About the Contest
The Self-published Fantasy Blog-off (SPFBO) is sponsored by Mark Lawrence and carried out by 10 hard-working blogs. You’ve probably heard of Mark Lawrence. He’s written a few books.
The contests itself is explained HERE.
The ten finalists are listed HERE.
And these are the ratings given to the books so far HERE.
Galleywampus is not directly involved in this contest. However, I will read and review the ten finalists. And maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll be invited to officially take part in the contest next year. I know I want a tower of independently published novels myself.
The books at the SPFBO are also being rated by the blogs, so I determined to add my own ratings to the mix. I gather that these ratings are on a 1-10 scale. I am comparing these books to my own general preferences, and these preferences tend toward the center. I don’t often assign a 9 or a 10, unless the book truly blows me away. I also don’t assign 1-3 ratings often, unless the book is really, truly something that I can’t find a good thing to say about it. Most of the books I review fall into that 4-8 range.
Priest by Matthew Colville is an interesting work of fiction. I was often left uncertain about what would happen next. It is a bit like a work of noir, but that isn’t quite right. “A fantasy hard-boiled” is on the cover, and that’s partially what I experienced. It reminds me a bit of an episode of an old crime program, or a locked-room mystery. We know that something happened, and we know the end result. This is sort of a “whodoneit.” We don’t know who did it, or why, or even specifically how it was done. The protagonist isn’t given much to work with.
My biggest complaints, honestly, are that 1) Heden, the protagonist, was often needlessly cruel to the knights, in ways that felt slightly out of character based on some of his previous actions, and 2) he’s terribly obtuse. These areas work as both strengths and weaknesses of the work. I think the book would have been significantly shorter and we would have observed much less of interest if Heden had used this old adage by Epictetus: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” He wants to swing in, get his answers, and go back to his self-inflicted hermitage. That’s not the job he was asked to do, it isn’t the job that would have simplified his and others’ lives, and it wasn’t what was in the best interest of the story.
The book is not a typical fantasy. It isn’t really a quest narrative, and it certainly isn’t a “coming of age” story. The protagonist isn’t a teen or twenty-something. In these areas, the book is a breath of fresh air. Fantasy isn’t a genre for endless Tolkien revisions.
I enjoyed the work. There are some interesting characters throughout, the mysteries within the forest are intriguing, and I’d really like to step down into that basement. There were parts that remained unwritten, which is fine; there are more books.
Under a Colder Sun by Greg James is a bit of grimdark (or dark fantasy, maybe sword and sorcery) fiction with a Conan-like protagonist in Khale the Wanderer. Not young Conan. Old Man Conan, if he also had sorcery at his disposal and immortality at hand. Khale is a badass. He is more complicated than first laid out for the reader, and I appreciated that complexity. Sure, he’s a “bad guy” but he has layers.
The protagonists are not particularly likable. These aren’t good guys trying to kill bad guys. These are mostly just bad guys. The motivations are realistic (to the story) and their actions fit their worldviews. I didn’t really have anyone to cheer for, with Khale being the most interesting.
There are some over-simplified characters that feel like they are the archetypes of, rather than depictions of, full-on characters.
The story is written well. While there are some areas that I feel like I’ve read before, there was some new as well. Ultimately, this book wasn’t really my taste. But it is worth a go if the basic concept catches your attention.