Two reviews… on the same day? Yes indeed. These are the final two reviews for this year’s SPFBO. The fifth—that’s five years of SPFBO goodness and some truly awesome books. However, there can be only one winner of the competition and you’ll have to visit Mark Lawrence’s finalist table to find that out!


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).


A secret affair. A disfiguring punishment. A burning need for revenge.

Kyrra d’Aliente has a bad reputation and an arm made of metal.

Cast out of the safe and luxurious world of silk to which she was born, played as a pawn in a game of feuding Houses, Kyrra navigates a dangerous world of mercenaries, spies, and smugglers while disguising herself as a man.

War destroyed her family and the man she loved.

Vengeance is within her grasp.

But is she willing to pay its price?

Judges’ Thoughts

Lynn Kempner

A very enjoyable fantasy read, where I found a connection with the main character that hooked me from the start. Told in first person from alternating timelines, present and past, which some readers may find is not to their taste, I found it intriguing. Building a story arc while changing timelines is a challenge, and Angela Boord has managed the task with very few hiccups. With careful attention, this complex tale of politics and magic is very satisfying. If there’s a detriment here, it is that an unmarked chapter change in the timeline can be jarring as the reader tries to determine if the narrative is past or present. 

The main protagonist is Kyrra de Aliente, and the story begins with her in the guise of a man named Kyris working as a gavaro, an assassin, mercenary and sword for hire. Most notably her right arm is made of metal and her alias is a matter of life and death. Her relationship and search for Arsenault, the man who gifted her the metal arm using his magic, is the crux of the story arc. His mystery and unexplainable behavior is brilliantly revealed towards the climax of the book. 

The alternating timeline gradually grows together into the present as one narrative with a satisfying end that leaves room for more tales. With good prose and dialogue, the worldbuilding has a distinct Italian flavor, and it is nicely woven into the story. I’d recommend Fortune’s Fool to any reader who enjoys strong female leads and a complex tale.

A. M. Justice

I loved this beautifully written, exquisitely detailed pseudo-historical fantasy in the style of Guy Gavriel Kay. The story is a very slow burn, and the pacing can be exhausting, but in looking back the deliberate detail of the storytelling really worked for me. The romance was extremely well done and forms a solid core of this story of murder and betrayal. The plot is extremely complex, with lots of apparent betrayals and double and triple crosses. The changing allegiances can leave one’s head spinning, and they contributed to a certain amount of weariness reading this long, long book. But the threads of the tapestry are tied off very neatly in the end, and my rating only rose as I reached the climax.

Julia Kitvaria Sarene

I was dithering between giving this a 9 or a 10. I only had one gripe with this one—but it was a big one: I really didn’t like the start. There was so much info dumping, so much names and things to learn and not really much happening to draw me in. I even confess to more or less skim reading chapter two, actually expecting to DNF the book! Chapter three was rather short, so I kept zoning back in. And then with chapter four (around 40 pages), without noticing it really, it caught my attention, slowly reigning me in. Before I knew it I was hooked completely and breezed through the whole 550 pages within a matter of days, being annoyed if I had to put it down!

So that slow start is really the only reason why I was thinking about not giving this one a full 10/10—especially as it turns out I didn’t need all that much stuffed into them, as I understood the book just fine without paying close attention to the beginning.

But comparing it with the other finalists, this one is the one I definitely would want to see win. And so, if for me my other two favourites are straight nines, and I love this one even better? Sod it, it’s an all in from me! 

It’s a bit strange, as Fortune’s Fool is not at all the type of book I’d usually pick up. I am one who likes plenty of action, a fast pace and little to no romance. So I was really surprised when a book that is slow, very much focused on the characters with not so much action, and quite some (not cheesy at all) romance was the book that devoured me whole! 

I simply loved the prose, the world, the characters and the mystery behind it all. I enjoyed every page I spent with Kyrra and Arsenault and seeing them grow and stretch. I really cared about them and what would happen to them so much I definitely didn’t need any big wars and a giant world to explore to keep me entertained. 

While with some books jumping back and forth in time is jarring, it worked really well here. The switches were well placed, felt fluid and added to the story instead of dragging me out.

There’s a good underlying mystery and some twists I definitely didn’t see coming, while I did guess right on others, which balanced out really well between surprising me and yet letting me feel smug at other places.

I really loved this one to no end, and will definitely keep a very close eye on this author in the future!

– – –

Well done to Angela Boord and Fortune’s Fool! The judges really enjoyed this book and that’s got to be a solid recommendation for anyone to pick it up and give it a read!


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

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