Ok, guys. This won’t be a happy post but I’ll try and make it gentle 🙂 Whether it happens now, or happens later, 29 books have to get cut before we can name a finalist. Our approach this year is “rip the bandaid off”, and we will be posting cuts quickly.
Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows by JM Bergen
- Genre: YA/Middle grade
- POVs: Single POV, young chosen one
- Magic: Central to the story
- Read: 100%
- Status: Cut
- Review by: Esme
Kristen and I are both avid audiobook lovers, it makes the pile go quicker if we can read our books while multitasking at home or while commuting. For those who like audios, it can be found HERE.
I think this would have been a favorite book of mine as a kid. There are tried and true tropes that kids tend to love- A young kid doesn’t know he’s special, yet… Magic is real but no one is allowed to know…. Teachers and guardian figures galore… and a group of middle school friends that tease each other in a fun way like brothers. It has all the right ingredients for kids dipping their toes into fantasy.
Thomas’ father told him that magic was real right before he disappeared. He’s been living with his mom, going to school, being a normal kid until he walks into a bookstore and asks for a book on real magic. It turns out his hunches were right, magic is real, and he gets a book that teaches him chapter by chapter the history of magic and how to use it. The book itself has a cover that changes, hidden text, and many other things that would likely spark the imagination of a kid. He has a set of rules given to him by the bookshop owner who advises him there will be grave consequences if he doesn’t abide by them.
Thomas is a nice kid, he’s easy to like, he has a great relationship with his mom which is refreshing. Full of mystery and whimsy this is nicely paced with light prose. Although this wasn’t personally to my taste, (I am pretty far outside of the target audience), I can see a lot of appeal for kids 8 -14. If you’re looking for something for your kids I would check this one out. Unfortunately, it’s landing in the cuts pile, tough decisions have to be made and I’ve got to start somewhere.
Stolen Luck by TJ Muir
- Genre: Middle grade/ya
- Magic: Unknown
- POV: Single pov princeling
- Read: 50%
- Status: Cut
- Review by: Esme
I seem to have a goodly number of young adult books in my batch this year. I don’t know if that’s by random chance or if there’s an uptick in YA entries. This one is about young princeling named Haki/Hak’kar whose older brother is about to take his Investiture – a crucial ceremony in their culture. Haki doesn’t think that Zaran is taking it seriously enough and keeps scolding him that he needs to be more reverent of the gods. Haki gets drugged by his family because he starts going crazy and becoming fanatic about the gods, thinking he can speak to them and summon them if he can just get his shrines correct. Haki is knocked out by his own family for two days with a poppy concoction, and when he wakes up his father instructs his brother to teach him how to sail to keep him from becoming crazed again… something to take his mind off things. Anyway, his brother ends up dead in a sailing accident and Haki isn’t upset at all. Haki thinks that his brother wasn’t worthy of the throne because he wasn’t devout enough. The MC is basically a religious fanatic at a very young age, and hears the voices of the gods. He’s also got a temper issue and is demanding. He is cold, arrogant, and self serving. I found it very difficult to get into this book because I just couldn’t get behind the MC. If a character is unlikable I need them to make up for it in another character trait so I can start to invest in their arc (Glokta is both funny and fascinating).
I felt a little thrown off that date rape party drugs played a part in this. His cousin was taking drugs and sleeping with older men, Hak’kar rats him out, not because hes concerned, but to better his own standing.
So, Hak’kar, although a jerk, is probably right that the gods could be coming back, and in particular, the Red God. Hak’kar found a Mystic who knows things he shouldn’t and Hak’kar believes is speaking to the gods and giving him prophecies.
I kept waiting to see if Hak’kar grew out of his callousness, or became some kind of conduit for the gods to make him more interesting… or something to get me invested. At 50% I decided to call it a day. If you are someone who doesn’t mind villain/unlikable characters you would probably get more out of this than I did.
Austin Wyrd by Steve Curry
- Genre: Urban fantasy
- Magic: Present but not central
- POVs: Single pov – bouncer at a club
- Read: 30%
- Status: Cut
- Review by: Esme
This one is pretty different, it’s an urban fantasy based out of Austin Texas and is heavily influenced both by Latin culture and ancient Norse.
There has been a gruesome murder outside of a heavy metal club that Mouse, the MC, works for, and he is the one who found the body. It turns out to be the body of the drummer of a regular band that plays at the club. One thing leads to another and Mouse finds himself as a suspect of two different murders and he has to clear his name. Things get muddy when we find out the drummer was cheating on his wife with the club owners girlfriend.
There is an air of mystery behind everything because there are magic runes and tatoos that help Mouse heal. There was a strange man who showed up at Mouse’s apartment who has a fox and speaks of magic. When I dnfed the magic was just starting to reveal itself. I had a bunch of content problems with this one.
There were some strange character descriptions, like when the MC says he thinks about jungles, pyramids and strange rituals when he looks at a latina woman. There is lots of male gaze, and a writing style that just wasnt to my taste. I will glance over a couple punctuation errors here and there, but when they start to accumulate over time I get slightly more annoyed each time I hit one, and by the time I DNFed it was beginning to be cumbersome. It also had a slow start where I wasn’t sure what the point of it all was, the plot did seem to be picking up at 30%. A serious potential finalist has to be buttoned up with polished prose, steady pacing, and broad appeal. This is more of a niche thing that I would recommend for whodunnit, urban fantasy fans, and those without a peeve against male gaze. Unfortunately, we say goodbye to Austin Wyrd.
Thank you guys for your submissions, I hope those who found these descriptions interesting will give them a shot.