The Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off | First Five Book (Mini) Reviews

Well, this is a lot later than I thought it would be. Life kind of exploded and I’ve been… overwhelmed. Anyway, I read my first five books and I thought a bit about how I could best go about reviewing them. I could write full length reviews, but honestly I’m pretty crunched for time right now, and I’m very, very behind on reviewing due to life being overwhelming. I decided to do mini-reviews of all five books at once. At the bottom of the post, I will say which book (I thought) was the best of all five, and I will say which books are in my next five.

Art is subjective. I firmly believe that every book I read has something wonderful, and something not-so-perfect in it. I will try to find the even ground with all of these works. I just hope people remember that just because I say something, doesn’t make it gospel. If a book looks interesting to you, read it! Don’t wait for me, or any other reviewer to tell you to read something. Just go for it. Take a chance, and do the authors a favor and write up a review (any size works) on any major book website (Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, etc.).

Regardless of how each book worked for me, they all were the best with something, so after each mini-review, I will say what “award” that book won.

So, without further ado, here you go (in no particular order).

The Stone Road – G.R. Matthews
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Set in a world with a very Far East feel, The Stone Road is an interesting personal journey, as well as a rather surprising political one. War is coming, and no one seems to know what they need to know to prepare for it. Matthews does a great job really delving into the psychology of his characters. He keeps the cast small enough for them to be memorable and intimate, yet large enough to allow readers to really explore this world he’s created, as well as the intricacies of it. There are a lot of surprising twists and turns, and is left open enough for Matthews to really get down and dirty with the world and characters in the next book.

While I highly enjoyed this one, the world might put people off due to the fact that it might feel a little “borrowed” from our own world (if that makes sense at all). However, that’s really what I enjoyed the most. It’s not a western setting. There aren’t kings and queens and lots of floofy dresses. This is very unique, and incredibly brave. There’s a lot of exploration that Matthews can do. I did lament the fact that the magic system didn’t seem to get more of a background or buildup in this novel, but I think Matthews will continue to build on it in the next book.

4/5 stars
Award: Most Unique World

A Touch of Magic – Gregory L. Mahan
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To be honest, I’m probably not the best person to have read and review this book. I tend to bounce off books with young protagonists, and the young man (Randall) is quite young, 14 to be exact.

The writing is solid, and if you’re looking for comfort fantasy – that kind of fantasy that reminds you of the epic quests and the unassuming young man destined for more, then this is exactly what you want to read. There is a place for those books, but honestly, I read so much that new ideas appeal to me more than tried and true.

That’s not to say that there isn’t value in this book. I could feel Mahan’s love for the genre in what he wrote, and his passion for his book. There is real heart in A Touch of Magic, and that heart makes the book pretty addicting, despite the fact that it’s not something I’d typically sit down and read. I read it. Every word (and more importantly, I don’t regret reading it). That should say something right there.

The biggest issue is that there really aren’t any new and sparkling ideas in A Touch of Magic. There’s a lot of heart, but there isn’t really anything here that you probably haven’t read before.

3/5 stars
Award: Most Enthusiasm

The Unbound Man – Matt Karlov
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Let me be honest with you – I couldn’t put this book down. It’s kind of a slow-burn novel. Things take a little time to really get rolling, but once they do, you’ll be absolutely addicted. There is a lot of action here, but most of it takes place in more subtle ways. Karlov really excels at intricate, detailed plots. Much of the action happens behind desks, researching, conversing, learning facts and musing over a troubled past. There is some action, but for the most part, this is one of those novels that’s more cerebral than swords flashing and lots of swearing.

Arandras is a man who has a troubled past, and somehow events collide to put him in the middle of quite a few important happenings, each of which seem to build up the tension and the mystery. The world building, and the details (which I’m a sucker for) are absolutely stunning. Karlov didn’t really skip over anything, and while the slow-burn might bother some readers, I found the intricacy, and the depth to the characters, the mysterious and interweaving situations, to be absolutely amazing.

On a side note, this might be one of the best-formatted and edited self-published novels I’ve ever seen. That sort of thing matters to readers. Not only does it make the reading easier, but it also really shows the reader just how much the author loved their book.

I really, really hope this isn’t the last I see of Karlov. He has the potential to be a real force in the genre.

4/5 stars
Award: Most Intricate

The Shard – Ted Cross
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Like the previous book, there was a lot of love poured into the editing and formatting of this one, which really made it shine. It also reads like a homage to D&D. It’s an epic fantasy quest, complete with goblins and elves and wizards and all that. Maybe it’ll feel a little done before, and yeah, it is, but Cross really puts his own spin on things.

The writing is tight and flowing, the world is well realized, and the quest is absolutely addicting. The central cast of characters is fantastic to follow. Occasionally personalities kind of merge together, but not often. This is one of those novels that will bring you back to those days where you sat around the kitchen table (library table, in my case) and played D&D with a bunch of friends.

The Shard is addicting and fun in its own right, but it really is a homage more than something that will absolutely blow your mind. Is that a bad thing? No, but it’s probably something you’ll want to be in the mood for (if that makes sense). There’s a lot of passion and heart here. In the end, there really is something to say about a book that you can just sit down and enjoy without really having to pick it apart.

4/5 stars
Award: Easiest to Effortlessly Enjoy

This Crumbling Pageant – Patricia Burroughs
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When I started reading this book, my first thought was, “Oh, fantastic. A thirteen-year-old protagonist. Just what I love….” (Sarcasm font). Then I got going, and the young girl grows older, and things all start clicking. To be honest with you, the thirteen-year-old Persephone wasn’t really believable as a thirteen-year-old. She was a bit too mature for me to believe her to be that young. When she grew up, I believed it.


Set in a sort of Victorian feeling alternative London steeped in magic and mystery as well as plenty of Greek mythology and traditions, the world has a lot for readers to love and Burroughs took a lot of time really fleshing it out and getting a feel for it. Another thing that I really enjoyed was the family dynamic that Burroughs added to her novel. There’s sibling love, and love between parents and children. With so many novels, the protagonist(s) are on their own. It was refreshing to see a tightly knit family group loving (and arguing with) each other.

This book does have some romance, and the romantic interest is pretty obvious from the start. It felt natural rather than forced, though when all interested parties realized where their interests laid, a switch was flipped and suddenly there were no doubts. There is some tension (that isn’t romantic) and plenty of frustration. Basically, yes, there’s romance, but that’s certainly not all this book is about. It moved at a pretty good clip, though some parts felt like they might have been a bit too long.

My other niggling complaint was the antagonist. In a book that was so detailed and rich, so lush and well woven, he seemed a bit too much like the brooding evil bad guy who wears dark clothes, has melting green skin and cackles in the corners.

In the end, this is one of those books that I started reading thinking, “Fantastic, here’s a book that I’m going to hate, and I’m going to have to tell people I hated it. I hate doing that.” I ended it thinking, “Wow, I’m really glad I read that.” Is it perfect? No, but sometimes perfection doesn’t matter.

4/5 stars
Award: Most Passion

And my favorite book of this group of five was…. (Drum roll, please)….

The Unbound Man by Matt Karlov.

(Though to be honest, this was a very, very close group and it was incredibly hard to choose.)


My next five reads will be:

1. The Bone Wall – D. Wallace Peach
2. The Darkness Undivided – Jesse Jones
3. Stranger’s Descent – Tony Barrett
4. Bloodrush – Ben Galley
5. The Five Elements – Scott Marlowe


7 Responses

  • Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, and for your thoughtful reviews. I knew going in that my book appealed to a niche audience, and you nailed it when you pointed out that it was an homage to my old D&D days. I know a lot of people love the official D&D books, but I never got to read any that were aimed at me, so in the end I decided I had to just write it myself. I always wanted D&D books that treated it seriously, while those they actually released seemed more gamish or like superheroes (Drizzt). Thanks again for reading.

  • Wow, four out of five 4-star reads for your first batch? That’s pretty impressive. If the other batches are that strong, you’re going to have some hard decisions to make at the end.

  • S. C. Flynn

    Very thorough, Sarah! And such a high standard of books, it seems!

  • Stiff competition in this batch!

    Well done, Sarah, for getting through them all in so short a space of time – you’ve no idea how glad I am that you liked mine (and the others too). I think you’re definitely right about the world – it was a risk to set it in the a Far East / China type setting. I knew it wouldn’t appeal to everyone, however it was the story I wanted to tell – so I went for it 🙂

    Just to prove what a genius you are; Book 2 (out now and available from all good stockists) focuses upon the magic system and its role within the world.

    Thank you so much for getting involved and reviewing these books! I hope you find many more gems 🙂

  • Of all the things you could have said to make me happy, “most passion” is right up there at the top.

    Thanks for reading and reporting back, and take care, girl.

  • I’m glad you mostly enjoyed most of these books — and thanks for taking the time to review them!

  • Wow, did you ever get some great novels in your batch! There are a couple there that I’ve got my eye on, too. Especially “The Unbound Man.” Your description makes it sound like it would be right up my alley!

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