My SPFBO Reviews

Pilgrim Of The Storm is a story of otherness, lost identity and a journey to find answers. It starts slow, but gets interesting as the world unfolds and character relationships develop. Pilgrim Of The Storm is a rather short book compared to the massive fantasy tomes I have been reading lately, it is just 200 pages but a nice read.

Sidge is the lone bugman, an insectoid humans look down on, adopted and raised by his human master at the Stormblade Temple. The whole story has a melancholy undertone stemming from this theme. Poor Sidge is treated terribly by most people, his race is considered inferior and bestial, he knows nothing of his heritage and bloodline, and he goes on the arduous pilgrimage journey with his semi absent-minded master Izhar. A good part of the book takes place on the road, where Sidge and his master join the pilgrimage caravan headed to the Stronghold. Sidge discovers mysteries and finds more questions as he finds some answers along the way.

The story is overall decent, but has a few rough edges, especially in the beginning chapters. The pilgrimage journey is slow-paced for the most part, nothing much happens except for a few scary moments, the encounter with a troll and Sidge’s spiritual vision. The most interesting character of the whole story is introduced in the earlier part of the journey: Mistress Kaaliya, a street-wise woman who has a big mouth and a colorful personality.

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Kindling features interesting main characters and great action scenes, especially in the last quarter of the book. It opens with a great prison sequence which reminded me of the Elder Scrolls games. The main protagonist Zahir left a great first impression on me, as did the realistically depicted inmates. However, after the first chapter it started to fall flat due to the dire need of editing. I can overlook a flaw or two, but they piled up rather quick.

Before I talk about those, I would like to talk about the positive aspects. Zahir and Marietta are definitely interesting and complex enough, also easy to root for. Absalom and Althea, are pretty cool, even though I did not connect with them as well as Zahir and Marietta. The buildings, castles, citadels and dungeons are realistic and interesting with vivid detail. Gore and splatter is well-executed. I am no fan of gore, but it was depicted pretty good without being too repetitive. The cannibalism and savagery of the zombified pit-dwellers is one of the highlights of the book, with the drama and tension aspects neatly woven into the brutal imagery. I found the the action in the last parts of the book quite impressive with the perfect pacing and suspense elements.

Unfortunately there are also quite a few issues. First of all, there is a major Wheel of Time derivative aspect. The order of sorceresses called the Flames sound like the Aes Sedai taken over by the Black Ajah. The symbol of sorcery (flame) is pretty much the same as the Aes Sedai symbol. Men’s magic is tainted and they turn into monsters when their power reaches the pinnacle. The Flames ladies hunt down and kill the men with magic, and they use the ones with rare powers as tools until those men go berserk. This was a tad too much for me to overlook as a reader who values originality above all else.

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This is a sword and sorcery tale, with a good amount of sword and little sorcery. It has a nice action-packed opening, with our hero the farmboy Benjamin helping his village folk battle a demon attacking their village. Shortly after, a strange group shows up, featuring a stern mage lady, a blademaster, an affable rogue and a noble girl with her maid. One can see the Wheel of Time influence, but it didn’t feel derivative at all. The characters and the general atmosphere were different enough.

Benjamin sets out with this group to help take his adopted sister to the City, where she will go to the mage school.The fighting scenes, action, adventures, political intrigue, journeys, city and market scenes are top notch quality and the book is a solid page turner. One great thing about this story is, the main protagonist is just a simple brewer from some backwater village. He has no special powers, no prophecies, no magic. He is not a chosen one or savior. He listens to his mentors and learns skills with hard work and daily practices. This was quite inspirational stuff, no special powers coming out of thin air, but with disciplined work and dedication. I really liked this about the story.

Ben is likeable enough, but my favorite characters overall were Rhys, the mercenary rogue, and Renfro, the little thief friend of Ben. However, as fun as it was to read, Benjamin Ashwood has quite a few issues.

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The White Tower is a big book at a whopping 624 pages, but it is a page turner in enough parts.It is a sprawling epic fantasy tale with a huge character cast and diverse settings. It starts as a typical run of the mill epic fantasy, which I didn’t mind at all cause everything I love about epic fantasy was there. The White Tower features a lot of Point of View characters, but the plots are centered around four of them. These are Ty, the fae-bred youth who seems to be some kind of chosen one, Ayrion the Guardian Protector, the heroic warrior figure, the magic wielding smith Ferrin, and the villain Valtor who is a dark magician hell bent on summoning the long-banished dark lord figure. Ty’s point of view scenes have a whimsical quality; I particularly loved the magic displays and the interesting secondary characters there.

Ferrin’s and Ty’s parts were among my favorites as well as Ayrion’s excursions and rather interesting battle scenes with a bit of a magic twist. The action scenes are impressive and the character perspectives get interesting as you progress through the story. Poor quarter and thieves’ guild parts were excellent. Another positive aspect is the presence of amazing female characters. These being said, the White Tower has several serious issues.

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As severely underrated as it is, Pilgrimage to Skara is a highly engaging and entertaining flintlock fantasy tale.

This is the last book in my SPFBO batch, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting much since I had two strong books which got high praise from the other folks. After checking its Goodreads profile, my expectations dipped further since it has only one rating, one review, and a cover that is far from attractive.

However, this book grabbed me from page one and I ended up turning the pages at the airport with 4 hours of sleep, during the flights and in whatever free time I could find during my extremely busy work travel schedule. I haven’t been so surprised by an indie book before.

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Guest Post By Claire Frank: The Appeal of Characters With Questionable Morals

Assassin's Charge

Assassin’s Charge

Morally Questionable Characters

Thieves, assassins, bounty hunters, smugglers. We love books that feature characters who lead darklives, living on the edge of acceptable society. What makes stories about characters with morally questionable professions so intriguing?

The vicarious experience

Let’s be honest—most of us don’t actually want to steal things or kill people (or do we?). But in a book,we can experience things we’d never do in reality. The thrill of the chase, the fear of getting caught, theconfidence of being a badass. Morally questionable characters provide us with the opportunity toindulge in situations and actions we’d usually avoid.

Reading is an out-of-body experience, no matter the subject or genre. We can safely enjoy the illicit andforbidden, from the comfort of our couch—without the dire consequences.

The character’s growth

At the heart of a compelling story is usually a character who changes. As they navigate their waythrough the plot, the events leave their mark, forcing them to face their flaws and inner demons. Oftenthe protagonist grows, and becomes better. Sometimes, he or she doesn’t. Either way, the characteryou meet on page one is not the same character you say goodbye to when you turn the final page.

Characters leading dark lives pull you through the story, enticing you with the possibility for change. Will they do the right thing in the end? They keep us on edge, wondering what they’ll do, because we know their standards. They’re as likely to betray as to save, to embrace the dark rather than the light. The potential for a satisfying character arc is strong when the character begins as a thief, rogue, or killer.

The character’s competence

Often the thieves and killers in a story are remarkable at what they do. They can scale a wall, pick a lock, hide in the shadows, or talk their way out of anything. Whether the story includes the character learning these skills, or they already possess them from the beginning, reading about a badass is fun. There’s a deep satisfaction in seeing characters pull off the impossible, and a delicious sense of anticipation as we watch the story unfold. We know that this time, their skills might not be enough to get them through in one piece.

Writing an assassin

As an author, writing about morally questionable characters proved to be as much fun as reading them. I always enjoy exploring a character who views the world very differently from me. Writing a book from the perspective of a cold-hearted assassin was fascinating. What would she do when facing a challenge?

How does she interact with the people who cross her path? How would she react when her own life is threatened?

Pairing an assassin with an innocent child took the story in an intriguing direction. The main character is faced with saving the life of the person she was hired to kill—which sends her on the run, pursued by her fellow assassins, and a notorious bounty hunter. A moral hero would handle this adventure in one way—an assassin takes quite a different path. Throughout the story, she’s able to use her skills to help her along, often facing odds that are stacked against her. And the events that unfold challenge not only her worldview, but her view of herself. All in all, it made for a very satisfying story to write, and I hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Assassin’s Charge: An Echoes of Imara Novel

What if you were hired to kill the only person who could save you?

Rhisia Sen is one of the Empire’s highest paid assassins. Living a life of luxury, she chooses her contracts carefully, working to amass enough wealth so she can leave her bloody trade. She is offered a new contract on the outskirts of civilization, and almost refuses—until she sees the purse. It could be the last job she ever has to take.

But when she reaches the destination, she discovers her mark is a child.

The contract, and her reputation, demand she kill the boy—if she can banish his innocent face from her mind. But another assassin has been sent to kill her, and a notorious bounty hunter is on her trail. She doesn’t know why the boy is a target, or why her former employer wants her dead. Saving the child could be her only chance at survival.

Claire Frank is the author of the epic fantasy series Echoes of Imara, and the brand new novel, Assassin’s Charge, a stand-alone story set in the same world. By day, Claire is a busy mom of three. By night, she writes, giving voices to the characters who clutter her mind during the daylight hours. Her husband David is her co-creator and collaborator, adding his ideas and feedback to her work. Together they banter ideas, craft worlds, create characters and develop stories, usually over too much coffee. Learn more at