Writing and reading is a subjective art. 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 and fresh roadkill upon their tongue. To each their own, I suppose.

However, these are the finalists. Well respected blogs, reviewers and readers out there chose these books as the best of their bunch. On that basis alone they deserve a hearty well done! With that in mind, we will review each book honestly and give our opinion (and score).

Now, onwards with our another review of the finalists of SPFBO 5!


Solve the murder. Stop the war. Save the world.

Sir Brannon Kesh spent years building a new life as a physician, leaving the name Bloodhawk and the war that spawned it behind. But when the King’s cousin is murdered, duty calls him back. The crime scene suggests dark magic and the evidence points to the ambassador of Nilar, an alluring woman with secrets of her own, who sees Bloodhawk as little more than a war criminal.

As bodies pile up and political ramifications escalate, Brannon must join forces with a vain mage, a socially awkward priest, and a corpse animating shaman to solve the murders and prevent another war. But who can he trust when the phases of a bigger plan take shape?

The Risen are the greatest danger Brannon has ever faced. If he and his team cannot stop the killer then all of Kalanon—and the world—will descend into darkness.

Judges’ Thoughts

Lynn Kempner

A good read, this magical mystery whodunit kept me engaged throughout. With a tidy little prologue setting the stage for the players and making the reader a silent witness to a horrific crime, giving only slight clues to the identity of the murderer.

The protagonist is Sir Brannon Kesh, a war hero known as the Bloodhawk, and the Champion of the King. He’s also a physician and would much prefer to be only that, rather than the justice of the king. He is trying to put the horrors of war a decade past to rest and in some way atone for all the death he has caused. A murder of a royal heir puts him at the head of a group of investigators at the behest of the king. Things turn out to be much more complicated than they could’ve imagined and the country of Kalanon now sits on the brink of war.

There’s good writing throughout, which has been well edited, and most readers will find the story entertaining and satisfying. The pacing is good, and there is plenty of action. My only problem is with the character depth not being quite enough to hook me on an emotional level. Then I could’ve felt like the stakes were a bit higher. All in all this is a well rounded cast of unique individuals and a well done mystery with a nice twist in the end I’d recommend to fantasy readers who also enjoy a good mystery.

Julia Kitvaria Sarene

This one started well for me. I liked the characters right away and was intrigued by the mystery! Since I enjoy both crime and fantasy it seemed a great mix.

The characters didn’t stay as well thought out and believable to me as they had started. Our “investigators” who are supposed to be experts and very bright seemed a bit blind and deaf at times. I was also quite annoyed by a few things they did, like blurt out things that should have been secret or let strangers in on an investigation. I absolutely loved the dragon tattoo on our mysterious mage, but I hated the way he behaved like a teen in full on hormone chaos… So, all in all I did like the characters well enough, but they could have used a bit of smoothing out.

The same for the plot—it was engaging and intriguing enough to keep me hooked till the end, but at times it felt a bit too easy or too convenient. The twists were really obvious in advance, so the balance on foreshadowing wasn’t really perfect. The mystery on the other hand was enough to make up for some flaws.

The prose was fluent and I didn’t notice it overly much, which is a good sign. It didn’t feel stilted or clunky, but simply let me dive into the story.

Overall this was a good book I can recommend, I’m still a bit disappointed as it has the promise to be a great book. With some more editing this could easily have been one of my absolutely favorites this year. That said I will definitely keep an eye on this author, as there’s a lot of talent here!

G R Matthews

This book has an excellent start. A murder, which leads to numerous suspects and overtones of a dark magic, which hint at a conspiracy. Our hero of the story is Brannon, the King’s Champion—a man who has earned every scar in battle and who is (perhaps) the best swordsman in the land. He is also a doctor who heals the injured, and a detective who is set to investigate the murder and the dark magic. This is a singular man who can do it all—apart from Magic. For that we have Draeson, a man with a migrating dragon tattoo and who is the most powerful magician in the land—and apparently sleeps with anyone, everything, all the time. Along with a monk and an apprentice physician, our hero sets out to solve the mystery of the murder.

Across the river the enemy await, ready to pounce, and it is entirely possible that these people are behind the murder. However, a Shaman arrives to assist Brannon with the dark magic that seems to be at the heart of the problem. There are some good character moments here where the language barrier leads to some confusion.

It is a book I liked, but sadly didn’t draw me in and make me want to find out what happens. However, I know there will be others out there that love the sense of mystery and the investigative aspects of the story.

– – –

Kalanon’s Rising has a lot of promise and the mix between epic fantasy and murder mystery is an interesting one. There will be a fair number of readers out there that really take to this book; it has clean prose and enough of a hook to carry most readers with it. We wish the author a lot of luck with this one!


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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