Saturday, July 23, 2016

SPFBO 2016 - Some Reviews by Trinitytwo

Trinitytwo / Tracey reviews 5 of the novels that The Qwillery is assigned for the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016.  With the exception of a few novels that we knocked out early upon a read of the first few chapters we are reading all of the novels though some end up not fully read even after initial interest. We will recap all of this in a post announcing the novel we are putting through .... soon.

A Facet for the Gem
The Tale of Eaglefriend - Book One
by C. L. Murray

Orphaned and unwanted, sixteen year old Morlen has never fit in with the citizens of Korindelf. Morlen's one unlikely friend is the king's advisor, the wizard Nottleforf. As Morlen prepares to leave his birth city behind, the unthinkable occurs. The dying king learns of his son Felkoth's many treacheries against his kingdom and their loyal allies, the Eaglemasters. The king denies him the crown and the depth of Felkoth's malevolence is revealed. Felkoth seeks the mystical powers of the Goldshard to secure his bid for absolute power but is enraged to discover that Nottleforf has beat him to the prize. Before Felkoth can recover the shard, Nottleforf entrusts it into Morlen's care and helps him to escape to the magical Forbidden Isle. it is only when Morlen reaches the Forbidden Isle that his quest to discover his true self can begin. Meanwhile, Felkoth's tyranny has only begun.

C.L. Murray's tale of a young man fleeing for his life and running straight into the arms of destiny is a top notch epic fantasy adventure. Morlen is a likeable hero whose strengths and weaknesses hit all the right marks. The villain, Felkoth is the quintessential megalomaniac. Each heinous act he perpetrates adds to the desperateness of the hero's situation and greatly accelerates the plot. The budding friendship between Morlen and the eagle Roftome is a definite highlight . I also enjoyed learning the secrets of both Morlen's and Felkoth's heritage. My biggest complaint is that there is only one strong female character and although I admire Valeine's bravery, I didn't really connect to her.

I enjoyed the mythos of Murray's world and learning about some of its history. Packed with marvelous creatures, exciting action sequences and a journey of self-discovery, I wholeheartedly recommend A Facet for the Gem to any lover of fantasy.

Dance of the Goblins
Goblin Series Book One
by Jaq D Hawkins

In a post apocalyptic world, humankind reacts violently when it is discovered that goblins live close by. Fear and blind hatred breed an angry mob that sets out to eradicate the presumed goblin threat. Only Count Anton and his community of magicians seeks to maintain peaceful relations with the goblin race. Count Anton works with goblins Hagruf and Talla to prevent a prophesy of potential death and destruction for all. Only by working together can they bring a balance and an understanding between the two races.

Dance of the Goblins piqued my interest with the promise of Goblin mythology. Hawkins sprinkled her story with information of their habits, ethics and way of life that captured my imagination. I was delighted to learn that there are more than one type of goblin and how each type fits into the goblin society. However, as the story progressed, Hawkins became preachy about humanity's endless list of faults. Hawkins' endless call outs of the human race for their arrogance, vanity, disrespect of women, and worshiping a sterile God, just to name a few, made for some tedious reading.

Count Anton was a bit too perfect for my tastes. A handsome, powerful shape shifter, he is one of the only reasonable humans in a world tainted by ignorance. I rooted for his endeavors but didn't feel much of a connection. The goblins, as I believe the author intended, were more to my liking and I enjoyed reading about Hagruf's and Talla's back stories immensely.

Dance of the Goblins has some interesting themes but because I felt bombarded with a constant negativity toward the human race, it raised my hackles. Although this is the only fault I find with this story, for me it is a major one. I enjoyed Hawkins' goblin history and really liked the fact that out of the three main POV's, only one was human. Unfortunately, I was not drawn into the dance but there were moments when I enjoyed it just the same.

The Mighty
Book One of The Druid's Guise
by Michael J Sanford

Fifteen year old Wyatt is unique because he lives in two worlds. On Earth, Wyatt's grandmother and caretaker is hospitalized and he is sent to Shepherd's Crook, an institution for troubled children. He avoids dealing with the trauma of his situation by immersing himself in his imagination, naming himself Wyatt the Mighty and hurling fireballs, lightning, and ice spears at his enemies. Life is unbearable, until with the help of his pendant made of jade and driftwood, Wyatt is mysteriously transported to Hagion, a world where magic abounds. But Hagion is dangerous and Wyatt finds himself in peril almost immediately upon his arrival. Rescued by Rozen, a female warrior of the Draygan race, he is befriended by Mareck and Gareck, a duo from a benign race called the Children. As they teach Wyatt about his new environment and the ways of the Mother, Wyatt learns firsthand about the violent reign of the brutal Regency and boldly vows to free Hagion's inhabitants from their cruelty. For all Wyatt's blustering and assurances of his magical Druid's power, he is still a clumsy fifteen year old; can he really save them?

I feel somewhat ambivalent about The Mighty. The protagonist, Wyatt is not very likeable. I found it difficult to feel sympathy for him, and his habit of sloppy smiles and pushing up his glasses irritated me. However, I kept reading because I wanted to know what was really going on with this troubled teen. Sanford's technique of allowing the reader only brief glimpses into Wyatt's earthly situation will appeal to mystery lovers. Wyatt is clearly emotionally disturbed but although The Mighty contains numerous clues, Sanford leaves unanswered the very real question of Wyatt's sanity

I also really liked Wyatt's odd assortment of friends when he was transported to Hagion. Sanford's characters are really well written and practically burst from the pages. Although I didn't find Wyatt likeable, he was three dimensional. I also enjoyed the cast of supporting characters who were diverse and interesting. The gradual blossoming of Wyatt's relationship with his newfound friends as they encountered a multitude of obstacles on their quest is near perfect.

Problematic are the transitions from chapter to chapter. I was often confused and had to reread passages to figure out where Wyatt was or how he got into certain situations. I feel that some of this is intentional but at other times is not. The story is largely dark and rape, suicide, and mental illness are some of the stronger issues that make up this tale. I would only recommend this YA to older teens as I feel it's too disturbing for younger readers.

The Mighty reminds me of Michael Ende's The Neverending Story but without the emotional connection to Wyatt that I felt with Bastian. As this is only book one I am not sure where Sanford is taking Wyatt, but I fear that the story will get even darker and sadder. Frankly, I'm still on the fence about whether to continue reading future books in the series.

The Music Box Girl
by K. A. Stewart

The Music Box Girl opens as a young man seeks his fortune at the famous Detroit Opera House. Tony is grateful to be hired as a stagehand but he aspires to one day sing on stage. A mysterious cloaked woman promises to give him voice lessons with the stipulation that she remains anonymous. Tony agrees, believing her to be the mysterious ghost that the other stagehands have warned him about. Though odd, Melody's musical knowledge and talent is undeniable and he honors her request as he hones his skill. Tony gets his big break when the temperamental star tenor walks out on the production and he triumphantly steps in. Bess, a close friend from Tony's childhood, happens to be in the audience and the two quickly get reacquainted much to his tutor's displeasure. This complication begins a series of events leading to mayhem, murder and a mechanical monster.

The Music Box Girl is a delightful steampunk adventure that features a few of my favorite things: secret passages, automatons, a dirigible, and a very interesting love triangle. Tony, the would-be tenor, is a genuinely good guy with a heart of gold. He has strong feelings for both the dangerously single-minded Melody, and Bess, the bold explorer. Stewart's third person narrative showcases these characters' wildly diverse motivations and left me hard-pressed to pick a favorite.

There are plenty of action sequences that ramp up the excitement. My favorite is a game of cat and mouse in the many secret passages of the old opera house. Stewart's antagonist garners some sympathy which, coupled with the entertaining descriptions of the backstage antics and inner workings of the opera house, serve to enhance the complexity of the plot. I highly recommend The Music Box Girl; it's a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable adventure that I found difficult to put down.

Yesterday's Prince
By HD Lynn

Yesterday's Prince intrigued me with its opening. While on campaign against his uncle, the wizard Arniel Gains, prince Uther wakes disoriented and tied up in an unfamiliar marshland. As he struggles to escape his bonds, he is discovered by one of his loyal soldiers, yet Brinn looks upon him with hatred. Confused, he chances to glimpse his reflection in the water and realizes he has been somehow cursed to inhabit his uncle's body. Brinn attempts to take him back to camp for execution but the fae intercede on his behalf. He is brought to the home of Malmordra, a fae of exceptional powers, to recover. But how does one recover from a curse?

Yesterday's Prince is a solid fantasy. Lynn does a good job of conveying Uther's range of emotions. Trapped in his uncle's body, he alternates between being scared, frustrated, angry and full of despair. I like the idea of a curse that forces the young prince into his uncle's much older body and allows Arniel to inhabit his nephew's form and easily rule in Uther's stead. Uther's best friend Septimus is also a wizard and although young and nowhere near as powerful as Arniel, he is smart enough to realize that something is wrong. At the start of the story, Septimus is interesting and well-rounded but unfortunately as the story progresses he becomes rather flat and predictable.

There are some continuity problems as Septimus starts out as a wizard who is afraid to perform real magic but once in danger leaps full bore into some pretty grisly blood magic. His spells compel other humans to essentially become his puppets. Lynn mentions at one point near the end of the book what a powerful wizard Septimus is which confused me. When did that happen? Yesterday's Prince needs a bit more editing as typos also abound.

The parts that really drew me in and kept me reading are Uther's interactions with the fae. Malmordra and her daughters and their nonhuman way of thinking kept me entertained and turning pages. I hope Lynn plans on revealing Malmordra's past association with Arniel which is alluded to often in the course of the story. I am also quite attached to the goblin, whom Uther names Rosebud, and think that her relationship with the cursed prince is simply adorable.

Yesterday's Prince has some great fantasy elements and I think readers will root for Uther and his companions. Regrettably, the story lost steam near the end and didn't have much in the way of resolution. However, it shows promise and I'm definitely interested in reading about Uther's further adventures after some of the editing problems get worked out.


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