Here we are now three months into SPFBO 6 and I am ready to reveal the five books that have been cut from my batch and also my semi-finalist pick!
Four of the six books didn’t particularly strike my fancy (I’ll explain why coming up) and it came down to a choice between two books that were very close and I have to admit that I had a difficult time picking between them. But in the end, I felt that one stood out slightly above the other.
So without further delay, here are my reviews and official scores for the group of 6 assigned to me by Team RockStarlit BookAsylum, concluding with my semi-finalist selection.
Flames Over Frosthelm by Dave Dobson
Sometimes, your case takes a left turn. Or three or four. Marten Mingenstern and Boog Eggstrom are provisional inspectors, fresh out of Inquisitor’s Guild training and eager to prove themselves. Assigned the mundane task of tracking down stolen jewels, they instead uncover a mysterious cult set on destroying the city. After a thief explodes, they earn the enmity of a vicious noble, the Chief Inquisitor gets bought off and goes rogue, they are seized by barbarians, and they are sentenced to death at least a couple of times. In a final, frantic race with prophecy, they face ruthless fanatics, a city turned against them, and terrible forces long buried.
Flames Over Frosthelm is the first novel about the Inquisitor’s Guild, the investigative arm of the government of Frosthelm, a medieval city-state where criminals thrive, nobles scheme, and dark secrets lurk. Expect intrigue, mystery, swordplay, adventure, politics, romance, and the strong bonds of friendship. And a little magic along the way. Described as Princess Bride meets CSI, this new novel is a tale of classic adventure with a healthy dose of humor.
This book started out strong for me and as advertised it was a decent whodunnit that takes place in a fantasy realm. The main characters having just emerged from their training in the Inquisitor’s Guild, are assigned to track down the killers of a local miscreant who also stole an important relic that could be used nefariously if in the wrong hands. Along the way they discover a lot more than they bargained for and that there is a mysterious cult operating in and around the city that is bent on destruction and chaos. They are also being hunted by those who don’t really appreciate the fact that they are poking around where they shouldn’t, which makes their task all the more difficult.
Ultimately, I didn’t enjoy this as much as I would have hoped. My main issue is that for the majority of the book, there is no explanation or expansion of the world where all of this is taking place. I felt like the entire story could have been set in a futuristic supermarket and it wouldn’t have made any difference. So the world-building was really lacking for me. As a result, this one didn’t make the cut, unfortunately.
|Read: 100%||Rating: 4.5/10|
Two Blades by Stuart Kurth
It’s been thirty years since the end of the Primrose War, thirty years since High King Goring Saedren drank and whored and murdered his way to all points of the compass, delivering his right to rule to all who would listen, and ramming it down the throats of those who wouldn’t. He marched straight into the Great Desert and became the first to knock those sand-eating Shaadi Princes off their golden perches and unite all of Varri-Mennyn under one banner. Thirty years on and he’s grown fat and soft, lost his thirst for the fight, and all along the margins of his shrinking Kingdom, his enemies swarm.
Kannath Meadowmere, exiled Mendran nobleman and one-legged warlord, has come south through the wall with an eye for plunder and an army in tow. While the High King sleeps in the west, he marches upon the east swallowing one territory after the last, aided by his Shaadi allies. Nursing a dusty grudge thirty years in the making, those Desert Princes won’t stop until the city of Nostalla, and the Senovium Throne within, are pulled down and stomped into ashes beneath their boots.
Mercenary scum Pelt and Halling, two black-hearted murderers with red reputations and not enough common decency to deserve surnames, have been on the run from Saedren’s King’s Men for four years, spilling enough blood to drown a cow. With no code of honour and only the meanest grasp of the concept of morality, the brothers fight for the highest bidder and turn coat more often than a tailor. Their hands are red, their blades priceless, and their ambitions dark. But when they find themselves facing down Meadowmere’s relentless army, they begin to realise the storm they’ve landed themselves in, and that history, as well as a bleak future, are about to stab them both in the back.
This book had a lot of potentials but it just never really grabbed me enough to want to keep picking it up for any considerable length of time. The story involves two murderous brothers named Pelt and Halling, who are on the run from King Goring Saedrin and his army. These are two malicious and uncaring killers who cut a path of blood everywhere they go and take mercenary jobs from the most dubious of folks. They soon find themselves caught in the middle of a war not of their choosing but one that they must confront head-on. They have no problem with that as they aren’t exactly the meekest of men, but the bloodbath that is unleashed in the process will make any grimdark fan proud.
This one just didn’t work for me on a number of levels. First, I’m by no means squeamish when it comes to violence but the violence in this book is unrelenting and constant, almost to the sacrifice of any discernible plot. I had a hard time determining what the point of it all was. Yes, the battle scenes are grotesque and impactful but I just couldn’t figure out why I should care after all was said and done.
|Read: 100%||Rating: 4/10|
Awakening by Brett Humphrey
I soared high in the night sky in the most realistic dream I’d ever had. At least, I think it was a dream.
* * *
On the eve of his thirteenth birthday, Alister Drake believed he was a typical middle-school-aged boy—until he grew four inches overnight. Developing superhuman abilities that rivaled those of characters in books and movies he and his friends cherished, he struggled to understand how his life had turned upside down so suddenly and so completely.
Little did he know how drastically his life was about to change, challenging everything he’d experienced as true and right in the world. Accompanied by his two best friends and led by a teacher who was much more than he seemed, Alister was about to embark on an adventure that surpassed anything he’d read or seen in movies.
Extraordinarily morally centered for his age, surrounded by family and friends he loved unconditionally, Alister stepped into the unknown with one clear goal in mind…
Protect the Weak!
This was my only DNF out of my group of six. It was a bit of a struggle for me and the story didn’t hold my attention at all. The writing was fine but I think what it ultimately came down to was this felt like a juvenile YA plot that I’ve read numerous times before. Nothing happened that really separated it from most other works of fantasy and I began to get bored just before the midway section of the book, which is where I abandoned it. Standard coming of age story that just didn’t resonate with me.
|Read: DNF||Rating: 3/10|
Half-Blood Mage by Ginger Li
A cursed dragon hunter. A half-blood mage. An attraction that lights the world on fire.
Seventeen-year-old Lia keeps having the same terrifying nightmare: A handsome, silver-eyed warrior transforms into a dragon and then begs for her to kill him. She chalks up the nightmare to an overactive imagination. Until the day the guy from her dreams arrives at her doorstep and shatters everything she’s known to be true…
Kieren’s battled his fair share of monsters. But when he’s cursed to become a dragon, he realizes far more dangerous creatures lurk in the shadows… and someone is out for his blood.
Lia and Kieren must work together to uncover the dark secrets from their pasts. Their quest for answers has far-reaching consequences, both for the fate of their worlds and for their hearts.
Half-Blood Mage is the enthralling first novel in the Light and Fire Series. Epic worlds, high-stakes adventure, forbidden magic, and a delicious slow-burn romance, this YA portal fantasy will leave you hungry for more.
Another coming of age fantasy story with a heavy dose of romance, which I’m not a huge fan of. A 17-year-old girl has a recurring nightmare where a handsome knight changes into a dragon and begs her to kill him. This is a foreshadowing of things to come in the eventual storyline but needless to say it was fairly predictable what would unfold. I was entertained by it for about the first third, then it began to drag considerably, and finished up fairly strong but in the end, didn’t move me in any way or get me engaged with any of the characters.
Another book that I feel like I’ve read before. That’s okay, but you have to really pump up the world-building or the major conflict to get me invested and sadly this just didn’t measure up when all was said and done.
|Read: 100%||Rating: 4/10|
The Singing Gold by T.K.P Sternberg
A simple shepherd who can see all things invisible, a dwarf who risks his honour to strike the deal of his lifetime, and a clandestine necromancer who somehow manages to do good despite his own worst intentions. This unusual fantasy epic shows how petty shortcomings like jealousy, suspicion and greed can throw up just as dangerous challenges as revealed destiny or the unfolding of evil plans. Set in the deep forests of medieval Svitjod, at the shift between the coming of Christianity and the worship of the old gods, it stands firmly rooted in the muck and mud of the everyday while at the same time revealing a fantastical world of trolls, alfs and magic.
When Stig accepts to guide some dwarven miners through the hexed forest only he knows how to navigate, he already has a bad feeling. The payment is far too generous for something supposed to be so simple. With a hungry family at home and still a few weeks before summer would break and end their hardship, he cannot afford to say no. As they set out on a journey fraught with troubles, not only do Stig realise he has gotten himself tangled up into something far greater than he could ever have imagined, the dwarves also slowly learn that Stig is not your average shepherd.
The Singing Gold is the first part of a series which follows a poor woodsman and his family through a number of escalating dangers and misadventures, casting them out of the life they knew and finally threatening their very existence. As I wrote it, I set out to create an epic fantasy with a distinctly medieval feel to it. I wanted the characters to think and feel and reason like people from a distant past, not like time-travellers on holiday. I also wanted to show the specific past of the characters and story, not present some kind of historical survey of an era. The high middle ages were such a diverse and exciting time that it is impossible to give more than a glimpse of it in any series of books, as every land, region or even village lived under its own customs, beliefs and conditions.
As a backdrop for my story, I picked a time and a place where law was still made by free men meeting at the Ting to discuss and voice their opinions, where the king had to constantly travel the country to make his will felt, and where the weight of a man’s kin, friends and neighbours were still more important than his class. Yet, at the same time, ideas, trade, and beliefs moved fast and far all over Europe. The Church had recently managed to form an organised network spanning from Lisbon to Trondheim to Acre in the far east, even if Jerusalem was again lost to them. Adventurous young men could seek their fortune in war or wager all over the continent. For Stig and his family though, the next dozen leagues of dense pine forest, huddling villages and dearly conquered fields and pastures was the extent of their world.
The Singing Gold is my runner-up selection. This book started out as the one that I thought would take the prize for my semi-finalist pick as the first 75 pages or so were very intriguing and so well-written. There is a very nice historical backstory that is detailed at the very beginning of the book that had me into it right from the jump. It tells the story of a simple shepherd who is able to see magical creatures and fairies that others cannot. He sees a whole world that is invisible to the everyday inhabitants of the village he is from. He is soon given a challenge of sorts or a task for which only he is uniquely qualified. His journey becomes fraught with peril and danger as he attempts to fulfill his destiny against his own better judgment.
The main issue that I had with The Singing Gold and why it just fell short of being my semi-finalist is that the story just feels like it goes on for large chunks without any direction or purpose. I enjoyed the first quarter immensely but then the plot seemed to hit a snag and never recovered for me. It was a good read, but in a contest such as this, I need to be able to say with certainty that it is the clear cut choice, and I just could not with this book. However, I am interested to continue reading this series to find out if things pick up again and I can recapture that magic I felt during the early parts of this one.
|Read: 100%||Rating: 6.5/10|
The Knights of Dragonwatch by Eric T. Knight
Led by dragons, the Emperor’s vast army conquers every nation in its path…
The Emperor seeks to free the Dragon Queen from the Abyss. The only ones who could have opposed him are the Knights of Dragonwatch, an ancient order created to defend the world against the Dragon Queen, and they are no more, betrayed by one of their own and hunted to extinction.
Jarryd is a young man with a secret. He sees demons. The visions have plagued him since he witnessed a traumatic event as a small boy.
Jarryd lives in fear that his secret will be discovered, and he will be condemned to the fate of those who consort with demons. Or, even worse, that the demons will consume him, make him one of them.
As the visions grow ever more powerful, Jarryd sets out on a journey to find answers at Knights Keep, the ancestral home of the Dragonwatch Knights. The journey brings him to the notice of the Emperor himself and sets Jarryd on a desperate quest to resurrect the Dragonwatch Knights.
Can Jarryd overcome the demons within himself and defeat the Emperor in time? Or will the Dragon Queen escape her prison and ravage the cosmos once again?
Out of all of the books that I was assigned to read, I enjoyed The Knights of Dragonwatch the most and have decided to put it forward as my semi-finalist choice among those that have been chosen by the rest of my teammates. Congratulations to Eric T. Knight for making it to the next level and for writing a really enjoyable fantasy tale that appealed to many of my fantasy reading sensibilities.
“I enjoyed The Knights of Dragonwatch a great deal. It is by no means a perfect book. But there was an intensity and suspense, not to mention a really vile villain, that made this book the choice to carry the banner of semi-finalist for me”
Congrats to our fifth semi-finalist, The Kights of Dragonwatch by Eric T. Knight! 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!