SPFBO - ROUND 1 (28)

THE DARK SEA BEYOND by Rye Sobo is a book that stars one of my favorite races of fantasy: gnomes. Gnomes are sort of the odd stepchildren of fantasy with the most famous examples of them being Dragonlance's Tinker Gnomes, David the Gnome, and the World of Warcraft ones that are just Tinker Gnomes. Much of their handling in fantasy is about how they're ridiculous and don't fit with the rest of the Tolkien homages. This book is no different and benefits strongly from it.

Ferrin is a gnome who pretends to be a pirate captain in order to pick up women. Pirate Captain Gustavo Blanco is a bit better of an identity to pretend to than pretending to be a Navy SEAL (stolen valor is not cool). However, it gets him into trouble as Captain Gustavo finds himself wanted for murder. A murder our gnomish hero could not have committed because he is incredibly bad at anything other than lying to easily-impressed women. This leads Ferrin to join an actual crew and find himself in even bigger hot water than if he'd stayed to meet the charges laid against his false identity.

What follows is an entertaining story about a fish out of water enjoying the life of storms, sea monsters, bounty hunters, and other problems that he was never prepared for. Worse, he's a midshipman and if you know anything about the Navy then he'd have been better throwing himself overboard. Noticing a pattern here? I enjoyed Ferrin's adjustment to life on the sea and the relative authenticity of the routine that is described within.

The world created by Rye Sobo is reminiscent but not identical to that of Dungeons and Dragons as well as Warcraft. There's orcs, magic, and a anachronistic mash-up of technologies that vaguely resembles the Renaissance without gunpowder. It's a familiar world but that doesn't mean it's a bad one and the tried and true formula works well here. There's a lot of entertaining stuff in this book and the humor is well-handled with it never going to the ridiculous. Our (anti)hero is completely unqualified to do any sort of heroics but that's what makes his attempts at derring do all the more amusing.

One element I really enjoyed about Ferrin is that he's actually a storyteller primarily and that allows the book to veer off from his adventures to discuss other characters. I also like Ferrin's capacity for magic, minuscule as it is, impresses his fellow sailors and allows him to get out of his situation at the bottom of the ship's totem pole. To an extent, at least.

In conclusion, this is a good book that has a fun lead in an interesting situation. The use of a gnome is an exploration of a litte-used fantasy race. I appreciated the authenticity to life on sea as well as the humor from the protagonist's ill-suitability to it.

Chaos Trims My Beard
09, May

CHAOS TRIMS MY BEARD is a noir urban fantasy following the misadventures of Edawyn Sattler. Edawyn is a half-dwarf who, at least, has a beard despite his mixed ancestry and this provides him some magical benefits. Teamed up with a suicidal wind spirit, a talking rat detective, and more oddball characters--he attempts to solve a murderous conspiracy before it ruins his life even worse than it already is.

Jack Bloodfist: Fixer
07, May


JACK BLOODFIST: FIXER is a urban fantasy story in the vein of Netflix's recent Will Smith vehicle BRIGHT, which has a urban fantasy setting where orcs live alongside humans as well as elves. I'm a huge fan of orcs, especially orc protagonists, so this was something I was looking forward to. I found myself pleasantly surprised throughout the novel and overall enjoyed it greatly.

The Crimson Queen (The Raveling #1)
03, May

Rating: 9.5/10 stars

I’m completely blown away.  This book completely obliterated my expectations.  It was fantastic!

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. 

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