Dave Dobson

Author

SPFBOX Haiku Project

To celebrate the tenth running of the SPFBO, in which my own The Glorious and Epic Tale of Lady Isovar is entered, I’ve decided to try to read the first bits of each of the 300 entries and celebrate them in a silly way. Using the samples provided by Amazon (or any reasonable substitute I can find) I’m going to pick (based solely on my stupid opinions) the best name and the best word I find in the first chapter, and I will compose a dreadful, inexpert haiku about what I read. I’ll update this page with these entries as I go, putting the new entries at the top.

I randomized the order of the books, and I’ll be following that order to #300 or as long as my stamina holds out. There is no guarantee I will finish this work, because I am fickle and shifty.

#190: Smoker on the Porch

by Dom Watson

Best Name: William Biggot

Best Word: House of Sweet Things

Sudden death haunts town.

Kids know the answer: Sweet House.

Barely there, but foul.


#189: Tabby Swain

by Sithia Queen

Best Name: Tabby

Best Word: gibbous

Animal-tinged kids

talk love, have class, try to pass.

Strange normalcy here.


#188: Jem, a Girl of London

by Delaney Green

Best Name: Siobhan Calloway

Best Word: Lamesley

Brit girl sees spirits.

Mine tragedy, vividly

described. Sorrow reigns.


#187: A Contract in Sol Forne

by √Član March√© & Christopher Warman

Best Name: Hovardom

Best Word: djinn, neighborliness

Thought zygote? OK.

Vaelin visits crappy town

Elven relics wait


#186: Seeds of the Fallen

by Miriam Yvette

Best Name: Skiar

Best Word: celestial

Snowy wagon ride

Coarse philosophy ensues

Sharing gets them dumped


#185: The Fate of

by J.E. Lynn

Best Name: Lucere

Best Word: millefoile

Plague ward meet cute? Sure!

Church medics face dire disease.

Conspiracy? Cool!


#184: Princess of the Broken

by Jasmine K Swinburne

Best Name: Elisaria

Best Word: Fee (rainbow bird)

Fertility crone

gives baby, asks a high price

New Rapunzel tale


#183: A Rose Among Thorns

by Ash Fitzsimmons

Best Name: Yven ti’Ansha

Best Word: kraken

Rose Thorn’s a great name

Nursery (plants, not babies)

Home of mysteries


#182: A Vermilion Curse

by DC Guevara

Best Name: Chthassyl

Best Word: priority

Town falls; demon steals

Seeking books and dark knowledge

Finds wanted woman


#181: The Thief’s Keeper

by Kyrie Wang

Best Name: Mablethorpe, Aliwyn

Best Word: Barton-Upon-Humber

Musician thrall flees

Sheep and girl provide cover

She’s a mystery


#180: Rites of Passage

by M. D. Presley

Best Name: Raziel

Best Word: Midianites

Man flees cult, old life

FBI knows him. What’s up?

Shootout, chaos, bounce.


#179: The Awakening

by Mitchell Hill

Best Name: Broax

Best Word: simpletons

Girl visits, has tales

Town under seige, man chooses

baby over death


#178: Dawn of the Black Sun

by Timo Burnham

Best Name: Engi

Best Word: Barrenlanders

Exile withers, drained

Fights, wins, seizes magic sword.

Feels like kung-fu flick


#177: The Door to Trilesk

by Shannon Holly

Best Name: Miswala

Best Word: cellos

Kate risks visit to

enchanted house, fearing sale

Where has the aunt gone?


#176: Wolf of Withervale

by Joaquín Baldwin

Best Name: Lorr Tuam

Best Word: thwump

Whoa! Great maps. Fox flees.

Boy brawls. Quirky teacher helps.

Walkabout ensues.


#175: They Left Magic in Their Wake

by Marilyn Peake

Best Name: Zander

Best Word: ablutions

Tragic wasteland birth

Sterile harsh future – two friends

may yet survive it


#174: Smile and be a Villain

by Yves Donlon

Best Name: Melancthanon

Best Word: Collegienstraße

Such fun! Hamlet gets

real-world home. Vivid history,

Bard’s drama. Bravo!


#173: Tomb of Heart and Shadow

by Cara N. Delaney

Best Name: Yanren

Best Word: coldfire

Clock flies past lady

studying what, I wonder?

Genteel mages chat.


#172: The Saga of Bjorn Unfrid

by John L. Simons Jr.

Best Name: Jarlandi

Best Word: Ojibwe

Nordic Canada?

Cool alt-history. Bjorn battles

college, not draugr.


#171: The Wind Walker

by Simon Shugar

Best Name: Turbuskan

Best Word: aether

Bacchus meets Chandler

(not Bing). Cap’n thinks, could this BE

any more shady?


#170: Tears of an Indifferent God

by Isom Ashe

Best Name: Gordoneus

Best Word: Proedroi

Damedes, cynic,

helps mediocre hero

Oh crap! Beasts attack!


#169: The Autumn Apprentice

by Alexandra Runes

Best Name: Rigobert (but every name is cool – strong medieval Europe feel)

Best Word: Wodish

Girl struggles post curse

Disability makes her

intriguing MC


#168: Of Shadows and Death

by Sharlene Healy

Best Name: Rapunzel

Best Word: hair

Rapunzel’s sad plight

but it’s vampires, not princes

who want to embrace


#167: Blood Lust

by Devin Thorpe

Best Name: Sephora

Best Word: eggrew

A sylvan dream fades

Zealots have lycan captive

Monsters hold monsters


#166: The Lost Noble

by R. Litfin

Best Name: Adella Everheart

Best Word: jacquard

Rage mage tortures man

He has jealousy issues

Now girl does school prep


#165: Rise of the Forgehearts

by Emily Huffman

Best Name: R-0

Best Word: technomancers

Mechanical guard

has free will dawn. Is starfall

kind of ransomware?


#164: Strangers in Our Heads

by Bri Eberhart

Best Name: Gemma

Best Word: thrums

Foster kid empath

Typical teen, but magic

Fight triggers blast! Oooh.


#163: Wings so Soft

by Dani Finn

Best Name: Uffrin

Best Word: automatons

Clockwork owls? Baller!

Engineer lost in work, love

Beware human threat


#162: Secrets of the Sorcerers

by Joan Marie Verba

Best Name: High Sorceror Thorne

Best Word: unguents

Human roast? Escape.

Beaucoup hazing; this school sucks

but she beats meanies.


#161: The Torn Veil

by Timothy J R Rains

Best Name: Castle Klomm

Best Word: ravenous

A plea deal offered

Tense battlefield; death looms large

Broke king taunts foe knight


#160: A Song to Wake a Thousand Sorrows

by Michelle Manus

Best Name: Clare Brighton

Best Word: Faelhorn

Tortured swamp husk roams

Foulness defeated, she lives

Will it re-emerge?


#159: Tall & Dark

by Suzannah Rowntree

Best Name: Fraulein Gwendoline Chant

Best Word: Backpfeifengesicht!

Huckster governess

holds fake séance; gets real ghost

Yeah, that’s the spirit!


#158: Thornbane the Lost

by Paul Sating

Best Name: Fa Tonn Ul

Best Word: corpsmaster

Ash Sisters throw curse

Young widow gets gross black hand

How screwed is she now?


#157: Evil’s Unlikely Assassin

by Jenn Windrow

Best Name: Alexis Black

Best Word: grease-coated

She’s a vampire who

takes out other draculae

The stakes are quite high


#156: The Shepherds of the Sunstone

by Nicolin Odel

Best Name: Saudett

Best Word: Skrull’s ass, tyt√§rellini

Bad dream all too real

Throuple next? Lady guard preps.

Street fight yields problems


#155: Visions of Snapdragon

by Jana Sun

Best Name: Puddin (a cat)

Best Word: blossom

Drunken scrying calls

Visitors come, Green and Black

Friends or enemies?


#154: Born of Scourge

by S. Jean

Best Name: Celena of Norian

Best Word: She, Born of Starlight

Star fall prophecy

The world shrouded in darkness

Wrong girl caught it – oops!


#153: The Vermilion Ribbon

by Hayley Price

Best Name: Corelle

Best Word: mundanities

Sapphic love nightmares

Dressmaker rails at sexists

Her dream love appears?


#152: A Circle of Stars

by Craig Montgomery

Best Name: Casper Bell

Best Word: quivering

Abusive father,

homophobes at home. Money

cannot fill that hole.


#151: Imago: A Dystopian Gothic

by M Zakharuk

Best Name: Ada CńÉlinescu

Best Word: anaemic, spasmodically, ululation

Creepy train boxes

Scrabbling tortured souls, and then

Ada’s loveless sex


#150: The Lost Redeemer

by David Musk

Best Name: Lyraina Trelian

Best Word: Ethermancy

Woman seeks banned book

Odd stranger, then to tavern

Templars ride ill wind


#149: Landbringer

by Karen Lucia

Best Name: Devton, God of the Deviants and Vagabonds

Best Word: tarry lungs

Dirigible heist

above toxic steampunk world

Kinda loving this


#148: Death and the Taxman

by David Hankins

Best Name: Frank Totmann

Best Word: corporeal

Death finds auditor

Roles swapped like Freaky Friday

But so much weirder


#147: The Hybrid

by E.K. Frances

Best Name: Sebastian Parker

Best Word: guttural

Troubled teen takes test

Dad says Necro or nothing

Awful parenting


#146: Gabriel’s Journey

by Thomas J. Prestopnik

Best Name: Livingston

Best Word: billowing

Violent storm strikes

Beasts emerge – I think they’re cats

’cause the cast’s all mice


#145: Dango

by Jack Long

Best Name: The Ting Ting

Best Word: bull yeti

Hunter watches fight

Witch has penis necklace? Huh.

Will he be unchained?


#144: The Grand Game

by Tom Elliot

Best Name: Stayne

Best Word: Adjudicator

7K reviews!

Mike falls through void, enters game

Dungeon crawl awaits


#143: Red Flags

by Michael Procopio

Best Name: Mateo √Ālvarez-Moreno

Best Word: decapitate

Demon hunter Fed

Joins reality TV

Kill hellspawn, find love


#142: Dreams of a Dragon Girl

by Bonnie Jacoby

Best Name: Zanthor

Best Word: plague-riddled

Awkward teen called up

Must teach. Why is it so hot?

Psychic dragon swims.


#141: Glory to the Waxing Sun

by Cooper Ward

Best Name: Granya

Best Word: houndsman

Creepy opening –

Soul bottle, ghostly houndsman

Neat. No clue what’s up.


#140: Tea and Empathy

by Shanna Swendson

Best Name: Elwyn Howell

Best Word: spindly

Lady seeks death spot

Fascinating character

Magic trap house? Stuck.


#140: Tea and Empathy

by Shanna Swendson

Best Name: Elwyn Howell

Best Word: spindly

Lady seeks death spot

Fascinating character

Magic trap house? Stuck.


#139: The Young Necromancer’s Guide to Ghosts

by Vanessa Ricci-Thode

Best Name: Lusi

Best Word: Uncle

Necrokid’s life’s tough.

Ghosts are everywhere she looks

YA vibes galore


#138: Dread Child

by J. L. Doty

Best Name: Claudius ahm Modain

Best Word: dreadmark (this is a very cool concept)

20K dead? Yikes.

Who counts them? Why in stacks? Hmm.

Regret makes dark path.


#137: Silverskin

by Caitee Cooper

Best Name: Kukahi

Best Word: sea-brine

Evil halts; man dies

Ellie’s Alaskan return!

Fam’s fun, but Bad waits.


#136: Thorns

by Walt S. Williams

Best Name: Finn Silvers

Best Word: bumpkin

Man arrives on train

Demon resides in skull? Whoa.

Customs not impressed


#135: Wolves Running

by Deborah Jarvis

Best Name: Sasha Wellington

Best Word: feral

Shifters live hidden

Chatty start, then friend turns wolf

Things getting hairy


#134: Hear My Call

by Yvette Bostic

Best Name: Slim

Best Word: old-as-dirt

Werewolf mechanic

can’t fix life’s wreckage. Magic

parents leave problems.


#133: Cursed King

by Danielle Paquette-Harvey

Best Name: Euronymos

Best Word: prey

Blood and kisses? Eww.

Old vampire, young girl. Age gap!

May/Dec? More May/Dead.


#132: The Children of Never

by Christian Warren Freed

Best Name: Grey Wanderer

Best Word: whistling

Spectral dude raids graves

Zombies: cheaper than peasants,

And they complain less


#131: Dragon Princess

by Jason P. Crawford

Best Name: Aetheria

Best Word: odious

Blind princess bristles

Wants role to have more meaning

Blade lessons beckon


#130: A Night of the Burntmen

by Emmanuel Akeyo

Best Name: Meka

Best Word: rokba

Soldier rides wolf beast

awaits another man, late

Something wicked comes


#129: Checkmate

by K.D. Tabith

Best Name: Evland Childes

Best Word: Cessecounthe

Chess-like games collide

Tourney feeds press, politics

Prompt sex scene sets tone


#128: Lizardskin and Sharpened Steel

by Damien Larkin

Best Name: Dead Mudders

Best Word: barrel-horn

It’s got dinosaurs!

Continent’s an enigma

Mother’s oppressive


#127: The Black Crown

by John A. Douglas

Best Name: Seranna Queen of Namaria

Best Word: ramshackle

Why’s the guy so green?

Oh, he’s an orc. They lost, bad.

Elves are kinda dicks.


#126: The House of Starling

by Ciara Hartford

Best Name: Bleck Larin

Best Word: honeyed

Insides melting? Eww.

Baby elf has destiny

Rae hunts everything


#125: Stakes and Bones

by Julia Vee

Best Name: Laila the Enchantress

Best Word: akkoro

Would-be Slayer deals

to get her jacket warded

Which witch’s witchraft works?


#124: Dimensional Traveler

by John Champaign

Best Name: Giordano

Best Word: pantomiming

Bitter student joins

deckbuilding LitRPG

Jumanji with cards


#123: Bone Traders

by Rachel Ford

Best Name: Nj√°l

Best Word: armoire

Failed apprentice mage

Seeks redemption with giant

Don’t torch your mentor


#122: Sailing to Redoubt

by C. Litka

Best Name: Island Crown

Best Word: spindrift

Vivid storm at sea

Nautical tale feels quite real

Author knows sailing


#121: Beyond the Burning Sea

by T.B. Schmid & R.Wade Hodges

Best Name: Mhorokai

Best Word: ketch

Perilous voyage

Nautical drama is neat

Lore comes at you fast


#120: The Eightfold Lairs of Xillenthia

by Melinda O’Donnell

Best Name: Sirrea

Best Word: megalith, nidhogg

Windswept tower holds

mysterious prisoner

Climbing lady helps


#119: Temper the Dark

by L Ryan Storms

Best Name: Alaris Kahlanik

Best Word: Throlani

Servant gets busted

Abused; crimes were to survive

Throlanis suck hard


#118: Crimson Spellscape

by Jina S. Bazzar

Best Name: Federal Arcane Bureau of Investigations

Best Word: cheese-laden

Past hurts for Innah

Her boss brings tidings of old

partner’s mysteries


#117: Merewif: the Mermaid Witch

by Amanda Adam

Best Name: Madge Farriter

Best Word: Pacific

Midnight swim calms Madge

Absent friends pose mystery

Merfolk not yet here


#116: A Bastard’s Birthright

by JE Payne

Best Name: Emrinthian Empire

Best Word: outmanouevering

Wearing other skin

Changeling dupes king, but not long

Should do more homework


#115: The Song of Thyssia

by S.J. Stiles

Best Name: Trejen

Best Word: cerulean

Husband barbecued

Past holds jealousy and rage

Queen dreads the future


#114: The Heir

by Claudia Klein

Best Name: Erlingue

Best Word: Arbinadian

Scout watches, antsy.

Desperate ride ends in puncture.

Needed faster horse.


#113: Isaree of the Wild Isles

by Noor Al-Shanti

Best Name: Chaarumathi

Best Word: lopsided

Haunted lad arrives

warning of bleak abductions

Isaree resists


#112: Trial of the Berserker

by Noel Traver

Best Name: Weihlaris

Best Word: Fursja

This guy is a bear.

Preparing by forging stuff.

Fight will be grizzly.


#111: The Highwayman Kennedy Thornwick

by Lisa Kuznak

Best Name: Muggy Sorleen

Best Word: half-cannibalized

Vulgar jailer spars

Magic prison holds questions

And foul-mouthed inmates


#110: Demon’s Vow

by R.W. Hert

Best Name: Amodinajai

Best Word: maviel

Ninja dude fights wolves

Rabies shot indicated

Teens come at bad time


#109: Fortitude’s Prize

by Ceril N Domace

Best Name: Vulturnus

Best Word: privateer

Flying islands? Score.

Complex gentleman remains

pitiful seaman.


#108: Stone & Sky

by Z.S. Diamanti

Best Name: Chartok Tundra

Best Word: mimicked

Axe in side equals

very bad day. But foes turn

paramedics. Cool.


#107: The Light Must Hold

by Kriss Gallom

Best Name: Lulit

Best Word: crimson

Monk has boils (bad case)

the kind that people speak of

In hushed tones after.


#106: My Boss is the Devil

by Ben Schenkman

Best Name: Declan

Best Word: haiku (!)

Homage to coffee

Homage to New Haven, too

Barista feels blah


#105: Way of the Wizard

by Michael Michel

Best Name: Seething Sea

Best Word: topknot

Stormlords are asshats

El’s life sucks so hard. Help, help!

He’s being repressed.


#104: The Stranger of Ul Darak

by S. C. Eston

Best Name: Shinanis

Best Word: Crusaders

Is grandad barmy

or about to reach his goal?

Foggy march will tell.


#103: Stone-Cold Alibi

by W. B. Biggs

Best Name: Detective Seraph

Best Word: crumpled marionette, swamp’s embrace – lots of great language here

Crime scene in NOLA

Wait, the victim’s Matt LeBlanc?

Someone killed Joey!


#102: Changeling

by Arista Holmes

Best Name: Arbaon

Best Word: nocturnal

Lizzy seeks mother

but Fey Court won’t allow it

Friend means not alone


#101: Iridesce

by Cordia Pearson

Best Name: Daharsha

Best Word: seraphim

That cover’s baller

Horse race for warrior trainees

Dad is wicked pissed


#100: Embargo on Hope

by Justin Doyle

Best Name: Windoon’s Star

Best Word: violenccccce

Orphans scrounge for food

Get that hope out of here now

Battle, heist, duel, death


#99: Fruits of the Gods

by William C. Tracy

Best Name: Aricaba-Ata

Best Word: grim fertilizer

Treasure lies buried

In baby’s grave. Slave master

shouldn’t get to know.


#98: The Cursed Soul

by K.C. Smith

Best Name: Floating Temple of Gorria

Best Word: dragon-flower

Ten years with no land?

Wicked long time aboard ship

Homesick pirate mourns


#97: Elemental

by Tam Chronin

Best Name: Lesser Stonegore

Best Word: tasiado

Child learns from master.

Elementals, like Nietzche,

want gods to be dead.


#96: By a Silver Thread

by Rachel Aaron

Best Name: Victor Conrath

Best Word: waterfall

Monster asylum?

Silver threads for magic folks

The poor girl suffers


#95: Copper Cold Steel

by Sori Aryl

Best Name: Winterstride

Best Word: justacorps

Lots of weird eye hues.

Transmasc MC? Not sure yet.

Outfences bullies!


#94: A Witch’s Guide to Business

by Alex Evans

Best Name: Onezimus

Best Word: velocipedes

Consultants offer

Supernatural advice

Vampire visitor


#93: Fogbound

by N.J. Alexander

Best Name: Zercien Volnaire, also Skjóturi

Best Word: Telurdia

Sneaky pair betrays

With WonderTwins lich handhake

Jump to restless class


#92: Counsel of the Wicked

by Elizabeth Schechter

Best Name: Balthazar

Best Word: spike-horned

Oaf ruins man’s deer hunt

But then hot MM romance

Matthias would leave


#91: Tower of Dogs

by H. H. Miller

Best Name: The Orphan

Best Word: Onyx

Buddies seek conquest

of a crumbling old ruin.

Their lives await change.


#90: A Strange Bunch

by Nikola Stefan

Best Name: Vidra

Best Word: zduhańá

Doula witch fights gosts

The Three come; shadow’s orphaned

Pair sprints to the flames


#89: The Serpent’s Quest

by Nerine Dorman & Toby Bennett

Best Name: Ib-Tuka

Best Word: convenient amnesia

Woeful general

rots, desolate. Bucket wisp

taunts yet saves? We’ll see.


#88: The Gatekeeper of Pericael

by Hayley Reese Chow

Best Name: Mimoosh

Best Word: prentiya par

Shaman tutor grouches

in portal world far from Earth

Late exit? Scary!


#87: Severed Legacy

by E.M. Zolotor

Best Name: Naith, the Mitad’s Pursuer

Best Word: tangerine

Banger cover, dude.

Dad trades self for sleepy kids.

Infinite Storm calls.


#86: Haelend’s Ballad

by Ian V. Conrey

Best Name: Lombard Greystrom

Best Word: Silent Hither, Ulnleif, Gunborg, Finnvard, Fleta – lots of great ones

Bar convo reveals

distant quest. POV switch!

Now other side gabs.


#85: Kindred of the Sea

by Raina Nightingale

Best Name: Corostomir

Best Word: Elethrians

Bros ponder wisdom

of death elf woods invasion.

Trepidation. Spells?


#84: Facing Shadows

by Anna J Worthy

Best Name: the insidious Duke Lethos of Eldaria

Best Word: paradisiacal

Runaway bride – neat!

Then tulerpetons attack.

Whoa, demon pygmys?


#83: Record of The Paladins: Book Of Oliver

by BP McCoppin

Best Name: Gerin Donnelly

Best Word: parishoners

Gun-toting pastor!

Ghoul has died, ghoul is risen;

Ghoul will die again.


#82: The Outer Darkness

by M. V. Prindle

Best Name: Merrick Thyr

Best Word: Reshik Ignoth

At world’s edge, a sad

guardian hews to duty.

Flat earther fanfic?


#81: Speak The Ocean

by Rebecca Enzor

Best Name: Sergio de la Cruz

Best Word: euthanasia

Blackfish but mermen

They’re all named for elements

Their reaction suits


#80: The Blood of Houses

by J.A. Garza

Best Name: Wootz

Best Word: Attican

City stands vacant

Where’d the bad guys go off to?

Warhammer vibes here.


#79: Poisoned Empire

by Elyse Thomson

Best Name: Eudocia

Best Word: child-devouring

Mom saves baby, then

she’s attacked by beast. Yow! Twist!

Dinner toxin fun?


#78: Hidden Worlds

by Kit Campbell

Best Name: Margery

Best Word: Spork

Calculus! My heart

smiles. Teens are mean. What is a

Spork Room? Mystery.


#77: Throne in the Dark

by A. K. Caggiano

Best Name: Scorlisha Baneblade of the Mounted Beasts, Plague Bringer Norasthmus, Everild the Necromancer, Damien Maleficus Bloodthorne, Zagadoth the Tempestuous – so many great ones

Best Word: inkarnaught

Blood rite yields power

Talisman of bleak control

This is quite funny


#76: Child of Vanris

by Nikki McCormack

Best Name: Delaphine

Best Word: anso

Apprentice aids a

cantankerous magician

Also blood donor


#75: Millennium of the Ocean Serpent

by Seth Hobbs

Best Name: Kalligus Kezz’arg

Best Word: Sendovians

That’s a long-ass time

to have an ocean serpent

Jonah is reborn


#74: Bloodwoven

by G.J. Terral

Best Name: Drekinsburg

Best Word: One-whispered

Obstetric journey

Someone cast Lamaze, will you?

He’s in a Bind now


#73: The Unspoken Truths of Casemiro

by Christopher Clouser

Best Name: Casemiro

Best Word: Fierce Siren

Wizard want-ad calls

A bleak return to past woe

Sample leaves plot dim


#72: Metamancer

by William I. Zard

Best Name: Sal Lehan

Best Word: hillock

Much-described lady

ditches baby with nobles

No tracking number


#71: Oak King Holly King

by Sebastian Nothwell

Best Name: Queen of the Court of the Silver Wheel

Best Word: mercurial

Dramatic battle

Gory spectacle excites

Butcher’s a grim name


#70: The Hunter

by K. Aagard

Best Name: Greer

Best Word: di’horvith

Direwolf comforts him

Vengeful hunter ails in woods

Purpose spent – what next?


#69: My Name Is Not Alice

by Angelika Rust

Best Name: Mr. Durkins

Best Word: windowless

Mean girls and drama

familiar – but then we

find some Wonderland


#68: The Humane Society for Creatures & Cryptids

by Stephanie Gillis

Best Name: Melpomene

Best Word: teraglossa

Dude plays mazerunner

then teen brews potions, longs to

flee her monstrous fate


#67: Unmagical

by Jenn Lessmann

Best Name: Cate-the-Cursed

Best Word: Quad espresso brevé extra-hot caramel macchiato

Brother torments his

barista sister. Magic

swirls about them both.


#66: However Many Must Die

by Phil Williams

Best Name: Wild Wish

Best Word: Hzinktos

Blood scout commandos

All women, badass as hell

Breakneck bloody war


#65: Dual Fires

by J.L. Anderson

Best Name: Lazarus Lightbreather

Best Word: darkbreather, airbreather

Mean kid takedown with

light spells. Flash forward to war!

So many breathers.


#64: Father of Constructs

by Aaron Renfroe

Best Name: Librium Esoterica

Best Word: World Boss

Prologue ’til respawn

Minmaxers take on World Boss

Janitor. Hero?


#63: Miss Bennet’s Dragon

by M. Verant

Best Name: Jane

Best Word: firedrake

Austen plus dragons

Smaug and Sensibility?

Visions disquiet


#62: Breaker of Fates

by Vaela Denarr & Micah Iannandrea

Best Name: Ziira

Best Word: disharmony

Caravan heist start!

Kidnaps non-binary kid

Unbroken will rage


#61: The Songs That Beckon

by M.A. Brown

Best Name: Drowned Marshes

Best Word: Reliquary

Studious maiden

Mom: Go dance! But Dad gets her.

Holy cow! Tragic.


#60: The First Scars

by Ivor K. Hill

Best Name: Unification

Best Word: ransacked

Village aflame, sacked

by cult. Freakin’ druids, man.

Worked for Conan, though.


#59: Molten Flux

by Jonathan Weiss

Best Name: Ryza

Best Word: smelter

Mad Max with zombies!

Captured dude is screwed. Next is

unlife? Sample ends.


#58: Legacy’s Price

by T. L. Rolston

Best Name: Dworran

Best Word: Blood Moon (great name for a fantasy bar)

Nightmares portend doom

Royal intrigue, secrets kept

Time to hit the bar


#57: Burden to Bear

by Gregory Amato

Best Name: The Queen of Stinktown

Best Word: Mossneck

Skald tells tales while witch

works wiles. Viking non-toxic

masculinity?


#56: Gates of Hope

by J E Hannaford

Best Name: Ameryth Dar Sea

Best Word: caldera

Emotion dragons!

Mysterious challenges!

Roll out the barrel!


#55: Whisper for Eternity

by Melissa Stone

Best Name: Szinre

Best Word: tihigne

Divine seizure means

gods in your DMs. Hey, a

talking skull? Neato.


#54: Surviving Westcliff

by Thomas Perkins

Best Name: Marissa Dunley

Best Word: wordsmithery

Seeks noblewoman

for questionable ship deal.

This guy exudes sleaze.


#53: Oathbreakers Anonymous

by Scott Warren

Best Name: Crooked Spine Bastard Vomiting (it’s a place)

Best Word: fateweaving

Dire hedgehogs are cute

Badass half-orc faces beast god.

More than he can chew.


#52: The Fealty of Monsters

by Ladz

Best Name: Jackiewicz

Best Word: autocar

City of learning

still needs mechanics. Geez!

What TF ate him?


#51: Black and Deep Desires

by Claire Trella Hill

Best Name: Etienne

Best Word: mémère

Loner vampire nerd.

Victorian gals talk love.

Dad’s mean. Who’s Addie?


#50: Ritual Income

by B.L. Brown

Best Name: Pinkerton’s

Best Word: Bitch Queen

Egotist peaces out

Milla’s not down for retail

Cold hands hint at strength


#49: Sigils & Sushi

by Nia Quinn

Best Name: The Harmonic Council

Best Word: svartalf

Sassy witch returns

rental cars and swipes contents.

Fiends and snark galore.


#48: The Glorious and Epic Tale of Lady Isovar

by Dave Dobson

Best Name: Lady Isovar

Best Word: miscreant

Haiku about my

own book reeks of puffery.

I hope you read it.


#47: The Plagued Elf

by Armanis Ar-feinial

Best Name: Cadrasar

Best Word: umbrellaed

Elf hunts in forest.

No dice. Finds frapped goblin bits.

Something weird’s afoot.


#46: Dark Empathy

by Katy Morgan

Best Name: Bastian Lucas

Best Word: interrogation

Empathic justice

has thorny legal issues

Psychics get raw deal


#45: Wings and Wounds

by Dr. S.K. Burkman

Best Name: Humphreys Peak

Best Word: Screeeee

A vet has visions.

Brain damage or enchantment?

Herpetology!


#44: Flight of an Orphan Thief

by S. M. Radjy

Best Name: Thapis

Best Word: norangees

Plans for burglary

overheard. Worms? A life of

freedom’s poverty.


#43: Dragon Thief

by Blake & Raven Penn

Best Name: Solrac, Duke of Glacia

Best Word: astromancer, bloodhusky, lavvu, mythraven (tons of great stuff here)

Mages await signs

from Miss Cleo psychic dude

Then urchins fight cops


#42: Where Fate Whispers

by E. G. Tudor

Best Name: Meuric

Best Word: Nosian

Fated Pairs joined with

magical ceremony

but then Kai swipes left.


#41: The High Seer

by Alex Bree

Best Name: Aurienne Azarrah

Best Word: Darkling

Prophecy dwells in

a macabre Spencer’s Gifts.

This drips with portent.


#40: River of Crows

by N.P. Thompson

Best Name: Eldrin Duclanach

Best Word: crrraw

Bloody opening. Two worlds here,

and that means portal’s coming

Corvid pandemic?


Special SPFNO Guest Book: The Banished Secret

by Niranjan

Best Name: Bhaskara

Best Word: angavastra

Trial by combat! Cool!

Wait, I’m a prince? Whoa. Time shift!

Present juxtaposed.


#39: The Ballad of Sprikit The Bard (And Company)

by Sean O’Boyle

Best Name: Pavlo, Taker of Credit

Best Word: spluttery

Bean Bro gets beat down

Wish he got more tenderized

I am with the Brutes.


#38: Messengers of Ilbeor

by T.J. Klapprodt

Best Name: Beianarian

Best Word: preternaturally

Starts off with hate sex.

Oh, that’s her thing, I get it.

Hero’s journey launched.


#37: The Desert Heiress

by Shoshana Rain

Best Name: Filip Cervenska

Best Word: flower-stuffed

Attending meetings

zonked on speed. Complex intrigue,

everyone sweating.


#36: The Will of the World

by M.J. Lindemann

Best Name: Sharon Adegast

Best Word: amalgamation

Even fantasy

capitalists suck. We can’t

afford zombie bill.


#35: A Heart of Bones

by Lily C. Strauss

Best Name: Dick Zuraw

Best Word: riparian

A ghost in the rain

Ghosts everywhere actually

Oh crap! An arrest!


#34: Spark of the Divine

by Louise Holland

Best Name: Kivery Czai

Best Word: meaninglessness

Assassination

then a fort heist. Shifters, guns.

Connected? We’ll see.


#33: Susan, You’re The Chosen One

by Lauretta Hignett

Best Name: Bart Montgomery-Lichtenstein

Best Word: inscrutable

Career woman faces

nasty colleagues. She should mind

the elves on the roof.


#32: Fragments of Skyonae

by Raleigh Markovski Falcone

Best Name: Raleigh Markovski Falone (I know, that’s the author, but still, awesome name)

Best Word: RATATATATATATATA

Anime given

textual life. So much weird.

Just needs laser shrimp.


#31: The Handwarmers of Immortality

by Karen McCompostine

Best Name: So many! Geronimo McCorgus, Clan McGargle, Glen Dondododondon

Best Word: unemancipate

Anachronism

adds to the fun. Delightful.

She’s pure dead brilliant.


#30: Lady of Dragons

by Shelby Elizabeth

Best Name: Finlay McDonough

Best Word: sinuous

Besties long for flight

Teen crushes among the potions

Something will go wrong


#29: Season of Kings

by A.J. Rettger

Best Name: Halfdan the Jackal (soon subdivided further)

Best Word: innards

Do not read before

eating. Grimm and unflinching.

Full throated gore fest.


#28: Knights of the Alliance

by Stefanie Chu

Best Name: Valiant Tiger

Best Word: Althaean

Berserker versus

twelfth-level fire mage lady.

Fight! Oops, she’s smitten.


#27: The Last Lunar Witch

by S.F. Henne

Best Name: Arkirith

Best Word: trepidation

Uncontrolled witch does

Mission Impossible heist

Ssshh! Library time.


#26: Dark City Rising

by CL Jarvis

Best Name: Francis Leechman

Best Word: genial cadaver

Steeped with small details.

Medical fantasy? Neat.

Such strong sense of place.


#25: Path of the Guardian

by Paolo Danese

Best Name: Feridun

Best Word: liquor-smelling

High body count here

No idea what’s up yet

Jailbreak is cool though


#24: Them Old Bones

by Astor Y Teller

Best Name: Crazyjones

Best Word: saggy-roofed

Present tense – urgent.

Is she both naked AND dead?

Corpse scholar seeks bone.


#23: Flight of the Scions

by D. Moonfire

Best Name: Bartim Lurkuklan

Best Word: Jinto Panzir

We are in for some

academy fantasy

Racist mailman sucks


#22: Woodspell

by C. R. Collins

Best Name: Maldhonia

Best Word: sedgewellow

Wrecked things – a glider

and a life. Lots of flashbacks.

Don’t chase the woods babe!


#21: Guarding Gus

by Karryn Nagel

Best Name: Viscidius Rubra

Best Word: Iowa

Two dudes find baby

gargoyle to raise. Is this a

book or a sitcom?


#20: Magic on the Cards

by Marina Finlayson

Best Name: Sunday Armitage

Best Word: un-extraordinaire

Spells summoned by cards

Monsters both help and eat us

Don’t forget teen angst


#19: Embers of Dusk

by D.G. Roberts

Best Name: Markallanoth, Oderious (tie)

Best Word: luminsyl

Clumsy girl preps for

rite of passage. Something bad

is coming, I bet


#18: The Best of Us Is the Last of Us

by Anthony Halligan

Best Name: Child

Best Word: panoply

A baffling dragon’s

psychedelic waiting room

Were those shrooms I ate?


#17: After Silence

by Natalie Northwood

Best Name: Cerys Odessa

Best Word: ever-tilting

Hey! Falling sky dude!

Arrives undocumented

Dwelling here it seems


#16: Dawn of the Darkest Day

by K.C. Woodruff

Best Name: Vayne Savant

Best Word: indigo

Genocide, terror

That Savant guy is a dick

He needs to die soon


#15: To Dance With Dragons

by Jaq D Hawkins

Best Name: Alinea

Best Word: demoniac

A runaway bride

Plus Cat-5 magic river

As good as divorced


#14: The Faithful Dark

by Cate Baumer

Best Name: Elmere

Best Word: rheumy

She’s losing patients

Evil stirs beneath it all

That cover rocks hard


#13: Callus & Crow

by DB Rook

Best Name: Callus

Best Word: mendin’

Eww, there’s a crow dude

sick and sleeping in my bed.

He really smells fowl.


#12: Soulstealer

by El McInerney

Best Name: Old Tsu

Best Word: Ilk

Rite of passage starts

A literal wild goose chase

Cheaters never win


#11: Moonshadow’s Guardian

by Dianna Gunn

Best Name: Magdalene

Best Word: nonmagicals

A bucolic ride

Shows parents can’t be trusted

Worst birthday ever


#10: Good Bad Witch

by Isa Medina

Best Name: Hazel Oakes

Best Word: affirmation

A shop for witches! Neat.

Oh crap, now there’s a body.

Or not? Yelp will choose.


#9: Beyond Misty Mountain

by Stephen Howard

Best Name: Broth Zolust

Best Word: Totulgny

To start: Theology

No, not those Misty Mountains

Replete with sly wit


#8: The Crippled King

by A. Trae McMaken

Best Name: Grashal-Indal

Best Word: uglan

Rustic prospecting

Interrupted by tree, bear,

crone. What’s mine is yours?


#7: A Cursed Son

by Day Leitao

Best Name: Sayanne

Best Word: drusils

Longing and intrigue

And hurt. But tangy too

Is stuff rated R.


#6: Lurid Lantern

by Victoria Clapton

Best Name: Kurai

Best Word: Refulgent

Her loyal service

is what makes a Subaru

as the king demands


#5: Into FaerLand

by A.J. Ponder

Best Name: Brocéliande

Best Word: Dornröschenschloss

A pair of heroes

seek training but only find

dire geology


#4: The Sunset Sovereign: A Dragon’s Memoir

by Laura Huie and C.D. Houck

Best Name: Vakfored

Best Word: terra sigillata

This hero bought tons

from some magical Costco

Dragon’s unimpressed


#3: The Tenfold Tenants

by E.V. Belknap

Best Name: Corvinian Hark

Best Word: Shenanigans

Dark stranger visits

Circle of life spins fast

Tantalizing start


#2: Oublié

by Susana Imagin√°rio

Best Name: Jolyan

Best Word: Promethean

Does living inside

a sentient moon make one

a parasite? Hmm.


#1: Tobias

by Denis James

Best Name: Foxton Gray

Best Word: valedictorian

Metal detectors

don’t help when mages attack

Leave no child behind


A review of Echo (Marvel/Disney+)

I often post reviews of stuff I watch on Facebook, and I thought I might share them here as well. Here’s my take on Echo on Disney.

Beware: Spoilers below!


The Good:
— The lead, Alaqua Cox, is a tremendously intriguing actor – I’ve thought so since she showed up on Hawkeye, and this show really lets her go hard. She is up to the challenge. She’s got a tremendously emotive face and great physicality for this role.
— The care they took to include sign language in so many scenes was really neat. It slowed down the show and made each word signed more important, but that is 100% accurate to my experience with working with deaf colleagues, and it gives the show a different and valuable pace, flavor, and feel. Also, there is some great acting and emoting you can do while signing, and many (though not all) of the actors understood that and used it to great advantage.
— A lot of the fight choreography, especially in the first episode, was awesome – snappy, long sequences with cool choices and exciting moves. Later episodes had some similar shining moments but didn’t quite sustain the level of the earlier episodes.
— The setting in the midst of a fictionalized Oklahoma Choctaw community was new and different and intriguing, although Marvel fake history seemed to replace real Indian culture in some key areas, always to the show’s detriment.
— The journey from bad guy to (sort of) good guy can be a really interesting one, and Maya does have some of that cool antihero juice here. It doesn’t quite pay off, but her criminal background is present in her decisions and motivations, her assessment of herself, and in her fractured relationships with her former family and friends, and when it works, that’s strong stuff. It doesn’t always work, and I think it should have been easy to make it work better.


The Meh:
— The story, which seemed like it might be cool initially, devolved into standard superhero stuff, which is stuff that I’m very bored with after so many Marvel and DC movies. This isn’t entirely fair to the show, because the inclusion of Choctaw historical (or historically inspired) and mythological figures added depth. However, the show was still an “I suddenly have magic powers” superhero origin story, and the powers were never well-defined or even used much, except to make the final conflict not very interesting on screen (although an OK payoff for the mystical plotlines that came before).
— The storyline stalled out a bit in the middle episodes, although they all had interesting parts. Mostly this was because the central conflicts (both comic book battles and character interactions) kept getting derailed rather than moving forward, and the stakes and options and motivations weren’t usually well explained. With regard to the central comic book plot conflict, if what Maya was doing was as dangerous as everybody said, then (1) Maya would know this and should have planned better, and (2) we shouldn’t have had time to be dorking around with all these non-super characters in a Choctaw version of Northern Exposure. Instead, it was like the big bad guy threat just got turned off for long stretches so we could show family and community. The tension between Maya and her relatives and friends was at times interesting, but it wasn’t fully defined and then never really resolved, except that everyone easily became friends again when they needed to.
— The final conflict and battle were underwhelming, weirdly constructed from a plot perspective, and short – I was hoping for more badass kung fu action, and I instead got some wonder-twins we-win-because-we’re-magic stuff without even providing satisfying deaths for the main opponents. Most of the guys defeated here were nobodies who just showed up in cargo vans – no characters, no history, no motivation, just default. That doesn’t resolve much of anything, story-wise, and it’s not a satisfying ending. They can just send more vans next week, maybe with people who will actually pull the trigger rather than taking prisoners.

The Bad:
— Kingpin is just a terribly bland character, one with no interesting or redeeming qualities or complexity in terms of motive or desire. He’s such a default bad guy, and such an obvious villain, that everybody working for him has to know that he’s just completely evil and they’ve made a terrible career choice. Anytime you execute your henchmen for no reason in front of other henchmen, you create what should be insurmountable HR problems, but henchmen never seem to deal with this in realistic ways. Definitely not here.
— In this show, Kingpin has somehow survived getting shot in the eye, which itself is ridiculously annoying. I mean, that should kill you, and it was really satisfying in Hawkeye when Maya turned on him and shot him – a real emotional high, worked up to and well-deserved. Having him miraculously survive that is a cheap, bogus reset which is just stupid and stalls out any character or plot development that might otherwise happen in the wake of his death.
— Also, they are trying so hard here to give Kingpin a tortured backstory that makes him soft towards Maya, but it’s all just clunky and weak. Fisk is ruthless. Utterly. They try to show him bonding with Maya, and I suppose that might melt his evil heart some, but not after being shot in the eye. That’s just out of character. The scenes of him acting hurt at her betrayal, yet still giving her multiple chances (sometimes at stupid ultra-convenient plot-breaking moments), were just annoying and painful to watch. It would have been a much better show if he’d just turned cold and ruthless from the start, and Maya was having to actually defend herself and her community against his overwhelming rage rather than refusing his gift of cookies. Sheesh. So weak. Better still, introduce a new, more complex bad guy trying to settle the score after Kingpin’s murder. That would have been great.

The Verdict:
This show has lots of good parts, but I was left a little disappointed at how it came out. If you’re a fan of Marvel stuff, or if you want to see a cool take on a superhero with a (prosthetic) foot grounded in both the native community and the deaf community, this might be the show for you. If you want a satisfying story or complexity that pays off rather than fading away, you can do better in other shows. The Hawkeye show was, I thought, one of the best of this kind of show, in no small part because of Maya (and Ms. Cox) as a villain. The Hawkeye show played a lot of it for laughs, while there was darker subject matter here in Echo. This still tried for some lighthearted comedy, and I appreciate that, but they didn’t quite get the mix right.

Note: I don’t read comics and have no particular attachment to superheroes. Just watching the action shows available to me, and happier when the leave the woo-woo super stuff out. I think that’s why I liked the Hawkeye show so much – he’s just a mostly normal dude. They almost did that here, but not quite, and it would have been (I think) a far better show if the power of the ancestors had manifested in Maya’s character and heart rather than in her glowing wrists.

An indie author’s 2023, by the numbers

I did a financial wrap-up of my indie publishing efforts for 2022 that garnered some interest from other indie authors. The bottom line for 2022 was that I made a little over $2000 in revenue in 2022 compared to about $6700 in expenses, for a loss of around $4700. Not great, but growing in some good ways, and $2000 of the expenses last year was for production of the audio version of Daros, a big one-time investment that won’t repeat. I thought I’d do the same for this past year.

Revenues

So, let’s look at 2023 revenues. Here’s the Amazon revenue picture:

Here are the results for 2023 for individual books:

Markets

Amazon reported revenue from 11 countries, although many of them were negligible, including my three-cent totals from Brazil and India. Here is the breakdown by country – you can see the seven smallest markets fit into less than 1% of total revenue.

Formats

Here’s the revenue breakdown by format:

For me, Kindle Unlimited is a huge piece of my income. A lot of indie authors feel like going “wide” and getting rid of Amazon exclusivity helps them, but that move would have to more than double my sales revenues to make up for the lost Kindle Unlimited revenue to be worth it for me. I’m not ready to take that risk yet.

Audiobooks

There was another approximately $218 in Audible payments for Flames Over Frosthelm and Daros. At that rate, it will take a good many years to recoup my expenses (about $3200) for creating those two audio books, making it not a very good investment, but if I am able to grow my audience and increase audio sales, that analysis might change.

There’s also a small amount of revenue for paperback sales through my online store (and also in person). The profit and volume on those is pretty negligible, but it’s probably another $50 for the year, give or take.

That total revenue, maybe $4750-$4800, is a whole lot better than last year’s $2000 or so, more than double. Yay! But why? I would hope some of it is just from having more books out (I released two this year, Got Trouble and Kenai), and also from having reached more readers as I continue to work to expand my audience. But it’s also because of BookBub.

The role of BookBub featured deals

My first four BookBub featured deals were key revenue events this year. I’ve been applying for these competitive opportunities since I started publishing back in 2019, but I didn’t get any until this year. I’ve heard that BookBub is less willing to feature an Amazon-exclusive book, so that might be part of my difficulty, but it’s hard to say.

I had four features in total this year, each of which produced results big enough to be visible in the revenue graph above:

  • March 2023: (the big one) A global featured deal for my 3-book Inquisitors’ Guild compendium (light blue above) for $0.99. This cost me $712 plus a bunch of other advertising I stacked with the BookBub, but I made the BookBub cost back in sales and then had improved Kindle Unlimited page reads for several months afterward, making it a definite win for me.
  • September 2023: Another featured deal for the 3-book compendium, this one non-US only. This cost $196 plus other stacked ads and had a much smaller impact, although I still think it was a net positive.
  • November 2023: A non-US feature for Kenai (yellow above) for $167, which I think had a significant impact, although Kenai was doing well all year since its release.
  • December 2023: A non-US feature for Daros (green above) for $167. This also seemed to do well, reigniting interest in a book that had a great 2021 but which has slipped a bit since then.

I’m really hoping that I can continue these featured deals in the coming years. They’ve had by far the best return on investment of my advertising efforts. However, I have no control over when they are granted vs. rejected, which is a little frustrating.

Expenses

I didn’t do any audio books this year, which was a significant savings compared to last year. I did continue routine advertising, mostly on Facebook and Amazon, but also including blog tours for Got Trouble and Kenai. I spent a lot on some probably ill-advised expensive ongoing ads for Got Trouble on Amazon, too. Here are my expenses by category:

Promos (paying services to advertise free or discounted books) and Ads (general ads for my books) are similar, but I broke them out so that I could see what was happening. The BookBub featured deals mentioned above are a major component of the Promos category.

The “Giveaways” category is a GoodReads giveaway I did there for Got Trouble. I’ve done a few of those for other books. I’m not sure how much return there is for those, although it does get your book added to people’s “To Read” lists.

Summary

Last year, I had $2000 in revenue on $6700 of expenses, or a loss of $4700 or so, or -235% of revenue. That sounds bad, but of course I’m in this for the long haul, and I expect to lose money for a while until I get more established and figure out what expense choices produce useful results.

This year, I have $4800 in revenue on $7200 in expenses, or a loss of $2400 or so, or -50%. That’s progress, although it’s still not positive. But it’s headed in the right direction.

I have the ability (and true privilege) to be able to sustain losses like that for a while to get this going – I don’t need my book revenue to pay my mortgage or put food on the table, which is a huge advantage. And profitability is of course not a great way to measure the value of art. But it’s still interesting to keep track.

A loss of $2400 sounds bad, though. If I want things to look better, I can focus on revenue and readership, and for those categories, 2023 looks like a really good step in the right direction.

The good news about 2023

I had a huge number of paid orders compared to previous years (although many of them were at $0.99 for the BookBub deals, which made me only about $0.30 per book):

Light blue here is the Inquisitors’ Guild compendium, red is Daros, light green is Kenai, yellow is Flames Over Frosthelm, and purple is Got Trouble.

I also broke a million total pages read on Kindle Unlimited, with over half of that million coming this year, much of it buoyed by the BookBub promotions:

Light blue here is the 3-book Inquisitors’ Guild compendium, light green is Kenai, purple is Got Trouble, red is Daros, and yellow is Flames Over Frosthelm.

Conclusion

So, 2023 was a banner year in a lot of ways, but not yet a profitable one. The year-over-year trend is terrific, but it’s probably not sustainable – there are only so many BookBub featured deals I can get, and they’re not certain. But, if I keep writing more books and reaching more readers, I might even get this thing to work.

I’m having a lot of fun, and it’s great to see people responding to my books, and that’s the most important part.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

I quite enjoyed this story from Nnedi Okorafor. Structurally, it’s quite similar to the first Harry Potter novel (and many other such stories) – a young outsider with an unstable family situation discovers something special about herself, and a hidden world full of people with magical power, often goofy, and with a cadre of young juju-using friends and a mysterious enemy on the horizon. It also seems to be directed at a younger YA/MG audience, although I found plenty to enjoy.

I found the plot and the inevitable battle engaging but not really original or strategic. In the climactic engagement, the characters did use abilities and followed traits developed earlier, but there wasn’t a really a cycle of defeat, setback, learning, and reengagement which might have made it more than just an unstoppable train towards predetermined destiny. It was still exciting, though. I actually enjoyed the big soccer game more than the battle, even though that was just a pure sports-movie feel-good scene.

What sets this book apart from others are three things – first, a very appealing main character, second, a rich and wonderfully detailed magic system and community and world, and third and perhaps most important for this Iowan, a window into everyday life and culture in Nigeria. All of these elevated the story well above a typical magic school tale and made reading memorable and rewarding.

Wheel of Time Episode 8 Analysis (much delayed)

[Note: pretty big spoilers for Episode 8 and previous episodes follow]

APOLOGIES: It’s been a huge gap between my review of Episode 7 and Episode 8 here, like seven months. That’s probably a commentary on how little I wanted to finish this thing. Anyway, here goes.

RELATED DISCLAIMER: I have to admit, I didn’t remember what was going on much, because I watched Episode 7 back in February. So, I’m sure part of the WTF I experienced was from that. Maybe 15%.

D&D THEME FOR THIS EPISODE: The DM has taken a new job and is moving out of town, so the campaign is ending, and the DM knows they have only one session to wrap up all these half-baked storylines they’ve been sort of but not really paying attention to over the previous 16 months. Also, they split the party last time, which obviously you should never do, but especially when you’re trying to come to a fun conclusion. There‚Äôs no way this will be satisfying, but the players will pretend it was.

OBLIGATORY UNNECESSARY FLASHBACK: The episode started with a flashback to 3000 years ago in some kind of Swedish-decorated apartment with a couple in kind of cool modern-styled evening wear arguing about gender roles and playing with their baby. Relevance was not shown. However, it is clear that fashion in Tar Valon will suffer greatly over the next three milennia. Fun terminology note: This was technically a dragon arguing with a chair, which evokes Clint Eastwood’s Republican Convention speech.

MAIN “PLOT” RECAP:

— Moiraine has decided Rand is the actual chosen one because (I think) a psychic barmaid told her so. Moiraine is not taking the other potentially useful and loyal super-powerful witches and werewolves with her because everybody who comes to the well who’s not the dragon dies*.

*Actually, nobody who comes to the well who’s not the Dragon dies, negating several episodes worth of buildup and decision-making. Nobody dies at the well at all other than my hopes for a more satisfying ending.

— Moiraine’s taken Rand into some weeds called The Blight. If I were the manifestation of evil incarnate, I would try to do something more impressive than grow weeds and entrap local youth. The weeds look a lot like the Bermuda grass in my lawn, which had the unintended effect of me imagining all the characters therein as very, very small.

— The other formerly-chosen-but-now-not-chosen ones are stuck in a city called Fal Dara, where they have basically nothing to do, until the city conveniently comes under attack by an enormous army of bad guys, an army which would maybe have been better deployed in the Bermuda grass killing Rand and Moiraine if the Dark Lord had his act together.

— The climactic event, the one that we’re supposed to have been building up to all season, is a massive, well-choreographed sword and magic fight that you want to watch again in slow motion so as not to miss any of the exciting details and cool moves. Ha, ha, no it wasn’t. Instead, they go into a hole in the weeds, have a domestic dream on a farm, and talk to a low-rent Al Pacino in a dinner jacket, at which point Rand makes some kind of negging choice sort of respecting women while not actually really doing so, and Al Pacino leaves disappointed. Moiraine had a chance to kill Rand, and instead of doing so, to the vast regret of this viewer, she did not.

— Rand then acknowledges that he now knows he will eventually go nuts and destroy the world, and instead of taking his own life to save humanity, he just peaces out through the weeds, asking Moiraine for help in ghosting all his friends.

— Through a tortured sequence of coincidences, deux ex machinae, overacting, under-explaining, and dumbassery, everything and everyone gets saved, except for a few designated tragic side characters (TSC’s), most of whom announce their impending deaths just before they happen. As an author who worries about plot, realism, and continuity, this was very hard to watch.

THE CHARACTERS LEFT BEHIND:

— Mat with one t was left way behind. Apparently the actor left the show after episode 6 and was written out of the rest of the first season, which explains his awkward departure scene where he just looks into the Waze and everybody else shouts “Noooooo!” He’ll be back, recast, in season 2. There goes an opportunity to jettison one of our dumb-as-paint self-involved whiners.

— Perrin has somehow converted to pacifism in the middle of a war, which is inconvenient. This may derive from his time with the bucolic cart people, even though I’m pretty sure he straight-up ate somebody in Episode 7 after his time with the cart Quakers. When the Fal Darans decide to remodel the throne room while a war is going on in order to recover a magic horn they can’t blow (not making that up), Perrin helps, because Loial the Ogier (who, like Moiraine, has far too many i’s in his name) tells him to ask how he can help. He does this in a particularly painful scene reminiscent of a Mister Rogers episode. When Perrin finally gets a chance to bury an axe in an evil dude who’s stealing the magic horn and taunting him about his childhood, which the evil Arsenio Hall guy inexplicably spent selling lanterns in his village, Perrin just grimaces and watches the guy go. Super unsatisfying. Somebody should have buried an axe in somebody, dammit.

— Egwene gets all weepy at being left behind and then accomplishes not much. Eventually, she serves as a backup D-cell battery to the princess of Fal Dara, Amalisa Jagad (named by Robert Jordan through yet another stomping of fingers on the typewriter and then filling in some vowels in the interstices).

— Nynaeve gets subjected to the most pathetic post-one-night-stand declaration of love I think I’ve seen in a show from Lan, who should know better to come on this strong after the first date. Wait a few days and text, dude. You’re going to scare her away like this. After this, she has to teach Lan to find the woman HE’S PSYCHICALLY BONDED WITH FOR LIFE, and then she becomes another backup D-cell.

MISSED OPPORTUNITY AT EMOTIONAL DEPTH:

When the princess exceeds her recommended amperage and starts to blow fuses, Nynaeve seems to do something unexplained to save Egwene from the resulting air fryer cook cycle. This is badass and in character for Nynaeve. As a result, Nynaeve is rendered extra-crispy in what is apparently the unexpected noble death of a major character. Yay! Shortly afterward, Egwene cries and strokes her cheek, returning Nynaeve to medium rare and to life, thereby removing any emotional impact or badassery previously established. This unexplained capability, despite being at least a level 8 spell and exhibiting powers beyond what Jesus reportedly controlled, does not elevate Egwene above a second-rate love-interest character, and it also founds no major new religions. No death should ever appear tragic in this show from now on, because Egwene has control of mortality’s undo button.

STUPID-ASS WTF:

— The sa’angreal: Moiraine says a thousand male channelers gave all their energy to this one object, which means I guess it’s just the Aes Sedai version of TwitchTV. Why they would sacrifice all their power so that Rand can carry around a green tchotchke that he doesn’t appear to need, I don’t know. I suspect they all succumbed to some kind of email scam and had their channeling accounts drained through fraud.

— Geography: Moiraine says the Seven Towers of Malkier used to be a few miles from Fal Dara, which statement only makes sense if the Blight has somehow relocated the Seven Towers.

— The bad guy dream: Unless you’re really sure it’s a dream, maybe don’t stab yourself to get out of it. Talking to you, Rand.

— The other bad guy dream: If you’re ever tempted to end a season of a big-budget fantasy show with two guys talking about life choices on a farm, do not, and give up any career you perceive for yourself in entertainment.

— Trollocs: The estimation of trolloc horde sizes was just nuts. At one point, they say “there are 60 fades, which means there are 5,000 to 10,000 trollocs.” That implies a very specific and weirdly non-integer-divisible range of acceptable fade-to-trolloc ratios, which was very confusing. At another point, in the dark, the princess gazes at the big wall and says, it looks like there are 20,000 of them. When there are five of you, the difference between 10,000 and 20,000 trollocs is not very important, I’d think. Perhaps they have prepared the Gap by seeding it with glow-in-the-dark Trolloc-counting indicator markers for easy horde size estimation, but failing that, the numerical precision of these assertions (at night, from far away) was also hard to fathom.

— Chemistry: Moiraine mentions adrenaline, which has only been really known to modern science since about 1900. Apparently the organic biochemistry field in Tar Valon is seriously on point.

— Strategy: If you have five women who can destroy 20,000 trollocs and 60 (perhaps extending to 120) fades with lightning in under 18 seconds, maybe deploy them to the field BEFORE sending every male resident of your kingdom (except those emergency-remodeling the throne room) to their deaths.

— Overhyped danger: Moiraine tells Rand to “touch nothing” in the blight, making it sound as serious as when Mat picked up that obviously evil hissing dagger in the cursed city that one time. After impressing upon Rand the vital importance of this prohibition, she and Rand and Lan touch literally everything from there on out without consequence.

NOMINATIONS:

— Worst motivational speech ever: Agelmar Jagad. We’re all going to die, and then everybody we know is going to die, and then everybody else we don‚Äôt even know is going to die, so it doesn’t matter which armor I wear.

— Most pathetically obvious allegory ever: Naming dream-Egwene and Rand’s dream baby Joiya, so that when Rand rejects the opportunity to buy into the fake OnlyFans world of dream-Egwene, he has to literally give up Joy.

— Most rotoscoping in a final battle scene: Rand al’Thor, approximately 1800 degrees of rotation.

— Most obvious recreation of Merry and Pippin as a boring and unimportant side-duo: Egwene and Perrin (bonus for nearly matching one of the names).

MISSED OPPORTUNITY:

— When everybody was saying “The Gap will not hold,” within me was birthed a burning desire to see the tragic and pointless sacrifice of the male population of Fal Dara occur not in a modified dam-fort but instead in a denim-filled clothing store. It would have been far more entertaining than watching them shoot crossbows out of poorly-designed arrow slits.

TIMES THE SUBTITLES UNINTENTIONALLY CAPTURED THE SHOW’S ESSENCE:
— “Shallow panting”
— “Distant screaming intensified”
— [Dialog] “Must be an awful feeling”

There you go. Will I watch Season 2? Probably. Will I enjoy it? Probably not.

Book review: The Deeping Well

Ian Lehrer’s The Deeping Well is a dense, exciting tale of the subterranean. Set entirely in the caverns, tunnels, passageways, and cities carved in rock below the surface, Lehrer brings to life a richly detailed world, complete with many distinct cultures. There are the underdwarves, portrayed here with a stratified, militaristic religious society, and the dark elves, present at the edges of the world but often deadly and malevolent, and the gnomes, represented here by Flannyrd, a curious, wise, and well-traveled woman who initially seems to be a mere trader.

Each culture comes with a distinct history, lore, and language, sometimes revealed by scholarly articles included in the text, but more often by little details sprinkled into conversations or situations or through discoveries by the characters. The caverns and tunnels are full of danger, whether dangerous falls and climbs, beasts that hunt in the shadows, rushing underground rivers, foul undead scavengers, or nefarious villains. This world, with all its rich detail and differences from the surface, fills the story with a strong, gritty flavor of somewhere wholly different from what we know. Light and food, both in limited supply, are constant concerns, and Lehrer’s imagined societies all have ways of dealing with the harsh darkness that surrounds them.

The most interesting and most central race of deep dwellers in this story is the Ta’tlan, an ancient race of warriors. The main character, Cagtlan, starts the book in training to become one of the elite warrior caste, the Ayengalli, in an enclave of the Ta’tlan. These warriors fight with two swords, one to kill, one with hooks to catch or break weapons, and Lehrer’s descriptions of combat are vivid, exciting, and easy to follow. They also use Litanies – meditations that give them keener perception, the ability to cloak themselves with shadow, or the frenzied passion of fire. The Ta’tlan culture has multiple castes, a long history, and a complex religious and cultural tradition, and figuring out the intricacies of how this all works is one of the real pleasures of the book.

The story feels episodic, with distinct breaks and travel between locations, as Cagtlan and Flannyrd embark on a journey that takes them far across the underworld in pursuit of an ancient mystery and a treacherous enemy. Their quest changes shape and grows in importance as they begin to understand the forces arrayed against them, and as they find companions and villains along the way. Cagtlan is steeped in his culture, but he begins to understand more about its origins in antiquity, and he realizes some of the lessons he’s been taught make him weaker rather than stronger.

There’s a ton here for fantasy fans. Magic, epic battles, victory, loss, poison, schemes, assassins, traps, sneaking (a lot of sneaking), ancient lore and artifacts, and lots of growly dwarves. Surrounding all of it is the rich, living world Lehrer has created below the ground, affecting all of the people and the cultures in ways that feel practical, natural, and ancient. Some books have a bunch of backstory and lore, and you end up bored to tears reading yet another Elvish poem or song of the trees or whatever. Here, Lehrer gives you enough juicy details to spark interest and give context but not so much that it ever feels like didactic showboating or a chore.

A rip-roaring fantasy adventure with all the right trappings and a grimy, grim, and new world to explore. Highly recommended.

Playing with an AI artist

I’ve been fiddling around with the very cool MidJourney AI graphics creation program, which lets you order up an original picture based on a phrase. You can add “in the style of” also, which often influences the image. For example, here’s Henry VIII in the style of Gary Larson.

And here’s one my wife tried: Art Deco Forbidden City

The AI gives you four initial options, and then you can choose to enhance one of them or do variations on them or just go for an entirely new set of four.

I thought I’d try my book titles just to see what it did – obviously there’s more to go on with some of them than others, particularly Daros, which is just a word that’s often a surname. Here’s what it made for me:

Flames Over Frosthelm

The Outcast Crown

The Woeling Lass

Traitors Unseen

Daros

This is really fun. I paid up for a month’s subscription to give myself a chance to play more, and I’ve already made up some trivia questions for my monthly-ish Zoom trivia game based on it.

Woeling Lass in the SPFBO!

I’ve just entered The Woeling Lass in this year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off, a competition for indie-published fantasy. Looking forward to seeing how it does.

The competition filled tremendously quickly this year. There are 300 spots, and 109 of them filled in nine minutes! It slowed a bit after that, reaching 161 in 39 minutes. I got in there about 55 minutes after it opened, but my guess is it will fill even faster than the 24 hours it took last year.

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