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SciFi / Fantasy / Horror

  • Finalist

    Fid's Crusade

    by David Reiss

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Reiss’s fast-paced novel presents readers with enlightening snippets of Doctor Fid’s villainous past and his current dilemma: saving a world he once aimed to terrorize. The transitions between the phases of his life are concise and events progress quickly once readers learn Doctore Fid’s backstory and he becomes immersed in solving the dangerous mysteries at hand.

    Prose: Reiss’s action-packed yet eloquent language will appeal to comic book and superhero fans as well as fiction readers. The author's witty, dark humor and knack for creating detailed, intersecting relationships and timelines will keep readers enthralled.

    Originality: Reiss’s novel has it all: relatable and creatively-composed supervillains, cutting-edge technology, and plenty of dastardly adventures and mysteries. Reiss brings classic superhero and supervillain tropes into an edgy, contemporary setting, where the lines between good and evil are more than often blurred.

    Character Development: Reiss describes each hero and villain in intense detail. Like many classic superhero protagonists, Doctor Fid is unsure of the distinction between his personal and “professional” life, and battles with himself over his true identity, goals, allegiances, and sense of purpose.

    Blurb: Brainy, snarky Doctor Fid is as likable as a supervillain gets. This book offers an energetic, ridiculously fun storyline that will feel like the “adult” version of Despicable Me.

  • Semi Finalist

    Plot: After a curious start, the narrative quickly gains momentum and stays at full speed: the apparently insane Jean Dupont escapes from a mental facility, encounters monsters and gangsters, and makes a disconcerting self-discovery with regard to superpowers. The plot twists are numerous and the pacing excellent. 

    Prose: Uniquely smart, sardonic, and wickedly funny prose helps to sustain the fast pace.

    Originality: The term “utterly original” is too weak for this book. While there are existing novels about insane asylums, including ones from the point of view of patients or doctors, this book's additional elements of magic, gangsters, and superpowers gained through pharmaceutical drugs make this feel exceptionally fresh.

    Character Development: Jean has a singular personality: sometimes irritating but oftentimes heroic and sympathetic. All other characters are crisply defined, including the gangster's daughter Natalie Gravois and the sorcerer Michel Zabat.

    Blurb: This rapid-fire blast through the life of an apparent madman is dangerously and addictively intoxicating.


  • Semi Finalist

    Never/More (Book of Night)

    by R.L. Ostrander

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: One of the great strengths of this novel is the plotting The author adds twists and plot points that are engaging and entertaining.

    Prose: The prose is sound and doesn’t distract readers from the story. The details are vivid and well chosen.

    Originality: What helps make this novel original is the world building within the dream where Edgar is stuck. Readers will engage with this setting as if it were a living, breathing character. 

    Character Development: The protagonist, Edgar, and the antagonist, Ikelos, have distinct voices from the beginning of the book. This keeps the story strong and engaging.

  • Semi Finalist

    Plot: This complex fantasy novel richly integrates historical elements, while thrilling circumstances and high emotion propel the storytelling. 

    Prose: Harrell writes convincingly of a child's worldview, balancing the protagonist's vulnerability with fortitude. Prose flows eloquently, with hard-hitting observations about cruelty and inhumanity.

    Originality: The author's blending of magic into a story of survival and oppression under colonialism, results in a rare and powerful work of speculative fiction. 

    Character Development: Harrell's characters are individually vivid, layered, and capable. Relationships between individuals, however, can come across as cold and lacking in dimension.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Children Without Faces

    by Erik Marshall

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: The plot of this story is complex and full of surprises. It begins as a missing persons story and slowly expands to incorporate a smuggling plot and eventually a war for magic powers. As these exciting and dynamic events unfold, they gradually reveal the limitations of the world of Cold Harbor, as well as its magical possibilities.

    Prose: The author's prose is lean but effective for the story he tells, and descriptive without being flowery. He makes every word count for the story he wants to share, and his storytelling style is of a very professional caliber.

    Originality: There are many tales of heroic fantasy in which good prevails over evil and the young and determined triumph over the adults who scheme to suppress them. The personalities of these characters and the intrigues in which they become enmeshed make this tale seem fresh and original.

    Character Development: The characters in Marshall’s novel are both well developed and engaging. Toby, Dani, and the other youthful characters are scrappy and resourceful. Even evil characters compel readers' attention.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Nemecene: Through Fire and Ice

    by Kaz Lefave

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: The third episode of Kaz Lefave’s series explores a fantastical futuristic world with many diverse players. The tightly-plotted narrative is dictated by flashbacks, jumps into the future, and a magical realistic realm—each used successfully to explore characters' motivations and fears as they pursue peace, vengeance, and clarity.

    Prose: Lefave's prose is descriptive and eloquent, bringing an entirely new meaning to the term, "world-builder." With considerable skill, the author has concocted vivid, vibrant, cosmic worlds that hone in on several diverse narrators and their day-to-day hopes, dreams, and fears.

    Originality: Lefave has crafted an unusual and interactive world here that's supported by an expansive glossary, a "real-life" biochip experience, dynamic lettering and formatting, and a cast of unique narrators with individual missions and motivations.

    Character: The character list is vast, yet meticulous detail is paid to the composition and introduction of each one. Their innermost workings and thoughts are revealed as the author takes time to explore what makes them tick. 

  • Quarter Finalist

    Saint John Lennon

    by Daniel Hartwell

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: This novel is deftly plotted. The engaging story moves along nicely and the text is rich with true-to-life descriptions.

    Prose: Hartwell's novel boasts extremely well-written and straightforward prose that is also beautifully imaginative.

    Originality: This is a very original story. Bringing John Lennon back to life and sending him back and forth in time to ultimately try to save mankind is very ambitious and works extremely well.

    Character Development: The characters, both real-life figures and fictitious ones, are well defined and real. Hartwell's portrayal of John Lennon is spot-on.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Suicide Forest

    by Jeremy Bates

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Plot twists, gripping suspense, and a highly visual cinematic storytelling style makes for an entertaining, if not nightmare-inducing, read.

    Prose: Bates’s prose is simple and clean, propelling the plot along at a breakneck pace.  The author creates an evocative sense of place through detailed description and a pervading tone of unease.

    Originality: Bates’s novel calls to mind works of classic horror, as a cast of seemingly ordinary characters fall victim to a horrifying murder spree. Bates adds contemporary twists to the horror trope by including references to Japanese culture and blending the impact of substance use with the horror of being trapped in a forest, haunted by ghosts, deranged murderers, or perhaps both.

    Character Development: While Bates's characters are not always richly developed, they serve the machinations of the story effectively as a harmless adventure turns horrendously wrong.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Tale Half Told (The Encounter Series Book 1)

    by Killarney Traynor

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: In Tale Half Told, Traynor has concocted a horror-fantasy plot that is fast-paced and rife with scares, psychological suspense, and dread. The haunted house story evolves into a contemporary storyline of jealousy, greed, and evil as the novel progresses.

    Prose: Traynor’s prose is clean and effective. Eloquent and suspenseful, the story unfolds quickly and clearly.

    Originality: Although the novel alludes to influences, the plotline is fresh and entertaining, using traditional horror tropes to provide readers with a fresh tale just as scary as the classics.

    Character Development: The author draws on common horror tropes to create unique and well-rendered characters.

    Blurb: Tale Half Told is a supernatural spectacle that transcends the holiday season, and a riveting page-turner for fans of horror, fantasy, ghouls, and old haunted homes.

  • Time Is Irreverent

    by Marty Essen

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: With unexpected twists and turns, the storyline keeps readers entertained with its fast pace and humor.

    Prose: The book is well written with lots of humor, although it tends to get a bit campy at times. The various characters have similar ways of speaking, so it's difficult to tell who is talking when there are no identifying dialogue tags.

    Originality: Though the book makes use of familiar themes, it is nonetheless a fun and unique read.

    Character Development: The characters are well developed, with flaws and weaknesses that make them relatable and likable.

  • The Road Once Taken

    by Lori L MacLaughlin

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: MacLaughlin's plot is exciting, fast-paced, and full of surprises. As the novel progresses, it begins to resemble a more standard fantasy plot but nonetheless remains exhilarating and interesting to readers.

    Prose: MacLaughlin's prose is clean, grounded, and connects readers emotionally with the text. The writing helps readers become invested in the universe MacLaughlin has created, and the forces of good and evil battling to control it.

    Originality: From detailed maps of the fantasy world to the overall magical mystery, MacLaughlin's work possesses the charm of the work of Holly Black and Neil Gaiman, and the supernatural and whimsical elements evident in such worlds as C.S. Lewis's Narnia.

    Character Development: While this fantasy novel reads like many others, it is nonetheless refreshing, emotionally relevant, and memorable.

    Blurb: The Road Once Taken is titillating and terrifying, an enchanting novel that straddles the line between the fantasy and mystery genres. 

  • Returning Souls

    by Ernestine Colombo

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Colombo’s plot is fast-paced and well constructed. Readers will be engaged by both Evie's and Astara's story.

    Prose: Colombo’s prose is free of errors and flows beautifully, with meticulous, vibrant descriptions that often wax poetic. The author also makes skillful use of simile and metaphor.

    Originality: Returning Souls is a wholly unique story that celebrates returning to one’s historical roots and explores the benefits and detriments that can be attained from unearthing past trauma and heartache

    Character Development: The cast of characters in Returning Souls spans geographic location and actual time: the watchful feline familiars in both time periods; the single soul in dual bodies who is the protagonist; the eerie and ominous Old One; and the unsupportive family members with whom Evie struggles.

  • Retreads

    by Steve Hobbs

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: This well-plotted, well-paced novel follows two engaging storylines. The two plots ultimately join and the narrative balance and pacing are strong as the two come together.

    Prose: The narrative is snappy and well-written. Expository sections are heavy on description without being laborious. Dialogue flows nicely, and the characters sound distinct when they speak. The balance of the plotlines is struck nicely, with the narration moving between the two smoothly.

    Originality: The basic premise of the book is clever and original. The author doesn’t spend any more time than is required explaining the inventive aspects of the story, and this keeps the reader involved in the plot.

    Character Development: The characters are well rendered. Meg is especially vivid and well rounded. Sam and Oscar do a great job of depicting different ethical and moral opinions, while other retreads add to the depth of the underlying thematic material.

    Blurb: A riveting and unique sci-fi adventure.

  • Cleaning House

    by Jeanne GFellers

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: While not the book’s strength, the plot is solid and suspenseful. The basic storyline follows conventional beats, but the remarkable execution of themes and characterization makes for a very robust resolution to the plot.

    Prose: The novel is well written; in particular, the dialogue shines. Accents are rendered sparingly and hit the right notes for believability. The exposition moves quickly and isn't slowed by interior narration.

    Originality: The book is original and imaginative. Pulling from elements of Appalachian folklore, the story uniquely blends a distinct and uncommon brand of fantasy with a superbly executed story of queer identity.

    Character Development: The characterization is handled skillfully: Cent is a likable and relatable character. Queer protagonists are uncommon, which can tempt some authors to overcompensate, but she is crafted masterfully and naturally. Other characters, including supernatural spirits, are complex and interesting and have their own motivations, rather than merely supporting the plot or Cent’s emotional growth.

    Blurb: A stand-out book. An imaginative tale of identity steeped in Appalachian folklore.

  • Nemecene: The Gadlin Conspiracy

    by Kaz Lefave

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: The narrative is split across three perspectives, each styled differently. The perspectives relate to the plot in different ways, justifying the use of the multiple perspectives and adding to the tension and occasional dramatic irony. The primary plotline is entertaining, suspenseful, and cerebral. The conclusion is satisfying, while also leaving unresolved elements for a subsequent installment.

    Prose: The writing is strong, though occasionally verbose, particularly in Nepharisse’s sections. Dialogue flows naturally, and the different sections of narrative are consistent in their respective styles. Elize’s first-person stream of consciousness can occasionally feel a bit hectic or stumbling in its execution, though this does aid in her characterization.

    Originality: The premise is robust and fleshed out satisfactorily. As the best science fiction ought to, the narrative speculates on the consequences of real-world issues, primarily environmental damage wrought by human society. The characters and scenarios are original, distinct, and relatable.

    Character Development: The three protagonists are distinct and interesting, and their characterizations are complimented and enhanced by the stylistic choices of their narration. This skillful combining of structure with expositional characterization results in complex and dynamic characterizations that many authors would envy.

    Blurb: The right sci-fi blend: speculative, profound, relevant, and fun.

  • It's A Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World

    by Curtis M. Lawson

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: A fast-paced plot and the introduction of new players attempting to claim the life-stealing Fangs of Wallachia keep the reader entertained in this dark fantasy.

    Prose: Lawson's prose is succinct and conversational with an excellent balance between dark comedy and horror elements.

    Originality: It’s unusual to find a cast of characters comprised almost entirely of villains, even in dark fantasy and horror.

    Character Development: The dangerous, often criminally insane characters living in these pages are highly entertaining with believable motivations. Although none of them display a wide range of personality or emotion, each character is distinct and unique.

    Blurb: A rip-roaring urban fantasy that delves into the real horrors of human depravity.