The Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off | Mini Reviews – Round 2

My first round of books was very, very strong, which had me all sorts of excited for the next round of books. Unfortunately, this is the first round of books where I didn’t finish all of them. That’s really hard for me. I absolutely hate not finishing a book, but in reality, I’m not obligated by anyone but myself to actually finish any of these books, and if I’m being completely honest, not many real agents would (from what I know of them).

So this is the first round where I DNF’d some books, and others really impressed me. This is also the first round where I really came to terms with the fact that I’m not really doing this right. I’m acting like a reviewer rather than an “agent” of sorts. It’s something that comes so naturally to me it takes some real thought for me to break out of that role. When I slush read for publishers, I almost never read the whole book. I usually give each book about three chapters and then I’m done if I’m unimpressed. If I’m impressed, I’ll read further. I should probably try and slip into that mindset, but I think I’ve already set the tone for myself thus far, and it would be unfair to everyone else if I changed my mind all the sudden. So, I’ll keep on keeping on.

I really do need to write an apology to this group of five. I have delayed your mini-reviews by over a week, and that’s no fault of yours. My life has just been absolutely insane, and it’s been hard for me to keep up.

Well, onto the mini reviews.

The Bone Wall – D. Wallace Peach
Buy the Book

This is the first book that hit my DNF pile. The style is fantastic, and the prose were fluid and artistic. The world and plot had such potential to wow me, but it just didn’t work. The world, a sort of post apocalyptic under-the-dome type thing was hard for me to believe. There is almost no technology, but somehow there are lampposts. A few thousand people live there, but there is no explanation of how their resources come to them, for a few examples. I had a hard time feeling any real relationship between characters, and the pacing was off, sometimes things went a bit too fast and sometimes they went a bit too slow. All of this worked to keep me rather detached from the book. It’s a slow burn, and takes some effort to get into. When I realized that, I put it aside. However, as I said above, the writing was beautiful, I just felt the book could have used a bit more thought and depth regarding world, characters and their relationships, and plot pacing.

Rating: Did not finish
Award: Beautiful prose

The Darkness Undivided – Jesse Jones
Buy the Book

This book has a lot of heart, which is refreshing. Sometimes the prose would really take off and the language would be nothing short of beautiful, and the plot would match. I enjoy tropes. I think tropes and tropes for a reason – they work, but sometimes authors can fall into a comfort zone with tropes. Comfortable isn’t always better, and this book lacked some of the daring qualities I look for in my literature. Great writing aside, there were too many plot holes early on, and the author focused too heavily on tropes without enough of his own vision. Furthermore, this book could have used a bit more in the way of professional editing. In essence, this is a book about good vs. evil, and that storyline has been done and done and done, and sometimes it works, but due to the fact that the plot is so familiar, it requires something a bit more unique to catch my eye and this one just fell short. Regardless, the author’s enthusiasm was obvious, and his protagonist’s love for adventure was rather infectious.

Rating: Did not finish
Award: The most heart

Stranger’s Descent – Tony Barrett
(I couldn’t find this book on Amazon to link to)

Stranger’s Descent has a lot going for it. It doesn’t really fit in any one genre. It has a Wild West feel, which I love, including magic, villains, dust, struggle and everything else. Stranger is a hard character to pin down. He’s pretty mysterious, with a rather loaded past that slowly gets revealed (in part) as the plot unravels. The other characters are distinct with their own voices, but those voices tend to get lost as the tension mounts. There are a lot of politics and conflict, and the world is pretty dark but the characters are lovable and enjoyable in their context. There is obviously room for Barrett to expand in future books, and as this is the first book in a series, I think the rest of the series should be pretty exciting. However, nothing is perfect, and sometimes the writing was a bit thick. Some of the characters felt a little too flawless to be believable. This book was a breath of fresh air, and while it’s not perfect, I enjoyed it immensely.

Rating: 3/5 stars
Award: Best setting

Bloodrush – Ben Galley
Buy the book

This book came out of nowhere and it was impossible for me to put down. First, notice that stunning cover art. Seriously, it’s amazing. Secondly, this book has a truly unique, fascinating magic system. Galley seems to know just how to strike the balance between fantasy and reality. The protagonist, Tonmerion, is a young boy whose world is turned upside-down. There isn’t really anything unique about that, but he’s forced to relocate and the world ends up being different from what he expected it to be. Fell Falls, Wyoming, is far different than London, and it’s the perfect setting for an eerie, almost Neil Gaiman approach to reality – a twist and a turn and the world is both the same and far different than anything you expect it to be. Tonmerion is more than he appears, and he has to learn about himself, and the world he lives in as he grows into an adult. Galley hits the right notes with adventure, love, and coming of age, and it was absolutely captivating. Honestly, this one is superb.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Award: Most Captivating

The Five Elements – Scott Marlowe
Buy the Book

There are young adult books, and then there are books about young people that can appeal to just about anyone. Sometimes the two converge. I think this is one of those kind of books. It’s a book about fifteen-year-olds. Usually I see that age, and I kind of shut off. I’m really not into young adult books, which is my own flaw, but I do enjoy books about young people. I don’t know if the distinction means anything to anyone but me, but there it is. At its heart, this is a book about two friend who take two very different routes to get to the same place. It’s really interesting how Marlowe decided to tell their respective stories, and is pretty well done. The magic and fantasy of the book add a nice spice to things and keep the plot interesting and even unexpected. Life experiences can change people, and change friendships, and I felt that Marlowe addressed that complex issue in a realistic way that young adults and adults can both enjoy. The book kind of loses it’s get-up-and-go after the start (which is, by and large, the best part of the book). Naming conventions don’t usually bother me, but I did have a hard time keeping some of the names, which could get pretty annoying at times. Sometimes Marlowe went too far into the details and gave readers step-by-step instructions about how mundane things were done, which got tiring and could bog things down. Regardless, this is a promising book that will appeal to fans of young adult, and adult books that are young at heart.

Rating: 3/5 stars
Award: Most Endearing Characters


My favorite book for this group of five was…..

Bloodrush by Ben Galley

My next group of five will be:

1. Whispers of War – Sean Rodden
2. Monsters of Elsewhere – Matt Waldram
3. City of Roses: Autumn into Winter – Kip Manley
4. Children of the Fallen – Eve Peters
5. Searching for Nada – Jeff Haas


6 Responses

  • I suppose the consistently high standard of the first set was always going to be difficult to maintain! Agree that it is right to maintain the reviewer approach that you started out with.

  • Acting like a reviewer and not like an agent is what I had to struggle with too. As a reviewer, I want to keep going until the end, even if the book is terrible, because I feel like I ought to get the complete story before I feel comfortable making any public judgments. As the pseudo-agent I’m supposed to be for this challenge, I’m under no obligation to keep reading a book if it doesn’t grab me early on, because the point of an agent is to find the good stuff in the slush pile and devote time and energy to that. I figured in the beginning that I’d read just about anything unless it really wasn’t doing a single thing for me, but early on I came to the realization that doing so was taking up time I could be devoting to other books that DID catch my eye, and it was also making me dread doing any mini-reviews of books I didn’t like, and also of making myself read another book that had even odds as to whether it would even be to my taste.

    The good thing about being a reviewer is that I get to pick the books I think I’ll like before I even start reading them. So I’m predisposed to liking them right from the off. Even if I turn out to be wrong, I still like more than I dislike, so spending time on an unsatisfying book feels less daunting. But with the pseudo-agent hat on, I have less of a say in what books are before me, there’s a greater chance of coming across something that I’m just not that into, and the approach I thought would work for me in the beginning just turned out to not be such a great plan for me after all. I felt bad about hanging my approach partway through, but I stand by that decision, and I think it’s made the challenge a more enjoyable thing for me in the long run.

    I’m loving this challenge for the skills it’s helping me develop, too. I’ve never done anything like this before, even though slush reading is something I’ve thought for a long time that I’d like to do. This is giving me a bit of experience in doing so, and I’m enjoying expanding my skillset and getting to see a bit more of what another aspect of the publishing industry is really like. I find myself hoping that another challenge like this runs again in the future, and that I might be part of it.

  • Putting your book out there to be reviewed and commented on is tough – it takes bravery, a thick skin and little touch of insanity. Well done to everyone who got a review – I know how you felt whilst waiting!

    And, well done to Sarah too. That’s a lot of books to get through. As long as you find a style that works for you, stick with it – though if you want to change, do that too 🙂 (I may get splinters from all the fence sitting).

  • Hi,

    Just wanted to say I agree with you about the distinction between young adult // teen books, and books with young adult // teens in them. Very big difference, and I also enjoy the latter.

  • It’s so tough isn’t it! I’ve not been giving as detailed reviews so far as you have so feeling slightly guilty. I’ve marked a couple now though that I want to fully read.
    I like the sound of the Ben Galley book – in fact I have another of his books already waiting to read – and you’re totally right about the cover which I really like.
    Lynn 😀

  • It sorta sucks to read an interesting review of a book but then not be able to find it. 🙁

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