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Monday, December 4, 2017

SPFBO Semifinalists: Where The Waters Turn Black, Night Of The Chalk, The General's Legacy: Inheritance (Mini-reviews by Mihir Wanchoo)


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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Where The Waters Turn Black by Benedict Patrick has many things going for it. It’s the winner of the best cover in the 2017 SPFBO competition as well as it’s a very unusual cross between Moana & the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. This book while being a standalone is set in the Yarnsworld setting.

I loved Benedict Patrick’s debut They Mostly Come At Night and so I was even more excited when WTWTB was in my lot. The story focusses on Pukotala and the neighboring Atoll islands as it is a veritable paradise with sandy beaches, coconut trees, tropical atmosphere and a laid back people who support themselves by fishing and other coastal activities. In this setting we meet our main character Kaimana who is incredibly talented in music or as the islanders say she has a “Knack” for music. She has spent the last three years traveling with a musical troupe across the islands and has returned to her home in Pukotala to convince her parents that this is the life she wants. Unlike leading a much simpler existence being wed to someone and living as a fisherwoman or the spouse to one.

The first line of this book is “There’s a monster in the village” and it’s from that exciting beginning we find out more about taniwhas or the term that describes the monsters (of various sizes, shapes & temperaments) across the crescent atoll islands. Kaimana tells the toddler who tells her such that there’s no taniwha haunting their village but goes to investigate nonetheless. It’s from this moment onwards that the plot really tightens up and we get to see if there really is a taniwha and the author very smartly alternates every chapter with a retelling of a legend/myth which is local to these islands. Thus the story goes forward and thematically backward as well.

Benedict Patrick is a good writer but the Yarnsworld is truly something exciting as each book has focused on a different part of the world and this story is no different. He builds up an incredible world with the flora and fauna, the sights and sounds, and the legends and the gods as we are completely submersed into a tropical setting. This experience was something that he has done admirable across all three of his Yarnsworld books (having read all three I can attest to this). This story mixes humans, gods, monsters and a whole bunch of legends, I loved this aspect of the story and there’s a couple of gods featured as side characters who might become fan favorites based on their interactions with the main characters.

Overall I would say this book can be read as a standalone but of course if you read it after They Mostly Come Out At Night, you might even see someone from that book make a cameo. Where The Waters Turn Black is a special book in a special series and you definitely need to read this magical story to inject some magic into the mundane everyday life.


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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Night Of The Chalk is another intriguing title that comes with an eye-catching cover. Samuel Gately’s debut introduces us to a world wherein spycraft, dragons, and magic come together in a dangerous pattern. Set in the city of Delhonne and over the period of five nights, the author presents a story that is very much a thriller with strong shades of spy stories mixed in with some good ol’ fantasy leanings.

The story begins with one of our protagonists Cal finds himself on the run from a card game as he finds himself betrayed by his debtors. Things however don’t quite work out the way as planned for his pursuers and Cal is left bloodied but intact. He soon runs into his old friend Aaron Lone who informs him of the upcoming war that will be breaking out soon. Reunited with his friend Aaron after quite a many years, Cal finds himself thrown into a struggle that will need his contacts and Aaron’s skills to master and survive.

This story is a nice action packed story that is set within the city of Delhonne and spaced over the entirety of five nights. What I enjoyed most was that the author really strived to inject some street level smarts and back alley spy battles into the story. While this story also has dragons, they aren’t necessarily the fire breathing monstrosities made famous in Game Of Thrones. Sure they are on the larger side and can potentially exhale fire but they are demonstrated more from a military and policing perspective. The main story is how Aaron & Cal combine their smarts, knowledge and skills to face down an enemy who clearly is stronger and more devious than anyone thinks.

The action sometimes takes a backseat to shadowing and schemes that are crucial to the plot. The author also cleverly uses the city and this environmental factor adds to the claustrophobic conditions of the plot and things are brought to the fore by the various factions fighting on the sly. The blurb mentions an aspect of James Bond’s spy stories and while this isn’t entirely untrue, there’s enough nods and throwbacks to that genre. The plot pace also slowly builds up and then ends on a strong note as the climax unspooled.

Overall this was a story that I enjoyed very much and even brought the sequels when they were released. I want to read more of the intriguing world that Samuel Gately has created and he has marked himself out as a writer to watch out for. Night Of The Chalk is definitely a debut that I would recommend for those looking for something different than the usual cup of action fantasy tales.




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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Adrian G. Hilder’s debut The General’s Legacy: Inheritance was a fantasy story that stays true to several beloved fantasy tropes and this was a story that does several things in a solid manner.

The story opens up in midst of an epic battle with soldiers, magic and monsters, we get several viewpoints in to this fight and get to meet several prominent characters such as General Garon, Zeivite the mage and the indomitable warrior Quain. Soon after the events of the battle in the prologue, the real story opens up nearly fifteen years later. We get to meet the grandchildren of general Garon and see how crucial the events of the battle were. The plot soon picks up as we are given may POV characters to follow but the main protagonist prince Cory is the one to watch out for.

Like I had mentioned in my short blurb that The General’s Legacy: Inheritance doesn’t do anything extraordinary. What it does quite well is that it focuses on the known tropes in epic fantasy:

1) Fantastical world settings

2) Heroic characters

3) Lots of action, snappy dialogue and rapid pace

This serves the story quite well as the reader will be taken on for quite a thrilling story as they witness Prince Cory doing his best to live up to his grandfather’s legacy and save the kingdom of Valendo from certain ruin. The action is often intense but never gritty, we know that the characters will be making out horrid scenarios with most of their wits and limbs intact. This aspect of the book might not appeal to jaded readers of the fantasy genre but to a younger audience or to readers who keep an open mind will definitely find something to enjoy with this book. The story also ends on a cliffhanger of sorts as I believe the author had to chop of the book into two parts because of its burgeoning length. This aspect is good to keep in mind as the climax isn’t artificially planned but done to better separate the two parts.

Overall this story was very much in line with the earlier books of Terry Brooks, Raymond Feist and to a certain extent by John Gwynne. Focusing on epic action, heroic characters, and an “easy to follow” magic system, Adrian G. Hilder crafts a terrific fantasy story that will have its fans and some detractors as well. I liked what I read and thought his efforts deserved a semifinal spot for its earnestness. The General’s Legacy: Inheritance is a story that will not surprise in terms of its scope but think of it as an excellent brew that you know hits the right spot always.

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