The Qwillery | category: SPFBO 2016


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

SPFBO 2016 - Our Top 3 Finalists

Here are our thoughts our top 3 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016 finalists (excluding the novel that we chose as a finalist).

The Grey Bastards 
Author:  Jonathan French
Publisher: Self-Published, October 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 386 pages
ISBN:  9780988284555 (print); 9780988284562 (eBook)

SPFBO 2016 - Our Top 3 Finalists

Such is the creed of the half-orcs dwelling in the Lot Lands. Sworn to hardened brotherhoods known as hoofs, these former slaves patrol their unforgiving country astride massive swine bred for war. They are all that stand between the decadent heart of noble Hispartha and marauding bands of full-blood orcs.

Jackal rides with the Grey Bastards, one of eight hoofs that have survived the harsh embrace of the Lots. Young, cunning and ambitious, he schemes to unseat the increasingly tyrannical founder of the Bastards, a plague-ridden warlord called the Claymaster. Supporting Jackal’s dangerous bid for leadership are Oats, a hulking mongrel with more orc than human blood, and Fetching, the only female rider in all the hoofs.

When the troubling appearance of a foreign sorcerer comes upon the heels of a faceless betrayal, Jackal’s plans are thrown into turmoil. He finds himself saddled with a captive elf girl whose very presence begins to unravel his alliances. With the anarchic blood rite of the Betrayer Moon close at hand, Jackal must decide where his loyalties truly lie, and carve out his place in a world that rewards only the vicious.

Melanie's Review

If you take the orcs, the elves and the dwarves from Middle Earth, mix in some rampaging centaurs with a big helping of not very nice humans, quite a bit of swearing and a multi-layered plot then you have The Grey Bastards. Set in the bleak landscape of ‘the Lotlands’ The Grey Bastards, an elite group of half orc militia. protect their community from almost everyone else. The hero of this tale is not a tall dark and handsome knight on a white charger but rather, a greyish green half orc named Jackal who thunders onto the battle field on enormous multi-tusked hog. That doesn’t make him any less heroic. When Jackal discovers that elvin women are being held captive by a sludge monster, that the leader of Bastards might be involved and there are more and more incursions of full blooded orcs killing his friends and community then Jackal decides to take a stand….and one he might not survive.

I tentatively started The Grey Bastards as I wasn’t completely sure I would like it. I am not normally a fan of this type of fantasy so when I found myself staring at the cover I decided to give it a go. I loved it. This isn’t a book if you are sensitive to blood, guts and swearing so be warned but the plot is soo engaging. Despite Jackal’s penchant for prostitutes, overuse of certain misogynistic words used by some presidents and the fact he had tusks, he was very much the traditional hero – tall, handsome, fights the good fight and protects the innocent.

French has crafted an ambitious but intricate plot. I never knew what was going to happen next or whether Jackal would live to tell the tale. This is a sign of a good book in my view. I could very easily recommend this as one of the best books of SPFBO 2016 and potentially one of my favourite books of this year.

Author:  Dyrk Ashton
Publisher: Self-Published, March 2016 (print); May 2016 (eBook)
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 478 pages
ISBN:  9780997173703 (print)
ASIN: B01CXPD8T4 (eBook)

SPFBO 2016 - Our Top 3 Finalists
Gods, monsters, angels, devils. Call them what you like. They exist. The epic battles between titans, giants, and gods, heaven and hell, the forces of light and darkness. They happened. And the war isn't over.

17 year old Fi Patterson lives with her stuffy English uncle and has an internship at a local hospital for the aged. She doesn't know what she wants to do with her life, misses her dead mother, wonders about the father she never knew. One bright spot is caring for Peter, a dementia-ridden old man whose faraway smile can make her whole day. And there's her conflicted attraction to Zeke -- awkward, brilliant, talented -- who plays guitar for the old folks. Then a group of very strange and frightening men show up for a "visit"...

Fi and Zeke's worlds are shattered as their typical everyday concerns are suddenly replaced by the immediate need to stay alive -- and they try to come to grips with the unimaginable reality of the Firstborn.

"Keep an open mind. And forget everything you know..."

Tracey's Review

Paternus delves deeply into myth, folklore, and fairytales, and the result is a harrowing, edge of your seat adventure. Firstborn Kleron, also known as Lucifer, has plans to eradicate those of his kin whose allegiance lie with their Father, Pater. Kleron has assembled an army of mythological badasses that possess wicked powers of destruction and enjoy using them. Eighteen year old Fiona and her almost boyfriend Zeke become inextricably entangled in this bloodbath. While working at St. Augustine's hospital, she becomes attached to a patient suffering from severe dementia. As Kleron and his assassins begin to take out their adversaries, Zeke and Fiona are trapped in the middle of a violent assault with Fiona's elderly friend Peter, the intended target.

The idea of familiar (and some not so familiar) figures from mythology and folklore springing to life is very appealing. All the events are basically happening simultaneously and I was fascinated with the many different locations and subsequent deities associated with them. Each chapter gives enough backstory to familiarize the reader with figures that they might not recognize, or explains twists to very familiar legends, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Although there is a great deal of hopping from place to place, author Dyrk Ashton's skillfully keeps events clear, concise, and extremely exciting.

I did, however, find it hard to establish a connection to Fiona and Zeke. I realize Fiona is discovering enormous chunks of information about herself and doesn't stand much of a chance to shine because of the larger than life nature of her cohorts. I like Zeke a little better; in addition to his special ability, his wide knowledge of obscure legends makes him unique. Unfortunately, his humanness often left me feeling he was superfluous and inadequate. I found their characterizations to be mediocre but I suspect they will be given a chance to bloom in further installments.

This is definitely an action driven story, full of magic and arcane weapons, and at times is pretty violent. Although its many characters are introduced helter-skelter throughout the story, they each play an integral part, and I believe Ashton does a magnificent job weaving each piece together seamlessly. Also fascinating is Ashton's idea of traveling through different dimensions by "slipping" from one place to the next, and the well-explained laws that make it possible and extremely dangerous.

I am a fan of the mythology behind the many beings that populate the story and I loved learning the histories of their creation as well as the reason Kleron's faction have embarked on their bloody quest. Fast-paced, well-written, and enjoyable, Paternus is a distinctly different, adrenaline fueled fantasy that will keep readers flipping pages well into the wee hours.

Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma
Author:  Brian O'Sullivan
Series:   The Fionn mac Cumhaill Series 1
Publisher: Self-Published, February 2014
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 284 pages
ISBN: 9780992254575 (print); 9780994106261 (eBook)

SPFBO 2016 - Our Top 3 Finalists
The Fionn mac Cumhaill Series - Book 1: Defence of Ráth Bládhma:

Ireland: 192 A.D. A time of strife and treachery. Political ambition and inter-tribal conflict has set the country on edge, testing the strength of long-established alliances.

Following the massacre of their enemies at the battle of Cnucha, Clann Morna are hungry for power. Elsewhere, a mysterious war party roams the forests of the ‘Great Wild’ and a ruthless magician is intent on murder.

In the secluded valley of Glenn Ceoch, disgraced druid Bodhmhall and her lover, the woman warrior Liath Luachra, have successfully avoided the bloodshed for many years. Now, the arrival of a pregnant refugee threatens the peace they have created together. Run or fight, the odds are overwhelming.

And death stalks on every side.

Based on the ancient Fenian Cycle texts, the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series by Irish author Brian O’Sullivan is a gritty and authentic retelling of the birth and early adventures of Ireland’s greatest hero, Fionn mac Cumhaill. Tender, gripping, and utterly action-packed, this is Irish/Celtic fiction as you’ve never read it before.

Finalist for the 2016 SPFBO Competition.

Melanie's Review

When I started the first few pages of Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma I did a bit of an inner groan. I was convinced I wasn't going to like it but was pleasantly surprised. Set in 193 AD Ireland druid Bodmall leads a clan of outcasts in a small rath (village) in a secluded valley of Glenn Ceo. I was certain that I wasn't going to enjoy either the setting or the story however, I really enjoyed it. The characters were well developed, the plot was gripping and the characters were both realistic and interesting. It was however, the prose that really made this book. It was so very well written. Hats off to Brian O'Sullivan for telling this myth in a truly evocative way.

SPFBO 2016 - The Qwillery's Finalist

Melanie, Tracey and I read through the 30 novels assigned to The Qwillery as part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off though we each did not read all 30 novels completely. Some were not finished; some were not reviewed. Looking at all of the novels from the eyes of pseudo-literary agents this is the novel that all of us would pull from the slush pile for representation. There were of course other novels that we liked, but this was the only novel that we all liked - The Music Box Girl by K.A. Stewart is our finalist.

The Music Box Girl
by K.A. Stewart
Pirate Ninja Press, April 19, 2016
Trade Paperback, 262 pages
    eBook, April 26, 2016

SPFBO 2016 - The Qwillery's Finalist
FOR THE LOVE OF MUSIC Steam and steel are king, nowhere more so than Detroit, the gleaming gem of the world’s industrial crown. A beacon of innovation and culture, it is the birthplace of the mechanical automatons, and the home of the famed Detroit Opera House. It is where people come with their dreams, their plans, and their secrets. A young man with the voice of an angel and dreams of stardom. A globe-trotting heiress with a passion for adventure and memories of a lost childhood love. A mysterious woman with a soul made of pure music and a secret worth killing for. Beneath the glitter and sparkle, something sinister lurks at the opera, and three lives will collide with tragic consequences.

Tracey's Thoughts

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.

Melanie's Thoughts

I read/tried to read almost a dozen books as part of SPFBO2016 and got quite disappointed in the quality of some of the submissions. It wasn't until I was asked to read The Music Box Girl that my faith in self-published fantasy returned. Stewart's tale of the mysterious Melody, the forthright adventurer Bess and the extremely talented Tony, is a real page turner. I thought that the staging of the main story in a late 18th/early 19th century steampunk version of Detroit worked well with both the setting of the opera house and with the overall plot arc. Stewart managed to create two strong female leads who were very different yet, mixed well with the serious and somewhat innocent Tony. The Music Box Girl is one of those rare books for me where I like every character and I really felt sorry for the antagonist by the end. Well done to Stewart for crafting such a different love story. This was one of those books I didn't want to put down.

Qwill's Thoughts

I really enjoyed every minute I spent reading The Music Box Girl. I love how the novel is framed and there were some surprises. The main characters, Tony, Bess, and Melody are very well done and I quickly became invested in each of them. The setting of the novel primarily at the Detroit Opera House and a steampunky Detroit was unique for me. Stewart does not dwell on how the steampunk inventions work but rather gives a bit of background about some of the inventions and does not get into any minutiae. There is depth to the supporting characters in the novel and the details about the Opera House and opera are fascinating.

Stewart's sympathetic writing of the antagonist, Melody, is exceptional. Over the course of the novel I came to understand her and even feel badly for her. Bess and Tony are both fully developed with Bess having an extremely entertaining back story. There is quite a bit of action and some death and gore as well. Much of the novel is a cat and mouse game with the cat having a huge advantage.

The Music Box Girl is fast paced, entertaining and raises some questions about the treatment of automatons and their place in society. Well done.

SPFBO 2016 - Our Top 3 FinalistsSPFBO 2016 - The Qwillery's Finalist

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