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  • Writer's pictureG R Matthews

Why not give these books a try…

With the #SPFBO over and a winner announced, it seems an opportune moment for me to take a look at the books in the competition that I read and enjoyed. Like all competitions, the end result was a combination of hard work, skill and the reviewers' taste. I haven’t read the winner yet, I’ll get round to it at some point.

Anyway, I had the chance, and took it, to read some of the #SPFBO books that either got reviewed or didn’t make it past the 1st round. There are some shining gems that didn’t get through, or did get through but didn’t win. And all of that is a rather long winded way of me saying – you should really give these a look!

In no order whatsoever:

Lady of The Helm by T. O Munro (BUY IT)

This is classic fantasy, and that’s high praise. Orcs, Elves and Dwarves. Magic and an evil lord at large in the realm. With a strong female lead at the centre of the story we face the trials and troubles with her. Better than that though, all the other characters are fully fleshed out from the brave to the craven, the honest to the treasonous, there isn't a character that doesn’t stick out in some way. The Helm, of the title, is vital to the story and elevates the whole thing far above the run of the mill fantasy stories and the fact that a Medusa is one of the other main points of view is just the icing on the cake.

Read the first, then read the other two in the trilogy. You won’t be disappointed!

Black Cross by J P Ashman (BUY IT)

Ashman lives up to his name; this is a man who will leave ashes in your mouth. Such is the dark brutality of the world he has created, such is the unforgiving nature of life in the city and wilds that no hero/heroine, antagonist or protagonist is safe. That character you’ve grown to love, they could be next under the author’s axe. And yet, each death is meaningful, driving the story forward, motivating characters to take action.

Here is another book which takes the classic fantasy elements of magic, elves and gnomes and twists them into some more. A plague is unleashed on the city, but who can actually be trusted with its cure? Motivations are every shade of grey in this book, the first in the series, and I am waiting patiently for the sequel.

Priest by Matt Colville (BUY IT)

I like this book, and I know it wasn’t to everyone’s taste in the #SPFBO final, but it is different than a lot of the others. The author has returned to the roots of fantasy, the tales of Arthur, but updated some of the themes and action in line with more modern tastes. There is a romance to this book, not between characters, but between author and the genre he is writing it. Yes, there are some inconsistencies in the main character, but these underline the difficult choices he faces.

The prose style is sweeping, giving an epic feel to the book without having to draft in thirty points of view and create a totally different world. Give it a try, you might like it, you might not. I did.

Exile by James Cormier (BUY IT)

Ever is a young lady, on the cusp of adulthood within the community she serves. A religious holdout of the old world. Survivors of a disaster ages past who cling to life inside a stockade and a belief system. This aspect of the world, the religion, is piled on heavily at the start and I had fears, unfounded it turns out, as I continued to read. Then, like all good books, the rug of your assumptions is pulled from underneath you.

A coming of age story set on a future earth where magic exists and folks are struggling to survive. Not quite a dying earth, more a reborn earth going through the pangs, pain and contractions of child birth (I don’t know what they are like particularly… I mean I saw my two children being born, but I didn’t actually give birth myself. Obviously).

I really think you should give this a try.

City of Burning Shadows by Barbara Webb (BUY IT)

Now, I reviewed this one for Fantasy-Faction and you can find that review here. However, let me say something here too.

This book is a dying earth story with diversity at its heart. The story creates a whole new world and yet you never leave the city. The author creates a sense of a larger world, of scope and space within the city itself that it never feels constrained by it. The story is liberated by the city and its inhabitants. There is something very different to the others mentioned here and I am intrigued by how the series will go forward. Well worth a look and a read.

Fae; The Wild Hunt by Graham Austin-King (BUY IT)

The Wild Hunt is the first in a trilogy (complete, so when you finish book 1, you’ll go straight on to book 2 and 3) that follows two boys, at the beginning, on different sides of a conflict (a damn fine idea, if you ask me), an invasion. Though this forms the main thrust of the over-arching story, it is more about the little things going on in the background, at least in the first half of the book. There is a lot of world building done in this book and when the real threat emerges the pace takes off like an F16 strapped to a Saturn V rocket. I’m into book 2 now and the story keeps unfolding at a fair old clip; danger, death, battle and the emergence of magic.

Give a it go, a chance… you won’t be disappointed. If my Kindle hadn’t just died, I’d be reading it now.

Paternus by Dyrk Ashton

This was an entry in SPFBO#2 in 2016 and we chose at is the Fantasy-Faction winner. It tells the story of a boy and girl who are about to exposed to the true nature of the world. It drags in and uses with such aplomb every mythology under sun and in history. There are terrifying characters and true heroes, sacrifice, defeat and victory. And the pace never lets up.

This book really is worth a try!

Danse Macabre by Laura M Hughes

Laura's first release, a short(ish) story is hard to place in any genre. It mixes horror with magical realism and faire tales. What it is, without doubt, in an enticing read that draws you in and doesn't let go till you reach the end. In turns poetic and frightening there is an endearing quality to the main protagonist that draws on your empathy and wrings you out at the end. I'd be hard pushed not recommend this one.

Heart of Stone by Ben Galley

Ben is a prolific writer, man of mystery and, based on the evidence of BristolCon 2016, whiskey drinker. He also writes damn fine books and this standalone story from the point of view of a seemingly unstoppable golem makes for a fresh books and an intriguing perspective. This one I really enjoyed from cover to cover... and there is always hope for a sequel.

There is enough magic, battle and betrayal for any reader to get stuck into.

The Heresy Within by Rob Hayes

I'm going to copy a bit from my full review here... but this book pulls no punches and is as fierce and brutal realisation of world that you could ever want to read. "Rob Hayes has created in this book, the first of a trilogy, an intriguing world that is as grim and dark as any the current ‘master’ of Grimdark could imagine. The language is plain and the action brutal. It really should come with 18 certificate and strongly worded warning on the front, probably in big red letters. The basic premise of the book, and world, appears to be based around a combination of the spanish inquisition and the witch hunts of England in the 17th Century. So, whilst there are the expected swords and sorcery there is also the advent and use of gunpowder. It makes for an exciting world."

The Stone Road by G R Matthews (BUY IT)

(hey, that’s me!)

I’m not going to review my own book (it’s great!), instead I’ll use comments of others to do it for me (Bookworm Blues #SPFBO review below):

Check out for more info!

Oh, and if you haven't read Steve's best-selling novels that begin with Crimes Against Magic (BUY IT), I suggest you do so.... soon!

The #SPFBO has been great exposure for a lot of books... and these are the ones I enjoyed. They aren't expensive, less than a cup of coffee, and well worth your time.

Give them a try and, most important of all, leave a review on the website you bought them from and Goodreads too. It means a lot to the authors.

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