SPFBO Hopefuls Announcement!

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Oh thank god we’re onto lighter topics, I way prefer this post over the other posts I’ve been making the past few days!

YAY and congrats to these authors for moving through into ‘phase 2’ at The Weatherwax Report! Basically, the four judges pooled together our favorite books from our batches and we’re going to exchange them with each other. The point being to give the judges an opportunity to read more books in case they prefer a book from another batch over their own.

Some of these books won’t be read all the way through because that particular judge knows it won’t “beat their favorite” from their original batch. This is not a typical DNF score, it doesn’t mean they weren’t enjoying themselves, it just means that they know they’re going to prefer their book over one from another batch. We will be labeling these DBF’s or Didn’t Beat Favorite in our scoreboard.

When all the judges are finished with those we will announce our 4 semi-finalists, so another 5 more books will be cut after this. From there we will take some time to discuss who we are putting forward as a finalist. As it is, we have a pretty neat mix of genres in our hopeful category: portal fantasy, classic fantasy, noir fantasy, grimdark fantasy, urban fantasy, slice of life and romance. There’s something for everyone in these picks! 

Unlike with our initial batch of 31 books I am not setting a schedule for this part of our process.  

A hearty congratulations to the hopefuls, all of these books were chosen for different reasons so we’re going to summarize why we chose them 🙂 Also, people should really check these out! 


Sorcerous Rivalry by Kayleigh Nicol


This was a very fun book with a loveable and charming main character, he really grew on me throughout the book and I’m absolutely reading the second in the series. I don’t usually go for romances so this one stood out to me as something different. The romance was slow burn, which is a must for me in romance since insta-love is an insta-dnf for me. There was a ton of stuff going on outside of the romance which is probably why it worked so well for me, there’s a lot of action, lots of magic, and danger with actual consequences (characters bite it instead of being saved at the last moment). The MC is on the run because he’s a mage, his father is the King and has put out a hit on all known mages, and he doesn’t intend on sparing his own children. Reshi has been in hiding for years but has now been discovered so he’s forced to flee and find his siblings if he has any chance of surviving. I really liked this one and I’m happy to put it forward as a hopeful. 


Knights Order by J.A Alexsoo


This is a pretty classic epic fantasy story with a heavy theme of master/apprentice. I liked the characters, it was paced pretty well and the writing was clean and read quickly. Knights are being attacked at ever-increasing rates as the bounties on their heads go higher and higher. The main characters master was killed early on and he’s left reeling from the ordeal when he’s assigned a new master she gets captured by an ancient and monstrous race known as the Draquor. He has to save her before they sacrifice her to their gods, the only help he has is that of an exiled half-orc whose trustworthiness is seriously questionable. This will appeal to people who like classic fantasy with old-school fantasy races and tropes but still managing to do their own thing (MJS-ish). 


Gods of Winter by Dale Harker


This is a very dark and very bleak tale of the end of the world. An ancient and non human race known as The First One’s are dying off, and with them the magic is fading as well. The main character, known only as The Hunter, is a First One and he stumbles upon a pack of Were’s as he’s making his way to a summit of First One’s. He manages to kill one of them before he has to flee, and he’s left stunned because he thought Werekind had been hunted to extinction. The Were’s are working to bring back the Cold Ones, gods from another realm that want to see the world covered in ice and extinguish all life on earth. The Were’s are bitter about their near-extinction and don’t seem to care if the end of the world means the end of the line for them as well. This won’t be for people who don’t like grimdark, there’s a lot of violence, and a lot of just bleak as shit themes of depression, suicide, murder etc. It’s an urban fantasy mixed with old world mythos that’s somewhat similar to Paternus.


Air and Ash by Alex Lidell


I went into this one expecting a typical YA romance novel and while I got some YA and some romance, it was definitely anything but typical. This one follows Nile Ash, secret princess of the kingdom of Ashing as she stows away on a navy vessel to find a cure for her brother’s magical affliction. Nile was a great character who I rooted for, and Dominic was such a complex character by the end that I couldn’t help but root for him too, even when he did things that were rather unexpected. The magic system in this one was really interesting and well thought out, with magical powers having side effects like diseases, and being a thing that one wants to cure. Nile wants to cure her brother only to come down with a magical affliction herself. Really fast paced and well done. I read it all in one go because I just couldn’t not!


The Fire Eye Refugee by Samuel Gately


This one has such a beautiful cover that I really hoped that the inside was as nice as the outside, and thankfully, I did end up enjoying this one quite a lot! This one follows Kay, a half-Gol half-Farrow woman who is tasked with finding another mixed-blood girl during a time of extreme racial and political unrest in Celest due to the Farrow refugees camped outside of it. The racial strife between the Gol of Celest and the Farrow camped outside was really well done and seemed very, very believable, especially considering the world we live in. It was short but well written and rather fast-paced so I finished it quickly and while it did have a weird romance in it that seemed unnecessary, the rest of the book was so well done that I couldn’t help but call it a hopeful!


Balam, Spring by Travis M. Riddle


Balam, Spring was a cozy mystery centering around a cast of intriguing characters. Despite the story occurring in spring, this would make for an excellent cozy winter read. Unlike many fantasy stories, this book doesn’t have a grand villain, end-of-the-world stakes, or even a focus on magic or violence. Instead, it’s a slice-of-life mystery that explores the various lives of the townspeople of Balam in depth. It’s written as a standalone, but I could see future books written in this world. In addition to being vivid and detailed, the world of Balam was also refreshingly hopeful. There are multiple characters across the LGBTQ spectrum portrayed in a positive light, women hold positions of authority, and nearly every character had more likable qualities than not. The world had some pretty dark aspects, but the overall feel was hopeful. The editing was superb. I can’t recall a single typo or misuse of grammar, and every scene had a clear purpose.



Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss 


Early on, it’s apparent that this is not Kloss’s first rodeo. The story is fast paced, cleanly written, and introduces the world to us only as it becomes relevant to the plot and characters. One thing I love in books is multiple villains. Off the top of my head, there’s at least four in Gods of Men. Each has their own motivations and range from fairly likable to evil beyond any hope of redemption. Maniacal necromancers, creepy sorcerers with tongueless henchmen, demonic monsters, and twisted sadists all have a role to play. While the central plot following Sable and Jeric is one I’d expect to see in a sword and sorcery novel rather than an epic fantasy, there’s a broader story at play that’s gradually revealed as the book progresses. I never felt like the worldbuilding was dumped all at once and the information that was revealed always left me wanting more.


Strangehold by Rene Sears


Strangehold is an interesting Urban/Portal Fantasy novella – it features Earth (or overhill, as it is known here), the land of Faerie (underhill), and a mysterious place in-between the two, known as Strangehold. The fae gates allow passage between Earth and Faerie, and a tenuous accord exists between them. There are old grudges and tensions between humans and fae, but this fragile peace has held for 40 years so far. Our main character is Morgan Tenpenny, a 43 year old human mage living a secluded life as a guardian of one of the fae gates. She has seen some shit. Her old mentor went into hiding decades ago after one of her fellow students attempted to assassinate the Queen’s nephew, and she and her fellow students feel tainted by the association. Morgan is a capable and experienced protagonist, and a pretty relatable one at that. Overall, I found Strangehold to be an enjoyable, easy and extremely polished read with characters I cared about and a well thought-out plot. I’d gladly read more in this series.


Lords of Asylum by Kevin Wright



Lords of Asylum is a clever blend of political intrigue, murder mystery and noir thriller. Europe is in the grip of the Black Death, civil war is raging and the city of Asylum stands on the brink of utter chaos. The heir of the power hungry Lord Raachwald has been murdered under suspicious circumstances, and he is determined to find those responsible to enact his revenge. One of the first impressions I have of Lords of Asylum is that it really punches you in the face with its noirish atmosphere – though it’s a tale of knights and lords set in Europe in the 14th Century, it largely uses modern dialogue with an American feel, which takes a little getting used to. However, it’s clearly a stylistic choice and for the most part I found that it worked. Here we have tough talking henchmen, lords who behave like mob bosses, and femme fatales galore. It’s a gritty and violent world given occasional levity through some amusing dialogue. The worldbuilding is strong – beyond the immediate violence of the setting, the ever present threat of the plague lurks in the background, and the corpse fires around the city serve as grim mood lighting to a dark and brooding plot. Overall I’d say that Lords of Asylum is a bit of a dark horse – I went in unsure of what to expect, and found myself engrossed in an unusual tale that blended elements of some of my favorite genres and was, for the most part, very successful. The snappy dialogue and morally grey protagonist were a delight to read, and the dark and oppressive backdrop was dripping with atmosphere. While it had a couple of problems, I’ll be interested to read more by this author. I think he’s one to watch.


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