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Pilgrimage to Skara & Devil’s Night Dawning – Double SPFBO Reviews

Pilgrimage to Skara (cover)Pilgrimage to Skara by Jonathan Pembroke

Self-Published – July 28, 2016
Fantasy
Ebook     3.5/10 stars

It has been nearly two decades since Pell Wendt abandoned the power and prestige of Collum. Ruled by the semi-divine Ajudicar, the city had been his home all his life, but no longer. Spurned by the woman he loved, the former pathfinder, adventurer and criminal walked away from his life of escorting promising youngsters to the shrines of power, and retreated to his farm in the Sogras, to live a life of bitter and brooding rejection.

Now, House Kettiburg has reached out with an offer he can’t refuse: a pilgrimage to Skara, a mythical and dangerous shrine far out in the barbarous Outlands, for the supplicant Keilie – the daughter of the very woman who rejected him.

Trapped by the love his heart cannot deny, Wendt agrees to the pilgrimage and finds himself embroiled in intrigue and betrayal, with far-reaching implications for himself, Keilie, and the tattered remains of the human race.

Making it all the way to the final of the SPFBO is quite an achievement. 300 books were sorted, judged, and in the vast majority were discarded. Just to make it here is something special.

Jonathan Pembroke has to be congratulated for the professional and generous manner in which he has dealt with this final round. Throughout the finals, Pilgrimage to Skara has accumulated a fair degree of criticism already and I really wished I could have bucked that trend.

There are a lot of things that work well in this book. The prose is fluent and while other books in the contest were riddled in typos and errors, I didn’t consciously notice any in this book. (And believe me, Julia notices those – G R Matthews) The worldbuilding was interesting, and I liked the concept of a quest through a dangerous world with all sorts of obstacles and monsters! It has been done before, but there’s a reason for that, it works! The story starts off well, that was a stumbling block for other SPFBO entries, and I was really looking forward to it all unfolding.

The biggest problem is the main protagonist, who is – excuse the language – a right asshole. Not a lovable villain, not a bad guy who achieves redemption, just a self centred, misogynist and all-around repugnant character. And the voice of the book made it seem as if that was just perfectly normal and accepted behaviour – which made for an unpleasant read. Also it seems most of the women along the way would like Wendt in their bed… why???

To quote the other judge: “He’s more Conan than Jorg. It’s a dinosaur.”

There were a few other problems, one obvious plot hole and some dialogue that felt a bit off, though it mostly revolves to how Wendt interacts with women, and how female characters are handled writing wise in the book. Also some side characters that needed fleshing out more – but all these I could have easily overlooked, if the voice and main character weren’t so unpleasant

To end on another, a bit more hopeful direct quote from the other judge: “Plot wise, it’s got a few holes but no worse than some and the general structure is okay.”

I do hope that Jonathan Pembroke writes some more books, perhaps with a more likeable protagonist. I for one will definitely give the author another shot, as the writing itself was solid, and the author, as mentioned above, was really professional about this whole contest!

Devil’s Night Dawning (cover)Devil’s Night Dawning by Damien Black

Self-Published – July 20, 2016
Fantasy
Paperback / Ebook     6/10 stars

As a kingdom teeters on the brink of war, two witch hunters fight to stop a warlock before he unleashes an ancient evil.

For centuries, the Argolian Order has protected the mortal vale from the dark forces of the Other Side. Now the barrier between worlds is breaking down, and two monks must survive a civil war before they can stop the wizard responsible.

When Adelko is assigned to legendary exorcist and witch hunter Horskram, he expects an adventurous life. Death by adventure isn’t what he had in mind – but it seems the only outcome when they learn of a sorcerous theft that threatens the world.

The thief wants to silence them – permanently. And so Horskram and Adelko flee from one danger to another as the Jarl of Thule leads a rebel army against the King of Northalde, plunging the realm into conflict.

And on the Other Side, demonkind reawakens.

This one starts off quite strong!

Right in the first scene we get thrown into an exorcism. This gives the reader some action to draw them right into the book, and it works. This start serves the purpose of giving us an insight into the world and religion without it seeming like an info dump. That’s a good trick and the author Damien Black deserves praise for that.

I liked the main characters right from the start and was excited to learn what would happen next! The book’s hook is a good one. Unfortunately, after that fast start, the pace slowed a lot. While the story, world and characters all sustained my interest, there was just so many detailed descriptions and information to be conveyed that I lost sight of the story and sadly interest too.

There were, however a metric ton of positives too. The prose was exceedingly fluent and there were passages where the turn of phrase and images conjured were better than any other I’ve read for the SPFBO. The characters were likeable and well-drawn, identifying and empathising with them was easy. The world was, in one word, epic. It sprawls about the characters and evokes the magic, the demons and different cultures. It has to be said that the plot too was interesting.

If you like detail, description and information then this book is for you – it might even be the perfect one!

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