SPSFC Quarterfinalist Review: Red Darkling by L.A. Guettler

My judging team in the third annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC3) has made our way through our full 24-book allocation and selected seven quarterfinalists. Since then, we’ve spent a couple months reading these seven quarterfinalists in full in an effort to narrow our allocation down to the two books we’ll be sending forward to the semifinals. While our scores at this stage will determine whether or not a book will advance to the next round, we’ve also included short snippets of each judge’s review in an effort to help our quarterfinalists find their audience. After all, every book we’ve read in this stage comes with a hearty recommendation from at least one of our seven judges. None of them are unanimous favorites, but all of them are books that we can attest will be hits for the right readers.

Today, we’ll be discussing a fast-paced space opera, Red Darkling by L.A. Guettler.

Azrah’s Review and Rating

The episodic nature of the narrative did make it seem as though following Red’s day to day interplanetary shenanigans was all there was to the plot at first especially as the mysterious benefactor thread started to drag out. I was intrigued enough to keep following along though and I liked how everything came together by the end.

I do wish the pacing had let up a little in the last chunk of the book as I feel like it all wrapped up too fast but overall this was a fun and entertaining read through and through.

Azrah has rated Red Darkling 6/10. For more, check out her full review.

Bowen’s Review and Rating

It’s well-written, and the author has obviously put onto the page exactly, precisely the character she intended.

It slows down in the middle, and changes pace from action to basically action free, which reduced my enjoyment a little bit.

Bowen has rated Red Darkling 6.75/10. For more, check out his full review.

Dave’s Review and Rating

A thoroughly entertaining journey as Red bounces around the galaxy with her cat, Bonk. I loved the intergalactic bartender, the touch of mystery, and wondering how she gets of the next self-imposed disaster. The prose is top notch. On the flip side, the chapters were episodic and the character arc a bit thin, but the compelling voice of Red more than made up for it.

Dave has rated Red Darkling 7/10. For more, check out his full review.

Jay’s Review and Rating

Reader experience with Red Darkling will turn both on how much they enjoy the endearing screw-up character archetype and on whether they can relax and enjoy the story’s episodic nature without worrying too much about the main plot. Because the individual episodes are engagingly written and generally pretty fun, but the overarching story develops slowly, with some of the foreshadowing coming off clumsily. Overall, it makes for a solid popcorn sci-fi. And to be honest, I don’t think it was trying to be anything else.

Jay has rated Red Darkling 6/10. For more, check out his full review.

Mark’s Review and Rating

I thoroughly enjoyed Red Darkling, although I would have liked it better if the heavy conflict part of the story had started earlier. The characters were likable and not, as required, and I found myself cheering Red on as the story went along. The storytelling was quite good and the author’s voice was not at all intrusive. The use of the “Red gets what she so desperately wants only to discover it’s not what she really wants. That she had was she really wants all along” trope was pretty well done, if a little predictable. Nevertheless, I was left with a warm heart at the end.

Mark has rated Red Darkling 7/10.

Paromita’s Review and Rating

I liked reading this book, there was nothing that I particularly disliked but unfortunately, this novel did not stand out to me. I wanted more from the storytelling and the worldbuilding, those expectations were not really met. I did like the story, just wish there was more in terms of one particular aspect – be it theming or character moments – that would have helped me connect with it more.

Paromita has rated Red Darkling 6/10.

Rari’s Review and Rating

On the whole, I enjoyed this a lot more than many other books in my batch of seven. The voice is great and I loved it. The characters stayed with me, and though the stakes are very personal, I was very invested in the resolution.

The ending felt a bit rushed to me, like the big bad was taken care of too simplistically and too quickly, but for a plot with personal stakes, it’s okay. It was no less satisfying an ending.

Rari has rated Red Darkling 8/10. For more, check out her full review.

Official Scores

Azrah 6
Bowen 6.75
Dave 7
Jay 6
Mark 7
Paromita 6
Rari 8
Team 6.68

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