* Disclaimer *

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 with fresh roadkill upon their tongue. To each their own, I suppose.

Anyway in this competition, we at Fantasy-Faction are reading all 30 books in no particular order and ‘rejecting’ them in similar fashion. And, to be clear, we are reading like agents, we read the first three chapters or ten thousand words (give or take) using the Amazon Sample whenever possible. Our judges record their comments and we base our decisions to keep or, sadly, reject based on that alone.

If a book you love goes out in this group of “Five to Fall”, it does not mean the next books are better, only that they were read afterwards.

If you have no idea what we’re talking about you can catch up here.

Seeds of Dissolution by William C. Tracy

Seeds of Dissolution (cover)On a bright August day, the sun disappears.

Sam van Oen barely escapes freezing to death in his house, as his watch stops and fire ceases to burn. He is pulled into the Nether—a nexus between ten diverse alien cultures—where he meets two maji who can control the musical foundation of the universe. While coping with anxiety attacks prompted by his new surroundings, Sam must learn to hear and change the Symphony, and thus reality, in order to discover what happened to his home.

Sam is surrounded by aliens, both strange and familiar, some non-binary, or gender fluid. Soon, he meets sister and brother twins, also new to the Nether, who support him during his anxiety attacks. Sam finds he is attracted to both of them, and does not want to choose.

But more freezing voids like the one that started his journey are appearing, and Sam’s chances of getting back are fading. The Assembly of Species is threatening to dissolve and the maji are being attacked by those they protect, while rumors grow of an ancient, shape-changing species of assassins, returning to wage war.

The Dissolution is coming.

This entry into the SPFBO is aimed at the YA market and that’s no bad thing at all. It begins with some tension and fear, even though the cause of it is somewhat unclear—mention of an attack, but whether that is fear, anxiety or something else we weren’t sure. The author tries really hard to stick to a close point of view and at times the prose is up to it, at others it doesn’t quite work.

I firmly believe that Terry Pratchett could say more with a comma than other authors managed with fifteen pages of text. He placed them with care, with consideration, and purpose. Sadly, commas appear in, quite, random places in some of this, text and that meant a few of judges were confused and had to re-read.

A few of our judges commented on the repetitive language, the constant descriptions of the minutiae of every action and this slowed the pace causing some to lose interest. However, we all agree the author has a great imagination and some stories to tell—we hope they keep writing.

Mirror Bound by Rhiannon Held

Mirror Bound (cover)Verity is a phantom, a being of the mirror realm who can change her face—or she could before she was bound by a mage of the grounded realm. Now she’s trapped in a human form, forced to tell the truth and obey the one who holds her binding: Dakota, a hunter who, with her team of other mages, keeps the world safe from the more monstrous creatures of the mirror realm. But Verity’s binding is weakening. Every time she teleports the team to safety, she gets a little closer to freedom.

Except the number of monsters coming from the mirror realm is increasing and the mages’ governing body, the Quorum, can’t figure out why. With monsters killing humans and all eyes on Verity, she’s fast running out of time to free herself—especially when she discovers that unless she can stop them from gaining access to the mirror realm, the Quorum’s plans for her realm and her people are far more dangerous than anything they might do to her.

This novel seems to be set in something like our world with a crossover the Faerie, in which invisible Mantas are being hunted on the land. I assume they swim through something like the ether rather than water. And there is a dead woman, killed by one of these Mantas, which our main characters seem to take in their stride. There are some interesting aspects—the idea of having faerie creatures tethered to humans who work together to fight these monsters.

On the downside, there is a lot of “telling” at the beginning of the book which serves to distance us from the main characters. Our judges were left wishing they could identify with one of the characters as this, they felt, would help them engage in the world.

Overall, we felt that this book just didn’t work as much as some of the others so we had to pass on it.

Mother of the Chosen by Janeal Falor

Mother of the Chosen (cover)Be careful what you wish for…

Adriella is pregnant with the child she’s always wanted.

She can’t wait to share the joy with her husband. Prophecy has other plans. The countryside is ablaze with rumors of a soon-to-be-born child who will destroy the High King.

A royal decree demands the death of any child who could threaten the throne, including Adriella’s unborn baby. Worse, her husband is one of the soldier’s enlisted to carry out the king’s demands.

Now Adriella must keep her secret and flee, rather than celebrate with her spouse.

With the High King’s men searching for anyone who defies him, the country is full of grieving parents, and the streets run red with the blood of the innocents. Adriella knows her chances of survival are slim, but she’ll sacrifice everything to stay one step ahead of the law.

If she can’t evade capture, she’ll lose the one thing more precious to her than her own life—her child.

The murder of first born children across a country isn’t a new thing. You’ll find it the Bible—twice? The Pharaoh of Egypt in an attempt to kill Moses, the chosen one, tries it. Later on, Herod, perhaps having read of the Pharaoh’s success tries it again to rid himself of the chosen one. Well, Mother of the Chosen makes it unbendingly clear that a chosen one is coming and all firstborn children must die. To no surprise, this plan fails for a third time.

Some of judges noted that the map was quite good, but that the promise isn’t quite lived up to in the story. A book title which gives away the plot was always going to be a hard sell but there are many chosen one stories out there that do it with tight prose, evocative language, a killer twist. Sadly Mother of the Chosen didn’t quite do it for us.

Phoenix Descending by Dorothy Dreyer

Phoenix Descending (cover)Since the outbreak of the phoenix fever in Drothidia, Tori Kagari has already lost one family member to the fatal disease. Now, with the fever threatening to wipe out her entire family, she must go against everything she believes in order to save them—even if that means making a deal with the enemy.

When Tori agrees to join forces with the unscrupulous Khadulians, she must take on a false identity in order to infiltrate the queendom of Avarell and fulfill her part of the bargain, all while under the watchful eye of the unforgiving Queen’s Guard. But time is running out, and every lie, theft, and abduction she is forced to carry out may not be enough to free her family from death.

There is a lot to like at the beginning of this book. It gets off to a good, fast paced start with the titular Phoenix appearing early on. A number of our judges read the sample and were intrigued to read onwards, noting they would come back to it if another book didn’t drag their attention away. Told from two points of view, it is the second that our judges commented was the stronger and more compelling—which isn’t a fault, just an observation.

That the book did not make it further in the competition is down to a few factors. A fair number of our judges found the dialogue stilted and stiff in places. While the writing was clear, there were a number of times when we were lifted from the story by the choice of words.

Overall, it is fine beginning which did little new and that is, ultimately, why we had to let it go.

On Borrowed Luck by T. J. Muir

On Borrowed Luck (cover)Ancient Prophecies. Shadow Dancers. And a side of assassination.

Street Rat Kirrin gets caught red-handed on a powerful lord’s estate. Guilty of trespassing and petty theft, he is at the ruler’s mercy. But Kirrin’s tenacity makes a good impression. Instead of a severe punishment, he is taught to fight and use his natural gifts, transforming into a cunning spy.

His loyalty to the lord is absolute, and Kirrin begins to compromise his principles, and commit crimes far worse than petty theft.

He thinks he has the risk under control until his master sends him into the imperial palace and Kirrin comes face to face with the supreme ruler himself.

Kirrin must choose. Does he commit the act from which there is no return, or does he find his way in the darkness that has enveloped him?

You know you’re in a secondary world when the months are 46 days long. A nice touch that not only clues you into differences, but is intriguing to think about. On the downside it makes all those assumptions and norms we use about time and age wrong. The main character is portrayed as 17 years of age, or 25 in our time. Once you realise this, you can’t ignore it as you read.

The start is fairly strong and the main character is challenged and given room to grow through the rest of the book. Tension is developed and there is a little bit of action to get us into the flow of the book. However, some of our judges noted the continued and confusing use of comma splicing, which meant they had to read and re-read a section to make sense of it, and there are times when the adverbs fly quickly, swiftly, constantly, unendingly which robs the prose of some atmosphere.

Overall there is a good deal of promise in this book and some judges noted it as one to come back if they had a chance. We let it go, in the end, because there were samples we thought had more promise and drew our attention away from this one.

– – –

So there it is. Fantasy-Faction’s third “Five to Fall” post of the 2018 SPFBO. Again, it is important to note that 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 are: G R Matthews, Julia Sarene, David Zampa, Jessica Juby, Rachel McCoy, Rakib Khan, and J C Kang. You can read more about each of them here.

Any queries should be directed to me (G R Matthews) via DM (Facebook/Twitter) or via the Fantasy-Faction website.

Title image by sabekr.


By Geoff Matthews

G. R. Matthews began reading in the cot. His mother, at her wits end with the constant noise and unceasing activity, would plop him down on the soft mattress with an encyclopaedia full of pictures then quietly slip from the room. Growing up, he spent Sunday afternoons on the sofa watching westerns and Bond movies after suffering the dual horror of the sounds of ABBA and the hoover (Vacuum cleaner) drifting up the stairs to wake him in the morning. When not watching the six-gun heroes or spies being out-acted by their own eyebrows he devoured books like a hungry wolf in the dead of winter. Beginning with Patrick Moore and Arthur C Clarke he soon moved on to Isaac Asimov. However, one wet afternoon in a book shop in his hometown, not far from the standing stones of Avebury, he picked up the Pawn of Prophecy and started to read - and now he writes fantasy! Seven Deaths of an Empire coming from Solaris Books, June 2021. Agent: Jamie Cowen, Ampersand Agency. You can follow him on twitter @G_R_Matthews or visit his website at www.grmatthews.com.

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