Today is my turn to say goodbye to 5 titles from my batch and announce my semi-finalist, our third in SPFBO 6! With this, we’ll be halfways through announcements. In the following weeks 2 more such post will follow before we start reviewing our semi-finalists. But back to my group.
I’d like to thank each and every author who submitted their book to SPFBO this year. There were some I liked, some not so much and eventually there was one that just stood out to me over the others. Those I cut are reviewed in the order as I read them.
Firewing by Jennifer R. Povey
Cat is living as quiet a life as the only human/demon hybrid in existence can; practicing as an alchemist, spending time with her adoptive family and her girlfriend, and keeping her head down. But she is the only human/demon hybrid in existence, and when cultists attack her and those close to her, she realizes that keeping her head down can never be her solution.
Instead, she must cross the face of Yirath, see the deep-running conflicts for herself and face her destiny in the demon city of Arok-Kor.
Although I was determined to read at least about 25% all of the six books in my batch, unfortunately I was unable to go past the 15% mark of Firewing. The MC is a young woman called Cat, who is a half-human half-demon. She is not very liked and feared in her town, though it’s not clear why (besides you know, her heritage). She is confined to the city walls but dreams of freedom. Unfortunate events lead to the desired freedom and she gets on the road in pursuit of revenge.
I had several issues which eventually led me to DNF Firewing early. I just couldn’t stand the MC. I like character driven books, and I don’t even require to love the MC, but I was just utterly annoyed with Cat. She is basically the female equivalent of that male MC who stares and fantasises about women ALL the time, finding them attractive and objectifying them. Cat is the same, she just happens to be into women. Male characters – so far – were only in the book to show how awful and useless men are. I couldn’t connect with Cat at all, whom I found to be a quite cardboard-like character. I know I probably should have felt pity or at least symphaty for her troubles but I just couldn’t.
Another thing that made me disconnect from the book is that we have a lot of telling but no showing, we are thrown in the middle and I had the feel we should know about things that happened before, but we don’t and that’s confusing as hell. It also lacks worldbuilding – there are gods, who has their agenda, but we don’t know anything about them or why they are even involved. Or why we even should care about the MC for that matter.
I’m sure this book will find its audience eventually, but unfortunately that’s not me and so I couldn’t advance it into the semi-final round.
|Read: 15%||Rating: 3/10|
Rumble in Woodhollow by Jonathan Pembroke
Sydney was bored–bored with mixing potions in her aunt’s alchemy shop and bored of life in the faery homeland of Sylvan Valley. So when her sister Marla sends her a letter and asks Sydney to bring some family documents to the crime-ridden city of Woodhollow, Sydney leaps at the chance–only to discover Marla in charge of one of the criminal syndicates competing for control of the Woodhollow underworld.
Before she knows it, Sydney finds herself embroiled in a gang war and must maneuver her way through the plots of rival thugs, ogre peacekeepers, and the semi-immortal ruler of the city. And through it all, she learns she has drawn the attention of a mysterious order of assassins…who want Sydney for some sinister purpose of their own.
I’m a bit on the fence with Rumble in Woodhollow. At one hand, I liked the idea of the setting. Woodhollow is a town full of different creatures – trolls, leprechauns, faeries, etc. Living side by side if not really peacfully. Our MC, Syd arrives in town to deliver some papers to her sister, who also happens to run a faerie mob out of a tavern. Syd, longing for some adventure and a less dull life than the one she led back at home with her aunt, decides to stay and join the mob. Her skills of talking herself out of tight corners might be even helpful.
Rumble in Woodhollow is fast paced and it’s easy to read. But while I found it quite interesting, I couldn’t get really involved with it. I would have liked some more descriptions and depth to the worldbuilding, to immerse myself in Woodhollow. And much less dialogue. There is just way too much of it and some of it not really moving the plot forward. Moreover, I found the characters a bit flat and one-dimensional. I think Syd is supposed to be this quirky, witty person but we just don’t have time to really get to know her. Too. Much. Talking. And a weird interest by everyone in her sex life…
Despite my issues, I can recommend you to give a go to Rumble in Woodhollow if you like non-human character POVs, action and a fast paced fun book.
|Read: 23%||Rating: 6/10|
Epilogue by Lily Lashley
In the war-torn land of Cyraveil, four heroes strove to overthrow an empire. By cold steel and elemental sorcery, they brought peace to a warring land on the brink of destruction. As the flames died, the realm needed strong leadership, and who better than the champions who had saved the kingdom? But when the people sought out their saviors… they vanished.
Matt, Blake, Jen, and Carl: the four mysterious companions, who together had deposed an insane ruler and saved countless lives, were gone—spirited back in a whirlwind of magic to a sleepy suburb in Mellbridge, Oregon, never to return. The friends found themselves home in the real world, exactly as they’d been the night they were taken, as if no time had passed… except only three came back.
When I first saw the cover of Epilogue, it picked my interest. I really can’t say why, it’s not exactly an outstanding one, and still. I had a good feeling about it. And though it didn’t blew my socks off, it wasn’t a complete disappointment either. If you are into urban / portal fantasy, then I think this one should be up your alley.
I basically read the first 25% in one sitting. It’s super easy to read and despite no ktnowing much about what happened, it manages to keep up the interest. Epilogue has three POV characters: Matt, Jen and Carl. They just woke up, finding themselves seven years in their past, except only a couple of hours went by while they somehow found themselves in an alternative world. They try to act normal and find their legs in the 21st century again (it has an early 2000s vibe), which is not easy as they spent seven years in a medieval world where they grew up, held political positions (which is a bit weird given their age) and they changed quite a lot mentally. They deal with the situation differently on their own way for better or worse. We only get hints of what actually happened and how they spent that seven years which can be a bit infuriating as you try to puzzle out what happened. One thing’s for sure: one of them didn’t come back and the tension between Matt and Carl is only growing.
There is a lot going on for Epilogue. It’s definitely YA up to the 25% mark but might have a darker edge to it later on. I also saw a romance plot coming which is not something I’m a fan of personally. Overall it’s an interesting book not quite there yet to be a semi-finalist as it needs polishing, but definitely worth the attention if you are into YA urban / portal fantasy.
|Read: 25%||Rating: 7/10|
Harpyness is Only Skin Deep by D.H. Willison
On a world where death lurks around every corner, is friendship the strongest survival tool of all?
Darin: bored with his paper pusher existence, he accepts a questionable deal for the LARP adventure of a lifetime. A jump through a dimensional portal strands him on the mythical world of Arvia, where everything is gigantic. Except the life-expectancy of newcomers.
Rinloh: a mere ten meters tall. Life in the harpy flock has never been easy for her. Determined to become full-fledged at the upcoming human-hunt, nothing is going to stand–or fly–in her way.
A chance encounter between these two–what could possibly go wrong?
Humans consider consorting with a harpy a capital offense. Harpies consider the human citizens a tasty part of a balanced diet. Yet the two must overcome a most monstrous conspiracy as the citizens of the city begin disappearing, with a list of suspects as big as the inhabitants of Arvia.
Harpyness is Only Skin Deep blends endearing characters and whimsical fantasy adventure in a uniquely witty, charming style. Contact your neighborhood dimension broker, or download Harpyness, and jump into the world of Arvia today.
I was pretty curious about Harpyness is Only Skin Deep so I was glad it ended up in my pile. Now, comedic fantasy can be a hit or miss – anything with attempting at humor can be a hit or miss, really – for me, because I prefer my humor to be on the darker, witty, smart-ass side of the scale. Unfortunately, this book was a miss in this regard – again, for me, you might very well enjoy it! But that’s not why I initially decided to move on from it.
Harpyness is Only Skin Deep has a cool idea to begin with – Darin lives his boring everyday life in which his only passion is fantasy and D&D. When the opportunity comes knocking, he suddenly – and very stupidly (I mean, he doesn’t even read the contract!!) – decides to ditch his life to go and live in another world. Specifically in a city called Xin. Naturally, nothing goes as he imagined. The world is filled with dangerous creatures and he has to work really hard to get by. At the 24% mark he doesn’t yet meet the other MC, Rinloh, but we get glimpses of her POV.
But while the premise is pretty promising, the execution fell a bit flat. The dialogues were a bit clunky for one, and honestly I found Darin a bit annoying as well as boring. I’d have liked a bit more characterization, the beginning is very rushed and how did he suddenly become good at crafting? Oh and can he please stop going on about “fantasy world this” and “fantasy world that”? Rinloh I can’t form an opinion about as up to this point we didn’t see much of her, but seems like harpies aren’t really nice creatures, not when it comes to each other in any case.
All that being said, Harpyness is Only Skin Deep has its promises, it definitely needs some more polishing as it’s rough around the edges. It’s clear the author had fun while writing this book, but to me it feels like there is still a lot of room to improve. But who knows, if you are looking for a light, fun portal fantasy, you might want to give it a go.
|Read: 24%||Rating: 5/10|
Shadow of the Lantern Bearer by Chris R. Underwood
Magic is a disease. It spreads like a plague and drives the infected mad with power.
Death is the only cure.
Seventeen-year-old Kole Felmen is destined for a life spent executing infected sorcerers and disposing of their tainted remains.
But his first execution ends in disaster. Fearing he has been infected with the sorcerer’s plague, Kole sees only one option: flee his village before his mind snaps and he destroys everyone he loves.
His chance for escape lies with a band of treasure hunters traveling to a lost ruin from a plague-ravaged empire, where ancient dangers lurk and the shadows of the past still linger…
Embark on a journey across a shattered empire in this coming-of-age fantasy brimming with ancient mysteries and deadly adventure. Shadow of the Lantern Bearer is perfect for fans of Robert Jordan, David Eddings, and Anthony Ryan.
Shadow of a Lantern Bearer gave me some hard times. I was intrigued by it from the moment it landed in our group so I went and claimed it. My expectations were partly met, though I only had the blurb to go by. For a while I thought it might become my pick for semi-finalist – and if this book landed with someone else, it probably would have – but eventually I lost my interest.
Kole Felmen, a 17 year old young men lives in a small town called Hale’s Crossing on the fringes of the society. He and his dad are the ones dealing with the dead and the executions and such they are feared and looked down on. For reasons unknown (to us), magic had become a plague, one that infects people and drives them mad. And leaving the world full of monsters. Kole, fearing he had become infected and wanting to keep his family safe, decides to join some freebooters who are about to go into the swamp in search of an ancient temple. Little does he know what horrors await him.
Underwood’s writing is pretty clear and enjoyable, the characters are interesting enough. There is some info dumping here and there, but it’s not really disturbing and frankly, the world built up in this book sounds pretty vast and rich in lore. Up to about 30% I felt like I already read a whole book as so many things happened already. It’s not a fast paced book in terms of action though, so maybe that’s why I was surprised I was only a third way through it. I was wondering where the book ultimately leads us, but as the characters moved on, I just didn’t care that much anymore.
There is a LOT crammed into this book just shy of 500 pages for sure. I liked Kole and the way he interacted with the other characters. I just kinda wish we spent more time discovering things. That and I’m really not a fan of the travelling trope. And this is where the Shadow of the Lantern Bearer lost me in the end. Once they hit the road.
But as I said, I believe it was just a case of mismatch between me and epic fantasy and I’m pretty sure many of you will find a great read in this.
|Read: 44%||Rating: 7.5/10|
Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher
A broken man, Khraen awakens alone and lost. His stone heart has been shattered, littered across the world. With each piece, he regains some small shard of the man he once was.
He follows the trail, fragment by fragment, remembering his terrible past.
There was a woman.
There was a sword.
There was an end to sorrow.
Khraen walks the obsidian path.
I couldn’t have been happier when Black Stone Heart landed in our lot. I’ve been wanting to read some of Fletcher’s books as many of my friends were recommending them to me over and over again, but somehow I never found the time for it. So, I claimed it for myself, jumping into it with high expectations, and I was not disappointed. I probably should have save it for last, but I was just so impatient to get to it, that I read it early on. And I could never get it out of my head. So much so, that I recently just relistened the audiobook, which never happened to me before. Basically I read the book twice within a month. So I guess that made it pretty clear Black Stone Heart will be my choice for semi-finalist, and I hope it eventually will advance to the finals.
“Fletcher has this way of fucking with your mind, whether you like it or not. Black Stone Heart will make you uncomfortable, will make you question the actions of the characters but will never let you go. Do a favor to yourself and listen to the audiobook narrated by Fletcher himself. If you won’t fall in love with his voice and wish he was reading everything to you from now on, then there is something wrong with you.”
Congrats to our thisrd semi-finalist, Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher! Look out for our joint review later on.
To keep up with our process and the competition, please check out my SPFBO 6 Phase 1 page!