The Qwillery | category: Finalist


The Qwillery

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SPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's Finalist

SPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's Finalist

First, thank you to all of the authors in our slush pile this year. We read some wonderful books. A big shout out to our 4 Semi-Finalists who have now been cut:

Oblivion by Andy Blinston;

Knight and Shadow by Flint Maxwell;

The Blackbird and the Ghost by Hûw Steer;


Lykaia by Sharon Van Orman.

Read their novels!

SPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's Finalist SPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's Finalist
SPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's Finalist SPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's Finalist
Clicking on a novel's cover will take you to its Amazon page.

Second, after not too much debate The Qwillery has chosen its Finalist for SPFBO 5.

Congratulations to Virginia McClain with Blade's Edge!

We were impressed with the worldbuilding, setting, and the very strong characters. We are re-posting the Semi-Finalist review because Phil said it best. We give the novel a collective 9.

Blade's Edge
Chronicles of Gensokai 1
Artemis Dingo Productions, January 23, 2015
eBook, 314 pages
 Also available in Hardcover and Trade Paperback

SPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's Finalist
Mishi and Taka live each day of their lives with the shadow of death lurking behind them. The struggle to hide the elemental powers that mark the two girls as Kisōshi separates them from the other orphans, yet forges a deep bond between them.

When Mishi is dragged from the orphanage at the age of eight, the girls are unsure if or when they will find each other again. While their powers grow with each season-cycle, the girls must come to terms with their true selves--Mishi as a warrior, Taka as a healer--as they forge separate paths which lead to the same horrifying discovery...

The Rōjū council’s dark secret is one that it has spent centuries killing to keep, and Mishi and Taka know too much. The two young women have overcome desperate odds in a society where their very existence is a crime, but now that they know the Rōjū’s secret they find themselves fighting for much more than their own survival.

Phil Parker's Review:

The success of this story comes from its originality and vivid portrayal of life for two orphan girls in medieval Japan – at least a fantastical version of that country. I quickly became fascinated with not just the plight of Taka and Mishi, but by the culture in which they lived. The world created by Virginia McClain is so utterly realistic. Beautiful. Violent. Unfair.

The author lived in Japan for some years and her love for the country and understanding of its distinctive culture is apparent in every aspect of the story. It’s so easy to assume that the challenges the girls face are no different to those of a few hundred years ago. The only difference is that in this story, magic exists. It’s what makes it such an original story. Magic operates in harmony with the natural world, derived from fire, water, air, and the earth.

And this is where the inherent tension is derived. Females are not allowed to possess magic. Discovery of their ‘kiso’ at birth leads to their death. Taka and Mishi survive only by the help of people desperate to eliminate this barbaric practice. The story follows the girls’ journey (both physical and allegorical) as they develop their distinctive kiso while growing up into women capable of fighting in this underground movement.

We quickly sympathise with the girls’ plights, we cheer those who support them and despise those who use violence to maintain the repressive and immoral Roju regime. World building is highly detailed. It takes time to familiarise yourself with so many terms for roles, clothes, weapons, rituals and the like but this is one of the features that makes the story so unique. Ms McClain sets her story on the imaginary island of Gensokai. This medieval land is vividly drawn, using language which is rich and vibrant, immersing you in its landscape, ecology, cultures and society.

And yes, there is even a dragon.

I really enjoyed this book. Read it within a few days. It’s not filled with battles and swordplay, there are no wizards and even the dragon is restricted in its involvement. It is a story of great subtlety. The two protagonists are not the inevitable ‘kick-ass’ type that pervade fantasy stories either. Their disciplined development is painful, harsh and mirrors the process of acquiring finesse in any martial art. It’s just that the finesse includes magical expertise too. These are real women, with flaws and doubts, but with the determination to fight inequality. In this respect this is a story which resonates with our own world and that makes this book an even stronger, more commercially viable, product as a result.

SPFBO 4 - Our Finalist

Our five semi-finalists all looked good in the initial slush pile read. Full reads of the five novels pushed 2 to the very top of the list and the choice between them was extraordinarily difficult. What it came down to in the end was a couple of little things. For our Finalist nothing jarred me while reading the novel. I made no notes about something being out of place, etc.

Our finalist has wonderfully flawed characters, exceptional pacing, and a well-developed world history that is comprehensible. There is great action and adventure. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel from start to finish. It was and remained my front runner from when I read the first part of the novel to see which novels would become semi-finalists.

Congratulations to author Mike Shel, author of Aching God!

Aching God
Iconoclasts 1
Trade Paperback, eBook, Audible

SPFBO 4 - Our Finalist
“Closer, mortal. You are here, finally, to feed the Aching God…”

The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside and isolated with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. But just as old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, he receives an urgent summons back to that old life.

To save his only daughter, he must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands. Along with a group of inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization. He has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But how can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god?

First volume in the planned epic fantasy trilogy Iconoclasts, Aching God is the debut novel by RPG adventure designer Mike Shel.

Also included is an advanced preview of Iconoclasts - Book II: Sin Eater.

Some additional thoughts

The main character, Auric Mantea, a former agent of the Syraeic League, had retired after a particularly harrowing mission during which his co-agents were horribly killed. This mission haunts him. He is called back to the League to undertake a dangerous mission when a plague hits  Boudun, the Capital of the Kingdom of Hanifax. This mission will bring up everything that was wrong about the mission that made him retire, but is worse in many ways. Auric is emotionally damaged. He doubts his abilities. After all he feels that he failed his prior team. Shel deals with Auric's emotional issues extremely well - how they affect him, his abilities, and interactions with team members, and more.

Shel does not skimp of the characterization of the team that Auric leads. They are each well-developed - each with their own emotional baggage and needed special skills. Together with this new team Auric undertakes the mission into the Barrowlands that everyone is hopeful will end the plague. The journey the team takes to reach their eventual goal is fraught with perils, fascinating encounters, and adventure on sea and on land.

There are plenty of nerve-wracking fights in Aching God. Shel ratchets up the tension more than once. There is blood, gore, magic, and death. The world-building is extremely well done. The politics, religious belief systems, and history that are the underpinnings of the world and story are clear without overwhelming the story.

Aching God is a fabulous novel. It is a deeply immersive, exciting, and a dark delight. We give it a 9.5.

Note: The novel has several maps and 2 Appendices: Appendix A - Cast of Characters and Appendix B - Places, Creatures, Organizations, Gods, Saints, etc.

SPFBO 5 - The Qwillery's FinalistSPFBO 4 - Our Finalist

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