* 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 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 the first of our five to fall it does not mean the next twenty or so are better. It’s just that they were read afterwards. The eventual finalist will be the book we thought was most engaging, well-written, exciting, of our 30 books. There can be only one!

If you have no idea what we’re talking about. You can learn more about the SPFBO here.

The War of the First Day by Thomas Fleet

The War of the First Day (cover)When the king of the southern lands invades the witchlands, witch apprentice Lilta is ordered to kill the king and capture his infant son. Thus, Lilta is swept up in a war between the witches and the south lands. Witches soon learn that traitors among them planned the invasion for their own reasons, and the witchlands explode in a savage civil war.

At first it seems that Reeva, the leader of the traitors, wants to rule the witchlands, until Lilta learns that Reeva’s goal is not power.

Then it seems Reeva is seeking a potent magical object that will help her kill the surviving faithful witches. It’s not that either.

Whatever Reeva’s goal, it involves the approaching Day of All Centuries, a magical day on which anything can happen. If the traitors can use the Day’s power, there’s nothing they won’t be able to do.

Meanwhile Lilta’s mistress Apandra, distracted with the fighting, fails to notice Lilta’s growing magical knowledge. Lilta discovers magic that might defeat their enemies, but the risks are terrible. Apandra forbids her from attempting it, and Lilta must decide if she dares to try to overcome her own mistress, before everything she holds dear is destroyed.

The cover to The War of the First Day doesn’t give you a clear impression of the book, its story, or even its genre. You think it is one thing (naked women, staring at the camera, covering up) and it reads like something else (which is, in our opinion a good thing). However, the confusion of the cover manifests itself in the prose, the story, and the characters. We’re pretty sure that there is a good story hidden in this book, however our judges were unanimous that there were better samples for us to continue with.

Astray by J. F. Rogers

Ashtray (cover)A mysterious amulet leads Fallon to everything she’s ever wanted, and possibly to her death.

After a lifetime with no knowledge of her parents, troubled seventeen-year-old Fallon Webb receives a necklace once belonging to her mother. The amulet leads her on a life-changing journey through a portal to a foreign land where she encounters unusual creatures, shapeshifters, and something she’s always longed for—family.

In Ariboslia, Fallon learns her mother is alive. Vampire-like creatures hold her, and many others, captive. Most distressing is the prophecy that devastated her family. Can she trust it? Because if it’s right, Fallon must destroy the vampires’ leader—her uncle—to rescue her mother and free her people from the threat.

Unprepared and afraid, Fallon sets out on the journey, with no skills to assist her quest and no other way home. In her travels, she learns about the One True God and how desperately she needs Him. Perhaps, with His help, she’ll find a way to fulfill her destiny and stay alive.

Astray is the first book in the Ariboslia Christian fantasy series.

Although several judges thought this book might appeal to some younger readers, particularly those interested in the religious themes, many of us found the prose to be too simple and the characters too flat to continue reading. The story begins with a prologue in third person and chapter one is first person, and a different character. None of our judges felt they had a connection with the main character and the dialogue is stilted and cliched at times. If there had been a solid hook or something different to engage our interest, we might have read on.

Necromantica by Keith Blenman

Necromantica (cover)Storm the castle. Raise the dead. Bring the world to its knees.

Best. Date night. EVER.

In this heart-stopping, dark fantasy, two thieves charge through an epic battle between monsters and men. One, a necromancer, a sorceress who uses black magic to manipulate the dead. The other, a rogue assassin and skilled swordsman. Enemies to both armies, allied only to each other, they face doom at every moment on a suicide mission to steal from a holy king.

You have to applaud an author who tries something different. Too many authors play it safe, but some are willing to take a risk. When it works, it can really work. When it doesn’t, it really doesn’t. Sadly, this book did not work for our judges. The author tries for a poetic, clever and verbose style, which may appeal to some, but we found confusing and jarring. Lots of words were being thrown onto the page with little happening, and we struggled to follow. If you are looking for something different, we’ll commend you to the Amazon sample where you can decide if it is for you, or not.

Caliban’s Children by John Walters

Caliban’s Children (cover)Content is being siphoned from libraries and replaced with half-truths and lies. Weather, time, and distances are distorting like images in a funhouse mirror. People are discovering the ability to morph into animals. At first it all seems idyllic and magical until a dark power begins to manifest itself, assert control, and demand obedience.

Ethan is a university student caught in the midst of a kaleidoscopic confusion he cannot understand. After journeying into the wilderness seeking answers, he realizes he has to ally himself with the beasts of the Earth and venture into a bizarre, mutating, peril-filled city to rescue his lover and attack the source of the evil.

This author has a lot of books available. Head to his Amazon page and you’ll find nine pages of books. All of which is an aside, let’s look at this one.

There is a neat idea, which reflects a lot of the political world around us at the moment—the truth being replaced by lies. Of course, the morphing into animals bit isn’t happening, apart from the occasional political donkey and ass.

There is a lot of telling in the first part of the book and a few wayward sentences that create a little confusion. Following the somewhat juvenile main character, we come across a character building a miniature city that struck a few of us as nice piece of worldbuilding (not literally), which may foreshadow something further on in the book. One of our judges commented that characters changed names in one section, and it is these little missteps which started to build up. Sadly despite the mystery that was developing we were just not hooked enough into the story to read on.

More Than Bad Intentions by Anna Sikorska

More Than Bad Intentions (cover)More Than Bad Intentions is a funny fantasy story, where the action develops at a rapid pace, and we can follow the main character’s journey through amazing lands to a surprising finale.

For Darreth, a young demon exiled from Hell, the most desirable object is the Jewel giving power to rule his native dimension. The search for it leads him through lands of Earth, Fables, Nightmare, Absurdity and Hell itself, but the closer he gets to the goal, the less he wants the Jewel. During the adventure he discovers more and more intrigues, and nothing, including demons and angels, is what it seems.

As the blurb indicates, this should be a funny story and our judges felt the author was attempting a Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett type approach. If you’re going to try and do that, you’d better be able to match it because just a few missteps will be all to obvious. Here, the author has gone for an omniscient approach, which has sadly resulted in a lot of telling rather than showing. Reading on we hit some clunky dialogue and a lot of repeated words.

As before, we applaud any author who tries something new, different, or wishes to pay homage and emulate a style, but sadly this just didn’t work for us.

– – –

There it is. Fantasy-Faction’s second Five to Fall post of the 2019 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: David Zampa, G R Matthews, Julia Sarene, Jessica Juby, Katrik Narayanan, A M Justice, Lynn Kempner, and Mariëlle Ooms.

If you’d like to learn more about this year’s judges you can read about them here.

Any queries should be directed to me (G R Matthews) via DM (Facebook/Twitter) or my contact form here.

Title image by Taylor Ann Wright.


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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