SPFBO 9 Finalist Review: Master of the Void by Wend Raven

SPFBO 9: Master of the Void by Wend Raven

Welcome to the Final stage of SPFBO 9! As you know, the 10 blogs all picked their champion who advanced into the finals, including ourselves. Check out our SPFBO 9 page for more info! SPFBO 9 ends on April 30th, and so we’ll post our finalist reviews every two weeks or so until then.

Our 2nd SPFBO 9 finalist review is for Master of the Void by Wend Raven. The order of the reviews within a post will be in alphabetical order.

A quick reminder about how we are proceeding in the 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 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 Master of the Void we have 4 reviews and 6 scores for your reading pleasures.

So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at our 2nd finalist!

Table of Contents

About the Book
Series:Master of the Void #1
Genre:Fantasy
Publisher:self-published
Date of Publishing:March 14, 2023
Book Blurb
Mastr of the Void by Wend Raven

In the Seven Lands, magic is everything. So what happens when you’re the only person who has none?

Nothing matters more to Derrius Mendi than forging a better life for his family by pursuing a formal magical education at the University, something his parents have sacrificed what little they had to make possible. When disaster strikes on the eve of his thirteenth birth moment—the day he was to receive his magical gift from the Stars—will he choose perseverance or bitterness as he struggles against a society that would rather forget he exists than help him succeed?

As the third son of an archmage, Orimund Laetus has spent his life living up to the expectations of others. When his testing goes horribly wrong, he must decide who he truly is when his carefully crafted upbringing is rendered useless. Setting off on an epic adventure of self-discovery, Orimund must find his place in the world before a looming evil destroys everything he holds dear.

From swashbuckling sea voyages and magical heists to unlikely friendships and budding romances, Master of the Void is a sweeping coming-of-age journey that follows a cast of misfit friends through times of heartbreak, fear, joy, laughter, failure, and triumph.

Review

Bjørn

Read: 100%

The first 10% of Master of the Void is the hardest to get through and I think a lot of people might simply DNF the sample, which would be their loss. (I am allergic to the “as you know” or “tell me again about X” infodumping and the book’s prologue starts with the words “remind me again why we’re out here.”) If I weren’t a SPFBO judge, I might have stopped reading on sentence #1. 1/3 through the book grabbed me, when I had to go to sleep I was at 50% mark and felt sleep was very overrated, the plot twist didn’t make me fall off the sofa but threw me at the wall on the opposite side of the room, and the ending was *flawless*. I immediately looked for the sequel and my feelings were hurt when I discovered it isn’t available yet.

Every chapter is written from a character’s point of view. Many characters get their chance to shine. Too many, for me. I couldn’t remember who was whose brother/sister/lover/parent, and when I thought I figured it out, another POV showed up at 30% mark. This one was important, but I didn’t know that. Later, yet another arrived, and that one was not important. I may be mixing them up. It reminded me of Silmarillion, where Tolkien names the many, many sons of Feanor, none of whom will ever appear in the book again. Except, in Master of the Void, they have a point, which makes Wend Raven better than Tolkien. (I’m joking. Sort of. Not entirely. I am more likely to re-read Master of the Void than Silmarillion.)

There’s a lot of rich worldbuilding, including detailed descriptions of sandwiches, which I must admit I skimmed (the descriptions, not sandwiches). I loved the Rhallawi culture, the characters, the magic system. I am extremely tempted to give a spoiler here. Unfortunately, it would ruin THE plot twist. I’ll settle for “things are not as easy as they seem.” Master of the Void reminded me of Dan Fitzgerald’s The Living Waters and saying this is a bit of a spoiler already, even though there is nothing those books have in common except for all the things they have in common. (This is a compliment.)

That ending is what sells the sequel – it’s a masterpiece. I know some people DNF it early on and they really, really miss out, in my opinion. Despite the unfortunate beginning, Master of the Void delivered way more than I hoped for. A wonderful debut that could have turned out much better, but also worse, with a thorough developmental edit. I loved cranking up the heat, I just wish it didn’t start at lukewarm.

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Jen

Read: 100%

Master of the Void is a coming-of-age tale that follows two young men and their groups of friends.

The story took me awhile to get into for whatever reason, I’m not sure because I pretty much like all the tropes. In this case it was more that I could see the direction it was heading early on- I might add that this had more to do with the number of years/books I’ve read, than anything to do with the story itself- so a lot of my time was waiting for it to get there.

In Master of the Void, both Derrius and Orimund are relying on entering the University for a formal education in magic to start the next step of their life. Derrius needs to succeed to help support his family, and Orimund’s family, have very high expectations of him along with a prestige he needs to uphold.

Unfortunately, neither of them has a magic ability and they both fail their test and are unable to fulfill their dreams and suddenly are having to reassess their futures.

*

There are a lot of characters introduced early-on and pov changes, because of that, I didn’t find the characters were distinct enough at times esp. in the beginning, and I would occasionally confuse Orimund and Derrius’s beginnings/family/friends, thinking one boy was the other. A longer period of time with each boy might have helped that.

Later that problem works its way out, as each of the boys have someone memorable, like Cati and Dawn in their group to help place them.

The fun of Master of the Void for me, was in seeing how different a person’s life can turn out; by their attitude, support of friends, and/or the choices each person makes along the way. And I thought it did a fine job of showcasing its friendships and its different cultures. I always enjoy strong friendships in stories.

The ending of Master of the Void was very strong. It sets up the world and future books nicely- making room to continue and for bad guys to be bigger and stronger etc. Since our hero/s were pretty green but obviously powerful, this set it up so someone who knows nothing managing to win, seemed fair, while also letting the scale grow for next book. The ending made for a promising story for book two.

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Liis

Read: 100%

Master of the Void did a couple of things right for me from page 1. I appreciated that I got to know the characters before something important happened. This gave me a sense of Orimund and Derrius, and others, before their personalities were put to the test. I would say there are a good number of characters in the book, however, I can’t personally say that I was confused at any stage by them. I was able to clearly draw a line in between the main and the secondary characters from early on. What I was oblivious to, until the clue that made every piece fall into place, was the big and clever twist in the book. I found this trap clever, covering the tracks in the sand, so to speak. Well played, Wend Raven. You caught me!

Going back to my simple joy of enjoyment, I knew from the first page that I was going to gel with the prose. It was to my taste in terms of revealing info and details in an exploratory manner. Not only that, but there were also small passages where the description of one moment or other was done so well, it made me stop for a minute to appreciate it. This book is the Zack Snyder version of Justice League, the 3,5 hour long one, in the sense that you get all the bits and bobs during the slow buildup, you get to see the lives and dreams and personalities before things take a dangerous turn. Might not be to everyone’s taste, but damn did it click with me.

This is a coming-of-age story, with a Young Adult vibe all the way through, and I truly, truly enjoyed it. Yes, it has a love triangle, but it’s not cringey and it doesn’t fumble. No graphic battle scenes, no crude and gruff men. Simply magic of the most cosmic sense, adventure to span the years, and a sort of a clash of cultures. There’s sea voyage, even! But also, the impending doom. Of course.

To me, Master of the Void was one of the more complex stories at its foundation compared to some other titles I have read in the SPFBO9. I didn’t feel lost or swamped with info, I was enjoying my time with the book, and I can only give credit to the style of prose for delivering the expansive plot so well. This is one of my top titles in SPFBO9. I found very little if anything to pick at. Perhaps the start was a bit on the shaky legs, but looking at the big picture, this ended up being quite a wholesome fantasy read for me and I can’t wait to read what happens next!

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Olivia

Read: 100%

If I had to choose a genre for Master of the Void, it would probably be middle-grade fantasy. The genre gets a bit squishy at times, however; despite younger character ages and coming-of-age subject choices that would appeal to middle-grade readers, the book indulges in a lot of point-of-view hopping, as though catering to an epic fantasy crowd. Unfortunately, while I think all of these choices could have been executed in a way that appeals to readers of both genres, I felt instead that the book ended up appealing to readers of neither. Overall, while the book was better than average for a debut—and I do hope the author keeps writing!—it needed its author to be a little more ruthless on the cutting room floor. Naturally, that sort of thing requires practice.

Without going back to check precisely, I would guess that the first 15% of the book is the most difficult part to get through. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is that the first 15% is incredibly heavy on didactic exposition. The first few chapters establish a pattern where we’re introduced to a new character, who happens to be engaged in talking to someone about the magic system or else studying it on their own. In this way, the character gives us a short essay on some aspect of magic, and then finishes their scene. Before we can really get attached to the character, we’re then swept away to a new character, who is similarly engaged in magical exposition.

Readers only have so much trust they’re willing to extend a new book, especially if they’ve never read the author’s work before. Asking them to memorise several lists of magical terms without much emotional context is a very big ask—it feels like being asked to do homework before you’re allowed to reach the plot. I caught the occasional flash of something which suggested that this needn’t have been the case; at one point, the author introduces us to a mind mage with a distinctly unpleasant personality, which instantly cemented the idea of mind mages in my head. I would love to see more of this sort of exposition from the author in subsequent books—a gradual, natural incorporation of facts with immediate emotional impact, rather than dry, frontloaded lists of facts which might or might not become relevant later.

Without going too far into detail, many of the young characters also felt identical in voice, which made it difficult to become attached to any of them in particular. There were several young aspiring male mages, each with their own sprightly young woman there to serve as a romantic interest (and as a stand-in for her element). The adult characters generally felt more complex; there’s a mother who lost her child and went into grieving, a father incapable of showing affection to his children, a mage who decides to bend the rules out of forbidden academic curiosity. But since we’re mostly following the younger characters, our access to this complexity is very limited.

Somewhere around the 20% mark, Master of the Void did finally find its sea legs, so to speak. Some of the young aspiring male mages develop in slightly different directions. One sprightly young woman changes the object of her romantic interest to a different young aspiring male mage. We’re introduced to new characters outside of the main character’s nationality, who have their own unique culture and their own goals outside of learning magic; in particular, Cati was a welcome new touch, as a young female character with more complexity who wasn’t immediately partnered up with anyone. But the end of the book slowed down yet again with more ponderous in-character magical explanations, right when it should have been clipping along at a frantic pace.

I think it’s safe to say that there’s a good story in this book; I definitely caught glimpses of it along the way. I’d be interested in giving Master of the Void another try if it were run through another edit pass in order to distribute its infodumps more naturally, and if its younger characters were fleshed out a little bit more.

Our Judgement
Team Queen's Book Asylum's scores for Master of the Void by Wend Raven

Our score for Master of the Void by Wend Raven

Score 6.5/10

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