The first round of the Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off has been an interesting experience, and given me new-found appreciation for the job of an editor or agent. It really is a job and, as such, you go into it with a completely different approach than you might as a reader (or even as a reviewer). It's a volume business, with deadlines attached, and you're far more cognizant of the technical aspects because you're reading for a wider audience than just yourself.
Before I announce my First Round Champion, please allow me a moment to say a few words about my four finalists:
- Sand of Bone by Blair MacGregor: The characters here were exceptionally strong and well-developed. The world building was a bit weak for me, but the social aspect of politics and family was well done. This was a violent, sometimes brutal read, but never without consequences.
- Shattered Sands by William G Saraband: This distinguished itself from the first page. The characters were fantastic, full of both personality and surprises, and the world-building was solid, especially in terms of establishing a culture. If there’s any drawback, it’s that the story is so ugly and cruel that it makes for rather heavy reading at times.
- Stormwalkers by K. Eric Mauser & Kevin Butterfield: This was a solid, thoroughly enjoyable read. It had an epic fantasy sense of scope, significant hints at greater world-building, and some very nice character development. Where the book floundered a bit for me was in its pacing, which is hard to ignore after such a stellar, raucous opening.
- Dragon Fate by JD Hallowell: An all-round solid read, this was paced well, with great characters, an intriguing world, and a plot that flowed naturally from the opening scenes. If I were to have any complaints, it's that the dialogue felt a bit stilted and awkward at times, and that the actual plot development is more subtle than significant.
Selecting just one of these titles to be my Champion was tough. I put on that editor/agent hat, looked at each title from a commercial perspective, and tried to gauge which has the greatest success of embracing the widest possible audience.
That narrowed it down from two titles, from which I just had to go with my gut and trust my first impressions.
So, without further ado, my First Round Champion is . . .