I’m a judge for the first-ever SPSFC (Self Published Science Fiction Contest), but couldn’t help noticing the parallel SPFBO (Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off) contest happening. I always love finding some new indie authors and books, so I decided to read through the finalists of that contest and review them on my site. As always, let me know your own thoughts in the comments.
Reign & Ruin by J.D. Evans
Reign & Ruin is, at its core, both a fantasy of manners with court drama and political intrigue in abundance and a romance. The story follows Naime, a Sultana who is trying to bring unity to her nation in the face of many challenges, and Makram, a prince with destructive magical powers.
The setting and world building are major winners in the novel. I thought the way Evans built the world was compelling, and certainly made a great place for the many different scenes of political intrigue to play out. Naime is trying to find her way with her father’s failing mental health making it more difficult for her to keep a grip as others try to wrest powers from her. Time and again, she faces off with others trying to discern her interests and thoughts on her path forward, even as she deflects their advances and those of others trying to force her into marriage or other ways of manipulating her. Readers who are interested in political intrigue will eat this book up. I would say well over 50% of the plot is focused around these kind of court drama/intrigue among various factions, and as a big fan of that kind of story, I was delighted.
Makram’s story is interesting, but he reads more like a side character to me. Maybe that’s because of where my interests lie–with the court drama–but I found it harder to connect with him. It was also somewhat predictable to see where the romance was headed and when at times. I should note the romantic elements include quite explicit scenes.
The fantasy elements aren’t subtle, necessarily, but they don’t drive the plot as they do in some other fantasy settings. There are many different kinds of magic, and one of Naime’s driving goals is to bring the destructive magic back into the fold of mages so that she can unite them and bring peace as the Wheel turns. It’s a neat concept, though I found at times I wasn’t sure how important it all felt. On the flip side, there seems to be much more action-type conflict as a possibility in the future.
Reign & Ruin is a great read, despite its predictability. The world-building and setting are treats for fans of fantasy, and the romance elements add to, rather than distracting from, the main plot. I’ve enjoyed the first one enough to give the second a try once I’ve gotten through other books on my list.
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