Well, I know I said last time that I’d have my own personal picks up for the SPFBO prediction brackets hosted over at the Sigil site in a week or so. If you haven’t noticed, I took quite a bit longer. And, as with my writing, it was only the looming deadline of having my picks before August when the first round of reviews/ cuts/ semifinalists are picked that got my ass in gear.
Well, here we go. I may have stated that my first picks were all the books with the highest reviews, which is sort of a baseline in that I want to see if the books with the highest scores are in fact better or if the contest is really finding those hidden gems that are overlooked in all the self-publishing white noise. This second round of picks, on the other hand, are my personal choices.
Last year I had a few rules of thumb, one of which was only books with 10+ reviews on Goodreads, which did preclude my own book. This year I’m dropping that rule but still keeping some of the others. My basic picking strategy went as follows:
Remove all books that clearly don’t belong, eg sci-fi, romance masquerading as fantasy, kids/ YA books, and anything under 200 pages.
Look for books that I’m already familiar with or ones that break the usual epic fantasy mold, eg have a unique hook.
My theory this time around after having studied SPFBO for a year is that the bloggers are looking for non-traditional fantasy. In fact, if you look at the top three finalists of each year, you’ll find a pirate story (Where Loyalties Lie), an extra special episode of Sons of Anarchy staring half-orcs (The Grey Bastards), and a noir-ish murder mystery with magic and a female protag (The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids). You also have a weird western, non-romance Urban Fantasy staring warring gods, and a LitRPG-ish towerclimber (that’s the opposite of a dungeoncrawler, right?). And let’s not forget the unofficial SPFBO winner of Selin Ascends, which defies any sort of classification. Yes, you also have a traditional epic fantasy book rounding out those top three each year, but I’m going to argue that those books got in based on the strength of their writing/ ability to execute those familiar tropes, which is not something I can look for by just examining a cover and blurb.
My reasoning is that our blogger judges are pretty savvy fantasy readers. As in I think they probably have upwards of 200 YEARS of reading experience between them. That means they’ve read the same sort of story/ tropes hundreds of times before, and while they’re obviously fans of these tropes or else they would have stopped reading fantasy long ago, this makes anything that breaks from the familiar a breath of fresh air. I see the same pattern in my day job with the screenplay readers I manage in that while they can appreciate a well-written thriller, they absolutely lose their minds when they get a thriller with a spin on it like “it’s The Fugitive, but with androids,” or “it’s Die Hard, but with Muppets,” or “It’s Sons of Anarchy, but with half-orcs.”
Anyways, that’s my strategy, so let’s see if it can pick out a potential winner any better than the random picks I kicked off this with or highest ratings. I’ve left in my rough notes when going through all 300 based upon their ten blogs, with my choices below. Oh, and a few patterns I notices at the very bottom in case you’re really invested in reading this for some reason and somehow make it all the way to the end.
Bookworm Blues: Fragile Nights (maybe), Sentinel (maybe), Reign of the Walrus Witch (strong possibility), Nectar & Ambrosia. Varlasage (Liked but blurb told me nothing), Between the Shade and the Shadow (strong blurb and scary fairies), The Snowtiger’s Trail.
Picks: Reign of the Walrus Witch & Between the Shade and Shadow (Snowtiger strong third).
Fantasy Faction: Letters from a Shipwreck in the Sea of Suns and Moons (!!), Rogue Arcanist (liked but Mihir scored 3 already), Rise of the Fallen (fungal magic and awesome cover!) The Seeds of Dissolution (pretty good but feels YA), Rogue Hunter (like hunting down god and amped up werewolf), Carnifex (Conan but with Dwarves!)
Picks: Letters from a Shipwreck in the Sea of Suns and Moons & Rise of the Fallen
Fantasy Book Critic: Death March (Phil Tucker, duh), The Boy Who Walked Too Far (very Gaimen-esque. Could be good/ bad), Missing (noir vampire… but seems self-aware), The Firebird (looks good but only 80 pages. Seriously?!), The Blood Tartan (sounds insane in the best way possible!), Truth or Darkness (a nice little twist on the usual medieval world),
At least three under 200 pages. And clearly romance/ sci fi. What a waste of spots!
Picks: The Blood Tartan & The Boy Who Walked Too Far
Lynn’s Books: A Wizard’s Forge (heard good things about and run in the same online circle), Light Dawning (ditto), Songs of Insurrection (ditto x2!, non western), An Empire of Tears (looks good, maybe too dark), Dark of Winter (damn, even more bleak stuff), Victor Boone Will Save Us (superhero murder mystery), Sworn to the Night (Craig Schaefer, and sounds like would make a good movie!), Clockwork: The Iron City (sounds interesting and off the beaten path genre wise), How to Go To Hell in 10,000 Easy Steps (great title, sounds fun, but probably a little light), Under Ordshaw (horror/ thriller fantasy), High Barrens (good title, cover and setting, but blurb really tells nothing of what book is about)
Another “book” at 60 pages…
Picks: Sworn to the Night & Clockwork: The Iron City
Qwillery: Those Brave, Foolish Souls from the City of Swords (Benedict Patrick, duh), Banebringer (could be good but blurb leaves me a bit cold), The Great Hearts (some solid reviews by solid readers), Aching Gods (great reviews by people I trust; hate that cover though), The Game Bird (yep yep yep!), The Song of the Siren (was a meh until last line and the Russian fairy tale bit).
Picks: The Game Bird & Those Brave, Foolish Souls from the City of Swords.
The Alliterates: Kings of Paradise (heard great things!), Darkmage (ML Spencer, duh), The City of a Thousand Faces (sounds interesting and Alec Hutson endorsement), Hunter Book One (intrigued but don’t know why), Merkabah Rider (Hasidic western? Sign me up!),
Seriously, a book with “erotic steampunk” in the title thinks it has a chance? I hope it gets eviscerated. Ditto with Robocopter Ski Patrol. Triple ditto for the damn 67 page romance. Burn these!
Picks: Kings of Paradise & The City of a Thousand Faces. Hard not to pick Merkabah Rider, but maybe too jokey.
The Weatherwax Report: The Red Hourglass (steampunk so promising), Liath Luachra (ancient Irish tribes and former finalist), Balam, Spring (non-epic balm), Air and Ash (female protag sailing/ pirate adventure), Daughter of Atlas (Atlantis intrigue, and I do love ancient cultures), One Boy, No Water (Hawaiian fantasy and man with too many teeth. Might be too young though), The Fire Eye Refugee (seen good reviews and Sam a semifinalist last year. Plus, pretty topical), To Walk a Road of Ruin (gunslingers + magic = awesome),
Picks: One Boy, No Water & Air and Ash - hard to pick with lots of choices
Fantasy Book Review: Servant of Rage (khans and steppes have me intrigued), Hero Forged (non-romance UF? Who knew they still made that?), Empty Monsters (male midwife and magic lineage), Blood in the Sand (magic and academia), Symphony of the Wind (more steampunk done right)
Picks: Servant of Rage & Symphony of the Wind
Booknest: The Stars Were Right (sounds like a thriller in a good way), Oronomics (sounds different enough, but perhaps too jokey), We Ride the Storm (incredible cover and really promising reviews. Plus non western but minus because apostrophes in names) The Great Restoration (elves and steampunk = yay. Minus points for being second in series), Carboard Castles (Fisher King style fantasy you say?), Ghost Electricity (terrible cover but intriguing blurb with gaslamp and werewolves).
Picks: Ghost Electricity & Carboard Castles.
Kitty G: The Private Life of Jane Maxwell (superhero book where the author has to solve her own disappearance = unique to say the least), Spinning Silk (Dark Japanese folklore with demons!).
Picks: Spinning Silk & The Private Life of Jane Maxwell.
Having now reviewed all 300 books by at least looking at the cover and blurb, I’ve noticed a few patterns. The first is the prevalence of both comedic and super hero books this year, which I noted a couple of each. Last year could be thought of as the rise of the LitRPG with Sufficiently Advanced Magic taking second and several other books with “online” in the title getting to semifinalist status. Which did surprise me since I’m not a fan of the subgenre, but also taught me to look beyond my own personal literary biases. A bit at least. I hold the same opinion of super hero books (although I LOVE comics) and comedies as LitRPG, but perhaps 2018 is their year to shine.
It’s been a year since I looked at my personal competition, but I swear we didn’t have nearly this many books with so many Goodreads reviews. I remember being hard pressed to find books with 10+ reviews then, but this year there’s so many with 100+ that I keep tripping over a new one of them. And some have thousands, which makes me wonder, with that many readers already, why they feel the need to enter.
Seriously, how many books are about orphans? Followed closely by books involving twins. I knew the first one was a trope, but apparently the second is as well.
Finally, it boils my blood to see the number of books that have no right to be entered in this competition. With this year filling up in under 48 hours, there’s an exceedingly small window for those who want to take part in this tremendous opportunity. That means any “book” that takes away one of those slots from someone deserving it is an impediment to a deserving author’s career and thus should be purged with fire. And damn, were there a lot of them this year. Mark Lawrence stated on the Grim Tidings Podcast that he picked bloggers who liked his books, which means they’ve already got a bit of a grimdark bent. So why then do paranormal romance writers feel the need to gum up the works?
To a certain extent, I can let those books go because perhaps they really are that good that they’ll make the judges open their eyes to this subgenre in the same way mine were to LitRPG. But the clearly sci-fi books really burn my ass because there’s no way to justify them. I mean, come on, the word “fantasy” is in the damn title of the competition. Did you not read that part or were you just so full of self-import that you didn’t care?
But the worst offenders are the novellas/ short stories. Yes, I know they’re the lifeblood of the serialized self-published author, but this is a competition for NOVELS. Again, like it says in the rules. It takes a certain type of mentality to so flagrantly disobey the rules in what’s a competition with the best of intentions. The same type of mentality anti-vaxxers share where they’ll diminish quality of life for everyone else around them for their own idiotic self-interest…
Seriously, I’m rather irate again after these paragraphs in what was meant to be a fun post. So I’m going to stop writing and try and calm down.
Anyways, these are my picks. I obviously wish everyone involved (with the exception of the above offenders) all the best of luck. Personally, SPFBO was a vertical line in my writing career timeline, as in when they finally write my biography time will be measured by what came before and what came after. It really kicked me into high gear in the best possible way, and I hope it does the same for the participants this year.