SPFBO: Third Round of DNFs by Jen!

Here we are again, back for my third round of DNFs! I fell behind a bit last month and am now playing catch-up but this puts me around 3/4 of the way through my 30, not counting a couple that I have been on the fence about continuing.
Some of these cuts made for hard choices because they were solid books but just were missing that little something to keep me going. Again, thank you to the authors for participating, this can’t have been easy.

 

SPFBO Note

Please note, that this is only personal opinion and rating, these books still can end up as semi-finalists if one of our fellow judges deem them worthy. Once we have a couple of books all of us thinks won’t make it, we’ll write up announcement posts. Until then, you can follow our progress on my SPFBO page! Learn more about our team and fellow judges!

Here we go…

The Bastard Prince by Patty Jansen

BPShe has a dragon, and she’s not afraid to use it.

Nellie Dreessen is a kitchen maid in the palace of Regent Bernard of Saardam. She has worked for two kings and two regents, has seen two royal families murdered through magic, has seen ghosts and demons, and kept her head down like a good girl.

On her fiftieth birthday, she receives her late father’s diary, which describes a magical item that is so evil, it needs to be kept in the church crypt: a box that contains dragon.

Problem is, someone has stolen the box.

Regent Bernard holds a banquet for his eldest son’s sixteenth birthday. Distinguished guests come from far and wide. Because she knows what the box looks like, Nellie discovers it in a nobleman's luggage.

Removing the box from a thief’s room is not stealing, right? Not if you intend to return it to the rightful owner: the church.

But someone poisons the nobleman, and everyone in the kitchen is a suspect. Nellie's friend in the church advises Nellie to flee with the dragon box. The Regent is on a mission to stamp out magic, and Nellie plans to do what she does best: keep her head down and hide.

Problem is, the dragon has other ideas.
Series: Dragonspeaker Chronicles #1 Rating: 4/10
Read: 30% Genre: fantasy
Number of pages: 255 Available: Amazon

How nice it is to see older ladies and behind the scenes type characters in fantasy and I’d like to know where this book was when I needed it for that over fifty MC square for Bingo a couple years ago.

Nellie on her fiftieth birthday, inherits a journal from her father- he’s kind of jerk and didn’t believe women should read, this book falling into her hands wasn’t exactly expected to happen. The journal makes a few claims about the church (where he devoted his life) among them was that the church is hiding a Dragon in a box in the cellar.
Dragons in a box are kind of like genies in a bottle (without the wishes) they can be called forward to do their master’s bidding- which I thought was a pretty cool thing, though I hadn’t seen the dragon (or box) at this point in the story.

The writing is solid, though I found it a bit slow to get going – it’s got that slice of life feel to it and with those I have to either really like the setting/story or the mc enough to want to read about them eating cereal. Up to the 30 percent mark we are following Nellie around as she preps for a 16th birthday party for the Regent’s son and just doing the busy behind the scenes work that comes with this sort of thing.

Being a kitchen servant, Nellie is in the unique position to be learn a lot about people and guests as she and the other staff serve them. I wondered as we were hearing some of the gossip and little tidbits, how much of it would come back around later on in the story, and if Nellie would be like a Miss Marple character in a fantasy setting- which I would enjoy but I wasn’t actually sure if that’s the direction this was going either. Sometimes it felt like it was, other times it didn’t.

I decided to move on from this one when I found myself skimming more often than not. I may come back to it later, just to see if it does turn into Miss Marple in a fantasy setting but for SPFBO purposes I’m stopping here.

The Ashen Levels by C. F. Welburn

The Ashen Levels
When Balagir awakens at the fire with no recollection of his past, he discovers he is an ashen—a mysterious group of black-eyed vagabonds, addicted to the smoke they must pay the ghostly piper in exchange for power. With the help of a unique chisp (a sentient spark) and a band of nefarious companions, Balagir will have to traverse the northern wilds, cross seas and survive foreign wars if he is to discover the truth behind the Ashen Levels.

The Ashen Levels is dark, progression fantasy with underlying GameLit elements.

This is the COMPLETE version, and contains all five parts of Balagir's journey.

Series: Ashen Levels-collected 5 books/novellas Rating: 4/10
Read: 25% Genre: progression fantasy
Number of pages: 689 Available: Amazon

Baligr awakens by a fire, he has none of his belongings or a memory of how he got there or of anything but his name.

This falls in to the Progression fantasy niche, which is pretty new to me. The story kind of has that game feel where our MC Baligr is doing little quests, and things (called oaths) to level up, the oaths get progressively bigger and harder as he gets more items, armour and strength. To be honest, it took me a little while to catch on, especially about the smoke (I may have mentioned that once I add a book to my kindle I rarely read the summary, which in this case, turns out actually clears up a lot of confusion so yeah should have checked it out sooner).

I didn’t have any complaints really about the writing, other than there were a couple of instances that were a little cloudy, where I didn’t understand why Baligr was doing an oath he clearly said no to. That sort of thing but on the whole I liked the style and I thought it suited the story.

Once I got the hang of the story, it’s kind of fun to see what he’d gain next – I found the oaths were creative and almost felt like fairytale/legend type stuff – which I liked. The Island one was on the creepy side and I loved the puzzle room. But I also couldn’t help but wonder at almost 700 pages (which felt like my 25 percent just barely dented) if that’s all there is; fetch, return, get smoke, rinse repeat until Baligr has powered up enough to do what he has to do. Which I am not too sure yet what that is (other than to regain his memories) because at this point, we were still building up. I hate to drop something that intrigues me but I also was feeling frustrated wanting to skip ahead to find out where it’s going, but knowing I’d be lost if I did.

I think this one that a lot of people would enjoy, especially if they’re into the game-lit and have a little more patience for the pay-off than I did.

 

Scions of Nexus by Gregory Mattix

Scions of NexusTwenty years have passed since the Battle of Nexus. Although the forces of good prevailed, evil never rests, and bitter hatred spurs an overwhelming desire to destroy the Lady of Twilight and wrest Nexus from her control at all costs.
Taren and Elyas, the sons of legendary heroes, yearn for more than their simple life: for Taren, to follow in the footsteps of the parents he’s never known and discover magic and adventure; for Elyas, to escape the shadow of his father Wyat, the mighty warrior, and find his destiny as a soldier in the king’s army.

When war, driven by the fiend Nesnys’s thirst for revenge, unexpectedly engulfs the kingdom, Taren and Elyas are forced onto the path of adventure under circumstances they never envisioned. Their fates encompass great challenges and hardships as the gods once again seek to manipulate their pawns and influence events that will affect the entire multiverse.

Scions of Nexus is the first book of an epic fantasy series from the author of the Nexus of the Planes trilogy.
Series: Scions of Nexus #1 Rating: 4/10
Read: 28% Genre:  fantasy
Number of pages: 398 Available: Amazon

Cousins Taren and Elyas are as close as brothers and as different as night and day in personalities. Taren is slight and thinkier by nature, he hopes to follow after his mother Nereti, who holds the gate between the planes and is a powerful magic user. Elyas is sturdier, a soldier type or he hopes to be- he wants to join the army and go on adventures like his father.

This cover gave me some serious Forgotten Realms vibes and the story itself is that kind of tropey fun stuff that I grew up reading.  At the point I left off around 30% the board was set and we have a strong idea of story, motivations, characters, etc. The point that would spur everyone on to their paths was just around the corner (or felt like it).

It’s easy to read, has an interesting world with the different planes (made me think of The Death Gate Cycle though I don’t know if they were element favoured) maybe it was a bit predictable characters-wise, though I loved the boys and hoped for a good buddy/brother story. But, I also felt I knew where the story was headed for them, and if I am reading tropey fun stuff- I want the tropes I like. Bromance, friendship and adventure and this (I am judging off the fortune teller riddle, so may be totally wrong) looks like it might veer into brotherly strife as it unfolds. Correct me if I am wrong, because I enjoyed it enough to come back if it is headed for my favourite tropes but for SPFBO purposes I will have to say goodbye.

Dragon’s Fury: Chronicles of the Fifth Kingdom by Brian Meeks

Dragon's FuryNothing survives the fog…

…at least that’s what they thought.

Would the exception mean the destruction of the Kingdom?

He saw her walk in and knew something was wrong. Marl hadn’t seen his sister-in-law since his wife and daughter’s funeral. She blamed herself, but Marl knew it was his fault. If he hadn’t roped Elora into going after that young dragon, well, things would be different.

The life he’d built at his little tavern hadn’t healed his pain.

Could he find redemption, or did he need revenge?

Elora said, “He’s back.”

Marl asked, “How?”

“Flew out of the fog. You better get your gear.”

In a world shielded from invaders for centuries and lulled into a false sense of security, only two people truly understood the danger. Who will stand by their side?

You’ll love this new adventure, because everyone has regrets and yearns for a chance to fix the past.


Series: Chronicles of the Fifth Kingdom #1 Rating: 4/10
Read: 30% Genre: fantasy
Number of pages: 213 Available: Amazon

Marl lost his wife and child because of the Dragon; years have past since that event and Marl has tried to move on but now the Dragon has returned and Marl is looking to pay back that debt.

This book was moving right along at a brisk-pace, taking no time at all to hit the 30 percent mark. At the point I left off we had most the main players; the dialogue was good and the story looks to be a fun adventure.

If I hadn’t been running behind on my reading, I probably would have continued on with this one even though it wouldn’t be a choice of mine to put forward for semi-finalist – just because of how easily everything was falling into place in the story. E.g., the beggar runs off and grabs the healer lady before even offered a coin (and didn’t try to steal it first), the girl loses her parents in the fog but finds help in a traveller who happens to be part of our party – different things like that which was a nice change of pace but also offered no stumbling blocks either. (Things may change once the leading characters are set on their paths.)

Either way this would definitely be a great beach/porch read, it was so easy to digest. I don’t know if this is what is called noblebright or I’ve just been reading too many grimdark books lately but everyone is nice or respectable (other than the obvious bad guys) which made me think it might be a great teen read too.

 

 By the Hand of Dragons: Rook by Alexzander Christion

rook
Sheath has just learned that he is not a boy, but a Chimera, a weapon created by powerful dragon magic to be the perfect warrior and win a war almost one believes is coming. One of an army of 300 child soldiers, he must master every art of war and become powerful enough to defeat a threat that frightens even the Council of Dragons.
 Can a boy, no matter how powerful his magic, win against assassins, politicians, giants, the Blood Soldiers of Loria and all the strange creatures, beasts and monsters that call Fuumashon home? He would say yes. 


Series: By the Hand of Dragons #1 Rating: 3.5/10
Read: 56% Genre: fantasy
Number of pages: 551 Available: Amazon

The group of seven (the council- representatives of the different races) are called together by a Dragon, their “being” is joined with crystals – the dragon eggs that litter the floor, they hatch all manner of creatures. These children/humanoid hybrids created from all that they are as races- the good and the bad, are raised by the Council.

***

This book was my Diamond in the rough and was probably my hardest DNF to date. Just ask my team-mates how much I went on about this book.

The beginning is hard – it’s a bit bumpy, it’s slow and it takes a while to work its way into something understandable. It’s full of history, information, names, events etc. all that fun stuff that I need to either take in little chunks, or cram down in an hour. Either way, I’m not going to remember half the names or events. The effort it took to get to the understanding almost made me give up a few times, but it’s a big book and I try to allow extra time for the story to get going, especially when you can feel it’s going to be a huge-scaled one.

***

The first 25% is setting up the world and showing us the rookery, the children, the war, the special ones and how they’re going to train them. The story becomes more entertaining as the council and children start to show their personalities.

The world brimmed with fantastical creatures. I felt like a bestiary exploded in it. The neatest thing about it was how every creature just is with no thoughts about how unusual they could be from one another or even how some of the hybrids would even work. I also loved the acceptance of the kids and of their differences, and the message that they were all worth fighting for and once we felt they weren’t worth it, then we were the beasts.

***

  • Sometimes this story felt like a slice of life, with the teachings the training, and examining the world and the history but when we get to a fight or battle scene – they were crazy cool and quick-paced, to the point where occasionally I’d lose track of what was happening. I loved every minute of them but the pacing was an issue at times.
  • There is some repetition in the history building, as we get it in the meeting, then as stories told to the kids, and finally a fair amount of the history is shown in a re-enactment. Though some is new, it still gives it a dense feel. I did like the re-enactment the best and that the teacher’s style of telling the stories highlighted their personalities- which I thought was a neat way of doing it. I found the school/teaching feel way more enjoyable than I usually do (you guys all know how I feel about those school settings) but thought it could use a little trimming.
  • Confrontations sometimes felt out of the blue – The great Hall at Woodsgate for instance when Sheath and Garrison arrive to find the bumbling soldiers and then the fight is on. I’m not sure why they were fighting- they just took a dislike to one another, I guess.
  • Which brings me to that posturing and antagonistic behaviour, especially preceding a fight, which again – I was not entirely sure where it was coming from or why it was happening. The occasional instances of this gave these conversations a juvenile feel at times; like fight scenes from a video game. Sheath is a juvenile but most of his opponents were not.
  • Occasionally things would happen or there’d be a lesson that I am not sure I understood the why or the how of it – the horse and knight that the Winglings ate – I understood the message but not the how it happened but this could be a little of that world building (like the children) that just is.

***

Hopefully this gives you an idea just how creative and interesting this world is and I did think the writing had that little something special but it just needed some cleaning up in places. I loved there were insightful little bits on human nature, war, love, with the occasional glimpses of that dark humor that I like so much (one instance with a comment from a teacher about a particularly cunning hybrid/child named me Fara had me laughing pretty hard). It kept me going when I was feeling pretty lost at the beginning on what was happening. I can see in the future this author might be someone special to look out for and I hope he proves me right.

Ultimately, I knew this book needed too much work to make it to semi-finals and had to make a choice to move on. I’m hoping to come back to this one for sure and finish it off because despite the problems, I really enjoyed the half that I read.

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