What is SPFBO?
The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) is an annual literary contest intended to bring greater visibility to self-published English-language fantasy authors.
The SPFBO has been operated since 2015 by the author Mark Lawrence. He distributes about 300 novels submitted by the authors to ten fantasy bloggers to review. Each blogger selects a finalist, which is then reviewed by all ten bloggers. The winner is the finalist with the highest average review score.
What I Will Be Doing
Cassidy from Covers With Cassidy reached out to me and asked if I would love to join her and eight other members of the book community to read the ten finalists before the winner is announced. We will be using a rubric that Cassidy created as a way to give each book a score out of 10. If you want to keep up with us, you can see our scores on a website that Cassidy has created.
Here are my predictions starting with the book I think I will enjoy the least and ending with the one I think will be my favourite. It will be interesting to look back on this and see how accurate I was.
A thousand years ago the Heart of the World was shattered, its fragments scattered across the lands.
In the chaos that followed, martial orders arose to gather the shards, for it was found that great powers were granted when these pieces were bonded to the flesh of the chosen. These are the Sharded Few, warriors imbued with the divine energies that once coursed through the Heart, driven to absorb enough fragments to claim godhood.
Deryn has known nothing in his life except suffering. Orphaned at the edge of the realms, indentured to a cruel slaver, he has little hope of escaping his circumstances. But elsewhere, ancient powers are stirring, new alliances threaten the peace of the old order, and against all odds, Deryn will find himself a player in a game unlike anything he could have imagined.
Even though The Umbral Storm is the book I am predicting I will like the least, something about the premise does intrigue me and I do think it could surprise me. There is just something about this type of fantasy that scares me. Also, it is over 650 pages, which you know is overwhelming for me. The cover is pretty epic though.
Pitted against one another, with the people and country they love in jeopardy, the daughter of a deserter and the son of the king have a chance to fulfill their forebears’ legacy—or destroy it entirely.
Twisted monsters called saja lurk in the shadows of the mountains. Rumors say the Fidelis, human wielders of an ancient elemental magic, again walk the plains. Not all in Avaron believe, and not all welcome the return of legend.
Kura’s a skeptic. But, she’ll cross and befriend centaurs, talking animals, and worse to save her family after the rebellion mistakes her for the land’s prophesied savior. And, while he’d rather negotiate with rebels than fight them, Triston can’t ignore prophecy. That was the sham his father used to steal the crown in the first place.
Over a century ago, their ancestors sailed the oceans in search of peace and died as heroes fighting for it. But heroes—and villains—aren’t always what they seem to be.
Fire of the Forebears is another one that intimidates me and I debated between putting this or The Umbral Storm at the bottom of my list, but this one is shorter so that gave it a bit of an edge. Also, I saw that there were talking animals and I love that, so another point to Fire of the Forebears. But again, this kind of epic fantasy terrifies me and someone told me it is for fans of Game of Thrones…
The Goddess works in mysterious ways, and Isabella Varselak intends to find out exactly what those ways are.
As the commander of the 7th Unit of the Solistopian City Watch, Isabella Varselak has dealt with many a mystery. Murderers, burglars, con artists, and troublesome demons have given her a multitude of crimes to solve over the years.
But injustice in the way the world works is all around her. Innocent people suffer, guilty people triumph. When this is questioned, the only answer she receives is that the Goddess works in mysterious ways.
Determined to get to the bottom of what these ways are and solve the ultimate mystery, she sets off on a journey to find answers — but she’ll have to go through hell to get them.
Mysterious Ways is a fantasy novel set in a matriarchal world. Women are in power, they worship a Goddess, and same sex relationships are common and socially acceptable.
I put Mysterious Ways here because I am not quite sure what to make of it! I love the idea of this being set in a matriarchal world where same-sex relationships are the norm, but the synopsis just isn’t giving me a lot.
A man with an unknown past
For years, Amar has traveled the Kavoran empire, seeking a way to recover his lost memories and end the curse that plagues him. With support from loyal friends, Amar may finally be on the verge of finding answers, but to do so, he’ll need to enlist the help of an unexpected guide.
A girl afraid of her own powers
Kesari is a Tarja, granted magical abilities through her Bond with a spirit named Lucian. Haunted by past mistakes that have left her desperate to sever her Bond, Kesari has her own reasons for agreeing to help Amar. But in doing so, she may finally have to face the fears she’s carried ever since leaving home.
A woman on a vital mission
Meanwhile, a young refugee named Aleida is in hot pursuit, hoping the secret behind Amar’s curse can save her brother from a fatal illness. With so much at stake and little left to lose, Aleida will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
And when their paths collide, all three are set on a journey to unravel a mystery far deeper than they ever suspected.
Tethered Spirits is a YA novel, which makes it stand out from the other books on this list. I get the feeling that there will be a lot of POVs and storylines to keep track of, which isn’t always my favourite thing.
Sensible, practical Elinor Tregarth really did plan to be the model poor relation when she moved into Hathergill Hall. She certainly never meant to kidnap her awful cousin Penelope’s pet dragon. She never expected to fall in love with the shameless – but surprisingly sweet – fortune hunter who came to court Penelope. And she never dreamed that she would have to enter into an outrageous magical charade to save her younger sisters’ futures.
However, even the most brilliant scholars of 1817 England still haven’t ferreted out all the lurking secrets of rediscovered dragonkind…and even the most sensible of heroines can still make a reckless wish or two when she’s pushed. Now Elinor will have to find out just how rash and resourceful she can be when she sets aside all common sense. Maybe, just maybe, she’ll even be impractical enough to win her own true love and a happily ever after…with the unpredictable and dangerous “help” of the magical creature who has adopted her.
A frothy Regency rom-com full of pet dragons and magical misadventures, Scales and Sensibility is a full-length novel and the first in a new series of standalone romantic comedies.
I put Scales and Sensibility in the middle of this list because I have a feeling I am either going to really love this or it absolutely won’t work for me. It is no secret that I tend to love Jane Austen retellings and will never say no to a book about dragons, but I don’t know if I will love Elinor as a character. I also haven’t read a lot of Regency romance, so that will be interesting. Dragons, though!!
A Mind Imprisoned Is The Greatest Of Hells.
1853. South China Sea. While on patrol between the Opium Wars, the crew of the steam frigate HMS Charger pursues a fleet of pirates that have been terrorizing the waters surrounding Hong Kong.
But now the hunters have become the hunted. Something else has come to the South China Sea, something ancient and powerful and malevolent. Now, the crew of the Charger must face their worst nightmares in order to survive the terrible creature they come to know as the Darkstar.
A Song For The Void is a haunting, terrifying historical horror novel that will keep you turning the pages and jumping at the shadows.
A Song for the Void is cosmic horror (and I am still not sure I quite understand what that means!), so it stands out from the rest of the list. I think there is an interesting conversation to be had about whether cosmic horror is fantasy, but I don’t know enough about the genre to contribute to that discussion. I guess we will see when I read this! I do enjoy horror and super atmospheric reads, so I think this will probably work for me. I just think the rest of the books on the list are calling to me more!
When the saints fail, the sinners step up.
Cruel gods rule the steam-powered city of Chime, demanding worship and tribute from their mortal subjects. Kayl lost her faith in them long ago, and now seeks to protect vulnerable and downtrodden mortals from their gods’ whims. But when Kayl discovers powers that she didn’t know she had—and destroys a mortal’s soul by accident—she becomes Chime’s most wanted.
Quen’s job was to pursue sinners, until the visions started. Haunted by foreboding images of his beloved city’s destruction, Quen hunts soul-sucking creatures made of aether who prey on its citizens—and Kayl is his number one target.
To ensure Chime’s future, Kayl and Quen must discover the truth of Kayl’s divine abilities before the gods take matters into their own hands.
For a city that bows to cruel gods, it’ll take godless heathens to save it.
The Thirteenth Hour is the first book in The Cruel Gods series—a gaslamp fantasy featuring magical portals, gothic cosmic deities, quaint Britishisms, and steampunk vibes. This is an adult book containing strong language and mature themes that some readers may find disturbing. For a full list of content warnings, visit Trudie Skies’s website.
Something that I discovered about myself this year is that I do enjoy historical fantasy, so The Thirteenth Hour appeals to me! I have a feeling that the world-building is to stand out for me. I also love the themes of mortals vs. Gods, so there is a lot about this summary that jumps out at me.
A little bit of sin is good for the soul.
Gadriel, the fallen angel of petty temptations, has a bit of a gambling debt. Fortunately, her angelic bookie is happy to let her pay off her debts by doing what she does best: All Gadriel has to do is tempt miserably sinless mortal Holly Harker to do a few nice things for herself.
What should be a cakewalk of a job soon runs into several roadblocks, however, as Miss Harker politely refuses every attempt at temptation from Gadriel the woman, Gadriel the man, and Gadriel the adorable fluffy kitten. When even chocolate fails to move Gadriel’s target, the ex-guardian angel begins to suspect she’s been conned. But Gadriel still remembers her previous job… and where petty temptations fail, small miracles might yet prevail.
Olivia Atwater explores love, grief, and the very last bit of chocolate in this sweet modern fantasy, full of wit and heart. Pick up Small Miracles, and enjoy a heavenly faerie tale from the author of Half a Soul.
Small Miracles sounds quirky and fun, and Olivia Atwater is an author who has been getting a lot of attention this year. Half a Soul has been recommended to me many times, so I think it is a safe bet that her books are going to work for me. I also love the idea of bad angels and the tagline definitely intrigues me!
The dead shall not be mourned or remembered, for death is the enemy and will only drive the Seraph away.
How far would you go to resurrect someone you love?
Would you change who you are to show you belong?
The world of Avarin is tearing itself apart. The Domain worships life, its leaders lead eternal lives and death is a shame that must not be mourned. But, for the clans to the south, death is all that keeps the Earth alive.
Adrian is a prince of one of the Domain nations. Church teaching says his grief is forbidden, but he will stop at nothing to return his loved ones to worthiness. Even if it means sacrificing his own.
Lynn is a rogue elite warrior hiding from her past. But now, an old enemy is rising, and running is no longer an option.
Nasha is a gifted hunter hiding a terrible secret. A lifelong outcast, she desperately fights for belonging in the Ronar, a proud southern clan. Yet a changing world threatens more than just her status in the community.
But now a terrifying foe creeps nearer, and the people of Avarin must fight to save it.
Before death comes for them all.
A sweeping epic fantasy saga where religion and politics are one, magic brings terror into the hearts of men, and a looming blight threatens to tear everything down.
I would be lying if I said that Cassidy’s love for A Touch of Light didn’t influence its place on my list! She has me so hyped for it and I already purchased a copy that will be here soon. Also, the fact that there are apparently griffins in this story is a bonus.
Miss Mildred Percy inherits a dragon.
Ah, but we’ve already got ahead of ourselves…
Miss Mildred Percy is a spinster. She does not dance, she has long stopped dreaming, and she certainly does not have adventures. That is, until her great uncle has the audacity to leave her an inheritance, one that includes a dragon’s egg.
The egg – as eggs are wont to do – decides to hatch, and Miss Mildred Percy is suddenly thrust out of the role of “spinster and general wallflower” and into the unprecedented position of “spinster and keeper of dragons.”
But England has not seen a dragon since… well, ever. And now Mildred must contend with raising a dragon (that should not exist), kindling a romance (with a humble vicar), and embarking on an adventure she never thought could be hers for the taking.
As soon as I saw this list of finalists, I knew that Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care & Feeding of British Dragons would top my prediction list! I love a quirky main character and Miss Mildred Percy seems to be that way. Also, there is a dragon egg, so I am bound to love this! I am hoping that it ends up being everything that I had hoped the Memoirs of Lady Trent would be.
Which one of the finalists appeals to you the most? I would love to know!