SPFBO 8 Elimination Round

SPFBO 8 – Elimination Round: Paul

This is our next to the last elimination round post, and this is Paul’s turn to give you an update about his mini batch!

These titles sadly didn’t make it but we are grateful to every author who entered this year, we are sorry to let books go but this is how the competition works and so we obey the rules. However, we might have decided not to forward any of these into the finals, but we encourage you to check them out nonetheless. So, let’s say goodbye to three more titles then!

The Elimination

A Hunter Among Wolves by Ben Stava

A Hunter Among Wolves by Ben Stava

Sometimes the reward justifies the risk.

For Sylene, the life of a bounty hunter is both perilous and exciting, providing an opportunity to travel and encounter all manner of folk.

However, when an offer too good to pass up takes her to a desert town far from civilization, outside the rule of law, she realizes things are not quite what they appear, and the situation is far worse than what she was told.

If Sylene wants to not only survive, but also complete the job, she has to rely on both old and new friends and navigate a town where just about everyone has a bounty on their head.

An action and adventure fantasy novella, A Hunter Among Wolves contains adult content such as profanity, violence, and sexual (but not explicit) content.

A Hunter Among Wolves was an enjoyable read and one that put me in mind of a D&D one-shot. Despite being just 150 pages, there is an awful lot packed in, and while this made for a very enticing world, it did stifle the story to a degree as the plot and setting weren’t really given too much space to breathe.
In terms of positives, I really enjoyed the capable and snarky main character, Sylene. The town of Island, where the bulk of the action is set, gave me weird-western/Deadwood vibes, and I’d love to read more about it.

My main issue with A Hunter Among Wolves was the pacing, there was a lot of telling and the inclusion of flashback scenes, which really slowed everything down. Given the small page count, the narrative really needed to be far leaner and more streamlined.

The ending was also somewhat of a missed opportunity, as there was a point at which everything felt wrapped up and hinted at a sequel, only for a second ending to appear, rendering the first one useless.
Overall I had a good time with A Hunter Among Wolves, and while it won’t be pushing forward in the competition, I’d still positively recommend it and would enjoy reading more of Ben Stava’s work in the future.

The Stone Guardians: The Path of Fate by Katy Mullett

The Path of Fate by Katy Mullett

Welcome to Slately! The most depressing and oppressive place in the world. Locked in by a huge grey wall, the people here have no choices in life – they are told everything from what their children can be named to what career they’ve been assigned. It is grey, dull and hopeless…

At least, that’s what Tabby thought.

Tabby has just come of age, it’s time for her and her best friend, Alfie to be assigned their careers and districts but, when something unexpected happens the two are whisked away into an adventure of a lifetime!

They find out everything may not be as it seems. They meet an incredible team of people who protect Slately from what’s outside, not only that but to do this they use their powers!

Now, Tabby and Alfie must figure out their place within their new world.

Are they special?
Why is this happening to them?

But, maybe all of this self questioning can wait until they’ve figured out the dark mystery that looms over Slately and it’s mysterious Council.

This fantastical adventure is full of action, mythological animals, normal animals, magical people, snark and friendship – with a darkness to it all that will make you cheer our heroes on.

Join The Stone Guardians in this first book: The Path of Fate as we embark on our great adventure.

I’m not going to lie, when I started The Stone Guardians: The Path of Fate, I didn’t think it was going to be for me, a YA coming-of-age story is pretty much the opposite of my preferred read. However, I pushed on and slowly started to really warm to the characters and the wider world, and on finishing was very happy that I continued.

The Stone Guardians: The Path of Fate has an awful lot of heart and creativity, what starts off as very dystopian pretty quickly transitions into something more akin to superheroes crossed with mythology.
There’s a very warm found-family element that I really enjoyed, the central characters are all cheerfully boisterous and have enough about themselves to feel distinct. For a large part of the book, the dystopian beginning and the superhero/mythological elements feel disparate, but at the 70% point, they become linked and create a pretty interesting plot that I’m guessing will be the main focus of later books.

My main negative was that there was a great deal of convenience around the plot and that it lacked the depth that I like to see. While there are mythological elements, they are a little sporadic and isolated, with things just appearing at the back door and no wider development or any real exploration beyond this.
The Stone Guardians: The Path of Fate hits a lot of MG/YA beats and does so very well, if found-family, superpowers, magic, mythology, and animals are your jam, it’s definitely worth a read.

No Land for Heroes by Cal Black

No Land for Heroes by Cal Black

Mildred Berry is down to her last four bullets…

In a wild west where the only things more dangerous than outlaws are dragons, Deputy Berry is struggling to protect her town and keep her family fed. As a last resort, she robs a train for ammunition only to find that the cargo she needs so badly was owned by war hero Frederic Rousseau.

The same Frederic Rousseau whom she served during the Amelior Civil War. The same Frederic Rousseau she’s been hiding from for the last five years.

Millie knows a secret that could ruin Rousseau’s life, and he’ll stop at nothing to keep her from telling the truth. With her violent past bearing down on the life she’s built for herself, Millie has to decide how far she’ll be willing to go to keep her town safe.

A fantasy but also a western, a mash-up of two of my favourite fiction genres? Consider me mightily intrigued, Ma’am.

In No Land for Heroes, there are many plot mechanics at play and a healthy serving of converging character arcs. You have morally justified robberies, insurance scams, hidden identities, and more skeletons in the proverbial closet than you’d find in Deadwood’s cemetery.

There is some fantastic character work on display with a sizeable cast who all bring their own personalities to the story. Foremost of these characters is the protagonist Millie, who balances strength with vulnerability whilst also being extremely complex and possessing that chaotic good morality that always makes for a great character.

Of all the arcs, Millie’s is definitely the most emotionally resonant, dealing with abuse, the lingering power of her abuser, but her ability to fight, confront, and ultimately reclaim her power and identity.
As it’s a western, you’d expect to see some beautifully described vistas and while not the story’s focus, you do get a few thrown in, which I liked. Another thing I really enjoyed was the all-women town of Scorched Bluffs, it reminded me of the TV series Godless, and I applaud the diverse range of strong characters calling it home.

But Paul, why is it being cut if you loved it so much? Well, while there are Elves, Orcs, and Dragons in No Land for Heroes, it felt far more western than it did fantasy, and as it’s SPFBO, I wanted more fantasy than I got. The central romance was a little forced for my liking, this was compounded by Gilbert feeling slightly lecherous, and so, as the kids say, I didn’t ship. My final issue was that the antagonist switch at the 75% mark was a little jarring though as with the other points, this is purely my issue rather than that of the story.

I’m sadly cutting No Land for Heroes, but I heartily recommend you pick it up or add it to your TBR.

To keep up with our process and the competition, please check out our SPFBO 8 Phase 1 page!

Paul is a man of few words but the owner of many, many books. While he is predominately a reader of sci-fi and fantasy, he has a passion for all things ancient and medieval, so historical fiction/non-fiction litter his chaotic shelves like potsherds at a dig site. Raised on The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, he fell in love with fantasy at an extremely young age but soon began devouring science-fiction after his mother stole him a copy of 2010: Odyssey Two from a hospital library. In a previous life, he’s been a biomedical scientist and an immunological researcher, but these days is a civil servant who spends his days wishing he wasn’t. Paul lives on the gelid shores of North East England, where he lives with his glorious wife and two cat-shaped demons.

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