SPFBO 10 Semi-Finalist Reveal

SPFBO 10 Semi-Finalist Reveal: Tru

This year, we decided to mix things up a bit and we are not waiting to finish up with the Elimination Round to start having Semi-Finalist Reveals as well. You can just never know what’s going to happen in this Asylum. Tru was the first to finish with their batch, so it’s their time to bring our first SPFBO 10 Semi-Finalist Reveal! They will share their thoughts on their remaining 3 titles, and tell you if they picked a semi-finalist!

A bit about our process ICYMI. Each of us cuts 2 of our titles in the Elimination Round. During the Semi-Finalist Reveal, we look at our remaining titles and at the end of the post we announce our semi-finalist. Fair warning: not all of us might pick a semi-finalist. Once we are all done, we’ll be reading each others’ picks and reviewing those titles individually. Finally, we reveal our finalist in October.

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

Still in the Running

In the Elimination Round, Tru said goodbye to two titles: Of Shadows and Death by Sharlene Healy and The Gatekeeper of Pericael by Hayley Reese Chow (full Elimination Round post here). Below are their thoughts about the rest of their batch, in alphabetical order:

A Circle of Stars by Craig Montgomery

A Circle of Stars by Craig Montgomery

Sometimes you have to leave home to find it… 

All Casper Bell has ever wanted is to belong. But now, abandoned by his friends and family after being outed, he has nothing left to lose when the people of Novilem abduct him.

Except Earth.

Teleported to a world where stars grant humans magic, Casper discovers he has the rare ability to draw power from all twelve astrological signs — a gift that makes him a political pawn for the Estellar Council. But Novilem’s inhabitants seem as hard and cold as the stone their city is carved from, and Casper’s new role leaves him more isolated than ever. Until he meets the grandson of the council’s most powerful woman. Helix is kind, playful, and heartbreakingly handsome, yet it’s how Helix makes him feel that gives Casper hope.

As rebellion brinks in the city, even the Council starts to fracture, reaching
for extreme measures that could cost Casper not only his newfound abilities, but the first place he has ever wanted to call home. Together with Helix, he must uncover the secrets of his full potential —  because the survival of Novilem hinges on Casper’s powers, whether he’s using them or not.

Set inside a hidden lunar city, where astrology is magic and your birth sign defines your social status, A Circle of Stars is a queer young adult fantasy filled with political intrigue and romance.

A Circle of Stars is a YA coming of age sci-fi fantasy that starts off powerfully, as our young MC Casper is kicked out of his home after being outed as gay. With nowhere to go, and no one to turn to, it’s fortunate that he happens to stumble into a group of magic-possessing humans from halfway across the galaxy that see Casper as their chosen one. From there, Casper’s life only changes further as he’s whisked away to start his new life in a way he’d never imagine. Casper and the reader are thrown into some cool worldbuilding. His new home of Novilem is built inside a moon and has a lot of good stuff going for it—it’s queernormative, capitalism doesn’t exist, and everyone has magical abilities based on their zodiac sign. But this new world isn’t quite as perfect as it seems. Being the chosen one means Casper is locked away, unable to see Novilem for what it really is, though as the story develops, he begins to realise that even magical societies have their share of social injustice and inequalities. The story is also told from the secondary perspective of Helix, another teen who grew up with privilege within Novilem and must face it, and Talleah, a mother who is all too familiar with Novilem’s injustices.

While I love the concept of abilities linked to one’s zodiac sign, it does take a little while to get used to the twelve different groups, to which I can sympathize, having also written a book with twelve races and abilities! There’s a glossary at the start of the book with a diagram to help ease you in. Between these three POV characters, there’s a lot going on in the story, with obvious parallels to real-world bigotry and injustice that did feel somewhat heavy handed at times. The developing relationship with Casper and Helix did get a bit too YA and insta-love for me, whereas Casper certainly acts like a teen. However, the unfolding story held my interest and went in directions I wasn’t expecting. For me, it was the character of Brissa who fascinated me most—the leader of Novilem and Helix’s grandmother came across as morally grey in how she ruled Novilem and kept Casper in the dark, but also Helix’s relationship with her was complicated and held depth. I also really appreciated the diversity present throughout the book. Ultimately, regardless of all the cool worldbuilding, A Circle of Stars is a YA story featuring teens with space powers, and that may not be for everyone.

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Chosen by Scarlett Strange

Chosen by Scarlett Strange

To have faith is to believe not when everything is certain, but when nothing is.

Living in a world with no sun, murderous bastards for leaders, and fighting being the highest form of entertainment, Raven has no faith left. Not in the people, not in the universe, and definitely not in herself.

But when the deadliest chase of her life plunges her into a world ruled by sunlight, peace, and cities full of abundance, her lack of faith is challenged. Her arrival triggers a thousand-year-old prophecy that sets her on a path far more dangerous than anything she has ever faced before. To survive and find a way back, Raven must learn to play by the rules of this deadly place.

The assassination attempts aren’t a problem. The court intrigues aren’t a problem. Even the dangerous king who seems obsessed with her isn’t a problem. It is the thing that wakes beneath her skin that might prove to be her biggest challenge yet.

To survive, she must make a choice.

Answer the call she has been ignoring or return to the darkness that now whispers her name.

Perfect for those who love epic adventures, high stakes, badass heroines, and swoon-worthy romance.

Another book featuring a chosen one across two very different worlds, though this one is more adult. The story begins with Raven, a tough woman forced to grow up in what appears to be a future dystopian Boston. Raven’s life is all about survival as resources are scarce and various gangs and factions make every day a struggle against violence. On a mission to earn some extra food, Raven explores a government facility and accidentally falls into another world—a medieval world completely different from her harsh Boston. It quickly becomes apparent that we’re not in Kansas anymore, and what’s more mysterious, is that Raven is the very depiction of this world’s fabled chosen one. While Raven is eager to return home, she’s dragged into a world she certainly wasn’t prepared for—courtly politics, and all the dangers and betrayals that come with it. But Raven isn’t alone, as she has allies and a growing friendship with the handsome king Arden. Her choice then becomes whether she’ll stay in this new world full of abundance to help protect it as their chosen one, or return to the friends left behind that are suffering without her.

It was fun watching Raven slowly adjust from the dystopian world of Boston to a fantasy world lacking in technology but full of everything she ever dreamed of. I liked Raven as she struggled to trust the allies around her, though I would have liked to see more character vulnerabilities and flaws coming from her. There is a strong cast of side characters, and I especially appreciated Erin, the young teenage sidekick who naively believes in the best of Raven, but is also aware of her kingdom’s problems. I’m always a sucker for women that refuse to play patriarchal games. Arden, the love interest, was a fun character also, though the romance didn’t quite work for me as his interest seemed to be in Raven’s status. While I did enjoy this story, I felt that the pace was off throughout. I think it can be hard to balance the before world with the new world, and the abrupt change into the fantasy world felt a bit jarring as so much was built of the before world that was then left deliberately dangling. The middle of the book with the courtly politics was a bit slow paced as Raven seemed to lose some of her character agency there. Then, what I thought was the ending seemed to wrap up quickly before the story continued to the real ending, which also felt a bit jarring.

That said, there was a lot I enjoyed of this story and world, and the ending seems to be setting up for a sequel that promises to be more dangerous and exciting.

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Ghosts of the Catacombs by Janna Ruth

Ghosts of the Catacombs by Janna Ruth

I’m a ghost whisperer, not a catacomb crawler. But when you live in Paris, sometimes you end up being both.

Hi, I’m Alix. During the day, I’m a history student at the time-honoured Sorbonne University. After class, I hang out with the ghosts of the revolution, the many undead misunderstood Parisian artists, and adventurous scientists that glow in the dark. None of them are alive, but they come to me to solve their problems with the living.
When a recently deceased catacomb tour guide asks me to retrieve a mysterious personal item from the underground, things take a turn for the weird. Suddenly, I find myself in a city of ghosts, hunted by murderous cave crawlers, and stumbling across haunting secrets. If I’m not careful now, I might end up a ghost myself.

Urban Fantasy with a French twist. If you like cave-crawling adventures, hopeless romantics, and ghosts, you’ll enjoy Ghosts of the Catacomb, the first instalment of the Parisian Ghosts series. Travel to Paris today to embark on your catacomb adventure.

So the Ghosts of the Catacombs isn’t about a chosen one this time, but our MC Alix is a special young woman who can see and talk to ghosts. Sometimes this can be more of a curse than a blessing! This is an Urban Fantasy set in Paris, which is already a unique setting for the genre. Alix is a student at a French university and works as a tour guide at the Pantheon where she is friends with many famous French artists and celebrity figures throughout history, including Victor Hugo. Some of these ghosts are more charming and friendly than others, but many want Alix’s attention as she is a connection to the living and can run various errands for them. Not only is this a story about Alix’s rare ability, but also her struggle to maintain a normal life and put-up boundaries between herself and the spirits—especially when she begins dating a fellow fan of the famous Paris catacombs.

The story, then, is of Alix exploring the catacombs to help a ghost who is very insistent. During this quest, we learn more about the catacombs and uncover some dangerous goings on in the background. This is a short book, and feels more like an introduction to Alix and her world. There are a few side plot elements that are introduced but not explored or concluded here, which feel like they are being set up for the series. While there is some action, Alix doesn’t seem to be that kind of heroine, so I went into this one expecting her to be more pro-active in line with other action-orientated Urban Fantasy. Instead, what I got was an exploration of Paris with mouthwatering descriptions of food.

I’d say that if you’re hoping for an action-based Urban Fantasy, then this may not be for you, but if like the idea of a cozier spooky mystery with a Parisian flavour, then you’ll enjoy this. I also loved the twist at the end.

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The Semi-Finalist

I read all of these books to the end, and as with my first lot of SPFBOX books, I found unique elements in each that I enjoyed, but they also contained flaws that may not work for the rest of my team. It was an odd coincidence that two of these books are quite similar, featuring two separate worlds and a chosen one trope! As such, I spent some time agonizing over my decision to pick the chosen one destined to become a semi-finalist. Sadly, I can only choose one book to advance, and I have chosen the book that stayed with me after those final pages. And that book is…

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A Circle of Stars by Craig Montgomery

A Circle of the Stars by Craig Montgomery

A strong debut with parallels to real injustices in our modern world. I really loved the unique setting and magic system in this one, which felt extra special to me due to the queernormative and diverse worldbuilding. Casper and Helix are two characters I’d like to see more of as they continue to grow and develop. I wish the author good luck with the rest of the competition!

Our congratulations to Craig Montgomery for becoming Queen’s Book Asylum’s first semi-finalist!

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

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