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.

Here we are again, swinging the axe. Half of our books have already fallen by the wayside, either through some fatal flaw or by just not grabbing the attention of our judges, and we have to keep making tough choices until one remains. Just because we have had to cut them loose doesn’t mean they might not be just what other readers are looking for – and, in fact, many have the reviews to prove it.

(Joseph J Bailey)

Spellslinger by Joseph J Bailey


No one should ever come between a man’s family and his guns.

Not if they want to live.

Not even a dragon.

Especially when those guns belong to a spellslinger.

The dragon who had killed his brother had a death wish.

Koren D’uene is a ja’lel, a gun knight, and his is the job of granting wishes.

His guns spoke and the world listened.

This one has a fantastic cover, and a fantastic concept. It brims with creativity, from the weird-West worldbuilding with sci-fi elements, to the high-concept style of short chapters and one-sentence paragraphs. Unfortunately, not everything always worked for our judges. The main let-down, however, was the ending, which almost inevitably couldn’t live up to the extended set-up. Still, it’s a short, punchy read and well worth a look – just not a winner for us.

(Charlotte English)

Draykon by Charlotte E. EnglishWhen shy and retiring Llandry Sanfaer discovers a mesmerising new gemstone, she suddenly becomes the most famous jeweller across the Seven Realms. Demand for the coveted stone escalates fast; when people begin dying for it, Llandry finds that she herself has become a target. 

Lady Evastany Glostrum has her life in pristine order. Prestigious, powerful and wealthy, she is on the verge of crowning her successes with the perfect marriage. But when her closest friend is murdered for the jewellery she wears, Eva is drawn into the mystery surrounding the curious “istore” gem. 

The emergence of the stone is causing chaos across the Seven. Gates between the worlds are opening at will, pulling hordes of creatures through from the shadowy Lower Realm and the glittering Uppers. As Eva works to discover the culprit behind the spreading disorder, Llandry must learn the truth about her precious istore stone — before she herself becomes a victim.

Another story set in a fae/fairyland (we seem to have had a few), this one focusing on a main character with a disability, a cute pet, and a secret. Oh, and she can fly! There’s also a second female protagonist and a murder mystery, so there’s a lot to like – if you can get past the cutesy prologue. In the end, for some of our readers it just lacked focus. There was a lot of inventive worldbuilding going on that in some cases distracted from the thrust of the narrative. Many readers will find it all fascinating, but without a killer hook, we had to let this one go.

(Richard Parry)


Valentine’s an ordinary guy with ordinary problems. His boss is an asshole. He’s an alcoholic. And he’s getting that middle age spread just a bit too early.

One night — the one night he can’t remember — changes everything. What happened at the popular downtown bar, The Elephant Blues? Why is Biomne, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, so interested in him — and the virus he carries? How is he getting stronger, faster, and more fit?

And what’s the connection between Valentine and the criminally insane Russian, Volk?

An urban fantasy with some romance elements, it was actually slightly surprising to find a male protagonist transformed by a new special power. Definitely gritty and violent, some found the voice and dialogue convincing, while others didn’t. Overall, it seemed like a B-movie version of your favourite gritty UF, and for some that will be no bad thing.

(Frances Smith)

The Divine Empire teeters on the brink of collapse, riven by division and ravaged by a lack of purpose in its soul. Miranda Callistus, the first Aurelian mage born in five hundred years, may have the power to save the Empire from itself…if she decides that the proud and vainglorious nation is worth saving. 

Meanwhile, believing that Miranda’s life is in danger, her estranged brother Michael sets forth to her rescue, hoping to prove himself a true hero on the battlefield. But the allies he gathers to his side may be as dangerous to Miranda as any of her enemies. 

While Michael fights against his foes, Miranda banters with them in the parlours of the Empire’s great families. Princes, princesses and patricians all claim to have the cure for the Empire’s sickness, and all seek to bend Miranda to her will – or break her, for if they cannot make her their friend then none in the capital will hesitate to make her a corpse. 

A sword-and-sandals fantasy, which is surprisingly rare, and one that sticks quite closely to some of the tropes of the ancient world – gladiators, pantheons of gods and demigods, slaves, dynastic politics – while throwing in plenty of fantasy elements as well. Unfortunately, this is often in laborious detail, and some judges found, for example, the complex naming conventions (though perhaps accurate) a bit of a mouthful. The writing itself seemed a bit old fashioned and stilted at times, though this changed a bit depending on POV character (in fact, the affected way one main character speaks is even remarked upon by other characters). It is certainly a complex book, with plenty of violence and intrigue, and did a very good job of evoking the ethos of the ancient Roman world. If fantasy that transports you to a very different place is your thing, have a look. Unfortunately, it failed to connect enough with our panel to move forward. (Another little thing: the chapter breaks seemed somewhat random, which didn’t help parse what is a long and rather wordy book.)

(K S Villoso)

Jaeth's Eye by K.S. Villoso“The true story, as always, is in the details.”

The minor characters in an epic story are often forgotten, relegated to the dusty corners of a text; footnotes in a biased account that draws focus on the privileged, the named, and the powerful. This is a story from those shadows. 

The lives of a mercenary, a seamstress, and a merchant converge. Kefier, who is picking up the pieces of his life after his brother’s accident, finds himself chased down by former associates for his friend’s death. Already once branded a murderer, he crosses paths with his friend’s sister, Sume, whose only desire is to see her family through some troubled times. In the meantime, young, arrogant Ylir takes a special interest in Kefier while he himself is entangled in a battle with a powerful mage, one whose name has been long forgotten in legend. At the crux of their conflict is a terrible creature with one eye, cast from the womb of a witch, with powers so immense whoever possesses it holds the power to bring the continent to its knees.

Jaeth’s Eye introduces an epic fantasy tale of revenge and lost kingdoms, but also of grief, love, hope, and a promise for tomorrow. 

Featuring perhaps the most impressive worldbuilding – in terms of cultures and countries, anyway – in our whole set, this is a book with a huge scope, lots of characters, and plenty of intrigue. Unfortunately, this made it very confusing to sample, especially as it didn’t seem to have a plot in the traditional sense. There’s a chance that it could all come together in the end, but there’s only so much enigma we can handle in a competition like this. Fans of Epic Fantasy should definitely have a look, especially if they like encyclopedic worldbuilding from a refreshing perspective, and don’t mind figuring things out for themselves.

So there we are. Twenty books down. Ten remain…

  • Alexia Purdy, Ever Shade
  • Angela Holder, The Tale of Gurion Thricebound
  • A.R Winterstaar, The Child Revealed
  • Bill Hiatt, Living with Your Past Selves
  • Brandon Barr, Ella Dethroned
  • Brett Herman, Chaos Trims My Beard
  • Brian D. Anderson & Steven Savile, Akiri: The Scepter of Xarbaal
  • C.D. Gallant-King, Ten Thousand Days
  • Charlotte E. English, Draykon
  • Christopher Bunn, The Hawk and his Boy
  • Christopher G. Nuttall, The Zero Blessing
  • Frances Smith, Spirit of the Sword: Pride and Fury
  • Ginny O, The Dawn Warrior
  • Guerric Hache, Zeroth Law
  • Gus Campbell, Pagan Heart
  • Jade Kerrion, Illusions
  • Joseph J. Bailey, Spellslinger
  • Kristal Shaff, Life Charmer
  • K.S. Villoso, Jaeth’s Eye
  • Meghan Richardson & Tina Verduzco, Storm and the Mermaid’s Knot
  • Marina Finlayson, Stolen Magic
  • Melissa Snark, Valkyrie’s Vengeance
  • Michael-Scott Earle, Wings of Justice
  • Nigel Bird, Drawn In
  • Richard Parry, Night’s Favour
  • Ryan Mueller, Empire of Chains
  • Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Clearwater Dawn
  • Terri Bruce, Hereafter
  • Ulff Lehmann, Shattered Dreams
  • V.R. Cardoso, The Dragon Hunter and the Mage
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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.

4 thoughts on “SPFBO3: The Next Five Fall…”
  1. Just wanted to add that Jaeth’s Eye does just about come together in the end, all the threads finally meeting up and revealing the tangled web the author has woven. Certainly worth a read, though it can be challenging.

  2. That’s a … generous review for my book 🙂 “like a B-movie version of your favourite gritty UF” is great. Love the write-ups team, I’m hooked to see who actually wins this thing 🙂 I am also kind of interested in Spellsinger now, thanks a bunch, it’s not like I didn’t have 300 things in my to-read pile already.

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