SPFBO Finalist: Spark City by Robert J Power

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I am almost done with my SPFBO 5 journey! I have just one review left to post after this and then I’m all done! Once Kristen is finished with her review requests and NetGalleys we can start posting official scores – look for that sometime in late February or early March.

The Blurb:

Erroh has a plan. A simple plan. It’ll never work.

Despite his family’s warrior pedigree, he’d rather gamble and drink while living from one tavern to the next. But when his wanderings bring him upon a gruesome slaughter of innocents he is torn from carefree ways.

Spark City is on the horizon and with it the mysterious trials of The Cull. After a life spent rejecting his birth right, the time has come to pick up his sword and accept his destiny.

With an army marching forward, and unlikely companions buy his side, does Erroh have what it takes to stop the coming war?


The Review:

We are introduced to Erroh, one of our main characters, with the general impression that he’s going to be a young and snarky coward. The opening scene is of him playing cards and getting caught cheating. He doesn’t feel bad about the cheating and seems to learn little from his blunder being caught. He’s on his way to The Cull, he doesn’t want to go, and he’s finding as many distractions as he can along the way. He’s very interested in the ladies but doesn’t have an abundance of skills. He tends to misread them, misunderstand them, and in general bumble his way through courtship. The Cull is a set of trials where people find their ‘mates’, it’s a little odd but it is what it is. On the surface I should have liked Erroh, he reminded me a little of the character Jalan from Red Queen’s War… but something wasn’t quite right. He was a touch too vicious, maybe. When things don’t go his way with women he tends to think of them as “whores” and “bitches” which doesn’t sit well if this a person I’m supposed to be rooting for. If he was presented as a bad person I think I could get behind it more, but to me, he was presented as someone we’re supposed to like and that’s where things just didn’t work. He can also be creepy, he sometimes has urges to just reach out and grab women.

He resisted the primal urge to reach out and touch her hair, caress her cheek and perhaps make a desperate grab for her chest.

He can be headstrong, he definitely doesn’t want to settle down and get a mate but doesn’t have a ton of choice. He does seem to have a good heart despite it all, he takes the time to bury people he finds dead along his journey to Spark City, he obviously doesn’t have to do that. He prefers the non-violent route even when confronted with dangerous people despite the fact he’s capable of defending himself. When he’s left with no choice he can kill but it’s not the first option he goes with and regrets it afterward. He’s definitely not a villain, but I just didn’t enjoy his character.

For some reason, The Cull was never discussed with Erroh which leaves him clueless as to what’s actually going to happen – despite the important role it plays in their society. Erroh has to learn what The Cull is from Mea, a character he met on his journey to the city and the way it was presented was a little info dumpy. She explains to him about how females are obligated to get an education, and that bloodline is of utmost importance etc etc. People who are undesirable are called “lowlines” and considered to be of a weak lineage. The Cull will choose his mate for life, so this set of trials isn’t to be taken lightly. He’s considered a desirable mate and four different women were interested in him during The Cull. Of course, they are all drop-dead-gorgeous and considered goddesses by our MC. This is a common trope used, the man/woman has no idea how desirable they really are despite everyone around them fawning over them and yada yada.

One of the first things that stood out to me was the stylistic prose, and I think it’s going to be a bit divisive. Modifiers were used heavily and it doesn’t always sound quite right. The way things were described were grandiose or exaggerated where they didn’t need to be. It can be so overly descriptive it starts to become distracting, muddling the story. Lots of things were described as ‘magnificent’ or people did things ‘magnificently’ when all that was being described was someone asking for a drink. The structure of the writing was highly stylized as well, there were many short clipped sentences coupled with long flowing sentences.

There was cursing in this, sort of. The use of “fuk” and “fuken” was confusing to me. It’s so close to the real thing, why change it? There were other slightly modified words like ‘cofe’ instead of coffee and ‘mydame’ instead of madam which were also distracting. These things bothered me, but your mileage may vary on that, these things may not bother you at all.

Certain phrases and words were overused as well, “kissable lips” was used more than once, and it’s such a specific phrase it stuck out right away. By page four the word ‘menacingly’ had been used three times and the word “fine” was used over 230 times. Words like ‘fine’ are so mundane even when used frequently they typically fly under the radar, but it was used so many times I actually started to notice it.

The world-building was sparse for my taste as well, if you’re someone who is bothered by detailed attention to world-building and just want to get into the action, this could be for you. I prefer a middle ground, I don’t necessarily need super intricate and in-depth world-building, but I like to be able to visualize the city or feel like I know the geography of the world. There wasn’t quite enough here for me to go on so I never got a full appreciation for the city itself or other locations.

It’s difficult for me to say what the pacing was like since I was reading so slowly due to a lack of motivation. When I’m not enjoying the characters and can’t get a grip on the world itself I struggle and start to slow down. There was a lot of action and other things like the tasks that may keep other people reading faster than I did.

This review may sound like I hated the book, but I didn’t, I’m just not the right audience for it. For other people, this could very well read like a fast-paced action adventure with a flawed and snarky protagonist that they love to root for. The writing can be very atmospheric and create an immersive experience with so many descriptors and strong visual writing. As far as editing, outside of some overused words and phrases, it came across as professionally edited with very few grammar errors.


  • Plot: 8/15
  • Characters: 10/15
  • World-Building: 8/15
  • Writing: 11/15
  • Pacing: 10/15
  • Originality: 8/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 4/10

Final Score: 59/100 or 6/10 for SPFBO or 3/5 stars on GR.