#SPFBO 2018 – all wrapped up


SPFBO 2018 has finally come to an end – all the scores and reviews are now published and the final chart with links to the different blog sites and other information can be found here.

Huge congratulations to the winner of the competition – Orconomics by J Zachary Pike (which concluded with an excellent and impressive final score) and the final line up looked like this:

Orconomics 8.65
Gods of Men 8.05
We Ride The Storm 8.05
Sworn to the Night 8.00
Symphony of the Wind 7.40
Aching God 6.90
Ruthless Magic 6.35
Out of Nowhere 5.50
The Anointed 5.10
Sowing 4.55

I would like to give a huge thank you to all the authors who took part.  It’s been a great competition with some amazing books.  Thanks also to Mark Lawrence and all the other bloggers for making this such a memorable year.

Below are the 10 finalists, all together, looking absolutely gorgeous:

and finally, here are my reviews of all the finalists:

  1. The Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss
  2. Orconomics by J Zachary Pike
  3. Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas
  4. We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson
  5. Symphony of the Wind by Steven McKinnon
  6. The Anointed by Keith Ward
  7. Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe
  8. Sworn to the Night by Craig Schaefer
  9. Aching God by Mike Shel
  10. Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc

** ‘SPFBO 2018’ signing out **


#SPFBO Symphony of the Wind (The Raincatcher’s Ballad #1) by Steven McKinnon


SymphonySymphony of the Wind is the second finalist I’ve read as part of the SPFBO and I can say that I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read.  I will also mention that there’s a heck of a lot going on here and it all takes part over a fairly short period of time with lots of different people and organisations, many levels of deception and a whole heap of action all topped by quite a hefty page count – long story short, this isn’t a book that you’re going to romp through with gay abandon!  You need to pay attention, to everything.

The story begins with an introduction to one of the main characters, Serena. Serena lives in an orphanage and as such is apprenticed to become a raincatcher, the nuns wanting the children to be capable of taking care of themselves when they come of age.  Serena is out with the crew, working overtime to bring in more water into the city.  The City of Dalthea is struggling to recover following the recent war with Idari and the fall out from that war means water is in short supply.  In this steampunk novel airships take to the air to gather that most rare commodity that so many take for granted but unfortunately on this occasion things go horribly wrong.  The crew that survive, upon their return, fall under suspicion and from here on out things escalate.  A friend of Serena’s is murdered and having recently died her hair to the rather unique green of Serena’s own the obvious conclusion is that the murderer killed the wrong girl.  This is enough to send Serena seeking answers.  Serena is a mystery character and there’s something unusual about her that will be slowly revealed.

Now, I’m not going to really go into the plot any further.  Twists and turns don’t even cover this and it would become just plain silly to try and give any sort of an outline here.

I think the world building is really impressive.  It’s really thoroughly thought through and it just plain makes sense.  Things are introduced in a very casual style as the story progresses, although there is the odd conversation here or there that has an exposition feel – but nothing that spoils the read.  The writing is really good and the place is easy to imagine.  Dalthea is struggling to recover from the war with Idari.  This is very much a post war setting with all the grim reality that the fallout serves.  Poverty, slums, starvation, drugs, criminals and an extreme shortage of water that means many people die of thirst whilst at the other end of the scale the privileged few use their water tokens to shower and bathe.  For most, this is a difficult world in which to survive made even grimer by the loss of loved ones when the bomb that finally ended the war killed people in their thousands and became known as the ‘Night of the Amberfire’.

Tyson Gallows is struggling to come to terms with the death of his fiancee.  He still desperately seeks any information about what happened to her on that infamous night.  Gallows is a hunter and he and his partner Damien Fieri undertake work on behalf of the Hunter’s Guild, like bounty hunters they track down criminals and bring them to justice.   Dalthea has a wealth of Guilds – Hunters, Raincatchers, Courtesans, Musicians – well, you name it and there’s probably a Guild.  On top of this there is the Watch, controlled by the Government – All these different factions have their place although some of them seem to sit tentatively on a knife edge that threatens chaos at any moment.  At the same time that Serena is trying to stay ahead of her would-be killer Gallows and Damien find themselves following an unusual trail that leads to their discovery of betrayal and corruption, putting their own lives in danger in the process and eventually leading their paths to cross with Serena’s.

I think I mentioned above that this story has plenty going on and I really wasn’t joking.  We uncover some bitter truths about the war and the atrocities that took place under cover of a nation under attack.  People being taken for questioning, never to be seen again.  Hidden bunkers with labs that point to experimentation and genetic modifications, not only on animals but on humans too – the results of which led not only to the creation of powerful wolves but also the reanimation of the dead to form an army of wraiths.

There are so many different aspects to this tale that it staggers me that the author managed to keep it all under control in such an impressive way.  I want to tell you so much more about what actually happens and what is involved but seriously I simply couldn’t do it justice.

Gallows and Serena are the main protagonists and whilst they’re well fleshed out they’re not actually my favourites. Which isn’t to say I disliked either of them and I certainly would like a little more background about Serena.  I find myself totally fascinated by Damien and Tiera.  I have no idea what Damien actually is although we do acquire some of his history – I would like to know more – and similarly with Tiera.  Both of them seem to have gone through experiences that have honed them into something quite lethal – thankfully both still have a conscience that keeps them in check – to a degree.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I think I mentioned there’s a lot going on?  It’s not really a problem in terms of keeping the pace cranked up but I did at points feel like I wanted something of a lull, you know, that quiet before the next storm.  The whole story seems to take place in a very short period of time and to an extent I think it could have been slowed down just a tad.  As it is the revelations come thick and fast, the momentum is furious and at times I had to reread things just to make sure I had a proper grip of what was going on – and even then I’m pretty sure I missed things.  On top of this there’s a lot of action and fight sequences.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re all very vividly executed and there’s plenty of drama, we go from burning buildings to racing through underground tunnels to escape scary animals to almost Star Wars-esque fight sequences in the sky.  It’s a bit mind blowing but at the same time I almost became exhausted with it all.  I don’t really know how to put it into words, I suppose a good example would be Gallows, who is under a constant barrage of torment.  Fights, saving people from burning buildings, running at length, being stabbed and almost beaten to within an inch of his life – only to undertake it all again, in spite of his severe exhaustion, a few hours later. At the same time that I feel this could have been cut slightly to tighten some of the chapters I also think the action could have been spread out a little.

All that aside I think this was a very good read.  It’s gritty and dark but also tempered with some proper laugh out loud moments and it manages to impressively straddle both the genres of sci-fi and fantasy.

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

I would rate this as just above a four star read on Goodreads and 8.5 for the terms of the SPFBO.


#SPFBO – Finalists No.2 and No.3


Today I’m highlighting the second and third books that I will be reading for the SPFBO Competition (more details here).  The first finalist I read was Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc and my review can be found here.  The purpose of this post is to shine a spotlight on those books and give readers a chance to see what they’re all about.  As already mentioned all my books are randomly selected and my 2nd and 3rd finalists will be:

Symphony of the Wind (The Raincatcher’s Ballad #1) by Steven McKinnon

SymphonyA bounty hunter with a death wish. A girl with fearsome powers. A kingdom on the brink of destruction.

Serena dreams of leaving her harsh desert home behind in her very own airship. But when an assassin’s knife meant for Serena kills her friend instead, the rebellious orphan ventures into the corrupt heart of Dalthea to discover who put a price on her head. With each new turn, she edges closer to uncovering the awful truth… And the mystical powers brewing deep within her.

After his fiancée’s death, soldier-turned-bounty hunter Tyson Gallows is eager to sacrifice his life in the line of duty. When a foreign enemy assassinates a high-ranking official, he vows to bring them to justice. On the hunt for a killer, Gallows exposes a sinister plot that proves his fiancée’s death was no accident.

Driven by revenge, Serena and Gallows must join forces to take down the conspiracy before the kingdom falls to ruin.

Symphony of the Wind is the first book in a gritty epic fantasy trilogy. If you like hardened heroes, steampunk airships, and dark magic and monsters, then you’ll love Steven McKinnon’s visceral adventure.


The Anointed (Red Proxy #3) by Keith Ward

The Anointed.jpgBeing a hero is a choice.

Xinlas’s life goal is modest: he wants to be a living legend, revered in song and story. And he’s off to a good start. He faced death once, and won. His legend grew — at least in his own mind.

Fame comes calling on Xinlas again, or so he thinks, when he stumbles on a hidden village. The village has a resource that no one’s ever seen before. A resource that can be used to conquer other lands. A resource that a power-mad ruler will kill for.

Can Xinlas — with the help of a mysterious orange-haired girl he meets on a river — stop the man who would enslave millions? It will take a kind of courage found in legendary heroes.

Will Xinlas become that hero, or break under the weight of his destiny? The fate of civilization rests on his choices.