SciFi / Fantasy / Horror
by Dale Renton
Plot: Fast-paced, extremely well-plotted, and loaded with fun and surprises, Renton has created a story that keep readers right in step with the colorful characters and well-crafted settings. Not a boring moment in this storyline.
Prose/Style: Great prose and description brings this novel to life. Lovely descriptions that don't try too hard to impress are appreciated, and the writing is very realistic.
Originality: From the syl to Lisa, the AI librarian, “DART” is a fresh and original story in a very crowded genre.
Character Development: Renton's characters are fully-drawn and come alive on the page. The wisecracking protagonist, Dart, never loses his grit or smart mouth throughout the book. Amarth is complex and sexy without being stereotypical, and Analine, the antagonist, is also developed emotionally well.
by Elizabeth Crowens
Plot: Crowens's novel is wildly imaginative and suspenseful. Readers will find themselves finishing the book in record time.
Prose/Style: The prose is crafted well, which makes the articulate plot flow nicely to an exciting ending. Chapters that are just letters are am an interesting stylistic choice, too.
Originality: Crowens's novel about time travel and a hint of spookiness is highly original. It starts off with a peculiar character named John Patrick Scott, who is just one of the many interesting people readers are introduced to.
Character Development: What makes Crowens's characters interesting to the end is the use of both real and fictional characters. Readers will love the courageous main character, John Patrick Scott.
by David Reiss
Plot: The plot of Reiss’s novel is very much the stuff of superhero comics, but the author gives it an expansive sweep suitable for a work of novel-length fiction. The idea of a world where cross-pollination by interdimensional forces has introduced powers verging on the supernatural provides a solid foundation for the interactions between its superheroes and villains, and the conflicts in which they engage.
Prose/Style: The novel’s prose style is simple but effective for the story being told. Key to its narration is the confidence of Terrance as a narrator. Reiss so comfortably inhabits this smart, sometimes smart-alecky character that he never seems anyone less than the perfect person to usher the readers through his succession of adventures.
Originality: The different elements that come together in this novel have been seen in numerous superhero comics and movies, but Reiss combines and recombines them in a way that makes them seem refreshingly new. Especially notable are Markham’s self-doubt and feelings of guilt, which both humanize him and lend his superhero avatar a vulnerability crucial to the dramatic conflicts in which he engages.
Character Development: The principle characters in Reiss’s novel are very well-developed, especially narrator Terrance Markham who, along with his superhero avatar, Dr. Fid—whom he characterizes to others as a villain, but who has a complicated backstory, has a rich emotional life that shapes his actions both within and without his superhero persona. His android sister Wyn and the various superheroes and villains are largely sounding boards for the conflicted emotions he expresses, but they are established with enough individuality to make them stand out memorably.
by Mike McCoy
Plot: “Asteroids: Escape from the Arcadians” is a well-plotted, fast-paced book. McCoy's narrative style flows well between the various characters' stories and holds the reader's attention with dramatic tension and enough twists to keep one eagerly turning the pages.
Prose/Style: McCoy's combination of everyday language and scientific jargon is extremely well-balanced. There isn’t a boring passage in the book. McCoy has a gift for creating images using minimal words.
Originality: Although asteroids hitting Earth is not a new story idea, McCoy manages to bring a fresh approach to his apocalyptic plot. From the futuristic weapons to the artificial atmosphere of New Arcadia to the vampire-like antagonist who gains immortality from the blood of children, to two characters' use of Klingon as code, this story is full of unique ideas.
Character Development: The characters are realistic and believable in their actions and reactions. The hero, Rick, is a very likable and unlikely hero, an arc which McCoy carefully develops. The main villain, Colonel Cruikshank, is a dead-on representation of a sociopath bent on ruling the world at any cost. The supporting cast of characters is very diverse with little or no overlaps in either behavior or traits.
by Shannon Kelley
Plot:This story opens with a blazing inferno and keeps the pages turning with engaging descriptions, dynamic characters, unique races, and the mystery of a violent dark rider. That he anonymously saves a woman under attack early on, and displays additional acts of kindness, adds to the intrigue. The pursuit of this individual—man or mythical “elowan”—is as captivating as his ability to fend off the most determined attackers.
Prose/Style:The descriptive voice is powerful and vivid here, helping to draw the reader into the places and people of this world.
Originality:This story has the familiar fantasy foundation, with royalty, heroes, villains, honor, and exciting clashes all woven in. The inclusion of the likable boy Marren adds to the original spin, and the hint of his future is alluring.
Character Development: Richly drawn characters are an element that will help to capture and hold readers' imaginations. Marren is a sweet, smart, brave 10-year-old, and the dark rider Yuriah is awesome in his fighting abilities. His capacity to learn is endearing.
Blurb:An irresistible fantasy world, complete with brave battles, honorable endeavors, and an enchanting, unexpected friendship.
by Roz Morris
Plot:This novel is tightly plotted, and every tantalizing clue ultimately hangs together very well, without ever making the reader feel deceived. Readers will find themselves biting their nails worrying over how Paftoo and his horse will triumph, or at least survive. While not every question about the world, or even Harkaway Hall, is answered, most of the reveals can be attributed to Paftoo’s own limited knowledge.
Prose/Style:The prose in this book is engaging and evocative, conjuring striking images and surreal comic moments with equal skill.
Originality:The premise of a robot gaining and hiding sentience is not particularly new, but this was definitely a refreshing and remarkably human take on the concept. Using the connection with horses sets it apart from similar stories. Although this is a novel of ideas, it has its feet firmly planted in the pathos of an individual who cannot conform.
Character Development:The characterization of a mostly robot and equine cast is slow to build, but once it sets in, it works beautifully. Readers will find themselves cheering desperately for Paftoo, and may be surprised to be rooting for characters who started out as antagonists.
Blurb:A compelling tale about finding and keeping one’s soul, of the prices we pay for love, and how our worlds shape us and we shape them.
by Derek Cressman
Plot: The novel is consciously modeled on George Orwell’s “1984”, which it occasionally references, and it advances with the same skillful pacing and narrative twists that distinguish the classic novel. Cressman’s one narrative misstep is to incorporate huge chunks of text from The Book, the secret history of how the repressive Globalian Trade Zone came to be and seized control of society, midway through the story: it’s a dry, if impressively comprehensive, info-dump that provides the backstory of the future world but slows the narrative pace to a crawl (and even puts one of the characters reading it to sleep).
Prose/Style: Cressman has a nicely honed prose style suitable for telling his story and especially for elaborating very fluidly the many technological, broadcast, and social media advances (and distractions) that distinguish the story’s future world. He is also adept in his use of Orwellian newspeak terms—characters who begin to show individuality and non-conformity are removed from the company of others and “upgraded”—to show how Globalia puts a positive spin on the social control of its citizens.
Originality: As noted, the novel is modeled on “1984” and the author subjects the characters to adventures and fates closely modeled on those in Orwell’s tale. That said, Cressman has clearly shaped his future world and Globalia’s manipulation of the truth to resonate with aspects of our own contemporary times.
Character Development: The characters in this novel are very well developed. Vera and Chase are shown to be both products and sympathetic victims of their dystopic near-future society. Aneeka Randall is, by contrast, a sharply-etched embodiment of that society’s darkest side: a villain who presents herself as a friend and confederate in the rebel Sisterhood but who later betrays Vera and Chase’s trust, revealing herself to be Globalia’s best tool for suppressing individuality and resistance.
by James Schannep
Plot: The author pulls off the incredibly difficult task of weaving multiple reader-chosen plots while keeping them fresh, interesting, and feeling like natural (if not always happy) consequences of the reader’s decisions. There are plenty of conclusions that end with death, but enough victories – large and small – so that the reader never feels hopeless.
Prose/Style: There are few situations and no emotions left untouched in the book, and all are handled well. Among the best are passages mixing darkness (or something outright gruesome) and humor, particularly upon the reader / character’s death.
Originality: The book often either uses zombie fiction stereotypes in ways that don’t take themselves too seriously, or slyly upends them. The choices often take readers into intriguingly unexpected directions, such as a storyline allowing them to wander through life as a zombie themselves.
Character Development: The reader, of course, is the protagonist, but the book never goes too off the rails when it comes to characters benefitting or suffering from the reader’s decisions. The reader also has plenty of wide-ranging choices to fit a variety of personalities ranging from cautious to extreme risk-taker.
Blurb: If you’ve ever wondered whether you’d survive a zombie apocalypse, Schannep’s reader’s-choice book will give you a pretty vivid idea amid action, gore, and plenty of tongue-in-cheek snark.
by Shawn Patrick Cooke
Plot: Cooke’s short stories effectively stand alone as concept-driven vignettes, while also harmonizing thematically as a collective.
Prose/Style:Cooke offers an observant voice that is situated between cynical and earnest tones, creating an engaging narrative tension.
Originality: The author infuses each story with fresh elements and perspective, as well as voice-driven energy.
Characterization:While working in short form, Cooke impressively leaves readers with clear and lingering impressions of his characters.
Blurb:Blending ingredients of the preternatural and absurd with centering emotional resonance, Cooke brings crackling energy, poise, and subtlety to his collection of stories.
by Shanna Bosarge
Plot:This book is well paced and evenly plotted, set in a world that is easy to navigate. Readers will find mystery among its pages, as well as adventure and evil. Even those who don’t usually enjoy fantasy will look forward to another installment in this series.
Prose/Style:The book is clearly written, with lots of imagery. The author has managed to help the reader journey into this world without overwhelming him/her with details. Dialogue and language set the characters apart.
Originality:A made-up world with fantastical beings is nothing new; however, Sterling's silver eyes are appealing and mysterious.
Character Development:The characters are powerful yet vulnerable, making them appear more human than not. The main character is intriguing, leaving the reader wanting to more about her beyond the end of the book.
Blurb:Bosarge introduces a dynamic and mysterious woman whose journey is not soon forgotten.
by Willow Thomson
Plot: People have destroyed Earth and two very different groups head to colonize a new planet, one good, one greedy. But some of people can commune with nature, with seeds, plants and the planet itself, which is an intriguing and refreshing concept. The planet is none too happy about the greedy group’s mining intentions.
Prose/Style:This book boasts solid prose for the genre, with riveting and energizing action descriptions. The author also makes good use of creative verbs. There is quite a bit of nice, character appropriate dialogue.
Originality: Take a basic “colonizing a new planet because we’ve killed Earth” plot and then add aspects of homeopathy remedies and intuitiveness and you have a very different book from most. The family and relationship angles are well crafted and give the story a familiar feel, even though it is set on another planet in the future.
Character Development: Readers will very much enjoy the main characters and their budding romance among the stars. Intricate details like the alternative healing powers of Jey, along with the communications with plants and rocks that she shares with one of the children, make the characters very interesting and add another layer to the story.
by Torvi Tacuski
Plot: The small twists and turns of Allister’s character being occasionally surprised, challenged, and frustrated, despite his near-eternity of cynicism, is the story’s consistent highlight. Occasionally the book slows down amid the parade of his patients, though most remain unique enough to stay interesting.
Prose/Style: The vast majority of the book is either spoken dialogue, Allister’s mental dialogue, or catching the thoughts of others – all well done, particularly in the tricky balance of Allister’s thoughts reflecting what others are thinking.
Originality: The immortal incarnations of Death and Time, who can’t be defeated, competing in a game against each other is an intriguing idea pulled off with sharp-fanged flair. The idea goes a step further, with Death being subject to the thoughts and emotions of those around him and souls he’s encountered – compounded with consequences of becoming unbalanced – which multiplies the reader’s desire to see how the contest is settled.
Character Development: The reader sees bits and pieces of Allister’s abrasive personality crack to reveal something different now and then, but the more fascinating changes are the “pawns”, his patients. The changes he brings about in them, intended or not, keep the story fresh.
Blurb: Death and Time, even in mortal appearance, cannot be defeated by anyone or anything. So when these two jaded incarnations decide to compete against each other, maybe a few mortals will be helped along the way – or maybe all of Creation will come to an end.
by Carlos R. Tkacz
This novel is a very well-wrought old-school space opera. It presents its characters with a problem to solve at the outset—an impending war between the independent Inner Cluster and the unified Coalition provoked by suspicious causes—and through their individual efforts to uncover the truth it elaborates a future in which humanity has exploited imaginative new technologies to colonize the farthest reaches of the galaxy. Its pieces fit together neatly and accommodate a number of unforeseeable twists.
Prose/Style: Tkacz’s prose style is simple and direct, which serves his story well. The author has a considerable backstory about humanity’s future to fill in over the course of the story, but he reveals it organically through the activities of his characters. This story never feels burdened with exposition or information dumps.
Originality: The broad themes of this story—the sanctity of individualism versus the benefits of organized society, military versus diplomatic responses to a threat—are common to much classic space opera fiction, but the author finds novel ways to express them through the incidents and events specific to his plot.
Character Development: The personalities of Tkacz’s main characters are largely defined by the function they serve for the plot, but the author gives each an important role to play. Admiral Raasch is the military leader skeptical of the motives of the politicians he serves; Q’biin Khalihl, representative of the Inner Cluster, is an outsider to the Coalition forces represented by Raasch; and mediator Aasben Meiind is a diplomat endowed with a wild talent. The personal differences they demonstrate and their coordination as an integrated team underscore the novel’s the themes of juxtaposed themes of individualism and community.
by Julia Ash
Plot: Creating many subplots is risky, but here the author manages to pull them together and hold on to the main premise of the story, preparing the eager reader for Book 3 at the end. It seems there is never a dull moment, with plenty of twists and cliffhanging chapters. Even though this was a second novel in the series, most readers will not have an issue picking up the plot.
Prose: At times it seems there too much of a shift in the tone between characters, making those that are human seem sarcastic and less serious about the circumstances and those that are fantastical more in control of the situation through their language. It is hard to tell if this is intentional, but it seems to make light of the current situation.
Originality: Ash has created an unusual world with a blend of characters in different lifeforms. Readers may be surprised to find zombies, humans, vampires, and shapeshifters all living among each other in a world that is recognizable as Earth, as well as an immersive original planet.
Character Development: Characters are courageous here, and readers will root for some while hope others meet their demise. Main and supporting characters are well-developed and even throughout the book. Strong female characters are always a plus in a fantasy novel like this.
by Brandon M Wilborn
Plot: Well-paced and often exciting, author Wilborn's first volume in his "King of Caves" series unspools its journeys and mysteries with confidence. Wilborn combines familiar epic fantasy elements -- a boy of mysterious provenance from a backwater town called to adventure -- with an entertaining chase plot, showing readers enough of villain Lord Evasius' scheming to generate suspense. That said, there's little suspense in story beats involving a prophecy and the temporary sundering of a fellowship, as only newbies to epic fantasy won't guess their resolution.
Prose/Style: Wilborn's tale deserves high marks for its compelling, purposeful prose. While the novel is long, Wilborn wastes few words. He crafts memorable sentences, describes action with rare vigor and clarity, and sometimes pens passages of beauty. The hero, Kurian, seeing a star for the first time in his life, makes for a moving and evocative scene. Occasional passages detailing the history of the land of Pallingham are suitably mythic.
Originality: That prose distinguishes a story that in outline too often resembles epic
fantasies of a generation ago, reveling in old tropes rather than upending or interrogating them.
Character Development: The novel is at its most compelling when in the head of protagonist Kurian, a young acolyte who struggles some in the role of prophecy-touted adventurer. In the strongest passages, he responds to the beats of a fantasy story like an actual person might. The rest of the cast tends toward stock types, though the (often absent) heroine Louise is a warm and welcome presence, mostly because Wilborn invests great energy into her passion for horses.
by Michelle Tanmizi
Plot:The plot moves steadily and mostly linearly, with occasional flashbacks as the protagonist, Marra, uncovers additional information about her parents and their role in the state of the global crisis. The novel is a contained story with a satisfying ending that concludes character and plot arcs.
Prose/Style:The writing is direct and succinct. Descriptions are clear and efficient without dwelling too long and slowing down the pacing. The dialogue similarly flows well and aids in the steady pacing of the book.
Originality:The premise is original and unique. The author has cleverly extrapolated a modern scientific problem, wildlife conservation, into an exciting sci-fi premise. Marra’s efforts to stop the mass killing of animal species being seen as a hindrance to human progress provides a nice parallel to the current conservation crisis.
Character Development:The story’s strengths lie in its setting and plot, but the characters do support the story nicely. The supporting characters, in particular Kate, are memorable and do have some nuance. While government officials--including the American president--are depicted, the role of the villain is largely faceless here, and the book would have benefited from a clear and developed character antagonist.
Blurb:An exciting tale of a young woman determined to protect wildlife, even in a world where animals have evolved into giants with the power to wipe out humanity.