SPFBO 9 Semi-Finalist Review: Deceit by Sharon Rivest

SPFBO 9: Deceit by Sharon Rivest

Welcome to the Semi-Final stage of SPFBO 9! As you know, we already cut 24 books from our batch of 30 and announced our semi-finalists. Check out our SPFBO 9 page for more info! In the next few weeks, we’ll post group reviews of each semi-finalist, and then we’ll reveal our finalist on October 25th, all going well.

Our 1st SPFBO 9 semi-finalist review is for Deceit by Sharon Rivest. The order of the reviews within a post will be the following: first is the person who picked the book as a semi-finalist, and then the others in alphabetical order.

A quick reminder about how we are proceeding in the Semi-Finals: our judges had the freedom to opt out of reading any of the books due to personal interest, time restrictions, unforeseen life events, etc. Our aim is to have at least 4 reviews/scores for each semi-finalist.

Both in the Semi-Final and Final stages we’ll have a DNF rule in place: if a judge reads a book (either semi-finalist or finalist if they didn’t opt out beforehand), they have to read at least 25% of it. If they decide to DNF between 25%-50% they’ll have to give a score but can opt out of writing a review, and if they DNF after 50% (or not) then also have to score AND write a review.

For Deceit we have 6 reviews and 6 scores for your reading pleasures.

So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at our 1st semi-finalist!

Table of Contents

About the Book
Series: Masks of Discord #1Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Date of Publishing: October 5th, 2021Publisher: self-published
Book Blurb
Deceit by Sharon Rivest

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.



Read: 100%

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 character’s 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 a 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 are 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 Nell – Deceit, right here, is your next book to read! 



Read: 50%

Favourite quote: “Butter dripping from warm bread onto your fingers had to feel better than blood. Yet no one earned circles by eating bread.”

Deceit is the story of a very young, young, and not so young man named Mace. His most memorable traits are missing ears and incredible ability to heal from the horrible beatings he receives (“Bones broke and his arm fell limp at his side […] ribs cracked, loud and painful”) without a sign of permanent injury, ears aside. There is also a dog – a murderous wolf-like creature that only responds to Mace’s commands. I want one.

The book begins in the future, with a battle where the best men have been schooled by Mace personally. In the second chapter – one of the strongest, but completely confusing to me (I didn’t know there would be multiple timelines) – little Mace is sold by his father, who’s mostly concerned about whether the pouch of coin he receives contains as much coin as he was promised. It’s too late for me to be heartbroken, though, because I already know Mace will do quite well for himself. In chapter three, we return to the future from the first chapter, while in chapter four we move to earlier future than the later future from the chapter before. When I am starting to develop interest in someone, I have to re-shuffle my brain to the other timeline, and by the time I’m back I either forgot why I cared for the character, or they left. Also, it’s possible for a character to die a dramatic death, only to reappear, younger and in perfect health, five pages later.

Mostly, when characters are one-dimensional, it’s because they are either disposable or villains. In Deceit, it’s the few good people (almost everyone in this book ranges from somewhat awful to completely awful, including Mace himself) that lack personality beyond being good people. They and/or Mace are inevitably punished for that directly or not, and disappear from his life. The plot twist leading to Mace losing his mentor is so heavily foreshadowed that I breathed with relief when it finally happened. (This is followed with Mace receiving a heavy beating delivered by a group of furious men, described in great detail.)

The instalove between Mace and the worst possible woman, the daughter of The Worst Big Bad, leads to the sort of plot twist you get when an unmarried man and woman make love a few times, but not before The Worst Big Bad catches them together. (This is followed with Mace receiving a heavy beating delivered by The Worst Big Bad, described in great detail.) I have a problem with what gets the author’s attention and what doesn’t, because non-consexual sex with faceless women, Hoods (think incels’ dreams x A Handmaid’s Tale) and all violent acts get presented in all their gory glory, including the order in which Mace receives blows and what gets broken or shattered. Making love, however, does not even happen off page. (“It was a coupling like no other. A dream he hoped to never wake from. […] Nothing he’d done before prepared him for the soul-shattering culmination of his first act of love.”). It’s a very bro-book, and yes, I know who wrote it.

Thing is – Deceit is not a bad book at all. It’s a semifinalist, because it was one of the judges’ favourite, after all. It just doesn’t work for me. The worldbuilding is interesting. The deceit – non-capitalised – is interesting. Obviously, I had to like something called “Hammer and Anvil.” Something I’m allergic to – “ah, I’ve not forgotten the story” followed by Owa telling Mace the story Mace has told Owa in the off-page past – is mercifully brief. Yes, I get confused by the futures and pasts (I wish the years were numbered, or that I got “fifteen years later/earlier”) but I get confused easily, because ADHD. But the real reason for my low score is that I could never forget I was reading a book. I was not in the author’s world, neither did I identify with any of the characters. I was very much reading a book and the ever-changing timelines sometimes made it feel like work.

A friend of mine recently said that she no longer uses “DNF” but “NFM” – not for me. Deceit is definitely NFM.



Read: 100%

I didn’t know what to expect from this one and was pleasantly surprised because I ended up enjoying this story quite a lot.

The story runs dual timelines, alternating between past and present and building to a finale.
I was reminded a little of Hardie’s Quiet Vengeance, which told its story of revenge in a similar way. But that’s about where that similarity ends.

In Deceit we have just one POV character, Mace and we explore his story.

Mace: An Ex Houseman, this can mean multiple things depending on which House he is in but mostly it means he’s a hired fighter mercenary type. The Houses – if I remember right, there were five – educate and train kids in various styles of fighting. When they are old enough, they’re hired-out through the house until the debt of their “better life” is paid in full. (I couldn’t help but think that the Houses were the equivalent of Pimps… lol. I may need to cut back on all those cop shows.)

Mace, has been living abroad for the last ten years for reasons that I will leave for you to discover and is now able to return and seek his revenge on the man who took everything from him. The present chapters work toward that goal, as Mace, through a bit of chance and happenstance, takes on a new patron in Miss Irion. His job protecting her and getting her harvest of Mina Pods to the city safely, will allow him that opportunity to get closer and possibly confront his nemesis, Fallon.

Every chapter of the future builds into a mystery that somewhat plays off the past.

The past chapters let us understand Mace’s early life – where he was sold as a boy to apprentice in one of the houses, working its way up to the reasons behind his exile and finally – his need for revenge.

Every chapter in the past was like watching a train wreck happen in slow motion. Seriously, in my notes for him I wrote, “Dammit! Why does his every decision make me dread finishing the chapter?”

It’s the choices he makes in his youth, that domino effect in the worst way… like this guy needs a rabbit’s foot or something to counter his horrible luck and bad decisions. To be fair, some of those decisions were out of love, and those are the ones that never turn out well for anyone. And others were the unavoidable, or the better of the worst choices. But all of them come back to haunt him at some point.

Both timelines had me turning the pages pretty quickly, between the mystery building in the present timeline, and the wondering how the past timeline is going to catch up to the future, I was totally engrossed.


Deceit leans towards low fantasy. There wasn’t a lot of obvious magic. Though there are mentions of dragons and other animals that seem to be some sort of science experiments – for the most part magic is pretty light – in this book anyway. Towards the end, there are some interesting reveals that might mean heavier magic use later.

A couple of small things

The aftermath of the duels land in successive chapters, and I was totally confused on which aftermath I was reading for about 3/4 of the chapter, even though I was used to the back-and-forth pattern by that point, it still caught me up until “exile ten years” was brought up.

The end got a little “tell heavy” with the explanations and some of the reveals, which also opened up the world a bit to make room for a sequel. I thought the clues could have been better telegraphed but to be fair here, I was way more interested in Mace, and everything to do with his life and what would happen next, to really care about the smaller mystery.

The bigger reveal, on the other hand, was less satisfactory to me – just because of what Mace went through to get to that point. In either case, the whole story was just great, though slightly more tragic than I had hoped for the future (the past being tragic was a given).



Read: 40%

I would probably describe Deceit as a low fantasy grimdark road trip novel, at least for the first half or so. The book follows main character Mace, who has been an indentured servant warrior to several different people by the time the story begins. The novel alternates chapters between Mace’s past and present, slowly explaining how he came to be who he is, even as he returns home to perform an assassination at the request of his current master, who is dying. The world suggests at some interesting things in the background, including a past war where all wizards were killed and five mysterious leaders who inherit both their mask and their name from a tradition dating back to that war.

Road trip novels are, by their nature, incredibly difficult to pull off; because characters are often coming and going, an author needs a really deft hand in order to flesh out those new characters in a hurry, over and over. The main character also needs to be rock solid, deeply interesting, and preferably strongly motivated, since they tend to be the only consistent part of the story to which a reader can attach.

As you might guess, Deceit missed several of these structural notes for me. For much of the book, Mace’s supposed vengeance plot feels… meandering. If he’s deeply upset at his assassination target, then it doesn’t really come through in the prose, in his emotions, or in the choices that he makes along the way. The author opens by implying that the target of Mace’s assassination did something vaguely horrible to his family—but Mace resists leaving on his quest out of simple inertia, at first, rather than grasping at the chance to go chasing his vengeance. From there, it feels as though Mace is only doing this because he’s been told that he ought to do it. For a road trip novel, that lack of drive kills almost all of the book’s momentum, such that I ended up discontinuing around the 40% mark. The flashbacks don’t offer much agency for Mace either, unfortunately. In chapters which take place within the past, Mace is mostly chased out of places over and over due to sudden tragic accidents—but it’s rare that he seems to want anything for himself or make his own choices.

As a grimdark book, Deceit never really managed to gut-punch me, and I spent more than a little bit wondering why this was. For a while, I wondered if I’m just jaded by several years of grimdark stories one-upping each other on the gritty violence scale—but I think this problem also comes down to the road trip formula. Because the book never allows characters to linger on-screen for more than a chapter or two, I’m not very attached to them as a reader by the time bad things happen to them. Grimdark really hits best when you care that a character has been brutally offed or mutilated or traumatised, and Deceit’s inherent structure just doesn’t allow this to happen very well. Within the first 40% of the book, Mace has at least two substitute father figures whose relationships with him are built almost entirely off-screen. One of them dies and one of them loses a child—but neither one had been around long enough for me to see either event as much more than something to move the plot forward. It’s all very “hello and goodbye again”.

Lastly, Deceit also starts showing proofreading problems somewhere around the fourth chapter mark. Normally, I try to be lenient with proofreading errors, so long as they don’t noticeably interrupt the story’s flow—but some of our other semi-finalists show flawless prose by comparison, and so I feel it would be unfair not to acknowledge that difference in the scores. Deceit has misused homophones, commas missing where there definitely should be commas, and a lot of sentence fragments. While it’s possible to use fragments stylistically, Deceit uses them to such an extent that they begin to feel exhausting rather than dramatic.

In short, there are some interesting bits of worldbuilding in Deceit—but I suspect that the overfocus on worldbuilding is actually part of what diverts the story from the plot, the characters, and their motivations. In its current form, Deceit feels like a leisurely stroll around a potentially interesting world, using its main character as a vehicle for that exploration. The world in the background seems interesting enough to support a good story, but a stronger feeling of both character and dramatic tension would help keep the reader on the tour bus.



Read: 100%

Based on the synopsis alone, Deceit is a book that I expected to really enjoy. It promises a large amount of grimness, an intriguing revenge plot, and casts a grizzled older mercenary as its main character. Sadly, though, the promised elements themselves didn’t quite come together, and it just wasn’t something that I could entirely connect with.

The story of Mace, our main character, starts in the present day with him working as a mercenary for a Quentish (desert tribes) Chieftain. We’re only in this area for a few chapters, which is a shame as it’s probably the most interesting environment, given that the remainder of the book takes place in a very standard medieval European setting.

Following the Quentish opening, the chapters then start alternating between past Mace and current Mace, which was perhaps my main issue with the book. The alternating timelines felt disparate, and the ‘young Mace’ chapters read almost like a training story but with all the training removed and replaced with fade-to-black sex. As a consequence of this time switching, I didn’t find that the modern aspect of the story ever had a chance to build up steam, as whenever it felt as though it were getting somewhere, we were catapulted back in time, and the momentum was gone. It was also an issue in the latter chapters as the historic big duel was immediately followed by the current big duel, which was then followed by the historic aftermath and then the current aftermath, it was a tad confusing for me.

As a character, Mace wasn’t one I ever found myself engaged with. All of his problems stem from his constant bad decisions, so it was hard to sympathise with him to any degree, and we don’t actually see him actively develop (physically, skillfully, or emotionally), he just becomes the greatest warrior off-screen. There aren’t really any solid characters outside of Mace, so I found myself meandering through the story rather than being pulled.

One point I would have to mention, given that I have mentioned it with other books, is surprisingly poor handling of the female characters. From what I can recall, there wasn’t a female character who wasn’t beaten, murdered, raped, or threatened with rape (sometimes multiple times). While none of the SA, active or implied, is graphic or particularly egregious, it isn’t ever necessary and doesn’t impact the plot in any way, yet threats of SA were tossed around like confetti.

As with Bjørn, I’m marking this one down as a Not For Me. It obviously has something about it, given that both Liis and Jen liked it (and they have great taste in books), so if it intrigues you, pick it up and ignore me.



Read: 52%

I’m going to be upfront and say right out that Deceit is not a book I would have picked up for myself if I had the choice. Simply because it’s not my jam. I’m not a huge fan of epic fantasy, and I don’t have much interest in books centered around fighting and traveling. I fully expected to dislike Deceit, and I think I was the most surprised by the fact that I didn’t. I actually think it’s pretty good all things considered, and I can see it finding its audience. So why, could you ask, did I not finish reading it? I just wasn’t invested in the story enough to continue. It comes to personal tastes more than anything else. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Deceit would end up being our finalist. (I said this before reading the others’ reviews, so I might be wrong on that front…)

Deceit tells the story of Mace, a mercenary, ex-Houseman. Rungar is ruled in anything but name by 5 houses, the descendants of the 5 generals who won over Qent and killed the wizards also known as Shepherds. Each house is named after the preferred weapon of the generals and has recruits who are trained in those weapons. These recruits can earn respect and can become Houseman, highly coveted fighters who can be hired. The more money they earn the faster they pay back their identure. Mace no longer belongs to any of the Houses, and has no love left for them. In fact, he is set to kill one of the Masters, though the road to accomplish that might be a bit more bumpy than he anticipated.

Deceit has a dual timeline – on one hand, we follow Mace from his boyhood, how he becomes a recruit and what tragedies follow in his wake. It also gives us an insight into why he became the man we follow in the present. It really was a smart choice, because if we only had adult Mace from the beginning, I probably would have been bored out of my mind soon enough. I found young Mace’s timeline more interesting personally, despite the many training/fighting scenes. But then adult Mace has enough fighting so there is that too. If you ask me, there is way too much fighting and not enough character-building for my tastes. Either way, Mace’s background story was at least interesting, if a bit way too gloomy. Poor man rarely had any joy in his life – far as I could tell, that is. Too bad the plot in the present timeline was dragging. By the 50% mark, I really couldn’t tell where it all was going. Sure, he had this vengeance in mind (we don’t exactly know why, yet), but nothing sort of a plan or any inclination as to how he was going to achieve it. 

Deceit has a lot of promise, and if you like books with martial arts and a lot of fighting with some progression fantasy elements when it comes to the Houses, then I think you will enjoy Deceit much more than I did. With a bit of tightening the plot, adding a bit of meat to the characters, and a round of polishing, it could go a long way not just in the competition.

Our Judgement
Our Rating

Scores will be revealed on the day we announce our finalist!

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