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.

HUGE thanks to my fellow SPFBO judges – A.F.E. Smith, G. R. Matthews, James Latimer, Jennie Ivins (who’s withdrawn from the judging going forward), Julia Kitvaria Sarene and Michael Everest – for their incredible input into these reviews.

Before we launch in to our first set of eliminations, please note that the first five are NOT necessarily the worst five. Myself and the other five judges are working through these bad boys in no particular order. Please don’t assume that we hate your book just because it happens to be one of the first to go!

The nature of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off means that a great many entries fall at the very first hurdle, cast aside after just a few pages. In a contest largely hinging on judges’ personal tastes, it’s anyone’s game. Here’s a few things to remember about the process:

  • It’s subjective. Just because one judge didn’t enjoy a book does not mean it isn’t a good book.
  • It’s time-consuming. Some blogs have a team of judges; others are one-man shows. Either way, they’re devoting hundreds of hours of their own time to this contest. While some might post mini-reviews of every single entry in their batch, others may only have time to review their finalist. If you think that’s unfair – tough.
  • It’s constructive. Entrants’ novels are fair game. If a blogger eliminates your book and provides criticism as to why the decision was made, please don’t challenge them. Listen to them. Plenty of authors would kill for this kind of feedback, and it’s meant to help you – not to bully, belittle, or embarrass you.
  • It’s positive. Nobody is out to tear these books to pieces. Every judge will always try their damnedest to point out things they liked. At the end of the day, we’re all part of the same amazing community, and are far more interested in building each other up than in tearing down ‘rivals’. That said, false praise is something you will not find here on FF.

With that in mind, here are the first five entries that we’re eliminating from the SPFBO3.

(C. D. Gallant-King)

Teh Thousand Days by C. D. Gallant-KingIsaac was very good at wasting time. Video games, a mindless job, no responsibilities – he had a simple life and few wants. Despite being hopelessly average, unassuming and kind of useless, he had somehow married the most beautiful, wonderful woman in the world. 

He had no idea how good he had it – until it was all taken away. 

Time does not like being wasted. It is mercurial, inexorable and carries a wicked grudge. And sometimes, just sometimes, it enjoys playing games with people’s lives. To be perfectly honest, Time is a bit of a jerk. 

Isaac had never learned to appreciate what little time he had, and now he must travel to the ends of the universe and face unspeakable evils in a cat-and-mouse game with Time itself for the slim chance to win back a few fleeting seconds of happiness. The price of failure? Only the end of all existence.

Ten Thousand Days prompted some very fiery discussions among the Fantasy-Faction judging team. In the end, though we agreed that the prose was solid and fairly engaging, the book’s immediate emphasis on sex turned some of us right off – as did the protagonists’ conversations about whether or not they wanted to (and I quote) ‘bang’ each other when they were kids.

Ultimately, while we felt that the setting was evocative and the central mystery intriguing, the plot unfolded a little too leisurely for our liking. None of us found the main character vivid or sympathetic enough to compel us to continue reading, and we would’ve liked a few more fantasy elements earlier on in the tale.

Verdict: Well written with a decent sense of mystery, but let down by unlikable characters.

(Alexia Purdy)

Ever Shade by Alexia Purdy



Magic and malice abound in the Land of Faerie. This is book 1 of A Dark Faerie Tale Series. 

For Shade, a chance meeting with a powerful Teleen Faery warrior who wields electrical currents and blue fires along his skin, has her joining him on a treacherous mission for the good Seelie Faerie Court across the land of Faerie.



Unfortunately, most of us were in agreement that this Dark Faerie Tale just wasn’t our cup of tea. For some reason, we just could not engage with the characters; not only did they seem unrealistic (a bit too young and ‘hip’ for us old fogies, perhaps?) but the head-hopping meant that it was hard to ‘click’ with any of them. Furthermore, the prologue was rather confusingly written, and some of us found that the main character’s tendency to think out loud soon became quite irritating.

However, Ever Shade has over 3k ratings on Goodreads with an average score of 3.8. Alexia Purdy is obviously doing something right, and chances are we just aren’t her target audience!

Verdict: We didn’t like it, but can appreciate why plenty of others do.

(Ginny O)

The Dawn Warrior by Ginny OWarrior and magician, Princess Roxana has spent the beginning of her adult life helping others escape their curses by dealing with the evil magicians that cast them. Now it’s past time that she dealt with her own fateful curse. Nearing twenty-one, the curse will fall whether she wants it to or not. Neither she, nor her only companion, Gorlouis, a fire dragon, can stop it. She needs to find the witch or find her fairy godmother before her birthday.

With magic involved there is no such thing as coincidence. The witch that cursed her hasn’t been idle. She’s about to curse and ensnare another young baby princess. It’s up to Roxana to stop the witch and save the child. Whether the people want her to or not.

And to make matters worse, cursed monsters are attacking villages. Heading the hunt is Prince Marcellus, Roxana’s betrothed. Tall, dark, handsome and arrogant, he thinks she’d be better off in skirts and out of his way. He knows nothing of her curse. She thinks he’ll just slow her down. True love is not in the offing.

Roxana feels responsible for the monsters and will hunt them down with or without Marcellus’ help. Even if that means she risks becoming one of them. There aren’t any moments to waste. She’s running out of time.

This is another one that just didn’t click with any of us, unfortunately. It’s hard to write even a very short review because none of us read further than the first few pages. In that time we found the prose difficult to follow (and in fact it was almost nonsensical in places) and the writing itself riddled with grammatical errors.

The Dawn Warrior might appeal to readers to enjoy stories full of high fantasy elements, but for us it was simply too awkwardly written to proceed with.

Verdict: In need of a good editor.

(A. R. Winterstaar)

The Child Revealed by A.R. WinterstaarAdelena Marlock isn’t who she thinks she is. Single mother. University drop out. Dreamer. She is struggling with life as an ordinary woman in an ordinary world. But when the past she never knew she had pulls her into a whole new dimension she must find a way to discover the strength and power that is her birthright.

All is not well in the magical world of Evendaar. Dark forces gather in the shadows and plot to control the prophecy that has been unleashed in the realm. But when the machinations of the Wizards stir the chaos and Adelena’s mysterious connection to an outcast Prince threaten to unbalance that which is foretold all hell breaks loose. Adelena must decide for herself who is on the side of Good and who is on the side of Evil. The fate of Evendaar now rests entirely on her fragile shoulders.

Beware and rejoice, for only in the greatest darkness does the brightest light shine.

The Child Revealed feels as though it’s written by someone new to the genre. The six of us concurred that while this is not necessarily a bad thing (everyone has to start somewhere, right?), in this particular case it means that the author’s passion and enthusiasm overwhelms any coherence the story might have had.

From the opening prophecy to the excitable head-hopping, the first chapters did not leave many of us inclined to read on. However, we all agreed that the writer shows potential; she just needs to tone it down a little bit in order to find her own voice.

Verdict: A spark of promise, but buried beneath fluffy writing.

(Brandon Barr)

Ella Dethroned by Brandon Barr


Hunted and desperate, Ella, the former Luminess of the Blue Mountain Realm, must evade her pursuers and fulfill a mission given her by the gods. She carries a strange, otherworldly device, the purpose of which she does not know, but if she is to grasp hold of a conditioned prophecy spoken over her, she must survive to deliver the device to a mysterious man named Quanthum.

Her only aid is her sharp intelligence . . . that, and a devoted soldier named Rathan, who has sworn to protect her.



The problem with submitting a prequel novella (more of a novelette, really – I think it was only sixty pages long) to a competition that judges novels is twofold. Firstly, there is far less depth to the shorter medium; novellas often serve as ‘extras’ or ‘bridges’ between novels, which can make them seem shallow and superfluous. Secondly, prequels – especially standalones – can lack tension since the reader knows that the ‘main’ events are yet to come.

Ella Dethroned did not suit our tastes, not only for the reasons above but because we found the writing to be lacklustre. Telling rather than showing is a sure-fire way to disengage your audience; similarly, a heroine who is ridiculously overpowered soon becomes dull.

Verdict: Fast start, nice production values, but no hook and lacks tension.

SPFBO on Fantasy-Faction

Before we wrap things up, we want to mention a general issue or two in relation to the contest as a whole (and not specifically the authors in the post above).

Format has been a bit of a bugbear during the first round. Many authors have been super helpful and have sent in their entries in a variety of formats, including .EPUB and .MOBI. While I realise that the entry guidelines didn’t specify a particular format (hence we’ve had some issues with hard-to-read PDF and Word docs), they do explicitly state that authors should send a file (and/or a link to the book on Amazon if it’s free). So when the time has come for us to download our entries ready for reading we’ve been pretty irked to find that some authors have sent a Bookfunnel link. Since this involves clicking the link, then signing up for something, then following another link, then clicking and finally downloading the file (and since we’re working our way through a LOT of books!), I’m sure you can understand our frustration – and our decision in these cases to instead simply use the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon.

Apart from ‘maybe don’t submit a prequel novella to a competition that specifically asks for the first novel in a series’, though, the only other general observation we have to offer at this time is that we’re vociferously against stories that start with a – *cough* – bang.

For those keeping track, here’s where we stand with our batch of books. We’ll be back in around three weeks for the next round of eliminations!

  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. Maghan 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
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By Laura M. Hughes

Laura lives under the grey, pigeon-filled skies of northern England, where she also writes for Tor.com. When she isn’t absorbed in Dragon Age, raving about the #SPFBO or working on her first novel, you’re most likely to find her trying to convince unsuspecting bystanders to read The Malazan Book of the Fallen. If you’ve any queries, or just want to talk fantasy, Laura always encourages like-minded folk to seek her out on Twitter @halfstrungharp. Anyone interested in hiring her to edit or proofread a manuscript can check out her rates, services and testimonials at lauramhughes.com.

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