SPFBO Review: Wings of Justice by Michael-Scott Earle
Michael-Scott Earle is one of the more well-known names to have entered the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off this year. That Wings of Justice made it so far in the competition (we’re officially declaring it our third place runner up) is perhaps unsurprising; but while the SPFBO team here at Fantasy Faction enjoyed Earle’s entry quite a lot, there were a fair number of flaws that prevented us from naming it our finalist.
The premise is interesting and original: an all-female winged police force (the Potentia) keeping order in a multi-tiered city floating hundreds of feet above a desert. The worldbuilding is neatly done, and the author drops hints about this unique world without ever battering the reader over the head with it. The city – Petrasada – is particularly strange in that some parts feel medieval (farms, orphans, carts, taverns, swords, bows and arrows), while other aspects seem very modern (‘Apartment 3c’, the “nests” = police departments). It works, somehow, but is a strange mix for sure.
The premise and worldbuilding are original, but Wings of Justice is by no means flaw free. In particular, the Alula (magical cloaks that enable the Potentia to fly) are almost distractingly deus ex machina – they never get dirty, they repair themselves, they heal the wearer of any injury, they let the wearer never feel tired, heighten their senses, etc. However, the fast pace and the focus on the central mystery means that we’re more or less happy to ignore this. We quickly learn that there are issues within the Potentia, and that the populace of Petrasada are none too happy with the way they’re running things.
Into this cauldron of simmering discontent swoops Anelia, our protagonist, whose first person narrative voice is highly engaging and fun. The newest member of the Potentia, Anelia almost didn’t make the cut, and messes up rather badly during her very first job. Despite being likeable, there are issues with Anelia’s character which are hard to overlook. For instance, she’s somehow able to find hidden clues her much more experienced colleagues can’t; she conveniently ends up heading off on her own investigation where – despite almost failing her fencing classes during training – she single-handedly defeats every opponent she encounters.
But while Wings of Justice excels in originality, it falls slightly flat when it comes to execution. In particular, the dialogue is often distractingly weak; stilted, formal, and almost robotic, there were several instances where a simple conversation between characters would throw me right out of the story. In addition to some seriously weird ideas about what counts as normal sibling banter, many scenes felt rushed, as though the author had been impatient to move on with the story but then never gone back to fill in the gaps and smooth over the dialogue. Prose-wise, Wings of Justice is not ‘badly’ written… but nor is it brilliantly written. However, it is for the most part well paced and entertaining, and does an excellent job of ramping up the tension and unfolding (and deepening) the central mystery piece by piece. Furthermore, the combat scenes are very well done, fast and furious and with a great sense of peril.
You could sum up Wings of Justice as ‘angel cop’s first day on the job’, and you wouldn’t be far wrong. A fun, fast-paced and original read with a kickass yet fallible female protagonist, I know a great many readers will enjoy this one a lot. We certainly did!
Wings of Justice has now been eliminated from the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off.