SPFBO - ROUND 1 (29)

Tiger Lily
19, Feb

Rating: 4/10 stars

There aren’t enough Asian-inspired fantasies out there.  

Sufficiently Advanced Magic (Arcane Ascension #1)
05, Feb

Rating: 4.5/5 stars (9 out of 10 stars)

Simply enthralling and fun from cover to cover.

The War of Undoing (Kyland Falls #1)
31, Jan

Rating: 3.75/5 stars (7.5 out of 10)

The War of Undoing is a great example of why sometimes you should not judge a book by its cover.

Devil's Night Dawning (Broken Stone Chronicle #1)
30, Jan

Rating: 3/5 stars (6 out of 10)

A sprawling, dark epic fantasy with Gothic horror elements, Devil’s Night Dawning is a good start to a saga.

Disclaimer: The review below was written by Rita, who selected Pilgrimage to Skara as her semi-finalist. While Petros didn't share her strong feelings about the book, he still found it to be better than all other semi-finalists, and chose to send it as BookNest's finalist to the 2nd round of the SPFBO, with a 7/10 score. 

The White Tower (The Aldoran Chronicles #1)
23, Nov

The White Tower is a big book at a whopping 624 pages, but it is a page turner in enough parts.It is a sprawling epic fantasy tale with a huge character cast and diverse settings. It starts as a typical run of the mill epic fantasy, which I didn't mind at all cause everything I love about epic fantasy was there. The White Tower features a lot of Point of View characters, but the plots are centered around four of them. These are Ty, the fae-bred youth who seems to be some kind of chosen one, Ayrion the Guardian Protector, the heroic warrior figure, the magic wielding smith Ferrin, and the villain Valtor who is a dark magician hell bent on summoning the long-banished dark lord figure. Ty's point of view scenes have a whimsical quality; I particularly loved the magic displays and the interesting secondary characters there. 

Ferrin's and Ty's parts were among my favorites as well as Ayrion's excursions and rather interesting battle scenes with a bit of a magic twist. The action scenes are impressive and the character perspectives get interesting as you progress through the story. Poor quarter and thieves' guild parts were excellent. Another positive aspect is the presence of amazing female characters. These being said, the White Tower has several serious issues.

The biggest problem I have is the excessive info-dumps. I was willing to overlook them in the beginning since the well-paced action scenes and the tension-heavy parts balanced them out, but they piled up rather quick and became an annoyance. I appreciate the rich and highly detailed world-building and the author's love for the world he created, but there are better ways to feed the information to the reader. 

The other issue is the logic errors. In one scene, the character falls on his back and ends up with a gash on his forehead. In another, a woman named Saleena is being tortured, but she worries about whether she will be attractive to the men if she survives the ordeal. This was one of the parts which made me face-palm. Then there is a long info-dump telling her life story. The flashback would be fine if it was done in the right place, but it came off quite boring. In contrast, Ferrin's flashbacks during his torture scenes were compelling to read cause they were timed right, kept brief and interesting. 

Some of the information is unnecessarily repeated. By page 488, I already knew the High Guard was an elite group protecting the king, but this info is repeated in the middle of a battle action. 

The other major issue I have with The White Tower, as with the two others in my SPFBO stack, is the excessive use of modern vocabulary. It simply doesn't belong in epic fantasy with a pre-modern setting and ruins the atmosphere. I can't feel the fantasy world of the book if I'm constantly transported back to the 21st century with words and idioms like faux, socially-awkward, claustrophobic, sadism, beau (seriously?), positive attitude, fecal smell, positive feature, technique, alone time (good grief!), novel (it should have been tome), logical metaphor, get it out of his system, homicidal maniacs, superb (I can recommend some good editors), positive result, shelving unit (this made me put the book down and think of Ikea catalogs.) These are the worst of the modern language examples I have highlighted. There are more. I blame the editor as much as the author here: No self-respecting editor should allow that kind of vocabulary in an epic fantasy book. I can overlook "Yeah, I got it" and "Wow!" but that's about it. 

Last, but not least, there are quite a few typos. One example: Cauldron is misspelled as Caldron in four places. My search for Cauldron returned zero results. I can overlook the occasional typo or two, but this kind of pattern sticks out like a sore thumb.

Despite all the shortcomings, the story is compelling and the majority of characters are highly interesting. Lyessa and Sheeva were among the best female characters I've read in fantasy books, even though Sheeva's parts were brief. I am planning to read Shackle, the prequel from Ferrin's point of view and if Mr. Wiseheart published a novella featuring Sheeva, I'd buy it on the spot.

I think The White Tower is overall a great story and could have been easily on par with mainstream published books -if not better- with serious editing and beta readers with higher standards. 

This is a sword and sorcery tale, with a good amount of sword and little sorcery. It has a nice action-packed opening, with our hero the farmboy Benjamin helping his village folk battle  a demon attacking their village. Shortly after, a strange group shows up, featuring a stern mage lady, a blademaster, an affable rogue and a noble girl with her maid. One can see the Wheel of Time influence, but it didn't feel derivative at all. The characters and the general atmosphere were different enough. 

Kindling (The Obsidian Embers #1)
05, Oct

     Kindling features interesting main characters and great action scenes, especially in the last quarter of the book. It opens with a great prison sequence which reminded me of the Elder Scrolls games. The main protagonist Zahir left a great first impression on me, as did the realistically depicted inmates. However, after the first chapter it started to fall flat due to the dire need of editing. I can overlook a flaw or two, but they piled up rather quick.

The Dragon Wakes (The Land of Fire and Ash #1)
24, Sep

The Dragon Wakes is the story of Reva, Luca, Stefan, and Davead. Reva & Luca, betrothed at a young age & separated just as quickly, are living much different lives than they imagined for themselves at age 13. 

Stefan, misguided & cruel, will do whatever necessary to overcome his horrible reputation & secure his spot as next in line for the throne. King Davead lives in fear of a prophecy that promises his life will be taken by a Menti, sorcerers possessing powers all along the spectrum of animal & elemental. 

The first thing that struck me about this book is that Stefan & Davead's perspectives were both sparing & almost unnecessary to the plot. Our time with Davead in particular is so small that I think the page space could have been used more effectively with Stefan's perspective, which would have served to solidify his character a bit more. 

I quite enjoyed when we flipped back to Reva or Luca, as the two of them were more fleshed out with perspectives that served to enhance the story.

I am partial to when prose is directly complimentary to a story. Dalton uses an unadorned style of writing which served well alongside her straightforward characterization. It took no time at all for me to become acquainted & sympathetic with Reva & Luca, to develop hatred for Stefan and skepticism of King Davead. 

The story is told well & proceeds along a logical sequence of events.

My two major issues are:

1. This is a story I have read before. Maybe not every point is exact, but convoluted religions, selfish kings, & animal/elemental magic are nothing new in the world of Fantasy. When you choose to use one or more of these foundational Fantasy elements I think it's important to bring some striking or original aspect to the table to differentiate it from the millions of other books of the same genre.

I didn't necessarily find that in this book. As I mentioned, the story is told well enough & kept my attention throughout, it just didn't take me somewhere I've never been before.

2. There isn't enough depth. This mostly has to do with the world building. Though the story is told in multiple locations throughout the kingdom, it tends to feel very small in scope.

Only a few settings are fleshed out & so I didn't get a very firm sense of what kind of kingdom this story is set in. The Sisters of Enlightenment were an interesting concept, but once again I'm not sure why they exist, how their religion ties into their actions, or how they fit into the kingdom.

I also could've done with a bit more unpredictability. The course of the story began to feel like it could only turn out one way as I neared the end. 

Overall, an enjoyable story with some notable moments. It's good, but could use a smidgen more originality to make it great!

Wreckers Gate (The Devastation Wars #1)
19, Sep

I definitely have mixed feelings about this book. It mainly follows the story of Wulf Rome & Quyloc as they work together with the deific figure, Lowellin, to try and contain a spirit of evil in its supposedly unbreakable prison. 

The story began on a promising note, with Rome taking up the mantel of the strong-willed & just ruler and Quyloc as the silent, but wise best friend. There are a couple other perspectives thrown in, but the story centralizes around these two as Rome assumes power in the kingdom & Quyloc becomes his royal advisor. 

Initially, I was excited about the story as it seemed to harken back to all the things I love in Fantasy & was written well enough to keep my attention. However, as I progressed the plot started to feel very tropey & overdone. Nothing incredibly new was brought to the table, and so I felt like I was ingesting a slightly different version of a story I've read many times. 

Some of this could have maybe been made up for had the pace not been so dreadfully slow. The story ambled along & did not really catch my interest again until the end. 

I also wasn't a huge fan of how the relationships between the central characters progressed. It felt as though everyone was constantly acting out of spite. Especially with Lowellin. Quyloc & Rome rightfully question his motives for most of the novel, but his responses are vague & unconvincing. I'm not sure I would've been a willing protagonist to this story with such a cruel & ambiguous character to guide me. 

There was some interesting hints at the magic in this world, but I couldn't quite find myself invested with what was going on. Like Lowellin, it too was a bit too vague for too long.

I must say though that this story is written well. Despite the pace, I didn't mind the writing & had no issues with imagining events of the book. 

Not a bad story, but personally Wreckers Gate wasn't my cup of tea.

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