The Qwillery | category: SPFBO


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What

The 5th Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off has commenced as of July 1, 2019. The Qwillery is one of the blogs assigned a 30 book slush pile. We're putting on our agent hats to find that one book we believe (hope) can win!

How will this work at The Qwillery? Each of us has been assigned 6 books randomly. Out of those 6 we will each pick at least one Semifinalist and out of those Semifinalists we shall pick our Finalist after we all read them and politely discuss which book is the best of our best. Rejected books will more than likely receive mini-reviews - a brief discussion of why it was rejected. Semifinalists will receive full reviews, but no score. Only the Finalist will receive a score.

In order to give each of us a range of books I looked at Goodreads ratings and broke the books into 5 groups starting with the 6 lowest rated books, and moving up to the last 6 books that had the highest ratings. So 5 groups of 6 books each were created. Then I put each groups' book titles in separate containers and pulled out 1 from each group to create 5 assignable groups of 6 books each. This way we each get some high rated books, some middle rated books and some low rated books. I realize of course that Goodreads does not have a perfect rating system but it's better than completely guessing.

Those five sets of books were then labeled A, B, C, D, and E. Our names were put in a container and slips with A, B, C, D, and E were put in another container. Then slips were pulled out of each so that everyone was assigned a group of books. A little complicated by better than one person getting all the most highly rated books and someone else getting the lowest rated books. And as I said it's not foolproof but it's better than guessing.

So who has which books?

Note: All book description are from Amazon and you can click on the covers to enlarge them. Books links are also to Amazon.

You can follow what is happening with the Slush Pile at The Qwillery's SPFBO 5 page here.


SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Oblivion (Rakkan Conquest 1) by Andy Blinston

Once a god, now a target

Darius wakes surrounded by blood. Most of his mind has been stolen, and the dark figure that took it wants the rest.

Caught in a raging war between the human empire and fiery rakkan invaders, he soon learns his fearsome powers have made him an enemy to both.

Unable to tell friend from foe, he must fight to escape a fate worse than death. His only helper is a mysterious female warrior who promises to restore him to former glory. Too bad she may be out to betray him…

Who he was and why they want him, he doesn’t know. Is he ready to discover the horrifying truth?

If you like Epic Fantasy full of mystery and action, you’ll love this fast-paced sword and sorcery series.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
The Dark Yule (Pumpkin Spice Tales 1) by R.M. Callahan

Monsters do taste better than kibble--but this cat may have bitten off more than she can chew.

Pumpkin Spice—Maine Coon cat and part-time familiar—is happy to chase the odd evil spirit off her witch’s property...

...until she finds a night-gaunt perched above the baby’s window. The terrifying creature is worlds away from the dreamlands: how did it force its way to the material realm?

Spice is sure something is fishy in Kingsport, and not in the good, tasty way. Someone is deliberately blurring dimensions, building toward an explosion of power on the winter solstice.

But why? Spice is on the hunt for answers—but the longer the nights grow, the faster reality unravels.

Only Spice’s sharp wit (and claws!) can save her oblivious humans from the Dark Yule...if she isn't already too late.

You’ll love this book because everyone loves a cute cat who can also kick serious magical tail.
Get it now.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Quest (The Sylvalla Chronicles 1) by A.J. Ponder

New adventure from A.J. Ponder- in the tradition of The Princess Bride and Terry Pratchett. !

Sylvalla escapes Avondale castle, and the life of a princess, in search of the adventure she’s always wanted.

Once found, adventure bites back.

Fortunately Sylvalla is not alone – Unfortunately, her new-found companions are less than heroic.
Jonathan would rather make money.
Dirk would rather live a long and happy life.
And at 150, Old Capro would rather stop gallivanting and harangue unsuspecting students about his glory days over a nice cup of tea.

Quest has everything, heroes, monsters, chases, escapes and a complete lack of true love. 

A quirky and original celebration of fantasy for everyone who loves fantasy adventure - buy your copy today!

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Love, Lies & Hocus Pocus: Beginnings (A Lily Singer Cozy Fantasy Adventure 1) by Lydia Sherrer

Saving the world is such a bother when it makes you late for tea.

Wizard Lily Singer is kept busy managing library archives, studying magic, and trying to keep her witch friend Sebastian from dragging her into trouble. Unfortunately, he loves adventure even more than she loves being left alone.

She doesn't want to investigate a malignant spell in a haunted house, but Sebastian is promising rare books as the reward. She also doesn't want to hurt her family, but is tired of being lied to about her past. And she definitely doesn't want to get stuck in a dangerously unstable time loop, but Sebastian is in trouble--again...

Strangling her friend, as satisfying as it would be, won't fix her problems. If she wants answers, and to not miss tea, she had best find the right spell for the job--before everything goes to hell, and takes them all with it.

With 300+ five star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads and over 30,000 copies downloaded, this urban fantasy series full of adventure and snarky humor is guaranteed to cause loud snorts of laughter, tea cravings, and sleep loss. Don't start reading at night or you'll never go to bed! Great for fans of urban fantasy from Harry Potter to Harry Dresden. Pick up Book 1 and enter your magical escape today.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Tooth Goblins by Ash Toroid

Ever wondered what happened to the teeth that you left under your pillow?

When Ellie's older brother is turning thirteen, she wants to see the 'transformation' into a teenager for herself. Ellie hides in a cupboard and waits. She is shocked to witness her brother kidnapped by goblins and replaced with a clone. A passing Tooth-Fairy is drawn by the use of magic and gets caught up in the commotion, to discover that Ellie is descended from the legendary Merlin. Together they embark upon an adventure for Ellie to rescue her brother, whose destiny begins to take shape as he must attempt to incite a rebellion against the goblins that try to enslave him. The siblings' combine their efforts with the fairies in their fateful struggle against the Tooth-Goblins.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Alban's Choice by Monica Zwikstra

When their brothers die, Alban and her sister, Rayhan, must take up the roles of heir and wizard. While facing their own personal struggles, they must save their family, their world, and magic.

Magic has been banned in the north, the same magic that holds back the demonic myst that would devour their world.

Wizards are dying.

AND Alban’s and Rayhan’s new husbands have been poisoned.

Alban risks her life on an untried path to become a wizard so she can search for the cure, while Rayhan leads her armies into bloody battle.

With old magic newly found, battles fought, and difficult choices made along their journeys, they discover their strengths and talents.

And, we hope, survive.


SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Heart of Dragons (Chronicles of Pelenor 1) by Meg Cowley

Stolen magic. Rising evil. When orphan Harper discovers a legendary Dragonheart, her life changes forever.

USA Today Bestselling Author and 2018 SPFBO Semi-Finalist Meg Cowley returns with a stunning new epic fantasy trilogy set in the same world as her acclaimed Books of Caledan series.

Magically flung to the faraway country of Pelenor, where magic, dragons, and elves rule, Harper must find her place - and fast.

Searching for the elven King's missing Dragonheart is his ruthless Spymaster Dimitri, who has his own agenda to revolutionise Pelenor, and free it from the King's greed.

Harper is thrust into a web of intrigue beyond her knowledge, and her newfound companions - a roguish elven thief and his ragtag band of companions - might not be the trustworthy friends she thinks.

When Harper and Dimitri's paths collide, the only thing more dangerous than lies might be the truth, yet either might destroy them. Harper is forced to ally with the hated spymaster - but Dimitri is equally displeased that his fate rests in her unworthy hands.

Harper and Dimitri must work together to ensure both of them survive the King's wrath in a court where betrayal is as easy as breathing. The Dragonheart is key to both their successes - but only one can possess it, and the king will not suffer its loss.

Who will drown in deceit, and who will rise triumphant?

If you enjoy epic fantasies with vivid characters and complex plots, you'll love the Pelenor Chronicles. It's perfect for fans of SJ Maas' A Court of Thorns and Roses series and Jeff Wheeler's Kingfountain series.

Read Heart of Dragons now.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
The Pact by Adam Craig

Betrayal tore Liatrix from her life as a succubus, leaving her scarred and trapped in a realm where discovery of what she is means death. Until a chance encounter with an elf named Alvar offers her an opportunity to gain an ally and take revenge.

After forcing him to choose between a life of service to her in exchange for the life of his sister he forms a pact that will alter both their lives forever.

Her obsession for revenge sets them on a path filled with danger and bloodshed. Leading each to question the decisions that brought them here and the feelings they have begun to develop for one another.

Along the way Liatrix discovers the change she wanted from her life in the Lower Realm she may have already received and her obsession with revenge may be slowly turning her into one of the things she hated most.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Bloodlight by Edward Nile

A magic uprising. A city in chaos.

In the city of Delstad, in the slum known as Crow's Quarter, a mage Awakens.
Possessing a dangerous power he doesn’t yet understand, Ludin fights to stay ahead of human forces who seek to exterminate him.

For Riuna, it’s just another job. Kept as the city’s pet mage, used as a tracker to help find and kill her own kind, she doesn’t dare question her place. Running away means death.

Drük has always hated mages, making him the perfect choice for Delstad’s resident Magehunter. But after years working with Riuna, he realizes there’s one mage he doesn’t want dead.
And she’s the one mage he must be ready to kill.

As Ludin grows more powerful by the day, Drük and Riuna’s loyalties are put to the test.

Will Riuna fight for her own kind? Or stay with the man she knows and trusts, a man sworn to kill her if given the order?

While a mage revolution plunges the city into turmoil, and a plot to undermine both sides rears its head, Drük will have to make a choice.

Kill the girl he cares about, or betray his deepest beliefs.

A blood-soaked, bullet-strewn thrill ride. Fast and brutal, right to the end.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Litany of Wrath by Levi Pfeiffer

The world burns. The gods are remote, offering little aid. One man stands between the world and destruction.

For nearly five years Reuben has tended the barrier between his damaged city and the lands of cinder and smoke, and now the veil is fading. Neglected by his gods and his allies, he seeks to understand why the army of fiery knights and their savage followers are destroying his homeland. From soldier to priest to reluctant hero, Reuben must battle his enemies and his own anger to save a world that would rather ignore the danger.

His home destroyed and his new city ungrateful, all Reuben wants is to be left alone. Yet danger follows him closely, and he must join with new allies and unexpected friends to find a way to save the world from the encroaching fires.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Lykaia (Sophia Katsaros 1) by Sharon Van Orman

"We are the terrors that hunt the night.And we have never been human"

In Greek mythology there’s a story of King Lykaonas of Arcadia and his fifty sons who were cursed by the father of the gods, Zeus, to become wolves. The very first Lycanthropes. Forensic pathologist, Sophia Katsaros, receives a cryptic phone call from Greece telling her that her brothers are missing and leaves to search for them. With the help of Illyanna, her brother’s girlfriend, Sophia examines the evidence but cannot accept a bizarre possibility: Has one or both of her brothers been transformed during the Lykaia, the ceremony where Man is said to become Wolf? Who is Marcus, a dark stranger that both repels and excites her? And what is the real story behind the 5000 year old curse of King Lykaonas?

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
A Time of Turmoil (In the Eye of the Dragon 1) by N. M. Zoltack

Tenoch knew peace long ago when the dragons three ruled over the evil, susceptible peoples. Now, however, the dragons are long since dead, and humans rule.

For better or worse.

The king is a broken sloth. The crowned princess doesn’t want the throne. The prince is intellectually delayed. The younger princess is vain and spoiled.

The queen committing adultery sets off a chain of reactions that will leave the world in a time of turmoil. Will peace ever return to the land?


SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
A Triad in Three Acts: The Complete Forester Trilogy by Blaine D. Arden

“There is always a way.”
Kelnaht, Taruif, and Ianys are meant to be together, but old promises and the decree of the elders prevent them from claiming each other openly at Solstice. Kelnaht can investigate murder and foul play, but he can’t see how he can keep both his lovers without breaking the rules. But if he believes in the guide’s words and trusts his faith in Ma’terra, they will find a way to clear the fog and puddles from their paths.

The Forester
Kelnaht, a cloud elf, is a truth seeker caught between love and faith, when a murder reveals an illicit affair between two tree elves he desires more than he can admit. Kelnaht’s former lover Ianys once betrayed him, and the shunned forester Taruif is not allowed to talk to anyone but the guide, their spiritual pathfinder.

Lost and Found
A stripling goes missing from the tribe, and heavy rainfall hides all traces of his whereabouts. With days creeping by without a lead, it’s hard to keep the tribe’s spirits up, more so when Kelnaht’s own future depends on the elders. Taruif has been shunned for almost twenty turns, but now that a possible forester’s apprentice is coming of age, the elders consider reducing his sentence. Taruif could be set free.

Full Circle
When several children fall ill with more than a summer bug, truth seeker Kelnaht is assigned to investigate. What he finds is deadly and threatens the life of every underage child in the tribe, including Ianys’ daughter Atèn. Then a wounded traveller is found in the forest, left to die after a vicious attack.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
A White Horizon (Stars and A Wind 1) by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

In the cold frozen north, the smell of magic was in the air.

A fugitive princess. An assassin in pursuit. Can she outrun a curse she never cast?

Norway, 804. Viking princess Skarga hides her insecurities behind a cover of strength. And after the young girl’s cruel father puts a price on her head for false claims of black magic, she’ll need all the might she can muster. Fleeing the family fortress with her adopted child by her side, she vows to survive the brutal winter.

With a notorious assassin on her heels, one wrong step could spell their doom. For the hunter who chases her is more than he seems… and in the frozen tundra evil takes many forms. Can Skarga uncover the frightening truth before she and Egil meet the bloody end of a sword?

A White Horizon is the first book in the epic Stars and a Wind Norse fantasy trilogy. If you like determined heroines, rugged wilderness, and heart-wrenching twists, in a world where magic is hidden, then you’ll love Barbara Gaskell Denvil’s original adventure.

Buy A White Horizon to escape into a dark Norse fantasy today!

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Sea of Lost Souls (Oceanus 1) by Emerald Dodge

Freedom lies on the open sea. Danger lies within it.

Rachel Goldstein dreams of the vast oceans, and her job in the Navy seems to offer her everything she’d ever hoped for. Her heart seeks adventure, but her mind is still ashore, where the last time she saw her parents, they had a fight that left everyone in tears. She wants reconciliation… which becomes impossible when she dies in a tragic aviation accident aboard her aircraft carrier.

When she wakes up aboard a ghost ship, her new shipmates offer Rachel her only chance to seize adventure again, and she knows what she must do. Aboard this impressive and fearsome vessel is her opportunity to find new freedom — if she can survive it. The ghostly high seas are fraught with danger, from devious officers to murderous pirates. And lurking underneath it all is Scylla, the mythological monster set to destroy anyone who encroaches on her aquatic territory.

Normally ready for anything, Rachel will have to find out if she’s stronger than her enemies and the beasts that lie below the waves. And at the end of it all, can she pierce the veil of death and reach through to the world of the living, and to her parents?

Fans of K.F. Breene’s paranormal fantasy, Greek mythology, and Jessica Jones will love the action-packed nautical fantasy of Emerald Dodge’s Sea of Lost Souls! Pick up your copy and join the crew today!

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Apprentice Quest (Ozel the Wizard 1) by Jim Hodgson

A hopeful orphan. An incredible wizard. One boy must do the impossible to change his life forever…

Ozel wonders if he'll ever escape his angry, fat caretaker. As the orphan hopes for a better future, a mysterious wizard gives him the gift of an apprenticeship and some unbelievable magic. But when Ozel discovers he's the lone heir to a massive fortune, he'll need more than a few spells to claim it.

After learning his portly caretaker plans to steal the money first, Ozel races through a forest of blacksmiths, witches, and even the undead to protect his birthright. If he survives the treacherous Tangul forest, the orphan and his wizard may just have to stop a twisted mage to go from zero to wealthy hero.

Apprentice Quest is a fantasy novel full of action and humor. If you like powerful wizards, twists and turns, and coming-of-age tales, then you'll love Jim Hodgson's worthy successor to the magical genre.

Buy Apprentice Quest to cast an entertaining spell today!

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Masters of Deception (A Legends of Tivara Epic Fantasy) by J.C. Kang

Only an orphan half-elf and a conman can prevent an ancient evil from returning to the world.

Hunting a traitor to the clan that raised her, half-elf spy Jie just wants to complete her mission and return home. Instead, she finds herself trapped in a foreign port, where warring crime factions vie for control of the city’s pyramid.

Cassius Larusso, a local diviner and conman, knows why: atop the pyramid sparkles a Dragonstone, preventing the Orc Gods from returning to the world. His family’s thousand-year mandate to protect the ancient artifact is almost as important to him as filling his coffers with gold, his stomach with delicious food, and his bed with a different type of delicacy.

Joined by Sameer, a paladin pursuing his forbidden love, and Brehane, a sorceress seeking her lost teacher, Jie must choose the right side in a game of shifting alliances and deception. Cassius will lie, cheat, and steal to get her to pick his.

A wrong choice doesn’t just mean that Jie can’t go home; it could lead to the downfall of humanity.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Knight and Shadow by Flint Maxwell

Many years ago Ansen Kane prevented the end of the world by killing an insane king. Instead of praise, Kane and the rest of his order were shunned for their efforts.

Now he is the last living gun knight.

With a price on his head bigger than anyone in the kingdom of Aendvar, Ansen Kane traveled west, toward the Infected Lands, where he’s been hiding ever since.

But in the capital city, evil rises again.

And whether he likes it or not, Ansen Kane will be forced to pick up his weapon and fight.


SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Stone Bound (Chaos and Retribution 1) by Eric T. Knight

The Dragon Queen of Chaos sends her minions to prepare the world for her return...

And all that stands in her way are three children with the powers of Stone, Sea and Sky.

Fen is only a boy when his city is sacked by enemy invaders. His mother is cut down before his eyes. Yet somehow, when the blade is turned on him, he survives without a scratch. But the attack awakens something inside him, something that killed his father years ago.

Karliss was touched by the wind at birth, destined to be the greatest wind shaman his people have ever seen. But he is careless with his power and he ignores the warnings about the madness that afflicts those who don't protect themselves against the spirits in the wind. When a ritual goes wrong and strikes down his mentor, Karliss suddenly has to deal with the true responsibilities of power.

Aislin came from the sea, her origins a mystery. Within her is an innate power over water, as natural as breathing. But she lives in a world of her own, emotionally isolated from everyone else, including Netra, the woman who is raising her. Bullied by the other children, Netra fears that one day Aislin will turn her power on them.

These three can stop the Dragon Queen, but only if they can learn to master, not just their powers, but themselves...

Grab your copy of Stone Bound and begin the epic adventure today! And be sure to watch for the upcoming sequel series, Dragon Queen of Chaos.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
The Borrowed Souls by Paul B. Kohler

In the afterlife, can anyone hear you scream?

He killed himself ... or so he thought.

After an uncommonly bad day, Jack Duffy makes the biggest mistake of his life—one that will propel him into an entirely new world—he’ll face challenges much more difficult than any he’s ever faced before. Assigned to collect souls, Jack begins to realize the true impact of his own life choices. With each new soul, another layer is revealed. The deeper into the afterworld he gets, the more power he discovers. With his trainer to guide him, Jack is driven to the edge where he must decide who gets to live and who will lose their soul.

The Borrowed Souls blurs the line between the moral and the unjust—his eternal commitment or the forfeiture of his tremendous power. Which will Jack choose?

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Broken Crossroads (Knights of the Shadows 1) by Patrick LeClerc

The city of Laimrig, once a mighty hub of commerce and a seat of power sinks into corruption and decay. Slavers, crime lords and corrupt officials hold sway while the ruling nobility wallow in decadence. War rages beyond the borders, while within rebellion simmers and sinister plots unfold.

Trilisean is an acrobat turned burglar. Conn is a jaded former mercenary. Against the background of deadly blades, subtle schemes, glittering treasures, dark sorceries and fell servants of forgotten gods, fate has thrown them together.

Fate has a sense of humor.

Broken Crossroads is a fast paced, witty, swashbuckling modern pulp fantasy adventure in the tradition of Fritz Leiber and Robert E Howard.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Blade's Edge (Chronicles of Genzokai 1) by Virginia McClain

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.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Skies of Olympus (The Immortality Trials 1) by Eliza Raine

A young woman who has outrun her brutal past must stand and fight in this fast-paced, action-filled debut novel readers are calling addictive and original.

What if Hercules wasn’t the hero we all thought he was?

Once, everyone knew who Lyssa was. Her famous father made sure of that. But she has left that life behind her, bad memories included. Her battered smugglers ship, the Alastor, flies under everyone’s radar and that’s just how she likes it.

The Gods have a different plan for her though. They’re about to break one of their only rules and grant a worthy hero a chance to win the ultimate prize – immortality. And Lyssa’s one of the lucky heroes offered the chance to compete.

Twelve gods, twelve realms, twelve trials. And for Lyssa, they’re about so much more than an eternal life. They’re about facing the monster from her past and stopping him from becoming truly untouchable.

Lyssa never wanted to let the world know that she inherited some of her father’s immense power. But maybe it’s time to show them all. How else can she compete with giants, centaurs, demi-gods, warriors and the strongest man in Olympus?

You’ve never read Greek mythology like this before…

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Heavy Dirty Soul by A. A. Warne

A love that transcends Death. A curse that defies Time.

Bold, independent Ivy is a witch. In a time of rampant hysteria against witchcraft, Ivy is an easy target.

After she wins the heart of Thomas, the town's most eligible bachelor, Ivy's rivals burn her at the stake.

Her death unleashes a powerful curse, forcing Ivy and Thomas to relive their doomed romance throughout the ages.

But this is no love story...


SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Someday I'll Be Redeemed (The Chronicles of Lorrek 1) by Kelly Blanchard

Would you sell your soul to clear your name?

Sorcerer Prince Lorrek discovers he has been wrongfully accused of a heinous crime. He is one of three people who know actually what happened, but one died and the memories of the other have been erased, so now only Lorrek remains. As Lorrek goes to clear his name, the kingdoms around him dissolve into war, but he can't go home yet to help them. He wants his accuser to admit to the lie, but even that comes at a price. Will paying the cost for his redemption pit Lorrek against his family in the war?

'Someday I'll Be Redeemed' is the first book in a fantasy/sci-fi series where medieval magic and high technology strive against one another, mysteries abound, and difficult choices must be made. If you like an unpredictable story, realistic male and female characters, a new take on old familiar tropes, and a tale that is different from any other, you will love Kelly Blanchard's page-turning series.

Buy 'Someday I'll Be Redeemed' to launch into Lorrek's compelling tale today!

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Fractions of Existence by J Lenni Dorner

Once they were humanity's exalted protectors— now they are being hunted.

Xavier will weigh all human life against Gwendolyn's ignorant happiness.
The good news is that her choice can blow his away.

Omnipotent beings find each other while playing an online game. Xavier has been searching for Gwendolyn, his true mate and the missing member of the Existence. Only if reunited can the group regain the rest of their memories and access all of their powers. Hidden in plain sight, disguised as humans, they help who they can, as best they can, when they can.

The Eyes in the Shadows, a religious sect, has been trying to free humans from the “prison” of life on Earth for millenniums. The Existence has always been able to thwart them… until now. They've discovered a way to end the world that no one will see coming.

Gwendolyn has her future all laid out. There is a plan. She knows what her parents want for her and how to get it. Then Xavier, a friend from a virtual game, makes her question everything. He's full of secrets, one being an understanding of her fear of the wind.

She tries to suppress her intense attraction to the mysterious and frustrating Xavier. She's engaged, after all, and the thoughts she's having aren't proper. Gwendolyn is swept into a whirlwind of secrets, danger, and a forbidden attraction. She'll drive across the country in her beat-up old car, not knowing if he is genuinely interested or just being polite. (He refuses to kiss her!) Gwendolyn's journey is full of self-doubt, sacrifice, and dark visions that invade her sleep. Will she uncover the truth about herself?

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
A Shard of Sea & Bone (Death of the Multiverse 1) by L.K. Engelmeier

Artysaedra Veiyel is a liquor-loving, street-fighting, foul-mouthed soldier with a temper—everything the Infinite Royal Family’s first daughter shouldn’t be. Suddenly forced to bow her family’s stifling rules and expectations instead of storming the battlefields she revels in, Artysaedra finds her reprieve when three deities of the multiverse, known as Guardians, disappear without a trace.

Only to turn up dead. Eyes gouged. Hearts ripped out. Souls missing. And all in apparent suicide.
Now, a fourth Guardian has vanished.

Slipping away from her protective detail, Artysaedra sets out to uncover the truth of the alleged suicides before the next can occur, joined by her best friend, Naliah, and her brothers, Kinrae and Draven, but their investigation soon plunges them deep into the Realm of Black Waters, a dimension where cities have been devastated, all wildlife has mysteriously died, and mutilated bodies are heaped by the millions, with no cause to any of it in sight.

Artysaedra and the others confront a startling realization: something greater and darker than they ever imagined is at work in the multiverse, and now, they’re all in its path.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
A Wizard's Dark Dominion (The Gods and Kings Chronicles 1) by Lee H. Haywood

Condemned for using a forbidden spell. Imprisoned in a cell buried deep beneath the earth. One wizard will make his captors regret their choice.

When Demetry, a promising young wizard at Taper Academy, discovers a fire-damaged book hidden in the headmaster’s study, he can’t contain his excitement. The book is the Paserani Haote, an ancient spell book that contains the original teachings of the gods. Eager for a challenge, Demetry delves into the book’s dark arts. But when he fails to control the book’s most treacherous spell, it sets off a deadly chain of events that rocks Taper Academy to its core.

Although Demetry’s crime is punishable by death, his life is inexplicably spared. Instead of being sent to the gallows, he is sent to Coljack, a fortress prison built to house the kingdom’s most dangerous criminals. After the prison warden begins to put Demetry through a series of brutal tests, Demetry realizes the prison isn't what it seems, and the key to survival might be his mysterious new cellmate, an ancient wizard who stole a weapon capable of reshaping the world from the king.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
Husk by D. P. Prior

Set in the world of Annals of the Nameless Dwarf...

A powerful demon known as a husk crosses the mountains, leaving a trail of the dead in its wake. When efforts to track the killer end in disaster, the task falls to a man not expected to succeed: the Maresman, Jebediah Skayne, Lothario, hustler, hunter of nightmares..

Jeb has been hunting husks his entire adult life, but there’s something different about the trail leading to the fishing town of Portis on the shores of the Chalice Sea: no spoor, no footprints; nothing save the unmistakable feeling of wrongness.

Finding a husk in Portis would be near impossible for someone who didn’t have the sixth sense, but the instant Jeb arrives, all trace of the creature vanishes, save for the victims it leaves behind: men mostly, half-dressed, killed in the throes of passion.

Forced to rely on more mundane methods of investigation, he starts to uncover a town rife with corruption, where a man will kill you for looking at a woman the wrong way; a town that’s seen its share of incursions from the land of nightmares before.

As events start to slip from his control, he realizes the husk he's come to kill is one step ahead of the game, and it holds a secret that will shake his world to the core.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has What
The Blackbird and the Ghost: The Boiling Seas by Hûw Steer

The Boiling Seas are the mariner’s bane – and the adventurer’s delight. The waters may be hot enough to warp wood and boil a hapless swimmer, but their scalding expanse is full of wonders. Strange islands lurk in the steamy mists, and stranger ruins hold ancient secrets, remnants of forgotten empires waiting for the bold… or lying in wait for the unwary.

On the Corpus Isles, gateway to the Boiling Seas, Tal Wenlock, the Blackbird, seeks a fortune of his own. The treasure he pursues could change the world – but he just wants to change a single life, and it’s not his own. To reach it, he’ll descend into the bowels of the earth and take ship on burning waters, brave dark streets and steal forbidden knowledge. He’ll lie, cheat, steal and fight – but he won’t get far alone. The ghosts of Tal’s past dog his every step – and one in particular keeps his knives sharp.

The Blackbird will need help to reach his goal… and he’ll need all his luck to get back home alive.

Hûw Steer is an author, historian and sketch comedian from London. You may have seen him with the UCL Graters at the Edinburgh Fringe, read his theses on ancient Roman science-fiction, or even read one of his short stories. You probably haven’t, but at least you’re reading this.

Hûw has previously been published in ‘Making Monsters’ (The Future Fire, 2018), and the UCL Publisher’s Prize anthologies for 2018 and 2016. This is his first published novel.

Stay tuned for interviews, mini-reviews and more! And Good Luck to our Authors!

Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) 5

Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) 5

The 5th year of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off starts on July 1, 2019.

We shall put on our agent hats and go through the 30 books assigned to The Qwillery looking for that 1 novel that we think can win!

Each of The Qwillery's 5 agents will be randomly assigned 6 books out of the 30. Each agent will pick a Semi-Finalist from those 6 books. Then every agent will look at the 5 Semi-Finalists. We'll share our thoughts with each other about the books and out of those 5 books a Finalist will be chosen. Semi-Finalists will get reviews but no score; only the Finalist will receive a score. Note: there is always the possibility of more than 1 Semi-Finalist per agent! That depends on the books!

The Qwillery has the following 30 books in its Slush Pile. You can follow what is happening with the Slush Pile at The Qwillery's SPFBO 5 page here.

The Qwillery's Slush Pile

Author Title
Arden, Blaine D. A Triad in Three Acts
Blanchard, Kelly  Someday I'll Be Redeemed
Blinston, Andy Oblivion
Callahan, Rebecca The Dark Yule
Cowley, Meg Heart of Dragons
Craig, Adam The Pact
Denvil, Barbara Gaskell A White Horizon
Dodge, Emerald Sea of Lost Souls
Dorner, J Lenni Fractions of Existence
Engelmeier, L.K. A Shard of Sea & Bone
Haywood, Lee H.  A Wizard's Dark Dominion
Hodgson, Jim Apprentice Quest
Kang, J.C. Masters of Deception
Knight, Eric T. Stone Bound
Kohler, Paul B. The Borrowed Souls
LeClerc, Patrick Broken Crossroads
Maxwell, Flint Knight and Shadow
McClain, Virginia Blade's Edge
Nile, Edward Bloodlight
Pfeiffer, Levi Litany of Wrath
Ponder, A.J. Quest
Prior, D. P. Husk
Raine, Eliza Skies of Olympus
Sherrer, Lydia Love, Lies & Hocus Pocus: Beginnings
Steer, Huw The Blackbird and the Ghost
Toroid, Ash Tooth Goblins
Van Orman, Sharon Lykaia
Warne, A. A. Heavy Dirty Soul
Zoltack, N. M. A Time of Turmoil
Zwikstra, Monica Alban's Choice

The Agents

The Qwillery's SPFBO team is made up of Qwill/Sally, Melanie, and Jennifer from The Qwillery and 2 guest agents:

Beth Tabler of  the Before We Go Blog and author Phil Parker! We are thrilled and delighted to have them!

About Beth

Who Am I?
My name is Beth. I am originally from Las Vegas but now reside in the pacific northwest with my husband, daughter, and dog named Handsome Jack. I run a website called before we go blog that talks about all things books, and writing.

I love books and everything about them. I pretty much always have a book in my hand. I read science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, young adult, and everything else that looks great. I am a big fan of indie authors, and I run a weekly column called #indiespotlight highlighting a different writer every week.

Where to find me?

About Phil

Phil Parker had been a teacher of English and Drama for an eternity until starting a new life as a writer. (It's life, Jim, but not as we know it). He's written 3 non-fiction books, a regular column in an education newspaper for four years and last year self-published his Knights' Protocol trilogy. Its first novel, The Bastard from Fairyland, was an entrant in SPFBO4. Phil blogs at which includes his reviews. Phil also created the British & Irish Writing Community which has a section in his blog. As a judge in SPFBO5, Phil aims to bring his experiences as an author to make sure his reviews are honest, fair and constructive. In his spare time, Phil consumes pizza and red wine and longs to be in Italy while he's doing it.

Twitter: @PhilSpeculates

You can find out more about Qwill, Melanie and Jennifer on the "About Us" page here.

SPFBO Finalist Review: Orconomics by J.Zachary Pike

The Dark Profit Saga 1
Gnomish Press, November 22, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 389 pages

SPFBO Finalist Review: Orconomics by J.Zachary Pike
A disgraced Dwarven hero. A band of deadbeat adventurers. His last shot at redemption could get him killed.

If Gorm Ingerson really wanted to drink himself to death, he never should have helped the Goblin. When his good deed lands him in a bad contract, Gorm finds himself entangled in a quest that will pit him against business magnates, the king of the Freedlands, and a mad goddess trying to fulfill a suicidal prophecy.

But Gorm’s tarnished circumstances may be hiding a golden opportunity. If he and his half-baked party can overcome deep conspiracies and dark magics, he just might redeem himself and his career enough to be a professional hero once more.

Orconomics: A Satire is the first book in The Dark Profit Saga, a trilogy so funny it’s epic. If you like down-and-out heroes, sidesplitting misadventures, and ingenious world-building, then you’ll love J. Zachary Pike’s dark and delightful ribbing of high fantasy.

Buy Orconomics to join the campaign for a high-energy, hilarious fantasy adventure today!

Melanie's Review

Are goblins ruining your crops? Wyrm nesting in your shrubbery? You found a map to buried treasure but don't have time to find it? Look no further than the Hero's Guild to solve all your problems and to turn a tidy profit in the process. In Arth, speculating on the success of a hero's quest is big business. The success of your business and your shareholders can all depend on the heroics of a single individual. Gorm, used to be the best of the best, a dwarven hero with no rival until a job went bad and he lost his reputation, his clan and his livelihood. When he is offered the opportunity to redeem his fortunes he can't really say no....well the gun held to his head helped make that decision. The next thing he knows Gorm is joined but a motley crew of misfits, all of who have something to prove and something to gain. Orconomics is well and truly an epic adventure with heroes and villains galore, a tale of self discovery and a cracking good mystery to boot.

Orconomics has restored my faith in self-published fantasy. I absolutely loved this book. It was funny, the plot was original and the characters were well developed. When I describe this book as an epic I am not kidding, it really is. It took me ages to get through so many pages. It can be really challenging for me to stay interested in a book that is as long as Orconomics but Pike kept a solid pace that mixed action, adventure and storytelling.

Gorm Ingerson, this story's hero, has a great group of characters to interact with. Gorm is supported by a cast of characters that could only be described as supporting cast in your favourite dungeons and dragons-esque video game. The story is largely told from Gorm's POV, however, there are a few chapters where the story is told from other perspectives which all help to enrich the plot. While I am sure that many readers loved Gorm's goblin companion, Gleebek, it was actually the ogre Thane and his unrequited love that made me giggle the most. I feel that I need to warn you not to get attached to any character as Pike doesn't play it safe with his characters.

Hats off to Pike as he has written a truly original story that is drenched in sarcasm and wit. I never quite knew what would happen next which made Orconomics a real page turner. I can hardly wait to find out what happens next to Gorm and his friends. I loved this booked so much that I could easily give it a 9 out of 10. If you like fantasy, have a sense of humour and need a nice meaty read then be sure to get Orconomics on your TBR.

9 out of 10

SPFBO Finalist Review: The Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss

The Gods of Men
The Gods of Men 1
Barbara Kloss, May 18, 2018
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 450 pages

Top 10 Finalist in Mark Lawrence's SPFBO 2018

Sable hated the gods. She hated what men did in their name.

Magic is forbidden throughout the Five Provinces; those born with it are hunted and killed. Sable doesn't know her music holds power over souls--not until, at age nine, she plays her flute before the desert court and accidentally stops her baby sister's heart, killing her. Horrified by what she's done and fearing for her life, she flees north, out of Provincial jurisdiction and into the frigid land of exiles and thieves, known as The Wilds. There, Sable lives in hiding, burdened by guilt, and survives as a healer. But now, ten years later, someone--or something--is hunting her.

On the run again, Sable's best chance for survival is Jos, a lethal man from the Five Provinces, who claims to need her skills as a healer to save his dying father, and she needs the large sum of money he's offered. There's something about him Sable doesn't trust, but she doesn't have many options. A spirit of the dead is hunting her, summoned by a mysterious necromancer, and it's getting closer.

Sable soon discovers she's just the start of the necromancer's plan to take over the Five Provinces, and she's the only one with the power to stop it. But harnessing her forbidden power means revealing it to the world, and the dangerous Provincial, Jos, she's beginning to fall for.

Fans of Brandon Sanderson, Naomi Novik, and Victoria Schwab will love this dark and epic fantasy adventure.

Qwill's Thoughts

The Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss is the first novel in the series of the same name. The story focuses primarily on Sable, a healer, who had run away from her home a decade earlier, and Jos, who has his own secrets. I am going to be deliberately vague about characters and events in the novel to avoid spoiling anything.

There is so much to really love about this novel. Both Sable and Jos are well written characters. They are both hiding - from who they really are and from things they have done. Sable rejects her magic because of the death she caused and tries to make amends by being a healer in a town in The Wilds. It's a hard and horrible place and some of the things she does are not good but generally done for altruistic motives. Jos works for his father and brother and has spent a lot of time routing out those with magic (with extreme prejudice). He is dangerous and deadly.

Things are shaky in the Five Provinces because it appears that magic is making a comeback in a violent manner. It's not easy to figure out who is behind this resurgence and I was suitably surprised during the big reveal (which is gory and well done).

The world building is very good. Throughout the novel Kloss weaves in history, myths, magic, religion, and the geopolitical underpinnings of The Wilds and the Five Provinces. I enjoyed this immensely as I got a real sense of place and history. That said I would have liked more explanation of the magic system and more about its roots. Of course, Kloss could be saving some of this for later books in the series. 

What truly makes this novel so good though are the characters. Both Sable and Jos journey through the physical world but are also making an emotional journey. They are not static characters; nor are they entirely likeable. While Sable and Jos are the main characters and their back and forth and nascent romance takes center stage, there are so many others who are interesting. Kloss really excels at writing characters who are not wholly good or evil, though there are plenty of characters whot are indeed awful. In particular Jos' older brother gave me some stomach turning moments.

Kloss handles the attraction between Sable and Jos well. It is really not the centerpiece of the novel, but is simply one facet of the relationship that develops slowly between the two. For me the story would have been ruined had it focused too closely on the romance aspects.

The ending is really well done, refreshingly not what I expected and without a cliffhanger. I'm looking forward to reading more in this series.

9 out of 10

SPFBO Finalist Review: We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

We Ride the Storm
The Reborn Empire
June 7, 2018
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 444 pages

SPFBO Finalist Review: We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson
War built the Kisian Empire and war will tear it down. And as an empire falls, three warriors rise.

Caught in a foreign war, Captain Rah e’Torin and his exiled warriors will have to fight or die. Their honour code is all they have left until orders from within stress them to breaking point, and the very bonds that hold them together will be ripped apart.

Cassandra wants the voice in her head to go away. Willing to do anything for peace, the ageing whore takes an assassination contract that promises answers, only the true price may be everyone and everything she knows.

A prisoner in her own castle, Princess Miko doesn’t dream of freedom but of the power to fight for her empire. As the daughter of a traitor the path to redemption could as easily tear it, and her family, asunder.

As an empire dies they will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.

Doreen’s Thoughts

Devin Madson’s We Ride the Storm is a complicated novel, with each chapter focusing on one of three major characters. There is Captain Rah e'Torin, a Levanti warrior and captain of the Second Swords of Torin, who have been enslaved by the Chiltaen. Cassandra Marius is a Chiltaen assassin whore who has a separate person in her head. Finally, Princess Miko is the bastard daughter of a traitor but has been accepted as heir to the Kisian Emperor despite her parentage.

For years there has been peace between the Kisian and Chiltaen empires, and Miko has been offered to the Chiltaen duke in marriage to maintain that peace. But Miko’s twin brother Tanaka decides to take over the Kisian Empire and begins conspiring with the Chiltaens to force a war that will help his coup. Cassandra is hired to kill the Duke before he reaches the Kisian capital, but when they are attacked other Chiltaen, she ends up protecting the Duke. In Kisia, Tanaka’s coup fails, the Empress takes over herself, and Miko and the emperor are forced to flee.

The complexities of the plot are what make the novel so interesting. Each empire is very different from the next, with the Levanti being more free and seemingly primitive, while the Kisians reminded me of Japanese culture. The characters are well-rounded, with Cassandra and her “passenger” being the most complex. I found the conflicts to be genuine and was intrigued to see how it all would end.

I give We Ride the Storm a 9 out of 10 rating.

SPFBO Finalist Review: Symphony of the Wind by Steven McKinnon

Symphony of the Wind
The Raincatcher's Ballad 1
Steven McKinnon DBA Vividarium Books, June 25, 2018
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 660 pages

Longlisted for the Booknest 2018 Fantasy Awards - Best Self Published Fantasy

Current Finalist in Mark Lawrence's SPFBO 2018

A bounty hunter with a death wish. A girl with fearsome powers. A kingdom on the brink of destruction.
Serena dreams of leaving her unforgiving desert home far behind in her very own airship. But when an assassin's knife meant for Serena kills her friend instead, the rebellious orphan ventures into the corrupt heart of the kingdom to discover who put a price on her head. With each new turn, she edges closer to uncovering the awful truth… And the mystical powers brewing deep within her.

After his fiancée’s death, soldier-turned-bounty hunter Tyson Gallows is eager to sacrifice his life in the line of duty. When a foreign enemy assassinates a high-ranking official, he vows to bring them to justice. On the hunt for a killer, Gallows exposes a sinister plot that proves his fiancée’s death was no accident.

Driven by revenge, Serena and Gallows must join forces to take down the conspiracy before the kingdom falls to ruin.

Symphony of the Wind is the first book in a gritty epic fantasy trilogy. If you like hardened heroes, bloody action, and dark magic and monsters, then you’ll love Steven McKinnon’s visceral adventure.

Buy Symphony of the Wind to climb aboard a brutal, breathtaking thrill ride today!

Melanie's Thoughts

I have read a number of very positive reviews about Symphony of Wind and it has made into the finals of the SPFBO so I was really expecting to like it. Unfortunately, I just couldn't connect with either the characters or the plotline. Part of the book description on the back cover of the novel says this
If you like hardened heroes, steampunk airships, and dark magic and monsters, then you’ll love Steven McKinnon’s visceral adventure.
I like hardened heroes, steampunk airships, dark magic, and monsters so I was sure this would be a good fit for me. I have come to realise that I don't like them all together. I found the steampunk setting mixed with what read like a sword and shield fantasy quite jarring. I think that McKinnon was trying for a very complex epic fantasy but sometimes less rather than more gives you a winner. There were too many elements from other genres all mixed together into one big soup of a story - the steampunk ships, the magic, the wars, the government conspiracy, the prostitute with heart, and on and on.

Had their been fewer characters and perhaps more explanation of the society and culture at the beginning I might have liked the story a bit more. I re-read the first four chapters more than once because I couldn't figure out what was going on. This is never a good sign for me. I need a hook to grab me in, especially when the main character is a young teenager. One of the other books I read for this SPFBO had a teenager for a lead character and I made the decision that there has to be something more adult or 'special' about teenage lead characters for me to enjoy reading youth fiction. In the case of Symphony of Wind Serena was quite immature. In one scene she has just discovered that one of her friends has been murdered - it was supposed to be her that died - and then next minute she is walking down the street with hardly a care in the world. There was a very similar reaction in an earlier scene where members of her Raincatcher crew are killed in a freak accident right in front of her. It was Serena's self involvement and lack of empathy that made her rather unlikeable. While she did mature a bit over the course of the story my interest in her had already waned.

The other main character Tyson Gallows was older but not what I would say much wiser. He was quite two dimensional and spent much of the book reliving memories of the time when his fiancée was still alive. He was cast as a bounty hunter but he came across too soft-hearted for that role and not that heroic. There were a number of other characters that shared the plot with Serena and Gallows. In fact, there were quite a few POVs and you had to really pay attention to who was speaking as the interchange between the characters was quite quick.

This is McKinnon's first novel so hats off to him for being so ambitious as not only is the story complex but it is also very long (a whopping 660 pages). I think the story could have benefited if the plot focused on a few key characters and there was a tiny bit more world building at the start. Without this however, I struggled to finish this tome and due to the complexity supported by weak characters I am going to have to give Symphony of Wind a 5/10.

5 out of 10

SPFBO Finalist Review - The Anointed by Keith Ward

The Anointed
Red Proxy 3
Wardwords, November 2017
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 489 pages

SPFBO Finalist Review - The Anointed by Keith Ward
He's a jerk.

She knows it.

Can they save the world anyway?

Xinlas’s life goal is modest: he wants to be a living legend, revered in song and story. And he’s off to a good start. He faced death once, and won. His legend grew -- at least in his own mind.

Fame comes calling on Xinlas again, or so he thinks, when he’s flying a dragon one afternoon and stumbles on a hidden village. The village has a resource that no one’s ever seen before, something that can enable invasions of foreign lands. It is a force so powerful that a ruthless king will kill for it.

Along the way, Xinlas meets a mysterious orange-haired girl on a river. Greengrass is like no one he’s ever met. He tries to woo her, and can’t understand why she doesn’t fall for his charms like every other girl.

But Greengrass is not every other girl. She is, in fact, the key to stopping the ruler who would enslave millions and crush the world under his throne.

Xinlas can’t let that happen, but he'll need help. Help from Greengrass. The problem is that she can’t stand him.

Will Xinlas become the hero he believes he can be, or will he break under the weight of his destiny -- and his own arrogance? The fate of civilization rests on his choices.

Trinitytwo's Review

Keith Ward does an excellent job setting the stage for this story - Book 3 of the Red Proxy series. The Anointed is set in Desnu, a world in which each newborn’s span of life is detected by a Span Seer. This Span Seer can also perform a magical ceremony where that lifespan can be transferred to another individual (usually rich or powerful) thus potentially extending their lifespan indefinitely. The downside is the best donors are 99 days old, don’t have a say in the decision, and die upon completion of the transfer.

I had no trouble understanding Desnu’s rules and its magics. I also thought Ward did a great job in his depiction of the very different places and its inhabitants. Peacewood, for instance, is a community shielded by a magical protection. Its people’s relationship with their environment and each other was quite entertaining and well executed. The Fley-Mors dragon ranch was another landscape that was impeccably laid out. The hierarchy of the family, their staff and the dragons themselves lent fluidly to the rising action of the story. The palace, filled with the treachery and malice of a king who schemed and ruled in a ruthless fashion was filled with palpable tension.

Unfortunately, the more I read, the more I struggled. At face value, the characters seem well-developed. I particularly enjoyed the quiet power struggle between maniacal King DuQuall and his dutiful wife, Queen Plyonia. His cruel ambitions pitted against her desperate determination was one of my favorite mini storylines. It’s the protagonist who is most problematic. As the synopsis indicates, Xinlas starts off privileged and egotistical. While eavesdropping on his parents, he learns of a mystery surrounding a seemingly desolate spot. Shirking his responsibilities, he borrows one of the family dragons and accidentally discovers the village of Peacewood. It’s there he meets Greengrass- a brave and adventurous girl who has escaped the confines of her community’s magical protective shield. Eager to discover the mysteries beyond her world, she sets out with Xinlas. Perhaps the inherent goodness and wholesomeness of Greengrass will begin to rub off on Xinlas thus initiating his arc to redemption? Nope. He simply becomes more pompous and self-aggrandizing. His parents, Kertram and Danak are smart, responsible, and loving. Unlike many of this world’s population, they also have a conscience. So how is it that they pretty much just look the other way when it comes to Xinlas’s shenanigans, allowing his reprehensible behavior with few repercussions? His character development goes from bad, to horrible, to despicable. Miraculously, in the final moments he has a change of heart and achieves near enlightenment. This absolutely did not work for me.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some fun bits: I really enjoyed the jail-break, the assassination and the action-packed ending. However, the plot device of the Proxy system made for uncomfortable reading. Surely an entire nation (with the exception of one group of people) can’t believe this system to be good and just? Given the synopsis, I felt that the story itself was too dark and that I was misled. That coupled with poor character development left me with feelings of ambivalence and I rate The Anointed a 5 out of 10.

5 out of 10

SPFBO Finalist Review: Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc

Out of Nowhere
Immortal Vagabond Healer 1
Ink and Bourbon Publishing, July 2016
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 294 pages

SPFBO Finalist Review: Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc
An urban fantasy, pacy, funny and compelling to the last page…

Healer Sean Danet is immortal—a fact he has cloaked for centuries, behind enemy lines and now a paramedic’s uniform. Having forgotten most of his distant past, he has finally found peace—and love.

But there are some things you cannot escape, however much distance you put behind you.

When Sean heals the wrong man, he uncovers a lethal enemy who holds all the cards. And this time he can’t run. It’s time to stand and fight, for himself, for his friends, for the woman he loves. It’s time, finally, for Sean to face his past—and choose a future.

A story of love, of battle—and of facing your true self when there’s nowhere left to hide.

Deb's Review

Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc lies somewhere in the borderlands of contemporary fantasy and urban fantasy. It may also appeal to those who enjoy military history and medical procedurals. The story is, in almost every sense, a mixed bag.

Sean Danet is an immortal with extraordinary healing powers. Working as a paramedic, he quietly uses his gifts to lessen the severity of his patients’ injuries before they arrive at the hospital. A long life stretches out behind him, but his memories are murky. He doesn’t know his origins, has no family, and lives the life of a common man, populated only by his ambulance crew friends and the “world’s oldest cat.” What Danet does remember about his past is that he’s lived his life as a soldier, under siege, and constantly running from the truth. Knowing that people fear what they can’t understand, he keeps his powers a secret. Everything changes when one patient reacts oddly to Danet’s subtle assistance. After this chance meeting, Danet must figure out who this stranger is, and then decide whether to run again, or stay and fight for the life he’s built.

LeClerc engages the reader with colorful tales of a city riddled with drugs and crime, all told in an authoritative voice. He spares little detail of the physical and emotional suffering surrounding rescue medicine, and the magical elements of the story benefit greatly from LeClerc’s expertise. Danet is believable as a healer.

This is a quick read with characters always in motion. That said, the first half of the book, while filled with interesting vignettes that set the scene and round out our hero, does little to advance the plot. The second half is packed with action and twists, but there are weaknesses in how the main conflict is delivered, and this sometimes slows the story’s pacing. The fight scenes are intricately choreographed and told in rapid-fire fashion to great effect.

While there’s a lot of good in Out of Nowhere, there were problems with the characters that undercut its strengths. While the majority of the dialogue is natural and carries the story, the banter between the paramedic crew members is cringeworthy and feels like it’s straining for laughs. The main characters present as racist, sexist, homophobic, and often disdainful of other first responders and the people they all serve. I’d expect dark and biting humor from people who work in this field, but the casually intolerant language makes it hard to relate to most of the characters.

Additionally, Danet’s repeated objectification of female co-workers makes the rapidly developed love interest feel more like a plot device than a romantic epiphany. I would expect a man who has the capacity to feel love — one who has has lived for centuries bathed in blood and battle — to have developed a more empathetic and mature worldview. With his schoolboy attitudes, anything more substantial than a fling would’ve been more believable as a slow burn.

Out of Nowhere is the first book in LeClerc’s Immortal Vagabond Healer series, which feels like a fresh and exciting concept, but this first installment suffers too much from underdeveloped characters and a reliance on cheap, offensive laughs. LeClerc clearly has the skill, the background, and the imagination to tell compelling stories, so perhaps the characters will evolve across the series in a more positive direction. Sexual situations and graphic depictions of violence make this an adult read.

5 out of 10

SPFBO Finalist Review: Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas

The Purification Era 1
August 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 387 pages

SPFBO Finalist Review: Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas
Top 10 finalist in Mark Lawrence's SPFBO 2018

They can take your house, your daughter, whatever they want.

For Ariliah, life under the militarized Hulcondans is one of order and safety. Despite the soldiers’ ruthless policies, she trusts their judgment. They alone provide protection from the enemies lurking beyond the city wall.

For her older sister, Rabreah, every glance from a Hulcondan is a threat. Though even a whisper against them is treason worthy of death, Rabreah is determined to end their tyranny. Joining an underground resistance is her only hope – until she realizes she doesn’t know the people she’s aligned herself with at all. Unsure who to trust but unable to back out, she must work alongside the attractive yet infuriating rebel leader who reminds her far too much of the soldiers she hates.

But with subversive posters appearing throughout the city and people dying on the blade of an unknown assailant, the sisters’ world begins to crumble.

And as the line between friend and enemy blurs, both girls must face the truth: everything is about to change.

Sowing is a gritty, slow burn spy thriller set in a dystopian world on the brink of war.

Perfect for fans of the characterization and political tension in Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series, and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising saga.

Qwill's Thoughts

I had a difficult time with Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas and am going to keep this short.

The novel is set entirely in the city of Totta and centers on 2 sisters - Ariliah and Rabreah.  I found the sisters to be rigid opposites of each other regarding how they viewed their small world just to make it clear regarding only 2 of the ways to view the society in which the live. Ariliah thinks everything is good and the Hulcondans are there to provide a safe way of life. She turns a blind eye to anything wrong with her world. Rabreah is the opposite. Everything is wrong and the Hulcondans and their leaders are to blame. The sisters do not develop much over the course of the novel in any meaningful way. This is not just a problem with the sisters. None of the characters are very well-developed.

The sister's mother is vicious both physically and verbally to the younger sister, Ariliah. I never understood why. I found this really disturbing as I'm sure it is supposed to be. I also found it mostly unnecessary. There are additional uncomfortable scenes of abuse with one of them verging into the gratuitous.

It took me a long time to read Sowing and I frankly would not have finished it if it was not a SPFBO Finalist. I was disappointed when I got to the end. Sowing feels like an extended prologue with not a lot happening and not much at all resolved. The world building is lacking and the characters are unappealing.

3.5 out of 10

SPFBO 4 - Our Final Three Semi-Finalists

SPFBO 4 - Our Final Three Semi-Finalists

The Qwillery's final 3 Semi-Finalists are:

Matt Larkin

Days of Endless Night
Runeblade Saga 1
Incandescent Phoenix Books, October 2017
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback,  354 pages

SPFBO 4 - Our Final Three Semi-Finalists
Every runeblade holds a curse ...

Hervor's sword cannot be sheathed without taking a life.

She gladly pays the price to destroy the man who murdered her family.

She has tracked him across the land. She has joined his crew when he sailed to the ends of Midgard. And her chance draws near.

But what if her only chance for survival is in his hands?

On an island where horrors stalk the night, can she trust the murderer?

You’ll love this grim fantasy set in the Ragnarok Era because it retells the dark Norse legend of Tyrfing.

Get it now.

Aidan R. Walsh

The Game Bird
Aidan R. Walsh, April 2018
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 402 pages

SPFBO 4 - Our Final Three Semi-Finalists
"...I loved it - The Game Bird is intricately constructed, intelligently written and just a fabulous page-turner."

An evil is growing. The Realm is under attack. A leviathan has risen from the depths and is destroying the fleets that feed Stormhaven.

Stuck ashore and drowning in debt, Captain James Faulkner resolves to hunt the sea monster and claim the enormous bounty on the beast.

Sophia Blake's life looks effortless. But she carries a secret, an occult curse that is capable of destroying both her and her nation. Sophia knows her time is running out.

The Tallowman is a slowly decaying melding of demon and man. This monstrous assassin is desperate to capture Sophia and will let nothing stand between it and its prey.

Since his wife died, the sober lawyer Uriah Blake has wanted nothing more than to live a quiet life and enjoy what time he has left with his daughter, Sophia. When he learns that the Tallowman is pursuing her, he is forced to cast aside his books and his ink and join a shadowy war against a terrible foe.

As these hunts build to their shattering conclusion, Faulkner, Sophia and Uriah will be thrown together and forced to confront malevolent forces beyond their imagining.

The Game Bird is a swashbuckling black powder fantasy, wrapped around a spine of darkness.

This superb debut will appeal to readers who like the idea of a novel that Georgette Heyer, Scott Lynch, Patrick O'Brian and George R R Martin might have come up with - if they were trapped in an open boat together.

David Oliver

The Great Hearts
David Oliver, May 16, 2017
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 322 pages

SPFBO 4 - Our Final Three Semi-Finalists
Hunter. Killer. Monster. Imperator.

"Grimdark Eragon meets military school bromance," Coffee Archives

"Action scenes so well described you would swear you can feel the swish of the blade, the bite of the edge...up there with Kings of the Wyld and Blackwing," The Book Wyrm Speaks

"I know for sure that Mr. Oliver has a bright future as an author. The story he wrote in The Great Hearts is nothing short of fantastic. The story that he tells however was even more impressive...the narration was spot on. As a narrator I would put him in my top 5 favourites alongside Michael Kramer, Kate Redding, Nick Pohdel and Wil Wheaton." Jetpacksndragons

“An unexpected pleasure to excellent adventure,” Two Bald Mages (Steve)

“What Mr Oliver has done with this story and the characters within is nothing short of puts to shame some big name authors,” Two Bald Mages (Keith)

Imperator. A word synonymous with fear, pain, loathing and, for a chosen few, the sharp end of a blade. The voice of the Emperor, an Imperator is the perfect weapon, skilled in combat, politics and strategy and moulded by years of punishing training. They are the hidden assassins, the enforcers of the Emperor’s will.

They are the hunters of the unknown.

Calidan Darkheart is an Imperator, a self-professed killer and an adept hunter of the creatures that most citizens of the Empire do not realise exist.
Together with his hulking companion Cassius, he hunts the beast that slaughtered their home village.

Pity those who find themselves in their path.

Calidan and Cassius were bright young boys, living peaceful, happy lives in a remote mountain village, until the day everything changed. Once the screams have subsided, and with the horrors they have seen embedded in their minds, they embark on a journey of survival, fraught with danger, strange magic and dark deeds. Unbowing and undaunted they push forward, striving for power, making lifelong friendships along the way, and above all else, discovering the truth behind the magnificent, mythical Great Hearts.

Young Calidan is a boy full of hope and courage, driven by the past but not ruled by it.
Old Calidan is a bitter and twisted killer of monsters and men, his past haunting his dreams.

This is his story.

The first instalment of a new series, David Oliver’s debut novel features morally ambiguous heroes, mythical beasts and strange magic in an unputdownable, grimdark, coming-of-age adventure. Following in the footsteps of authors such as Mark Lawrence, Joe Abercrombie and Brian McClellan, pick up a copy today and be enraptured by The Great Heart's melding of gritty, vivid action with the soft, warm purr of a gigantic panther.

Our finalist will be announced soon and definitely before the end of 2018! Thank you for your patience.

SPFBO 5 - Our Slush Pile and Who Has WhatSelf-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) 5SPFBO Finalist Review: Orconomics by J.Zachary PikeSPFBO Finalist Review: The Gods of Men by Barbara KlossSPFBO Finalist Review: We Ride the Storm by Devin MadsonSPFBO Finalist Review: Symphony of the Wind by Steven McKinnonSPFBO Finalist Review - The Anointed by Keith WardSPFBO Finalist Review: Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClercSPFBO Finalist Review: Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas SPFBO 4 - Our Final Three Semi-Finalists

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