Since the time we did our introduction post for SPFBO 8, we decided to update our process a bit. Instead of everyone getting 1 post where they cut their batch and announce their semi-finalist(s), everyone except our ghostie will get 2 posts. In the elimination round, each of us will cut 3 books from our batches, and in the 2nd round, each of us will cut our remaining books and announce our semi-finalist(s). This way we can give more updates as we go and there won’t be such long waits. That being said, it’s my unfortunate job to start us off as it’s time to kick off the elimination round.
I’d like to thank each and every author who submitted their book to SPFBO this year. I know how hard it must be, but sadly, we can’t forward all of you to the finals. That said, it’s time to say goodbye to three of the books in my batch. As a reminder, you can check out our SPFBO 8 Phase 1 page to see how we allocated our books and follow our progress.
Note: my mini reviews are based on the first 20% of every book. My process with my batch was to read 20% of each book and decide which ones appealed to me the most, and which had the potential to be a semi-finalist. Those I continued with, the rest got eliminated, and hence these mini reviews. These are mostly my first impressions and feelings, which doesn’t mean that they might not appeal to others or that they are bad. Actually, I had a good and varied batch on my hands this year, so I encourage everyone to give any of these titles a go.
Rogue’s Kiss by Andrea L. Staum
Forming an alliance between Dagger House and the Smugglers’ Guild on the coast was supposed to be an easy mission. Through determination and skill RenRei proves herself worthy of the task, building a successful organization that runs as smooth as a legitimate trading company. RenRei’s focus should be on the goals of the guild and getting caught, but she can’t ignore Sergeant Coleson of the town’s guard. Even as she tries to keep him at arm’s length, she keeps finding herself in his.
Rouge’s Kiss was the shortest book in my batch, and one I wished was at least 100 pages longer to allow the characters to be flashed out, the readers to get familiar with the setting, and a better build-up to later events. In the first 20% a lot was happening without much explanation which led to confusion. After the first chapter, I already felt like I was supposed to know this world and these characters and the first chapter merely worked as a “what happened so far” recap. Then some events got glossed over with two sentences, which was a bit baffling especially as it seemed vital to RenRei’s quest. I mean, I appreciate not having a lengthy traveling sequence, but it felt this meeting on the way merited more than two sentences. It was as if the author was eager to get to the “fun” parts once they arrived at their destination.
I could live with this, however, if at least I was able to connect with the characters, but apart from the fact that Kanti the elven bard loves to flirt with anyone who moves and RenRei being a halfling thief and ex-lover of his instructor, we really don’t learn much more about them. Once again, we are talking about the first 20% so that’s not much of a problem, but the thing is, they didn’t even spark any interest on my part. A shame, as from what I’ve read, Rogue’s Kiss has a world filled with all kinds of species and it might appeal to readers who like their Fantasy light and fast-paced with some added romance. But for me, this was sadly a cut.
The Guardian of the Ward by Reginald Lewis
An empire in ruin after a great betrayal, an order of warrior souls infused in teddy bears, and demons, monsters, and traitors around every corner…
The world is filled with demons, monsters, and traitors, all things Erth, a legendary guardian and slayer of monsters, has sworn to battle. After a devastating fight, he discovers a mysterious gem and a plot that threatens him and all he holds dear.
He must go on a journey to capture a smith forging mysterious artifacts before he loses everything.
But the Caste’s fate doesn’t solely rest in Erth’s hands; a student struggles to find purpose in a deadly, secret tournament. A scout must make the impossible decision between duty and family. And a spymaster embarks on a quest to expose a conspiracy destined to annihilate the collapsing empire.
A handful of individuals hold the fate of an empire in their hands; will they succeed or will Caste crumble to dust?
I admit, that this book’s cover is my favorite this year. I mean, come on, it has a teddy bear with a huge ass blade. What’s not to love? The art style also appeals to me and makes me think up stories that might go well with it. That said, I definitely had high expectations for The Guardian of the Ward. And maybe that was a mistake on my part because it also ended up being my biggest disappointment when it comes to my batch of books. And that’s a bitter pill to swallow because I wanted to love this book so much. But alas, I did not.
My biggest issue was the writing which in my opinion needs some more polishing, especially when it comes to clichés and dialogues, because all of the characters talked like they were giving a lecture to the person they were talking to, and that can become annoying really quickly. They didn’t feel natural at all. There were also a lot of infodumps and a lot of telling instead of showing. We’ve got a whole host of characters in almost every chapter which was hard to keep track of. Then again, I’m not particularly a fan of epic fantasy with numerous plotlines and stuff, so there is that too. And even then, there were too many – characters, that is – to remember. And they weren’t even likable, except for Erth, the guardian teddy, who was unable to speak. I really didn’t feel like I could connect with any of them.
But mostly I was just confused about who is who and why are things happening and the super handy names such as Attack (an event in the past that had an effect on the present), Traitors, etc. didn’t really help much either. Also, this book had one of my pet peeves – fake swearing. It really doesn’t work well in most cases.
I couldn’t help thinking that maybe the author bit more than he can chew. I do understand what he was trying to do (trying too hard maybe based on the prose), but it felt like too much was crammed into one book. I was also confused about what the targeted age group is. Amazon says it’s aimed at audiences between 14 and 18 of age, but some of the content – decapitation in the first chapter, (not too graphic) torture later on – makes me question if that’s the right one. I would say it would be suitable for 16+. Being a debut book, The Guardian of the Ward is an ambitious novel, with a lot of potential but failing at the execution. And so, I had to say goodbye to this one.
Pigeon by Olga Werby
Pigeon is eleven, homeless, and now an orphan. Alone and scared, he seeks to find a new family. But the past he barely remembers comes back to haunt him, endangering his newly-found friends, the Kikkert Family. Fortunately, the Kikkerts want to adopt Pigeon even if he is wanted by strange para-military DNA warriors. As they race through San Francisco to save each other, the true nature of Pigeon’s birth is revealed as well as the secret identity of Madam Toad—the matriarch of the Kikkert Family.
What does is mean to be human? What does it take to be a family? Pigeon is willing to risk his life to learn and to love.
If I’m being honest, I find it hard to put my thoughts into words about Pigeon. To me, it had this weird, uncomfortable vibe, and I can’t quite put my finger on the why. Well, apart from the fact that it starts with a homeless woman dying leaving eleven-year-old Pigeon all alone in the world, who also just discovers he can fly. He ends up in the window of a hotel room where a girl stays who tries to help him. When I stopped reading, the book started to find its footing, as the beginning was a bit rough around the edges. We get thrown right in the middle of the events, and although we get to learn a bit about Pigeon and his life on the street and we follow him as he tries to make sense of his newfound ability, he remains a bit flat as a character. Yeah, I felt sorry for him, and honestly, the beginning was a bit depressing, but I couldn’t find myself caring about him, or the other characters he met. Although I quite liked bossy Ruth. That girl is definitely going places and has a heart of gold. I also wasn’t too fond of the images inserted into the book about the characters and places – mostly because they don’t really work in a tiny size and black and white on Kindle. But this is entirely down to personal preferences.
Pigeon has an interesting enough premise based on the blurb, but it sadly failed to catch and keep my interest and so I decided to let this one go.
To keep up with our process and the competition, please check out our SPFBO 8 Phase 1 page!