SPFBO - ROUND 1
SPFBO - ROUND 1

SPFBO - ROUND 1 (22)

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.

Pilgrim of the Storm (Stormblade Saga, #1)
08, Sep

     Pilgrim Of The Storm is a story of otherness, lost identity and a journey to find answers. It starts slow, but gets interesting as the world unfolds and character relationships develop. Pilgrim Of The Storm is a rather short book compared to the massive fantasy tomes I have been reading lately, it is just 200 pages but a nice read.

Fall Far from the Tree (Fall Far from the Tree #1)
13, Aug

This story is split into four perspectives.

Rohesia 

Daughter of the Duke & thus protected from the consequences of her "outsider" lineage, she is her father's most trusted blade. 

Fastello 

A young man whose father leads a gypsy-like vigilante group that primarily fight to give back to the poor farmers of the land, for a price of course.

Cateline 

A young Mother-in-Guidance & steadfast Stargazer, she belongs to a religious group who worship the goddess of the stars, Ytoile, and condemn the daylight as the time of the sun demon.

Kojiro 

Next in line for the Hanaobi throne, he fears he does not live up to the legacy father and older brother left behind neither in his own eyes nor in his mother's eyes.

 

My absolute favorite part of this book is the religion of the Stargazers. They're a bit like nuns, primarily occupying a tower & consisting of women & children. They worship the goddess of the night & consider the sun to be the enemy of their deity. They cite the sunburns on their pale skin as evidence of the sun demon's malevolence. 

I just love religious, cult-like themes in novels if they are well-written. I think they add an interesting dynamic & characterization potential, and McNulty crafts her characters seamlessly around this particular aspect of the novel. 

When you're dealing with dialogue, there are a lot of things to consider. Personality, regional slang, and making sure each character has a distinct & believable presence that doesn't contradict your previous characterization. The dialogue in this novel also was a high point for me, as I felt it was quite realistic & differential between the characters. 

My major criticism boils down to the fact that I really struggled to follow why certain events unfolded, primarily in the second half of the book. I feel like on both a large & small scale, the important bridges between plot points were entirely forgotten or skipped over.

I had particular trouble picturing the sequence of the climax, but not necessarily due to the writing. The writing was clear in its description, but it read as though I was blacking out while it was happening. I latched onto a train of thought only to have the story switch gears again it what didn't always feel like a logical turn of events. 

Characters were popping up here & there, moving around to different locations, teaming up & betraying one another, revealing snatches of their individual motives, but it all sort of came off as a jumble.

Relationship development was a bit on the choppy side, and it caused me to feel somewhat detached. The story also suffered from using First Person POV for all 4 characters. Third Person at least some of the time would've helped fill in those gaps, I feel. 

Overall, I appreciate the darker themes, as I think Young Adult literature tends to stay on the safer side when it comes to certain topics. There is definitely an interesting premise here, however, I think the book could benefit from taking more time to fill out its story & tightening its focus.

The Silent Song
10, Aug

The Silent Song is an urban fantasy tale set during the time of the 2nd World War where fey creatures had been ever retreating from a land encroached and poisoned by humans. 

Requiem for the Wolf (Tales From the Tiarna Beo #1)
08, Aug

Requiem for the Wolf, the first book in Tales from the Tiarna Beo series by Tara Saunders is a great take on lycanthropy stories.

Rune Empire (Runebound Book 1)
07, Aug

"You are a Rune Guard. Your father trained you, your mother came before you. The blood of champions flows through you."

So this was a really fun book.

Sandell Wall's debut High Fantasy novel is made up of two perspectives. Remus is a young blacksmith taken with the idea of living a life of importance, constantly pushing the boundaries of his own potential. Aventine is a new soldier in the Emperor's elite fighting force, the Rune Guard, and eager to live up to her mother's legacy. 

I enjoyed both perspectives & felt both are incredibly well balanced with how much screen time they receive. Especially as the parallel between the two characters becomes clearer & their stories progress. The main characters had some engaging scenes that strongly characterized their personalities & make it clear how much they are striving be more that what they are.

"You cannot trap the ocean in a barrel."

I do wish that each had experienced a bit more growth over the course of the book. Remus in particular experiences a mini quest that feels random before he eventually finds the track that leads him on his primary journey. But neither character majorly evolves from who they are on page 1. 

The magic system in this world has me quite intrigued. When powered, runestones lend certain abilities to items that have had the proper runes carved into them. The runes present a unique element to the story & I loved seeing their different powers put into action.

I also quite fancied Wall's writing style. His words had a nice flow & provided some really excellent imagery.

"Intricate foil work on the parchment shimmered like rivulets of colored mercury, reflecting the light of the rune in Axid's hand."

However, when it comes to dialogue I felt there could be some more differentiation between how each character speaks. Often I found the conversations between characters a bit too cheesy & unrealistic.

The most detrimental detail came in the form of being able to read the main characters' thoughts. It was distracting in the midst of such lovely writing to read an italicized line of thought instead of having those sentiments integrated into a normal sentence or two.

The major threat that sets events in motion is too vaguely explained in this first installment for my liking. I don't feel entirely satisfied with how much I know about the different races the populate this world, the politics of the empire, or the side characters now that I've finished. But this is a small criticism, I really want to know more.

In many ways, this novel could really benefit from being longer. I felt as though most of the situations presented were about 3/4 of the way through their development, and I would've liked to spend just a little more time getting my bearings with these characters & in this world.

Overall, this debut is quite an achievement. I am definitely interested in seeing where things go from here!

The Shattered Orb (Vagrant Souls, #1)
05, Aug

The Shattered Orb showed a lot of promise with its slightly dark classic fantasy narrative.

City of Masks (Bone Mask Trilogy #1)
01, Aug

City of Masks is the first book in the Bone Masks trilogy by Ashley Capes.

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