SPFBO8 Elimination Post II

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 second 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. 

Current SPFBO8 Eliminations:

Without further ado, our second 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.

Asterius & Thesius Walk Into the Light by Aaron Fown

Overview (No Spoilers):

As payback for actions that resulted in the death of a prince of Minos, Athens is forced to send seven boys and seven girls to Crete to face the horrors within their labyrinth. When these Athenians don’t meet the King’s arbitrary requirements, another group is sent off to appease Minos’s bloodlust. When this second group still falls short, the cycle continues. During one of the selection processes, the beloved prince of Athens draws the short straw. Rather than spark a rebellion by claiming his title makes him ineligible, Thesius is trained to fight and tasked with ending this madness instead. Aided by the gods, Thesius plans to slay the monsters lurking in Minos’s temple of darkness. Trust me when I say that what he finds there is beyond anything he could have imagined…

Released in April 2021, Asterius & Thesius Walk Into the Light is the first entry in the Asterius & Thesius trilogy by Aaron Fown. I found it to be a unique reimagining of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. As Fown’s title implies, Asterius and Thesius are the main characters here, with Asterius reporting from the Minoan side of the conflict. The perspective alternates between them each chapter, with color-coded text (red and blue) included to help distinguish which character is currently being featured. While it’s easy to identify whose point of view is being described, there were instances where more effort was needed to piece together exactly who said what because the text rarely includes dialogue tags. That said, I particularly enjoyed the moments where the main characters seem to speak directly with the reader, adding humor or further context to previous moments.

Of the unlucky Athenians sent to be sacrificed to the beast in Crete, Miletta is my favorite, as she delivers the right amounts of levity and courage in stressful situations. She’s also involved in one of the many LGBTQ+ storylines hinted at and showcased throughout. As for other characters, the reader is treated to appearances made by centaurs, minotaurs, and Greek gods and goddesses along the way. Something that works well in this book is the interesting pairing of mythical beings alongside mysterious and futuristic machinery. However, it seemed like some things happen either too quickly or out of order, keeping tension from having enough time to build up before a solution presents itself. Overall, Fown’s novel is overflowing both with love and moments you will not see coming.

Den of Thieves by S.A. Klopfenstein

Overview (No Spoilers):

When we first meet our unlikely hero, Jake Darrow has just been convicted of murder and is in the process of settling into his new life behind bars. But this isn’t just any prison, as Grid Eight employs holographic guards and relies on maintaining order by shocking prisoners through implants if they misbehave. This prison also offers a unique incentive to keep people in line: when you’re not working to remove sulfuric sludge, your body is able to rest and refuel while your mind is connected to Pantheon, an online role-playing game. In fact, players even get to choose when to return to the real world (unless they suffer an in-game death, that is). Once connected, Jake reinvents himself as Gunnar Ashwood, a dusk elf tasked with completing quests to win Glory for his patron deity, Nymoria. So, how far is he willing to go to level up and remain online? After all, it’s just a game, right?

Published in May 2022, Den of Thieves is book one of the Pantheon Online series by S.A. Klopfenstein. While this is one of the few LitRPG books that I’ve had a chance to read, I thought the in-game aspects were very well done and didn’t feel repetitive. I especially enjoyed the snarky humor used in the descriptions by the game developers. As different quests become available, the direction of the story continually shifts, allowing new questions to arise about what’s really going on not only online, but in the real world as well. At the start, I wasn’t sure what the balance would be between time spent in Grid Eight versus Pantheon Online, so it was interesting to see how the line dictating ‘the real world’ starts to shift as the story progresses.

Upon entering the game, Gunnar finds himself in the city of Thailen, a place teeming with danger at every corner. While trying to make himself a more desirable candidate for local guilds, Gunnar quickly realizes that no one is as they seem. And so, this elusive nature of other characters tends to leave them feeling less fleshed out, but goodness, do the hidden motives keep you guessing! Despite the cutthroat environment, Gunnar differs from the majority of the other players in Pantheon as he’s willing to stick his own neck out to help another. Throughout Den of Thieves, Gunnar is introduced to many different beings from this realm, but the majority are only mentioned in passing. It would be interesting to explore their abilities as well as other regions in the Pantheon to a greater extent. This reader was left with many questions that make me excited for the future of this series!

Ser Ghostwriter by Joshua Derrick

Overview (No Spoilers):

A poet in the service of a muse must watch his words.

A ghostwriter can choose his own muse. And his own words.

Upon the sudden death of his employer following an altercation with bandits, Ed finds himself pondering his next move. Given his size, most assume that he’d be best suited as a warrior defending the Holy Lands, but as a scribe, he was finally learning how to use his words to shape the world around him. Opting to follow in his mentor’s footsteps, Ed sticks with their original plan of traveling to a nearby town to try his hand in their poetry slam competition. As a newly self-appointed freelance ghostwriter, can Po Edgar impress a Muse enough to earn a spot within their household? Or will he find himself indebted to one (or worse) if he suffers a loss in the tournament instead?

Released in December 2021, Joshua Derrick’s novel, Ser Ghostwriter, is infused with multiple types of poetry. While I am no expert in the field, it was fun to recognize nods to well-known poets from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. In this world, words have power, such that one could use poetry to do things like raise (or raze) buildings, influence the weather, or heal injuries as easily as inflict them. A poem’s strength comes not only from what you say, but how you say it and the intention behind your words. During slams, though, two individuals recite verses at the same time until one participant yields (or dies). As entertaining as it is to witness the magical effect competitors’ words have, I found the poetry in these competitions harder to follow since the rhythm is repeatedly broken to inform the reader what the other party is simultaneously saying.

Set against a medieval-esque backdrop, muses and musettes reside in castles and oversee the day-to-day activities of the realm on behalf of the triarchs (three elected officials who rule together for life). Since one of these leaders died years prior and another is busy defending the realm’s borders, the area is more or less governed by a single individual. Chance encounters pull Ed ever deeper into this world rife with political machinations. For better or worse, Ed persists in sticking to what’s right and tends to use his poetic ability for good, but there are definitely instances where he’d prefer to use his fists instead! While the lore wasn’t always clear to me throughout Ser Ghostwriter, it was interesting to see how ramifications for past events played out in the present. So, if poetry is your jam, check out what happens at this slam!

A King’s Radiance by L.R. Schulz

Overview (No Spoilers)

Shultz creates an intriguing fantasy world where certain people can channel/store the power of the sun, or in this instance, Zur. This story definitely takes place in a world where history has been written by the victors with the King-Radiant and his Eagles assuming god-like status. This all-encompassing power yields no checks on their authority and as a result, abuse runs rampant. At almost halfway through this read, there are enough bread crumbs scattered throughout that allude to an alternative version of historical events that the reader’s curiosity is piqued by the mysteries the past holds. Additionally, fantastical creatures are also mentioned, such as dragons and great eagles. While in the story thus far these creatures remain firmly in the mystical realm, I remain optimistic that Shultz will resurrect these legends, though I have a feeling that we’ve already had the pleasure of meeting a dragon.

A King’s Radiance centers around three royal siblings who after a heartbreaking sequence of unfortunate events are separated and now live vastly different lives. The heir, Dazen takes up the lonely mantle behind his ailing father, though the King of Trost seems to be holding back secrets with far reaching, lofty (albeit failed) aspirations. When a proposed alliance with a longtime enemy becomes exponentially more complicated, Trost is put into a compromising position that forces Dazen to grow up even faster. The youngest brother of the trio, Raiz, whose disregard for rules sets into motion the events that lead to the painful rift, ran away from his family years ago to join bandits. His chapters proved to be my least favorite as the actions of the band seem short-sighted, with the potential for wide-spread disaster for innocent bystanders quite high. Additionally, as a consequence of the fallout, Raiz takes on a young boy to mentor who seems to be used as a tool for worldbuilding as we are treated to lengthy history and magic lessons despite the bandits being actively hunted. My favorite chapters were the ones focusing on the plight of Isha who is a slave within the Fifty Spears. She gave insights into the inner workings and politics of the Eagles who were established early on as an undefeatable power. Instead, the veil around these powerful villains is pulled back, revealing their motivations and weaknesses. 

Overall, the worldbuilding and magical system is entertaining in A King’s Radiance, especially when paired with ample foreshadowing of dramas waiting in the wings to be revealed. 

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