Seven Deaths of an Empire by G. R. Matthews

Seven Deaths of an Empire

ARC Review

On Character Voice

On Character Voice


A List of LGBTQIA+ SFF Authors for Pride

An Incomplete List



Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off #5: Next Five 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.

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.

Brinlin Isle by Robin Stephen

Brinlin Isle (cover)The aquatic variant of the bydus volkus family is called: brinlin. Tiny, water dwelling, and sensitive to cold, brinlins are characterized by a smooth, two-toned hide, an open temperament, and frequent vocalizations. A human who bonds a brinlin can attain (with proper study) a total mastery of passive spellwork.

Marim and her tessila, Kix, survived the War of Diodsfall. But they came away with scars. Some of these are obvious at a glance: the marks around Marim’s throat, the damaged scales on Kix’s back. The deeper scars though—the internal ones—are only obvious to others who can wield magic.

Being surrounded by Tessilari more accomplished than she is has grown tiresome. So Marim sets out on a voyage of discovery. Instead of inspiring awe in the sailors she embarks with, however, she spooks them. And thus she finds herself stranded on the tiny island of Cynnes Tarth with its constant blanket of fog.

The locals have forgotten what lies within that fog, but they do remember to be careful. Don’t let the children play in warmlake. Don’t go into the forest. There’s a secret here. Marim can sense it. When she meets a suffering boy and recognizes his affliction as magical in nature, she must deduce what no one will tell her if she hopes to save his life.

This is the first of the ‘shorter’ books in this batch and as such some judges were happy to read on past the sample and to the end. There is a definite charm to the book, but its very shortness works against it. A lot of space is devoted to backstory, and we felt we could have connected to the characters better if the major events (especially ones involving the main character) were presented fully as part of the story. As such, at the very moment when the reader should be awed, they are left a little underwhelmed. For this reason, we had to let this one go.

Quill by A. C. Cobble

Quill (cover)The fate of empire is to crumble from within.

A heinous murder in a small village reveals a terrible truth. Sorcery, once thought dead in Enhover, is not. Evidence of an occult ritual and human sacrifice proves dark power has been called upon again. Twisting threads of clues lead across the known world to the end of a vast empire, and then, the trail returns home.

Duke Oliver Wellesley, son of the king, cartographer, and adventurer, has better things to do than investigate a murder in a sleepy fishing hamlet. For Crown and Company, though, he goes where he’s told. As the investigation leads to deeper and darker places, he’ll be forced to confront the horrific spectres rising from the shadows of his past. When faced with the truth, will he sacrifice what is necessary to survive?

Samantha serves a Church that claims to no longer need her skills. She’s apprenticed to a priest-assassin that no one knows. Driven by a mad prophecy, her mentor has prepared her for a battle with ultimate darkness, except, sorcery is dead. When all is at stake, can she call upon an arcane craft the rest of the world has forgotten?

A lot of judges went into this sample expecting to like it a lot and there is a glowing review from one FF writer on the main site already. There is a world of intrigue to explore, with occultism and a murder mystery. Sadly, the writing didn’t match the promise for us. Some judges felt aspects of the sample did not advance the characters and detracted from the story. There are others in our batch we felt had stronger starts, which is why we are letting this one go. 

Klone’s Stronghold by Joyce Reynolds-Ward

Klone's Stronghold (cover)In a world of supernatural beings, not knowing what you are is dangerous.

After Reeni Dutta’s ex-husband Karl attacks her at a music festival, she finds refuge teaching cryptid construct children at Klone’s Stronghold in northeastern Oregon’s isolated Bucket Mountains. But things are not as they seem at the Stronghold, from the older proprietors of a nearby store and the Stronghold’s leader Alexander Reed Klone, to Reeni herself. She discovers it’s not just Karl who seeks to control who and what she is, but forces from her past that threaten her present. Can she learn the truth about herself and do what is needed in time to defend the Stronghold?

It has to be said, that this book is quite short. There is nothing wrong with a short books. Indeed some classics are quite minimal in the page department. And this book does squeeze some good ideas into the space and it has a charm which engaged a few of our judges. The idea of elementals might not be new, but the twist (to our judges) of chimera’s being engineered, with Bigfoot and other creatures was interesting.

Sadly, we are letting it go because, although we enjoyed it, there are others we felt were stronger entries.

Ghostkiller by Marc Vun Kannon

Ghost Killer (cover)John Smith rescues the dead, saving them from an eternity as powerless shades. He kills ghosts, adding their life force to his own meager supply, and sends the naked souls on to where they should have gone in the first place. He is the first of his kind, the oldest, the best, but that comes with a price. He has no other family, no other friends. He’s done a lot but forgotten more, and life has a way of reminding him he hasn’t seen it all.

Like today. A friend murdered, his ghost is haunting John and weakening rapidly. To save the ghost John needs the body, which is prowling around the city somewhere, mindlessly killing every living thing it touches, and is even more toxic to Ghostkillers. It’s a virus waiting to spread. Fortunately, John has human allies to capture the body, risking their lives so he doesn’t have to risk his soul. He has enough to deal with.

When a medium discovers the presence of an evil spirit at the crime scene, he follows the lead into disaster: the spirit and the body are in the same place. But his allies have tracked the body, and they corner it, just in time to…

…Watch it become possessed by the evil spirit, with powers of pain to go with the body’s deadly touch?

…Hear it grind out the word ‘kill’ while staring at John Smith?

…Know to the bottom of their souls that John will be only the first to be damned?

Definitely not one of his better days.

We quite liked the title of this sample: Ghostkiller. Is the ghost the killer or does the protagonist kills ghosts, which if they are already dead must be really tough! And it appears it is from the sample we read. There is a really intriguing idea wrapped up in the beginning of the book, and some promise of later unraveling of mysteries with, we suspect, some betrayal along the way.

However, we are letting this one go, as it did not capture our interest as much as others in our group.

Inquisitor by G. J. Reilly

Inquisitor (cover)Michael Ware unknowingly finds himself on the brink of war. Officially the first child born at the turn of the millennium, Michael has inherited a gift that will one day force him to choose between the sorcerers of the Elder Council and the psychics of the Inquisition.

When Michael leaves home for the exclusive Braxton Academy, he discovers the truth depends on your point of view, and comfort and opulence come at a heavy price.

This sample managed to get agreement from all the judges who read it. There is a definite Harry Potter vibe with the section we read concerned entirely with young primary aged children being tested for some power, magic, or skill. An educational foundation operates some very selective and prestigious (e.g. you have to be rich to go there) schools, but they’ll open up a spot to any child who can demonstrate the aptitude they require. They don’t say what that is, and the testing is carried out in all primary schools (much like the 11+ in areas of selective education in the UK).

There are enough ideas within the sample and the blurb to create some intrigue and interest, though it did not hook any of our judges into wanting to read more when balanced against the other books in our batch. For that reason, we had to let it go.

– – –

There it is. Fantasy-Faction’s forth 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 Maria Paula Contreras.



  1. The title is really Ghostkiller. In order to save the soul that clings futilely to the shreds of its life, a Ghostkiller puts it through death a second time, draining away the life force and reopening the door to whatever is on the other side and forcing the soul through it. It’s really an act of mercy, since once the life energy runs out the soul would be trapped forever on this side as a powerless scrap.
    For this book that’s the ordinary part. That’s the day job. The murder mystery, monster hunting, and global apocalypse starts in chapter 2.

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