Top 25 Best Indie Fantasy -- New List

btkong

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#21
But that doesn't mean that Renshaw's over 700 reviews are faked and, in fact, his sales would tend to argue for his reviews being real. Renshaw was #1 in Audiobook sales for epic fantasy over the weekend and has been top five for several weeks. That's an average of over 500 copies sold a day. For Kindle sales, he's been in the top 500 for sales/downloads for months. That's about 500-700 copies sold/downloaded per day, but he wasn't doing that well until probably late summer. Prior to that, his Amazon Kindle ranking was in the 1000-2000 range, which is more like 75-100 copies sold per day. BTW this is almost exactly how Shadow of What Was Lost did in terms of sales for the first 6-8 months after it was released: strong initial sales and then an explosion. Regardless, some indie authors who are much more knowledegable than me about sales and reviews argue that for every 1 review, there is generally 100 books sold. That's close based on my sales (mine is more like 1:150) and some other author friends of mine. In Renshaw's case, though, doing a rough estimate of his sales based on his historical sales ranking, he's probably sold or had downloaded somewhere in the 70,000-80,000 copies, which should give him about 800 reviews. Which is where he is.
That's good to hear -- and I appreciate the breakdown with the reviews. And if they are legit reviews, well, that's awesome. I only note to my eye, many of the reviews had many of the tell tale sign of bought reviews, but there's no proof other than a nagging suspicion. If they are, well, it certainly would not be unusual. But again, maybe they are legit as you break it down. Either way, regardless of how the book took off, he's doing well on Amazon, and on Audible.

I will say, the writing itself was good -- no typos, grammar, and little in the way of clunky phrases. My complaints are wholly with the narrative structure and the characterization.

I honestly hope he does well and his book seems to be popular. It wasn't my cup of tea, as I broke down in my review, but I'd be interested to hear what others on the forum, who want to read it, think of it.

The other interpretation, as you state, of a broken boy (yes, he's abused by his dad and this is a major force in the book for his emotional trauma) who's trying to overcome this abuse is accurate, and I can see why some readers would like the subversive idea of that (you don't get a real 'hero, hero' as expected).

I'm all for breaking the mold in the genre. And Renshaw did do this, and credit to him for making a hero like this.

I could overlook the shaky plot where favorable situations are lined up one after the other (without a reasonable explanation or plot thread that leads to a logical connection). Let's be honest, it is a fantasy book after all and to expect a Hard Science Fiction level of accuracy to events and happenstance is a bit ridiculous. But at least I wanted the pretense of it.

I didn't like the character because it was hard to back a protagonist who keeps on running away when it counts the most, regardless of the reasons for that behavior. I could overlook this character fault if the character solved the issue on his own by the end, as I fully expected was going to be the case, but when
an out of the blue divine strike of lighting cured him of his issue without any sort of lead up, logical connection, or explanation as to how that resolution came about, five hundred pages into the book, well, that was too much for me to buy.

Anyways, I'm just one dissenting voice in what appears to be a symphony of positive praise.

At the end of the day, if you or anyone else loves it, that's all that matters.

I definitely want people here to check out the book, see what they think, then come back and tell me how crazy I am for not liking it. Then I'll need to figure out why I don't see the brilliance of it when everyone else does. If it turns out that way, I give the book another go and listen to the new audiobook. If things seem different the second time around, I'll even rewrite the review.
 
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kenubrion

Journeyed there and back again
#22
So one of you tell me, is this the book where a guy no one knows rides through and claims something and they all hole up in the manor and then the baddies come through at night and burn the place down and kill everyone and the kid sneaks away to the town to get help and there's this magician or magic shop keeper who helps get everyone rousted out and they all go back to the manor and I gave up then?
 

Davis Ashura

Mixes poisons and sharpens knives with Kylar
#23
So one of you tell me, is this the book where a guy no one knows rides through and claims something and they all hole up in the manor and then the baddies come through at night and burn the place down and kill everyone and the kid sneaks away to the town to get help and there's this magician or magic shop keeper who helps get everyone rousted out and they all go back to the manor and I gave up then?
That's the one.
 

btkong

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#24
So one of you tell me, is this the book where a guy no one knows rides through and claims something and they all hole up in the manor and then the baddies come through at night and burn the place down and kill everyone and the kid sneaks away to the town to get help and there's this magician or magic shop keeper who helps get everyone rousted out and they all go back to the manor and I gave up then?
Yeap, that's it.
 

kenubrion

Journeyed there and back again
#25
Well, this new Best of Indie Fantasy list is a dream come true for me, although it doesn't contain Steel Blood & Fire, the best indie grimdark since Blood Song was an indie, it's that good and our membership here agrees. Ben you're going to have to read it, not wait several months, because the true number 1 is waiting and when you do read it, you'll think back to DawnO'Wonder's 800 reviews and Allan Batchelder's 31 in three years and realize someone in your position has to give the guy a hand to spread the word. Because it WILL be your new #1. Although I am enjoying The Thief who Pulled..., but it's not a patch on SB&F.
 

btkong

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#26
I'm very much looking forward to reading it. I'm reading Matt's Sane King in a couple weeks then it will be Steel, Blood & Fire. Now I wish there were audiobook though...

I am enjoying The Thief who Pulled..., but it's not a patch on SB&F.
Now that's very exciting to hear!

And it would be wonderful to have one of our regular forum members have an awesome indie book ranked at the top for sure. If it's as good as you guys say, comparing to the other books, well that's going to be very interesting!
 

rudyjuly2

Journeyed there and back again
#27
I think I'm the only guy on this site that loved Steel, Blood & Fire and was disappointed with the second book to the point I quit the series. So much of that second book felt pointless at the end of the day.

Just an FYI about the first book - it reads almost like a screenplay at times (which isn't a bad thing). Gives the book a bit of a different feel and you can tell the author is an actor.
 

Silvion Night

Sir Readalot
Staff member
#29
Haha, now it's totally hyped and bound to disappoint Ben. Way to go Kenubrion!
 

Khartun

Journeyed there and back again
#30
I think I'm the only guy on this site that loved Steel, Blood & Fire and was disappointed with the second book to the point I quit the series. So much of that second book felt pointless at the end of the day.

Just an FYI about the first book - it reads almost like a screenplay at times (which isn't a bad thing). Gives the book a bit of a different feel and you can tell the author is an actor.
I think book two is my favorite in the series, especially the ending.
 
#31
Just a lurker on these forums but decided to give my 2 cents on Renshaw's book since I just finished it about 2 days ago. There are some valid criticisms here about how things just line up for the protagonist and his supposed cowardice. However I never saw him as a coward - we see him being extremely brave early on when he's trying to save the girl he loves. His acts of cowardice later on are not evidence of him being a coward but rather evidence of a brave but broken boy. And a boy he is - He is 12 when the story begins and 15 when it ends. He's a child and its really a lot more realistic that an abused child will display acts of cowardice when faced with situations that remind him of said abuse rather than be a perfect knight from the get go. This is one of the only faults I find in GRRM's work - the children dont really act like children, for example Robb is 14 when the war starts. Arya is 9. Yet they act like almost grown men and women. In Renshaw's work we see a child acting like a child and yes it gets on my nerves at times but it is simply more realistic. I do get that in fantasy we are not looking for realism but it has its place in this book, though it might not be everyone's cup of tea.

As for the events lining up for the protagonist. I agree wholeheartedly. I dont know how to use spoiler tags yet so SPOILERS!!!!!


The whole General Osric adopting him was both stupid and unbelievable. It was also extremely odd that every time the protagonist would go on one of his adventures he would find something valuable or overhear treasonous conversations. And also literally GOD getting him rid of his mental block and spoon feeding him the fact that Kalry is alive was pretty hard to swallow.

END SPOILERS!!


But despite this I enjoyed the book. It was fun and I couldnt put it down. It set up book 2 well and Im really looking forward to it. I just hope the author just gets better and better as he writes on - I had a horrible experience with Anthony Ryan where I got hooked on BloodSong and absolutely hated the other 2 books. Im hoping this doesnt happen to Renshaw.


Edit by Alucard
 
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Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#32
@YoungWolf
In the reply box click the 4th icon from the right. You'll see spoiler button as a second option. If you would like the 'Spoiler' button show a title that hints at its content, enter your text here. To avoid having a title, leave the text box empty. Click continue.
Write in between spoiler tags.
You now know how to use spoiler tags.
 
#33
@YoungWolf
In the reply box click the 4th icon from the right. You'll see spoiler button as a second option. If you would like the 'Spoiler' button show a title that hints at its content, enter your text here. To avoid having a title, leave the text box empty. Click continue.
Write in between spoiler tags.
You now know how to use spoiler tags.
Thanks!
 

kenubrion

Journeyed there and back again
#34
Haha, now it's totally hyped and bound to disappoint Ben. Way to go Kenubrion!
I will never back off my opinion of this book. C'mon, I'm well read, and quite old so I've been reading fantasy more than 50 years. Steel Blood & Fire is a great book and amazing as a debut. That it still is unknown is something I can't believe.

for example Robb is 14 when the war starts. Arya is 9. Yet they act like almost grown men and women
That's a good point YoungWolf. They do. Your mention of the General finally made me remember this book, and that's another good point. I was glad it happened though and you rarely see anything positive happening to the young put upon protagonists, so it was a feel good thing for me.
 

fbones24

Journeyed there and back again
#35
I think I'm the only guy on this site that loved Steel, Blood & Fire and was disappointed with the second book to the point I quit the series. So much of that second book felt pointless at the end of the day.

Just an FYI about the first book - it reads almost like a screenplay at times (which isn't a bad thing). Gives the book a bit of a different feel and you can tell the author is an actor.
Ahhhh, reading and tastes are so subjective. I loved SB&F but thought hat As Flies to Wanton Boys was a step up in story and writing. So much of the second book felt so necessary to me in developing those characters. To me, the third book was the weakest of the bunch but I absolutely loved the second book.

...and yes, this will be #1 on the indie list without a doubt.
 

Darth Tater

Journeyed there and back again
#36
M.R. Mathias. The Wardstone trilogy. #14 on Ben's list.

It was free at the time but still feel I got ripped off! This was the only time I broke my own rule and didn't finish a book after getting past 30 pages. I was so bored but couldn't get past the 65% mark. Total garbage, IMO. It will be hard to make myself read another indie book if there is more terrible crap like this. I know there are some true gems out there but it isn't worth my time to search after4 bad ones so far (not all fantasy books) to zero good ones but this was a total joke. That being said I definitely WILL try The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree by S.A. Hunt which looks very intriguing and I loved The Dark Tower series. That book is #2 on Bens list. Lots of good reviews on that which SEEMED genuine but you never know. But Bens list will greatly help.

I was curious who Matthias was AFTER quitting the book. He is an ex convict, felony undpecified (I didn't ask someone to check ISTARS...yet and I don't know if he wrote this during his prison stint. Hey, a small minority of felons change and all the power to them. However, I look at his current picture and he looks like a wannabe punk thug who wants to look street for his "associates". Just my gut feeling after doing parole hearings for several years .

Some reviews and he himself compares himself to the greats like Tolkien, Jordan, etc. Huh?? I thought his writing was sophomoric and the book was filled with editing and grammatical errors. The sex seemed like immature teenage boy fantasies. To many cliches overall. I did not care about any of the characters which begins with a guy ckimbing some mountain and it seemed Hardy-boyish to me. He tells you things about characters without explanation. How about showing us instead? There were a couple of interesting sections and I thought his dedication to his parents was very genuine. That is all the positive I can think of.

Reading the great reviews I kept thinking sock puppets! I will leave that to the sneaky burritos of this world who are experts on sniffing that stuff out. Haha. But Ben liked it so that is a huge recommendation. Every now and then I disagree with Ben but only on a matter of personal tastes. But were we even reading the same book here?? I saw stuff online accusing Matthias of paying for reviews, getting Amazon to remove bad ones, and posting his own reviews on different email accounts. IS someone actually jealous as he claims? Admittedly I didn't complete the book but after 2/3 I just couldn't. I really desired and tried to like it but found every excuse I could to avoid reading it.

I didn't know if I should post this here or in the bad authors thread. I saw a screen print of his childish behavior on a forum where he threw a tantrum and argued with people who criticized his book. Until I saw that I thought it was POSIBLE someone had a personal vendetta against him but I think not and where there is a lot of smoke there is often fire . I imagine he is thrilled to be considered indie on Ben's list and in this context but he got in an argument with mods elsewhere when he advertised his books and they moved his post to the small press and self published thread. He was rude and said they were all jealous and missing some of the greatest fantasy ever! Seems like he is still trying to pull one over on society and succeeding.
 
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kenubrion

Journeyed there and back again
#37
Well, he's on the list because The Wardstone Trilogy is a great classic epic fantasy, and it was his debut, which he wrote in longhand while in prison for pot possession.
 

Sparrow

Journeyed there and back again
#38
There's an unofficial story here I'll share about Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw. In part because I do notice the book has sort of picked up steam now.

To answer the above question, yes, I read it.

No I didn't like it.

The reason is fully explained below. I've expanded quite a bit on they why because the book seems to be picking up some steam and I'll likely be getting future questions about whether I have read it or not and whether it should be on the Best Indie List or not.

Here's the deal. Take this whole huge narrative below as my answer and an unofficial review of the book.

The author contacted me for a review a last year; I agreed to review it and I did, but was wholly unimpressed with it. In fact, I struggled to even finish it and had to force myself even though I was paid to read, review, and give my honest opinion.

At the request of the author, I never posted the big review I wrote for it since it was not glowingly positive as seems to be the case for his amazon page with hundreds of 5 star reviews.

My suspicions were raised regarding those Amazon reviews after finishing the book -- I went through many of these trying to figure out how he had so many glowing five star reviews in such a short period of time for a newer indie book, especially when what was being said in most of the reviews did not align with my own reading experience of the book. I only point this out because my review was so at odds with what all these hundreds and hundreds of reviews were saying.

Anyways, back to why I didn't like the book.

I can see why some readers would like it -- The Name of the Wind and The Blood Song were huge inspirations for the author and his story. And on that note, for a tale that feels in the same direction, the author did succeed somewhat.

But, if those source books that inspired it were forest fires, A Dawn of Wonder was a shadow of a candle flame in comparison to them.

Yes, Dawn of Wonder has some of the same elements: unexpected events and tragedy propelling a village boy from the wilds into a great city, boy proves to be a genius at everything and lands up going to a military school, then has adventure and proves he's a genius and saves the day.

A book that tries to do the same thing other books before it is not a bad thing, and Renshaw does tried to tap into the same essence that The Name of the Wind / The Blood Song do.

But it's also in the HOW you weave the story threads together, in the how of tale telling, in the how of building the characters that determines how good the story comes off. I know we are talking fantasy, and indie fantasy at that, but there's a certain level of verisimilitude needed to be believable and practically every event, every plot in the book lacked that.

And this was where A Dawn of Wonder failed completely for me: the premise is good (I'm a sucker as the rest of you for the 'talented, unknown boy gets caught up in the greater world, goes to martial/wizard school and proves to be a genius ' trope), but the implementation of it -- how the threads are put together, how the characters are drawn and interact, how the plot lines up, and how events happen, were as rough as the Gulf of Florida during hurricane season.

Spoilers here, but here's some of the main reasons why I thought the book was so bad.

The hero was a coward (spent most of the time running from fights and leaving friends to die), and the hero was able to solve problems without breaking a sweat, on demand.

And 'events' just lined themselves up without making a lot of sense half the time (village boy hero somehow gets into an elite school, becomes like an adopted son to a general which was wholly unbelievable in how it happens, and generally gets caught up in major events that seem to happen at whim and without valid or believable reasons).

Even the ending, the final resolution to the conflict was absolutely ridiculous. This was solved literally by an actual strike of lighting -- I'm not sure if there was some intentional irony that a strike of lighting solves all the hero's (emotional) problems, but if the author was trying to be intentionally ironic, then he succeeded more at this then anything else in the novel I felt.

Basically, everything that happens is just lined up for the hero like a line of dominoes waiting to be pushed over; the plots and situations open up for him, and are solved by him, on whim and demand (to push the story forward) without tangible or believable reasons for such situations to happen.

I give Renshaw credit where it's due for trying to write a different sort of story with a different kind of hero (one who vacillates between being a hero and a coward) who spends the book fighting against suppressed emotional issues that flare up in every situation of conflict.

Yes this is interesting as the author does break some expectations for a heroic hero as protagonist there.

But how can you really get behind a hero who's reduced to a quivering coward every single time a conflict/fight breaks out; the protagonist will literally turn tail and run, leaving his friends to die. This happens multiple times.

It's even more gulling when the book's premise is about a Valin-like hero training at an elite martial academy.

Kovthe or Valin this hero is not!

I suppose that's a good thing, but it makes for some hard reading, and because of this, an unlikable protagonist. The reader is willing to wait for a payoff, for the hero to step up and conquer his emotional issues, to become the hero he is suppose to be -- that you demand him to be -- but you wait, and wait, and by the end of the novel, it simply doesn't happen. The hero's emotional block is solved by the end, but it literally takes an act of god, not the hero's own efforts, to fix -- a cheap and deeply unsatisfying dues ex machina solution to the problem.

This is an indie novel, so we have to cut some slack here I know. And the book does set up events for the next book -- things may vastly improve there, maybe. So things could vastly improve in the future. The writer has talent.

I'm not out here to hurt someone's blossoming career, especially indie authors who I do try to support now. But I did not enjoy the book in the least. And I had to be honest about that.

I do note the author has a pretty cool cover now (vastly upgraded from his old cover when I reviewed it last year) and the audiobook has one of the best narrators Tim Reynolds (same guy who does Red Rising); and there's clearly a big marketing push now for his book / audiobook with such a high profile audiobook narrator, a professional cover, and all these new reviews.

I do wish Renshaw the best success -- he's a pretty nice guy from our email exchanges. And it was hard for me to give him, as I was told, the worst review he's ever received. I spent a very long time reading the book and writing that review, because I wanted to be very clear why I didn't like it and why I felt the novel had serious problems. With a rewrite or two, it could be quite good I think.

But as it stands, the novel felt like it was rough draft and needed a rewrite or three.

But I had to be honest and at the end of the day, a book is only good if you enjoy it. I did not. But you you might. But by all means, read the book and let me know what you guys think.

With so much positive hype and praise I see about this book, I'm wondering why I didn't see it all when reading the book. Have I missed the new Blood Song or The Name of the Wind?

I don't thinks so, no.

I read some of the negative reviews on the amazon page, and most of these hit on the same points I found when I read the book. Exactly the same complaints I had.

I'd like to know how off I am here regarding how good the book is -- am I out of touch with reality about what people like, or is the hype paid for with fake reviews, or are my standards simply unrealistically too high, and I was too hard on the book with my review (which has never been posted yet).

If it comes off that a lot of other people on this forum love the book, I may go back and take a look at it the book again, in part because I'd like to know why and how my impression of the book is so different than the rest.

I'm glad I happened upon your review of Dawn of Wonder, as last night my finger was hovering over the "purchase" button on audible.com... but since I'm not at all familiar with the writer I in the end held off spending my monthly credit. The sample audio certainly shows off Renshaw's writing chops. The actual story itself, at least as it's described in the promotional blurb, isn't at all what I'm usually interested in for my monthly fantasy fix, but the sample audio was so impressive I nearly abandoned my personal tastes just to experience the beautiful prose. After reading your review I'm glad I didn't buy the book.
It appears Renshaw has loads and loads of talent, but that raw talent needs to mature some more before he becomes a great storyteller.

Don't feel too self conscious about a disliking for a book that just about everyone else raves about... I'm still flabbergasted at the gushing response to Neal Stephenson's SF epic, Seveneves. If I was to list the ten worst books I've ever read in my life, Seveneves would top that list! I could only find a spattering of reviews that even mentioned the same troublesome problems I had with the story.
 

btkong

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#39
I'm glad I happened upon your review of Dawn of Wonder, as last night my finger was hovering over the "purchase" button on audible.com... but since I'm not at all familiar with the writer I in the end held off spending my monthly credit. The sample audio certainly shows off Renshaw's writing chops. The actual story itself, at least as it's described in the promotional blurb, isn't at all what I'm usually interested in for my monthly fantasy fix, but the sample audio was so impressive I nearly abandoned my personal tastes just to experience the beautiful prose. After reading your review I'm glad I didn't buy the book.
I really want some of you guys to read the book and tell me I'm on crack or something. PLEASE do not skip out on what some eager readers are calling 'the new Blood Song.' I did not enjoy this book at all and I had to force myself to finish it, even considering the author paid me to read and review his book -- it was still a challenge.

But that's just me and you guys could very well find it the bees knees, which is why I say read it and then come back and tell me what you think.

I note that the audiobook now has an awesome narrator, so that maybe changes the flow. But even a 5 star narrator like Tim Reynolds can't (in my opinion) save a shaky plot.

Renshaw is a good writer. I do not take that away. The prose is (while not at anything near the level of Rothfuss) is decent and absolutely readable. Sure there's better out there, but considering the indie origin here, good enough. My main complaint came down to the shaky plot, my dislike of the protagonist, and how everything just magically lines up without making sense. Regardless of the book, these are things I value in a story, and I didn't like how they were handled here at all. And the ultimate resolution was absolutely ridiculous IMO in how it came to be.

I'd be interested to see where the author goes for book 2. I think the author has talent -- I did not at all like the book, but I don't take away the fact some people do like it.
 
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btkong

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#40
Don't feel too self conscious about a disliking for a book that just about everyone else raves about... I'm still flabbergasted at the gushing response to Neal Stephenson's SF epic, Seveneves. If I was to list the ten worst books I've ever read in my life, Seveneves would top that list! I could only find a spattering of reviews that even mentioned the same troublesome problems I had with the story.
I think part of this comes from that fact of the author's reputation. I mean it's Neal Stephenson, grand visionary author that he is. The guy could probably re-write a phone book and it would be hailed as a masterpiece of SF.

I have the same feeling about most of the Apple products. I don't get the hubbub with the geek culture about how awesome the latest Iphone/Ipad/Macbook/iwatch is.

A new Apple product comes out and people literally line the streets and even camp out overnight to be the first to hand the company their money in the morning, as if buying a new phone for $700 USD is some sort of sacred religious act that grants you an afterlife.