SPFBO 10 Elimination Round

SPFBO 10 Elimination Round: Liis

We continue with 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.

Previous Elimination Round posts: Tru, Timy

Note from Liis

What can I say? It’s a tough competition, and in the end, “there can be only one.” The cuts are not fun, of course they’re not, and some of the cuts are really painful. A lot of good books get eliminated. So, I implore folks to check out the books even if they’re cut – read them, review them, spread the bookish love. My goal was to read 100% of the books allocated to me before I start cutting and deciding, and I managed that with 4 books out of 5. I went in expecting great entertainment, because this is what reading fiction is to me, and quite honestly, I can say that each book in my batch will have their fans. That’s for sure. But here and now? Well, I can tell, I have a semi-finalist in mind, and it was a very close competition indeed.

The Elimination

Dawn of the Darkest Day by K.C. Woodruff

Dawn of the Darkest Day by K.C. Woodruff

An artist plagued by a violent past.
An heir destined to never take her own throne.
A tyrant bound to life, consumed by his bloody trail.

Dawn breaks over a dying land.
Ever since surviving the bloody coup that cost Ara her home and Stedd his family, they’ve found solace in each other’s arms, dreaming of a life where Ara can cultivate her gardening and engineering talents while Stedd flourishes in his art. But the old magic that once held Evenia together has long faded, and when King Vayne Savant learns of Ara’s godly heritage and royal bloodline, she turns from a budding engineer into a reluctant bride, and a pawn in his cunning plan to dominate the continent amid its technological collapse.

Desperate to escape her husband’s bloodstained grasp, Ara strikes a dark deal with the king: a child—the heir to two thrones—in exchange for her freedom. Her plan should have been simple, but in between sieges, squabbling, and sessions of pleasure are nights spent waking to assassins’ blades at her throat and the threat of sinister societies formidable enough to outsmart even Savant’s cunning.

Unwilling to lose Ara, Stedd sets down his paintbrush and picks up a blade, entering a war he doesn’t understand. But the line between love and hatred is a thin one, and Stedd soon finds himself torn between rescuing the love of his life or pursuing revenge on the man who destroyed it.

The fate of the continent lies in the hands of a ruthless conqueror and a pacifistic queen, their destinies far more than they understand. If they can find common ground, Evenia may be saved. But the obstacles that lie in their wake are more than they can anticipate, and the consequences for failure greater than they could imagine.

Read: 50%

Dawn of the Darkest Day promised to deliver dark fantasy romance. And, yes, the 50% that I read has exactly all of that. Fantasy elements. Dark, dark emotions and events – triggering events. Romance. Romance? Well, aside from the little, innocent love story Ara, our main female character, has before her forced marriage, there is no romance at least until the 50% mark. It’s all non-consensual, forced upon, not really wanting it kind of sex, mixed with consensual dalliance, and very – VERY – conflicting character emotions.

A bit about the story. We have Vayne Savant – an immortal king – and he is in the process of eliminating a whole race of people, when a frantic father arrives in front of him, asking Savant to spare his wife and daughter, Ara. In exchange for their lives, the father promises the king his daughter’s hand in marriage, and thus also a union of 2 countries. 5 years pass from when this agreement is struck and during these 5 years, Ara is enjoying her puppy love with promises of a future together with artist Stedd. Just before Stedd has time to formally propose, time runs out on Ara and she has to appear in front of terrible king Savant. She doesn’t know that she is to be married until she is literally getting married.

Savant appears to be polite in the first few exchanges and Ara is a paralyzed deer in the headlights. Thus starts one of the most verbally and physically abusive and emotionally most confusing relationships of all times. Savant has political ambitions, a busy man indeed, and he does not fail to remind Ara that he thinks her to be naive, immature and dumb. Ara, however, only thinks of how to escape said marriage and then starts to, I don’t know, hate-shag her way to a solution. The solution? Give the king an heir and in exchange, she will be free. Anyway – trigger warnings galore, okay? Aside from rape and verbal abuse, there is slavery, genocide, suicidal thoughts, and death. During all of the horrible things piling up, there is a war and Ara ‘fighting’ her way from a victim to someone who can be strong and free. She is meant to be intelligent, scientifically smart and innovative, but the character traits that are meant to make her shine are buried under abuse from her husband, and a side-dalliance from a kinder soul.

See, I am thinking this whole story or the characters are buried a bit too deep under ‘things’. Things that keep happening to them. Things for the sake of things. The characters simply become a series of unfortunate events and messed up, contradicting emotions. Granted, Savant was quite consistent in being cruel. Ara however, threw me for loops.

I do want to say, that the book starts out with some cool fantasy elements – the world that is being described, the different people and countries, there appeared to be a vision of a mysterious and beautiful realm. I wanted so much more of that, a lot less of the romance plot which was not at all pleasant to read what with all the verbal and physical abuse. The fantastical, mysterious, full of promise world was quickly left to the sidelines to focus on the relationships in between the characters whilst they battle through some political intrigue. The latter of which was a subtle undercurrent, yet again, overshadowed by the abusive relationship dynamics.

I did try to push through this story, but had to concede defeat. My main issue was that it felt like it was put together from 2 different angles: the story doesn’t quite know whether it wants to be mature or not. Some exchanges feel rather Young Adult, and then in the next moment, we’re in steam territory among turnips in the pantry, alongside the aforementioned abuse and self hatred. If you feel like you want to measure the cut of Savant and Ara yourself and find out exactly how morally grey things are, or aren’t, then do check this book out! And don’t forget to be prepared for those trigger warnings.

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Glory to the Waxing Sun by Cooper Ward

Glory to the Waxing Sun by Cooper Ward

Each winter, the People of the green land gather at their henges to mourn the newly dead. And to offer up one life to the god who loves them most, to aid him in his holy war against the darkness and the cold.

The Ardring, greatest of the henges, has stood from time immemorial as a symbol of the power of the ruling line. With iron in their fists and fire on their brows they have reigned unchallenged. Divinity made flesh.

But now the green land is blanketed in snow, and bloody banners fly above the Ardring. Deep within its black stone bones is a priestess with a thousand thousand eyes. Beneath the dismal winter sky brews a desperate clash that will forever reshape the green land – if it survives at all.

Read: 100%

Glory to the Waxing Sun feels older than time. Ancient. Nordic, Celtic, Native. A mix of spiritual and holy, and a bow to the pagan ways. If there is darkness, then we must simply worship the sun.

In the tale itself, we have ‘the kid’ – our main character who is throughout the story referred to as ‘the kid’ even though everyone else has a name. He, alongside a couple of others, will become a houndsman, a sort of a priest, with an animal familiar, who tends to sun worshipping rituals meant to fight against the darkness. We follow The Kid as he matures and learns the ways of the world and yet not all secrets and knowledge is handed to him, some things he must find out for himself. He meets others who would have higher ambitions and he has to swiftly pick sides, and do what is right. It’s a simple tale, with some unexpected turns to the story, and it beautifully manages to keep the consistent atmosphere throughout.

It’s quite hard to describe it in a succinct manner. It was trippy, smoke-tent-deep-drums-interdimensional-kind of trippy, and it’s a story that could be told for generations. I must commend the writing as it was solid and consistent from start to finish. The prose was quite mature and complex in delivering the cosmic feel, the presence of something greater. At times it felt like a rolling fairy tale, enchanting and dangerous. Other times it was like a theatrical piece, with multiple palpable culmination points. It could easily be in the form of an epic poem, turned into an opera or ballet piece. With less than 200 pages, this story delivers dramatic tension and silent contemplation. It also delivers the simple fact that without sun we are nothing, and that a life sacrificed in honor of it is a given to fight the darkness.

I do not have any major criticisms to offer here. I enjoyed this story a lot and would implore others to check it out. As I mentioned at the very start, the competition in my batch was very close and this is one of my most regrettable cuts.

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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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