SPFBO Elimination Post III

General Housekeeping:

First and foremost, thank you to the authors again for sharing their literary world with The Critiquing Chemist and the Bookish Boffin!

With this third set of 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 third 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 (Elimination Post I; Elimination Post II).

Current SPFBO7 Reviews (*Eliminations):

Lynn’s Books:

Critiquing Chemist:

Blades Falling Softly by Sarah Lin

Overview (No Spoilers):

Anyinn is an aging warrior who has embraced teaching the next generation, including her daughter. When the neighboring nation threatens their borders, she is called to defend her people against the invading species. However, as Anyinn gets to know her enemy, established prejudices are slowly replaced with understanding and empathy, ultimately complicating her directives. On the other side of the battle lines is Anyinn’s counterpart, Canumon, who also finds his preconceived notions challenged, but how can he keep his family safe while upholding his own moral beliefs? This tense situation is further complicated by unexpected forces manipulating both sides irrevocably toward battle. Can Anyinn and Canumon find some way to avoid all-out war?

Blades Falling Softly was the shortest read of my SPFBO batch, but it didn’t lack for depth. Lin created complex characters who were intriguing and often pulled in varying directions. These characters draw the reader in, especially as Lin sets the stage for a key conflict that could have major implications on a wider scale. That said, the buildup to the main battle is filled with enough false starts and intermittent lengthy debates prior to the actual event that the momentum of the story feels stalled. Mysterious events linked to lore worked to jumpstart the delayed bout with an action packed finale.

I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Blades Falling Softly and Alexander Darwin’s finalist in SPFBO6, The Combat Codes. In both novels, societies use warriors and single combat to make decisions on a wide variety of subjects, such as land disputes.

Overall, Lin created a beautiful, detailed world with unique characters, however the story as a whole became bogged down with extended debates between species that are used as a way to break down stereotypes, slowly, chapter by chapter. As Blades Falling Softly is a novella, I’m sure it fits in wonderfully with the wider world Lin has developed, fulfilling a key piece of lore that is valuable to the wider scheme.

Check out the spoiler-filled full review for Blades Falling Softly Tuesday!

Orphan’s Rite by M. Warren Askins

Overview (No Spoilers):

Deep in the Fenrirfang Forest, you’ll find what remains of Knotwithstadt, a village that was once home to a peaceful colony of humans and laives (i.e., elves). Its demise came when a group of holy knights attacked the inhabitants of Knotwithstadt for not following a newly instated edict, sparing only those too young to wield a weapon. After transporting the survivors to the capital, one of the orphans, Netty, manages to escape the Church’s clutches and finds herself under the protection of Sir Percival, a werewolf who works for the king. Meanwhile, Winter (the Lord Commander of the Royal Guard) aims to stave off boredom by investigating a slew of recent murders, with each new lead steering her ever closer to the adventure she craves. Despite other business to attend to, Percival makes it his mission to help Netty give her mother a proper burial. This means returning to the forest, a place overrun with countless monsters and guarded by ancient magic. While others typically enlist Rangers to guide them in the forest, Percival has someone else in mind to recruit. And it looks like he’ll need the extra help since the Church guards aren’t the only ones searching for Netty…

Released in November 2020, Orphan’s Rite by M. Warren Askins is set in the Dead Men are Dying universe. I can’t speak to other books in this series, but this companion novel is light on magic (though it does exist), instead showcasing a wide variety of mythical beasts (some friends, some foes) along with a few familiar characters and places from Arthurian legend. Seriously, the forest is flooded with monsters, such as gargoyles, ghasts, ghouls, goblins, gorgons, and griffins – and those are just the ones that start with the letter ‘g’! Part of what hooked me is how Askins effectively alternates between spurts of action and moments of calm, allowing the reader to learn more about the characters and the situation without a loss in momentum. Additionally, I appreciated how bits of humor are strategically sprinkled throughout the text to balance out the wilder, more intense moments. Since the storylines of the major players are separate at the start, the first half of the book purposefully introduces the characters, sets the scene, and brings the crew together. From that point on, the intrepid individuals must focus all of their energy on trying to survive whatever trouble awaits them in the Fenrirfang Forest.

This story is told from a third-person point-of-view that shifts across a handful of characters; however, there are moments where it’s harder to identify who should be the narrator of the section when the thoughts of multiple individuals are shared. As for the characters themselves, I felt they were done well, incorporating a full range of distinct personalities. I was also happy to see a significant number of women filling roles as knights, guards, and leaders throughout this story. Speaking of – it’s easy to see how committed Winter is to her job as she considers ways to improve things, but it seems strange to then see her lie to get what she wants and disregard others’ instructions as if they are merely suggestions. That said, I enjoyed Winter and Clarial’s banter and how they complemented each other. Similarly, Sir Breunor’s witty persona countered Sir Percival’s stoic nature. Another highlight is the bond forged between Netty and Sir Percival. Overall, I thought that the pacing worked really well up until the end, where the last few chapters cover a lot of ground, slightly hampering the impact of powerful moments by whisking the reader on to the next scene. But oh, what an adventure it was!

Check out the spoiler-filled full review for Orphan’s Rite Wednesday!

Squire George & The Dragon by Adam Digger Stolz

Overview (No Spoilers):

Squire George, aka Squidge, finds himself unexpectedly set on a quest alongside a crew composed of a knight, wizard, and jester. On this dangerous adventure, this mostly reluctant group encounters obstacle after obstacle on their way toward the promised treasure. Will Squidge be able to forge his own path or will he get caught up in his family’s lofty expectations and his Knight’s cruel training? 

While Squire George & The Dragon follows the conventional path of a quest trope, Stolz breaks from the expected mold with his main protagonist, Squidge. Despite having no desire to kill anything, this young boy weathers harsh sparring sessions with the knight he squires for, Sir Remus, an individual who is constantly on the lookout for the next trophy to add to his extensive collection. When Squidge’s father and a wizard, Elzor, arrive with rumors of a dragon brewing in distant lands, the quest soon commences. 

The story really drew me in once the journey started. Every hurdle the group encounters has a twist that delightfully doesn’t go quite as the reader expects. I think some of my favorite moments come from the interactions between Squidge and the troll. While I won’t spoil anything of their exchange, let’s just say a bridge and a toll are involved. These predicaments surface, one after another, with ever mounting danger, continually leaving Squidge to come up with a neat solution just in the knick of time.

While there isn’t a lot of depth to this literary world or its characters, Stolz crafted amusing banter throughout that serves to add significant humor to what, at its core, is a story filled with danger. Overall, I found Squire George & The Dragon to be an entertaining read where a seemingly straightforward quest belies an adventure that keeps the reader on their toes.

Check out the spoiler-filled full review for Squire George & The Dragon Thursday!


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