Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens – SPFBO #6 Finals Review

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God of Gnomes by Demi Harper

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Last Memoria by Rachel Emma Shaw – SPFBO #6 Finals Review

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A Tale of Stars and Shadow by Lisa Cassidy – SPFBO #5 Finals Review

A Tale of Stars and Shadow by Lisa Cassidy – SPFBO #5 Finals Review
Book Name: A Tale of Stars and Shadow
Author: Lisa Cassidy
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: May 18, 2019


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 and fresh roadkill on their tongue. To each their own, I suppose.

These are the finalists of the 5th annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. Respected blogs, reviewers and readers out there chose these books as the best of their bunch. On that basis alone they deserve a hearty well done! With that in mind, we will review each book honestly and give our opinion (and score).

And this is how these reviews will work. The star number at the top of the page is the average of all the judges’ scores, and the score we are submitting for the contest. Judges will give their individual score below and say a little bit about why they scored the story the way they did.

Now, onwards with another review of the finalists of SPFBO #5!


Dumnorix princess and born warrior, Talyn Dynan, was the finest fighter of her generation. With her Callanan partner at her side, she was invincible, reckless, a death-knell to their enemies. But after her partner is torn away from her, Talyn is left broken, wracked with guilt and unable to regain the confidence she once had. Could an unexpected mission to the mysterious country of Mithranar, home of the magical winged folk, be the thing that saves her? Or will the danger and secrets she finds there finally break her completely?

The Shadowhawk lives a life in the shadows. Constantly hunted for his criminal exploits, yet desperate to help the human folk of Mithranar who are oppressed by their winged folk rulers, he haunts the streets of Dock City. The arrival of a foreign warrior threatens to upset the carefully balanced life he leads, but when she begins to offer a hope for the humans he’s only ever dreamed of, can he risk trusting her?

Unbeknownst to both, a mysterious foe stalks the dark corners of Dock City. One that answers to a single purpose…


Judge’s Thoughts

A. M. Justice

I have a nostalgic soft spot for The Scarlet Pimpernel, and the best thing about this book was how it hit that button dead on. It’s always fun to guess the secret identity of a clandestine character, and the need to see whether I was right kept me turning the pages.

However, although I liked the (admittedly trope-filled) story, much of the storytelling left me cold, and early on, I very nearly DNFed (Did Not Finish) this book. Primarily, the writing was verbose and overwritten at every level. Unnecessary adverbs and prepositional phrases cluttered the sentences, and repetitive introspection and needless exposition by both of the main characters bogged down the pacing and undermined the emotional impact of the story. This is another finalist that could have been a very good book with another round or two of editing—there are some lovely flowers in the weeds here, which would have shown a lot better after some ruthless pruning.

I also wish the author had advanced the story past the reveal of Shadowhawk’s identity to get to the meat of the dastardly doings in his land. A few events occurred near the end that I thought should have come closer to the mid-point, so both the political intrigue and the personal relationships could have developed further. Unfortunately, what ought, in my opinion, to have been a subplot (training of a ragtag group of criminal misfits into an elite combat unit) was given plot-primacy, which didn’t leave enough room for the far more interesting cat and mouse intrigue surrounding the Shadowhawk.

Lynn Kempner

This novel has a lot going for it. Well written and edited makes it smooth and easy reading. The flawed protagonist, Talyn Dylan, was once a warrior of the highest caliber but finds herself bereft of the confidence she once shared with her Callanan partner, Sari. After Sari’s death, Talyn hears Sari in her head constantly as if she were still alive and though she can ignore it, she has to wonder at her own sanity and competence.

She is now a Kingsguard in her home of Ryathl where she is a member of the royal family, niece to the King of the Twin Thrones. It’s time for her training to end and assignment to post. She doesn’t expect it to be in Mithranar, home to winged humans with a different magic than that found in humans. Most magic throughout this fantasy is quite low key and addressed as a common trait in many types of people.

The author deftly addresses the racism between humans and the winged folk Talyn finds rampant in the city, as well as the misogynistic attitude of the elite guard. Assigned ostensibly to train these guards, Talyn finds herself assigned as the captain of the personal guard of the youngest prince. Given the pick of nothing more than criminals of varying offenses, she must train a wing of guards to protect Prince Cuinn Acondor, who wants nothing to do with her protection.

There’s also a mystery in the form of the Shadowhawk, a sort of Robin Hood to the humans who are heavily oppressed by the winged Mithranar, starving and living in squalor at the feet of the majestic soaring city.

The characterizations are good, and the author takes time to build relationships between the cast. The result is an intriguing tale of overcoming hardships and lifelong indoctrinations. The story finishes on an upbeat result but leaves the author room for more adventure in this well-built world.

Julia Sarene

Sadly, this one didn’t work for me as well as it did for a lot of other readers.

I simply didn’t click with the characters, and after 50 pages it didn’t feel like the plot had even started. I am fine with a slow start if the characters draw me in. I’m fine with characters that have yet to develop and grow on me if the story or world is interesting enough to keep me hooked anyway. But here I didn’t much care for the characters and the story also didn’t manage to hook me in any way at the start. The worldbuilding was the one redeeming part, as I liked the idea of the winged people and the difference between those with and without the ability to fly causing all sorts of conflict. But that alone wasn’t enough to keep me reading. 

The prose felt a bit too descriptive for my personal taste and didn’t allow me to fully dive into the world and forget I was reading the book and not reading it. That’s just a personal preference though, as I know that is exactly what other judges liked a lot!

While the later part of the book gets faster and more interesting, and the characters do grow in depth, I would never have kept reading over the 50 page mark if it wasn’t for the contest. A book I would have DNFed as an “ordinary reader” isn’t one I can give more than a 6/10 overall as I would only recommend it to people who have quite a bit of patience in their reading!

Rakib Ahmad Khan

Well, first things first, this one could have benefited from some editing. The prose really did have a few problems with word selection and was a bit over descriptive at times. I really liked the setting and worldbuilding, the racial differences between humans and the winged people does add a bit of a realistic nature within this fantasy setting.

The characters were quite interesting, despite the mystery of Shadowhawk being quite obvious. The author could have definitely taken a different approach to the storyline progression, but I guess she might have been aiming to keep stuff for the sequels. The enjoyment factor was high, despite the flaws.

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A Tale of Stars and Shadow appears to be picking up a lot of good reviews over on Goodreads and our score reflects the average of all the judges who read it; for some it really worked, and for others not so much. Such is the nature of art and reading. There is a lot to recommend in this book. I’m sure many readers will pick it up and enjoy it!


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