Candles on Books by Annie Spratt (detail)

Now is the winter of our discontent…

All right, it’s not winter, and whether contented or not with today’s outcome, the nine authors still in the Fantasy-Faction batch can stop biting their nails, for today they learn their fate—or at least whether they’ve made the semifinalist cut.

Once again, the experience of art is subjective, and although the five titles let go today didn’t come out on top, each one has plenty of the things beloved by all fantasy fans: adventure and magic. Without further ado, the last five eliminations are as follows:

Solomon’s Seal by Skyla Dawn Cameron

Solomon’s Seal (cover)Ex-debutante. Single mother. Treasure hunter.

Disowned and left penniless for getting pregnant as a teen, former celebutante Olivia Talbot was willing to do whatever it took to provide for her daughter…including become a treasure hunter. After the Pulse hit, activating relics of legend, there are plenty of artifacts to be had—not to mention wealthy clients willing to pay top dollar for them.

Just as her daughter’s private school tuition cheque bounces, Livi gets an offer that could be the break she needs to return to some semblance of her former life. A powerful man wants her to travel to Ethiopia and retrieve the Seal of Solomon—a mythical ring said to control demons and djinn—and this bounty comes with one hell of a financial payoff.

The deadline: a week. The team: unreliable. The competition: her world-renowned archaeologist older brother. Nothing Livi can’t handle… Except the danger goes beyond a few subterranean serpent-dragons she might encounter or tangling with her employer’s deadly second-in-command. This client isn’t all he seems, and handing him the ring might be worse than what he’ll do to her—and her daughter—if she doesn’t.

Fans of Lara Croft may love this fast-paced, tomb-raiding adventure helmed by a single mother. Unfortunately, our judges found the characters too familiar and the plot too predictable. The text also has need of a copy edit to fix typos. Polished, it could appeal to urban fantasy readers who like a strong female protagonist, snarky dialogue, and an urban setting.

Land of Perpetual Night by Miri C. Golden

Land of Perpetual Night (cover)She’s the legend who will topple an empire of lies…she just doesn’t know it yet.

Cadet ranger Troa Travay spends her days arresting outlaws in the wilds of Shinador. Given her squad’s accomplishments while under her command, she’ll someday earn the captainship she dreams of.

For Troa, it’s a perfect life…until she uncovers an insidious plot to assassinate Shinador’s governor, the very man she unwittingly kissed the other night—a ruler the law forbids her from loving. While Troa and her squad investigate, she gains a deadly magical Gift, guaranteed to soon kill her. Worse yet, Imperium law requires she surrender herself to the authorities before she loses her mind and hurts people—as the Gifted always do.

But the magic reveals a tapestry of lies shrouding the world Troa knows, and when she plucks a thread, everything she believed to be true begins to unravel. Now, she finds herself caught in a tangle of deception, betrayal, and slaughter, where right and wrong aren’t mutually exclusive. With her life and all she holds dear hanging in the balance, can she burn through the lies without landing herself in irons? Or will the magic consume her before she uncovers the truth?

Land of Perpetual Night—a prequel to a series featuring the same characters—follows the classic coming of age journey wherein a young person discovers her world isn’t what she thought. The plot revolves around a betrayal that offers a lot for the protagonist to chew on. The writing is generally solid, and some judges enjoyed the story and twists. However, an over-reliance on character descriptions and tropey YA partnering, with everyone making goo-goo eyes at everyone else, irritated other judges. With the mixed reception, we had to let this one go.

Hell Hound by M. J. Sylvester

Hell Hound (cover)A foul-mouthed bounty hunter and assassin, Jane Doe is not your average witch. Working for the ruling magical class in Britain—the Merlins—she takes on the jobs and creatures other members of the magical community wouldn’t touch with a six-foot spell staff.

As rumours spread that a powerful being wants to free a horrific hound from its prison on Dartmoor, Jane and her unfortunately straight assistant, Dawn, are tasked by their Handler to find the perpetrator and stop them using any means possible.

Hell Hound is a fun, charming urban fantasy that immediately brings to mind Hound of the Baskervilles. Yet instead of Holmes and Watson tromping through the moors of a century ago, we have Jane and her assistant Dawn nosing around the streets and alleys of a modern English urban landscape. Great action and worldbuilding—with a complete set of fantasy mages and monsters—had judges tearing through the pages, although our enjoyment was tempered by thinly veiled info dumps and continuity errors. The many pop culture references, including well-known urban fantasies, elicited smiles from some judges and eyerolls from others. Nevertheless, judges enjoyed this enough that many planned to continue the series.

The Madness of Hallen by Russell Meek

The Madness of Hallen (cover)Deep beneath the Meil’vohllen Mountains, Hallen the explorer discovered a Stone of al-Din, releasing an ancient power that once controlled the Armies of the Desert East. Yet madness consumed him, for this power was not his burden to bear.

Drawn to her ancestors’ call, Na’ilah, last blood heir to the mind of al-Din, has left the desert sands; destined to reclaim control of the Armies of the Dead. She tracked the stone to Brúnn, a city isolated in the mountains of Hejveld, but Hallen’s burden was passed on, and she is not the only one intent on finding the source of al-Din’s power.

For it has come to Ohrl, a young boy in search of adventure, who must now find the courage to claim what Hallen could not. For if he fails, if the Dead Armies rise once more, then the power of al-Din will soon consume them all.

We sent this arresting cover on to this year’s cover art finals, and beneath it lay an ambitious story full of twists and turns as a large number of rivals seek a collection of magic stones. The verbosity put off some judges, but memorable, well-developed characters and deep worldbuilding hooked others and pulled them through this long book. All agreed, however, that the text could benefit from trimming of over-long exposition, particularly regarding characters’ relationships. With judicious pruning at both the line and scene level, this could be a very fine read.

Dragonvein by Brian D. Anderson

Dragonvein (cover)Carentan, France 1944—Ethan Martin, a soldier in the 101st Airborne, is fighting for his life. But soon he will learn what peril truly is when he is ripped from his world and transported to a land of magic, swords, and dragons. And though the Nazis are now far, far away, danger is closer than ever.

The Eternal Emperor, Shinzan has destroyed the mages and only a few dragons remain in exile. And now that Ethan, son of Praxis Dragonvein, has returned he must destroy him as well. Faced with unimaginable power, Ethan has only one hope—to reach the dwarf kingdom of Elyfoss before Shinzan can find him.

With Dragonvein, we say so long to the last of the four titles in our batch containing the word dragon. A unique mix of portal and epic fantasy, it’s full of cool spins on familiar tropes, from dragons to dwarves and elves, to the wise mentor and young chosen one. Compelling characters also held the judges’ interest through every twist and turn of this highly entertaining story. As much as we liked it, however, it didn’t quite rise to the level of semifinalist.

The Final Four

The remaining books include three of the five titles containing the word shadow and the only one with the word city. Congratulations to Patrick Samphire, Andy Peloquin, Allegra Pescatore, and Gareth Lewis. Each book will get a full review next week, and our finalist for round one will be announced on October 30.

Our judges are A. M. Justice, Alicia Wanstall-Burke, Amanda Cenker, Julia Kitvaria Sarene, Kartik Narayanan, Kerry Smith, Lynn Kempner, and Mariëlle Ooms-Voges. If you’d like to learn more about us, including our likes and dislikes, you can read about them here.

Any queries should be directed to A. M. Justice via DM (Facebook/Twitter).

Title image by Annie Spratt.


By A. M. Justice

A. M. Justice is an award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy, a freelance science writer, and an amateur astronomer, scuba diver, and once and future tango dancer. She currently lives in Brooklyn with a husband, a daughter, and two cats. You can follow her on Twitter @AMJusticeWrites.

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