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The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off Post 1: Priest & Under a Colder Sun

The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off Post 1: Priest & Under a Colder Sun published on No Comments on The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off Post 1: Priest & Under a Colder Sun

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.

I’ve decided to write two reviews per post. This first post will feature Priest by Matthew Colville and Under a Colder Sun by Greg James.

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.

Reviews

priest

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.

Rating: 6.5

spfbo2

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.

Rating: 5.5

Review and Giveaway: The Dragon Engine by Andy Remic

Review and Giveaway: The Dragon Engine by Andy Remic published on No Comments on Review and Giveaway: The Dragon Engine by Andy Remic

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First thing: that’s a hell of a cover.

Second thing: stick around through the completion of the review because Angry Robot has supplied us with 5 COPIES of The Dragon Engine to give away. According to Angry Robot, the books can be shipped internationally. One winner per household. 5 total winners.

REVIEW

I don’t typically read Grimdark. I have seen George R. R. Martin listed as a Grimdark author, and I’ve read him. Some others, too. However, after reading Remic’s The Dragon Engine, I’m starting to wonder if Martin’s monochrome rainbow of humiliation and violence isn’t nearly grim or dark enough for the classification. Martin’s characters–well, some of them–have redeemable qualities. There isn’t much to redeem many of the characters of The Dragon Engine. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, necessarily.

The first chapter doesn’t really prepare the reader for what eventually comes in this novel. It started out feeling  a little bit like a Dragonlance book: adventurers meet together in a tavern to reminisce about the good old days in the military. They plan an epic adventure together, to journey to the supposedly abandoned Dwarven kingdom to retrieve some priceless artifacts that just might provide immortality.

We have the bombastic, axe-wielding warrior, Beetrax the Axeman. The best of all archers, Talon.  The swift ninja assassin, Sakora. The lordling swordsman and former Champion of the Guard, Dake, and his not-good-enough-for-daddy wife, Jonti Tal, a former soldier as well. And finally, the magical healer, Lillith, whose gentle femininity is a foil to Beetrax’s masculine bravado. This first chapter reminds me an awful lot of some well-written Pathfinder campaigns I have witnessed. It isn’t particularly dark or grim. The book can go anywhere from here. And it goes dark.

From this point forward, though, we’ve got some really heavy stuff happening. Rape, abuses of power, torture porn, psychopaths coming out the wazoo, and hyper-violence: brains and blood and guts galore. Warriors reciting cheesy poetry, a Church of Hate and a Church of Purity, assassins and slavery and plentiful use of the sort of language my mom used when I was growing up. The sort that got Zest bar soap, or maybe Irish Spring, rubbed into my teeth if I repeated it. You know the sort.

The abandoned places are not abandoned. The Dwarves have been driven by an intense form of isolationism, germinated by their former status as the slaves to men. The Dwarves, though, have in turn ensaved the Dragons. And the dragons are not pleased.

Everything here is amplified: the hate is the deepest hate, the pain is the most excruciating pain, the love is the loveist doveyiest love, the death is the bloodiest death.

Ultimately, I need to say that this wasn’t my sort of book. I read a lot of epic fantasy, military fantasy, modern and urban fantasy. I wasn’t sure what to expect here, but this wasn’t it. I think there are some people who will love this book, and I hope they read it. There’s a lot here to like, and I know several people who would hack off their left arm for a copy of this book.

The Dragon Engine is written by Andy Remic. It is published by Angry Robots Books. Release date: September 1, 2015.

Purchase The Dragon Engine at AMAZON.

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