Esme’s SPFBO 2017: The Archbishop’s Amulet

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This was part of Lynn’s Books grouping, and was a semifinalist – two in a row! Yay!

Their full review here:


This is a dark world, with a war that’s more like a genocide. Caldane, the main character, is stuck in the middle of it all. His home village has been wiped out by the Nayen Empire, and the Empress is hell-bent on annihilating his people, the Onei.

After his village was massacred, Caldane was taken prisoner and labeled as a ‘sacrifice’ to be used in the Empires rituals that require blood magic to work. “Sacrifices” aren’t executed immediately, they are given collars that eliminates their ability to use magic, and can be used as torture devices to keep the slaves in line. Caldane has survived longer than most, and his job is ‘clean up crew’ after the sacrifices are performed. He’s forced to watch as child after child is chained to different alters, (Water, Wind, Earth, Fire) and ripped apart. Most of the sacrifices are children, and Caldane tries his best not to get attached to any of them, eluding to lost friends and pain in the past. He tries to escape, but it doesn’t work, and he’s picked for the next group of sacrifices, likely as a punishment for his escape attempt.

Something goes wrong during the ritual, and the fabric between two realities is ripped, and demons are allowed to come through the hole and start killing all of the monks at the temple. Caldane escapes with a group of people and manages to take an amulet that’s crucial to the sacrifice ritual. He’s then hunted down by almost all of the Nayen Empire. Before he escapes for the second time though, he learns that his mother is still alive and being held as a prisoner of the Empress, and his only goal in life from then on is reaching her and helping her.

Final Score: 8/10 

Thoughts: I sometimes struggle when I hit book after book that’s rather dark, and I just came off of a string of grim dark books before starting this one. I think what I liked about this was that it seemed like a natural darkness, it wasn’t really for shock value, or at least it didn’t feel that way to me. But, make no mistake, this book is full of violence and death, so if that’s not your thing, you may want to pass. 


Caldane has put up some serious walls to try and keep people out, he’s tired of losing friends, he’s tired of trying to help people, and at this point he just wants to get out of the hell he’s living in, and go back to his village even if there’s no one there. He can be rather rude, and sort of prejudice as well against other species and races of people. He’s gone through a lot, and at the beginning of the book he’s basically at his breaking point. I like how he develops over the course of the book, despite being a young character that’s prone to “young character decision making”, he’s still an interesting character that I enjoyed reading about.

Assail is a blue skinned witch, a “Summoned”, and I think she’s my favorite character. I can see how some people could find her a little too optimistic given the circumstances that they are in, maybe even naive (she was also a captive of the empire, and escaped from being sacrificed), but I found her to be a nice counterpoint to all the darkness in the book. She has a kind heart, and from the very beginning, she tries to look out for the younger members of the escapee’s, mainly Rucker. She has the ability to heal others, and it comes in handy a few times. Even after Caldane says he “doesn’t want to be touched by a Summoned” she still tried to help and heal him, she’s just chill that way.

Rucker is a small kid who’s just trying to survive, he’s the youngest of the group and often doesn’t understand why he’s been given certain orders. He’s also part of the reason Caldane’s first attempt doesn’t go well, he wasn’t able to keep up, and despite being told to be quiet, he kept talking and asking questions.

Cole is a bit older, and is a rather angry character at first, he has a prejudice against the Onei, and the Summoned. He really does not like Caldane at all in the beginning, and like Caldane, watching him grow over the course of the book was interesting. It’s sort of boring if the whole group gets along and loves each other right from the start – and given the type of story this is, it wouldn’t have made much sense if he wasn’t upset with Caldane at least a little bit.

Final Score: 8/10 

Thoughts: I don’t usually like younger characters, they tend to make irrational decisions and also tend to be a little immature. My prefered characters are older, wiser, and smarter – but these characters worked for me. They DO make some rather stupid decisions from time to time, but it’s not to the point where it was grating and making me want to throw the book across the room screaming “DUH THAT DIDNT WORK!”. I think the characters were forced to grow up quick in a dark and brutal world, and that made the younger characters much more likeable for me. 

World Building:

Right from the start you know you’re in a fantasy story, there’s magic represented right from the prologue – Caldane is able to calm down his reindeer by connecting his mind to the reindeer. There are shamans in the prologue and a bunch of other things that just scream ‘fantasy’. That’s my kind of world-building, I’ll read low magic stories and enjoy them if the characters and plot are solid, but I much prefer a lot of fanciful creatures and magic.

The land Caldane is from is cold and brutal, thriving off of trading with other nations. Ice Wyrm pelts are a commodity they trade for things like salt and food from elsewhere.

The rituals performed by the monks used a lot of runes, chanting, and blood – it gave a very creepy vibe. The monks would levitate in and sort of hover there chanting and summoning all sorts of creepy things.

The devils and demons that poured out of the rift were pretty horrifying, bone tails that would impale people, goat heads on human like bodies, and they’re absolutely insane. Not a lot of rationality or talking, just slaughtering, and they didn’t care if they were killing the monks or the sacrifices – definitely not controlled by the monks.

Orcs are a thing, they’ve been Summoned from another realm, and there are a bunch of other worlds and creatures Summoned from all over the place. The World of Wind, the World of Stone, realm of demons named Ba-ator and so on. The World of Stone has giants with stone like skin that are taller than two men combined. A Giantess is working for the Empress and is not to be trifled with, she’s the one who wiped out Caldane’s village.

Final Score: 8.5/10 

Thoughts: As I said before, this is just my kind of thing, I prefer my fantasy stories full of fantasy stuff. If you prefer your SFF to be a more ‘realistic’ sort of like GGK, then maybe this would be too much for you. There’s no ‘magic system’ per se, but it’s not totally mysterious either, it’s hand wavy but there seem to be some vague ‘rules’ that if broken can cause disaster. When Caldane was being ‘sacrificed’ he disrupted the ritual by causing ‘dissonance’ in the chanting and it caused the ritual to backfire, the monks didn’t intend on summoning demons to kill them.

Pacing, Prose, Tone

Tone is pretty bleak, this isn’t just a war, it’s more like mass murder and seems fairly hopeless. All of the characters have suffered some kind of serious trauma, and they are all dealing with it as best they can, but they are rather broken characters outside of Assail. There’s a lot of blood, a lot of death and violence.

The pacing was pretty decent, although it did take about 25% through for the story to really get going, which is why I think some people have said that the ending felt a little rushed – it’s not a long book and there’s a lot to fit in. I don’t mind lose endings as long as there’s going to be another book, so although this story wasn’t totally wrapped up, it didn’t bother me too much.

The writing was pretty solid, nothing stood out to me as awkward or poorly phrased. It kept the story moving along. What was interesting though was the choice to do Caldane’s chapters in first person, and the other characters chapters in third person. It was interesting to switch back and forth.

Pacing Final Score: 7.5/10 

Writing Final Score: 8/10 


Most of the time when I see younger characters in books they are hailed as a special hero, or are written in a way that’s meant to be super likeable. I enjoyed the fact that Caldane is struggling most of the time, just trying to survive both physically and mentally. I found him to be pretty complex given his age, so that was refreshing. There are a lot of tropey species, like Orcs, but I liked how they were done. There are small bits of world-building like the fact that Orcs have better night vision and would be harder to sneak past than human guards, and things that like that kept the book from seeming like something I’ve read before. The fact that they have been Summoned there and didn’t originate on that world was also pretty neat.

Final Score: 8/10 


  • For people who like a lot of magic and monsters and demons
  • For people who like a lot of action and fight scenes
  • For people who don’t mind a lot of blood and violence
  • For people who like both first person and third person writing
  • For people who like darker stories

Wrap Up:

Despite being a little weary on grim dark books after hitting a string of grim dark books and hoping for something lighter and funnier (somebody didn’t read the description of this book before they started) I still really enjoyed myself. So, that probably says something. I’ll be reading book two if it comes out, I’m interested in seeing what happens from here.

Final Score: 48/60 or 8/10 


  1. Haha – glad you liked this one too. I enjoyed this one in fact I had four books that I really struggled to finally choose between. This, Jack Bloodist, Empire of the Dead and Today is too Late. I thought all four were really good and I enjoyed them all.
    Lynn 😀

    1. the only one i haven’t read is Today is Too Late. Overall it appears we have similar taste in books, i liked all of those too 😀 i don’t envy the choices the judges had to make

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