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 half 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 fifth 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 the appropriate link to view our first, second, third, and fourth sets of eliminations.
The First Rule of Adventuring by Vichet Ou
I was immediately drawn to this book by the quirky cover art- it had me expecting a fun novel, and I was not disappointed. It also begged the question of all of us: what on earth is with the goose? The First Rule of Adventuring is: you must talk about this really fun, lighthearted read. I found this book to be a breath of fresh air from heavy epic fantasy tomes that gives a humorous twist on typical fantasy tropes.
This tale follows a working-class adventurer, Asmund, on his journey to rescue captured princesses in order to collect reward money from their families. We meet the hero as he is attempting to rescue Princess Silga, who, it turns out, doesn’t follow the rules of being a damsel in distress. Not wanting to be rescued ever again, Silga chooses to pursue a career as an adventurer and becomes Asmund’s apprentice in exchange for her eventual reward money. The two discover that there is shady business occurring in the Adventuring world, and so, they seek to unmask the source. Magic, music, Composers, dragons, were-creatures, and the like all work well together to round out this enjoyable high fantasy adventure.
Adventuring is well written, follows a good pace, and is full of humor. I often found myself stifling audible giggles so as to not annoy my partner while they were watching TV. I only wish the characters had more depth and dimension- it often seemed like we didn’t know much about their inner workings and feelings. I know the novel is short, and thankfully not a tome, but I would have appreciated more background and depth in the world building as well. The Cruxverse is a unique place and knowing more about the history and ways of the world would have been nice. Regardless, this was a tough cut and I am looking forward to the next novels in the Cruxverse world.
Tosho is Dead by Opal Edgar
A genuinely enjoyable story, Tosho is Dead is a heavy young adult read that manages to link purgatory, mythology, zombies, and Nazis. This story is told from the perspective of our ever confused, poor Tosho whose guilt regarding the horrific actions of his father shades every decision he makes. Due to Tosho bearing the burdens of his father’s past, every relationship he forges is handicapped by this unwieldy weight, often with frustrating consequences.
Most of this read takes place in purgatory, which under Edgar’s pen is crafted into a realm that weaves together mythology and religion from various cultures. The Egyptian influence is quite pronounced, along with many Greek references scattered throughout, such as the River Styx and a manticore. Though a lot to keep track of, the variety of character types (e.g. ghosts, spirits, golems, oracles, vampires, zombies) serves to enrich this literary world, with each group identifiable by their distinct characteristics. Initially, clear rules for purgatory itself are established, but as the story progresses, these guidelines seem to grow ever more murky, sowing confusion for the reader at the key deviations. Ultimately, I loved the concept behind Edgar’s purgatory and found myself wanting to know more regarding this magic-filled world.
Edgar’s characters are full of personality, with each one wielding its own unmistakable voice. Tosho was actually my least favorite character due to his low confidence and the self hatred he is yoked with due to his father. That being said, those criticisms on my part were important for Tosho’s growth and depth throughout this novel. The surrounding cast is much more likeable and has depth deliberately applied, chapter by chapter, as Tosho quests with different combinations of his revolving team. Lil’Mon and Alpheus are two of my favorites, but Kemsit definitely takes the cake. Her quirky dialogue lightens even the most dire of circumstances.
Overall, Edgar delivers a fast-paced, intriguing spin on purgatory in Tosho is Dead, where the mythologies of various cultures are merged together, but with the status quo crumbling, does Tosho have time to figure out who is behind the dangerous schemes?
Wyrd Gods by Susana Imaginário
“Being a god is to exist without limitations.”
In Wyrd Gods by Susana Imaginário, this premise is tipped on its head, and gods are thrown into the world as mortals, infinitely limited by their new bodies. The story follows a mysterious female goddess who finds herself waking up in the body of a dryad, Ileana, instead of her home among the stars; to her horror, she’s become a wyrd god. Bereft of some of her most important memories (like, how she became a wyrd in the first place), she must navigate a world full of warring creatures, quarrelsome gods, and the fearsome Suzerain, a being so powerful that even immortal beings cannot touch him. The goddess, as Ileana, must figure out how she came to be trapped as a wyrd and how to escape from her dryad body before it’s too late.
Because of the selective amnesia of the main character and the fact that she awakens in a strange world with only bits and pieces of her host dryad’s memory to guide her, much of the beginning of the book felt like a scavenger hunt for me as a reader; I kept trying to figure out which story threads and characters would unlock the wider picture and help me make sense of the main plotline. At times there was a big info dump in a paragraph that helped to fill in gaps, but other times I wished the backstory had been more generously fleshed out to help me understand just what was going on and who the major players were. Adding to the convoluted nature of the story are godly machinations aplenty, time travel, a plethora of minor characters, and interlude chapters that follow 11 different characters. That’s a lot of plot to wrap your head around! I just about gave up in frustration at the halfway mark, but pushed on, and was glad that the storylines start to reveal themselves and come together towards the end of the book.
Wyrd Gods is a fast-paced tale, particularly so after the halfway mark when pieces of the puzzle finally start falling into place. I enjoyed the author’s merging of the Olympian and Aesir pantheons; the interplay of deities from multiple mythologies was faintly reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Imaginário adds wit and humor to liven up the ancient personas, and keeps the action rolling at a brisk pace. That said, I tend to enjoy richer, more detailed writing than Imaginário’s more direct style, especially with all the action, large cast of characters, and multiple settings in Wyrd Gods. Still, fans of mythology who don’t mind a complex storyline may enjoy this book.