First and foremost, thank you to the authors again for sharing their literary world with the Critiquing Chemist and the Bookish Boffins!
With the following three SPFBO eliminations, The Critiquing Chemist and her Bookish Boffins are 2/5ths of the way through Phase One. Elimination posts, such as this one, will serve as a general announcement regarding the titles to be cut with a short spoiler-free overview included for each novel. In the following days, the spoiler-free overview will be expanded upon in a full review post for each eliminated novel. That being said, it would be appropriate to add the following disclaimer that DNF books will not have their own post outside of the initial elimination one. These full posts will follow the traditional formatting style for reviews on The Critiquing Chemist by including a spoiler-abundant insight section in addition to the overview sans spoilers. The eliminations and semifinalists will ONLY be announced in specific posts regarding those aforementioned topics and not in the individual novel full reviews.
Without further ado, our second set of eliminations can be found in the next section. Please keep in mind that these titles are in no particular order or ranking, whether within this post, or the rest of our Phase One cuts. Click on the appropriate links to view our first, second, and third sets of eliminations.
The Calvanni by Chris McMahon
The Calvanni is the first installment of The Jakirian Cycle, which is a trilogy. While I’m all for book series, the ending is too much of a cliffhanger. If you read The Calvanni and find yourself enjoying it, make sure you have Scytheman handy, because you’ll want to pick it up right away. I turned the (digital) page, expecting a new chapter, and was very sad to see that book 1 had ended. Alas, my SPFBO duties prevent me from starting Scytheman for the time being.
This story takes place in the world of Yos, and let me tell you: Chris McMahon’s worldbuilding skills are fantastic. He describes the history of this world, its wars, religion, politics, geography, etc., and I really enjoyed getting to know more about it. Yos is a complex world, carefully crafted so that it doesn’t feel convoluted. Considering this, I expect the rest of the series to be as complex and well-orchestrated as it is in The Calvanni.
Yos’ unique laws of chemistry are somewhat puzzling and deserve their own paragraph. Our metals are replaced by “glowmetals”, which can’t be forged or manipulated because they are a combination of light/energy and matter, I guess? At this point, this chemist had to suspend disbelief and just go with the flow. Because of their nature, glowmetals can’t be made into weapons, armor, jewelry, etc.; artifacts are made of special ceramics instead. [As an aside, this makes me wonder what catalysis looks like in Yos, but that’s probably beyond the scope of this review.] While this doesn’t serve a particular purpose in the story, because the glowmetals could have been replaced by some odd instrument and the effect would be the same, it certainly sets Yos apart as a world that’s similar to ours, but not quite, and helps illustrate McMahon’s skills.
The book begins in Athria, a small island ruled by Sarlord Myan Cintros. Before dying, he reveals some information to his daughter Ellen, sending her on what seems like a wild goose chase of epic proportions. Don’t worry, things get more interesting as the story unfolds. Ellen’s storyline is one of three in The Calvanni: the other two are Raziin’s and Cedrin’s. These stories run parallel to each other for long stretches, but they are all, of course, connected, and they intersect more than once. The characters’ backstories are also rich and interwoven, and I look forward to learning more about them in the next books.
The Calvanni is an action-packed read that gets the story rolling and leaves you wanting to know more. It is full of interesting characters, but in general, the “good” characters tend to be more believable than the “bad guys”, who are rather one-dimensional (more on this later). Despite my initial misgivings (which were, as I said, based on the cover), the book is well written and is not a romance novel that you’d read over the summer. Be aware, however, that it does reference nudity and some sex scenes, if this is something that bothers you.
Child of Destiny by M.K. Adams
Released in February 2019, Child of Destiny by M.K. Adams is the first book in The Rising Saga. This YA fantasy novel kicks off in Astreya, The Rive’s capital. As depicted on the eye-catching cover, the city is organized in three enclosed tiers, where the quality of life within these levels can be illustrated by a Champagne tower. As Champagne is poured out, the top glass (the king and his family) fills to the brim before trickling down to the layer beneath it (the rich). If you’re lucky, some of it reaches the bottom level as well (the masses), but don’t bank on it. Additionally, although magic exists in this world, the ability to wield it is rare and comes with an interesting cost to the user. To top it all off, in The Rive, you’ll also find the mistreatment of green-skinned individuals that echoes the racial prejudice in our own world. But if you stand very still, you just might detect the winds of change…
Enter Lyvanne, a fourteen-year-old street urchin who dreams of one day living beyond the walls of the city with those she loves. Every night she says a prayer, wanting to know what the future has in store for her. The subsequent response is more than she bargained for, pitting her against the king, of all people, and forcing her to run from everything and everyone she’s ever known. Along the way, Lyvanne finds refuge with a group of people who seek to make the world a better place and are willing to fight tooth and nail to make that vision a reality. The relationships that Lyvanne forms with those sheltering her are definitely a treat to behold. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a constant back and forth between them treating Lyvanne as the adolescent she is and expecting her to hold her own. In truth, the men and women at the forefront of this tale are complex, capable of taking care of themselves, yet fiercely protective of each other (to the extent of throwing their own safety out the window, one after another).
Although Lyvanne is the central character, the point of view does switch from time to time to other prominent characters; I especially enjoyed the intermission and epilogue for the unexpected perspectives they portray. Since the storyline focuses more on worldbuilding and character development (and building tension), Adams does a good job of making the few moments of action count. However, there are instances where the narrative feels lacking, as some discussions concerning the magical system, the deities of note, and personal and world histories are glossed over rather than explained. I am definitely a detail-oriented person, though. That may also be why I think this novel would benefit from another round of editing to root out errors, especially when punctuating dialogue. In any case, Child of Destiny is about a girl thrust to the forefront of a looming conflict and the decisions she must make regarding her role in it. If this sounds like your cup of tea, now’s the time to get caught up, since the sequel, Betrayal of Destiny, comes out in September!
Squire Derel by Rachel Ford
I am always excited about books where the main character is a woman. If said woman is also a warrior involved in crazy adventures, I’m definitely interested. After reading the short blurb about Squire Derel on Goodreads, I decided to pick it as part of my SPFBO batch. Briefly, Ana Derel is a squire, just months away from becoming a knight. When the Knight Protector she works for (you could think of the knight/squire relationship as an apprenticeship of sorts) is killed by a dragon, Ana has to deal with not only her grief, but all the questions she has as a result of the attack, as well as the now uncertain future. This isn’t just the story of her personal quest, however: there’s a war brewing, too.
My recurrent thought while reading this book was “I want to know more”. A previous war between the South and the North is mentioned, and we’re told it was bloody and had lasting consequences. It would be interesting to know more about it, because it could explain Lidek and his backstory (maybe this is developed in later books?). There are some references to the religions of these kingdoms being somewhat different, but we’re not given any detail. In short, the worldbuilding seemed promising, but it barely scratched the surface. The characters got a similar treatment: what we learn is interesting (Derel and Callaghan each have a lot of baggage, Aaronsen might have had a rough childhood, etc.), but that’s all we get. At some points I thought we were about to learn more, but the opportunity to add depth was missed; hopefully there is more on their past in the other books of the series.
Squire Derel is fast paced, action-packed, and overall an entertaining read. The premise is interesting, and so are the characters, but the book fell somewhat flat and didn’t leave me itching to know what happens next (this is the first book in the Knight Protector saga). Rachel Ford has a long list of other books published, and I’m curious to read some of her other work.