Alrighty, it’s time for another round of cuts! I am getting very close to announcing semifinalists at this point. I wish everyone the best of luck and hope you find some readers through these reviews. Negative reviews/cuts still absolutely result in people clicking those links, I watch it happen every year. What works for me might not for you and vice versa and that’s all right 😀 Thanks for reading!
SEA OF CINDERS BY ADAM R. BISHOP
I really loved the cover for this one, it definitely caught my attention so well done there. It opens with a dream sequence with the MC’s dad dying/drowning. When he wakes up he’s in prison. It’s unclear how long he’s been there or why he’s there since he doesn’t seem to be a big baddie. It’s not long before he was “released” by the tyrant king of this land under the “options” of death, or signing up for the Army to fight the elves. Elves in this world are much like they are in other worlds — supernaturally good at archery and can hit you in the head with an arrow from a freakishly long distance. It’s not generally a good idea to start a war with them.
Unfortunately, a lot of world building was done right up front in long info dumps within dialogue. I will concede that it makes sense for him to try and ask about the ‘lay of the land’ to a degree. But, there was a lot of info dumping both for world building and character development in chapter one which just didn’t go over with me well. The writing and dialogue were also just ever so slightly off to me. The dialogue was just a touch forced here and there and it was enough for me to notice. I’m not sure if it’s just a bit cliché or forced, but a dungeon master who walks around and says, “you’ll get the club” just didn’t do it for me.
There was a fair bit of heavy handed narrative that did a lot of telling instead of showing aside from the info dumps. I could kind of tell this was going to turn into a duo friendship kind of thing, he starts to befriend another inmate and they have some fun banter going on. However, around 20% I set this down knowing I had others in my pile that I would be advancing. There was nothing wrong with this, really, and I’d recommend it for people who want to read about a war with the elves. It’s just up against some books that really caught my attention this year.
CROWN OF MADNESS BY RYAN G. BEATY
This one starts with a history lesson, a kid is in school and his teacher is asking him a bunch of questions about the world, magic, how it works and so on. Okay, so this kind of thing can work for me if it’s placed halfway through a book. To lead with it in chapter one is not my kind of deal. I really need to care about the characters first and foremost, then everything else comes later. That said, this world does sound pretty neat and for a YA audience this might be more to your style than mine.
So, this is a multidimensional universe with a great tree connecting all the different doorways to different dimensions or worlds. Through this portal came monsters and magic. Humans being humans tried to harness and use the magic, creating spells and potions and whatnot to bend magic to our will. Magic doesn’t react well or predictably to that, it acts like a living thing and it mutates. It mutated animals and other things to create monsters, an unforeseen consequence of fucking with magic. Okay, that’s a neat concept.
This one seems to be following the coming of age, hero lost his whole family trope. The MC here watched his whole family get murdered by the big baddies and it’s fucked with his head. He enjoys hunting not only for the solitude but for the killing. After the history lesson a big time skip occurs and now instead of like 10 he’s like 20ish? He’s about to take a Hexblade test which you can die in the attempt. Hexblades are those who fight the monsters and other things that magic has mutated. They are said to have left their humanity behind to fight the monsters, big badasses, more or less. There’s also another plot thread that I didn’t get far enough into the book to follow through, but a prophet/madman who usually spews nonsense at strangers in the street has singled Tristan out and tells him “the bones will dance” as some kind of foreboding warning.
I DNFd this one after I got to the point where I knew I was enjoying my two potential semifinalists more than this one. I wouldn’t say there was anything super jarring or unpleasant about this one. I may have kept going if I picked this one first but since it’s almost last and I’ve already got two semifinalists in mind I decided to set this one down. I would recommend it for people who enjoy YA stories, coming of age, revenge, magic, and monsters.
THE GRITIKAH CASTLE BY EMMANUEL AKEYO
When I glanced at the chapter titles for some of these I honestly got pretty excited. They’re snarky and stupid and I was hopeful for another comedy. LOL it’s not a comedy at all. So, this one follows (as far as I could tell from 15%) two main characters and both of them are kind of assholes to an extreme. There was a younger teen who cooked two teenage boys alive (they’re bullies, but still) and seems to show no remorse whatsoever, he actually thinks he should have “cooked the fat one more”. He also really, really hates his dad. Like, with a passion. He wants to burn him alive, too. However, I really couldn’t find a good reason for that level of hatred other than being fat???? Like half of his inner thoughts once he got home were describing his dads fat lips, fat hips, how it spilled over his belt, how his mother loved the fat man. It was just very weird. It’s entirely possible that later on I’ll learn the guy is also like abusive or something, but the way the guy was introduced he was merely fat and lazy and that’s like a weird reason to hate your dad THAT much.
The other POV is like a torturer? Kind of like Glokta? It opens with him torturing a prisoner trying to figure out what was behind some wall. He had a non-human “pet” like humanoid go read his mind to get the info he wanted, but when that’s done your whole skull melts. It’s like Vulcans but if they murdered you gruesomely while they mind melded…mind melted. Glokta is one of my favorite characters in fiction but unfortunately this character just wasn’t doing it for me — but really more so the pyromaniac kid was even less appealing so I DNF’d around 15-18%.
At this point I’ll also cut some other books that have not reached the 80/100 or higher mark to be under consideration for a semifinalist spot, so those books are: