SPFBO on Fantasy-Faction

The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off officially began on July 1st! In case you missed it, here’s what Fantasy-Faction has posted so far:

And of course you can keep track of everything relating to round one on the SPFBO page on Mark Lawrence’s blog.

Ahh, time for the next cull. I know we said we weren’t necessarily doing this in order, but things are getting slightly harder now, as these are books we are more likely to have disagreed on. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily better than what’s gone before or worse than what comes after, because all that’s required to end up amongst the fallen is that we all agree a book isn’t going to be among our finalists. Despite that, every book here has good points, and are all worth a look – they may well click with you more than they did with us.

(Bill Hiatt)

Many teenagers struggle to find their identity, but for Taliesin Weaver, that struggle has become life or death–and not just for him. Tal, as he prefers to be called, believes in reincarnation, and with good reason. When he turned 12, his mind was nearly shattered by a flood of memories, memories of his past lives, hundreds of them. Somehow, Tal managed to pull himself together and even to make good use of the lessons learned and skills developed in those previous lives. He even had the ability to work magic–literally–and there was no denying that was cool. No, his life wasn’t perfect, but he was managing. Now, four years later, his best friend, Stan, has begun to suspect his secret, and Stan isn’t the only one. Suddenly, Tal is under attack from a mysterious enemy and under the protection of an equally mysterious friend whose agenda Tal can’t quite figure out. He learns he is not the only one who can work magic and certainly not the only one who can remember the past. He realizes there is something that he is not remembering, something that could save his life or end it, some reason for the attacks on him that, as they escalate, threaten not only him but everyone he loves as well. In an effort to save them, he will have to risk not only his life, but even his soul.

An interesting concept, but one that proved tricky to handle despite a strong narrative voice. Having an immortal protagonist in the body of a teenage boy – and surrounded by teenage girls – made for some uncomfortable reading at times, and the love story elements didn’t quite ring true for our judges. Though we appreciated the snarky tone and fast pace, it wasn’t enough to put it through to our semi-final pool.

(Melissa Snark)

A thirty-year alliance that aligned wolves and hunters has shattered.

Victoria Storm leads a few surviving members of her pack in a desperate flight. As the only surviving child of their leaders, the she-wolf inherited the role of Alpha. The violent deaths of her parents and the man she loved left her devastated, and the lives of her followers depend on her decisions. 

Simple survival often conflicts with the demands of preserving her Norse heritage, so she must struggle to balance her duties as Freya’s priestess and Odin’s Valkyrie. When innocent children are abducted, she must set aside her differences and work with her worst enemy to rescue them.

An urban fantasy with the standard vampires and shifters rivalry, and some added Norse mythology for good measure. Though competently told, for most of our judges (who, it must be said, aren’t the biggest fans of urban fantasy or PNR), this simply didn’t do enough to transcend the sub-genre. Some felt the main character simply had too many unique and important traits and roles, and there also seemed to be some inconsistency in her mood – for example, anger or fear to giggling in the blink of an eye. But for fans of urban fantasy (with a touch of romance) then this might well work.

(Gus Campbell)

Dalradia, distant archipelago of the northern isles, as wild and fractured as the clans that dwell upon her foreboding shores, as brooding as the anger that stirs deep within her forests. Threatened by the might of the Issorian Empire, an ancient and resurgent enemy, her fate is in the balance. 

Mordred, dissident heir to the kingdom, imprisoned and disinherited, knows the time has come to rebel against the brutal rule of his father. 

Pagan Heart chronicles the first steps of an odyssey that will set Mordred against his own kin and clan, against the unquiet custodians of Dalradia’s long forgotten past and towards the gradual realisation of an ancient power that shrouds the savage majesty of his homeland, a power that seeks to reignite the fearsome bloodlust of his ancestors. It is a course that will ultimately set him on the path to become the most feared conqueror the Issorian Empire has ever known. 

An old-fashioned fantasy with a haunting, Celtic-inspired setting, this book will probably work really well for people looking for more of a throwback read. For us, however, the archaic style made it a bit dry, with a lot of telling rather than showing and somewhat stilted dialogue. Apart from the chosen style, there was also just a bit too much info-dumping (often in extended conversations) and a few decisions that didn’t quite make sense (despite the dumped info). All the elements were in place for a thrilling heroic tale, but unfortunately, for these various reasons, it did not hook us enough to put it among our semi-finalists. (As an aside, it doesn’t help when author sends a PDF that is hard to read rather than a proper ebook!)

(Jade Kerrion)

Sometimes, the truth begins with a lie… Desperate to break the suffocating grip of eternal winter, the fae prince Varian summons the most powerful witches and fae to shatter the icy shroud around La Condamine, but no one wants to die for the prince’s cause. When he conscripts by force, they flock to Nithya, begging her to wrap her flawless illusions around their magic bracelets. Nithya undermines Varian’s tyranny until she realizes there is more to him than the facade of a merciless dictator. Even so, she’s not the biggest traitor in the realm. The conspiracy that murdered Varian’s father now turns its malice and hatred against him. Nithya finds herself entangled in treachery, betrayal, and illusions far more entrapping than anything she can conjure. The prize is the soul of a nation, and the price is everything she cherishes-including Varian’s love.


While there are interesting elements here, in general we felt they were held back by the Romance conventions. The romance itself feels a bit forced, not giving characters time to naturally fall for each other. In fact, a lot of it feels rushed (we arrive in the middle of plots and developments), which may make sense as it’s quite a short book, but added to the feeling of things not evolving naturally enough. While the concept of a prince trying to save his dying land was certainly compelling, the way it unfolded just didn’t work for us.

(Nigel Bird)

Things haven’t been going well for Natalie Swift. Ever since she witnessed the murder of her boyfriend she’s been struggling to keep her world together. Her vacation in Florence should allow her to soak up the culture she loves and get some rest, but her plans go awry as soon as she arrives in town. 

Rory‘s also in Florence. He’s Natalie’s dead boyfriend and he can’t seem to leave her alone. His plan is to coax her to join him on the other side. The worrying thing for Natalie is that he has always been very persuasive. 

Arturo is a street artist. His pictures are of the highest quality. They’re also the portals through which he collects souls. He’s dishy, romantic and immortal and he’s turning Natalie’s head in a way that Rory doesn’t appreciate one bit. 

And Barabbas? He’s an imp with a heart of darkness sent to sort things out when Natalie interferes in the soul collection of a young child. 

This was one of the most confidently- and smoothly-written of the entries, but fell short largely because it was, well, short. The setting and the mythology were evocative, and the characters interesting enough to spend more time with. However, no sooner had things got going than they seemed to wrap up again, leaving the reader a bit unsatisfied. It reads like a first book in a series, but it’s unclear whether there is a sequel; either way, as we’re only able to judge the one book, we couldn’t really put it forward.

With this, we are half-way through our eliminations (actually, since we are eliminating all but one book, more than half way!). The next five to fall may be the last set we do before individually reviewing our semi-finalists. Or, it might not…

  1. Alexia Purdy, Ever Shade
  2. Angela Holder, The Tale of Gurion Thricebound
  3. A.R Winterstaar, The Child Revealed
  4. Bill Hiatt, Living with Your Past Selves
  5. Brandon Barr, Ella Dethroned
  6. Brett Herman, Chaos Trims My Beard
  7. Brian D. Anderson & Steven Savile, Akiri: The Scepter of Xarbaal
  8. C.D. Gallant-King, Ten Thousand Days
  9. Charlotte E. English, Draykon
  10. Christopher Bunn, The Hawk and his Boy
  11. Christopher G. Nuttall, The Zero Blessing
  12. Frances Smith, Spirit of the Sword: Pride and Fury
  13. Ginny O, The Dawn Warrior
  14. Guerric Hache, Zeroth Law
  15. Gus Campbell, Pagan Heart
  16. Jade Kerrion, Illusions
  17. Joseph J. Bailey, Spellslinger
  18. Kristal Shaff, Life Charmer
  19. K.S. Villoso, Jaeth’s Eye
  20. Meghan Richardson & Tina Verduzco, Storm and the Mermaid’s Knot
  21. Marina Finlayson, Stolen Magic
  22. Melissa Snark, Valkyrie’s Vengeance
  23. Michael-Scott Earle, Wings of Justice
  24. Nigel Bird, Drawn In
  25. Richard Parry, Night’s Favour
  26. Ryan Mueller, Empire of Chains
  27. Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Clearwater Dawn
  28. Terri Bruce, Hereafter
  29. Ulff Lehmann, Shattered Dreams
  30. V.R. Cardoso, The Dragon Hunter and the Mage
Another Five Fall (SPFBO)
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By James Latimer

James Latimer is the curmudgeonly alter-ego of a mild-mannered civil servant. When not lurking around the internet, he's usually reading or writing fantasy fiction. His corporeal form resides in South West England with a very forgiving wife and very demanding cat.

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