Our next double review for SPFBO7 was an extremely popular epic fantasy novel titled Of Blood And Fire. This book has an Amazon score of 4.6 from nearly 200 ratings (but many of them seemed like non-specific, paid-for reviews).
So does Of Blood And Fire deserve that rating? Read on to find out!
Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off
SPFBO is a huge competition between three hundred indie fantasy books. Each of these books is assigned to one of ten fantasy book review blogs.
Unfortunately, TheShortStoryTeller is not one of the official review blogs. Regardless, we still wanted to provide these authors with some additional visibility (and accountability) with our detailed book reviews.
Just a quick reminder of the new SPFBO7 review format: In order to give each of them a more balanced review. I have recruited a friend, an avid reader who is new to the fantasy genre, and we are both offering responses to the books we read together! We aim to read at least 10% of each book to get a fair impression in four categories:
Background & Exposition (Check out our fantasy reading philosophy here.)
While I am approaching each book from the perspective of an author, and someone who can compare each book to a lifetime of fantasy reading, Nadine has a more fresh and forgiving perspective.
We hope that this will make these books appear more appealing to the average reader, who probably has a fantasy reading experience somewhere between us both.
However, we should confess that we both believe that Stranger Back Home is one of the top contenders in this contest. We highly encourage everyone to check that book out, if for no other reason than to see what these other books are competing against.
Background & Exposition
Fantasy fiction is unique for how it creates new, imaginative backgrounds, and truly great fantasy authors know how to deliver that background to readers.
From the book:
“The Order had fallen; Ilnaen, Dracaldryr, and Ölmur were nothing but rubble. Fane laid waste to elven and giant cities across the length and breadth of Epheria. Though, he dared not attack the elves in Eselthyr or Caelduin. He knew the forest of Lynalion was laced with wards and traps…”
ELHaines: The world-building seems extravagant. I say that, because the second chapter of this book is one long info-dump masquerading as a public storytelling performance (for a better example of public storytelling, I have this book to recommend to you).
An. Entire. Chapter. Of. History. Dump. And what’s worse, in the scene, the audience treats this performance like the 2016 World Series. “Erupting in applause,” I think the author wrote. For a history lesson.
NadineR: The author really introduced a lot in a short period of time. I’m not the type of reader who can get invested in a book if the author is just introducing way too many people, places, and characters at once. I don’t know why I should care about any one of them when you’ve told me about all of them at once.
ELH: Well, the main character is a boy, getting bullied by his peers, and getting rescued by his pet dire wolf (although the dire wolf is renamed a wolfpine, which is weird. That sounds like a tree hybrid). That struck me as somewhat derivative of Game of Thrones.
The side characters are sometimes introduced with these odd, really short conversational encounters. For example, Calen meets his sister in a bar, she asks him two questions and then hands him off to his (apparent) romantic interest, who just giggles a few times before Calen has to leave with his inebriated friend.
What just happened? Also, Calen’s family members apparently refer to him by relationship, not by name.
And family members tend to show up at random times for all of the characters, it seems.
There are also a lot of characters introduced in a few short pages. Calen meets just about everyone in town in just two chapters. So many that it’s hard for readers like me to keep track of the important names.
NR: There were a lot of characters. I didn’t read far enough to learn if any of them were given any real development or not, because we were given quantity, not quality.
ELH: By the 10% mark, we’ve discovered a stag with an unusual wound, and some bullies. Both of these elements are interesting enough that I would normally want to continue. But those elements are suppressed by the excessive exposition.
There is also this upcoming ‘Proving’ event that Calen is worried about. I wish we knew what that was about. That would have been some helpful exposition, right there.
NR: I don’t think that I can really give a fair input on the plot based upon the small percentage that I finished.
ELH: I’m a big fan of the Immerse Or Die reading standard. Jefferson Smith has detailed some important immersion-breaking mistakes that authors are prone to. One of those mistakes is called ‘Proper Noun Poisoning.’
The exposition in the first four chapters of this book is absolutely packed with proper nouns, spelt in strange languages with foreign-looking letters and accents. I estimate that by the 10% mark, I was supposed to be keeping track of at least 50 new names, whether places, characters, or historic events.
Should I have been taking notes? It doesn’t help that Calen’s dad, Vars, fought in the Varsung War. So confusing.
NR: I thought the writing style was okay in the first few chapters. If I hadn’t gotten bogged down by all the characters, places, and other exposition, then I probably could have continued reading.
Conclusion: Weak Contender
We’re rating Of Blood And Fire as a Weak Contender. But, you should understand that neither of us is the kind of fantasy reader who loves this excessive kind of world-building.
And we understand that many other fantasy readers really enjoy learning about hundreds of fictitious characters, kingdoms, and historic events in dense info dumps. If you’re that kind of reader, you should pick up this book. And maybe a notebook, to take notes.
I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the judges love this kind of writing, nor surprised if this book advances to the semi-finals despite the expository problems that it demonstrates. But we maintain that exposition can be done better, in smaller bites, scattered throughout the first 75% of the book.
And of course, check out our own contender, Stranger Back Home!