SPFBO 8 Semi-Finalist Reveal

SPFBO 9 – Semi-Finalist Reveal: Timy

We are done with the Elimination Round, which means it’s time for the Semi-Finalist Reveal posts, and cutting some more titles! Today it’s my turn to share my thoughts on my remaining 3 titles, and tell you if I picked a semi-finalist!

A bit about our process ICYMI. Each of us (except Olivia) cut 2 or 3 of our titles in the Elimination Round. Now we start revealing our semi-finalists and saying goodbye to the remaining titles. Fair warning: not all of us might pick a semi-finalist. Once we are all done, we’ll be reading each others’ picks and reviewing those titles individually. Until finally we reveal our finalist in October.

Previous Semi-Finalist Reveal posts: Olivia’s choice, Bjørn’s choice

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.

Still in the Running

In the Elimination Round, I said goodbye to two titles: The Spider’s Friend by M.C. Burnell and Endless Seas: Never Meet Your Idols by John Champaign (full Elimination Round post here). Below are my thoughts about the rest of my batch, in alphabetical order:

Beyond the Filigree Wall by Melissa Wright

Beyond the Filigree Wall by Melissa Wright

A dark curse. A deadly secret. The ill-fated girl at the heart of both.

Antonetta Ostwind is about to get everything she’s ever wanted. If all goes to plan, she’ll end the fae, steal back what was stolen, and win the post she’s dreamed of since she was a girl.

There’s just one problem. His name is Gideon Alexander.

Gideon holds the key to her coveted post. He’s fantastic with a sword, looks amazing in uniform, and commands even the adoration of his great, beastly dog. He’s living the life Etta needs.

Gideon doesn’t believe Etta should have any of it. In fact, he’s planning to make sure she never does. And that’s a real problem, because if Etta can’t take her post as marshal, how can she have her vengeance and save the kingdom from the prince of the fae?

Slip into clean, slow-burn romance with a properly stabby heroine and the low commitment of a standalone series in this light regency fantasy romp for fans of Enchantment of Ravens and Little Thieves.

If you’ve been with me for a while, you can probably recall that I don’t consider romance/romantic fantasy to be my favorite genre, although in the past year or so I started reading it more again. Guess we all need a break from all the grim and dark, be it fantasy or real life. That said, I came at Beyond the Filigree Wall with an open mind.

The book starts with Antonetta returning to her home after being away for a few years to learn and train. She returns a few weeks early without her father’s knowledge and permission which bounds to lead to trouble. At 18 years old, she is ready to take on a very important role within the realm. Why anyone would give such power to an untested 18-year-old is anyone’s guess. Well, aside from her father’s influence, that is. Hey, who said nepotism only exists in the real world? I’m not sure if it was this, or her age that made it hard for me to connect with her, though. For all her bragging about her prowess, she sure keeps tripping up and making stupid mistakes. It’s just hard to take her seriously. No wonder she gets practically baby sitted to prove herself – much as she is annoyed by it. I really don’t know what she expected. And then there is Gideon, holding another role that can make her work so much harder for so many reasons. You don’t have to be a seer to guess what is going to happen as the story goes.

Out of the books in my batch, Beyond the Filigree Wall was the best written/most polished. I probably would have liked a slower pace and a bit more worldbuilding though, to give us a better sense of what is going on. Especially with the Fae.

All in all, Melissa Wright mostly delivers what she promises in the blurb, and if that’s your thing, I don’t see why you wouldn’t like this one.

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In Sleep You Know by Christiane Knight

In Sleep You Know by Christiane Knight

Even the grittiest blue collar city has a spark of magic under the surface; but in Baltimore, graffiti holds secret messages and artists are the spellcasters. Abandoned buildings hide ancient beings, and at the local club, you might find yourself rubbing shoulders with menacing and otherworldly creatures. If you know how to look, of course.

Merrick Moore is just a regular guy with dreams of making it big with his garage band, but not much else – until he crashes a party thrown by reclusive eccentrics.

He gets more than he bargained for: new powers, a girlfriend who can visit him in his dreams, and a seven year bond with the local Fae court.

When the mortal enemies of his new friends show up to his band’s first gig, Merrick finds himself trying to prevent the start of a war that will have consequences for everyone, Fae and human alike.

In Sleep You Know was the book I was the most interested in when we got our books. Yes, I know, I’m super predictable. Give me the word “music” or “band” or “singer” in a blurb, and you got my attention, no questions asked. This one had “graffiti” to boot, so I definitely got curious.

I’d say that In Sleep You Know is a contemporary UF, which is also up my alley. It tells the story of Merrick, who decides to sneak into a party at an old mansion, surrounded by rumors. He wants to see for himself what that great deal is about and meets people who will turn his world upside down. Being a short book, it’s pretty fast-paced. Maybe too much so. We are dropped right into the middle of the events, and I kept having the feeling that I should have had previous knowledge somehow. Maybe because there is barely any worldbuilding, to begin with.

There are some fun ideas in this one, but the execution fell a bit flat for me. Dialogues were awkward, and it was hard to understand why Merrick decided to trust a bunch of strangers who managed to bond him to them without much explanation. He also falls in love in like 2 minutes. Look, I have nothing against romance in books, but insta love is where I’m drawing the line.

I’m not sure if I was more disappointed by In Sleep You Know because I wanted to love it based on the blurb, or because it had potential but needed some more polishing. Probably both. A shame, really.

This book didn’t quite work for me, but I still encourage you to take a look and make your own decision.

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The Contessa of Mostul Ûbar by L. James Rice

The Contessa of Mostul Ubar by L. James Rice

Awaking from death was just the beginning of Poleen’s troubles.

A good girl from an idyllic country village shouldn’t find herself in a dark forest dead. But when her broken neck mysteriously heals, violence erupts, and she stands over her killer’s body wondering if she was such a good girl after all.

With her brother killed and her mother taken prisoner by a powerful trade guild, the source of her troubles points to a box of cigars. Exotic and rare, no doubt, but it wasn’t worth her life. What secret does it hold that the rich and powerful are willing to kill and die for? More importantly, how can she leverage its worth to rescue her mother?

Rumors of war with the Pirate Kings of Boboru swirl the politics of The Monsoon Straits as her pursuit for answers entangles her in a web of smugglers, pirates, sorcerers, secret societies, and her sweet mother’s involvement with them all. She defies death time and again, but she knows her luck will run out. She needs the help and influence of a man Poleen has never met, her father, the Count of Mostul Ûbar.

The Contessa of Mostul Ûbar is a stand-beside novel that can be read as a standalone or, ideally, as the first or fourth book in the Sundering the Gods epic fantasy saga.

The Contessa of Mostul Ûbar‘s blurb sounded interesting, and so it was one of the books I picked for myself. Plus, look at that cover, and tell me it does not intrigue you!

We get introduced to our MC, Poleen (an interesting choice of name as everyone else has more fantasy-ish names that fit into this world with a lot of special characters that make them hard to remember), who somehow survives her hanging, and returns to life with little to no memory. Obviously, she is pissed, not least because the men who hanged her are about to rape her too. And despite having no memories, she recognizes her brother who was hanged with her, knowing his name too. After she goes on a killing spree and gets away, obviously she wants answers and revenge. As she retraces her steps, snippets of memories come back to her at very convenient times.

The thing about characters with memory loss is that they are very hard to pull off right. Especially when they are written in the third person. And I guess every such case is very different depending on the person, the trauma, the circumstances. The human brain is pretty unpredictable. From a reader’s perspective, it can be interesting to follow such a character as they discover themselves if written well. But it can also be annoying when there is apparently no reason behind a character’s actions. For instance, Polen seems to be able to kill a few people before she gets away, and I couldn’t help wondering HOW and WHY is she this good? Sure, there is adrenaline and fear to contend with, but apart from that? And why does she recognise her brother and knows his name when she barely remembers her own?

I think most of my issues probably come down to personal taste and preferences. I struggled with the writing, it was a bit too… wordy for me, I guess. I also had a hard time connecting with Poleen which led to not being interested in her story much. And even though I wanted to give every book in my batch an equal chance and read at least 20%, I DNFd The Contessa of Mostul Ûbar earlier than that. But if you are someone who likes epic fantasy where an MC is on a rescue mission and searches for answers, then you might find this one to be up your alley.

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The Semi-Finalist

Well, things really didn’t go how I planned during the first few months of Phase 1. First I had to pass down one of the books in my batch due to work being busy and having other commitments I needed to get done. Good thing too, because then life also happened, so I’m not sure I could have done 6 books within our timeframe anyway.

This year we got an eclectic batch of books for sure. Or at least I did. There is usually at least one that stands out to me, one that I feel drawn to. This year I didn’t have one, so that made it an interesting experience. That’s not to say I had bad books, I believe they have an audience, just not necessarily me. And at the end of the day, I still needed to make decisions.

Will there be a semi-finalist from me?

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Sadly, no. I decided not to pick a semi-finalist this year. I’m very sorry, but the truth is, I didn’t think either of the books in my batch was strong enough to have a chance to become a finalist. We are looking for the best books, which, unfortunately, didn’t land with me this time around.

Our commiseration to the fallen, and we wish you all the best!

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

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