Thoughtful Thursday: Our SPFBO winner!

We have finally chosen our winner for Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO), in which 300 self-published fantasy authors contributed their work to be reviewed by 10 fantasy review blogs. This last round was really tough, containing some of the best of the 30 books we were given. In fact, we had planned to have our winner declared last week, but we needed a little more time for comparison.

In the end, we chose the book that has been at the top of our list since our first round — The Shadow Soul by Kaitlyn Davis — but it just barely edged out three of the books in our last round! We liked The Shadow Soul for its engaging story, smooth pacing, complexity of character, and overall sense of ambition. It definitely has some “issues” that we’ll bring out in our review (which Tadiana is preparing), and the fact that it’s a young adult novel may make it slightly less appealing to other bloggers in the final SPFBO round. Still, we enjoyed it most out of the 30 books we read and are happy to send it up to the final round. We wish it well!


Now we’d like to mention six runner-ups because we think they’re worth a read and want to bring them to your attention:

Windcatcher by A.J. Norfield — This story is a bit derivative and the writing style is only average, but it flows well, has an interesting story and point of view, and does a good job with action scenes and suspense. Kat declared the story dull due to the lackluster writing style, but Bill saw past this and thought Windcatcher was the closest competitor to The Shadow Soul.

Five Bloody Heads by Peter Fugazzotto — This one was too violent for a couple of us, but Bill read the whole book and thought it had good complexly-drawn characters and a nice momentum. However, it falls into plot patterns too often and the language gets repetitive. Five Bloody Heads needs some work but has a lot of potential.

Twiceborn by Marina Finlayson — This one has an engaging voice and is immediately interesting. Craft-wise it is one of the better books, but characters seemed kind of oblivious and, most importantly, Twiceborn didn’t feel different enough from the glut of similar urban fantasy stories on the market.

The Journeyman by Michael Alan Peck — For the first third of this book, we were sure it was going to unseat The Shadow Soul. The story is interesting and imaginative with some nice quirky elements and great characters. Later, though, it loses focus, becoming disjointed, more derivative and predictable, and relies too much on random surreal elements rather than plot development and storytelling. We were disappointed because The Journeyman started off so well.

Salvation’s Dawn by Joe Jackson — Jackson is one of the better authors in terms of sentence crafting and world building skills, but Salvation’s Dawn, unfortunately, lacks a sense of discretion in pace and plotting. If Jackson would focus on what needs to be said and what doesn’t, and do a better job with backstory and flashbacks, this could be a great read because the characters and world are interesting. Bill suggests a good writers group to get this novel perfected.

Bone Dry by Cady Vance — Bone Dry has some clumsy exposition and plot holes, but with likeable heroes and an engaging story, it’s a decent YA paranormal romance that will be appealing for the right audience. Unfortunately, that audience is not us.

So, congratulations to all of these books and especially The Shadow Soul, which moves on to the SPFBO final round. We look forward to reading the nine books that the other bloggers have chosen.

Readers, what are your thoughts about self-publishing and/or the SPFBO contest? One commenter chooses a book from our stacks.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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5 comments

  1. I’m very much a fan of self publishing.I actually have read and enjoyed many self published works, some that stayed that way and several that went on to be published by one of the traditional houses.

    I love that some authors are doing both – self publishing those books/novellas/short stories that might not be a huge moneymaker for the big houses but that their fans wholeheartedly enjoy.

    I am also friends with several authors who have self published and know that there are many pitfalls and issues they have to deal with that traditionally published authors don’t. For example, many websites host paid advertisements but turn away authors who’s books haven’t garnered a set number of reviews on places like Amazon, or require the authors to advertise a much lower price than they regularly sell for. Or review websites that require a set number of Amazon reviews before they’ll review the book.

    Don’t even get me started on cover artwork, beta readers and editing. I’m not even an author and these things make me a bit crazy.

  2. My view of the self-published: They are the best of books; they are the worst of books. Or, something analogous to Prince-finding requiring a lot of frog-kissing. But that hasn’t stopped me yet. I agree with what April said about the pitfalls, and admire the persistence of the writers. On balance this contest seems a good idea to me.

  3. The biggest benefit of a publisher for readers is that readers can trust the book has been pre-selected for quality. It’s basically impossible to sift through self-published books and find the ones worth reading. SPFBO is a godsend in that respect. Thank all of you for doing the hard work so we can read more good books.

    I’ve already read The Path of Flames and Senlin Ascends (which was AMAZING) thanks to Pornokitsch and this contest, and I never would have found them in a million years otherwise.

    • I completely agree, Ben, about the impossibility of sifting through.

      Great to know about the Pornokitsch books! I look forward to reading them.

  4. April you win a book of your choice from our stacks.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

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