#SPFBO Review (5): A Wind from the Wilderness (Watchers of Outremer #1) by Suzannah Rowntree

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300 books           10 Judges            1 winner

The 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  My Introductory post is here.  Stage 1 is now complete and the finalists can be found here. My previous four book reviews can be found here, here, here and here.  Today I am reviewing my fifth finalist.

WindFrom

A Wind from the Wilderness is the finalist put forward by the Fantasy Hive and their review can be found here.

I have very mixed feelings for this book which can be loosely summed up as : incredible respect for the historical depiction of a fascinating period, a love of the author’s prose, an almost wonderfully unsettling feeling of quite literally being swept into a period so thoroughly that it sometimes felt like I was witnessing the scenes in person, standing bewildered as battles took place around me and yet, even with all that incredible imagery and impressive attention to the period, I was unable to really connect with the central character and I had a frustrating feeling, even after finishing, that I was missing something fundamental.  So, mixed feelings.

AWftW reads like historical fiction with very light fantasy elements – which although a little on the skimpy side did feel pertinent to the period.  There’s almost a biblical feel to the whole thing that makes me think of brooding skies and smiting!  However, I cannot deny that the start of the book gave me expectations that there would be more sorcery involved when one of our main characters is thrown forward in time.  As it is, the fantasy elements are indeed subtle.  There’s a feeling throughout of events being slightly manipulated by a dark presence that haunts the crusades, one of the characters is driven by prophecy and the final chapters give a promise of darker things yet to come.

Lukas Bessarion is the main character and the one who finds himself thrown forward in time almost 400 years.  For the most part Lukas is trying to return to his family and mindful of that need finds himself marching towards Jerusalem with the allied forces.  He becomes attached to a young woman known as Ayla who is also on her own particular quest.  Ayla seeks revenge for the death of her father.  The two form an unlikely attraction, both keeping secrets that would make them natural enemies.  The third character is Raymond St Gilles, a knight of the crusades whose inclusion gives us a means of following the crusade as the allied forces move slowly forward, battling and strategising.

I will admit that I’m not an expert on this period of history, that being said I really don’t think you need to be because the author has clearly researched this particular period very thoroughly and the story comes across as very well grounded.  The infighting, petty jealousies and difficulties in simply moving such a large contingent, from A to B, really come across well.  There are frustrating times where battles feel on the brink of disaster simply because forces that should be working together are pulling in opposite directions due to lack of true commitment to each other and then added to this is this dark element that seems to stalk the battlefields causing misery and despair.  All told I think Rowntree has done a remarkable job of bringing this particular period to life and giving a fictional account of events that feels like a plausible account

The plot is perhaps something that I felt a little puzzled about.  Lukas is the clear focus for the story and we know that he has a strategy to move forward towards Jerusalem.  This part of the story felt a little loose for me, I didn’t really have a real grip on how Lukas expected to make changes or find a way back to his family – any more than he did to be honest, which is probably why it felt perplexing.  Even as the story ended I’m not sure how Lukas’s story will ever come to a conclusion, I expect that might be part of the bigger plan for the series but even with that in mind I felt like I was missing something somehow.

As I mentioned the writing is really good. The author does a fantastic job of creating a sense of place and time and really bringing events to life – but, I felt like the pacing was slow and I think that links into the slightly floundering feeling that I mentioned above in respect to the plot.  In fairness, the start was intriguing and I really enjoyed meeting Ayla.  She’s a character that stole the show a little for me in fact I found myself looking forward to the chapters in which she appeared.  It’s difficult to put my finger on what slowed this down for me, again I think it boils down to puzzlement about where things were headed which left me at certain points feeling like this was more a historical recounting than anything else.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I mentioned that this feels more like historical fiction with a loose scattering of fantasy.  To be honest that wasn’t particular an issue for me as I like this type of read and I thought the fantasy elements fit well with the story told here.  I think my main problem is that I didn’t really connect with the characters. I didn’t really buy into the romance and think I would have preferred this to remain a friendship, and the ending was very bitter sweet – which is a little ironic as the author makes quite clear early on about the direction that one of the characters is going in – so really it shouldn’t be unexpected – and yet I did find myself unpleasantly surprised.  I also had issues with the pacing at stages which left me conflicted because I was enjoying the way the author told the story but at the same time was finding certain chapters very slow to get through.

Overall, my feelings remain mixed ont this.  On the one hand I’m not sure I’m giving the book all the credit it’s due with this review which feels confused or conflicted at best.  On the other hand, although I loved the way the author writes and think she’s done an incredible job in many respects I still remain very detached in terms of the main character and this gives me a lot of difficulty in terms of scoring this one.

After much internal debate I would rate this as a 7 out of 10.

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

#SPFBO – Not a Review : Finalist Reading Schedule, Book #5

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300 books           10 Judges            1 winner

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

During Stage 2 I will read, review and score the remaining 9 finalists as will the other judges until a winner is revealed.  As with previous years I have given each of the 9 books a number and randomly selected a reading order.  Today’s post is to highlight the fifth book I will be reading and provide information regarding that particular finalist.  The first finalist I read was Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire.  This was a great start to the finals and my review can be found here.  My second book was The Fall of Erlon by Robert H Fleming which I posted my review here.  My third book was Shaun Paul Steven’s Nether Light, my review for which can be found here. My fourth book was a Norse myth inspired story called Darkness Forged by Matt Larkin and my review is here..

My fifth finalist will be :

A Wind from the Wilderness by Suzannah Rowntree

A Wind from the Wilderness (Watchers of Outremer #1) by Suzannah Rowntree is the finalist selected this year by the Fantasy Hive and their review can be found here.  .Below is the description and author details:

WindFromHunted by demons. Lost in time.

Welcome to the First Crusade.

Syria, 636: As heretic invaders circle Jerusalem, young Lukas Bessarion vows to defend his people. Instead, disaster strikes.

His family is ripped apart. His allies are slaughtered. And Lukas is hurled across the centuries to a future where his worst nightmares have come true…

Constantinople, 1097: Ayla may be a heretic beggar, but she knows one thing for sure: nine months from now, she will die. Before then, she must avenge her father’s murder–or risk losing her soul.

Desperate to find their way home, Lukas and Ayla join the seven armies marching east to liberate Jerusalem. If Lukas succeeds in his quest, he’ll undo the invasion and change the course of history.

But only if he survives the war.

Only if his enemies from the past don’t catch him.

And only as long as Ayla never finds out who he really is.

A Wind from the Wilderness is Book 1 in the new Watchers of Outremer series. If you love stories full of dark magic, bloody warfare, and star-crossed love, then you’ll be spellbound by this sweeping historical fantasy!

SRAuthor:

Hi! I live in a big house in rural Australia with my awesome parents and siblings, writing historical fantasy fiction. You can visit me online at https://suzannahrowntree.site

​If you like the mythic fantasy of Stephen Lawhead, S. A. Chakraborty or Naomi Novik, you’ll probably like my stories too!

Website : https://suzannahrowntree.site

Twitter : suzannahtweets

#SPFBO Review (4): Darkness Forged (Legends of the Ragnarok Era #1) by Matt Larkin

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300 books           10 Judges            1 winner

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

Darkness

The fourth book I read for Stage 2 of the SPFBO Competition was Darkness Forged by Matt Larkin.  This is an unrelentingly dark book that I actually enjoyed far more than I anticipated (given my current reading mindset).  The story here is a retelling of an old Norse myth about three brothers who each embark on a quest and we follow their exploits as they head off in different directions.  For the most part we focus on one brother in particular who struggles with his own inner demons and in fact the title of the book I think refers to this particular character and the torments he suffers along the way that eventually shape him into something dark and merciless.

As the story sets out we have an almost fairytale style – although, to be clear, this is definitely not a bedtime story (unless you like nightmares).  Three brothers returning from a hunt find their homestead abandoned, their wives missing and all that is left behind are their three wedding bands.  Each brother sets out to search for their wife swearing to return home in a year’s time.

So, the three brothers.

Slagfid is the eldest, married to Svanhit he is a master swordsman.  A slightly difficult character to like.  He definitely said some rather irritating things as the story began and of the three he was the one who came across as least concerned with the search for his wife.  Slagfid decides the best way to find his wife is through battles and heroic deeds.  All three wives are Valkyries, their backstory is provided and obviously they have returned to the duties to which they are bound.  Slagfid eventually becomes embroiled in a plot to help a princess vowing to kill her enemies after she saved him from drowning.  He believes that the fights he undertakes will undoubtedly warrant a visit from the Valkyries..

Agilaz is the middle brother. A serious young man and an adept woodsman, tracker and archer, married to Olrun.  Agilaz finds himself in service to a Jarl, accompanied by his young son Hermod.  Agilaz also finds himself losing sight a little of his original purpose until he hears the fate of his younger brother and sets out to help him.  His path also becomes fraught with danger once he is entangled with the fate of his brother.

Volund is the youngest brother with the darkest story.  Following an apprenticeship to the dark dwarves he is a master blacksmith and can create fantastic weapons and armour not to mention craft jewels and goblets.  Volund’s apprenticeship was harsh beyond measure and has filled him with darkness that is barely held at bay.  The love for his wife Altvir is the only shining light in his life and of the three brothers he remains constant throughout in his desire to find her.  Unfortunately, his path takes a very dim turn and he finds himself captive, injured and increasingly bitter at his circumstances and this leads him to commit atrocities that are unforgivable.

Considering the length of this book I think the author manages to really get across a good feel for the place and time.  Undoubtedly this was a harsh time in which to live.  The struggles to survive, the constant threat of attack from one source or another, the cold, the hunger, it all comes across well, and is, of necessity, bleak.  Mostly told in a linear fashion the story also includes flashbacks or interludes that paint a picture of Volund’s apprenticeship and help us to understand what he went through as a young boy.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, It is difficult to form a real attachment to any of the brothers.  The elder two don’t have as much page time and the youngest carries out some quite harsh deeds in his quest for revenge.  Plus, ultimately the ending is far from happy on most accounts.  This is also very dark and I would make mention of various triggers, rape, sexual slavery and torture, to name just a few that immediately spring to mind.  Mostly, such dark deeds do take place off page but I thought I should mention them nonetheless.  On top of this I found the dialogue a little annoying as the story set out, mainly because it all seemed to revolve around women and was rather disparaging, although this is something that became less noticeable as the story moved on (probably because the brothers went on their separate ways).

Overall, and in spite of the grimness, I did enjoy this tale. However, this isn’t a lighthearted or fun read and the tone is fairly relentingly harsh so be warned of that before picking it up.  I also found myself a little sad that Volund’s tale was so bittersweet (undoubtedly erring on the bitter side) but, given his actions it was kind of obvious that this was never going to have a ‘happily ever after’.  Also, to be fair to the author, having read up a little more about these brothers and their myth I think he does an excellent job of fleshing out their story and filling it with magic, sorcerers, shapeshifters and other fantasy elements.

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

My rating 8 out of 10.

#SPFBO – Not a Review : Finalist Reading Schedule, Book #4

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300 books           10 Judges            1 winner

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

During Stage 2 I will read, review and score the remaining 9 finalists as will the other judges until a winner is revealed.  As with previous years I have given each of the 9 books a number and randomly selected a reading order.  Today’s post is to highlight the fourth book I will be reading and provide information regarding that particular finalist.  The first finalist I read was Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire.  This was a great start to the finals and my review can be found here.  My second book was The Fall of Erlon by Robert H Fleming which I posted my review here.  My third book was Shaun Paul Steven’s Nether Light, my review for which can be found here.  Today’s post is to highlight the fourth book I will be picking up.

My fourth finalist will be :

Darkness Forged by Matt Larkin

Darkness Forged (Legends of the Ragnarok Era #1) by Matt Larkin is the finalist selected this year by Kitty G.  Kitty’s review can be found here and below is the description and author details:

Darkness

Vengeance is Wrought. Darkness is Forged.

The greatest crafts on Midgard come from the dvergar realm of Nidavellir. Volund, a gifted smith and once apprentice to the dvergar, escaped their dark realm to find solace in the arms of a valkyrie.

Nine years of respite.

And then she was gone.

Volund will do anything to get her back. But his reputation precedes him, and a cruel king knows the weapons Volund forges can win his wars. Imprisoned in the king’s forge, Volund’s only hope to escape is to find his wife. If he can’t, more than the forge’s darkness will overtake him.

MattLAuthor:

Matt was born and raised in Virginia, and graduated from the College of William and Mary there. His lifelong love of fantasy began with The Hobbit. This led him to start writing his own stories at a young age. His primary influences are mythology and history. He now lives in Florida with his wife.

Find out more at https://www.mattlarkinbooks.com

#SPFBO – Not a Review : Finalist Reading Schedule, Book #3

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300 books           10 Judges            1 winner

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

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

My third finalist will be :

Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens

Nether Light is the finalist selected this year by The Fantasy Inn.  Their review can be found here and below is the description and author details:

NetherLight

Take a journey through a world punished by a dark, imprisoned magic. A world where children are given poison. A world where your talent is decided by the state.

A world where reality is breaking down.

When refugee Guyen washes up in the land of his enemy, he knows he will fight, but soon finds himself falling down a well of wonder and improbability.

Can he survive a system designed to oppress him? Can he tame his anger to unleash his potential? Can he see his enemy for what they truly are?

Nether Light is a gritty, heart-wrenching tale of high magic and high stakes, loves lost and friendships gained, set in an oil-lit, 18th century world far, far away.

And it’s full to the gills with epic fantasy, plotting, scheming, and racy, jaw-dropping, immersive adventure. What more could you ask for? 

For fans of Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Neil Gaiman, Mark Lawrence, V.E. Schwab, Ed McDonald, Brian McClellan.

Please note: This book contains mature themes.

ShaunPaulStevensAuthor:

Born in London in 1972, Shaun spent his formative years in the shadows of the dreaming spires of Oxford, before moving to Nottingham where he graduated with a degree in English and Media.

Shaun lives in Brighton, on the south coast of England, where he splits his time between fiction, geekdom, and garlic bread.

Find out more at shaunpaulstevens.com

Twitter : spstevenswriter

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