This past 10 months went by fast and we finally have a winner in The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang! A huge shout out goes to the other finalists as well (in no particular order): Sonya M. Black, Angela Boord, Lisa Cassidy, Alicia Wanstall-Burke, Virginia McClain, Darian Smith, Robert J Power, Levi Jacobs, Rob J. Hayes. You guys rock!
Looking at the scoreboard, we can say SPFBO had a pretty good year all things considered. I’m not going to lie and say it was a stroll, because as much as I enjoy being part of this competition, it’s also a lot of work. In this post the team looks back on SPFBO 5 sharing our experiences and we’ll also point out a couple of books we enjoyed and you might have missed in the sea of other great books! At the end of the post, you’ll find Amazon links to each book mentioned in this post. We hope you’ll check them out!
Just for funsies, I’ll share a few stats with you.
- During SPFBO 5 the team read (partially or fully) 39 books.
- We gave the highest rating in the Finals, to Blood of Heirs which was a 8.5.
- There were only 2 books where all four of us gave the exact same rating: Kalanon’s Rising in the finals and Over a God’s Dead Body.
- Our average rating in the Finals was 7.3 while in Phase 1 this number was 4.8 (wow, we were brutal with our scores).
Words from the Judges
I’ve followed SPFBO for a couple of years now, so it was very exciting to have the chance to join a judging team and experience it all from the other side. I’ve really enjoyed the chance to read a whole bunch of books I otherwise never would have come across, and I have found several new faves in the process. You would have all seen our semi finalists already but I want to take this last chance to call out some others that didn’t quite make the cut, but I really enjoyed: Blood and Shadow by Robin Lythgoe, Belief’s Horizon by I.W. Ferguson and Scions of Nexus by Gregory Mattix. Thank you to all the authors who entered their books, and thank you to my fellow judges who came on this crazy ride too. I am very much looking forward to doing it all again, and seeing what gems can be uncovered!
It’s hard to believe SPFBO is at an end. We had an amazing group with so many great books and cool authors! I just want to thank them all for making my first spfbo memorable! Authors, you all rock!
Outside of the ten finalist and of course our groups semi-finalists – A Sea of broken Glass, Books and Bone, Beneath Cruel Fathoms and particularly Our Bloody Pearl (which was my semi-finalist choice), I wanted to give a special shout-out to some of my favourite reads in our group: Kings of Ash and Bone (I will get back to this series), Taika Town, By the Hand of the Dragon: Rook (a previous dnf that I went back and finished for my bingo card), Hound of the Mountain, and Belief’s Horizon.
And I would like to include a few outside of our group that I was lucky enough to have read: The City Screams, Sweetblade, Masters of Deception and The Narrows (which I just reviewed recently).We had an amazing and diverse group of truly great stories and there were so many others that I wished to have had time to read fully, that looked to be fun and interesting as well. Hopefully SPFBO gave them a little of the spotlight they deserved.
Thank again for a great year!
When I first embarked on this journey roughly 10 months ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, I knew that I would have a ton of books to read in a relatively short period of time, and I knew that it would be very time-consuming, and I had a feeling that it would be fun, but I don’t think I fully appreciated the magnitude of what I signed up for. That’s not to say that I was overwhelmed, but being a “newbie” to SPFBO it was an interesting first few months to say the least.
Once I got my sea legs under me though, it became this really cool adventure where I got to read a multitude of fun and entertaining self-published fantasy books. And the further along the contest progressed, the more it felt like I belonged among all of these other bloggers/reviewers who I respect such a great deal. And I was having a lot of fun doing it, OH SO MUCH FUN! I made so many friends along the way and also strengthened the friendships that I already had going In. It felt like being in this cool fraternity of like-minded book lovers and it was something the likes of which I have never felt before.
As far as the books go, there were quite a few that struck my fancy and that I enjoyed reading during this contest. With regard to our team’s initial group of 30, Drew Montgomery’s Taika Town was one that I liked a lot. The SF Noir style reminded me so much of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Altered Carbon. Another favorite of mine out of the first 30 was Victoria Corva’s Books and Bone. It was such a cool concept of the undead having their own little society and city underneath the world of the living. And then there was my favorite of our group and the one that we ultimately picked to advance to the finals, Sonya M. Black’s A Sea of Broken Glass. Being able to read that book alone made this entire experience worth it for me.
Then we proceeded to the finals and I had my favorites there as well. Never Die received a 9/10 from me, and Fortune’s Fool and Kalanon’s Rising were solid 8’s in my book. I enjoyed all three of those finalists immensely. The one that I liked the most though was Blood of Heirs by Alicia Wanstall-Burke, which I gave a 9.5. I was on board early with that one and actually reviewed it before I knew it was going to be entered in SPFBO5. Ultimately none of these ended up winning the competition, although two of them finished 2nd and 3rd (FF and BoH). In the end, Miracle Wang’s The Sword of Kaigen took home the top prize as we all know, and I’d like to sincerely congratulate her on her hard-fought victory.
Wow I had such a blast. And I think the truest testament I can give with regard to how I felt about my very first SPFBO is the minute the dust settled, it was over, and the winner was announced…….I wanted to do it all over again immediately.
I’d like to close by thanking my truly wonderful teammates Timy, Belle, and Jen. I couldn’t have asked for three better people to take this journey with. We never bickered, never sniped at each other even one time, it was all love and respect. And that’s why I’m so excited that we will all be together again for SPFBO6. Thank you Timy for recruiting me all those months ago. Because of you SPFBO is in my blood now. #TeamRockStarlit forever!
For me, SPFBO 5 wasn’t an entirely new experience, as I already took part in SPFBO 4 as part of another team. But having my own team made me even more excited to come back. I mentioned at the beginning that it had been a dream of mine to one day be one of the judging teams, and I still can’t quite believe it happened. As last year, this year was an experience in itself on many levels. At one hand, it was a learning experience to find out how we can work together, how effective our way doing things is – those all will be considered when we get into SPFBO 6 with an improved process. On the other hand, it was an experience of friendship and building connections – both among the team and with the group of authors we closely worked with. I’m happy I got to know such awesome people! This is exactly what makes me look forward to the next round – the opportunity to find even more amazing friends along the way.
It wasn’t always easy though. The excitement at the beginning can wear out quickly and at times feel like this is a chore, but the one thing you never must lose focus of is that this competition is about finding the gems. That’s what I enjoy most about it, and when you open a book you have no previous knowledge of, you are full of excitement, curiosity and a bit of dread – will it be better than the rest you’ve read? Worse? Will it deliver the promise it has based on the blurb or the cover? – and that’s exactly what makes it so damn addictive. Because there are so many possibilities! My personal life was a bit of a mess last year, so SPFBO provided the perfect distraction to get my mind off of other things. Despite that, I think the past 5 months – the Finals – was the hardest for me. I took a month off in December to recharge myself, then jumped on the finalists but later on I found myself in a big slump in February/March so I had to accept I won’t be able to read all the finalists. I had to find my feet again by reading random stuff and other genres to prevent myself from burning out on Fantasy.
And even though SPFBO 5 had a pretty high quality of books in the finals, which all deserve to get the attention, I didn’t find myself absolutely loving neither of the books, not as much as I loved some of the ones in our group which didn’t make it to the finals in the end. Namely, Books & Bone by Victoria Corva and Beneath Cruel Fathoms by Anela Deen. Let me also mention a few books that didn’t get as much attention as they probably should have: Belief’s Horizon by I.W. Ferguson, and After the Fall by Paul Freeman. As for books from other groups, this year we had several great submissions I was rooting for: Vultures by Luke Tarzian, The Lore of Prometheus by Graham Austin-King (this book had been one of my favourite reads in 2018), The Prince of Cats by Daniel Olesen, From the Shadows of the Owl Queen’s Court by Benedict Patrick (can’t believe his books never made it to the finals!), Chasing Graves by Ben Galley and River of Thieves by Clayton Snyder. Give these a go if you can!
SPFBO 5 had been a blast despite personal life issues and the pandemic hitting about halfway into the finals. I’m happy to report, that Team RockStarlit will be back for SPFBO 6 and soon I will tell you all about the team and our process. Finally, I’d like to say a huge thank you to my awesome team, Jen, Belle and Nick, without whom I wouldn’t be able to pull this off!
The Books We Recommend
Here I’m going to put up the covers of each book the team mentioned.
Books from our group
Blood & Shadow by Robin Lythgoe
Belief’s Horizon by I.W. Ferguson
Scions of Nexus by Gregory Mattix
Books and Bone by Victoria Corva
King of Ash and Bone by Melissa Wright
Beneath Cruel Fathoms by Anela Deen
Our Bloody Pearl by D. N. Bryn
Taika Town by Drew Montgomery
Rook by Alexzander Christion
Hound of the Mountain by Stephan Morse
After the Fall: Children of the Nephilim by Paul Freeman
Books from other groups
The City Screams by Phil Williams
Sweetblade by Carol A. Park
Masters of Deception by JC Kang
The Narrows by Travis M. Riddle
Vultures by Luke Tarzian
The Lore of Prometheus by Graham Austin-King
The Prince of Cats by D. E. Olesen
From the Shadows of the Owl Queen’s Court by Benedict Patrick
Chasing Graves by Ben Galley
River of Thieves by Clayton Snyder
A Sea of Broken Glass by Sonya M. Black
The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang
Fortune’s Fool by Angela Boord
A Tale of Stars and Shadow by Lisa Cassidy
Blood of Heirs by Alicia Wanstall-Burke
Blade’s Edge by Virginia McClain
Kalanon’s Rising by Darian Smith
Spark City by Robert J Power
Beggar’s Rebellion by Levi Jacobs
Never Die by Rob J. Hayes
See you all in SPFBO6!