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.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research 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.