First, I want to apologize that this post was so delayed. I’ve had a hectic time these past couple of months, with a sick pet (and several hundred dollars in vet bills), a sprained ankle, and general laziness on top of it all.
Second, I want to let readers know that this post is technically going to be broken up into 2 parts. You see, I had so many good books in my batch that if I were to just cut that ones that failed to interest me by the end of the third chapter, I’d still end up with, oh, about half my batch. This post will be about those books, why I had a hard time with them, and why I didn’t want to progress further.
The 2nd post that will come out of this will look at some of the other books that were still intriguing but ultimately at this point are not going to get a full read-through and review from me. What I read was good, but these books I had to judge a little bit differently, and looked at them from the perspective not of what I thought was just good quality or an entertaining story, but what might be seen in that light by the other reviewers involved in the judging. I’ll talk a bit more about it when I make that particular post.
There’s more to it than that, but that’s a quick run-down on what I’m doing here.
Before I get started, I want to state in advance that me DNFing a book at this stage is not a sign that the book is bad. Sometimes it’s just not to my taste. Sometimes if a book isn’t in the genres you enjoy, you’re pickier with it than with others. Sometimes the faults you find are subjective. Yes, sometimes a book was released into the world too early and needs more work, but not always. So please, please be respectful that the following notes are my own opinion, that others may have differing opinions, and that I am not going to ruin any careers by saying what I’m saying.
Now, on to the books that didn’t make it past the 3-chapter mark. In no particular order…
Girl With Ears and Demon With Limp, by edward j rathke – I initially was going to discard this as being a short story, which wasn’t allowed by the rules of the contest. It does, however, fall past the 7,500-word mark, which is the upper limit on short stories according to the SFWA. So. It tells the story of a strange girl who has wolf ears and who is banished from her home to live in a huge castle. It’s written quite poetically, told like a fable, but it was hard to get into because I felt very little for any of the characters present. I didn’t much care why they were where they were, nor the mystery of the castle, and however beautiful the writing, I just wasn’t compelled to keep going.
(This one was exempt from the 3-chapter chance because it has no chapters. I read about 1/3 of it, though.)
Bitter Ashes, by Sara C Roethle – The writing in this one was okay but nothing special. It starts off with a woman being kidnapped, and the narrative tone is so distanced from the action of the events that I wondered if I was misunderstanding a kidnapping somehow. There’s some interesting plays with mythology, which is cool, and well-suited to urban fantasy/paranormal romance, but PNR is definitely not my cup of tea, and I found the characters to be flat and stereotypical. Female protag has been kidnapped and is being held hostage and not given explanations? Better take a first-person POV moment to note how sexy the men around her are. Really not my thing.
Emerald Emergent, by James Aaron – The writing’s okay, but it gets off to a bit of an awkward start. It suffers from the very-common first-person POV problems, such as trying to cram in more details than a character would feasibly notice in order to give the reader a clear picture of things. The world seems like it could be interesting, but that wasn’t really enough to sell me on reading the rest of the book, especially because “okay YA novels” are a dime a dozen these days. In many ways it’s a bloated genre, and it’s getting harder to stand out in it because there are just so many options available to readers. Being “good” doesn’t get you far, unfortunately.
Quiet in the Realm, by Joseph Sutton – First off, this needs to be looked over for numerous missing commas, badly-placed apostrophes, and incorrectly-spelled words. It was enough that encountering them threw me out of the reading groove at least once a page, and I can’t stress enough how much that sort of thing makes it look like you don’t care enough about your own writing to have someone go through and do a basic copyedit. The story itself didn’t seem too bad, but it also didn’t seem to have much to make it stand out (fairly standard fantasy setting in which peace is coming to an end and certain people in power don’t want to admit the problems that go along with it), and so with all the other little problems, I decided to DNF it.
The Call, by Eli Freysson – The setting is definitely interesting, and I don’t see too much fantasy that plays with Norse mythology, which gives this book some points. Katja could grow to be a very interesting character, but I felt that the writing alternated between flat and then overly-detailed. Despite having so much thrown at her in the early chapters, I still felt too distanced from Katja to want to continue with her story, and the unsteady writing might have been a big part of that. Too much in too little time, I think, because even after so much happens to her, all I can really tell is that she’s stubborn.
Awakening, by Raymond Bolton – The combo of sci-fi and fantasy elements in this one seemed like they could be interesting, but for my part it felt like a jumbled mish-mash of things that didn’t quite fit. A world that has microscopes and motor vehicles won’t just limit that technology to those areas; if you have internal combustion engines, you’ll use them elsewhere too, and I saw more signs that the author was trying to make the world feel more like “fantasy with random modern tech” than anything cohesive. Science fantasy is really difficult to pull off properly, and I think this one fell short of the mark. The story itself could be neat, with strange creatures haunting/looking for the main character, but the worldbuilding spoiled a lot for me, and it stopped me from really sinking into the world so that I could feel invested in the story.
Bone Magic, by Brent Nichols – The story starts off when stupid people make stupid assumptions that don’t make sense, and that’s a pretty awkward way to get your main character involved in the meat of the story that will happen to them. It seemed more like they setup for a quest in an RPG, where characters will take a quest because that’s just what characters do, rather than something that would actually happen in the real world. Characters felt less like people and more like flat roles that needed filling. The writing was okay, but it wasn’t good enough to keep me going despite the flimsy beginning.
Dead Man, by Domino Finn – The narrative style turned me right off pretty early on. It’s first-person, told from the perspective of someone so arrogant that they refer to themselves in the third-person every once in a while. I didn’t find the attempts at humour to be all that funny. The first-person POV is done decently, though, and it reads like the protag is actually telling the story to someone and occasionally losing track of their thoughts, only to come back and over-explain some things. The story itself could be pretty interesting, but that style of storytelling made me averse to finding out.
Genesis, by T Sae-Low – Starts off with an infodump about the world, which I usually find to be a weak beginning. It could be an okay fantasy, but it just didn’t really speak to me.
Half-Bloods Rising, by J T Williams – Suffers from Missing Comma Syndrome; also has rather stilted dialogue that seems more like a dramatic script for the stage than actual people talking. A fair bit of, “As you know,” and “That which we call” dialogue. The characters don’t feel distinct, and I had a hard time pinning down any of their personalities, let alone motivations. Could probably be decent with some work, but it needs some editing to get it there.
Half Wolf, by Aimee Easterling – The writing’s decent and the characters seem developed, but urban fantasy is really hit or miss with me, and this one had enough cliches that it fell more into the “miss” category. I can see it really appealing to those who prefer urban fantasy novels, though, since stylistically it seems to have a fair bit going for it.
Raindropt, by Deena Byrne – Narrative is mostly third-person limited with random jumps to third-person omniscient, which is a little weird. The writing is pretty decent, pulling from fairy tales and making a potentially interesting — if a bit over the top — story. Biggest drawback for me, and the thing that killed me desire to read it, is that the main character is an air-headed entitled brat with nothing appealing about her whatsoever. I understand she’ll probably be redeemed by the end, but by the end of chapter 3, all I could think is that I didn’t want to read an entire book following the adventures of somebody so stupid they mistook a centaur for “an exotic horse.”
Snort and Wobbles, by Will MacMillan Jones – A kids’ chapbook. Now, I’m no expert on books for this age range, seeing as how the last time I read any, I was pretty much in that age range. The tone’s pretty playful, and the story’s cute. It’s not something I have much interest in, though, nor is it something I’d feel remotely comfortable passing on to the 2nd round of judging, since this isn’t really the kind of book the SPFBO is geared toward. Still, from what I can tell, if you have any young kids who are getting into fantasy stories, maybe this would be good for them.
The Hunters, by Richard Bamberg – Good writing style, the dialogue in realistic and smooth, and in general it seems like it could be a pretty decent urban fantasy. As I’ve said before, though, urban fantasy is extremely hit-or-miss with me, and despite knowing that this could well be a good book, I just couldn’t sink into it enough, and so I had to put it aside. Entirely a matter of personal taste on this one, and I think that fans of urban fantasy could really enjoy it if they got into it.
The Huntress, by Nadja Losbohm – Seems like it has potential, but it also seems a lot like an early draft of something that could get better with some polishing. Also got turned off by what was probably a throwaway line early on that just sat wrong with me; the main character is a monster hunter who states that she can’t keep doing things alone anymore. When it’s pointed out that her predecessors all worked alone, her retort is that yeah, but they were all men. And in that one line, the main character turned in my mind from a strong independent kick-ass woman to someone whose main reason for not doing stuff others before her have done is because she’s not a man. Sigh. It left a bad taste in my mouth.
So there’s that batch done. A full half of them didn’t make it past the 3-chapter chance. Which, as I said before, isn’t necessarily a bad thing; a good number of them were just not to my taste, and there’s no shame in that. Luck of the draw, unfortunately; someone else doing the challenge might have liked them better.
(Though I have noticed that nearly all of us, across both years, prefer secondary-world fantasy to urban fantasy. Not sure if that’s of benefit to people considering submitting a novel next year, or a sign that there needs to be a similar challenge for urban fantasy, or both. Just a little thing I noticed.)
Anyway, stay tuned, because there’ll be another post shortly that talks about another batch of novels from the challenge that I figure are worthy of a special post of their own!