The guys at Fantasy Book Review, Lee and Fergus, have laboured long and hard to narrow the field in their portion of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (#SPFBO).
In true literary agent style they've read those vital first few chapters of every one of the 26 books sent their way
It's entirely true that the 'good' stuff may lie deep in a book. But on the other hand, these days a book has to grab you by the throat and not let you put it down. Especially a début where the author has no goodwill to draw upon, no momentum to drive loyal readers into the depths of a book with the knowledge that their skill and track record promise a slow-burn reward.
A literary agent that isn't seized by the first few chapters (or very often by the first few pages) will generally move on. Their in-box is teetering and they don't have time to read a whole book or half a book to discover it turns out to be a gem. They have to sell this book. They have to spend the coin of their reputation with editors at publishers. If they put a book that isn't dynamite in front of that editor whose ear they worked so long and hard to gain ... then that editor is going to think twice about investing the time to read the next submission that agent sends their way. The agent loses traction, reputation, influence. So they only want the good stuff - the stuff that the editors they send it to (also on very limited time budgets) will agree is good.
Give this bunch of 26 books to another blogger and you would likely get a quite different selection - but I'm guessing there would be overlaps, books that stood out to a degree that even differences of taste and temperament could not obscure.
Without further ado then - these are the 5 books that the Fantasy Book Review guys plan to read from cover to cover and pick their winner from:
What Remains of Heroes -- David Benem
The Penitent Assassin -- Shawn Wickersheim
Whill of Agora -- Michael James Ploof
Paladin's Redemption -- Kade Derricks
Frotwoot's Faerie Tales -- Charlie Ward
An honourable mention goes to Atomic Sea by Jack Connor and the guys may revisit that book if time allows.