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* 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.

If a book you love goes out in this five to fall it does not mean the next books so are better. It’s just that they were read afterwards. 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.

Journey to Osm by Sybrina Durant

Journey to Osm (cover)No metal means no magic in the metal-horned unicorn tribe.

Can a unicorn with neither manage to save his tribe from extinction?

If you enjoyed reading Lord of the Rings, Alice In Wonderland or even Watership Down, you might just love this purely fanciful unicorn fantasy about a tribe of unicorns stranded a universe away from their home world of Unimaise. It is full of magic, adventure and sciencey stuff plus a little bit of love and war.

Facing extinction, the Metal-Horned Unicorns of MarBryn are desperate for hope. Any hope.

So when the Oracle reveals the prophecy promising just that, the remaining members of the tribe pin their future on the birth of a young foal. Hope becomes despair when the baby unicorn is born without metal, because without metal there is no magic. And without magic, this little blue newborn has no chance to defeat the evil sorcerer that has imprisoned all of MarBryn.

Magh’s rule proves both harsh and brutal, and by the time Blue comes of age there are only twelve metal-horns left in all of MarBryn. Eleven can claim some form of metal-based magic, but one must get by on sheer grit, will, and the desire to avenge his parents’ untimely deaths. Like most of the metal-horns, Blue disregards the prophecy as nonsense, but driven by his insecurities, he covertly trains for a fight he’s ill-equipped to win.

And then hope comes back around for Blue, and for the Metal-Horn Unicorns of MarBryn. But can a unicorn with no metal, no magic, answer the call of fate?

This is a book about unicorns who have magic in their horns, horns made of metal. Though ‘made’ implies manufacture and that isn’t correct, they were born with metal horns. Blue is born without a metal horn or magic, and from there the story begins. It has the potential to be an interesting take on a fantasy story—something from the unicorn’s point of view.

However, it just did not click with our reading judges. Some felt the story needed a little more emotional impact, that the unicorns were too human in their outlook and lifestyle, that some of the lengthy descriptions could be dispensed with to involve the reader more in the life of Blue. Whatever our individual reasons were, it just was not for us.

Guardian Blood by Nicholas Hoy

Guardian Blood (cover)A tiered city, magically grown miles high, where the most powerful Mages rule and live in luxury, while the weak or useless Mages live street-level in perpetual darkness.

Em 19, a Tech smuggler, best in the business. Brought up on the deadly streets of Low-Town, where miles-high skyscrapers have created a world of eternal night. Drowning in debt, she takes a risk and heads topside. When a quick score explodes into chaos, Em’s flight for her life lands her right in the middle of a conspiracy spanning back millennia—to when Humans still ruled the world.

Corporate Technologies (CorTex), flagship of the Apex Corporations. Responsible for the creation and distribution of Magical Technologies (Tech), enhancing the lives of all Mages—for a price. An easy thing for Primes, the most powerful and wealthiest Mages on the planet. From their floating Isles, high above the cities, the untouchable ruling-class have no idea what’s coming for their way of life.

Reed Reynolds, an unsuspecting university student and gifted data prodigy is recruited by the Vice Magus of CorTex, Richard Holden, the most powerful Prime in Crescent City, to join the ranks of the elite-class. The young Data Mage is grateful for the once in a lifetime opportunity, and is certain all of his dreams are about to come true, until he finds out that he must hack into the most secure location on the planet—where he’ll discover ancient secrets that could rock the foundations of a global society.

Of all the books in this batch, I scored this one the highest. The mix of magic and technology, the futuristic and different world, the action-packed start, showed a lot of promise. However, it stumbles in the sections we read. The magic is explained, and there is some info-dumping which turned some readers off—we prefer to find out things as the story progresses, not be told it all at the outset. The idea of a mage-grown skyscrapers is fascinating, but the two main characters felt a little flat when set against that backdrop. For those reasons, we had to let it go.

Angel of the Grave by Richard Writhen

Angel of the Grave (cover)BECOME THE FIRE.

An intelligent little girl encounters a talented witch at the local fair and finds out that it’s all in the family.

Interconnected by dreams, two young orphans embark on the long path to find a bloody revenge.

A wealthy lady travels hundreds of miles to become a baroness, but when she consults a diviner, she finds out that she may be in way over her head.

This is an interesting book to let go of at this stage. Firstly, the prose is clean, tidy and in the omniscient style. It features two children as protagonists and talks of bloody revenge, which is a juxtaposition which many a reader would find, at the least, intriguing.

However, in all the worldbuilding at the beginning, very little actually happens. All of our judges commented upon this aspect of the sample. Without that hook, without those stakes, the threat, danger, there is nothing to drive us forward to read more. So, sadly, we have to let it go.

Sword of Queens by Joan Marie Verba

Sword of Queens (cover)The kingdom of Somerlie has been in the grip of the evil overlord Tashtalon for over 500 years. No one has ever seen Tashtalon, but he puts the kingdom to sleep every night, and during the night, people disappear, never to be seen again.

Gill has spent her life thinking these things could not possibly be changed, until strange events point her to the only thing that can defeat Tashtalon: a magical weapon called the Sword of Queens. To prevent its use, Tashtalon made a law saying that any woman wielding a sword will be put to death and he enforces that law savagely. Can Gill summon the courage to find the sword and use it before Tashtalon kills her?

This is set in an uncomfortable world. Women have no power, and the vast majority we encounter at the beginning accept that without complaint. The patriarchy is in full control, women are barely citizens and have little worth or skills. Our protagonist is less accepting, thankfully.

When matters finally get moving, the story gathers some interest, but this takes far too long, and remains unclear. We are assuming that the main character will triumph and the gender-divide will be a thing of the past, but we were not enthused enough to read on.

The Magic of Burrows Bay by Lorri Moulton and Abigail McKee

The Magic of Burrows Bay (cover)Maggie McCrae knew her granddaughters were not ready for the legacy she must leave them. The house, the grounds and everything that went with it would now be theirs. She vowed she would do all she could to protect them and hopefully, give them the time they needed to fulfill their destiny. Gabriella and Moira must learn to trust themselves and each other as they discover the true magic of Burrows Bay.

The Amazon categories for this book are Holiday Romance and Holiday Fiction. This may lead you to believe there is no fantasy in this book, and you’d be mostly correct. The authors have dubbed this “a serialized story about family and friendships” and in that vein it may be more suited to a different readership and competition.

Our judges found the characters emotionless (though they grew a little more emotional over time) and lacking intrigue, plus the book ends on a cliff-hanger with little resolution to the themes. It is fair to reiterate, that this book may do better with a readership who enjoy this genre.

– – –

There it is. Fantasy-Faction’s third Five 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). Keep an eye out for the next Five to Fall article.

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 donna leitch.

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