyguard definitely throws a spanner into the works.  She is given very little assistance and forced to choose recruits from the prison cells – basically, she’s being set up to fail.

The second POV is the Shadowhawk.  A mysterious criminal who stalks the city, robbing food to give to the poor.  A Robin Hood character if you will.  I loved his opening scene which really was a great set up and pulled me into the story very easily.  I enjoyed the chapter switches, the Shadowhawk provides a way for readers to look at the story from a different angle which is something I always enjoy.

What I really liked about this was the world building.  Whilst I wouldn’t say that everything is yet fully fleshed out this makes a really good start and has definitely whetted my appetite for more.  I’d like to know more about the forests beyond the walls of Mithranar and the creatures that live there – there’s a definite tale in the making if you ask me.  I’d also like to know more about the winged people and the magic they use, and how this relates to the humans who also have magic.  There’s a lot hinted at in this first instalment and it definitely intrigues me.

In terms of the characters, we have a bunch of misfits being trained into a purpose.  There’s the constant threat hanging over them of ‘make this work or else’ and the carrot and stick scenario of being pardoned if successful.  I can’t say I really became attached as such to any of the characters in particular but as a group I enjoyed their exploits and felt myself cheering them on.  Nothing like a tale of underdogs rising up against the odds after all.

Talyn and the Shadowhawk.  Well, Talyn is a bit closed off at first and it does take a little while to form an attachment to her but I ended up quite firmly in her corner.  I found myself constantly frustrated by the obstacles she met and the discrimination and in fact found myself wishing her to really tell it the way it was.  The Shadowhawk is, necessarily so, a mysterious character.  I didn’t quite understand his motives at first although having now thought about it, I can see a little more about why he felt compelled to act the way he did – I just can’t share it here!,

In terms of criticisms.  I think this could probably have been slimmed down a little.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t struggle to read this, I was always keen to pick it back up, but, given the length there isn’t a great deal plot wise – although, in fairness, the author is taking the time to establish things and give a feeling of camaraderie for Talyn and her group of trainees.  there are aspects to the plot that are really good – like the flooding and the way everyone banded together to get through it, but then there’s the big emphasis on a football match, which, okay, I can see what that was about to some extent but then in another way I could have equally done without it.  I also have to admit that I didn’t really find the mystery of the Shadowhawk to really be a mystery at all – in fact I guessed who he was very early in the book – I’m not really sure that it matters though and in some respects I think it might have worked better if this hadn’t been kept a mystery and we could have had a little more insight from his pov.

Overall, I had a good time with A Tale of Stars and Shadow and find myself very keen to read more about this world and these characters.

I would like to thank the author for the review copy.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4 of 5* or 8 of 10.



#SPFBO Review : Beggar’s Rebellion (Resonant Saga #1) by Levi Jacobs

BeggarsRebellionBeggar’s Rebellion is the third (well, fourth if you include my own) finalist I’ve read as part of the second stage of the SPFBO competition and, a few issues aside, it was an enjoyable read.

The story follows two characters who are very far removed in terms of background and nature but very similar in the tangled situations they find themselves in.

Ellumia (sometimes known as Ella) is a young woman who works and travels continuously aboard a riverboat.  Tai is an orphan selling blackmarket goods with a small team who have become like family to him.  Both of them are living a little on the edge and their worlds are about to become more complicated.

The world here is the most fascinating part of the story for me. This is a world of magic, it seems that most people have the ability to use magic but in order to do so they need to take Yura – a small mossy type pill that helps people to ‘resonate’ or tap into their abilities.  The magic takes different forms, Ellumia, for example, can timeslip – which means she can effectively slow down everything around her, other magical users can mind read or become fast and strong.  Of course, the discovery of Yura and the desire to be economically in control of the substance led to war and the eventual rebellion alluded to in the title.  The country here is very much divided between the ‘haves’ (the conquerors, sometimes known as lighthairs) and the ‘have nots’.  Oppression is very real and resentment runs high.  On top of the magic most people seem to have a voice inside their head, believed to be an ancestor or in some circumstances a friend who has passed away.  Not much is known about these voices and this is definitely something I would be interested in learning more about.

The characters share similar page time and indeed similar feelings in political terms.  Ella comes from a privileged background but is in hiding from her family.  She travels back and forth on board the riverboat working for the passengers as an accountant.  She isn’t actually licensed to undertake this work so although her ability isn’t in question she would still face trouble if her lack of credentials came to light. Ella wants to make changes and has ideas of joining the Councilate to try and push change from within.  Tai, joined the rebel movement in its early days but after his magic spiralled out of control took to the streets instead.  When his new street family fall into danger he finds himself making difficult choices and once again joining the rebel movement.  Both characters play quite different roles and I think this will make it highly likely that readers will enjoy their alternating povs.  Ella is very measured and plays a more thoughtful game whereas Tai becomes very much involved in the action and fight scenes.  Both Ella and Tai are a little naive in some respects and definitely make mistakes along the way – but I like that element to them, it makes them a little more relatable but, at the same time, I would also say that I haven’t at this point formed strong attachments to either of them.  I enjoyed reading their chapters because the story is fairly quick paced but I didn’t have that sense of tension when either one was faced with difficulty.

Apart from the world building and magic, the other aspect of this that I particularly enjoyed revolved around the discussions about change, and more, the idea that rising up and fighting the oppressors, to install a new system that is simply a reflection of the old one, is fundamentally flawed.

In terms of criticisms.  I didn’t have anything major but there were a few little issues.  I wasn’t overly keen on the made up cursing – if you’re going to curse in a book you might as well just go for it.  I really don’t see the point in saying things like ‘what the mech’ – we all know what that really reads as don’t we?  Curse, or do not curse, there is no mech.  That’s only a small quibble but it was something that I found a bit irritating.  Strangely enough I found myself liking the first half of the book more than the second half.  I say strangely because the second half is action packed but for some reason the action started to feel a little repetitive for me and I found myself preferring Ella’s chapters which felt more interesting due to the dual game she was playing.  This brings me to my other little issue which revolved around a slight groundhog feel to some of the chapters.  Basically, both characters relay their side to the story and this inevitably involves some repetition.

On the whole though, this was an enjoyable read, the writing is good and the pace is strong.

I would rate this as 7 out of 10.

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

#SPFBO Review : A Sea of Broken Glass (The Lady & The Darkness #1) by Sonya M. Black

ASeaofA Sea of Broken Glass is the second finalist I’ve picked up as part of the SPFBO competition.  Ultimately, this was a fast paced read with some very good ideas but it didn’t quite work as well as I’d hoped, particularly after an intriguing start.

As the book opens the main pov character, Ris, has been sentenced to death for witchcraft, a sentence that none of the townspeople believe but their dissenting voices are quickly squashed in a very no-nonsense fashion.  Fortunately Ris escapes with the help of friends and finds herself not only on the run from the Inquisitors but also on a quest to find an object that can save the world.  Basically, this isn’t a witch hunt as such, Ris may be the town healer but her true secret is that she is the ‘vessel’ of the Lady of Light and she needs to find a certain object that both the ‘light’ and the ‘dark’ are seeking.  This is a struggle between good and evil and it is made interesting by the fact that some of the players have themselves been tainted meaning Ris, and indeed the reader, is never really certain who she can trust.

So, world building.  This is the area that I struggled with.  To be fair, the author does provide some background information as the story develops and I imagine that more information will be forthcoming in future instalments, but, I must say that I found myself very perplexed by the world, the people, the history and the whys and wherefores of why Ris found herself in the predicament she was in at the start of the story.  At one point I actually went to check if this was perhaps a book that was set in a world established in a previous series but I don’t think that is the case (I could be wrong though).  I simply found myself struggling to envision either the people or the place.

There are four povs although Ris is the main character.  There are two paladins who for want of a better description act as Guardians.  These characters have lived for hundreds of years and over the centuries have protected other vessels of the Lady of Light.  They have unique magical abilities such as shapeshifting and they have raised Ris, protecting her in their roles of Shield and Cloak.  The other pov is Michel who takes on the role of ‘sword’ and is given the role of taking Ris out of danger and delivering her to a specific meet up point, but the best laid plans, etc,.

The story is very fast paced and I had no trouble making progress but there’s a superficial feel somehow – I can’t really put my finger on it to be honest, I think I simply didn’t connect with, or particularly like, any of the characters and this is a real stumbling block for me and on top of this it started to feel a little repetitious with the main characters having constant fights with barrages of ghouls and other creatures, barely escaping with their lives, progressing a little further and then facing another attack.

Okay, criticisms aside, I think it’s highly likely that other readers will enjoy the constant action and the swiftness at which the story unfolds and I seriously don’t mean to be overly negative because in spite of my issues I did find this a very easy book to read.  I had no issues at all with the pacing but it just didn’t quite work it’s magic on me. Which reminds me – I must also mention the magic system. It’s not explained in depth but it is interesting and involves both music and elements such as air, water, fire and earth.

Overall, I found this a light but easy read. I would have liked to feel more grounded and to form attachments to the characters but the writing was good and there were some interesting concepts, it just needed a little more development for me.

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

My rating 6 out of 10





#SPFBO Review : Blood of Heirs (The Coraidic Sagas #1) by Alicia Wanstall-Burke

BloodofHeirsWow. That is all. Goodbye.

Okay, maybe there’s more but the abridged version of this review is that if all of the SPFBO finalists are as gripping as this then not only am I going to be one happy little reader but this is going to be a very close competition.

The story follows two different povs.  Lidan is the first born daughter and potential heir to her father’s clan. It is unknown for a woman to rule a clan but her father has conceived daughters with all four of his wives and so Lidan finds herself in an extraordinary position. Ran is a Prince and as such his future is set in stone, or so it seemed until he developed magical abilities. Magic is forbidden and Ran is forced to run from his home and family, knowing that he will be relentlessly pursued.

There is just so much that I want to say about this book that this will no doubt become jumbled.

Firstly, the writing is really good. It isn’t over the top with wordy descriptions, it isn’t trying to be major boovy brained hot shot impressive. It does exactly what it needs to do in terms of rooting you to the spot and making the book unputdownable.  Secondly, we have two different characters, separated by geography, who find themselves in danger, nothing surprising there but what was a really pleasant surprise was that these timelines don’t cross – in this instalment at least.  Which isn’t to say that I don’t want them to cross but I like an author who defies expectations.

This is, simply, a book that worked very well for me. It was like all the stars aligned, the setting was intriguing, the characters were show stealing and the plot was absolutely rife with tension.

The world here has a very early feel to it, iron is fairly rare for example, horses are the mode of transport and Lidan’s clan has an almost viking feel to it or early mediaeval perhaps – basically, I’m not really sure so don’t quote me!  Lidan’s homestead is quite small and she has led a fairly sheltered existence (comparative to Ran) although her father seems to be a wealthy chieftain and well respected.  Ran’s home is much larger and more prosperous, although it regularly comes under attack from the Empire who are keen to control the resources it holds.

The two alternating storylines are not only separate but also quite different.  Ran is trying to survive capture and death.  He has fallen from a place of privilege to become the scourge of his own people.  Magic is not tolerated and users are ruthlessly executed.  Lidan is trying to establish her position as heir, which is not easy given that her father’s fourth wife is pregnant and the baby is expected to be a boy, meaning Lidan will be ousted from her position as heir.  As this means her mother will also lose her coveted place as first wive you can imagine the strife between Lidan’s parents and how this impacts on her.  As well as the two storylines there is an additional threat in the form of looming creatures stalking the woods and dark places and killing rangers and farmers.  These strange beasts are quickly becoming more of a threat to ordinary life as they start to test and understand their own strength.

Now, to the characters – which are the foundation on which this novel really rests.  I really enjoyed reading both storylines.  Lidan would probably be my favourite simply because she’s so determined to be something more than convention dictates.  But, both are equally compelling and I was happy to switch between the two.  In some ways Lidan reminded me of the main character from the Wolf in the Whale – a female who doesn’t want to be kept down simply because she was born a girl.  She wants to try things, to train and to have opportunities and couldn’t be less interested in being ladylike and making a good match.  Ran also has a very good story arc.  Of course he’s been raised a Prince with all the expectations and privileges you would expect but these are all ripped away from him quite dramatically and he copes, not always well, but he’s learning and obviously his education and training are a great help in this respect.

In terms of criticisms.  I think the only thing was the speed at which Lidan seemed to grasp using dual blades.  I mean, she didn’t just grasp the idea but put it into practice with great success which had me cheering her on at the same time I was kind of thinking ‘really?’  It’s not really a criticism to be fair because although I had slight reservations at the progress that both characters made I was enjoying the story far too much to let it get in the way.

Overall, you may be able to guess, but I really loved this.  In fact I would read the next instalment right now if I could.

A riveting story with two relatable characters set in a brutal, cold and dark time.

Give me more

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

Rating 4.5 out of 5 stars



#SPFBO Review of Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

Posted On 22 November 2019

Filed under #SPFBO, Book Reviews
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NeverDieNever Die is one of the titles on my list of books for the SPFBO competition and was one of the books that I decided to roll forward after having read the first 30% with the idea of reading and reviewing fully.  In this respect I have 4 more reviews to follow which I’m hoping will be in fairly quick succession followed by a post to reveal my semi finalists and the book I will be taking to stage two of the competition.  So, straight to my review of Never Die

Okay, Never Die is a story of revenge, but it’s one of the most unusual and unique revenge stories that I’ve ever encountered.  This is a story of heroes and honour, it’s packed to the rafters with action, steeped in Asian culture and folklore and delivers a fast paced tale that ends on a, well, I’m lost for words exactly how to best describe the ending, ‘it’s a little jaw dropping’ is the first thing that springs to mind.

Here we meet a young boy on a mission to bring down an Emperor.  Of course he can’t do this by himself.  He’s a young boy of eight or nine years maybe, he doesn’t have the strength, he isn’t a fighter, he doesn’t really have a plan for that matter, come to think of it he has very little, not a pot to piss in or even a pair of shoes.  But he knows his heroes and embarks on a hero recruitment drive if you will – the only slight deterrent for anybody wanting to take up a position, they have to be dead in order to do so. It’s not the best incentive to apply for the role.  As it happens the heroes have very little say in the matter, they need to die and so die they must.

Now, first things first.  I am not going to be discussing the plot at all other than the above paragraph.  This is a story that delivers a number of twists and I’d sooner leave further elaboration well alone in order to avoid spoilers.  Strangely enough, and although I obviously now know the final reveals this is a book that I would very much like to revisit.  I think it would be really interesting to see how, or if, the knowledge of the ending affects the rest of the story for me.

So, what really shone for me with Never Die.

I have to applaud Hayes’ ability to come up with such an action packed novel that plowed forward relentlessly and intensely yet at the same time invited me to get to know the characters.  How many times do you read a book where the characters suffer from the intensity of world building, or the furious nature of the adventure takes centre stage and you can’t get a feel for the place.  This really is an incredibly well rounded novel which is even more impressive when you consider it’s just shy of 300 pages.  The action is delivered at breakneck speed.  The story, in fact, opens with a battle sequence where the fighting is portrayed so well that I could see the characters playing out their deadly dances.  The characters are introduced one at a time which gives you the chance to get a feel for them without becoming overwhelmed.  And the world building – well, it’s taking place in every sentence really.  Names, places, clothing, food, back stories, they’re all related with an effortless grace that really belies the skill that it must take.

The characters are all so very different.  And they start out with no small degree of hatred for each other not to mention a good deal of competitive swaggering and banter.  Eventually though, they begin to develop bonds which I suppose gives weight to the idea that there’s nothing like a shared goal to bring people together.  They’re all masters in their own way, whether with the sword or with fighting without the use of weapons.  I’m not going to try to describe all the different techniques, frankly I’d just make an absolute mess of it.  Just lets say they’re all masters in their given fields and leave well enough alone.  They all have some pretty cool names and some of their abilities make for great reading during the throes of battle – I’m definitely looking at Emerald Wind right now!

In terms of criticisms.  Well, this is a conundrum because I did have a couple of little issues as the story progressed, but, the ending kind of answered my qualms and it’s really difficult to discuss what they were because, obviously I’m being all secretive. I will say that I did guess one of the twists part way through the story.  I actually have no idea how because I wasn’t reading the book at the time, in fact I was doing something a bit brain numbingly mundane when suddenly a light bulb went on in my head in a most unexpected and comic book style fashion.  I wasn’t aware I’d even be thinking of the book but there you go.  So, yes, I had my little ‘ah-ha’ moment and of course I was feeling quite smug and also not a little bit disappointed (like, if this is what the ending is all about then really….) but, of course there’s a but, yes, I had guessed what I will call one third of the twists – but (again with the buts) it was only the smallest element of the twist in the tale and the other two revelations – well, hot damn – and that’s why I need to do a reread.

I guess this leaves me with only one downside, or maybe two.  This was shorter than I would have liked (even though it does have a certain epicyness to it – that is a word, I’ve seen it on the internet so it must be true) and it’s a standalone.  In a world where series of books can sometimes reach double digits I guess I should be applauding a standalone – but, please sir, I would like more.

Oh, and I suppose I forgot to mention all the fantasy elements, ghosts, and monsters and the like, but – go and pick up a copy and discover them for yourself.

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


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