SPFBO8: Elimination Post I

General Housekeeping:

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

With this first set of SPFBO8 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 potentially 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.

One of One by S.R. Cronin

Rate: DNF >50%

SPFBO Status: Cut

Medium: Audiobook

Overview (No Spoilers)

Set in Nigeria and Texas, Cronin crafts characters and locations that are both interesting and layered. Somadina, born and raised in Nigeria, has always had an affinity for reading people, though she shutters this talent after the traumatic death of her mother. When her sister, Nwanyi, disappears following an arranged marriage, Somadina is forced to revisit this old skill in a desperate appeal to find her lost sister. On the other side of the world, Lola discovers her own telepathic skills, though it grows exponentially following a near-death experience. The two women connect telepathically and a search for Nwanyi commences. Meanwhile, we are given glimpses of the deliberate hell Nwanyi is being subjected to by her new husband and his first wife. The intrigue only mounts as Nwanyi’s torture is revealed to have political motivations tied to it. Can Somadina and Lola find Nwanyi before the political machinations irrevocably snare the young wife beyond help? Bouncing between the developing new telepathic talents and Nwanyi’s terrible plight, the tension builds as the window for rescuing Nwanyi quickly closes. One of One is for any reader who enjoys suspense and political intrigue, merged with telepathic elements.

Dust of a Moth’s Wing by R. Ramey Guerrero

Rate: DNF >67%

SPFBO Status: Cut

Medium: Audiobook

Overview (No Spoilers)

Dust of a Moth’s Wing sprints out of the gate with a meeting fifteen hundred years in the making, where it becomes quite evident that all the schemes of the last millennium have fallen flat. With the new Age of Fire coming in six short days, desperation results in rash decisions that are less than savory. Will the evil unleashed into the city achieve the balance desired to restore the wheel or will the Chaos rage unchecked?

With this fantastic opening, Guerrero introduces the key players, along with an immovable deadline, ultimately injecting suspense into the story from the very first chapter. Interestingly, the chapters that follow seem to move the larger politics and changing of age to a backburner, instead focusing on detailed worldbuilding and intriguing, but flawed characters. This change of pace, along with the layering of this literary world’s foundation proved complex as day-to-day politics and minor disputes are paired with festering old grievances. As such, the tone seemed jarring compared with the urgency established at the start of this tale. Overall, with plentiful details, Dust of a Moth’s Wing will hold the attention of any fantasy reader who loves a well-crafted story that slowly builds toward a conflict that looms in the very near future.

Fountain Girl by Patricia S. Bowne

Rate: DNF >71%

SPFBO Status: Cut

Medium: ebook

Overview (No Spoilers)

Browne crafts a complex magical world that is slow to reveal its secrets. Fountain Girl follows young Paio as she leaves her secluded valley and her family for the first time in order to try to fulfill her brother’s dying wish. As she enrolls in a university to become a magician, a prophecy lies heavy on her, along with her duty to her brother, but she soon loses sight of her driving goal with the help of some clever, wide-ranging outside magic. Can Paio remember what is important before it is too late? 

Paio’s time in the school is fascinating as we are granted a chance at understanding more about magic and the society that exists outside her remote home. While interesting, her story slows as she gets bogged down in the day-to-day activities and responsibilities of the school. The other key perspective is of the witch, Bana Crowe, whose motivations at the surface seem to be to protect the valley, but mistrust, bitterness, and vengeance lie hidden just below the surface. Crowe wields an intriguing power that is linked to honeybees, which of course I’m partial to as a beekeeper myself. I couldn’t help but be curious as to the limitations and capabilities of this magic, though it remained mostly a mystery.

Browne also expands the lore of this literary world by fitting in stories and legends between chapters that easily provide important information about the history and magic of this realm through a medium that feels natural to the flow.

Overall, with a young adult feel, any reader who enjoys the story of a character leaving home for a magical school, while simultaneously having a witch with complicated motives wielding far-ranging magic, Fountain Girl is the book for you.  

When the Traveler Stands Still by Noor Al-Shanti

Rate: 5/10

SPFBO Status: Cut

Medium: ebook

Overview (Spoilers):

When the Traveler Stands Still contains an interesting premise that elicits feelings of dread and hopelessness throughout before ending with little resolved and the bad guys punished with a slap on the wrist.

Travelers are the quintessential protagonists who journey throughout the land aiding anyone in need. They seem to wield authority despite wielding minimal power. It wasn’t made particularly clear as to why these individuals seem to hold such esteem, though the Travelers are willing to sacrifice their lives for hopeless causes. 

The antagonists are the Sorcerers employed by the High Kingdom who remain a one-dimensional enigma throughout as their aspirations and motivations are not clearly explored. Their roles are comprised of repeatedly harsh and merciless acts of violence, including brutal torture, murder, and suspected nefarious magical experimentations. At the end of this novel, despite all the terrible actions of the Sorcerers, the main objective seems to be to get the news to other Travelers, to then enact a ban on the High Kingdom from their help and from any nation that aided them. While the Travelers seem to emphasize that this ban is significant, it is not clearly established that the Traveler’s aid is valuable enough to risk alienating or putting a trade embargo on a powerful nation like the High Kingdom. 

The story itself seemed to have some rough, abrupt transitions between chapters that took effort to acclimate back into the new character, though I was intrigued enough to keep reading, curious how the story would resolve. 

Overall, When the Traveler Stands Still is a read that explores when magical powers are used for evil and allowed to fester unchecked until the corruption boils over wreaking devastation and death in its wake. 

Falling Through Stars by Staci Olsen

Rate: 6/10

SPFBO Status: Cut

Medium: Audiobook

Overview (No Spoilers)

Falling Through Stars is a young adult novel that is loosely inspired by Alaskan mythology, eloquently tying together a tribe’s legends with everyday life. This story follows Ts’ellbah, a young orphan who is taken in by her Aunt and Uncle and raised as their own. Always recklessly racing her dogsled, Ts’ellbah awakes at the beginning of this novel disoriented after a terrible accident. Shaken, Ts’ellbah’s concern mounts as she experiences strange memory lapses and fainting episodes that are linked to visions. With her clan having to survive in the bitter cold, any weaknesses are culled, and as the fits continue her community’s patience stretches thin. Will Ts’ellbah heal before her clan casts her out into the bitter cold? Perhaps more importantly, will she be able to convince her people of the looming threat that shows up in her visions before it is too late?

Olsen captures the pain of being ostracized by the community you love out of superstition and gossip, rejected even by close friends. Additionally, the cruelty of seeing visions and threats that lie waiting, only to be ignored by the community that Ts’ellbah is seeking to protect holds its own bitter taste. Olsen weaves a sense of mounting doom throughout Falling Through the Stars that palpably grows with each new seizure and false alarm. Along the way Ts’ellbah finds acceptance and love, despite the bizarre situations she continually finds herself in. Ample breadcrumbs lead up to a key plot twist that instantly pieces it all together, with a much-needed heartwarming conclusion.

Overall, family and duty are strong themes throughout Falling Through Stars, as Ts’ellbah feels a proportional drive to protect and provide, regardless of the sacrifice she has to endure in the process. 

The Hellborn King by Christopher G. Brenning

Rate: 6/10

SPFBO Status: Cut

Medium: Audiobook

Overview (No Spoilers):

Brenning creates an interesting world of stark contrasts in The Hellborn King, from the elite royals who are utterly consumed in their own misery, to the soldiers desperately trying to survive a looming threat without support. With the brutal battles faced by Cedric, Madeline, and Einarr, the pity parties and bickering by the Queen and her children seem petty in comparison. Can the people in power pull themselves from the mire of their old squabbles before the kingdom is lost?

Brennan weaves together at least eight different points of view with vivid characters whose personalities and motivations each carry their own voice, though very few are easy to like. That said, Brenning does not coddle his characters as no one is safe from a brutal fate, keeping the reader from growing complacent during dangerous situations. The chapters volley between different characters, however the timelines would often overlap, sometimes causing momentary confusion as the reader readjusts to the timeline at hand. That said, this overlap provided valuable insights from the opposing perspectives, such as highlighting bias, misconceptions, and missed opportunities. 

The characters and worldbuilding in The Hellborn King are fantastic, along with the audiobook narrator. Occasionally, certain phrases stood out as repetitive but these are few and far between. There is so much doom and gloom throughout this read though that I have a hard time wanting to continue the series. Every time there is a glimmer of hope for a good outcome or a miraculous escape, the tides turn rather quickly.

Overall, The Hellborn King is an entertaining read filled with palace intrigues, inner vices, and intense battle sequences, but the recurring dire outcomes leaves little hope for the reader to cling to. 


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