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4.0 out of 5 stars A Cool Performance Enhancement Supplement, 12 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Birr Elixir (The Legend of the Gamesmen Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
The Birr Elixir by Jo Sparkes is a short fantasy novel. In general, it's well edited with lots of interesting and colorful characters. A prologue introduces Prince Tryst. Chapter 1 brings in the female main character, Marra, and the skilled gamesman, Drail. The story starts on the day of a very important game for Drail. Marra has a role and the plot begins moving at a good pace that the novel maintains. Overall, my rating was between okay and like. I'm rounding up to like.

Several aspects of the storytelling made it harder for me to enjoy the story. The first was the writer's choice of point of view. By switching the point of view character so often, it became harder to identify with any specific character. Additionally, there were a number of small elements that lessened my experience of this book. One race was the Skullan and the other was the Trumen, but sometimes it was Truman. It took me a while to understand it was a typo and not some designation of number, or something more subtle.

Unfortunately, for me, the story seemed incomplete. Perhaps, this is a set up for the next book, but I felt that there were too many questions left unanswered for a book sold separately. For much of the book we know something bad has happened to a main character but we never learn why, even though exposed to the point of view of a villain. I'm still unclear on the age of Marra as an apprentice could be as young as 12. This made it harder to evaluate the actions of several other characters as my evaluation would be different depending on Marra's age.

In my opinion, the best part of the story is the world building. I especially like the invented game Comet, a combination of lacrosse, soccer, and quidditch. The game required athleticism, skill, and strategy. The author describes multiple games, including the actions of the athletes as well as their mental machinations. Although this provided an opportunity to show the characters, it wasn't enough to make me connect with any of them.

The game has aspects of chance. As realistic as that may be, it was less than satisfactory for me as a reader, when chance (as written by the author) decided various outcomes more than the actions of the characters.

Nagging doubts still cross my mind about the notion one can/should consume a supplement to enhance one's athletic performance. In today's world, those would be considered performance enhancing drugs, a cause for concern. Early in the book, I projected that in the final game it would become clear that the elixir had no real effect, and that it was indeed the player's raw skill and will that governed their performance. I was wrong. Read the story to see the writer's interesting twist.

I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Birr Elixir, 16 Aug. 2013
Review
It's been a while since I've found myself absorbed in a good fantasy book, but this one broke that dry spell. I was a bit dubious at first as I didn't really see where the story was going, however when the main plot line was introduced I couldn't put the book down.
I would have liked to find out more about the individual characters/groups of people; there was a lack of backstory that made it really hard for me to actually care about the characters. This is the first book in a series though, so it's possible that there is more of this as you continue reading.
Whilst somewhat predictable within the latest trend of fantasy stories, the main protagonist is a quiet, unassuming, young girl. Although this type of character seems to annoy me, I developed a fondness for this girl as there wasn't an ounce of self-pitying and instead a quiet intelligence that the reader could see but she could not.
The story, linked together by a focus on a sport, acted as an important way in which the reader can develop a greater understanding of the characters as well as becoming the premise on which the story is created. As stated before, I wanted to spend more time with the character themselves so I would have sacrificed some `play time' for that, but you cannot doubt the importance of the sport and I can only imagine this continues as the story goes on.

Overall
This is a light-hearted, easy to read and imaginative fantasy story that I would highly recommend to young teenagers. I'll certainly be keeping my eye on the progression of this series!
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Birr Elixir- Jo Sparkes, 2 Aug. 2013
Summer has finally arrived and with it comes holidays lying on the beach with a good book or e-book. To start my summer get away early I escaped into the fictional world within The Birr Elixir, the first book in a series titled The Legend of The Gamesmen penned by Jo Sparkes.

First impressions are good, the prologue is strong and offers important detail for the rest of the novel rather than just being a large and unnecessary paragraph. Continuing onto the first chapter Sparkes sets a comfortable pace which is consistent throughout and an easy flow of events, revelations and character development. There appears to be some clumsiness in the sentence structure of this first chapter, but the further you read this is rectified and the writing becomes much stronger; subsequent chapters are much better.

As the plot thickens it becomes increasingly clear that there is much more to this novel than first appears- magic, adventure, action and a prince it's got a bit of everything! On an aesthetic level I found the cover of this novel rather dark and foreboding- which made me think that the plot would be much darker than I found it to be.

Moving on, as the reader continues to read The Birr Elixir they will slowly get to grips with Sparkes' characters. My favourite character name of course belongs to `Snark', one of Sparkes' villains, whose name I have taken to appreciate as a tribute to Lewis Carroll's poem The Hunting of the Snark. In keeping with the style and pace of the novel, the development of key characters Marra and Drail is suitably consistent. Most interesting is how Sparkes patiently carves and depicts Marra's life up until the present. Upon reaching the half-way point in the novel, a reader may find it difficult to determine whether or not Marra's story so far is happy or sad. At this point, given the events thus far and the parts of her past which have already been revealed, I would say it is at a relatively happy medium- making her more relatable and believable in the minds of the reader, but she's not so predictable as to run the risk of her becoming a boring and lesser character in subsequent titles.

Sparkes has successfully presented her readers with a well-balanced selection of characters with a variety of backgrounds and individual stories to tell. The focus on the sport featured in this book at first took me by surprise. Reminiscent of quidditch from the Harry Potter novels, rather than detracting from the novel it adds a further dimension to the characters and locations presented to the reader; and I have to say it is the most exciting sport I've read about in a piece of fiction since being introduced to quidditch. Sparkes also offers readers an intriguing and exotic setting for this fantasy novel. `The flats' and desert lands are described in such a way that draws in the reader, as they are reminiscent of the lands of Ancient Egypt as seen in popular films like The Mummy and Indiana Jones.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this light-hearted fantasy. The writing is light and easy to read, the plot clear and easy to follow. I would definitely recommend to both young and old fantasy fans. I for one thoroughly look forward to reading the rest of books in The Legend of The Gamesmen series.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully crafted fantasy, 11 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Birr Elixir (The Legend of the Gamesmen Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
Author Sparkes has written an excellent short fantasy story. The plot has a recognizable beginning, middle, and end. Groundwork is begun for the trouble ahead in the next book. Characters change because of the action in the story.

And the characters are realistic, interesting, likeable, and flawed. They are well-differentiated from each other and definitely people I want to travel with in the future. The villains are perhaps a touch stereotyped, but we're only meeting the second-string henchmen in this installment, so their lack of subtle shading can be forgiven.

These characters occupy a fascinating world described with enough complexity to make it real without slowing the story with overblown adjectives. The pacing is just right, moving steadily forward but giving the reader quick breaks to recover.

If you're looking for a new fantasy author to follow, you can't go wrong with Sparkes. I highly recommend this book as an entertaining read. One word of caution. As soon as you're finished, you'll want the second in the series.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review (and I'm very glad I did).
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4.0 out of 5 stars The author is excellent at description, 13 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Birr Elixir (The Legend of the Gamesmen Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
The Birr Elixir is a very engaging fantasy tale. The characters are well developed, the story is quite creative and well written, and it moves at a quick pace that makes you want to keep reading. The author is excellent at description, and I could visualize the places and people quite clearly. I can still close my eyes and visualize myself as Marra experiencing new places that I’ve never seen before!

The only criticism I have is that the ending lacked resolution and left many unanswered questions, which seems intentional because there is another book on the way. I was left feeling that this book, however, was cut short and should have gone a bit further than it did. That said, it was still very enjoyable to read and I would recommend it. The author is very skilled writer.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An evocative world, 7 July 2014
By 
Tony (West Wales) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Birr Elixir (The Legend of the Gamesmen Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
Jo Sparkes has created an evocative world which draws on all the senses. Her first sentence. ‘It was a very dirty shop,’ draws you in to the life of Marra – a modern heroine who knows there must be more to life than the virtual slavery to her unsavoury master, Snark. Jo Sparkes’ background as a sports writer shines through in the ritual games of the ‘Comet Days,’ around which the plot develops at a fast pace.

Secret potions and magical books place this firmly in the fantasy genre and the gamesmen, relying on the elixir to compete against much stronger teams, reminded me of Harry Potter’s ‘Quidditch’ contests. This is, of course, book one of a series, so we are literally left at the quayside ready to sail on to further adventures. I for one will be looking forward to the journey!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Original and captivating, 6 Jun. 2014
This review is from: The Birr Elixir (The Legend of the Gamesmen Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
I find myself looking harder to find an original book in this genre, so I was really pleased when The Birr Elixir was recommended. Very original and very well written, it really made my weekend. The story was exciting and didn’t hang around, whilst the characters were strong and I could easily imagine them.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Legend of Gamesmen, 26 May 2014
This review is from: The Birr Elixir (The Legend of the Gamesmen Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
The Birr Elixir is book one in the Legend of Gamesmen series. It is a fantasy with several themes going on which will pan out further in later books. Tryst is a Prince who must set out on a coming of age journey into manhood called a epourney. He must travel the realm to learn about the people and the land before he can become their leader.

Marra works in a potions shop. Sadly Mistress Britta died before her studies were complete, but she can still learn from Britta's book. Treated badly by Britta's brother, Marra is rescued from the shop by Drail.

Drail is a Gamesman. He and his team play a fast ball game called Comet. Britta becomes their Brista, a potion maker. She brews a potion to give them strength before their games. The Gamesmen travel the country playing matches and hope to be able to enter the Solstice Championships in Port Leet.

When Drail rescued Marra, they also found a heavily drugged man, they took him with them. He slept for days before Marra could awaken him. The mystery man, realises he's been kidnapped and must find a way to return to the Great Continent. His chance comes when Drail and his team earn the Mark of Health Tatoo and can board a ship travelling away from the Wavering Continent.

This is a well thought out fantasy world and the game of comet is fascinating. I look forward to reading the next book and finding out where it leads the characters.

This review is based on a free copy of the book given to me by the author.
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5.0 out of 5 stars B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree, 25 Feb. 2014
This review is from: The Birr Elixir (The Legend of the Gamesmen Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
We are proud to announce that Birr Elixir by Jo Sparkes is a B.R.A.G.Medallion Honoree. This tells a reader that this book is well worth their time and money!
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