Well, it’s time to cut some books. I’m 3/4ths the way through my pile at this point. I’ll start with the cut I liked the most and on down the line. It’s never pleasant for me to cut books, but it’s a necessary part of the contest. What works for you may not work for me, and the other way around — all of this is super subjective. Thanks to the authors for their submissions, I know it’s stressful for y’all.
Heretical Oaths by Slifer274
I had seen the author’s name and sort of figured this was going to be a litrpg or something similar — and I was right!
Lily is from a noble family but she’s an outcast, a black sheep of the family so she’s been ‘slumming it’ as it were with the peasants. She’s at a university where she meets another noble who’s sort of mysterious. She doesn’t trust her but thinks that perhaps she could be useful in doing quests to get money/level up as they’re in school. Kind of like in dungeon crawl video games where there are classes of different types and people group together in parties to go raid — this follows that pattern.
What makes it neat is the way the magic system and the class system works. So instead of just saying this guy is a fire mage level 2 or this guy is an ice mage level 5 — you get your powers through oaths to the gods. There are 8 major gods, and each of those major gods has 8 mini gods under it — and down the line those mini gods each have 8 gods below them. It creates a tiered system and down at the bottom around the 5th tier there are thousands of lesser gods. This means that no one really knows all the different gods and all the different powers that are possible. It keeps the magic and what you can do with it extremely varied and unpredictable. There are consequences to breaking your oaths as well, making it difficult to change pantheons.
Lily is tied to an unnamed unknown god, and she and her new partner are kind exploring what exactly that means. She’s very powerful in unpredictable ways and it makes her useful on raids in ways most people wouldn’t expect. In some ways this felt a bit like Sufficiently Advanced Magic — these are not young teens like in many “magic schools” it’s a magic academy so everything is aged up a bit. I sort of liked Lily in that she was non-standard, she was pretty grey at the start. She doesn’t seem affected or moved by people dying in front of her and yet she does seem to grow very attached to Jasmine. So, I think I’ve had the gayest SPFBO I’ve ever had — so many gay POVs. If you’re looking for a f/f romance in a litrpg with a female main POV, this could be for you!
There was nothing particularly objectionable about this. This wasn’t a case where I was disliking the read, I just wasn’t super engaged. The characters just weren’t doing enough for me to really love it. The world itself didn’t feel fleshed out enough which was another issue, it felt like beyond what was happening in the moment to the characters there was blank space, I didn’t know what the larger picture was. And perhaps this is addressed later on, but there was no foundation for me to care what was happening. The events and pacing was just so fast there wasn’t enough time to build something to latch onto before it was gone again. There was a lot of monster hack and slash dungeon clearing which I think a lot of people would find entertaining. At 34% I felt like I had read enough to know it wasn’t going to be my semifinalist pick and so I set it down, but I can absolutely see others enjoying this.
Silver and Blood by Trina L. Talma
When I picked this one up and it started off okay, but events and time periods went so quickly that I felt incredibly rushed and unable to settle into the story. It starts out with Zania as a 17 year old bar maid who’d been working at the tavern for a number of years. She’s got dead parents, she’s alone, filling in the tough but naïve character type. Along comes this guy who gives her a gold coin and says he wants her to be his thief’s apprentice. She trains up, falls in love, gets pregnant and all this stuff and it’s not even 10% of the book yet — and this book is only 250 pages long so it’s not like this is a long build up. It’s a breakneck speed and I was unable to get a feel for the world, or the characters, or any of it really before we move from one fairly serious plot point to the next. Big things like her thief training occur ‘off page’ she just tells us it happened, and so there are big time gaps right up front that escalate the feeling of being rushed through things. I feel like if this beginning 10% was just the character’s backstory it could have been delivered in a different way that would have felt less rushed. A very predictable second love interest that was just all just too convenient, and then a third interest by like 12%? Third interest actually said, “what could a girl like that want with a man like me”, and it’s at this point I set it down.
Children of the Dryads by Raina Nightingale
Unfortunately, this one and I just did not get a long from the start. The writing style and I just butt heads and it made it difficult to get far enough to get a feel for the story. This leans YA or perhaps middle grade which again, unfortunately isn’t really what I go for.
“When her human father, Eldor, a member of an organization of elite warriors dedicated to protecting the Valor Alliance, is called on a mission she does not think he can survive, Tara-lin violates his orders and follows him…
She is a half-elf, born with the long-lost ancestral magic of the elves. With her is Alis, a human girl desperate to avoid a marriage forced on her by her father, a colleague of Eldor, but terrified that gods Tara-lin does not believe exist will cast her into the netherhells for her disobedience. Ahead of them is Eldor’s terrifying destination – Nightshade Castle, haunt of madness and black magic.”