Welcome to the SPFBO 9 Elimination Round! Today it’s Jen’s turn to say goodbye to three of the titles in her 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, Bjørn’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.
Note from Jen: I enjoyed my group of books immensely and read 100% of each one before choosing who, or if, I would put forward a semi-finalist. In this post today, we will be looking at a few of the cuts from my group.
Thank you to my group of authors for the many hours of enjoyment and the opportunity to read your work!
The Shattered Spire by Ted Cross
The magic of the Spire of Peace has banished evil from the Known Lands for more than twelve hundred years. When a dragon destroys the spire and murders the king, the realm is thrown into turmoil. As civil war looms, can the royal Kaldarion family regain control over the kingdom and restore peace?
Livia, 20, is the eldest child of the slain King Varun Kaldarion. Though the wisest and most learned of the surviving family members, tradition says she cannot inherit the throne.
Balmar, 18, is too feeble-minded to rule, but his uncle, Duke Erol, crowns him anyway in order to appoint himself regent.
Darus, 17, was exiled by the spire’s magic due to his bitterness that his father never named him heir. By force of personality and skill at arms, he has risen to command the army of exiles at the fortress of East Gate. Now he plans to invade the realm and take back what he feels is rightfully his by birth.
Imric, 13, was disavowed by his father after his mother died birthing him. Raised by his sister Livia, few in the realm even know he exists. Little more than a pawn in the conflict between Duke Erol and his brother Darus, Imric may hold the key to reuniting the fractured realm.
The Shattered Spire has the feel of a classic fantasy but with some fun elements that freshen it up.
The Known Lands are protected by The Peace Spire. The Spire was set-up generations ago by the Wizards to protect the people by keeping the unwanted races out of their realm. The Spire’s crystal also keeps the peace with its magic tempering the inhabitants’ baser impulses. Basically, it is emitting a happy drug with a side-effect of keeping the population strong and able to work longer.
There is the odd person that the crystal’s influence doesn’t seem to work on though. One of those people being the king’s son Darus, who believes he should be heir because he is the oldest. The Spire’s fall spurs him into acting on that belief by organising an army and causing a whole pile of trouble.
The story follows a large cast and most of the POVs are from the various heirs of the surrounding rulers as we see the power struggles between the family as the death of the King, impending civil war and a rampaging dragon throw everything into turmoil.
The pov’s roll along with the story, not quite head-hopping but depending on what’s going on following everyone involved with certain characters. I know there is a name for this but for the life of me can’t think what it’s called atm. Anyway, this wasn’t always my favourite use as occasionally some pov’s seemed unnecessary, giving us an overlapping pov of an event we’ve seen already or other times I wished to have had characters that were more involved with the story sooner (like Darus).
Unfortunately, the characters didn’t always gel with me. Some made wishy-washy choices (especially Villem) and I had to remind myself these guys are young, and swayed by a breeze- especially if that breeze has a pretty face. And others like Livia, were pretty consistent in their choices. I liked Livia the best and the friendship between the younger prince Imric and Soot.
A large portion of the cast is youngish and automatically you’d think YA but the darker themes say this will appeal to a little older crowd too.
The book is a page-turner. There was always something happening and I found myself blazing through it pretty quickly, especially as things got more involved and I had more questions I needed answered.
The family/heir drama is resolved but other plot points and a few questions remained unanswered and left open to build upon in later books (I assume).
TLDR: I wished for more answers to some of my questions but I enjoyed the fresh ideas, the interesting world and story, and that the pace, kept me quickly turning the pages.
The Return of Abaddon by Peter Mooren
Wilder’s epic journey began at what almost was the end.
Sprawled out on the ground in disbelief and staring at the burning wreckage of the helicopter, he sees his mother’s lifeless eyes staring back at him. As he lies there grief-stricken, something strange happens. Wilder suddenly finds himself somewhere else, lying in a dirt circle surrounded by large stone pillars.
No longer on Earth, he’s told of a prophecy that changes everything. Abaddon, an ancient being who came to conquer this world 2,000 years earlier, was defeated and driven back to his home by the mighty phoenixes. But he’s back once again, and Wilder is Hiraeth’s only hope.
A pair with unique magic will befriend him. A royal guard captain will protect him. Assassins will try to kill him. Wilder departs on a desperate quest to search for allies before Abaddon realizes he’s still alive–and sets out to destroy him and his new world.
Wilder Williams is pulled into the world of Hiraeth, where he discovers he is part of a prophecy that will save the land from Abaddon- whose return is imminent.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a good old-fashioned portal fantasy. This one had some neat elements because there wasn’t just “our world” where Wilder grew up, but also other worlds- including Abaddon’s (whose world is much more advanced than Hiraeth).
Return of Abaddon did start a little rough for me. There’s quite a lot to set in place – people, places, and events- including a history of Abaddon’s previous foiled attempt to conquer Hiraeth, along with the events that trigger the prophecy and Wilder’s arrival.
These events move very quickly. I think this was mostly to get everything set-up so we could get to the meat of the story but it did result in a lot of information to absorb in the beginning. It probably felt like more too because of getting Abaddon’s pov. the filling in the blank’s kind of stuff that you’d usually get, is more in-depth through his eyes. I did like getting to see him setting things into motion but I think it needed more balance.
The story strengthens once we get that groundwork out of the way, and as we meet new characters and learn about the world and its magic- things become a lot more interesting. Especially once they start experimenting with their magic and the varying ways that it can be used apart and jointly. There were some creative and cool uses of their gifts- not only for defeating the bad guys but also for problem solving their way out of trouble… I really enjoyed those parts.
While I liked all the characters, I found the most interesting character to be Prince Xane. His family swore fealty to Abaddon, some generations back. Xane is caught between having to honor that oath, while trying to find a way to foil his plans and kill Abaddon once and for all.
I like a character that keeps me curious and a lot of that attraction to his character for me, was because he declares his intentions to rid the world of Abaddon at such a young age (11 when we meet him) leaving me wondering will he follow through, or would the death of his father and his early rise to the crown change his intentions? There are a lot of years between that young boy, and adulthood, to find he enjoys the rewards of having power over people, more than the rewards of justice for them.
Also, Abaddon is not an easy guy to fool and wondering how will Xane keep this desire out of his head and heart, in his presence was always at the top of my mind. I could have easily read a lot more about this whole storyline.
There are a ton of cool magical gadgets and abilities that just made everything- especially the battles, a lot of fun. The story has plenty of friendships and the characters have a bit of that noblebright slant, either that, or I read too much grimdark because everyone just felt so nice and civilised – even the bad guys.
The story answers a few questions before the end, but this is definitely a stepping-off place for a series.
Shadow of Fire by Kate Schumacher
A potent power is about to be unleashed.
Forbidden and forged in flame.
Control over the elements is a gift from the Gods, but since the creation of the Rift, fire magic has been outlawed in Merawuld. The Rift is a source of mystery, fear, and, for some, a tempting source of power.
Ash is a fire caster who has spent years hiding her magic, but when her explosive powers reveal themselves she is imprisoned by the Mage Council. Ash’s powers are coveted by the High Mage, who seeks to use her as a pawn against not only his enemies, but his allies as well.
With the Bone Mother’s winter fast approaching, the fae Princess vows to fight against the corrupting influence of power, forming an alliance whose success rests on a human man’s desire for peace; a man who must decide if he will play the game he’s inherited or begin one of his own.
But in Aileryan, the Gods have their own plans. As the Mother of All turns the wheel of the year, the land is brought to the edge of war. Loyalty and courage will be sorely tested as paths intertwine and Fate plays her hand.
If Ash can’t learn to control her magic, the scheming of gods and mortals could spell doom for them all.
This is a hard one to summarize briefly because it’s a world that grows (along with the political intrigue, and the personal relationships) as the story goes.
Ash has been hiding her ability to use fire magic for years, it’s difficult because she is unable to really control it and in one of these episodes, she is found-out and imprisoned. Fire magic is rare and a death sentence, thanks to a Rift full of monsters being created with its use by another fire user called Faleria, years before.
The discovery of Ash’s magic creates a unique opportunity for the powers in charge- turning Ash into a potential pawn in a high-stakes game that everyone wants to have in their corner.
Ash is just one of the POVs that are entangled in the goings on between the two countries, and also between the Fae. It’s quite a huge world and we are getting to see all sides of it through multiple people.
Shadow of Fire isn’t very long in the scheme of fantasy- around 380 pages but at times it felt longer. The first and biggest reason for me, was likely because of the huge amount of POVs and getting to know each of them, their part of the world and how they relate to others, etc. I found myself not really settling into the story (and not having to refer back to my notes to remind myself who a person was) until a good halfway through or so.
The second is more a personal taste, and that was just that there were too many descriptions and unnecessary scene settings. I do love a beautiful scene and getting to know a character through their enjoyment of the setting, but too many and I start skimming chunks.
If anything, I felt that a little clean-up with fewer POVs and fewer descriptions, would focus the story and let the great characters and the writing shine. (This opinion, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt depending on your own taste.)
Small complaints aside. I had a great time with this book. I love stories filled with political intrigue, scheming bad guys, magic, romance and danger. And I really enjoyed this world (I am sure everyone knows by now my love of the Fae settings) and its characters once I got to know them- especially Laili and Thalion’s enemies to lovers’ romance (one of my favourite romance tropes). I think this one will appeal to a lot of people.
Shadow of Fire definitely has a first book jumping off place feel to it and the way things were shaping up it looks to be a really fun series.
To keep up with our process and the competition, please check out our SPFBO 9 page!
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