SciFi / Fantasy / Horror
by James G. Robertson
Plot: The life-after-death storyline presented by Robertson is compelling, if somewhat obscure. The reader may find the explanation for this world difficult to comprehend, which can make the rest of the novel challenging to piece together.
Prose: Where Robertson shines is in his descriptions of traumatic events. He is able to take a catastrophic sequence and really pull the reader into it, enmeshing them in the emotions and sensations of the characters.
Originality: The book is highly original, with a storyline unlike anything the reader will likely have seen before. It intermingles Gods, myths, death, Kingdoms, and the modern day. Robertson excels in his creativity and ability to piece together a complex, nuanced world with its own rules and culture.
Character/Execution: The characters are many. Because few are developed thoroughly, they are somewhat difficult for readers to fully empathize with the. Readers may also wish for more meaningful female characters within the framework of the story.
by Aaron Deck
Plot: Deck’s medical mystery is an engaging slow burn. A complex web is woven, which at times feels a little unwieldy as the reader follows many point-of-view characters.
Prose/Style: Deck’s prose is taut and unflinching. He manages to create enough intrigue and suspense to keep the reader’s interest piqued.
Originality: Although spooky hospitals and deranged doctors are a frequent subject in horror, Deck’s take on the genre is nuanced enough that it will grab the attention of even the most seasoned horror fan.
Character Development/Execution: A multiplicity of point-of-view characters keeps the reader from becoming truly invested in the outcome of the story until about the latter third of the book. However, Deck’s talent lies in creating a creepy atmosphere.
by Tom Kranz
Plot: A time-jumping drama that blends speculative social and climatological themes into plausible science fiction centered around a tight, character-driven plot.
Prose/Style: The writing is sound, with dialogue and interiorities that read clearly and convey characters well, and exposition that draws readers in. Occasional imprecisions in the writing do not detract from the reader’s enjoyment.
Originality: The novel is unique and original, presenting futurism based on contemporary issues and technologies to weave an engaging, and cautionary tale.
Character Development/Execution: The focus on the characters serves the plot well, grounding the book’s big ideas in in a clear structure.
by Halli Starling
Plot: Starling’s novel is evenly paced and will shatter readers’ expectations with its bewitching complexities. The story unfolds quickly, with plenty of surprises and otherworldly action to keep things moving.
Prose/Style: Starling’s prose is well-crafted and bolsters the novel’s supernatural setting. The central characters possess dynamic voices that mirror their distinctive circumstances.
Originality: Readers will find Wilderwood borrows a great deal from fantasy tropes, with a storyline that is both entertaining and familiar.
Character Development/Execution: Starling’s characters are provocative and engaging. Bellemy Eislen is equal parts intriguing and vulnerable, while Octavia Wilder easily fills the role of a well-defended, tenacious heroine.
by John Lars Shoberg
Plot: The concept of the story is interesting, and the author attempts to establish a unique world for the readers to explore. It takes time to relate to the book, but eventually, a reader can become invested in the story.
Prose/Style: The language can get slightly technical, but that is the nature of the genre. The flow could be more natural, as overall the book's prose is not overly stylized.
Originality: The central idea of the story holds a lot of potential, but readers who are not into the genre might find it difficult to connect with the story. As the central character explores the newly discovered solar system, she and her team run into some trouble that could cost them their lives.
Character Development/Execution: At the start, it's difficult to connect with the main character, but readers get to know her once the story progresses. Other characters support the main character well.
by Amanda Dubin
Plot: Dubin’s unique sci-fi story is set in a near-future world in which humans learn that they are far from the most highly intelligent or evolved species in the universe. The plotting is quickly paced and quite straightforward, with finer subplots slow to emerge. With engaging and unexpected twists, readers are sure to find the story deeply memorable.
Prose: Dubin’s prose is clear and driven, constantly pushing the narrative forward. Voices are distinct, but at times, certain characters' dialogue falls into an overly quirky style that can detract from readability.
Originality: This entertaining novel blends traditional first contact sci-fi elements with wildly creative, adventurous Olympic matches against contestants from across the Milky Way galaxy. Dubin carries off the clever premise with panache.
Character/Execution: Despite having an eighteen-member Olympic team as the main cast, each character emerges as an individual with unique motivations, fears, and goals. Alien lifeforms are described convincingly and evocatively.
by Mike Csortos
Plot: Csortos’s plot may feel straightforward at first, but the tale quickly unfurls in unexpected ways, bringing readers on an exciting journey into an unknown small town and the realms of fantasy that lay much closer than expected.
Prose/Style: The story is told largely from protagonist Officer Travis Wheeler’s point of view, never shying away from delving into flashbacks, memories, or dreams. The prose closely follows the character’s thought and speech patterns, leaving readers with a very digestible novel.
Originality: A unique exploration of family relationships, violence, and small-town secrets plays out in unique fashion. Readers are kept on their toes as tangible police investigations give way to the wholly unexplainable, though certain dream-like, surreal sections may be more difficult to parse for some readers.
Character Development/Execution: Protagonist Travis Wheeler is an intriguing figure, remaining a bit of an enigma through most of the novel, even to himself. The small cast of supporting characters come to life, making the tiny town of Fennfield come to life, though some character's actions aren’t as well explained as others and may leave some readers with lingering questions.
by Mark Piggott
Plot: Despite multiple factions working against one another and duplicitous characters at every turn, Piggot’s plotting is tightly woven and flawlessly plotted. The pacing would benefit from being as even-footed.
Prose/Style: The third installment in the Forever Avalon series paints a vivid portrait of the mythical land of Avalon while still lending itself well to the quick pacing of the plot.
Originality: The Outlander War is a unique spin on the familiar legends of the mythical King Arthur and Avalon, combining elements of many iterations of the traditional tales familiar to readers while featuring new characters and mythological creatures. The appearance of Avalon in the modern world amid US Navy ships also provides fresh perspective on the complexities of international relations and the sometimes competing necessities which arise from globalism versus nationalism.
Character Development/Execution: The strong, self-sure Lord Bryan MoodDrake, the Gil-Gamesh, is sure to appeal to readers, even as he is torn between the life and legacy he’s built in Avalon and the career and friendships left behind in our own world. Secondary characters are well-realized and integral to the plot. Villains range from the understandably revenge-driven Mordred to the evil-for-evil’s-sake Secretary Barry.
by Bryon Vaughn
Plot: Death has come to The Garden, as the complicated ebb and flow of the stream is disrupted and a new evil has come to take over NeuralTech, a small group of heroes and villains must transcend reality and make a stand. But while "the greatest hive mind ever created" is in peril, love, lust, and loyalty is tested to overcome an even more terrifying enemy.
Prose/Style: Vaughn's prose is descriptive, and mysteries of The Garden and its descriptions are evocative of sci-fi in that there is little explanation, simply a world that exists and the reader must fill in the blanks. However, there are personal and tender moments, even within The Garden, that help keep the story grounded and interesting.
Originality:While original elements exist in Vaughn's story, overall the idea of a hive mind controlled by a single entity is not new to the world of sci-fi. Perhaps if The Garden could be more developed and fleshed out, it would add more depth and originality to the story.
Character Development/Execution: The characters are interesting and lend the story a humanity that is sometimes lacking in science fiction stories. From the masochistic bully DoD agent, Mack, to the evil mastermind in search of perfection and world domination, Brenna, there is a varied and descriptive cast of both heroes and villains.
by Steven Hamling
Plot: Following the general beats of a slasher tale, the book bounces from scene to scene and kill to kill with little in the way of substantive plot developed. The primary conflict, a horde of bloodthirsty sasquatches preying on an Alaskan town—while great fun—exists as much as a setting condition as a plot, and is never satisfactorily explained or resolved.
Prose: The writing here is lively, but unpolished. The diction is imprecise to the point it becomes hard to understand what is being conveyed, while dialogue is often wooden.
Originality: The book provides a lot of content and horror and gore fans will find plenty of moments that entertain them. The typical idea of a bigfoot is subverted here, and the frenetic horror the book generates while reimagining these cryptids as pack hunters is its greatest asset.
Character/Execution: As is often the case with horror stories that feature an ever-expanding body count, characters are numerous, but largely flat and interchangeable. The dominant characters’ arcs and conflicts would benefit from greater dimension.
by Anttimatti Pennanen
Plot: This inventive time travel adventure shows a deep understanding of the science fiction genre and ultimately delivers a charming and entertaining tale. The pacing could be improved here, and subplots more fully fleshed out.
Prose/Style: The writing style is accessible and filled with humor and pop culture references. The dialogue is clunky at times due to it containing too much exposition, rather than organic speech.
Originality: This novel offers an intriguing tongue-in-cheek concept. Part of the story is set on another planet—this is unique and exciting, but the work could benefit from another layer of descriptive detail to better enhance the worldbuilding.
Character Development/Execution: One of the best parts of this novel is the wonderful friendship between Gus and Jon, but the characters might benefit from additional characterization and personal growth.
by Jeffrey Loefer
Plot: Loefer’s plot is straightforward and easy to follow but would be strengthened with the addition of subplots, making for standard—if greatly entertaining—fare.
Prose/Style: While the prose is very straightforward and serves the plot, it doesn’t quite manage to enhance the story. However, the banter between the characters will leave a smile on reader’s faces.
Originality: Though Loefer’s novel is entertaining, readers who are fans of the genre will quickly find themselves predicting what comes next.
Character Development/Execution: Characters such as the titular crusader, Brock, rely on conventions of the subgenre, leaving them feeling a bit a thinly developed despite being extremely likable and believable.
by Andrea Merchak
Plot: A crime thriller told primarily from the perspective of an anti-hero serial killer, the book is a middle entry in a running series. It features some gruesome spectacles centered around an elaborate puzzle and themed murders, but despite the implications of its name the book is largely propelled by dramatic irony and the protagonist’s personality rather than mystery and sleuthing, leaving the book lacking in suspense or meaningful conflict.
Prose/Style: The dialogue here is often on-the-nose and can read as melodramatic and forced at times. Similarly, the descriptive writing can be imprecise. The shift in perspective throughout the book can read as muddled; this is most notable in chapters that move perspective for exposition around the police working the case, but also in more subtle shifts within the first person narration when descriptions with a hint of omniscient voice slip in.
Originality: Clearly a lot of thought and research went into the complexity of the puzzle Daniel presents to the police with his murders. The characters, plot, and setting feel original and fresh.
Character Development/Execution: The protagonist describes himself as a cunning and deceptive killer akin to a Hannibal Lecter or Patrick Bateman, and this book wants the readers to accept this at face-value. However, this entry offers little depth of character or complexity of plotting to entice the reader to root for a killer who is too clever by half, but narratively never feels very imperiled. The secondary characters exist to serve the plot, with little nuance or depth outside that purpose.
by Clarence Allen
Plot: What might have been a singular, interesting idea struggles to define itself against a deluge of secondary information and an unclear focus.
Prose/Style: The prose aims for something between informational and camp-horror, but is bogged down by repetitive phrasing, broken structure, and mercurial viewpoints.
Originality: The unique and compelling premise could be bolstered with a strengthened plot, and more organized and focused information.
Character Development/Execution: The main characters struggle to define themselves through personality or conflict, becoming instead avatars through which the events of the story are viewed, with only the most surface-level interactions and emotional reasoning driving the plot.
by Jon Gray Lang
Plot: The ambitious plot would be better served with focusing on prioritizing elements and evening the pace. Without a central character to anchor it, the narrative leaves the reader ricocheting from one spot to the next, diluting what has the potential to be a sweeping science fiction epic.
Prose/Style: Sparse descriptors and a hurried prose leave little in the way of foundation for the reader to build upon, be it the characters or set pieces, while an unfocused structure may have readers struggling to identify the narrative's driving force.
Originality: Some intriguing worldbuilding and a well-thought-out backstory keeps The Matilda otherwise afloat in a sea of genre staples that will be familiar to avid readers of the genre.
Character Development/Execution: Expository backstory and rushed characterizations rob the crew of The Matilda of staying power or organic cohesion, and will leave most readers struggling to connect with what otherwise has the potential to be a diverse and colorful cast.
by Joy Elaine
Plot: The slower pacing lends itself well to a slice-of-life approach to the day-to-day activities of the Joy Council. With much of the cast having mythic or otherworldly powers, however, stakes never feel sufficiently raised when otherwise-tense events occur.
Prose/Style: Incredibly dialogue-driven, readers will breeze through this very reader-friendly novel. A lack of descriptive prose does leave fascinating locations and characters from far-off other worlds a bit unrealized.
Originality: A Wish Granted plays with time and different dimensions in fascinating ways. An interesting premise marrying science fiction, fantasy, and religious themes falls a bit flat due to a lack of conflict in both personal relationships and interdimensional duties due to overuse of deus-ex-machina-like abilities by the religious- and mythological-being heavy cast.
Character Development/Execution: Readers familiar with a wide range of mythologies and religions will feel at home among a cast filled to the brim with mythological characters and beings from religions practiced around the world. However, much of the cast remains largely under-developed.