First and foremost, thank you to the authors again for sharing their literary world with The Critiquing Chemist and the Bookish Boffin!
With these first three SPFBO eliminations, The Critiquing Chemist and her Bookish Boffin, along with Lynn’s Books, are working their 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. For books read to completion, the spoiler-free overview will be expanded upon in the following days with 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. 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 first 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. Also, check out Lynn’s Books first set of eliminations here.
Lycoris in Moonlight by Kova Killian (DNF: 41%)
Any story that ties in mythology immediately grabs my attention. I especially love when an author manages to merge together gods of various origins, e.g., Norse, Egyptian, and Greek. Killian has created a unique premise where all of these gods not only coexist but also are easily accessible and visible to mortals.
Lycoris in Moonlight follows the story of Nin, a woman who carries a major chip on her shoulders as well as a secret that would mean her immediate death. Essentially an orphan, Nin is a talented midwife who is constantly bullied and abused by the city’s upper class. While her life has been immeasurably difficult, it is hard to really like her character.
While I found myself enjoying the general premise, there were certain directions the plot took that I kept coming back to as troublesome. For example, and without giving away too much, I struggled to accept that Nin and one of her best friends, who are both portrayed as strongly independent and talented women, would choose to leave their lives as they know it and risk spending the rest of their lives as concubines to gods. Sure, the risk was low of being selected, but still the consequences of their choices were never really explored or given weight. Zuka would have had to leave both her successful bakery and, more importantly, her Grandma, whom she would never see again. On the other hand, Nin would have abandoned her other best friend just as she was going to have her first baby. Moreover, she knows the risks associated with having her secret revealed.
Overall, Lycoris at Moonlight was full of mystery and mythology, with a heavy dose of romantic tension, but left me yearning for more depth and detail throughout.
SPFBO Status: CUT
Face of Glass by Damon L. Wakes (DNF: 40%)
Based in a tribal setting, Wakes captures well the hopeless feeling of a small community, whose world extends as far as the surrounding tribes, when an unknown stranger from beyond those borders comes into their midst promising treasures that are too good to be true. When the tribe rejects the offer, the consequences are more dire than they could have imagined, especially when the danger comes from an unexpected source. For one boy, who is working off a family debt from another tribe, his world and identity are vastly changed in the aftermath, leaving him to find not only his way out of danger, but also to somehow save his adopted tribe.
Face of Glass has an intriguing premise and is a quick read. The scenes involving conflict are well-crafted but the characters lack the depth needed to invest the reader in their fate. Despite being interested in the foundation of the story, the lack of detailed worldbuilding left me wanting more. The level of fantasy in Face of Glass (albeit at 40% of the way through) was minimal, with most elements having tradition/belief-based or drug-influenced explanations. Overall, while I found the story compelling and unique, Face of Glass struggled from the lack of depth both for the characters and world at large.
SPFBO Status: CUT
The End of the Line by David Nelson (DNF: 74%)
The End of the Line captured my attention almost from page one as I found the story to be such a genuinely unique mystery that I couldn’t even begin to guess where it would lead the reader. Nelson manages to weave together time travel/flashbacks, WW2, magic, and the present day. While exploring living through the horrific realities and the consequences of war, these soldiers’ story deviates into fantasy as their paths cross that of a mysterious Chinese shaman. Seventy years later, the actions taken during the waning stages of the war come back to haunt both the soldiers and their offspring.
I was so intrigued by the story and where Nelson was going to take this curious tale that I ended up getting 70% of the way through The End of the Line before putting down the read. The present day haunting and disappearances were definitely unnerving and suspenseful, with the flashbacks to the war well timed and skillfully crafted. Unfortunately, the characters are relatively one-dimensional, with little to nothing known about the backstories of many of the key players outside of their roles in the end of the war and their general motivations. Plus, almost every character – even a present day nurse – expressed racial prejudices at a rate that seemed unnecessary.
Overall, Nelson weaves together a captivating mystery throughout much of The End of the Line, however the character depth keeps the reader from fully investing emotionally in the story.
SPFBO Status: CUT