Hello dear reader, today is my turn to present my lot of SPFBO reviews for our lovely blog. In this case unfortunately I decided on cutting all three of my allotted reads because overall I didn’t think they had what it takes to continue on in the contest. Plot wise however, I do believe they all have their merits and could have elements that appeal to others even though they did not appeal to me personally.
by S. A. Haycock
What is it about?
Sixteen-year-old Jacob Da Nesta and his older sister Maria live a simple life of anonymity in their peaceful border town. But when a runaway prince from a rival nation appears in their doorway asking for them, their lives are changed forever.
Jacob, Maria, and their allies must flee from enemies both foreign and domestic as they journey through the perilous, war-torn land of Valouria. Guided only by visions from the mysterious Elijah, will Jacob and Maria reach salvation, or will their dark secrets catch up with them?
The plot blurb is intriguing, and it calls back to some classic fantasy tropes, with common folk characters being called to action by a prince in danger. The story feels fast paced from the get-go and the main point of view protagonist seems likeable enough of a narrator to follow along.
Now for the buts: The plot blurb says that siblings Jacob and Maria Da Nesta live a simple life of anonymity in their peaceful border town. Something which is disputed right from the start of the story were the two siblings are said to be tournament champions with lots of fans, with their father being the leader of the village, and hence having to watch how they behave so that they don’t get a bad rep. So that was a little bit of a confusing start.
Then, this book is written in first person present tense, which personally is my least favorite kind of narration if I am totally honest. The main reason being it is very hard to nail. In this case it was a miss though, as the author seems to be in a hurry to get into the plot so he moves past a lot of the necessary fodder and fleshing out that would give the world building and characterization any considerable depth. The characters felt really flat as a result and, at least in the percentage of the book that I read, there was barely anything for any of the protags to make them memorable for more than a few days.
Which leads me to the last pitfall. This work could’ve benefitted from more editing, as there were several instances were the narration changed from present tense to past accidentally, while at the same time having the previously mentioned jumping ahead, making for a bit of a jarring and bumpy ride through.
Ultimately, I think that this story has promise but it definitely needs more editing and perhaps a different narrator tense in order to do it justice.
by Brad Carsten
By Brad Carsten
What is it about?
People say, if Charlie Pratt had a penny for every blunder, he’d fill his pockets and then misplace his trousers.
In October the Campton river clears, and the levels drop offering a perfect excuse to get out in the crisp morning air and scour the rocks for snagged hooks and toads. It’s about as close as Charlie has come to magic… until he meets the strange but beautiful Dalia Addair.
While trying to learn more about her, he unwittingly slots himself into her magical trial—a trial she’s spent her whole life preparing for. He gets a day.
But something’s wrong; the trial holds its own secrets, and powerful forces will do whatever it takes to stop them.
The only way to survive is to finish the trials and block the way forever.
But first, Charlie and Dalia have to learn to work together—if they don’t strangle each other first.
Quirky, fast-paced, and brimming with humour and charm, Fableman is a young adult fantasy that shows how even the most unlikely hero will step forward to do what it takes—when there’s a ten-foot troll on his ass
This was an actually fun read and once you get past the first couple of chapters that take a while to warm up, and the magic starts creeping through, it was very reminiscent of works like The Spiderwick Chronicles! Charlie is a reluctant hero protagonist that is suddenly thrust into the middle of a magic trial by accident and there’s a lot of promise for several entertaining misadventures to come. The writing flows and the narrative voice is light and amusing.
All of that said, this novel really felt like a YA fantasy and hence not really fitting the criteria of the contest, which is for adult fantasy, which is ultimately why I decided to cut it from the running. I will eventually continue reading it however because it was good fun and what I would enjoy when in the mood for a low effort read.
I definitely want to see how Charlie will continue to deal with it all for sure!
The Mistkeeper’s Apprentice
by E.S. Barrison
THE MIST KEEPER’S APPRENTICE
by E.S. Barrison
What is it about?
Storytelling was outlawed. Magic had all but vanished.
That all changed when the woman in black came to town.
Branded with the black stamp at a young age, Brent thought he would end up a vagrant like his father. His craft was telling stories, but the Order had long forbidden any weaving of tales. When Brent sees the woman in black, she leads him into a menagerie of tunnels beneath the earth where his life falls into the nauseating, but beautiful, mist of the dead.
He finds friendship in Rho, a young woman who hides her face with a tree branch while roots and vines bow to her every whim. Together, they embark on a journey to explore the world, escape the watchful eyes of the Order, and discover the woman in black’s secrets.
For thousands of years, the mist and the tunnels were under the sole guardianship of the Council of Mist Keepers. But as new monsters enter the mist, and magic is forced out of the shadows, the Council searches for young blood to join their ranks and Brent’s next in line.
This was another instance of a book that had a promising premise and plot but could have used more editing. There were several moments where I found myself having to go back and read a passage again thinking that I’d missed some detail or other, which overall gave me the sense of the author having all of their ducks in a row in their head but forgetting a few of them along the way when putting it to paper. Past that though, the story unfolds at a slow but steady pace with some intriguing hints sprinkled in that promise an interesting payoff to come hopefully, along with Rho and Brent who seemed to have good potential for protagonists you want to root for.
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Eleni is a Greek book nerd who grew up in Italy, and got her BA Honours degree in Literature from a Scottish university! She can be found reading all the SFF she can get her hands on, and reviewing it for fun when inspiration strikes and she just needs to share her passion. Alternatively, she will definitely be with a needy Westie in her arms watching series, anime, or movies. You can find her other writing on https://fanfiaddict.com or on her personal blog where there are also posts about other literary genres. Feel free to follow her day to day ramblings on Twitter
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