Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off #2: Another Five Fall
Hot on the heels of the last update, here are another five books to which we are sadly saying goodbye. Again, these books all have something to recommend them – it’s simply that the reviewing team collectively preferred other books. Just as Geoff said in his update, a lot of it comes down to personal taste.
With that in mind, please take my comments with a pinch of salt, and if one of these books appeals to you, go check it out!
The Summerlark Elf by Brandon Draga
Enna Summerlark has spent her entire life as a farmer’s daughter in the kingdom of Hallowspire, paying little mind to anything past what to sell at the next market day. When the next market day comes, however, strange events take place that will reunite her with an old friend, bring her into the world of a pair of sell-swords, and reveal a secret that will change Hallowspire forever, and cause ripples across the whole of the Four Kingdoms.
The Summerlark Elf offers some interesting characters in a well-drawn setting. Though quite traditional (which isn’t at all a bad thing), the worldbuilding is detailed and the author has clearly taken a lot of care over it. The dialogue is also well done and the narration holds an undercurrent of pleasant humour. Our reviewers enjoyed what they read, but found the shifts in character viewpoint made for an occasionally confusing experience, and were distracted by some oddities of punctuation. Overall, we considered it to be a promising book that would appeal to those who enjoy classic fantasy, but there were others in this very high-calibre set that we preferred.
The Cadaver Knight by Rob Donovan
Mikel Rhonson has left so many bodies in his wake that the king of Frindoth anointed him the Cadaver Knight. Yet this master of death is brought to his knees when his lover is slaughtered in bloody sacrifice. When Rhonson encounters a group of rogue knights kidnapping young women, he finds a temporary purpose. But stopping the men who call themselves the Knights of Justice will pit Rhonson against powerful magic and risks the one thing he has left – his soul.
The Cadaver Knight is a dark fantasy promising plenty of action, driven by tragedy and revenge – all grand, epic stuff that makes a gripping story. Yet although we saw the potential in this book, the reviewers collectively felt that we weren’t given enough of Rhonson’s motivations or his murdered lover to connect to them fully. Killing off a female character at the beginning of a book in order to focus on the male protagonist’s emotional pain is a risky strategy, and one that didn’t work for us. We also felt that a little more editing would be beneficial.
Pack Justice by R. J. Blain
Sean’s guardian angel is a feline, but his spirit cheetah prefers rival attorney, Andrea Morgan, over him. Trapped in a failing, dangerous marriage and stalked by an accomplice of one of the most dangerous criminals he’s ever prosecuted, Sean’s troubles are just beginning.
A vacation should have offered him a chance to save his relationship with his wife, Idette. Instead, Sean learns he isn’t the only one with a secret, and his discovery of his wife’s true nature should have killed him.
To ensure Sean’s survival, his cheetah strikes a bargain with a wolf. Faced with life-long enslavement to his wife, becoming an instrument of pack justice seems like the far better alternative.
Unfortunately, pack justice is as brutal as it is swift, and should Sean fail to put an end to Idette’s machinations, everything he values will be targeted and destroyed, including his chance to be with the one woman who might be able to help him salvage the ruins of his life.
Personally I’m always interested in books where people change into creatures and/or have them as spirit familiars/guides. Pack Justice is well written and the initial chapters hint at some interesting revelations to come. However, our reviewers felt that they weren’t given quite enough to grab onto when it came to Sean’s spirit cheetah and the fantasy elements of the story; the focus seemed to be more on Sean’s relationships and his work, whereas we wanted more hints about the cheetah’s purpose and role in the plot ahead. Still, this may well be a case where taste has dictated our decisions, and I imagine this book would appeal to those who like contemporary urban fantasy romance that’s light on worldbuilding.
The Forged Prince by Michael Laird
Young Llew looked far too much like someone else for his own good, particularly when the first to notice this was the ruthless sorceress that ruled his village. Moriganna, the self-styled Queen of Deceit, instantly seized upon him to become her loyal changeling, a weapon by which she intends to usurp a throne and capture a kingdom—the first step in a grander plan.
Six hundred years past, High Queen Boudicca unified the three great peoples of the south and fought the Roman Empire to a standstill, forcing Nero’s retreat from the ancient, enchanted land he called Britannia and which many of its people called Prydein. Thus was the great kingdom of Tethera founded.
The last high king fell over a century ago to treachery and betrayal. All that remains in the lands of the former great kingdom are the crumbling and fading lesser kingdoms that once comprised it. All contact with the outside world has been cut off by a hostile sea, and the land itself stretches and is reshaped, spawning strange and terrible things. All of this is while the Fae grow ever bolder, the Picts encroach, the Northmen invade, the warlords feud, and malign forces vie for their own ends.
Yet, overshadowing all of this, the ruler of Annwyn, kingdom of the dead, is preparing to unleash his end plan, centuries in the making, and nothing will survive long. The prophecies make it quite clear that there is no longer any way to stop him.
Even so, his only real rival, the Queen of Deceit, readies her own counterstroke and, in Llew, is attempting to forge a very special weapon intended to sunder prophecy itself. This would be a weapon even the Lord of Annwyn might find reason to fear, in time, but in Tethera nothing is ever quite as it seems, not even time, and Llew intends to show Moriganna that even a weapon forged for evil can turn in its maker’s grasp and strike in an unexpected direction—most especially a weapon with a mind of its own.
Now a young man, Llew is forced to venture forth through the wilds to usurp a throne he does not desire, to save a kingdom he has never seen, and immediately finds himself pursued by a an array of deadly enemies. Although he has been sent to do the impossible, it now seems impossible he will live long enough to try.
Fortunately, Llew is impossibly optimistic.
Our reviewers really enjoyed the opening action of this book and found plenty to like in the setting. Starting in the thick of things and then jumping back in time to show how the characters reached this point was an effective strategy. In the end, though, a little bit of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ and a little bit of awkward dialogue had a distancing effect on the collective readers. So although we found plenty to like about this book, there are others in the contest that are slightly more polished.
Once a Knight by Brian K. Lowe
Bruce Legume, the legendary White Samurai, has been exiled from Japan (on a technicality). Setting out to find his birth family, he stumbles upon his long-lost brother Stephen, who generously offers to guide his brother through the strange lands of customs of the West, to be his mentor and companion – and to give him the family discount.
Alienated and friendless, Bruce agrees to follow his brother’s lead, proving only that even the legendary White Samurai can make a mistake.
Can the brothers find their family? Can they unravel the family secret, upon which the fate of two kingdoms rests? And most importantly, can they keep from killing each other long enough to get the job done?
Comic fantasy is notoriously difficult to get right, for the simple reason that what readers find funny varies wildly. It’s not like being a stand-up comedian, where you’ve got a room full of people in front of you and if at least a few of them get your jokes, the laughter will spread. Being a comedy writer is more like having to send jokes via text to a single grumpy interviewer who’s just sat back, steepled his fingers, raised an eyebrow and growled, “Amuse me.”
All of which is to say, our reviewers have a lot of admiration for anyone who writes comic fantasy. And indeed, we found Once a Knight to be cleverly written. However, the humour often came across as silly rather than witty, and sadly it didn’t tickle our collective funny-bone as much as we might have liked.
If you like a pun in every paragraph and a smile in every sentence, this may well be for you. But in the end, our reviewers preferred books with a little more depth to them.
Thank you to all the authors for sharing your books with us. It’s been hard letting them go, but that’s the nature of the contest!