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We are so happy to be a part of this year's competition!

“The Speculative Fiction Indie Novella Championship (SFINCS, pronounced “sphinx”) is a yearly competition to recognize, honor, and celebrate the talent and creativity present in the indie community. We are a sister competition to both SPFBO and SPSFC, and we highlight greatness in the novella format in all areas of speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, horror, etc.).”

It is a sad reality in this contest as it is in SPFBO and SPSFC, that we have to cut books. It kills us as readers because we have to make such hard choices. Honestly, many of the books we have in our group are excellent and should be enjoyed by as many readers as possible. So, please give these first 5 cuts a go. You won’t be disappointed.

The Godmother

by Katherine D. Graham

Flames rise on the horizon. The Godmother rises to meet them.

Eliza Farrington the Third is the top Fairy Warrior in the universe, undefeated in both magic and physical strength. She is also The Godmother -- the protector and trainer of the Fairy Crown Princess.

For twenty years Eliza has prepared her charge to bring change to the rule of terror the tyrannical Fairy King and Queen have inflicted upon the worlds. The Princess's kindness and mercy are already renowned, and her coronation is only a month away.

But the Dragon Emperor's legions landing on their doorstep threatens everything.

When the Dragon Emperor presents the sole remaining royal Dragon Egg to the Fair Folk with a deadly proposal, can Eliza change the fate of her beloved Princess?

Or will the hate of multiple generations snuff out their only flame of hope?

Twenty-five years ago, there was life. Twenty-five years ago, there was peace when the descendants of the dryads and naiads kept all life in balance. Until one fateful night when the Oderbergs invaded, executed the royal house of Domonov and took Domovnia for their own, ruling with an iron fist and an edict of fear.
Roslyn Pleveli, like most of the orphans of that night, wants revenge and an end to the persecution of her kind. Yet, even if the Domovnian’s use of magic was permitted, she wouldn’t be much help, able to command only a few lowly weeds. But everything changes when she saves the life of an injured young man in the forest not knowing it was the prince of the Oderbergs himself. Ordered to see to the rest of his treatment, Roslyn is snatched from her home and all that she loves by his soldiers.
Now, in the Oderberg stronghold, she has the chance to change things. With the royal family within her grasp all she has to do to free her people is kill them… but can she do it, or will something more powerful than revenge heal the wounds of the past?

Reviews

Catherine Catcho

The origin story of the Fairy Godmother was quick and interesting palate cleanser for the category. It starts off where you think you have the plot formula pegged, but Graham throws some unexpected twists in that I didn’t see coming. 

Some of the reveals felt cheesy and/or clunky but when I put my “Hollywood filter on- and imagined Into the Woods like vibe, it was easier to appreciate the concept. 

Laura from OWWR Pod

This story was highly creative and full of action. However, due to the short length/fast pace of the book I found myself wishing for more time to learn about the characters and “sit” in the scenes.

A Hired Blade

by J.C. Rycroft

A sellsword’s bargain.
A burgeoning desire.
A future balanced on the point of a blade.

Sellsword Des is travelling alone in a dry and dusty southern land, after a spectacular bust up with her best friend. She’s running low on coin, so when former client Karina offers her a job leading her caravan’s security through brigand country, it feels like a gift.

Des has done the route before, but she isn’t sure about leading solo. She recommends Karina hire Cap, a rugged old mercenary, to head up the crew. Maybe she’ll even learn a thing or two about how to lead, in between the delightful distraction of Karina’s flirtations and keeping the marauders at bay.

As they head off on their long trip across Rescalin, though, the wheels start to come off Des’s plan. The crew is drinking too much, even on duty, and Cap is dismissive of the dangers she identifies. Des worries she’s made the wrong call by putting Cap as the lead, and Karina is in her ear, wanting her to take over.

As brigands close in, will Des back the merc she put in charge? Or will she take over — and risk the caravan’s safety resting on her blade alone?

If you enjoy sapphic fantasy, badass women wielding swords, an Australian-inspired setting, and a sellsword struggling for a place in the world, pick up A Hired Blade today, and join Des on her journey.

This book is available free on signup to the author's newsletter, or will be available from all outlets on release 21st March 2023

Reviews

Catherine Catcho

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but less romance. What’s wrong with me? I actually wanted more world building, but the relationships and romance dominated the pages. Though this wasn’t 100% my vibe- Rycoft easily leads you into the MC’s inner thoughts.

Rebecca Hill

While this had a great premise, I struggled to stay engaged with the book As for all books, no one reads the same book twice, but for me, this was a no go. There needs to be some further character development, and fleshing out of some of the scenes (no pun intended).

Laura from OWWR Pod

A well written novella with an interesting main character. I enjoyed the queer representation, but found myself looking for more a little more depth to the story.

To Nurture & Kill

by E.M. Markoff

Gritty heroes, blood-soaked promises, and family bonds put to the test. Logan meets The Mandalorian in this "expansive, edgy" tale of love and loss. (Kirkus Reviews)

2018 Next Generation Indie Book Awards novella finalist

Eutau Vidal owed nothing to anyone and lived his life as he wanted. But then his sister died, leaving her newborn son Kira in his care, and everything changed. The Purging sweeps on, spreading misery across the Land of Moenda as the Ascendancy wages its war of extermination against the Deadbringers. Now, torn between a promise to his dying sister and the desire to regain his freedom, Eutau struggles to care for his young nephew even as the babe begins to manifest dark powers of the most dangerous kind.

Will Eutau find meaning in the promise he reluctantly made amid the ashes of war, or will he turn his back on the innocent?

To Nurture & Kill is a standalone prequel to The Deadbringer, the first book in The Ellderet Series.

For more from E.M. Markoff, check out:

The Ellderet Series

The Deadbringer

The Faceless God (forthcoming)

Reviews

Catherine Catcho

DNF (but read about 1/2) 

Having two tiny humans, I’m always amused when parenthood/guardianship x fantasy. 

But the toddler dialect drove me kinda nuts. I couldn’t enjoy the world building or character development after that. 

The Strange Task Before Me: Being an Excerpt from the Journal of William J. Upton

by Sean Gibson

Decades before the events of The Camelot Shadow, a young William Upton is intent on ensuring that his late father’s bookstore continues to thrive, even if that means taking a commission from a mysterious client who tasks him with finding an arcane—and possibly magical—tome. With time running out and a large reward hanging in the balance, Will chases down every possible lead, braving the macabre underground laboratory of a sadistic nobleman before embarking on a daring, late-night library break-in.

Told through Will’s own diary and with his characteristic wit, “The Strange Task Before Me” is an intense race against the clock that mixes action, humor, and a bit of magic—all while laying the groundwork for momentous events to come, expanding on the mythology of The Camelot Shadow, and introducing a key new character in the unpredictable Baron Frederickson.

Catherine Catcho

I’m a sucker for books about books.
Yes, I thought the concept was amusing, but the posh-posh tone and non-dramatic pacing made want to pause. And maybe book 1 is less of a slow dance, but unsure if I would continue with series.

Trial Run

by S. Lynn Helton

A Wild Heritance prequel novella from a time before Duplicity of Power.

An impossible theft, a dangerous duel, and a scheme that could too easily fail… all for a place among the Shadowers, guild of rogues…

Just shy of her eighteenth year, Namid has been preparing for this moment for two years. Her chance to become a Shadower!

Before she can take her place in this select guild of rogues in Rhadanthus, city of thieves and thugs, she faces her Trial: a demanding ordeal designed to test the limits of her skills with weapons and thievery.

All Namid must do is overcome this final test – survive and succeed at it – to earn acceptance within the Shadowers as one of their own. With challenges facing her both in the city and from within the guild itself, Namid is determined that nothing will keep her from her goal.

She only hopes that she’s not outmatched…

Catherine Catcho

I love a strong, clever female MC.
I liked the concept of this, but the plot pacing felt a little clunky. It didn’t help that the magic world building felt too vague and casual.
But with a clever ending like that, I’d be curious to see how Helton’s voice progresses.

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