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 18th, all going well.
Our 2nd SPFBO 9 semi-finalist review is for Fae Gods: Maze by Philinna Wood. 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 Fae Gods: Maze we have 5 reviews and 5 scores for your reading pleasures.
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at our 2nd semi-finalist!
Table of Contents
|Series:||Fae Gods #1 / standalone|
|Date of Publishing:||May 16th, 2023|
Greek mythology and fae fantasy romance collide in this sweeping story of divided loyalty and forbidden love.
I am the daughter of the king, and he is the fae monster my father sent me to kill.
For years, the people of my kingdom have whispered tales of the monstrous Minotaur in the depths of an underground maze. Every night, he enters my dreams. His golden eyes capture mine. His horns caress my spine. And I always wake drenched in fear.
He’s waiting for me, I know.
But when I venture into the darkness, I find that the monster is in fact a handsome man, cursed by the fae gods to roam the maze. Trapped in the labyrinth with him, I start feeling something that I know I should not—a strange desire wells up within me.
My heart is torn between my loyalty to my kingdom and the man whose loneliness echoes my own.
As we attempt to escape the treacherous maze, secrets that were meant to remain hidden in its depths beg to be revealed, and with them comes a love so forbidden yet so powerful that it could forever change my life.
Author’s note: The story is a loose reimagining of the Greek myth of the Minotaur, and it is a standalone fae fantasy romance with an HEA.
There’s a group of people who say you shouldn’t say it, but there’s also a group of people who play SPFBO review bingo, and, for those people, I’m going to say it… ‘I don’t normally like romance novels, but…’
Fae Gods: Maze (Maze) is a loose retelling of the minotaur myth, and when I say loose, I mean as loose as this minotaur’s chiton, particularly around his groin area. In summary, a nasty minotaur (more like a mino-PHWOAR) lives in the labyrinthine basement below a palace, hot princess plans to kill said minotaur in the hopes of paternal approval, but what’s that, the minotaur is hot… sheeeeeeeit!
Despite being ‘Fae Gods’ rather than ‘Greek Gods’, Maze has an abundance of Ancient Greek flavour thanks to bountiful description and sumptuous language found throughout this deliciously covered read. The gods we encounter are aloof to mortal concerns, avaristic, and partial to a little bit of hedonistic debauchery.
Raunch isn’t something I’ve read a great deal of, so on a scale of cheese sandwich to Carolina Reaper smoothie I wouldn’t trust myself to appropriately rate it. That being said I would be happy to play a game of pin the schlong on the minotaur, I’d get a few goes because there were a few schlongs, and none of them were schlorts if you get my drift. It would’ve been nice to have better penis representation, as I didn’t see myself in any of those beefy members.
Seriously though, there were a variety of saucy techniques on display, nothing exceptionally gratuitous but certainly enough to elicit a few stirrings. The instant-love was perhaps a little too quick for my liking, but they’re fated lovers, it’s inspired by Ancient Greece, and it’s a steamy romance, so they’re not going to bond over chaperoned needlework sessions, though pricks are still a significant risk (tee hee hee).
The characters were all very human, apart from when they weren’t. Even with so much banging and brooding going on between the MCs they still found time for ample development and exploration of their backgrounds, motivations, and wants. Avra particularly has a great character arc, becoming a really strong female character with no small amount of sexual and emotional liberation.
The writing was great, it had a very breezy yet energetic style that pulled me along, which, when coupled with the engaging plot and world-building, makes for a really quick yet satisfying read.
My only minor quibble is that the Fae aspect feels extremely superficial. The only difference between Fae Gods and Greek Gods is the word Fae in them and the fact they have pointed ears, you could delete the word Fae en-mass, and the story wouldn’t change.
I love reviewing good books written by people I don’t know, because I get to gush about them. Initially, I decided not to read Fae Gods, because the word “fae” is not one I like in my books, but once I found out it was actually based on Greek mythology, just with the Gods’ names changed, I decided to give it a try.
Reader, I made the right decision.
Fae Gods: Maze opens with what is very clearly a re-telling of the story of the Minotaur – the one name the author didn’t bother changing. As the action progressed, I sort of frowned, because I happen to know the story of the Minotaur, which suggested the book should end around page 30. Then the author took the Greek mythology and threw it in a blender without the lid on.
Apart from waiting for Nex and Avra to finally bang (warning to the “I don’t like romance in fantasy” crowd – Fae Gods isn’t even romantic fantasy, it’s both genres at once), at no point did I have a clue what was going to happen, except for guessing the Minotaur’s actual name. A fellow reviewer accused the book of featuring instalove. Nope, it features instalust, and based on how Fae Gods describes Nex, I *swallows* have no problem with that. I won’t tell you the answer to will-they-won’t-they… oh, who am I kidding, of course they will. And once they do, it will be well written. *fans self*
I thought the title was Fae Gods rather than Greek Gods But Different If You Know What I Mean for marketing reasons (I am not entirely sure who the target audience is, because 99% of the book feels like YA and then 1% explains why there are trigger warnings in the beginning). Nope. They actually need to be fae, so they can differ from humans in more ways than just waving a random artefact and causing things – or humans – to fly or explode. You’ll find out, I hope, even if you “normally don’t like romance” etc. Because the book is almost as good as its stunning cover.
Why almost? Because of the ending – how do I not spoil it? – of the military arc. It was a bit too easy, and by a bit I mean a lot. Similarly to Brendan Noble’s A Dagger in the Winds the military arc was necessary for the rest of the book to exist, and I can’t even say what it was because that would spoil everything, still, it just… stopped.
Is this a world-changing, deep treatise on the cruelty of the real world, examining the state of the world and humankind’s race towards suicide, a masterpiece that will change your life forever? No. Was it immensely enjoyable? Yes. I recommend it to everyone who likes their mythology remixed rather than literally re-told, and who likes enjoying themselves. And unless you’re very squeamish, just ignore those content warnings.
PS. May this be a lesson for us all: never boink a guy who’s not even any good at boinking just because you feel you should get one final boink before a Minotaur devours you.
100. The percentage of book I read.
50. The percentage of it I sort of enjoyed.
39. The number of times the word ‘naked’ or ‘nakedness’ appears throughout the book. Every single time it was pointed out, after the first 2 times just started getting responses from me to the tune of: “No way! Naked? Can’t believe!” Or… “Naked? Surprise!” Or… “Let me guess, she looks better naked!”. I have nothing against nakedness, per se, but I felt this story wanted to be “sexy by naked” a bit too much. Remember, I whisper… naked.
1. The number of times the author used the word ‘cocksure’ and I thought: “I WILL BET MY DEAR MOTHER’S SOVIET SILVER CUTLERY THAT THE AUTHOR USED THIS WORD JUST BECAUSE IT HAS COCK IN IT!!!”
Fae Gods is a double fusion. And when fusions are used in cooking, we all know that sometimes the 2 cultures being mixed don’t really match. Whether the Greek mythology fused with faeries work, well, it’s entirely a matter of taste. Much like food. Same goes for something that can work as a young adult fantasy fused with new adult…adultering.
Fae Gods is, without a doubt, entertaining. Sex sells, and I don’t mean this in a bad way. It makes us all lighthearted. But, once you remove the explicit sex scenes, or the build up to graphic sex scenes through said nakedness (some of which, I am sorry, I cannot take seriously, and I quote: “His cock swings wildly right and left as he chases the unfortunate youths.” … sigh. I cannot take a scary Minotaur seriously imagining it. I just can’t. It’s not scary and it’s not sexy either), you have about a half a book left. That half a book left could easily be Young Adult because mythology is cool and loving someone you shouldn’t is cool, and Daddy-issues, and “Man, life sucks, it’s all on my 20-something years young shoulders”. On the other hand, to counterbalance my issues with this story, it delivers exactly what you would expect. You pick up this book and if you can’t wait to read this book even after you’ve read the blurb and the author’s note:
“This book is intended for readers who are 18 or older, as it contains explicit content and darker elements, including mature language, violence, and sex. The story is a loose reimagining of the Greek myth of the Minotaur, and it is a standalone fae fantasy romance with an HEA.”
Well, then you’re on to a winner. You get just that. Romantasy! Boom!
The final nail in the coffin for me was the fact that the characters of this story did not grow on me. I didn’t really get to know the main characters in a way I would have liked to have known them. I simply know what she’s a fighty character who likes to fix her mood with sex. And I can’t tell about the Minotaur because spoiler alert. I was really looking for the story to deliver a moment where I could exhale and go: oh, finally, they’re doing it. Or… Oh, that hit me in the feels so hard. But it’s just all, there. No major ups and/or downs. And I am a sucker for ups and downs. And yet, I mean, there is a story here. Yes, for sure there is. And as mentioned before, sex is entertaining, especially when words like ‘bushy slit’ are used, what, was it page 2? I mean, talk about taking you by surprise! Unfortunately, as you can tell, this one was not for me. And I feel that the sexiness of Fae Gods will overshadow the other half of the story that is present. Hmm. I’ve read my fair share of romance, paranormal romance, the new adult, the young adult, and I think I am simply fatigued by these types of stories and tropes and clichés. I have overindulged, I’ve moved on. But, hey, I’m like the only one in our group who felt this way so maybe just listen to what others have to say in their reviews and read this book anyway!
I find myself writing a deeply conflicted review of this book in particular. But please, keep reading, because it requires a lot of explanation.
Fae Gods: Maze is a fantasy romance—but if one were to define its sub-sub-category, I suppose it could be called a mythical romance. The book is a very loose, creative retelling of the minotaur’s labyrinth which weaves in several different Greek legends while putting its own respectful spin on them. At times, the writing is genuinely lyrical and flowing. Other times, a character says the word ‘fuck’ out of nowhere, and the suspension of disbelief is suddenly broken.
And somehow, that basically sums up how I ended up feeling about the entirety of this book. Er… no, you don’t understand, because the book was actually good, and I enjoyed it despite these sudden tonal shifts. I don’t think they were a good idea, and they detract from the book immensely. But it’s still an incredibly solid book.
This is, in fact, a well above-average fantasy romance novel. It’s creative and well-crafted, and it has some lovely prose. The author clearly knows and respects her Greek mythology—in fact, she lives in Greece. However!
Let’s get confusing—because there is another ‘however’.
The author also reskinned her Greek gods as ‘fae’ on a puzzlingly superficial level. This contributes even further to the jarring effect of the book. These fae seem to be modelled after Sarah J Maas’s version of fae, who have themselves absorbed the idea of ‘mates’ from the werewolf paranormal romance market. I have nothing against this version of fae in abstract—but they’re definitely a purely modern invention which utterly ignores real Celtic mythology, and they tend to look more than a little bit strange when set directly next to other genuine mythology. I would have expected an author with such deep care for Greek mythology to show similar painstaking care with Celtic mythology, if they were going to make use of it at all.
Were this book to be marketed purely as a Greek retelling, I think it would actually do incredibly well. Anecdotally, I have seen several people now immediately dismiss this book solely on the basis of its ‘fae’ trappings—people whom I suspect would have actually enjoyed it, had it not been marketed this way. Take the words ‘Fae Gods’ off the cover and just call it ‘Maze’, and I’ll wager it would find its niche in a hurry.
Instead, the novel comes off a bit like someone spent weeks painting a gorgeous mural, only to paste mass-produced wallpaper over it. And all of this is to say…
…I’m not going to hold that against the book. Because as much as I have a real, knee-jerk discomfort with superficial ‘mated’ fae set directly next to genuine Greek myths, I know that there are a lot of people out there for whom that doesn’t even ping on their radar.
So, with that explained: This story had real work put into it. The prose is both functional and very pretty at times. I never got confused about what was going on. The pacing was reasonable, it used certain elements of dramatic tension very well (“here are our X number of quests, with one twist at the end”), and a lot of the mythological trials felt like they belonged in a real legend. Fae Gods: Maze also actually managed to suggest a positive spin on the Greek god Ares, which is… not something I ever thought I would say. So well done, author. Pop some champagne and celebrate. If you ever write a book that’s pure Greek mythology, without the strange fae wallpaper, I will genuinely be first in line to buy it.
I am taking a little bit off for the tonal clashes. But if you’re a fantasy romance reader, then you will probably enjoy this book. If you’re not a fantasy romance reader, you may need to brace yourself for a bit of extra horniness and the occasional corny line… but hey, you might still enjoy it too.
Out of our semi-finalists, Fae Gods: Maze intrigued me the most, as it seemed to be closest to my tastes. When I peeked at the first page, doubts crept in. Wood seemed desperate to let the reader know that in this world it’s *fae* gods who rule, who also suspiciously sound very much like the gods we know from Greek mythology. They just have different names and are apparently fae. If you didn’t know. Them being fae has absolutely no impact on the story whatsoever, apart from a slight difference in their appearance. On top of it, Fae Gods: Maze is a retelling of the story of the Minotaur, so the source of inspiration is pretty clear. Why the distinction for the gods was needed, remains to be a mystery. Especially as we don’t get much background story for them and what we get doesn’t explain their origins.
While my first impression wasn’t the best, and the first chapter made me unsure whether I’d end up liking the book, I kept reading on. I can’t say I loved Fae Gods: Maze, but at the same time, I found it hard to put it down. Once I got through my initial problems (and a lot of eye-rolling) with it, I kept turning the pages. I knew where it was going, but I was still curious to see how the characters would get there. It was one of the cases where I knew what the twist would be and wanted to know if I was right. I love being right.
Fae Gods: Maze puts an interesting twist on the Minotaur myth. The bigger part of the book is set right in the maze, although I wished it had more of a presence. The focus was on the characters and their quest, and it seemed like the maze itself was just an afterthought. I was missing a bit more about the atmosphere, I think. But, I’ll give extra points for putting an extra spin on Ares’ story (I totally agree with Olivia on this, too). Poor guy doesn’t get positive publicity often.
As for the characters, while I enjoyed reading about their story, I never really connected with them. On a deeper level, anyway. Plus, the romance happened a bit too quickly for my tastes. Especially if we consider that we have an enemies to lovers trope here. Sort of. And they really do get naked, a lot.
Despite my issues, I think people who love spicy Fantasy Romance and loose mythology retellings would absolutely enjoy Fae Gods: Maze. Once they look over the fae thing. There is not much to complain about when it comes to technical things – writing, pacing, etc., plus it has some pretty great ideas that makes this book entertaining and a total pageturner. Whether one agrees with the creative choices the author made, is something everyone has to decide for themselves. I, for one, am glad we got Fae Gods: Maze as one of our semi-finalists.
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