Welcome to the Semi-Finals stage of SPFBO 6! As you know, we already cut 25 books from our batch of 30 and announced our semi-finalists. Check out my SPFBO 6 Phase 1 page for more info!
Following the first, second and third semi-finalist reviews, our next up is The Hunter’s Gambit by Nicholas McIntire. We won’t be adding our ratings just yet (I’ll update this post later) to keep the race to the finalist spot interesting. The order of the reviews within a post will be the following: first will be the person who picked the book as a semi-finalist (in this case Peter), and then the others in alphabetical order.
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at our fourth semi-finalist!
|Series: The Archanium Codex #1||Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy|
|Date of Publishing: September 20th 2019||Publisher: self-published|
No one promised Aleksei Drago an easy life. Growing up amongst the Ri-Vhan of Seil Wood, losing his mother and just as suddenly being torn from the forest folk, Aleksei had no choice but to make the best of an unpredictable situation.
But what happens when the monsters and figures of fiction become horrifyingly real? How will Aleksei cope? When the stakes are at their highest, will he finally falter? Or will he rise to the occasion, reforging himself into the man Prophecy demands he become? In a world of magic and Magi, of Angels and Demons alike, how will a simple farm boy survive his own contorted destiny?
This is the story of a seemingly-simple world gone mad, and the reality that every action, no matter how apparently benign, can serve to unravel terrifying truths. This is the story of Aleksei Drago, farmer, Hunter, and so much more.
This was a fantastic read! It has a story that ticks all the right boxes for me, an original magic system with a rules based system, and a classic story of good vs a long forgotten evil storyline and yes it was epic! It was a brilliant example of character driven fantasy with a high stakes plot, a coming of age storyline woven in skillfully with a main character pulled and pushed between several characters.
You are beckoned in to this book with a mystifying prologue which sets the tone nicely, the bonding of the Archanium Knights and the Magi creates a bond which is for life, it has consequences for those that do though. One of the most intriguing aspects for me was the main character Aleksei, whose magical blood allows him to travel great distances but also another destiny that has been waiting for him.
I really enjoyed The Hunter’s Gambit, it was like a blend of angel and demon lore, mashed into farm boy coming of age classic fantasy feeling story…honestly, I don’t even know how to describe it, so much happened. It was super creative and cool, while still feeling a bit familiar.
This story needed some wrangling in though. I don’t think that prologue served the story well. It left me slightly confused for awhile (and I am patient when it comes to that sort of thing) there was a lot to take in at once, and the two characters were not even our main ones. I felt like a lot of it wasn’t needed. As nice as it was to learn about Cassius’s and Ritcher’s relationship, there just wasn’t much of their history that couldn’t have been slid in the main body of the story.
We did have a nice showcase for the magic and that was petty cool but, there again, there were plenty of opportunities throughout the story for that as well.
Editing and especially, unnecessary and repetitive stuff, is my favourite thing to complain about and was my biggest and only real issue with this book.
What I did like and what kept me reading The Hunter’s Gambit once it got going, was the story and the characters – I adored Aleksei and Jonas (my favourite of the two). Aleksei was kind of this over-powered hunter knight, and his partner Jonas, a prince and untrained mage. I loved the whole partner/knight thing, the connection to each other, the friendship, and love between them. This was totally my jam.
I also loved the forest Mother/Hunter connection to Aleksei, it had such a mystical feel – especially with the travelling quickly through the forest (reminded me of Nancy Springer’s Book of Isle series for some reason).
I took enough notes to write my own book – the plot was pretty involved with lots of power plays and behind the scenes backstabbing; which I loved! Side cast was awesome – some were a bit underdeveloped but I can see where they might come into play next book and get filled out more.
Bael started off with me feeling sorry for him and by the end, I just wanted him to die…lol.
There is an incredible battle scene towards the end that I’d have liked to have seen in movie form- very cool, and just fun as hell.
I would have loved to rate The Hunter’s Gambit higher just because I enjoyed this so much…I think this is a debut too, so, I am looking forward to seeing what this author does in a few books, once he wrangles in the words a bit.
The first thing that I would like to say about The Hunter’s Gambit is that it is quite a complex read. That’s not necessarily a negative thing as the complexity is actually what made this an enjoyable read for me ultimately. But I will say that if you are planning on reading this book, it is not the type of book that you can skim through or not give your undivided attention to. To fully get the impact of The Hunter’s Gambit, you need to stick with it through every peak and valley.
The reader is thrust into the main action of the story immediately with minimal explanation, which I kind of liked. I’m not a fan of spoon-fed info dumps, so having to get my sea legs very early and figure out what was going on myself was challenging but rewarding once I got caught up on the main thrust of the plot. Once I did though, it was definitely an epic fantasy story full of magic and really solid world-building.
The main character, a farm boy named Aleksei, initially felt like the all too familiar chosen one Rand Al Thor clone. However, I’m glad that I didn’t write him off as that because as the story progresses, his character grows exponentially and takes on a number of different aspects that the farm boy trope never even dared to touch. There was a depth and reality to Aleksei that comes through and makes him a cut above the normal reluctant hero persona.
As far as the overall story went, it was mostly hit for me with a little bit of miss here and there. I enjoyed the fact that this is a completely unpredictable story that ends in an exciting and satisfying way. I also enjoyed the magic a great deal and felt it was some of the more original concepts I’ve read. The characters are all written in such a way that they turn on a dime and you can’t really pin down their motivations until the very end, and in some cases, not even then. The misses were just minor ones, such as the length and the time it takes for the plot to get moving in sections. But nothing that would take away your enjoyment too much if you feel like sinking your teeth into a lengthy story with many twists and turns.
Overall The Hunter’s Gambit was a fun and complex read that forced me to pay attention to every detail. But I would definitely recommend this book for fans of deeply layered stories that reminded me of such authors as Guy Gavriel Kay and Janny Wurts. There’s a lot of meat on these bones for the chewing, and I devoured it all quite happily.
Unlike others, I’m not one for big books. Or epic fantasy for that matter. So I approached The Hunter’s Gambit warily. For a while, it seemed like me and the book won’t be on the same page (pun totally intended). The long prologue did nothing for me except making me annoyed – personally, I don’t like being thrown in the middle of something and not understanding half of the words used. I know this prologue set the mood for many, but I could have done without it. Though I admit, it makes sense by the end of the book, but it still takes too much time to get there in my opinion.
As I neared the 25% mark, I contemplated DNF-ing The Hunter’s Gambit as I failed to connect with any of the characters or even make myself care about any of them. But then as the book found its footing I started to enjoy it – I think this was around the time when Aleksei and Jonas met each other and events really started to get into motion. Up to that point, we were following 3 characters: Bael, Aleksei and Jonas whose lives are waving together in mysterious ways. But among the three the real MC is clearly Aleksei, the farm boy who discovers he has powers and finds his place in the world.
The Hunter’s Gambit works with the usual tropes and there aren’t anything new in its approach to make it stand out from the genre. Except maybe the LMBTQ+ rep. But I admit the world is interesting and there is plenty of action to keep up one’s interest. One thing that needs to be praised is the relationship between Aleksei and Jonas – even though that happened a bit too fast and out of the blue, I would have liked to see it develop more slowly – and the role of supernatural beings in the grand scheme of things. I liked the forest’s presence and the way it connected with its chosen ones. That was fun.
Ultimately though, The Hunter’s Gambit suffers from wanting to pack too much into one book. It probably would have worked better if it was split into two books and got a bit more polishing. The writing is engaging and easy to read, but there were just way too many italicized words seemingly without any reason. By the end, the presence of at least one word written in italic on each page became jarring and ruined the reading experience for me. Although it probably didn’t help that despite having an interesting plotline I still failed to care about any of the characters, who remained a bit one-dimensional, except maybe Aleksei whose journey made his character arc stand out. That still didn’t stop me skimming the last 10% though.
Overall, I’m a bit on the fence with The Hunter’s Gambit. On one hand, I think I see why it was picked as a semi-finalist and anyone who is into epic fantasy and the from-farm-boy-to-hero trope will enjoy this book very much. Especially since it has magic and LGBTQ+ representation. But on the other, I just did not enjoy it as much as others seem to do. I think it mostly comes down to personal preferences, so I urge you to make your own opinion about it.
For more SPFBO content, please visit my SPFBO 6 Phase 1 page!