* 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.

The Watcher by Roh Morgon

The Watcher (cover)Predator. Killer. Monster.

The words echo in Sunny Martin’s head each time she looks in the mirror. Since the night she was torn from her car and drained of her blood, only one fear rivals that of the hungry beast within her – the fear of exposure.

Her lonely struggle to survive on the edge of the human world leads Sunny to the mountain peaks of Colorado where she meets Nicolas, the enigmatic leader of a hidden society.

Their passion, tainted by betrayal, violence, and murder, reveals a shocking truth behind Sunny’s savage nature, and drives her toward an agonizing Choice between her heart and the last remnant of her human soul.

Writing in the present tense is, to my way of thinking, much more difficult than using the past tense. Anyone that can do it well has my admiration! The Watcher is told in the present tense and right away the prologue doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head. However, the saving grace of this book is the appearance of a vampire that doesn’t glitter or smoulder (unless in sunlight, we suspect). A few of our judges were a little confused at the beginning, but felt when the second vampire arrived near the end of the sample that the story began to find its feet and direction. Sadly, by that time we hadn’t been sufficiently intrigued to continue reading.

Battlecry by Emerald Dodge

Battlecry (cover)Jillian Johnson, known as the mighty Battlecry, was born into a superhero cult. She craves a life of freedom, far away from her violent and abusive team leader, Patrick. With no education, no money, and no future to speak of, she’s stuck in the dangerous life…until she meets the mysterious and compelling Benjamin, a civilian with superpowers. When Patrick confronts her, she fights back–and then runs for her life. One by one, her ex-teammates join her until a new team has formed.

But Patrick will not let his upstart teammates get away so easily. Humiliated and hell-bent on vengeance, he waits for his chance to strike back and kill the new team, and he is happy to murder superheroes and civilians alike. On top of that, Benjamin has joined Jillian and her comrades, angering his own lethal family. Jillian’s enemies begin to close in from all sides.

Desperate and in hiding, Jillian must shed everything she thinks she knows about what it means to lead. Can she rise up to the challenge of defeating Patrick? Can she save Benjamin from his family? Or will she die like every other superhero who’s dared to challenge the cult?

I loved Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart and its sequels, as well as Tom Reynolds’ Meta, and I’ve been a life-long Spider-Man fan too. In this one, Battlecry, we’re introduced straight away to a super-powered battle on a city street. During the battle we get an idea of the world and of the team, its hierarchy and power structure. Perhaps there is too much description of every aspect of the battle which slows it all down. There are some aspects which differentiate it from “old school” superheroes and push it into the realm of newer DC type films – the disregard for civilian lives, the destruction and the abusive relationship the leader seems to have with his team of “good” superheroes.

For one of our judges, there was enough here to read on, but for the others it just didn’t have enough of a hook, enough of a character, and some confusing action choices on behalf of the main character, for us all to continue.

Awakening by Ross Kingston

Awakening (cover)As the land is blanketed in shadows, the Vassals will rise. The elements have chosen their champions; one by one the Vassals awaken to sway the fate of the world.

As legend of a forgotten enemy begins to sweep the land and unrest rises in the kingdom, Princess Alicea answers the call of a Vassal, abandoning her kingdom to unveil the secrets hidden from her. The Princess and a thief stand together against the darkness as they begin their search to unite the Vassals for the upcoming war.

These are the chronicles of those chosen to wield the elements.

This is their Awakening.

The cover of this book was liked by many of our judges, though one wondered how the lady pictured would actually fight in that costume. Anyway, moving on, there is a quaint charm to the book which saw it reach the middle of the table on our scoring of the sample. The thief in the book is amazingly skilled with daggers, to the point where he dispatches knights in full plate with little difficulty. There’s nothing wrong with powerful characters, as long as they have a weakness or two to be exploited.

The first chapter seems a little rushed as the author works hard to get the story going, establish the world and the characters which robs it, in our judges opinion, of some tension we felt was needed. Ultimately, we let this one go because the story did little new and though it seemed like a pleasant read there was little to challenge us.

A Warden’s Purpose by Jeffrey L. Kohanek

A Warden’s Purpose (cover)An academy of magic and science. Another focused on military excellence. Deadly secrets resonate within both institutions.

Everson is brilliant, ingenious, and yet, he feels broken. Cursed with a disability, he dreams of nothing more than being useful.

Quinn is bold, defiant, and will do anything to protect her brother.

When Everson is sent to an academy of magic and engineering, Quinn joins a military school to remain near her brother. However, things within the fabled institutions are not what they seem. Beneath a mantra of good intentions and the objective of a better future, spies and conspiracies lurk.

Quinn becomes embroiled in a struggle she doesn’t understand — one with dire consequences as her training shifts from difficult to deadly. Her relentless determination might help her survive.

The book begins right in the action which can be an exciting start and drag the reader right into the narrative. However, you have to get a sense of the characters and the world as the action unfolds and while some of our judges enjoyed this beginning, others did not. The map at the start is fantastic and promises a great deal of worldbuilding to come.

Any book entered into this competition and ending up, randomly it must be said, at Fantasy-Faction’s door will be at a disadvantage if there are large info dumps http://fantasy-faction.com/2015/i-hate-info-dumps at the start. Sadly, this book falls into that category. All of our judges noted its presence and it drew us away from the story and characters which is why we had to let it go.

Sunweaver by Ryan Mueller

Sunweaver (cover)The sun is dying. The world has turned to ice. Only the Sunlord can keep humanity alive.

Deril was supposed to be the next Sunlord, following in his father’s footsteps. But it doesn’t matter how much Deril trains. He is no savior, just an ordinary Sunweaver, powerful but useless. But then Fireweavers kidnap his father, intending to use his Sunlord powers to free their mad god. Now Deril must infiltrate a secret Fireweaver organization and earn their trust. If he doesn’t, the mad god will kill all Sunweavers. Driven insane by centuries of imprisonment, he may even finish what he started…and destroy the sun entirely.

Rella is a Fireweaver living in secret. When her powers are discovered, she must flee to the frozen wasteland Fireweavers call home. There, she’ll come face-to-face with her family’s darkest secrets and with the plot to free the mad god. She has the chance to stop it, but first she’ll have to decide if she can support Sunweavers, the people who executed her mother. The people who would do the same to her without a thought.

Kadin is Lightless. He has no Sunweaving or Fireweaving talent. Sold into slavery by his abusive father, he struggles to survive under his cruel master. But when Kadin manifests strange abilities, he begins to suspect he isn’t as powerless as he once thought. He may even be the key to stopping the mad god’s return…but only if he first conquers the anger and darkness within him.

There is something just so cool about the idea that the sun is dying (clearly not if it was our own yellow orb) and a culture who are trying their hardest to save it. Already we have a ticking clock to drive the story along – there is some tension behind all the machinations and events that will take place.

A lot of our judges noted the compelling plot that began to develop, however there were a few aspects that didn’t ring as true to us. Some of the dialogue was a little stilted and the main character leaps from a cliff when it is pretty clear he won’t make it down to the bottom in one piece. The magic is reminiscent of Brent Weeks’ Lightbringer books and the formatting is better than the majority of books we’ve seen. The author has spent a good deal of time on many aspects, but in the end we had to pass.

– – –

So there it is. Fantasy-Faction’s forth “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 LitterART.


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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