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Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off #6: The Second Five Fall

Word Cloud

Each SPFBO, Mark Lawrence makes a Wordle of the titles entered that year. The biggest words represent those used most often, and Fantasy-Faction got our share of the books with dragon and shadow in the title. Today we must cut two of our dragon titles, but two more dragons and all five shadows are still in the running.

Reading is a subjective exercise, and although we are letting five books go today, that doesn’t mean each one has nothing to offer readers. We encourage everyone to read our thoughts below and if a book looks like your jam, give it a try!

Dragons, Knights, and Dinosaurs by Vincent B. Moneymaker

Dragons, Knights, and Dinosaurs (cover)Having fled their Order’s destruction on Earth, the legendary Knights Templar escape to a world where dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures are among the many deadly dangers they face. The greatest of these dangers, however, may be an ancient dragon whose existence predates even that of Earth. And with the dragon and her kind intent on returning to Earth, the Knights Templar must fight not only to save themselves but the world they left behind.

A lot of us have an inner eight-year-old who can’t wait to curl up in the corner of the treehouse with this book. After all, there are knights ridin’ dinosaurs and fightin’ dragons! Unfortunately, the premise itself didn’t catch all the judges’ fancy, and those who did like the idea, didn’t care for the execution. Descriptions were overly detailed in a way that put our judges off rather than drew them in. The mix of modern and ancient didn’t mesh well, with judges finding it less intriguing and more disconcerting.

Era of Undying by Emilie Knight

Era of Undying (cover)There hasn’t been a Blood Warrior for decades. Everyone assumed they were extinct and couldn’t return. Turns out they were just in hiding. Pen chose to revert back to her nomadic life after the death of her family. Life was always safer that way, away from people. Now she’s been caught, and odd occurrences have been happening in Ichorisis. People are surviving horrible injuries and illnesses they shouldn’t be. Now that Pen is under custody of one of the several kings, she’s been sent to fix the problem. Whether she wants to or not.

The premise of this book hearkens back to “The Mark of Gideon,” an episode of Star Trek (original series) in which a planet has become overpopulated because people don’t die. It’s a great idea, but unfortunately, this is another book our judges felt missed the mark. Although the pace races along, judges thought too many events were implausible or plot-convenient, with action that failed to increase tension or suspense and procedural writing that precluded a connection to the main character. Descriptions were too bare boned, with no meat or muscle to hold the story up.

Embered Soul by Willem Neill

Embered Soul (cover)“The world is full of beasts and abominations, my friend, and our task will only be complete once they are all purged.”

In a world of monsters, a vigilant slayer confronts a foe stronger than any creature yet fought. As the battle draws close, so too does the Reckoning.

Afflicted by the incessant rot of beasts, the people of Asthradele have never known life without war. The threat of the next Bestial Tide has always been enough to keep the realms united. But what’s it all worth if the world is dying?

Seb du Monte is one of the many dedicated to fighting the Tides. As a newly fledged Knight-Questor from a venerable lineage of beast slayers, sworn to protect Asthradele, his begins in earnest. But when a powerful force threatens what he holds dear, all the weaponry, cunning and training he possesses may not be enough to defeat it.

Fates collide and all will hang in the balance.

This book’s eye-catching cover pumped up judges’ enthusiasm, but hopes dimmed in the opening pages, where a glossary and acknowledgments (which frankly belong at the end of the book) necessitated much page swiping before the words “Chapter One” appeared. Once there, some judges found the narration to be packed with irrelevant detail, and the travel brochure-like infodumps on the climate and economy caused them to set this book aside before reaching the plot. The writing, though often elegant, also needs more editorial polish. Other judges enjoyed the high fantasy tone and the story. With its likeable protagonist and interesting monsters and fight scenes, this book could be a good introduction to the fantasy genre for readers.

Dragon Speaker by Elana A. Mugdan

Dragon Speaker (cover)Everyone knows this story: an unlikely young hero is chosen by divine providence to save the world from a terrible evil.

Except Keriya Nameless is crippled, without the ability to wield magic—in fact, she’s the only person who doesn’t have powers of her own. The god who chose her is a mysterious dragon with a knack for exploiting loopholes in rules. Oh, and that terrible evil the world needs to be saved from? Maybe it’s not quite as evil as everyone says.

As Keriya ventures into the magical realm of Allentria, she learns things aren’t black-and-white, and not everything is what it appears to be. Her quest would test the courage of even the bravest hero, and as the chosen Dragon Speaker, she quickly learns she’s at the center of an age-old war…

A war that will decide the fate of everything.

Judges’ reactions to this book spanned the gamut from meh to yay! The superficial feel of this young adult chosen one story put off some of our judges, who felt the characterizations lacked depth and the narrative was forced, rushed, and overly melodramatic. However, others were fully engaged by the dragons and the underdog protagonist who can talk to them. They liked the hero’s journey and how complex political machinations become apparent as the story unfurls. In the end, the judges who liked it felt this book was an excellent start to this YA series.

Towers of Dawn by Todd Maternowski

Towers of Dawn (cover)Exmortus is the story of Ash Xavier, a headstrong young knight whose faith is challenged when the long-forgotten gods of ancient civilizations send their avatar to obliterate the remote holy fortress of Exmortus Abbey—his home.

Exmortus, Book I: Towers of Dawn is not your typical, run-of-the-mill fantasy. It is a work of epic dark fantasy in the mold of George R.R. Martin or Gene Wolfe, with fresh angles on the classic literary problems of growing into adulthood, sword-and-sorcery adventure, love and sex, friendship and betrayal, guilt and innocence, murder and exile, battles on land and at sea, creepy demons and unsolved mysteries coming to life at the worst possible times.

Our judges really liked this story, which maintained a great pace and tension right from the beginning. The writing grabbed the judges too. It was snarky, funny, and brutal without being gratuitous. The protagonist was real and fully fleshed out in a way many main characters are not, and his friends’ antics caused many a laugh-out-loud moment.

Sadly, we have to cut this one from the competition because the text was poorly edited on both the macro and the micro level. There were jumps in continuity as well as numerous errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Some judges felt the internal reflection was overdone as well. Despite these problems, however, several judges vowed to continue with the series.

– – –

Thus concludes the second Five to Fall post of SPFBO #6. Again, 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 this year are AM Justice, Alicia Wanstall-Burke, Amanda Cenker, Julia Kitvaria Sarene, Kartik Narayanan, Kerry Smith, Lynn Kempner, and Mariëlle Ooms-Voges. If you’d like to learn more about us, including our likes and dislikes, you can read about them here.

Any queries should be directed to me, A. M. Justice, via DM (Facebook/Twitter).

Title image by Okan AKGÜL.

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