SPFBO 10 Elimination Round

SPFBO 10 Elimination Round: Tru

The time has come to kick off the SPFBO 10 Elimination Round! In case of any confusion: this is not an official SPFBO thing. We here at QBA decided to section Phase 1 into Elimination Round (once known as The Reaping), Semi-Finalist Reveal, and Semi-Final Stage.

What does this mean? Each of us will cut 2 of our titles in the Elimination Round. We’ll add our mini-reviews, explaining our reasons. Once that’s done, we’ll start revealing our semi-finalists (fair warning: not all of us might pick one) and saying goodbye to the remaining titles. Pretty much the same way we did for SPFBO 9. In the second half of Phase 1 (also known as Semi-Final Round), the team will review each of the semi-finalists.

I’d like to thank each and every author who submitted their book to SPFBO this year. I know how hard it must be, but sadly, we can’t forward all of you to the finals. That said, it’s time to say goodbye to two of the books in Tru’s batch. As a reminder, you can check out our SPFBO 10 page to see how we allocated our books and follow our progress.

Note from Tru

This is my first year as a judge and it’s as exhilarating and frightening for me as I’m sure it is for the entrants! Having stood in your shoes, I understand how nerve-wrecking this process is – to have someone read your book and decide its fate. Authors put much of their heart and souls into their books in the hope that a reader will understand and connect with them. Passing judgement, then, is no small task, but alas we must face it together.

For my SPFBOX batch of books, I read each to 100% completion before ruminating on what I liked and disliked. There were elements of each book that I enjoyed and found unique and interesting. I spent a lot of internal warring over my decisions to cut or choose a semi-finalist, and ultimately chose the book which had reached beyond the pages and stayed with me the most.

But before we begin the eliminations, I wanted to say thank you to the authors for sharing a part of your heart and soul with me. Regardless of the results of this competition, I hope you continue to write and share your creative gifts with the world. Remember that I am just one person with my subjective opinion, and there are many more who need to read and enjoy your words.

The Elimination

Of Shadows and Death by Sharlene Healy

Of Shadows and Death by Sharlene Healy

I have heard my tale being told. A story about a princess with long hair trapped in a tower, saved by a handsome prince, who kills the wicked witch imprisoning her.
How sweet. How charming. How wrong. Except for the hair, of course.
A fateful meeting with the Vampire King and my world shatters. All I’d ever known ground into dust. I must separate truth from lies and become who I am destined to be. Consequences be damned.
This is my story.
A story of power. Love. Hope.
And above all?
Revenge.

Of Shadows and Death is a Rapunzel retelling, but not how you know it. In this version of her story, Rapunzel (who prefers to go by the name of Penny) is trapped inside a tower for her own safety, for wicked creatures lurk outside, namely vampires. She’s a naïve character who believes the lies her witch-mother has taught her—that is until a certain vampire king visits her window and slowly helps Penny question everything she’s ever known. This begins a journey of self-discovery and self-worth, as Penny learns more about her hidden past, powers, and potential. This story is certainly one of empowerment as well as revenge, and if you love power fantasies where abused characters rise to become a force to be reckoned with, then you may find Penny’s story cathartic.

Unfortunately, my problem with Penny’s character arc was that it was too much of a power fantasy for me. Penny goes from strength to strength without facing any real challenge, danger, or loss. While she does learn to embrace self-worth and become braver and more confident, it feels as though all her wins are earned too easily, and her character remains naïve—leaving one abusive prison to effectively imprison herself in another with the vampire king and his court. The love interest of the vampire king also feels too perfect with little flaws or character development. I found it strange that his vampire family encouraged this poor, vulnerable woman to become entangled with their king, and I kept hoping that Penny would have an epiphany that she didn’t need to depend on a strange man/vampire she barely knew to find her worth in the world. Sadly, Of Shadows and Death wasn’t quite the feminist power fantasy I was hoping for.

I did however enjoy the magical aspects of this world and the lore surrounding the five queens that once ruled before. There are hints that other books will be set in this world featuring these queens, and I like the concept of future fantasy retellings based around the mythology of these queens and their lineage.

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The Gatekeeper of Pericael by Hayley Reese Chow

The Gatekeeper of Pericael by Hayley Reese Chow

Twelve-year-old Porter would much rather spend his weekends playing soccer than channeling spirits in the parallel universe of Pericael. Unfortunately for him, Porter’s family has guarded the gate between Earth and monster-filled Pericael for generations, so he’s not getting out of Gatekeeper lessons anytime soon.

But some after-school activities are more dangerous than others.

When a soul thief threatens the gate, Porter reluctantly comes to its defense… and gets thrown deep into Pericael’s dangerous jungle wilderness. With the help of two fierce native girls, Porter must learn to embrace the creepy spirits and find his way back to the gate. But the soul thief is racing for the gate too, and if he gets there first, Porter won’t have a home to go back to.

The Gatekeeper of Pericael is a middle grade adventure about Porter, a twelve-year-old boy who belongs to a line of gatekeepers that protect a magical realm accessible via a portal or magical door in his basement. His mother is the current gatekeeper, and due to Porter’s affinity for magic, he’s now expected to receive magical training to one day follow in her footsteps—a fact that annoys Porter. He’d sooner be playing football rather than being forced into taking after-school magic lessons, and given that the jungle world of Pericael is full of deadly creatures, I don’t blame him. Unfortunately, danger arrives to the jungle village of his mentor in the shape of the Raspurn, a shaman who wants to enter Porter’s real world. As the Raspurn launches his first attack, Porter is accidentally transported further into the jungle with his troublesome cousin. Without the support of his mother or mentor, and with the Raspurn still a threat, poor Porter needs to learn how to handle his magic and get back fast.

This begins his perilous journey through the jungle, though he’s not alone. He picks up allies along the way in the form of two girls from a village sworn to protect and help him, though in some cases, somewhat reluctantly. There are many dangers in the jungle and a lot of responsibility riding on Porter. This pressure causes him to make very human mistakes that lead to consequences, and this is where a lot of middle grade stories, including this one, tend to lose me. There was too much riding on the back of a twelve-year-old, and it made some of the side characters unlikable. While Porter overcomes odds and grows as a character, I couldn’t help but think that he should never have been put in this situation to begin with. It’s terrible parenting! Though jokes aside, while I enjoyed the perilous adventure through the jungle, I didn’t quite understand the threat of the Raspurn. We learn hardly anything about their goals or motivations, and the confrontations with the big bad villain left me unsatisfied as a result.

I did, however, really like the magic system in this world, which is casting spells by writing rune rings and then calling upon spirits to power the spells, though I felt as though the descriptions didn’t give me an accurate picture of how these work. I would have liked to have learned more about them and the spirits!

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To keep up with our process and the competition, please check out our SPFBO 10 page!

If you’d like to know more about the QBA team, then meet us in our introduction post!

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