Okay guys, this is actually my last cuts post, my semifinalists will be announced basically directly following this post since the semifinalists are the only two left after this culling.
Rage of a Boy by Edward Patrick
This will appeal to readers who enjoy classic coming of age fantasy stories. Tristan is roughly 23 years old and he’s training in the military. In most ways he’s a fairly standard recruit, if not a bit more mature than his cohorts/friends. Tristan is kind of a broken person, though, which may also add to his more mature state of mind than his friend. When he was fairly young magic users came to his village and basically slaughtered everyone. He was an unfortunate witness to it all, too. He was in a hiding spot his dad gave him when he watched everyone be murdered with magic, which is sometimes called The Grey in this world. It’s left Tristan a little warped, and he hates anything that even has to do with the color grey.
He’s not a bad person. He’s mindful of how his actions affect others, he has no intention of hurting people, but the dude loves hunting, a little too much. Early on in the book he comes back from a hunt covered head to toe in blood which speaks to a several things…the voracity in which he disemboweled and cut apart his prey, why he would get any kind of satisfaction from doing so, and also being so, so stuck inside his own head that he didn’t think to clean himself before presenting at the gates of the city (who were really creeped out).
He’s got a few close friends, and one of which everyone thinks should be his romantic partner since everything works on paper and she’s clearly very into him. However, he’s just not that into it, again he’s emotionally stunted and doesn’t really feel ‘love’ in the way most people do. However, like I said, he does care about her deeply as a friend and doesn’t want to ruin anything, so although he’s a bit immature and at first tries to avoid her, eventually he does communicate with her about everything.
Anyway, the tension in the story happens when the people who slaughtered his family are going to be joining the city soon, and not only that, he’s expected to make nice with them.
The writing was okay, I wouldn’t say it stood out as one of the more polished and elegant prose in my batch, but it didn’t put me off, either. There was mild info dumping but nothing that was so jarring I wanted to set it down. I found the characterization of Tristan to be the most compelling part of the story which is a great place for a book to be in with me since characters are everything for me. I can’t care about much else if I don’t give a fuck about the people in the story which is why when stories start out with world building info dumps I zone out and tend to DNF. I don’t care yet, tell me later about the world when I’m more immersed in it’s people. That wasn’t the issue here. It was actually the plotline where I started to waiver and lose interest. I’ve seen so many orphaned boys turned soldiers who then have some kind of quest involving those who killed their families, whether it’s revenge, or making peace, or overthrowing them etc. This is a case of “it’s me not you”, and I would recommend this to people who enjoy coming of age stories revolving around broken people.
Forged in Flame by Bruce McKnight
This is a dual POV kind of coming of age story, one of them is human and the other is an orc. Orcs and humans/”pinks” are at war here and it’s pretty classic stuff where orcs are pretty bloodthirsty and are vicious in war. Their culture is dominated by strength, they admire their warriors, and look down on those they consider weak. The orc POV here is a runt, so clearly he’s not particularly valued by his clan. His life hangs in the balance of who is in power, the one currently lets him live but the next many not.
So, I sound kind of like a broken record at this point, but I’m looking for something a little less familiar. I’ve seen the orcs v. humans thing a bunch of times, and at this point orcs have to be more than a clan of angry assholes for me to engage with it. Unfortunately, I’ve just seen the brutal orc warrior type too many times for that alone to hold my attention.
The human POV we get is Tilden, I believe he’s around 17 years old and his whole village was just slaughtered. I thought he felt pretty naive for his age, he was walking around wondering where everyone was “hiding” not realizing everyone was dead. He ends up caught in the middle of the war between orcs and humans — and so our two POVs essentially go to war against one another.
And again, I’ve just seen this so many times at this point I’m like “okay, dead villagers, what’s next?” This is not a dig at this book, it’s more just I’ve been at this so many years this is a very common storyline not just in SFF but across all fiction, really. I hit this theme frequently in SPSFC, too.
Once again the prose was fine. There were parts I personally struggled with due to a lack of ability in the visualizations department. If an author simply describes someone or something without using some kind of comparison I really struggle. Eg: The man’s face was brown and wrinkled vs the man’s face looked like a worn leather purse. I don’t know what it is, but if just descriptors are used I just can’t visualize anything in my head. It’s definitely a me thing, I imagine most other readers don’t struggle with this. I’d say I’d recommend this to people looking for a lot of action, something quick paced, and with non human characters.
Crown of Madness by Ryan G. Beaty
Unfortunately this one got of to a real bad start with me since the opening page is an actual history lesson. For people who follow my reviews you’ll be familiar with my peeves about info dumping, in particular history lessons, in particular history lessons that occur before I have time to care about the plot and characters. I kept going because to DNF on page one seems unfair but I didn’t have high hopes. That said, the world itself is interesting. There’s some kind of tree that works a portal between worlds, and through that portal came magic to the human world. Humans being humans tried to harness and use this power rather than leaving it well enough alone. We used spells, and tried to contain it in potions etc., etc. Magic didn’t respond well to this, and it started to mutate when we fiddled with it. Thus creating monsters. Okay, that’s neat, I like that.
So our MC, Marcus, also had all his family killed and has been training in the military. He’s training to be a Hexblade, a class of people that’s said to give up their humanity to fight the monsters that plague the world now. You can die taking the test and all that jazz. There are mentions of dragons, wizards, witches, potions etc. Again, this is the same reason I’m cutting a lot of books at this juncture — I’ve read things very similar to this in the past, even within this batch. Although I took issue with the info dumps on page one, overall the prose wasn’t bad. It had a good pace from what I read and could appeal to people looking for a classic fantasy monster killing book with lots of magic.
Crystalborne Sigils by S. Lynn Helton
Gyasi lives in a seaside town where a fairly robust harbor has boats coming in and out of it frequently. One day a ship comes into port but it looks very off, like it shouldn’t have even been able to make it to the port to dock, it’s breaking apart and by all rights shouldn’t be afloat. What’s more odd is he couldn’t place their accent, given that ships from all over the world come to this port he’s used to basically any accent.
I think my biggest issue with the writing was the dialogue, it just didn’t feel natural in many places, eg: “My thanks, but that will not be necessary. Our healer told me walking would help. Please, let us go.” It just feels very formal since there were very few contractions. I find people don’t generally speak like that unless there’s a reason so to put it into dialogue with characters at a dock just doesn’t feel natural to me. There’s a bit of unnecessary exposition in the dialogue as well. A servant to a king shouldn’t need to explain the kings own laws to him, the fact that the king has tried to stamp out all magic doesn’t need to be stated back to him, he knows.
I didn’t actually get far enough (10%) to get a handle on what the plotline was going to be other than magic has been outlawed by a king, and his focus is now on the port where the mystery ship just landed, so there’s probably illegal magic that just landed in that dude’s docks.
Unfortunately for this book it came after I had already gotten excited about others in my batch which puts all the other books up against the wall. If I’m not liking a read as much as my favorite two I’m very likely to DNF and move on to see if anything will knock the top two off their spot. That combined with a mismatched taste in prose style and I set this one down fairly early.