It’s time for us to make some announcements finally, we read and reviewed all of the submissions in pretty quick succession, but for the semis, we wanted to slow down and exchange books between the judges to get different points of view. The plan wasn’t to review the books 3 more times from each judge – but rather to give everyone a good idea of what stand-outs the other judges had in their piles.
We really enjoyed everything we put forward for semi-finalist consideration and hope people have taken a look at them after the reviews went up. However, things are what they are, and if we’re announcing semis, we also have to cut more books. Commiserations to the fallen today, thank you for submitting your books. We know how much work goes into them and how nervous everyone has been.
So, without further ado, here are our awesome semis!!!! Cheers!!!!!
Sorcerous Rivalry by Kayleigh Nicol
The king has declared a Great Hunt, and has ordered that all mages are to be captured and slaughtered. He spares no one in his quest to rid the world of magic, including his own children. Reshi, his illegitimate son, is on the run when his hiding spot in a backwater town is discovered. He has to locate his other siblings in an effort to survive as a group rather than take his chances on his own. This is a book ticked many of my boxes – lots of magic, faster paced, a likable main character with an element of danger that kept me turning pages late into the night.
All of our hopefuls were strong books that I can solidly recommend to everyone reading this announcement, however, Reshi was the character that created the most emotional investment for me and that’s what tipped the scales in Sorcerous Rivalry’s favor. This was also highly rated by Kristen on the judging team and I highly, highly recommend it for romance fantasy readers – and especially for those looking for LGBT elements in fantasy! Congrats Kayleigh!
Lords of Asylum by Kevin Wright
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. For this he enlists the services of Sir Luther Krait, a man he despises, but who has the necessary skills to get the job done. He also has the ultimate bargaining chip – Luther’s brother, Stephan. If Luther wants to save his brother from the axe, he must race against time to discover the killer and deliver them to Lord Raachwald. A noirish murder mystery set in 14th Century Europe, Lords of Asylum features dark magic, clever dialogue and a grim backdrop with the plague as an ever-present threat.
I found Wright to be a skilled storyteller with a wry sense of humor and a knack for creating memorable secondary characters and heaps of atmosphere. His writing style is at times reminiscent of Anna Smith Spark’s, so fans of her poetic and stylized prose may find much to enjoy here. While we had some fantastic books in our grouping, the ambitious premise made this one a standout for me. I’d highly recommend this novel for fans of noir, grimdark and morally grey characters. Congratulations on moving forward, Kevin!
Air and Ash by Alex Lidell
Nile Greysik is the 17-year-old princess of the nation of Ashing, and has trained as a sailor most of her life, but fails an important mission and gets sent home disgraced. With the inadvertent help of her twin brother, who is suffering from a magical ailment with no cure, she realizes that her parents are planning to marry her off to the prince of the kingdom next door for political advantage. So, for want of her freedom and a cure for her brother, she flees onto the closest ship and pretends to be a common sailor, only to find out that she’s suffering a magical ailment herself. With an incompetent captain doing shady dealings on the side, the only man really making the ship run properly is the first mate, Dominic Dana, a man known for his cruelty. To save the life of her brother, Nile will have to do whatever it takes to make it to her destination alive.
This was a book that surprised me, firstly because I wasn’t expecting my very first SPFBO read to be one that I started and finished all in one sitting. The writing was fantastic and kept me reading well into the morning. I really latched onto Nile and to Dominic as characters. Nile isn’t a typical princess, nor is she a typical 17 year old. Dominic is a complex character who has many underlying reasons for the things he does. This one had a really well thought out magic system unlike anything I’d read before. I’d recommend this one to anyone who digs YA that doesn’t assume teenagers don’t know anything about life, slow burn romances, and adventure on the high seas! Congrats Alex on moving forward! 😀
Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss
Sable comes with a tragic backstory, she discovered her powers before she had any control over them and accidentally stopped her sister’s heart while playing the flute. Forced to flee and start a new life in a new town, she becomes an apprentice healer and gains a name for herself while keeping her magic under wraps. The Five Provinces have forbidden magic use, with gifted people being hunted down and killed. It’s Jeric’s job is to ruthlessly hunt down and kill an entire race of people he deems as a threat to his country. However, when his father falls ill, he’s sent to find a healer. A healer who can use magic. The two storylines collide and make for a fascinating read as both of these characters captured my attention, they were just plain fun.
I knew right away when I started reading that this was not the author’s first rodeo, this was clearly a book written by an experienced author. The prose was efficient, polished, with no padding or extra bits that should have been cut down, which kept the pacing fast and smooth through the course of the book. The world building was done in a way that didn’t overburden the story or slow it down but was in-depth enough to create a sense of realness. Overall, I felt like this was the stand out in our group despite many other books being strong contenders. Congratulations Barbara for making it through to the next round!