SPFBO 9 Elimination Round

SPFBO 9 Elimination Round: Bjørn

Welcome to the SPFBO 9 Elimination Round! Today it’s Bjørn’s turn to say goodbye to two of the titles in his batch.

A bit about our process ICYMI. Each of us (except Olivia, who decided to go straight to revealing her semi-finalist) will cut 2 or 3 of our titles in the Elimination Round. We’ll add our mini-reviews, explaining our reasons. Once that’s done, we’ll start revealing our semi-finalists and saying goodbye to the remaining titles. Pretty much the same way Olivia did. Fair warning: not all of us might pick a semi-finalist. Previous Elimination Round posts: Timy’s cuts.

We’d like to thank each and every author who submitted their book to SPFBO this year. We know how hard it must be, but sadly, we can’t forward all of you to the finals. As a reminder, you can check out our SPFBO 9 page to see how we allocated our books and follow our progress.

The Elimination

The Ring Breaker by Jean Gill

The Ring Breaker by Jean Gill

Loyalty has a price the children pay.
In the twilight of the old gods, when the last Vikings rule the seas, two cursed orphans meet on an Orkney beach and their fates collide.

Stripped of honour, facing bleak loneliness ahead, Skarfr and Hlif forge an unbreakable bond as they come of age in the savage Viking culture of blood debts and vengeance. To be accepted as adults, Skarfr must prove himself a warrior and Hlif must learn to use women’s weapons. Can they clear their names and choose their destiny? Or are they doomed by their fathers’ acts?

The award-winning author of The Troubadours Quartet returns to the 12th century, with skalds instead of troubadours and Viking warriors instead of crusaders. Get ready for authentic medieval adventures steeped in poetry, politics and passion. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell Matthew Harffy and Madeline Miller.

A skilfully written, beautifully researched coming-of-age story set in Viking Orkney.’ Lexie Conyngham, the Orkneyinga Murders series
‘Reads from start to finish like a saga straight from a skald’s mouth.’ B.A. Morton, The Favour Bank
‘All the hallmarks of a Jean Gill novel – political intrigue, action and adventure, and a love story fraught with difficulties!’ Jane Davis, Small Eden

As a Norse heathen, who likes his books slow-paced, well-researched, and free from bloody bloodbaths bleeding with bloodied blood, I was itching to love The Ring Breaker. And I sort of did, which is why I have written 1,600 words of a rant I won’t be subjecting you to here, because the Queen would behead me I am a very good person who thinks of the others.

The characters are wonderful, fully fleshed, three-dimensional, complex, imperfect. It’s not a “Universe will end” sort of book – the stakes are low, which makes them higher, as Skarfr and Hefn are very loveable and I was invested in them throughout. The “important” historical figures play, at best, secondary roles, which reminded me of Karen Heenan’s Songbird in a good way. The unexpected gems of humour shine bright. The way in which Gill shows the faiths mingling, the Old Gods and the new Christian religion, where jarl Rognvald, a devout Christian just so happens to have a vegvísir brooch (which he doesn’t believe in, of course, the old thing was just lying around) is a delight. And the research is meticulous.

Here comes the “unfortunately.”

The author is determined for the readers to pay attention to how meticulous her research is. “You’ve asked Bodil to explain the process to you?” asks jarl Rognvald.“Yes, sire,” Hlif answers, then proceeds to explain the process to the reader, as Skarfr muses “Rognvald nodded in approval but the whole conversation could have been in Latin as far as Skarfr was concerned.” This is never mentioned or important later on.

At the same time, Gill, who knows what she is doing, has Skarfr explaining skaldic wit (you’ll cackle if you read that) in a way that, seeing as they are not actually speaking English, means “it’s making fun of Hairy-Breeks’ hairy breeks.” The spelling conventions are wildly inconsistent, alternating between anglicised and over-anglicised versions (why not “dóttir” or “Rögnvald” when the Old Norse “jǫtunn” gets with a version of “o” so rare my quadri-lingual keyboard layout doesn’t have it?). A “normal” reader wouldn’t notice this sort of thing and I’m aware of that.


Sentences like “He’d told her often enough that she was too old now to gad about alone but she still argued that the curse protected her and anyway Rognvald was her guardian” made me want to copy-edit as I was reading. To quote Grammarly, the book lacked “punctuation in compound/complex sentences.” All of it. Brigid randomly becomes Bridget every now and then. Vegvísir, mentioned earlier, turns into “visivigar” later on (I checked, just in case there was an alternative spelling – the only Google result is the preview of The Ring Breaker). Skarfr concocts elaborate scenarios in his head, planning what he will say or do next, followed by “but he didn’t.”


What is The Ring Breaker doing in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off? “I was promised a dragon,” I jokingly complained to another member of our group. What I got was “‘You were burning up with fever.’ Their eyes met. Burning. On fire.” That, as the youth of yesterday would say, is quite a reach. When “alleged miracles shall have happened at his grave as well as on the stone where he died,” does that make Christianity fantasy? (Answer carefully, especially in certain countries.) Hlif watches Skarfr being possessed by spirits. This is not something that only ever happened specifically in the Northmen’s faith in the 12th century. Exorcists walk among us, just like the Gods walked among the Northmen. And not just the heathens would frown at the suggestion that “spirit animals” count as fantasy.

With a round of copy-editing/proofreading, a bit less research here and a bit more there, this would have been a very, very good historical fiction novel with absolutely no fantasy elements unless you’re willing to declare religious beliefs are fantasy. The Ring Breaker is almost great. That is why I have written three versions of very long and detailed rant about runes commas and punctuation which I was cruelly going to subject you to. But I didn’t.

Conclusion: cut


And the Wildness by Susan Maxwell

And the Wildness by Susan Maxwell

“So the actual reason I was calling you is because-get this-I am not going to Prague this summer at all. Surprise! Thanks, Villa. Just ruin my life for me .”

Villa Grace is in disgrace. Her expulsion from school has ruined the prospect of a family holiday in imperial Prague, where her mother is organising a conference. Two of her three siblings are barely speaking to her, as all four face into a ‘holiday’ sweltering on Cobwell Farm in the back of beyond of drought-stricken Hibernia.

But the power-hungry St. Maur Ker family has breached the border between mortal and sídhe for their own gain. Cobwell, on the threshold of myth, is about to become the centre of a battle between older, wilder forces and the technomantic ambitions of one of the empire’s great aristo-corporate clans.

Caught up in this conflict, the children are forced to face up to the dark underbelly of their parents’ corporate environ-ment, and to confront their own conflicting ambitions and loyalties.

This books is set in the same ‘Hibernia Altera’ universe as Maxwell’s Good Red Herring , included in the Irish Times Best Books of 2014 for Children and Young Adults.

For readers of all ages .

Those are not words I say often, unless I love a book so much I want it to never stop: And the Wildness should have been at least twice as long as it is.

It’s a very unusual book – I’d struggle to name the genre. Partly because it has many genres all at once. We’re sort of on Earth (since Villa ruins a trip to Prague) but also there are automatons, and witches, and Rain-Maker, and magical apples, and elves, which might be real or not. There are the St. Maur Ker, who seem to be on the evil side of things, although I’m not sure whether they are. There is the bad sister that destroys her siblings’ hopes. Although maybe that’s for their good. There is the Wilderness itself, which is always something I love. The introduction sucked me in immediately, only to release me somewhere else, hopelessly lost. This kept happening throughout.

And the Wildness is about climate change, and about a magical village, and about shifty politicians, and about magic, and about three sisters called Brigid, Bridget, and Britta, and about four siblings called Villa, Bram, Raffery and I Forgot, and they were going to go to Prague but they didn’t, instead finding themselves in the magical village, although some of them do meet St. Maur Ker anyway, and there is a magical library that builds itself, and the Inca Empire, and the Salmon of Knowledge, and a visit to bathysphere, and I am just lost. All of this is really interesting – I loved every bit (especially the letters!). Separately.

I DNFed the book at 41% when 11 named characters appeared on one page. Since the POV changes wildly (I’ll see myself out in a jiffy) and one of the siblings calls someone by his first name, while another uses the surname, I could no longer figure out who is who and why. There were parts that suddenly switched to present tense and italics, to emphasise something, except I haven’t figured out what or why. I kept losing track of subplots, because new ones kept appearing. My memory has never been very good, especially when it comes to names.

The sisters’ voices (even if I genuinely can’t remember one’s name…) are wonderfully developed. I loved Villa taking things in her hands… (no spoilers) …and then obviously getting punished for that, because girls are not supposed to do that. The setting – as in the magical village’s setting – and the magical library defeated me in the good way. Maxwell’s imagination is incredible. And the Wildness just feels too compressed. The author wants to show and tell a lot, and she does. There is a lot of wildness, though, and I eventually I got so lost I didn’t even remember where I was going anymore. I love pizza. All the Wildness felt to me like a masterfully crafted pizza with so many toppings they kept falling off. Sometimes reviewers say “there is a very good, much shorter book in this chonk.” There is a very good, much longer book in All the Wildness.

Conclusion: DNF at 41%, cut


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