SPFBO 8 Semi-Finalist Reveal

SPFBO 9 – Semi-Finalist Reveal: Liis

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 Liis’ turn to share her thoughts on her remaining 3 titles, and tell you if she 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, Timy’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, Liis said goodbye to three titles: Reign of Extinction by Frank Borrelli, Path of the Warrior by Melissa Stone, and Galaxy of Thorns: Rise of the Empress by Bogdan Tăbușcă (full Elimination Round post here). Below are her thoughts about the rest of her batch, in alphabetical order:

Beneath the Lanterns by C. Litka

Beneath the Lanterns by C. Litka

No good deed goes unpunished.

The historian Kel Cam enjoyed a pleasant life in Azera, the colorful capital of the Azere Empire. In the dark days, he taught classes at the University. In the bright days, he traveled the wide steppes to visit Blue Order communities, seeking clues about the mysterious, long dead civilization of the Elders in their libraries of ancient texts. However, when his best friend, Lefe Sol, the son of the ruler of Azere, discovers that his father has arranged his marriage to Ren Loh, the fourth daughter of the Empress of Jasmyne, Kel offers to stand by and help Lefe deal with his unexpected, and unwanted, bride-to-be. Kel soon finds himself caught up in the intrigues of empires which not only upset his well ordered life – they lay it to ruin.

Beneath the Lanterns is an old fashioned novel of adventure and travel set in an imaginary land – a land of colorful cities, sweeping steppes, and lush valleys littered with the ruins of a lost advanced civilization. It is a world of sixteen days of day light under the Yellow Lantern and sixteen days of night lit by the Blue Lantern. And across this wide and wild world under the Yellow and Blue Lanterns, Kel Cam finds that he must flee for his freedom, if not his life.

Beneath the Lanterns is C. Litka’s fifth novel. As with all of his novels, this new, stand alone story, features richly drawn and engaging characters, imaginative settings, humor, and lighthearted adventure.

In Beneath the Lanterns, the readers are introduced to a slightly different world to that of our own. Through prose that could easily place this book among the classics of literary fantasy, we have unique time keeping and the otherworldly feeling that only skies with multiple sources of different colours can achieve. The time is counted in seasons (and because I am bad with numbers, I couldn’t quite figure out what a season amounted to but it made things all the more excotic as opposed to being an element of annoyance), and the sky is a firmament with blue and yellow lanterns, and there are Dark Days and Bright Days. I believe they would work similarly to the polar day and night, but in this case we do not have a cold northernly feel to the atmosphere. In fact, the atmosphere is warm and vibrant and lively.

Amidst the books with all the frantic axe wielding and guts flying, intense magical systems and gods and what-nots, this title delivers a gentle adventure. It’s like an elfish garden of serenity with just enough excitement for the road. Note, there are no elves in this story. This book is not doing anything for the shock factor’s sake, it delivers twists and surprises without making them feel shoehorned and over the top. The conflict of the book is about political means by marriage. It’s about forced duty that one does not want. And it’s about dealing with consequences of wanting to be selfish, free, happy. But! The way it’s delivered feels gentle. Beneath the Lanterns presents a case for a freedom that even women in high places deserve- such as the freedom to marry for love if they so will, the freedom to stand up against the shackles of their society, the freedom to enjoy life, the freedom to look the way they feel comfortable with and the freedom to act ’out of sorts’ or different than what is epxected.  And, be positively badass whilst doing so.

What might not work for some readers? The prose. I don’t know what it is that makes readers shun lyrical prose these days. It’s like an insurmountable mountain that masses, looking for quick and easy gratification, are unwilling to climb. But when you get into the prose, when you start to go with the flow, when you give it a chance, the reward is worth it. I wouldn’t say this title is overly descriptive, it is exactly what it advertises itself for – an old fashioned novel of adventure.

For all of the above mentioned, Litka strikes me as a confident author. Confident in what he does and how he wants to tell this story. He doesn’t need to rely on the shock factor to keep the hooks in the reader. For one, I was quite invested. He has given the reader a steady drum of solid scenes which take us from A to B, during which the characters flourish and reveal themselves. I read 100% of Beneath the Lanterns and was left with a satisfied sigh at the end.

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Deceit by Sharon Rivest

Deceit by Sharon Rivest

BETRAYAL – MADNESS – SECRETS
THEY THOUGHT THEY COULD BREAK HIM
THEY THOUGHT WRONG

Mace is a disgraced ex-Houseman, now mercenary, newly returned to his homeland, a place ruled by a king but truly run by the Masters of the Houses of the Pentad. His one wish is to exact revenge against Fallon, Master of the House of Spears, an obsessed madman, who took away everything Mace loved.

With little more than a dog, a spear, and an old warhorse, Mace must find a way to kill the powerful Fallon. His need for revenge leads him ever closer to discovering of the secrets of the Pentad’s power.

Interweaving present and past, Mace’s journey unfolds. As he navigates his turbulent present, the past that molded him is revealed. A series of terrible mistakes in his younger days ultimately lead to the tragic events that haunt his soul and propel Mace down his present path of vengeance. A path filled with loss, deadly choices, tragic outcomes, and unforeseen answers.

Sometimes, and it doesn’t happen often, you start reading a book and it just works. Everything is exactly the way you like. The story flows, the writing is smooth, the pacing is perfectly unhealthy for your heart rate but this is what we want! Every word, every bit of dialogue, every scene has captured you and before you know it, the book is finished. Deceit was that book for me. I read a page and I just knew I was going to enjoy this. And I did, all the way to the end.

Yeah, this story does not do any favours for the faint of heart. It’s brutal and unforgiving. The main character, it seems, has been in deep shit since youth but you know what? He’s kept his chin up nonetheless and that I can get behind because the characters story, his journey is powerful.

Deceit is structured to follow the main character in two timelines, the present and the past. This structure is imperative for a story as grim and brutal as this. This!… is the perfect example of what I want my main character to do to me – sink his teeth in me so deep that it’s as if I live through every disaster and tragedy right there with him. The character development – the internal conflict and guilt (man, I do love a bit of guilt!) strike me as the perfect tools to make any story interesting. There is the naivete of youth, the ambition for grander things and, surprise-surprise, life is never just that simple of wanting and getting.

But what if the main character had fallen flat? Well, I can tell you, the story is still there. There is larger picture, the overall setting of the world that in itself is intriguing enough and with enough ’snakes in the grass’ to keep the reader intrigued.

Deceit made me recognize that yes, whilst it’s a grim story (and I bloody live for a good, grim read), it’s not conveyed via the endless, one after the other battle and fight scenes. Yes, there is plenty of those in this title, but they do not make the foundation that this story stands upon, if that makes sense. I find descriptions of battles and fight scenes so utterly boring. Like when they go on for more than a page…  I do apologize – the placement of feet, the raising of the sword into such and such a position, the circling of the enemy – YES!…it does create and set the scene, but jaysus, it gives me nothing. The crunching bone, the blood spat through grinded teeth, the grasping of the intestines as they fall through the victim’s fingers from their sliced open belly – if this goes on for more than a page: meh! I say. Meh! And I can hear a chorus of groans from hardcore fantasy readers – „But fights and battle are the secret sauce! They’re incredibly hard to create!“ I know. I agree. But Deceit didn’t bore me to tears with such details. Simple as that. What it did incredibly well, for my tastes, was the mental anguish, the torment of regrets, the heaviness that lies upon the soul of that very one character. If the author has managed to put that on paper, in written word? Magnificent!

Who would I recommend this book to? For the fans of the grimmer fantasy. For the readers of Gunmetal Gods by Zamil Akhtar, the readers of Kings of Paradise by Richard NellDeceit, right here, is your next book to read! 

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Gods of the Deep by Drew Montgomery

Gods of the Deep by Drew Montgomery

For as long as anyone can remember, the Balance has always been kept, the sacrifice given to the Imakut and the Imakut providing their bounty from the sea. The small town of Aliit has long sat on the edge of civilization, but it is only recently that civilization has come to them in the form of whaling ships belonging to a powerful company, seeking the valuable oil that lies within the great creatures.

First the sacrifices are rejected. Then, people begin disappearing, taken as they venture out to fish or farm kelp. Calls for help are rejected by the company and government alike.

As tensions mount within the town, it becomes clear that the only path to survival is by fighting. With the help of former company soldiers, they begin to prepare to defend their home. But can they withstand the onslaught of the monsters they worship as gods?

Reading Gods of the Deep was like reading a fairytale for multiple reasons. It came with a ‘moral of the story’ that should serve as a lesson to one and all, and that lesson was to be mindful of stepping over the boundaries for the benefit of profit. It had a light element of magic which some of the secondary characters possessed. It had style of writing that made this title very enjoyable, it was like someting you want told around a bonfire for generations. It tells the reader about the old ways and the new ways. It tells the reader how the opposing sides, when they get too close to each other, do not often gel well, and it tells how lies and corruption affect lives. It also tells us how both, too much progress or too little progress, can be the cause of harm.

It’s a nice story element, the clashing of opposing sides – the fact that it happens, is never nice, per se, but the rift and conflict will give plenty of material both on the characters’ personal level and in overall picture, to create an engaging, full bodied story. I do believe when I say this that the potential in Gods of the Deep was recognized and weaved into a story which could strongly aling with reader’s personal values of the environmental kind. I do not know how this story could have been any better – it was great.

What might appeal to some readers is the fact that even though I likened the story to a fairytale, it does not have a sickeningly sweet prince Charming in it. None of that gibberish. Instead, we have a strong message of how progress and corporations can affect an environment and the people living in said environment. A life that is simple, disconnected, comfortable yet not addicted to comforts kind of life. A life of hard work and teamwork. I like that this title is an ode to the old ways, customs and community spirit. Even if that spirit turns a bit sour sometimes. But that’s the way of life, that’s the way of man.

Whilst you do not get dragons, or wizards, or hobbits or goblins, you get regular folk living off what the ocean has to give them, and when the balance gets disturbed, the ocean will give them and anyone in this world more than they can handle. Something that legends speak of but no one has yet seen. A monster? Or a ploy to keep folks in check, in their routine? Gods of the Deep has a doomsday feeling to it. And there are battles that our characters have to fight to survive, and there are difficult decisions they must make for their future. With a touch of the otherworldly, we have a mix that feels part like a folk tale, part like a lesson to learn about striking a balance with nature itself.

The writing and storytelling, the story itself – you can already tell, I enjoyed it, and as a whole it’s *chef’s kiss* and I can say that with confidence, as I read this title in full.

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The Semi-Finalist

The second half of my batch of books made this judging business quite difficult because each of these three deserves a spot in the Semi-Finals for different reasons. I read them all in full and not once did I think that I would be okay with leaving them unfinished.

Because they are so different, I couldn’t exactly set them up against each other in comparison, it would not have been fair, it wouldn’t have made sense. So, as a Semi Finalist, I chose the book that would be my normal, not thinking twice about this-kind of buy. The book that made me forget about the competition. The book that I couldn’t unhand until I had finished it.

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Deceit by Sharon Rivest

Deceit by Sharon Rivest

Holy crap, Sharon Rivest, what have you done?!?! You’ve only introduced me to my new favourite book! Thank you for this wild ride! Also, let me know when you’re setting up a Cult for the Masks of Discord, I will happily become a disciple and go from door to door spreading the good word about our one true author, Sharon, and the first book of Deceit.

Our congratulations to Sharon Rivest for becoming Queen’s Book Asylum’s third semi-finalist!

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

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