#SPFBO 8 Recap, Semi Finalists and What’s Next


What is SPFBO? Check out Mark Lawrence’s post here to look at this year’s entrants, judges and allocations list.

This year I am teaming up again with the ladies from The Critiquing Chemist.

So, we recently announced our finalist. To check out all the Finalists simply follow this link.

Our finalist this year was Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson – if you haven’t read this book I highly recommend it. It’s a great deal of fun and whilst it has a slightly more modern feel than Jane Austen I can without reservation say that it felt positively Austen(ish).  I loved it.

However, today I’d like to cast the light on our Semi Finalists.  In fact this year I’ve decided to use the second stage of the competition to take a look at the semi finalists chosen by our fellow judges.  At the end of the day these are good books that could easily have been finalists and so I’d love to take a look -wouldn’t want to miss out after all.

This post is about the three Semi Finalists we chose and why you should give them a read.

In no particular order:

The World BreakerThe World Breaker Requiem by Luke Tarzian

This is what my fantastic partners over at The Critiquing Chemist had to say

The World Breaker Requiem. … a story that’s equal parts dark, mercurial, and deep… The characters are constantly evolving as more is revealed. The story continually shifts between different characters, such that it may not be entirely clear which character is being featured or how the passage ties in until later on. The setting is hauntingly beautiful with endless possibilities for worldbuilding. And with poignant prose, Tarzian masterfully examines topics of guilt, intentions versus consequences, and how far you’d go to right a wrong’

I would add to this by saying ‘I thought this was a powerful story of grief and loss and the lengths people will go to in search of redemption or the possibility to turn back time.  It strongly sits in the grimdark genre and yet it has an hypnotic style that makes you stop and backtrack at certain points in order to really capture the essence of what’s being said.’

This is a layered book set in a grim world yet the author has a style that almost belies the horror and struggles that the characters encounter.  An author with a unique, hypnotic style.

BloodofThe Blood of Crows by Alex C Pierce

Here we have a fast paced and entertaining story which essentially turns into a race against time for the main POV who needs to solve a murder mystery before he finds himself framed for something he didn’t do.  Along the way there are heists and twists, gadgets and magic. This is a story that makes you form attachments to the characters and I found myself always keen to pick it up for the next instalment of mayhem.

On the face of it you could be forgiven for thinking that this doesn’t sound particularly groundbreaking, particularly if you read plenty of fantasy, however, the writing is great, the dialogue is witty, I liked the elemental magic and the pages practically turned themselves.  A pacy read with an ending that leaves so much more to look forward to – speaking of which – here’s what the CC had to say in that regard  ‘In many ways this novel feels like a prequel where the key players are established, but most of the reveals are kept waiting in the wings for the remainder of the series. The epilogue alone holds enough surprises to fuel a whole new line of questions, along with recasting several of the events throughout The Blood of Crows in a new light, while introducing a shadow party that adds a new layer of intrigue and danger.’

A nugget of a book.

EverAliceEver Alice by HJ Ramsay

Ahh, when is a retelling not a retelling?  Why, when it is a sequel of course.  A  return to the crazy that we know as Wonderland and a look at characters that we thought we knew, but when seen through the eyes of a teenager instead of a young girl, seem on reflection to be much more conniving.

Ever Alice certainly relies heavily on the original work and I enjoyed that aspect to the story.  We have many of the old characters along with some new introductions, although as I said above, these characters have lost some of their ‘silliness’ – now being observed by a more cynical teenager.  I loved the upside down, contradictory nature of everything – on the one hand (or should that be on the second foot?) there are descriptions of food, tea and cake, and in your head you have this delicious afternoon tea appearing in your brain until, what?  this doesn’t sound delicious at all.  And these contradictions are the same for everything which gives the full story a beautifully-twisted-upside down-nothing-is-as-it-should-be-or-what-you-initially-think-feel.

This also has an alternate history woven into the tale of the two Queens (Hearts and Spades) and I really enjoyed that aspect.  It felt like it put some meat on the bones of the story.

This is a story that gives you a different slice of Alice Pie.  Things have moved on and the author takes the opportunity to look at mental health issues and the treatments meted out by asylums.  Strangely enough, I’ve only just realised  how very appropriate the title of the book is.  Silly me.

Over the next few weeks I very much look forward to looking at Semi Finalists from the other judges so watch this space for some more ‘must read’ recommendations.  Wouldn’t want your Mount TBR to look achievable now would we.

Also,  I shall be selecting my Finalist reading order using a random number generator.  I wonder which book will be first?


#SPFBO 8 The Blood of Crows by Alex C Pierce : Review


What is SPFBO? Check out Mark Lawrence’s post here to look at this year’s entrants, judges and allocations list.

I am teaming up again with the ladies from The Critiquing Chemist.


Today I am posting the third of five reviews for the books that I rolled forward (see my feedback posts for batch No.12 and 3).  All told I carried forward five books, The Hidden Blade by Marie M. Mullany, The Blood of Crows by Alex C Pierce, Scarlight by Evid Marceau, Between Ink and Shadows by Melissa Wright and Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson and over the next few days I will review each book in the order I read them.

So, without further ado here’s my review for The Blood of Crows:

I had a good deal of fun with Blood of Crows.  It started strong and the momentum was continuous. A well thought out story with magic and heists and a murder mystery that threatens the stability of the realm.

As the story begins we meet Ren and his Partner Martin, they’re on a job which involves stealing a precious book from the Praetorian Order.  Both are under contract to the Order’s militia to act as peacekeepers so they are ultimately biting the hand that feeds them.  From the outset we’re thrown into the world and it is immediately apparent that magic exists.  Sigils are used for protection and on top of this the Order uses Inquisitors – feared greatly these are more akin to feral animals than human beings.  What also becomes immediately apparent is that Ren is different, he’s contracted to the militia and must wear the bracelets that seal his knack (elemental magic) – but, he actually doesn’t have a knack – or at least it hasn’t awakened so far.  What Ren does have is an ability to see the magic sigils that are used throughout the city for any number of purposes and this undoubtedly gives him an unknown advantage in terms of getting in and out of difficult situations.

The pacing for the story is really good.  It’s not chaotic or rushed but at the same time it feels like there’s always something going on to keep your attention and it’s written in a way that delivers information smoothly as you find yourself becoming immersed in the plot.

Speaking of plot – we start with a robbery, we move on to murder and to cut to the chase this becomes a race for our character Ren to discover the identity of the murderer before the whole shebang is hung at his door.

Firstly, I liked the characters.  Ren has a lot to discover during Blood of Crows, a few home truths that are unsettling and a further mystery that we haven’t even touched on at this point, and we are along for the ride.  Ren is an easy to like character, he’s young, sometimes a little over confident but then that’s swiftly countered as he blunders around or finds himself in an embarrassing situation.  He cares about others even though that puts him at risk and he’s usually fighting against the odds. Ren’s apparent lack of magic puts him at a massive disadvantage in terms of strength, speed, even quick thinking.  He is thankfully quick on his feet and has a couple of very good friends.  Molly is a young woman who over the years Ren and his partner tried to help.  I really liked Molly, she is a master with gadgets and has a way of winding Ren up in a playful sisterly fashion.  Haim is a young student who helps Ren through a tricky situation.  She becomes involved in the investigation and is quick thinking and very capable and she and Ren eventually start to develop feelings for each other – although no romance as such at this point – just lots of side eyeing each other followed by furious blushing and awkward moments.

I thought the author also did a really good job of drawing her ‘bit’ characters, especially the victims – hear me out – they only have short starring roles unfortunately but they’re brought to life, albeit momentarily, in such a way that made me care about them and want somebody to come to their rescue.

Secondly, I liked the sense of place. I wouldn’t say it was groundbreaking as such but there’s a sense of comfort in reading something that’s so easy to imagine.  We don’t travel outside the boundaries of the city but this is a place broken easily into different layers, the wealthy situated on the upper terraces moving slowly down according to status until you have the lower echelons known as the Sprawl -aptly named for its sprawling twisted streets of crumbling ramshackle buildings and alleys.  The City has an uneasy alliance that seems to teeter on the edge of failure.  Many years ago peace was struck and the Accords were agreed upon and signed up to – signatures from the University, The Praetorian Order and the Royal Family keep the individual stakeholders from breaking the peace.  However, certain elements within the City are now straining against those boundaries drawn up years ago.

The magic is element related and people can have the knack for one or more elements.  Earth relates to strength, Air to speed and agility, water for healing, Fire for intelligence and there is a further strand which I won’t mention here as it needs to be uncovered as the story expands.  Sigils can be used for any number of things from protecting entryways to making it impossible to scale walls and elemental magic can be used to imbue these sigils.

Finally, the plot has a good pace, I enjoyed the writing and more than that I really enjoyed the fact that the story has the sort of balance that I enjoy.  The author makes good use of certain moments to lighten the moment and not only does this give the reader a bit of respite from some of the darker elements but it also does make those moments more shocking somehow.

In terms of criticisms. Well, I don’t have much to be honest.  I did have a small query concerning Ren and his abilities and I don’t, even now, feel that I really know what’s going on in that respect (I won’t mention what my query relates to as it would involve a spoiler).  Also, – that ending!  What?!  I am looking at you Alex C Pierce.

Heists. Easy to like characters. A murder mystery.  Potential civil unrest. An unresolved mystery that I’m thinking may be touched upon in the next book and an ending that throws everything up in the air.

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