* 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.

Aching God is the third of the finalists we are reviewing (actually the forth, as we’ve already reviewed the book we sent to the finals, but it really isn’t worth splitting hairs). We’ve nine books to read and review, chosen by blogs all over the fantasy-sphere, each with their own idiosyncratic taste in fiction. We’re reading them, noting our thoughts, and scoring them. We’ll take the average of individual judges scores as our final rating.


“Closer, mortal. You are here, finally, to feed the Aching God…”

The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside and isolated with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. But just as old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, he receives an urgent summons back to that old life.

To save his only daughter, he must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands. Along with a group of inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization. He has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But how can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god?


Aching God has reached the finals of the SPFBO, no mean feat. I’ll extend our congratulations to the author right here and now—Congratulations!

This is a long book, 600 pages or so, and one of the longest in the competition. Such size is reminiscent of those old classics; The Wheel of Time. As such you can put it right into the category of EPIC fantasy and you’ll know exactly what to expect when you pick it up.

The story revolves around a knight who has gone into retirement after a particularly harrowing mission during which the rest of his team was killed. Those loses haunt him night after night and he finds it difficult to sleep. Nightmares and visions plague his dreams and he often wakes up screaming. Still, even with all this he has found time to restart his life, find a new love and settle into a routine. However, things are about to change.

There is a plague in the capital, thousands have died, and the league of adventurers has been decimated. Those in power know what brought the plague and they summon Auric back to the capital to take on one last mission to rid themselves of the cause. In the capital, Auric meets his team: a swordsman, alchemist, mage, and cleric. They’re also presented to the queen who commends them to the mission.

All of that, and a little more, takes over 25% of the book and that’s a lot of pages, a lot of reading. It is also our major problem with the book—nothing happens very quickly, if at all. There are a few chapters of pure infodumping which, though some of my fellow judges read, I skipped, paging through until someone said something or did something. I might have missed some nuance along the way, but I don’t regret it.

When the queen arrives, a sense of threat comes with her (this happens once you get past the infodumping history of the queen and her realm) and there is, at last, some interesting character development.

It reads, slowly, like a Dungeons & Dragons adventure. The party getting together, a bit of intrigue and a crawl through a dungeon. However, I would put it in the LitRPG genre, it takes this adventure seriously and there are places where the action is exciting, well handled, and worth reading. If you make it past the first 50% then the pace of the book picks up and things start to get moving. At that point it gets more mysterious and you become more involved in the story. One judge commented that they expected Miss Marple to turn up and solve the whole thing—that’s a good comment on a mystery!

It is a fine debut novel that suffers from lack of pacing and being overlong. However, if you like your fantasy slow and epic then it could well be for you.

– – –

And with that we say goodbye to Aching God by Mike Shel. We have six more books to go, and Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe is still our book to beat! You can see our scores below and visit Mark Lawrence’s website for the total scores from all participating sites.

  • Aching God by Mike Shel = 6
  • The Anointed by Keith Ward = 3
  • The Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss
  • Orconomics: A Satire by J. Zachary Pike
  • Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc = 4
  • Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe = 8.5
  • Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas
  • Sworn to the Night by Craig Schaefer
  • Symphony of the Wind by Steven McKinnon
  • We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

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 review!

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.


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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