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SciFi / Fantasy / Horror

  • Plot: Very much an in-between chapter in a series, S.L. Wyllie's The Legacy of King Jasteroth story mostly concerns journeys and (apparent) betrayals as Princess Ariella and her retinue try to make their way to Oclesedor before the Black Magic Sorcerers and their commander Decius destroy them. The narrative suffers from the fact that this volume doesn't offer much in the way of clear explanations. Wyllie still proves a compelling storyteller, inventing new dangers and complications in every chapter, shrewdly switching perspectives to heighten tension, and always investing her scenes with high emotion. The book boasts a rawness and urgency appropriate to a story about being on the run and uncertain who to trust, even if new readers (or readers who haven't recently tackled the first volume) might be racing to catch up. That said, some of the brief chapters from the villains' perspective have a feeling of filler.

    Prose/Style: Wyllie treats readers to strong fantasy dialogue, and she's as comfortable writing vigorous (bloody!) action as she is charting the drift of thought of her characters. But incidental business between characters in a scene tends toward a clunky wordiness: "Turning his attention back to the road, he caught sight of the center of a shallow crater, a few scattered bone fragments remaining."

    Originality: While her story tours readers through a familiar world populated by fantasy types, Wyllie proves consistently inventive in her character work, in the variety of dangers her heroes face, in her monsters and magic, and in the prickly and uncertain loyalties of her cast. She's especially good at teasing out mysteries and guiding readers to wonder and worry along with her characters. This fantasy story breaks no molds, but it keeps readers guessing and uncertain.

    Character Development: Detailing a journey, Wyllie's novel revels in momentum, but not just in the way it crosses the Realms and races through its story. The book's greatest strength is the way chapters are powered along by the ever-mounting fears, suspicions, and actions of Ariella, its key perspective character. Ariella's reactions to the dangers, wonders, and possible betrayals all around her drive the story even more than the action. Wyllie excels at getting into characters' heads and seems so confident doing so that that such passages generally read without that wordy clunkiness that bogs down some passages of observation and incidental action. Ariella's companions get fleshed out in dialogue and persuasive detail, as do the fairies and beasts they meet.

  • The New Magic

    by Joseph Malik

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: The New Magic, a sequel, offers a solidly engaging, seamlessly structured portal fantasy that largely stands alone. 

    Prose/Style: Malik’s style is energetic and engaging, with particular flare when it comes to battle scenes. Vivid descriptions provide ample detail and a clear sense of atmosphere.

    Originality: Malik's storyline, while in many respects standard for the genre, offers a number of creative and unexpected developments. 

    Character Development: The characters occupying Malik's fantasy world are par for the genre, with humans and elves, princesses, and commoners, equally well integrated and described. The protagonist’s intriguing backstory affords him particular depth.

  • Late Dawn

    by Michelle Tanmizi

    Rating: 7.00

    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.

  • Amber Hollow

    by Edgar Swamp

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot: While the second half of the novel brings in several fairly predictable elements that help announce the truth behind the story’s mystery and ending, the first half is riveting enough to grab readers’ interest and hold it through the entire book.

    Prose/Style: The prose is energetic and moves along at a nice clip, particularly in the main characters’ POV scenes and the historical flashbacks.

    Originality: Though containing predictable elements--the historical flashbacks telegraph part of the mystery and ending--there are enough twists and red herrings, such as the contradicting survivor stories and those stories challenging the forensic report, to much compensate for the novel's flaws.

    Character Development: The most interesting developments comes from learning what several “stuck in place” characters finally have done to break out of their imprisonments. A twist brought on late in the book by Jeremy, however, seems jarring, because his earlier POV scenes occasionally seem to contradict his actions and backstory; more clarification here might help guide readers.

  • The Arrival

    by Kastie Pavlik

    Rating: 6.50

    Plot: The author delivers a novel that challenges more conventional ideas about goodness and evil, thus providing a degree of psychological and philosophical dimension to the work.

    Prose: Pavlik’s prose is fluid and impactful, evoking an atmosphere steeped in dread and darkness, but lightened by romance. Moments of heightened language call to mind classic works of vampiric literature to an extent that can feel overplayed. Ultimately, however, the author demonstrates a clear proficiency with writing horror fiction.

    Originality: Vampire novel’s are invariably derivative to a degree. While Pavlik’s work features familiar elements of paranormal romance and vampire fatigue may weigh it down for readers, it simultaneously demonstrates that there is still some fresh blood to be drawn from the overcrowded genre.

    Character Development: Pavlik creates multidimensional characters who aren’t solely defined by their circumstances or relative humanity, and whose backstories are convincingly established.

  • The King Who Disappeared

    by Hank Quense

    Rating: 6.50

    Plot: "The King Who Disappeared" boasts an inventive and engaging plot that incorporates a time jump, revenge taken centuries after an earlier act of vengeance, government corruption and street-level politics, all bound up in a quest plot complete with a treasure hunt. Some rich thematic questions about the nature of leadership rise up naturally from all of this. The story would benefit from a slower pace, less abrupt ending, and more convincing, lived-in detail about this world.

    Prose/Style: The pared-down prose varies between a tight crispness, a fabulist simplicity, and too often a thin and somewhat generic simplicity. Key scenes, especially those involving action or combat, read like sketches, and readers often are quickly told about important or emotional events without being invited to experience them along with the characters. This is especially true with the book's material about a working class struggling under a corrupt ruling family's "wage restrictions."

    Originality: The book's main thrust is fresh, even inspired: A fantasy interrogating the difference between a king and a president, asking whether violent revolution could truly improve the lives of the populace, and whose plot turns cleverly on the importation of peat moss. But the world of Gundarland and the city Dun Hythe is thinly detailed, exhibiting only a few distinctive facets, like its sneeze Big Bang and its Troll Patrol. This lack of specific or striking detail limits reader engagement.

    Character Development: Quense wittily reduces his novel's heroes to archetypes and then to an almost abstract force for justice sweeping across Gundarland to confront the characters who truly command his attention: the villains. These include a centuries old king "dwelf" king, his two scheming and comically greedy offspring, and an undead halfling vicar figure, all scheming against each other in the book's strongest scenes. Also quite compelling is the meritorious bureaucrat who must team up with the Godmother crime lord for protection and to right some wrongs. The characters would shine brighter, perhaps, if their schemes were more complex or faced greater complications.

  • Burning Horizon

    by TM James

    Rating: 6.50

    Plot: The plot moves at a steady, if sometimes dragging, pace and features enough suspense to keep the reader engaged. The larger scenario and setting are interesting, and the central conflict becomes more and more compelling as it is further revealed.

    Prose/Style: While there are occasional moments of strong descriptive writing, for much of the book the prose is serviceable but rarely memorable. Often it feels like the narration is limited too closely to the characters and not given enough space to elaborate. The dialogue feels a little too polished and lacks authenticity.

    Originality: The scenario is inventive, and once fully revealed the primary conflict has interesting moral and philosophical implications. The characters and plot appear to be original and unique.

    Character Development: Many of the supporting characters are role-players that lack dimensionality. The protagonist, Nicole, has a satisfying character arc that aligns nicely with the plot, though her interiority doesn’t always keep pace. The book would have benefitted from distancing the narration somewhat more from the protagonist.

  • Into the Mindsai

    by Nathaniel Ratcliff

    Rating: 6.25

    Plot: Into the Mindsai intriguingly revamps the Christian creation myth as it attempts to lend it a scientific bent. The work also draws heavily from the chapters of Revelation.

    Prose/Style: Ratcliff has provided structurally well-crafted and easy-to-understand prose that can at times suffer from hyperbole and overwriting.

    Originality: On the surface, Into the Mindsai has the potential to be a wholly unique sci-fi take on memory creation and its potential effects on our world, but the heavy reliance on Christian allegory makes the twists easy to see and detracts from the intended emotional punch.

    Character Development: Ratcliff competently builds characters, notably Dr. Sebastian "Bash" Silva, a cyber psychologist working in the field of memory. Individuals' actions and conveyed motivations serve to enrich the story.

  • Exodus From Orion

    by Bill Thesken

    Rating: 3.00

    Plot: Thesken fills this sci-fi story with colorful details, but the plot suffers from being disjointed and lacking in structural or developmental cohesion and would benefit from more organization.

    Prose/Style: The author effectively describes action sequences and establishes setting. Dialogue can come across as forced, though, and, at times, implausible.

    Originality: Thesken integrates fresh elements into an otherwise familiar story of an encounter between an alien being and an unsuspecting human. An eleventh hour twist is unsurprising.

    Character Development: The characters do not always show depth or individuality – notably, Reva, whose exotic beauty remains her most pronounced trait.