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Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off #5: Fifth Seven to Fall

* Disclaimer *

Writing and reading are subjective arts. What some folks will absolutely love, others will dislike. It is a bit like Marmite in the UK—normal people dislike it intensely, but some weird folks actually enjoy the taste of warm road surface with fresh roadkill upon their tongue. To each their own, I suppose.

Anyway, in this competition, we at Fantasy-Faction are reading 30 books in no particular order and ‘rejecting’ them in similar fashion. And, to be clear, we are reading like agents. We read the first three chapters or ten thousand words (give or take), using the Amazon Sample, whenever possible. Our judges record their comments and we base our decisions to keep or, sadly, reject based on that alone.

The eventual finalist will be the book we thought was most engaging, well-written, exciting, of our 30 books. There can be only one!

If you have no idea what we’re talking about. You can learn more about the SPFBO here.

IRON by Aiki Flinthart

IRON (cover)Kalima, an Earth-colony world with little iron ore and no fossil fuels, is entrenched in a peaceful feudal society. The Jundom of Mamalakah is ruled by the ambitious Hanna Zah-Hill, wife of the Jun First. Deep in debt, she wants technological progress. But Mistress Li, leader of the Xintou House, prefers to keep the status quo. And has the power to do so.

When Alere Connor—skilled swordswoman and failed xintou-telepath—is sent by Xintou House to act as mistress to Jun First Radan Zah-Hill, she unwittingly triggers a revolution against the House and against the throne. On his deathbed, Radan reveals the existence of a hidden iron deposit. With several factions vying for political domination of the Jundom, control of the iron would tip the balance of power.

Alere is accused of the Jun First’s murder and flees for her life. She must reach and warn the Jun Second, Rafi Koh-Lin, on whose lands the iron ore lies. If she fails, all-out war is inevitable—the first ever war in the seven-hundred-year history of Kalima.

On the way, Alere will uncover the old and bloody secret of her own existence, the reason for her failure as a xintou-telepath, and unlock and even darker future for herself and her companions.

But only if she survives.

IRON has a distinct Asian flavour and this won a good portion of the judges over straight away. By the second chapter there is enough mystery, secrets and political double-dealing to get the reader interested, making it one of the stronger starts to the thirty books we’ve read. But once the main character reaches the castle, after all the buildup, tension, and expectation, the time she spends there is far too short. It is done to get the rest of the story underway, but it was an anticlimax after a strong start. For that reason, we had to let it go.

The Lich’s Heart by Watson Davis

The Lich's Heart (cover)A rebellion rising. A land under siege. Can a conflicted priestess defeat an ancient, ruthless magic?

Hanno’s husband is dead. Filled with pain, the priestess and healer questions her faith in the almighty Eternal Council. When she unknowingly aids a wounded rebel, she’s forced to choose between returning to her old life or taking up arms against the rulers she used to worship.

Deep within the heart of the rebel ranks, Hanno witnesses the Council cut down the lives of her new and dwindling allies. But the healer knows a secret. If she’s able to reach the enemy’s hidden, vulnerable weakness, then the rebels may just have a chance to avoid obliteration.

Can Hanno guide her people to freedom, or will vicious rulers make her pay dearly for her betrayal?

The start of this book hooks you in and you want to read on when you discover a solid story arc. The characters are easy to click with and there’s enough mystery to keep the reader engaged. However, after a very polished and smooth start things start to go downhill. There’s some repetitive prose and the characters start to make decisions that feel off and don’t fit with their previous behaviours. The pacing is uneven, with many scenes that seem little more than character banter filling space between the occasional well-done action sequence. Things seem to happen just for the plot, and characters go from capable and wise to naive and even a bit stupid. In the end, we let this one go, because it didn’t live up to its promise.

Catalyst Moon: Incursion by Lauren L. Garcia

Incursion (cover)Kali, a mage who longs to run from the painful memories of her deceased father, travels to Whitewater City to meet with a powerful healer. When her sentinel escort is decimated by monstrous bandits, she is left in the company of a single sentinel, Stonewall, a man with nothing left but his chosen name and his faith in the gods. Together, they must survive demonic creatures, bloodthirsty nomads, and a strange magic never seen before.

But trouble brews in Whitewater City. Sentinel Commander Talon struggles to keep the mages captive as Eris, a shape-changing mage, prepares for an escape of her own. Meanwhile, Milo, a new sentinel, must decide if the path he’s chosen is the right one after tragedy strikes his squad.

The judges liked the concept of the society with a strict caste system where mages are feared and kept cloistered in prisons to protect the populace. There’s a nice romance at the core of the story that develops slowly and believably, so it works well. The writing is solid and there is little to pull you out of the story with well-done action scenes and some good descriptions.

It was all shaping up to be a book that stood a chance of making it to the final five, but we have to let it go. Because by the turn of the last page, nothing has really happened. There are characters introduced, a romance blossoms, but there is no resolution to pay off the time invested. Perhaps the next book in the series delves deeper into the mysteries and conflicts, but unfortunately, we have to judge each book on its own merits, so we had to let this one go.

The Keeper and the Compass by Katie Baker

The Keeper and the Compass (cover)Their families are trapped in a book by the Sorceress, and the ransom to get them out is insane.

Cinderella’s stepsister’s severed toe? Gold from Jack and the Beanstalk? Who is this crazy woman and what does she want with her prisoners? Best friends Josh and Jenny must rely on the Compass—their ticket into books— to find all the items demanded by the Sorceress, and hopefully getting their families back.

With the help of new, very capable friends, who train them to fight, think, and survive, Josh and Jenny undertake the rescue mission. Will they survive? Do they have what it takes to find each item? And how on earth will they deal with their changing feelings for each other amidst all the other craziness in their lives?

The Keeper and the Compass is a book aimed at a younger audience and will definitely appeal to those who love their fairy tales turned around, a measure of teenage angst, and characters who may be much more than they seem. The prologue does its job of setting up a villain and an important character, and then we’re into the main book following a different character as she navigates her teenage years. There is a charm to the book; however, we had to let it go because the hook did not set deep enough for all our judges, and there were other books we thought were more interesting.

Vultures by Luke Tarzian

Vultures (cover)An enemy slain is not a conflict won.

After decades of war, the demon Te Mirkvahíl is dead. But its progeny endure, spilling from the Heart of Mirkúr, sowing death across the land of Ariath. If the people are to finally know peace, the Heart must be destroyed. Theailys An believes he can do just that with The Keepers’ Wrath, an infamous power focus wrought in Ariath’s yesteryears—but the weapon first must be reforged.

War spares no one.

Serece never intended to get involved in Ariath’s war. But history and demons have a way of pulling strings. When she learns Theailys An, a man whom she abhors, bears striking similarity to the first creator of The Keepers’ Wrath, Serece departs her mountain world for Ariath to ascertain the truth.

From patience, hope.

For millennia Behtréal has walked the world alone. Rewriting history to resurrect his people is easier said than done. But Ariath holds the key—soon The Keepers’ Wrath will be remade.

Truth from madness.

As paths converge and a shadow falls across Ariath, one thing becomes increasingly and horrifyingly clear—these events have played out many times before.

With Vultures there was a coming together of all the judges’ views. This book has some real possibilities and the production values are excellent. Unfortunately, the first chapter keeps so much hidden and referred obliquely to many things that it resulted in confusion for all the judges. No one was sure where the story was going or what had happened. Chapter two introduces a new character and point of view, and though there were some moments of interest we had to let it go.

Demon Child by Kat Cotton

Demon Child (cover)This demon fighting business used to be so simple. Get in, use my sex thrall to dust pesky incubi and get paid the big bucks. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

Now there’s a Demon Child on a feeding rampage. I’ll get all the kudos if I kill him but no one’s fronting up with the cash—and you can’t eat kudos. Then the most infuriating vampire I’ve ever met wants to hire me. By the way, working for a vampire is strictly taboo.

So, how do I kill this one? Can’t use my sex thrall when he looks like a kid, silver doesn’t hurt him and stakes don’t work either. This time, I have to rely on my wits, my skills and, worst of all, teamwork! We might all be doomed.

If you like snarky vampires, snappy dialogue, and hot-blooded team dynamics, then you’ll love this fiendishly fun adventure.

This is decidedly urban fantasy with a modicum of stress of the word fantasy. The Demon Hunter we follow at the beginning of this book is very confident, almost arrogant in her abilities:

“There were two Demon Fighters in this town. One of them was made of awesome, and that was me.”

She specialises in dealing with Sex Demons, and the story moves along at a good clip, introducing new characters and with some action (fighting, not sex—at least at the start). We had to let this one fall because while it does nothing particularly wrong, we didn’t love it.

Children of the Blessing by Perry Morris

Children of the Blessing (cover)Long before the world of man, demons and demigods battled for dominance. After the demons were finally bound in the Well of Sacrifice, the system of good and evil became tentatively balanced. Now that balance is threatened.

Marked at birth by the gods, Renn and Avaris set in motion an ancient prophecy that promises to shift the balance of power, so dark forces will rule unchecked. With armies and a host of magic users at his command, the Grand Warlock, Khan Devin, is determined to use the boys to fix his place as the unchallenged ruler of man.

When Renn comes of age, his family is attacked and his home destroyed by Khan’s followers. Joining other teenage Lore users, Renn has to make the perilous journey across the continent to reach the safety of Elder Island to be trained by the Lore Masters, with Khan Devin determined to stop them at every step. 

Far to the north, Avaris is abandoned and left for dead by his father, the high clan chief, who fears his blessed child. Now on his own, Avaris fights for survival with the help of an outcast necromancer. But when Avaris’s tribe is attacked by Khan’s evil creatures and the survivors taken as slaves, Avaris must find a way to free his people. He follows the evil creatures to the Cragg Mountains, where he must face the full forces of the evil side of the Lore.

Renn and Avaris must defeat Kahn Devin and his dark forces before the demons are unleashed and the world devolves into never-ending despair, which means Renn and Avaris must accomplish the impossible and change their destiny.

I could spend some time explaining the book, but the blurb does it well enough and in enough detail. There are some maps and flags inside that one judge enjoyed. There are two main characters, children, who the reader follows through the story, and there is a definite “farm boy with magic” vibe going on, which is still a successful trope if exploited well.

However, we had to let this one go, as our judges did not connect with the two characters and were left a little confused after the first chapter or two.

– – –

There it is. Fantasy-Faction’s fifth To Fall post of the 2019 SPFBO. Again, it is important to note that these are just the judges’ opinions on the samples we read. Others may view the books differently. That’s what makes writing and reading so much fun (and so infuriating).

You’ll have been counting, so you’ll know we have just three books left. And prior to putting this article together, there was much discussion, a lot of praising our favourites, and fighting individual corners. I’ll say the team are quite happy with the final three, and the eventual winner. We hope you are too!

Our judges are: David Zampa, G R Matthews, Julia Sarene, Jessica Juby, Katrik Narayanan, A M Justice, Lynn Kempner, and Mariëlle Ooms.

If you’d like to learn more about this year’s judges you can read about them here.

Any queries should be directed to me (G R Matthews) via DM (Facebook/Twitter) or my contact form here.

Title image by Agata.

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One Comment

  1. Avatar Watson Davis says:

    Thanks so much. Sorry my book didn’t do it for y’all.

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