* 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 they were better books than the others, only that they were read afterwards.

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

Blood-Stained Heir by T. Norman

Blood-Stained Heir (cover)After the sudden death of his beloved wife, Rysh Trell struggles to keep his life together and devotes everything to raising their son. When the King of Ansaroth seeks vengeance for the murder of his father, Rysh is forced to defend his home and family again.

As an army pursues him across Ansaroth, Rysh fights to honor a promise he made to a dying friend. With little hope of survival, he searches deep inside to find the soldier he spent years burying away.

Will Rysh keep his promise, or will evil forces stop him from reaching his goal?

It will probably be no consolation to the author, but this one so nearly made it into our final five. The prologue, as you’ll be aware from our other articles is almost always a sticking point, however the author manages to get through this one and leave us intrigued to read on. The cover was one of our top picks and there is a detailed map to give us a sense of place.

We start in a battle, a castle siege, and there is a traditional feel to how the story develops from here onwards – that’s not a bad thing, just an observation. A warrior, fleeing the battle, is tasked with protecting the heir to the throne and it is told in short chapters to maintain the pace. The action is written well and as reader you can feel part of it to a degree. A couple of decisions, like putting your army outside your fortress walls, seemed a little strange and as everyone around the warrior dies, including many of the royal family, no one reacts as we quite expected.

There are some sweet scenes, the warrior becoming a surrogate father, but the protecting an heir to the throne trope is well-worn which isn’t to say that it can never work, it clearly can. Many books and authors use it to good effect.

The reasons we let it go, in the end, are the same for all our judges. There are times when the emotion could have been shown rather than told to us, which results in a rushed feeling making it hard to relate to the characters.

Child of the Daystar by Bryce O’Connor

Child of the Daystar (cover)Among the scattered fringe cities bordering the Cienbal desert, the true name of the Monster of Karth is spoken only in whispers.

Raz i’Syul Arro.

A sellsword of the utmost caliber, Raz is a killer of paramount skill and highest regard. Towering tall even amongst the atherian, he is the only of his kind to live free in the “civilized” confines of mankind’s varied cultures. He has no need of loyalties, his sole affections pledged to the gold crowns that buy his time and skills. Wed to his blades, Raz’s only friends are the Moon and Her Stars and the shadows they bring with the night.

But Raz was not born to the mercenary’s way, to the butchery and battle of day-by-day survival. Raz, like a sword, was hammered from steel and fire and ashy smoke, forged on the ruins of an old life. And Raz knows who he owes this new path to, this carved way of blood and iron. The Monster of Karth, after all, would never forget who gave him that name.

And some debts can’t be paid in gold.

This book appears to be doing really well on Amazon (over 600 reviews) so well done to the author! We liked the cover and our judges are certainly of the opinion that the more you read of the book the better it gets.

However, the beginning did little to endear itself to our judges. A few were put off by the opening scene, acknowledgements, request to sign up to the mailing list, and prologue structure. Just as you got interested, you are marketed to, and then the book starts again. However, our judges were reeled back in again by the idea of the clans and mysticism before noting the changes from past to present tense, overuse of exclamation marks and falling back on telling too often.

It may be that the book rewards the reader who sticks with it, that reads on past the sample and into the rest of the book – many, many books do – however, we had to let it go as there were other books where the start drew us right in and made us want to read more.

The Tenth Reaver by Sandell Wall

The Tenth Reaver (cover)The Kingdom of Haverfell is sinking into darkness. A millennium ago, the High King fell into shadow, struck down by treachery at the height of his power. Corruption rules in his absence, and the throne sits empty. Now whispers of the kingdom’s former glory are punished, and the memory of the High King is blotted from the annals of history.

Kaiser Pellathor, Tenth Reaver of Northmark, is the fallen kingdom’s greatest champion. Undefeated in the arena, unbeatable on the field of battle, he carries out his orders without question, mercy, or fear. He must, for if he should he ever fail in his duties, his family will pay the price.

But for the first time in a thousand years, old powers begin to stir, and rumors of hope are voiced in secret. Tasked with crushing this dissent, Kaiser finds himself on the wrong side of justice. If he stands against tyranny, his family dies. His only other choice is to become a tyrant himself.

As the Shrouded King seeks to reclaim what was lost, Kaiser must decide where his loyalties lie.

The book opens with a prologue in two chapters which is an adventurous choice, though perhaps losing one or both might make for a faster, more exciting start. Once the story begins the reader starts to get a better sense of the world and the magic within it. Shape-shifting dragons, not a new idea (but so few are these days), is interesting and there is a battle to kick things off.

As with quite a few of the books in our thirty, the worldbuilding hints and promises to be detailed and interesting. However, it feels like all the effort here was at the expense of characters and dialogue. There is an intriguing mix of melee and gunpowder weapons, but the author chooses to echo words and names too often for our judges. On the flip side, there are whole passages and pages with a strong narrative voice and clean prose… right up until the characters speak, which is ultimately why we had to let it go.

Be Careful What You Joust For by Ryan Hauge and Ivy Smoak

Be Careful What You Joust For (cover)Terric Hornbolt has never ridden a wooly dragon. He’s never jousted for the hearts of beautiful maidens, and he’s never marched across the desert to fight the scorpion-riders of Rashid.

And he’s never going to get to. He’s the second born son, and thus destined to take the priestly oath – an oath that will condemn him to a life of copying dusty old books and praying to a dusty old god. Those are the rules.

But Terric doesn’t like following the rules. He’s determined to become a knight, no matter the cost.

All he has to do is escape.

It should be simple. After all, his family is fully focused on the upcoming joust. His father only cares about making his older brother, Marcus, win the tournament, and his mother only cares about arranging a marriage between his sister, Oriana, and the crown prince. That’s how it’s always been. Marcus this, Oriana that.

Sometimes Terric thinks he could just walk right out the gate and no one would care. If he’s clever enough, he might be able to do just that.

And if he’s not clever enough…well, the razortooth tigers outside the gates are always looking for their next meal.

The book cover and interior have had a lot of time spent on them. By far the most professionally formatted looking book so far. The title and cover both hint that this will be a comedy – perhaps not in the vein of Pratchett, but maybe a little more of a farce or aimed at a younger audience. At least, that’s the vibes the judges came away with.

The opening chapter works well and our judges were eager to read on through the rest of the sample. Establishing the main character from the off is great and there is some good tension developing… which sadly tailed off by the end of the sample. Some infodumping, a confusion (for all our judges) over how mother seems incredibly calm about the thought of losing her son (only for us realise it was something different and we’d been led down the windy garden path), and the lack of the comedy we were looking forward to meant we had to pass.

Second Nature by Lauren Kuzimski

Second Nature (cover)Opposite elements, same side.

Long ago, the Esscas, a rogue group of elementals, dared to challenge the Queens, the self-proclaimed masters of the element realms. The resulting war decimated the world and its people. In the end, the Queens prevailed and banished the Esscas to the After for all eternity.

Fae shared no alliance with the Esscas, but felt the ripples of their punishment nonetheless. For their actions, she would never be free. Born a fire elemental herself, Fae had spent every waking moment of her life training to be a guard for her Queen, with no choices in regards to her own fate. It was that or exile herself.

Jace, on the other hand, was born an earth elemental with every choice in the world, yet had been one of those who took part in the Esscas. His punishment… eternity in exile, swallowed in regrets.

When the Esscas escape, vengeful and angry, and threatening the world once more, Fae and Jace quickly find their fates intertwined. While Fae fights for the chance to taste her freedom, Jace finds a chance to atone for his past mistakes.

Only by setting aside their differences, in both elements and loyalties, do they stand any chance to make a change and defeat Jace’s ex-team once more.

If only trust was that easy.

This book split the judges. Some were quite happy to read on and others found the prologue too confusing to continue onwards. Prologues are tricky beasts. Either they make or break the book – at least in terms of hooking the reader in and making them want to continue.

Second Nature has some polished prose and some judges noticed the promise of deep worldbuilding that the sample hinted at. However, and there has to be some howevers as we are letting this book go, the promise and prose is not consistent throughout the sample we read. Some aspects felt a little ‘clunky’ and the judges became distracted and lost interest. There is definitely promise in this book and we’d be on the lookout for more from the author as they develop their craft even further.

– – –

So, there it is. Fantasy-Faction’s last 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). All of this means we are down the final five:

Carnifex by D. P. Prior
Rogue Arcanist by Alan Brenik
Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe
Rise of the Fallen by Peter Fugazzotto
The Engineer by Darran M. Handshaw

One of these five will be our finalist. Keep an eye out!

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 Fearghal.


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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