First and foremost, thank you to the authors again for sharing their literary world with The Critiquing Chemist and the Bookish Boffin!
With this fourth 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 fourth 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; Elimination Post III).
Current SPFBO7 Reviews (*Eliminations):
- *Berserker (Apocosmos #1) by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
- Deathborn by CE Page
- *Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
- *Stranded by Rosalind Tate
- *One of Us by ML Roberts
- *Stone Magus (Hidden Gems Saga #1) by Stephanie C Marks
- *Book of Secrets (Merged Series #1) by Claudia Blood
- *Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale
- *Carrion by Alyson Tait
- *Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens
- *Rising Shadows (The Pillar of Creation, #1) by Phillip Blackwater
- *By the Pact by Joanna Maciejewska
- *Little White Hands by Mark Cushen
- *Lycoris in Moonlight by Kova Killian
- *Face of Glass by Damon L. Wakes
- *The End of the Line by David Nelson
- *Ghost Line by M.A. Poole
- *Hunters by Jon Ford
- *The Crown of Death by David Schratz
- *Blades Falling Softly by Sarah Lin
- *Orphan’s Rite by M. Warren Askins
- *Squire George & The Dragon by Adam Digger Stolz
- *Fierce as Steel by Christopher Walsh
- *The Darkness That Slept by Keegan and Tristen Kozinski
- *Children by Bjørn Larssen
Fierce as Steel by Christopher Walsh
In Illiastra, the Elite Merchant Party (aka the EMP) and the Triarchy wield immense power as the political and religious parties in control. Unfortunately, their oppressive, chauvinistic beliefs and laws don’t make Illiastra very welcoming – especially if you are not a straight, human male. To fight for a better tomorrow, Lady Orangecloak, the leader of a group known as the Thieves, stages protests against the EMP and the Triarchy. These demonstrations have put a target on her back as “the greatest menace that Illiastra has seen in living memory.” While on their way to warn Lady Orangecloak about an impending trap, some high-ranking Thieves are captured and now face certain death. With the walls closing in, what will happen to Orangecloak and her Thieves? Meanwhile, Lady Marigold Tullivan is plotting her own rebellion against the system that intends to transfer her rightful inheritance to a terrible man in the event of her ailing father’s death. For her plan to work, she’ll need to enlist Tryst Reine, the mysterious personal bodyguard for the Lord Master of the EMP. What’s not clear yet is why Tryst, an ultra-rare Master of Blades, even works for the Lord Master in the first place…
As Fierce As Steel is the first book in the Gold and Steel Saga by Christopher Walsh. It starts off strong by dropping the reader into utter chaos, the result of arson and an ambush. I was drawn in by how well this introduction serves to highlight the strengths and struggles of the Thieves, before delving into the political machinations of this literary world in the chapters that follow. To be sure, this is a story where you’ll continually wonder what ulterior motives might lie behind the decisions each character makes. Adding to the air of mystery, Walsh has crafted a mixture of good, bad, and morally gray characters. The point of view shifts each chapter across a handful of individuals: Ellarie Dollen (one of Lady Orangecloak’s Lieutenants), Lady Orangecloak herself, Marigold Tullivan (daughter of the Warden of the West), and Tryst Reine. While not everyone’s story and purpose has been fully unveiled by the 40% mark, gradual reveals into each character’s past keep things interesting. You’ll also find LGBT characters prominently featured within these pages, but the political and religious factions in Illiastra leave them fighting to be their authentic selves out in the world.
In this epic fantasy featuring elves and dwarves, swords and horseback riding are complemented by guns and trains. It has a bit of a Robin Hood vibe, with the Thieves trekking through forests and standing up against oppression. That said, the repeated displays of misogyny and the continual struggle to fight the patriarchy did drain me. I ended up setting the book aside briefly after 100 pages or so of men treating Marigold terribly because her actions tend to defy gender roles. While those moments are important to the story and shed light on different characters, it was a lot for me to take in without much of a break in the narrative. Overall, I really enjoyed the action at the start of the book and how that led into the political intrigue and mystery of characters’ motivations and loyalties. As the chapters went on, however, the forward momentum of the story seems to slow as more time is devoted to making connections with things that happened in the past. With that in mind, the care Walsh has taken to create a detailed story is evident and I was impressed with how well-developed and fleshed out this world and its characters are.
The Darkness That Slept by Keegan and Tristen Kozinski
The Darkness That Slept was a monster, marathon of a read at 334,408 words. For comparison, this is on par with other lengthy books I’ve read recently: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin and A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.
While I enjoyed large swaths of this story, especially the very colorful, mysterious characters that the Kozinskis’ created, I found myself struggling to get lost in it. The majority of this book felt as though I was actually reading three very separate, isolated novels that were spliced into one. The transition between chapters/perspectives was jarring enough to have the feel of picking up completely new novels. This effect only grew more pronounced as one progressed further in the novel because each POV change seemed to require an adjustment period to recall where that story had previously left off. That said, I found two of the three tales intriguing and the overarching premise had so much potential that it kept me flipping through the pages out of curiosity.
Even though The Darkness That Slept is already weighty, I found myself wishing for more details during key events, especially those surrounding Valeriius and Dieharamon. Momentous events seem glossed over, with big plot twists coming and going with muted fanfare, to the extent that I would repeatedly have to go back and reread sections to clarify implications. Similarly, I was left with more questions than not after finishing this book as many of the mysteries regarding the magical system were still unanswered. For example, we know very little about the hoarding of souls and what Valeriius’ motivations and powers really are, not to mention Dieharamon’s role in the bigger picture. Additionally, the dynamic between Dieharamon and Valeriius routinely confused me as the warrior would spend entire chapters on his own missions, without his master even acknowledging his absence. Plus, these chapters seemed to include brutality solely for the shock factor, leaving me feeling numb to it by the end. I wanted the effort used to detail these scenes to be redirected toward building tension surrounding the plot twists. That said, I was fascinated by Dieharamon’s tragic tale and the horrors he endured on a daily basis.
Slade’s character alone kept me from putting down The Darkness That Slept. Every time I convinced myself I was ready to stop reading, a chapter about Slade would show up just in time. His character was such a ray of sunshine while simultaneously being a constant enigma. His witty, never-ending monologues were quite amusing, usually ending in some revelation that I didn’t see coming. A story surrounding Slade would have been more than sufficient as the supporting cast around him was equally fleshed out in stark contrast to The North and Dieharamon’s perspectives. Again, the reader was left with very few answers regarding Slade by the end of this novel.
Throughout much of this read, I struggled to be drawn into any of the chapters about The North. Eventually, my curiosity was piqued during an adventure into the land of the fairies, but even then, key details seemed either rushed or glossed over.
After finishing this dense and detailed book, I was surprised that these three independent stories didn’t weave together more by the end. I really enjoyed the vast majority of this novel as the premise contains so much promise, but I finished this read feeling as though I’d just completed three novels set in the same world. Despite its length, I was left feeling as though more details were needed, especially when capturing and building up to crucial plot twists. Overall, The Darkness That Slept captured a middle of the series essence where pawns are being positioned for the larger events to unfold in the next installment across three relatively independent stories.
Children by Bjørn Larssen
Having been stuck in Jötunheim for the past twelve winters (thanks a lot, Freya), Maya has survived by making herself indispensable as the sorceress for the king of the City of Light. Then one day, Maya is tasked with receiving a special delivery along the shoreline of the river Ifing. Believing this to be a big misunderstanding since Ifing can’t be crossed without Thor’s flying chariot (and it’s not like Thor plans on visiting since the cargo is actually his own hammer, Mjölnir), imagine her surprise when it arrives! Whatever happens next, Maya knows this won’t end well. The series of events that follow result in a chance encounter with Thor’s son, Magni. They bond over shared frustrations as children of gods and goddesses, including how Magni is often mistaken for Thor. Unfortunately, this isn’t a compliment since Magni despises his father and the terror he causes – it also results in unwanted attention from admirers and potential attacks from folks itching to earn the title of ‘godslayer’. All Magni wants to do is continue his work as a blacksmith, but first he must find a way to carry out his mother’s last request that he go to Midgard…
Children, the first book in the Ten Worlds Cycle series by Bjørn Larssen, was released in October 2020. Since then, it has gone through a few cover redesigns (all of which are well done) before honing in on its current, captivating cover. The concept for this novel is also interesting, as Larssen takes popular stories from Norse mythology and refreshes them by exploring them through the eyes of lesser-known descendants of the gods. To achieve this, the first-person point-of-view is shifted each chapter between Magni and Maya, the children of Thor and Freya, respectively. Shaped by their very different upbringings, Magni comes across as childlike and naive, whereas Maya tends to be more self-reliant and defensive. They both show tremendous growth over the course of the story, enduring hardships and uncovering truths that continually challenge their views of Ásgard and its inhabitants. Well-known or not, each character introduced feels important and shows depth. Across the board, Larssen has done an exceptional job penning a full range of emotions with these characters – love, innocence, indifference, anger, mischief, etc. And given some of the difficult subject matter, I appreciated how Loki’s character tends to defuse serious, tense moments with flashes of humor.
With ten worlds to draw from, the worldbuilding in Children is one of my favorite parts. It was fun to explore the land of the ice giants, the wilds of the human realm, and other locales, even if only through a character’s memories. It was also interesting to envision the vastly different residences inhabited by the Ásgardians. Additionally, I liked the concept of mana as the fuel for magic, where gods are able to bypass the need for it in their area(s) of expertise. As mentioned earlier though, things aren’t always fun and games, as Magni and Maya face difficulties throughout the story that warrant the trigger warnings listed at the front of the book. I applaud Larssen’s ability to channel the chaos and pain of key moments effectively in the writing, however, this also made it harder for me to follow because these sections read more like a stream of consciousness. This happened more often in the middle of the book where the characters tend to lose time due to trauma, visions, and the effects of Idunn’s fruit. Overall, I was drawn in by Larssen’s portrayal of the Norse pantheon and I loved the twists in the last third of the tale.