SPFBO: The Third Reaping

I told you things will get more interesting and here we are again, saying goodbye to 5 books. Some we enjoyed reading, some not so much. This batch was really difficult for me, because some of these did pick my interest, but at the end of the day, I had to let them go. This means we’ll be eliminating 16 books so far, just a tiny bit over half of the books in our group. We are getting there! We’ll probably have one more reaping (looking at early November) before we announce our first semi-finalist, so keep your eyes open! At the time of posting this, not every one of us wrote up mini or full reviews of each book, so I will only use quotes from those that are available. You can always check our progress on my SPFBO page which I update regularly. Learn more about my team and fellow judges! Without further ado, let’s rip off that bandage again – or wield the axe or scythe or… okay, I need to stop with this line of thought – and see who won’t survive the third Reaping.

The Bastard Prince by Patty Jansen

BPShe has a dragon, and she’s not afraid to use it. Nellie Dreessen is a kitchen maid in the palace of Regent Bernard of Saardam. She has worked for two kings and two regents, has seen two royal families murdered through magic, has seen ghosts and demons, and kept her head down like a good girl. On her fiftieth birthday, she receives her late father’s diary, which describes a magical item that is so evil, it needs to be kept in the church crypt: a box that contains dragon. Problem is, someone has stolen the box. Regent Bernard holds a banquet for his eldest son’s sixteenth birthday. Distinguished guests come from far and wide. Because she knows what the box looks like, Nellie discovers it in a nobleman’s luggage. Removing the box from a thief’s room is not stealing, right? Not if you intend to return it to the rightful owner: the church. But someone poisons the nobleman, and everyone in the kitchen is a suspect. Nellie’s friend in the church advises Nellie to flee with the dragon box. The Regent is on a mission to stamp out magic, and Nellie plans to do what she does best: keep her head down and hide. Problem is, the dragon has other ideas. Jen: “The writing is solid, though I found it a bit slow to get going – it’s got that slice of life feel to it and with those I have to either really like the setting/story or the MC enough to want to read about them eating cereal. Up to the 30 percent mark we are following Nellie around as she preps for a 16th birthday party for the Regent’s son and just doing the busy behind the scenes work that comes with this sort of thing.

Read more about Jen’s thoughts

Timy: “This is one of those books that left me with mixed feelings when I’ve hit the 25% mark. At one hand, it’s rare in fantasy to have an older female MC – Nellie just hit her 50th birthday at the beginning of the story, for which the book deserves extra points. I also sensed a religious tension as a subplot which reminded me of the conflict between Christianity and the Reformists. Might be insignificant, but I liked the hint of it. On the other hand, I didn’t think Nellie was interesting enough to follow as she lingered on the sidelines while important events were happening around her. I also questioned some of her choices, but I guess that probably led to some twists in the story. There was also some hint of dragons and magic, but up to the 25% they didn’t really made an appearance yet.” Nick: “First of all, let me say that I loved the non-traditional main character as a 50 year-old woman.  We don’t get to see enough older protagonists in fantasy books these days and that aspect of this book was really refreshing.  That being said, this book was really slow in my opinion.  It took a long time for any real plot to develop and then when it finally did, it didn’t interest me enough to want to continue.  I felt like I was forcing myself to read it at times and that didn’t seem like the type of book that was semi-final worthy to me.”
Our Combined Rating: 5.1/10 Available: Amazon

Feast of the Raven by Catherine Spader

Feast of the RavenTorn between ancient magic and the new Christian order In 782 AD, a beast prowls the forests of northern Germany. He is wulfhedinn, wolf demon-scourge of the Christian Franks. He is also Gerwulf, the man, a scorned outcast and bastard of a Christian woman and pagan father. Gerwulf emerges from the shadows to escape his demons and seek deliverance. To save his mortal soul, he battles for God, serving the legendary Charlemagne in a savage Holy War against the pagan Saxons. His journey leads to his greatest battle-reclaiming humanity in a dark age when beasts lurk inside all men. …and the Raven Te Eater of Souls She soars above Hungering to feast on the bloodguilt of all… Timy: “Another book I’m not sure how I feel about. It’s definitely a quick read and if I had more time I probably would have read it all in about 2 sittings. Personally I liked that it was set in the 8th century Germania, though whether it was historically accurate is another question. Still, it worked for me. I can’t say the same about the poetry which ran through the narrative. I found it more distracting than interesting, but then I’m usually not a fan of poetry in books – except when the book is about music and it has lyrics, because then I’m all in for it. I also would have liked to get to know Gerwulf – the MC – a bit more. He is definitely an interesting character and he really intrigued me.”  Nick: “This was an okay book and I usually enjoy period-fantasies.  This one is set in 8th century Germany and depicts a battle between Christian Franks and pagan Saxons.  The story was interesting enough but I felt it fell short in a couple of different areas.  The first were the characters, who I felt weren’t really fleshed out enough.  They were just sort of there in the story without any significant back story or indication of any history that brought them to their current situation.  I also felt like the entire story was somewhat rushed without explaining the folklore involved in the magic side of the narrative. ”
Our Combined Rating: 4.3/10 Available: Amazon

A Separation of Worlds by Rainbow Maccabre

A Separation of WorldsThey stole Brittany away from everyone she loved, and invited her to join a war. Studying to control her magic, at the Demon College of Yore, she gained a mentor in Nigel. He once lived in her original world, too. She came to blows, a clash of words with the centaur, Feyneyrey. Danger struck a match to kindle their friendship. The two young women, under Nigel’s guidance, journeyed on a quest to destroy a deity. Jen: “On the plus-side, the quick pace gets you to the fun stuff without wasting time on our world and there’s some really interesting ideas, and the world is neat. But, the plus-side was also my down-side, as I would have liked a little exploration into the difficulties in adjusting in general to everything and leaving family and friends. Answers to some of the questions I was having – like how the Separate World knew Brittany was a demon – was it the bus accident or did they always know? And just more rounding out in general. (It is possible this was explored more in-depth later in the story too).

Read more about Jen’s thoughts

Timy: “So far this is the only book where I couldn’t read up to the 25% mark. I bailed out at 16%. It had a numer of issues – formatting only the least of it. This book felt more like a first draft rather than a finished, polished writing. I also couldn’t decide who the audience was, as sometimes it had a childish feel to it, while the MC, Brittany is 15 years old. Things happened really abruptly at the beginning which left me with a lot of questions. The characters weren’t really fleshed out or likeable much. As every book, this one also has potential, but it just needs a lot more work.” Nick: “An okay story about a cataclysmic war that ultimately separates magic users from non-magic users into two separate worlds (hence the title).  The main character discovers that she is in the wrong world and attempts to connect with her fellow magic-users to try to hone her abilities.  It’s a fun story with lots of action but unfortunately I just kept having this feeling that I wanted something more meaty with regard to the characters and plot.  There was a lot going on but I felt disconnected to the characters and couldn’t really follow what was being conveyed.  It also had kind of a younger reader feel to it which caused me to not enjoy it as much as I would have liked.”
Our Combined Rating: 2.3/10 Available: Amazon

Strathen by Melmoth Grey

StrathenFor Kara the fortress of Strathen is a prison. Whatever life she had implodes when her father is taken prisoner. Fearing he will wind up another of the keep’s many human sacrifices she begs her twin sister, Leto, to help rescue him. Their plan ends in failure and Kara is left alone in the desolate halls. This is made worse when a blizzard crashes upon the keep, trapping Kara. However, she grew up among the stones of Strathen, as a servant she learned to move quickly and quietly—and when to disappear. Survival has become a way of life as she discovers the keep’s terrible secret, the sacrifices are done for a purpose. Kara’s journey will pit her against the return of archaic magic, forcing her to challenge the very laws of her world. It will take more than will to change the fate of Strathen. In this new world Kara vows not only to survive, but to thrive. Strathen is a tale of revenge and magic by Grey Melmoth. It is dark, tense and with a female hero you cannot stop reading about. This is no flowery tale, but a fresh take-no-prisoners dark fantasy. Jen: “Stilted conversations and antagonistic attitude/behavior. Sometimes to create tension between characters but most the time it left me wondering why are they so angry at one another? Particularly in one case where it was a mutually benefiting venture, making me think it was supposed to be sexual tension. Jumping back and forth on the timeline and the use of it as a device to keep every little minute thing a mystery (a huge pet peeve with me) and so much of its use in this was unnecessary – places where the chapter break or a switch to one of the other characters serve the same purpose with less confusion.”

Read more about Jen’s thoughts

Timy: “I have to confess, Strathen had been the biggest disappointment so far. The cover drew me in from the moment I looked upon it and I really hoped that it would deliver what it promised. For a few chapters it did and I was excited to get myself immersed into this world. But it soon had become a false hope. I couldn’t bring myself to like any of the characters, except maybe Marus. The characters kept making stupid decisions, and I couldn’t really figure out what some of their motivations were exactly. I also wasn’t a fan of the timeline jumping in one character’s case. Actually, I have no idea how many timelines this book had, because it’s not quite clear if Kara, Marus and Ambrose have the same present. In Ambrose’s case we get glimpses into his past as well as his present. All in all, I really wanted to like it, but it just lost me at execution.” Nick: “There were a few reasons why I never really got into this book.  One reason was that I felt the dialogue was a little forced and stilted throughout much of the book.  I kept thinking to myself that this is not the way people speak to each other while I was reading.  Also, the main plot device was a red dot that required being fed human flesh to grow in size.  The purpose of the dot was a mystery and the author continually referred to it as “the dot”, which was kind of silly.  I mean, at least give it a cool name right?  Another problem that I had was the large cast of characters that you never fully were able to get a grasp on because the next chapter immediately switched to another viewpoint.  This book had potential in the beginning but ultimately I believe needed to be scaled down in both page count and number of characters.”
Our Combined Rating: 3.9/10 Available: Amazon

Dragon’s Fury by Brian D. Meeks

Dragon's FuryNothing survives the fog… …at least that’s what they thought. Would the exception mean the destruction of the Kingdom? He saw her walk in and knew something was wrong. Marl hadn’t seen his sister-in-law since his wife and daughter’s funeral. She blamed herself, but Marl knew it was his fault. If he hadn’t roped Elora into going after that young dragon, well, things would be different. The life he’d built at his little tavern hadn’t healed his pain. Could he find redemption, or did he need revenge? Elora said, “He’s back.” Marl asked, “How?” “Flew out of the fog. You better get your gear.” In a world shielded from invaders for centuries and lulled into a false sense of security, only two people truly understood the danger. Who will stand by their side? You’ll love this new adventure, because everyone has regrets and yearns for a chance to fix the past. Get it now. Jen: “This book was moving right along at a brisk-pace, taking no time at all to hit the 30 percent mark. At the point I left off we had most the main players; the dialogue was good and the story looks to be a fun adventure. If I hadn’t been running behind on my reading, I probably would have continued on with this one even though it wouldn’t be a choice of mine to put forward for semi-finalist – just because of how easily everything was falling into place in the story.” Timy: “This was one of those books that I feel a bit bad about cutting at this point, but despite being a fun, fast read it didn’t really manage to grab me. It has some great ideas and I was really interested how things will play out in the long run. But at the same time, characters just appear too conveniently at the right place in the right time, they also trust in them too easily. I mostly liked the characters – as much as we got to know them, because there weren’t much time for that – except Matilda, who annoyed me with her passiveness and letting others decide things for her. I also would have liked a bit more worldbuilding instead of reading about how some characters travel from A to B. But we know that’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine.” Nick: “So this one was just way too campy for me.  It had all of the elements of a fantasy novel without the feeling and characterization that distinguish the great ones from just the average.  This was another example of the “show, don’t tell” method that I am a big proponent of.  Unfortunately I thought a lot of what occurred was sort of just fed to the reader without any real work having to be done on our part.  I’m just not a fan of that type of storytelling and I lost interest in this one pretty quickly.  I give it some points for decent dialogue and a somewhat interesting world. ”
Our Combined Rating: 4.5/10 Available: Amazon