SPFBO 9 Elimination Round

SPFBO 9 Elimination Round: Liis

Welcome to the SPFBO 9 Elimination Round! Today it’sLiis’ 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, Jen’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 Liis:

Here we are, the dreaded elimination post. I’m not sure who’s more nervous, me or the authors in my batch. I wish I didn’t have to cut anyone but it’s a competition. At the end of it all, there can only be one!

I didn’t make a single cut nor decide on the semi-finalist until I had sampled all of my books and my decision was not at all an easy task.  After much going back and forth, reading and rereading highlights, triple reading my notes and making sure I will get everything covered, because nervous first-time judge here, I confidently stand behind my choices.

Many thanks to the authors for putting your work out there for this unbelievable contest! It was a pleasure to read the books allocated to me – not one of them was like the others – make sure to check these books out for yourself should their covers, blurbs, or my thoughts on them catch you fancy. Alas, it’s time to find out who will be eliminated today!

The Elimination

Path of the Warrior by Melissa Stone

Path of the Warrior by Melissa Stone

Ashrinn Chimekin is a Fugitive Recovery Agent tasked with helping the crew of the Shrike in their pursuit of the rogue Cult of Atraxia. When something goes horribly wrong during an infiltration attempt on the cult’s compound, Ashrinn and the crew find themselves on a strange, new world. Worse yet, the cultists made their way to this new world as well.

Told that the capture of the cultists will lead them back home, the simple task becomes much harder when Ashrinn and the crew discover the cultists have allied themselves with the Darkriders, people who will stop at nothing to gain total control over their world. And making matters worse, the cultists have gained mysterious, dangerous magic powers…

Ashrinn forges alliances with the Dragonlords, the force in opposition to the Darkriders, in hopes of stopping both the cultists and the Darkriders once and for all. As she fights, she finds herself getting closer to uncovering the mystery behind the black sword that appears when she’s in dire need – and if it will affect her desire to return home.

Imagine this. You’re a well-equipped woman, skills and technology wise, with a crew full of experts. You’re an agent, after dangerous cultists in your world, Atharia. You fly your hovercraft over their empty lands where they hide and all of a sudden: boom, you’re in another world, Keverynn! A world very different to our own, with dragons… and fairy like folk… Actually, I got a slight Avatar vibe where the humans who came to this world, had their appearances change, their eyes and hair taking on vibrant colours.

Path of the Warrior has elements that a fantasy lover will drool over: aforementioned dragons who are more than just flesh and blood, winged beasts. Maps and colourful graphics of the characters. We have the modern technology as well as the elements of magic and a mysterious black sword that appears at the hands of a woman when she most needs it. We have character names that will twist your tongue even if you only read them out loud in your head, and not one but two whole new languages – one is a sort of a preaching incantation by the cultists and the other spoken in that new world – I wish I could have understood but didn’t.

Right off the bat I must commend Melissa Stone for creating something so vast, diverse, complex and intriguing. I can also see the genius in using a whole cult as the villain of the story because a group of antagonists is immediately a more difficult obstacle to overcome than one scary, no matter how able, dude.

As we all know, sometimes when a story gets right into it, you’ll feel slightly lost and out of tune but with Path of the Warrior, you’ll get straight into action, no dawdling, no confusion about what’s going on.

The little nice details that caught my eye:

  • I have to mention yet again the lovely graphics of characters and dragons throughout the book. They’re truly vivid and simple yet elegant, and fitting to the tone of the story.
  • I mean, the languages that the author has created. It’s hard to even decide what to call one’s characters, so to make up two whole new languages to properly fancy up your fantasy story? Hardcore!
  • Interesting things about characters: Kenian’s debilitating and fatal illness, Drianna’s smoky secret. Jiyandi, who’s people are called Swimmers as they are a race that can breathe underwater and build floating cities on oceans. That’s to name but a few interesting facts.

As this is an elimination round post, you’re wondering why I am cutting this book?

I would say the pace of Path of the Warrior is around the medium mark. It doesn’t rush along on the timeline of events and yet at times I wished we would have moved along ever so slightly quicker. There were things like sword and battle practice that for me, unfortunately, do absolutely nothing. The placing of feet and hands to get a better, more effective swing – I’m simply not geared to be a combat buff in that sense. Yet, I know there are readers who wholeheartedly enjoy diving into the moment like this. If you’re one of them, perhaps consider reading this book!

A lot of traveling and discovering happens and when a chapter ends more than once with a scene where characters are given rooms to rest in, it makes sense, it does, but it feels like a missed opportunity to fill the page with excitement to keep the reader hooked. I love chapter endings that make me go – holy heck! – and I can’t turn the page fast enough to find out more. But that’s just me. Not all books are set out to follow the same patterns.

I wouldn’t say this book is plot driven, it’s solidly resting on characters and character development as the cast is wide and diverse, and I’d say all of them have something unique to make them stand out. But, at the same time, I didn’t feel like there was that one or two characters that I got hooked onto and I’m one of those that, once hooked to a character, can read about the blood of enemies drying on the blades of grass. The MC Ashrinn will certainly stand out and have a moment to shine, but up to a halfway mark, the focal point seems to be evenly shared among all characters.

Whilst creating a whole new language is hardcore, 100%, I’m a bit fussy when something breaks my stride as I’m reading. Checking the glossary at the back (especially with an ebook) is sure to interfere with the flow. Yes, I am nitpicking, as I could go by context alone, but I will forever wonder, what was it that was said. To my knowledge, there was no glossary for the foreign language, either. Happy to take back that statement if this is only the case with my Kindle copy of the book. Speaking of glossary though – there is one for character names and places, and it’s a testament to the hard work and dedication that the author has committed to this title.

I read 47% of the book.

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Galaxy of Thorns: Rise of the Empress by Bogdan Tăbușcă

Rise of the Empress by Bogdan Tăbușcă

Divided between great wicked minds and cruel beings of unnatural power, the world of Artia has long been under the cycle of war and suffering. A child is born, conceived in an unholy union. A mighty empress to bring the world within her grasp, through mercy and kindness, through sword and fire. But will she be any better than the horrors that came before her? Or will she succumb to the vices of power and rule this world as its new dark master?

English is my second language, as such I am somewhat biased to be intrigued by default by authors who publish a book in English as their second language. Did not know what to expect. And, I must admit, the more I read, the wilder things seemed to get.

Essentially… well… yeah, so… there isn’t anything this book doesn’t have in terms of world building. On one hand, it gives (for some reason, maybe due to the cover) a slight medieval vibe, and yet we have a lab where our MC has been, uh, created? And we have planes and TVs and tanks, but in battles swords are also still used? It’s a bit of a mix.

Speaking of MC, she goes from humble village girl to Empress in a matter of starting chapters at the start of the book, so it can feel like a whooshing rush through the years. I also thought the author took some pretty risqué ways to describe the character development and growth. Growth, quite literally.

Questionable descriptions, battle action after battle action, very little in depth character development and having the whole kitchen sink thrown at the story in terms of elements varying from literal witches flying on sticks to TVs and technology, I felt as if stuck in a tornado whirlwind with little emotion to relate to. Countries are being fought for, the MC seems to have a hard time with accepting her fate and her actions, but they’re all kind of on the surface. Perhaps a couple of less battle scenes and a few more about who the characters are as people would have done the trick for me.  

So, yes, this book is definitely more plot-driven and action based than character focused. There’s no two ways about it, if the characters have no impact on readers’ emotions, it’s truly bloody hard to care whether they live or die, rule, or fall from graces. The story is there, yes, but it could be any story.

That said… There were some unique and funky things about the story. Like the fact that there is a type of witch called the cinnamon witch. Cinnamon? An odd choice, for sure. Makes me think the author is a sweet tooth who likes cinnamon rolls and simply had to sing ode and praise to the wonderful combination of sugar and cinnamon! But it was also weird to have that little glimpse of cuteness in a book as crude as this, where heads roll, enemies are crushed and blood flows in the endless war. Interesting small element which makes the book stand out on its own.

I read 31% of Galaxy of Thorns and I think with a firm eye over editing, this book may have potential. There are typos and some formatting issues, and perhaps the character descriptions could use a look over so as not to anger the female reader. If the author has taken the notion to write a female character, certain rules still apply.

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Reign of Extinction by Frank Borrelli

Reign of Extinction by Frank Borrelli

A destroyed girl.
A disgraced soldier.
A disfigured outcast.
A death-dealing healer.

Fifteen-year-old ROSE has always had worse things to worry about than the foretold end of the world. Ever since her father abandoned them, she has struggled to provide for her poor family and shield her younger siblings from their mother’s drunken rages. But when Doomsday begins on a beautiful morning, Rose finally loses everybody she loves.
Afterward, the grief-stricken girl is taken in by an obsessed band of outlaws who believe their shared dreams contain supernatural clues that will help them save what remains of civilization. The outlaws soon learn they are being hunted by a horde of monstrous assassins that are hellbent on stopping them from deciphering the strange dreams, and Rose realizes there is almost nothing these outlaws won’t do (and no one they won’t sacrifice) to ensure the success of their otherworldly mission.
Over time, the outlaws become Rose’s flawed new family, one that offers her an opportunity to heal—and a hard choice. Should she dare to care about others again and fight to save humanity from extinction at all costs, or, should she embrace her pain and stoke the flames that are reducing everyone in the wicked world to ashes?

One of the strongest starts of the 6 books in my batch. Word of warning, this book is truly a dark fantasy, with elements of horror that entails people dying the most horrible of deaths, and the reader will be swept right into it, no ominous foreplay.

One day, the burning rains come across the wuld (read: world*). Rolling green skies unleash acid like rain that leaves none of the organic matter, well, in solid form. Should one be unfortunate enough to stand outside, uncovered from literally head to toe, there’s naught but a wet spot left of you. As if the acid rain isn’t bad enough, there is also an illness that can make you go … crazy? Feral? You get that from another’s saliva should they bite you, and there’s an Old Mother and some shared dreams… and The Stand by King vibes, anyone?

Luckily, I have read The Stand, and other than those few elements making me draw the similarity line, nothing else is like The Stand. Reign of Extinction is its own man! Ahem, its own book!

At the start of the story, we are introduced to a young girl, Rose, who is living a real crap existence with a drunk of a mother who likes to beat her kids around. Rose does all she can to protect her siblings. And then the rains come… Can’t get any worse than that, surely? Wrong.

Then there is the soldier, Wylum. A soldier to unpack, and I don’t mean that in a Chippendale way. As Wylum’s past slowly unravels, and as I got to know him through his actions (isn’t it brilliant to come to know a character in such a way?! Love it!), I could be sure the book would deliver more interesting facts by way of solid storytelling. When he and Rose meet, I could tell straight away that Wylum has some serious internal conflict. Man, do I LOVE a good internal conflict and murky past and tons of regrets and doom and gloom emotions! When written and developed well, these characters are the strongest in the sense of the decisions they must make and the turnaround for the better is so much sweeter to witness. It’s nearly like a psychological effect that makes me drool over characters that find themselves in the darkest of hours, days and nights, only to come out the other end through hard work and sheer will!

Likewise with Rose – when her character is set in the spotlight, I felt connected to her hardships, struggles and spiralling mental state. Quick enough but without being overly dramatic, the author had given just enough of a glimpse to make me invested. Rose is good. Will she remain good? Time will tell.   

Anyway, the book is getting along at a fine pace from the start and the author has made it an easy to like book because the writing is smooth and it’s clear from the start that various threads must come together for a common cause – the stopping of the acid rains.

What made this book ultimately even better for me, was the introduction of characters like Yohaynn and Gar. Hello entertaining dialogue and a pair of characters so unexpected and so bloody cool! They’re not humans, I think, Gar definitely isn’t – I imagined Gar to be like a man made of stone… What’s his name in Guardians of the Galaxy? Korg! Yeah. And Yohaynn is a bit of a mystery to begin with – the wit, the sarcasm, the joviality! Also, levitating? Of some sort? So, yes, these two bounce off each other in great dynamics and I am enjoying how they made the otherwise gloomy trip to save the wuld definitely a more fun to follow quest.

I read 45% of the book and I promise this is not the end. I will finish this title to find out exactly how it’s going to end and what will happen to these characters. So, why a cut? Ha… well, I love books of all sorts! I am very tolerant towards all sorts of content and when an author takes me on a journey, I can’t fault them. Entertain me through a book and you’re a winner already. Alas, as far as competition goes, I need to base my decisions on something and with this particular book… It was the deathstare bears! I would have been horrified of them if the description given to justify their actions wasn’t so weird! Yes, scary bears but (and maybe this is a dead giveaway of my mental state) but bears using brain-paste for their artistic needs and… writing? Also, there was a scene, after building up on the INSANELY dangerous reputation of the bears, where someone meets a mother bear with cubs and the beasts do nothing? I get that it’s fiction, you can make anyone do just about anything, but a mother bear with cubs, if not outright attack, will certainly be more dangerous than without cubs. I CANNOT OVERLOOK THIS 😀

Perhaps, also something that would make me go ‘hmm’ is that fact that whilst I love Wylum’s and Rose’s internal conflict aspect, I can’t help but enjoy the secondary characters of Johaynn and Gar more. These two should have their own adventure book! A prequel, even… But when the secondary characters outshine the MCs, for me, then I am already approaching the story from an angle that perhaps was not intended.

*I wanted to mention that there are some cool, unique to the book aspects, such as play on words. World is wuld. Summer is sumyr. Dragons are dragyns.

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To keep up with our process and the competition, please check out our SPFBO 9 page!

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