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SciFi / Fantasy / Horror

  • Finalist

    The Island Mother

    by Jon Cohn

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: What starts out as a familiar narrative slowly, and deceptively, grows into something far beyond what its initial premise could ever hope to impart. Whenever The Island Mother starts to sag under the waterlogged familiarity of its genre-origin, Cohn's calculated and colorful delivery of plot elements reinvigorates the work, and makes for a true page-turner.

    Prose: Cohn leverages accessible, yet evocative prose that is sure to lure in readers and keep them along for the ride.

    Originality: Cohn smashes genres together to form a colorful, zany, and ultimately refreshing take on a staid genre template.

    Character Development/Execution: Cohn compiles an interesting and engaging cast, parceling out their backstories and motivations with deft attention, giving the readers something to look forward to as the narrative unfolds.

  • Semi Finalist

    LO

    by Bradford Tatum

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Tatum brews a bewitching storyline, seasoned with carefully-prepared descriptions that lend a sharp and irresistible flavor to the work.

    Prose: Tatum's sumptuous and well-seasoned prose is lush, crafted with attention to its character, and acting as a wholly engaging, intelligent, and well-balanced vector through which the story takes its irresistible shape.

    Originality: Buoyed by its impeccable prose, LO delivers with a magnetism that makes the more well-trod genre foothills feel like unexplored trails.

    Character Development/Execution: Wickedly evocative and personal prose brings every character of LO, from front-runners to backgrounders, to life with aplomb.

  • Semi Finalist

    Becoming Crone

    by Lydia M. Hawke

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Becoming Crone delivers a familiar, but solidly-delivered narrative that is sure to entice and entertain longtime genre fans and newcomers alike.

    Prose: Hawke writes with an efficient sense of prose, neither flowery nor mechanical, ebbing and flowing with a comfort that can be hard to manage, and should have readers floating through the story effortlessly.

    Originality: While Hawke's urban fantasy story brings along all the usual trappings of the genre, and a familiar writing style to boot, it injects a shot of life into it with a delightful choice of protagonist that adds a fresh perspective to a well-traveled road.

    Character Development/Execution: The main character brings a delightful and refreshing perspective to the usual pantheon of urban fantasy characters, and even the more familiar side characters scattered throughout are brought together with a deft and efficient hand, that will surely delight fans of the genre and newcomers alike.

  • Semi Finalist

    The Rookery

    by Edward Pontacoloni

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: The Rookery is a wacky, semi-surreal adventure in the Adirondacks. Written in a style reminiscent of Vonnegut, the book is a nonstop romp full of bigfoots, talking dogs, and mad scientists. The book closes the plot arc, but remains open-ended, which is a bit of a letdown for invested readers.

    Prose: The novel features a strong narrative voice and accomplished prose that can effectively move between exposition and asides without becoming distracted. The style is consistent and engaging, making for a delightful read.

    Originality: The book is remarkably inventive, blending cryptozoological elements, science and metaphysics, and local lore with wry humor and a distinct style that feels both familiar and unique.

    Character/Execution: The characters, not all human, are interesting and developed effectively, in a manner that works well for the tone of the book. The protagonist features a strong narrative voice, which is strengthened through consistent delivery as the book progresses.

  • Semi Finalist

    In the Shadow of Humanity

    by N. John Williams

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Williams delivers a potent, poignant, and engaging narrative from the first page, and never lets up, deftly carrying the reader along this transcendent journey.

    Prose: In the Shadow of Humanity leverages a sophisticated, deliberate prose against the reader, creating an organic experience that works in spades to generate interest, propagate tension, and keep the reader engaged from moment to moment.

    Originality: Williams borrows from genre staples as well as perceived trajectories of the present, yet manages to meld them together in a way that never feels lacking, or uninspired—indeed, this mixture tends to supercharge the whole affair and lend it an air of believability.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters within this novel hum and pulse with all the verve and vivacity of real people; conjured up by Williams's exquisite prose, they can do nothing else but attract and engage the reader, bringing them into their lives with a gracefulness that is on occasion absent from the genre.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Book of Days

    by Matt Hiebert

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/Idea: The author has created an intricately detailed, complex world and an exciting and rich plot. The storyline carries the reader along as the plot progresses. In this kill-or-die world, weapons are critical, and the planting of multiple clues throughout the book helps track the worldbuilding.

    Prose: The author is an extremely talented writer demonstrating deft skill with description, action, and dialogue.

    Originality: Despite the strong "Walking Dead" flavor to this work, the author is able to make this story stand on its own, with a distinctive plot and characters.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does a fine job with characterization, particularly with the 13-year-old Jesse, whose narrative informs the work.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Happy Places

    by Clay Savage

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/Idea: Savage has crafted a clever and entertaining plot that draws readers in from the first pages. The storyline twists and turns in unexpected ways that will keep readers surprised and engaged.

    Prose: Savage is a fine writer, able to create convincing dialogue and action perfectly balanced with just the right amount of description, resulting in a captivating read. The pacing is perfect, and despite his rough edges, readers can't help but like and root for Flynn.

    Originality: Happy Places offers plenty of curveballs alongside an appealing plot, giving it an edge over similar novels.

    Character Development/Execution: Flynn is more than a little rough around the edges, but despite this, readers will enjoy him, thanks to Savage's skillful characterization.

    Blurb: Clever, engaging, and refreshingly unique, Happy Places will keep readers hooked until the last page.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Medusa: Rise of a Goddess

    by H. Dean Fisher

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: The author presents a clever premise that will captivate readers familiar with Medusa's story but still brings to life an engaging read for those who may not be as invested in mythology, weaving in a modern-day subplot that only adds to the fun.

    Prose: This is a well-written work by a skilled author who demonstrates solid command of language and narrative ability. The story unfolds at a steady pace with just the right balance of dialogue, action, and description.

    Originality: Despite using an age-old myth as the underlying premise in this work, the author has managed to craft a unique and inventive story, offering readers a new perspective into Medusa and her legend. The blending of ancient and modern is particularly well executed.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does a superb job with characterization, giving Medusa a new and expanded story in this enlightening new work. The author humanizes her and evokes the reader's pity for her tragic plight.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Zoo of Intelligent Animals

    by D.A. Holdsworth

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: The Zoo of Intelligent Animals is an unusual, entertaining first-contact story that takes up an alien abduction plot with the tone of an English mystery novel. The book is smartly slow when introducing characters at the outset, but then ramps up once the cast starts encountering dangers on other planets.

    Prose: Holdsworth's writing is humorous and engaging, creating a reading experience that's smooth and always enjoyable. The witty dialogue, in particular, is a standout feature of the prose.

    Originality: The Zoo of Intelligent Animals imaginatively integrates a high-stakes adventure story with quirky satirical content, making an intelligent, fresh commentary about the stakes of entertainment along the way.

    Character Development/Execution: Holdsworth's compelling, animated characters are impressively all given page time to develop and change throughout the course of the narrative. Highlights include learning about Elizabeth's personal life and marital struggles, and the reveal of Artemas's inspiring, difficult backstory.

    Blurb: A satirical science fiction romp with a big heart and fantastic characters, D.A. Holdsworth's The Zoo of Intelligent Animals tells the story of an otherworldly recovery operation with a touch of romance.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Mates: Minerva

    by Bridget E. Baker

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Mates: Minerva is well-plotted, entertaining, and engaging. The imaginative storyline focuses on the importance and stakes of friendship, with plenty of potential betrayals, self-realizations, and personal revelations along the way.

    Prose: Baker's prose is charming and compulsively readable, especially the cheeky dialogue and witty banter between characters.

    Originality: Mates: Minerva features some truly creative worldbuilding, like the novel's elaborate backstory and the concept of "gloffee". Baker's eclectic cast of characters is also notable for their unconventionality, despite containing common types like werewolves and vampires.

    Character Development/Execution: Baker skillfully manages a wide cast of characters, all with their own individual chapters and elaborate problems, like Minerva, who is struggling to become a guardian due to her magical difficulties, and Izaak, whose unconventional career choice is at war with his vampire nature. Impressively, every single one of these characters also links to a wider story arc, about helping Roxana escape an awful marriage.

    Blurb: A delightful, character-driven fantasy novel about a group of supernatural friends helping to prevent an unwanted wedding, Bridget E. Baker's Mates: Minerva will no doubt bewitch readers with its entrancing plot and relatable cast.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Plot/Idea: This funny, quirky story takes readers on a rip-roaring adventure across multiple universes. The plot is complex yet maintains interest throughout, and the author displays a wonderfully creative imagination evident as Max navigates his varied and challenging journey.

    Prose: This work has a superb opening line that is indicative of the writer's humorous and engaging writing style. What follows is an entertaining and nuanced series of escapades that the author unfolds in a paced and balanced manner.

    Originality: This is a highly original work and a pleasure to read.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does a great job with character development, primarily with Max, the title character, but also with his various iterations.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Core Melt

    by FX Holden

    Rating: 8.50

    Idea: Core Melt unfolds against the backdrop of a futuristic, dystopian society filled with humans and cyborgs (called cybers). Both a love story and a sci-fi thriller, Core Melt is a lot of fun. Holden offers vibrant and effective worldbuilding that will keep readers entranced.

    Prose: Holden's prose style is as gripping as ever and fully immerses readers in the narrative. Moments of vagueness in dialogue and description are remedied as the storytelling progresses. 

    Originality: Holden utilizes sci-fi conventions to gratifying effect; the familiar elements are imbued with a degree of freshness that prevents the material from feeling derivative. 

    Character/Execution: The protagonist is particularly well fleshed out, while the people he interacts with are conveyed very much through his perspective, which is limited. This leaves characters and their motivations a bit difficult to parse out, and sometimes character interactions can feel rushed.

     

  • Quarter Finalist

    Prometheus' Priestess

    by Gwyneth Lesley

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Lesley's plot is clever and inviting, and readers will be entertained by the amusing exchanges between the immortals on Mount Olympus. The pacing is slowed at times due to the formality of the language, but the format is true to a more classical style that aligns with the book's premise.

    Prose: Displaying traditional prose in the style of Greek mythology is a wise move for Lesley, whose writing is nuanced and elaborate. The genre boxes in the style somewhat, although there is plenty of attention-grabbing conflict to go around.

    Originality: Lesley delivers a memorable conclusion that builds on this book's intriguing concepts, and the writing both mimics and amplifies similar genre stories.

    Character Development/Execution: Despite the challenge of expanding on well-known characters, Lesley is able to present them in refreshing ways that will make readers take notice. Their interiority and development is a surprising strength of the novel.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Trials of Fire and Rebirth

    by Edith Pawlicki

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: This is a risky, difficult concept to execute, but Pawlicki nails it. This story is an excellently woven narrative of love and bodily dysphoria that links the modern struggle of trans people with the ancient tradition of gender fluidity in myth. The additional link to the cycle of reincarnation is another intriguing thread.

    Prose: The novel excels when describing people and objects. Characters come to life as bits of their personality are conveyed through their stylistic choices and hidden meanings in their statements. The writing is less clear when describing place, with locations such as the Sea of Souls and the Underworld feeling more thinly drawn.

    Originality: While borrowing elements from mythologies around the world, like the concept of a triple or "Threefold" Goddess, Pawlicki has ultimately interlaced an entire pantheon and mythology mostly from scratch.

    Character Development/Execution: It is hard to think of a novel with more solidly executed character arcs. The tale of Karana and An Ning's love is deftly handled, while never feeling trite or the miscommunications frustrating. Side characters endear and have their own fully fleshed out motivations and desires, separate from the protagonists.

  • The Dark Forever

    by jeffrey gorsky

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: This action-packed odyssey takes readers on a long-winded journey in which each character is forced to face their biggest fears - their own regrets. While a bit daunting, it still has a solid plot that capably carries readers through its many twists and turns.

    Prose: Gorsky writes in a clear and unassuming tone, paying meticulous care to dates and settings as he unfolds the intricate details of the story.

    Originality: At times it feels as though Gorsky has thrown the entire kitchen sink of sci-fi themes and ideas into the book, making for a sometimes dizzying, yet greatly exciting, story. The central premise--a crew encounters dark matter that impacts them each on a profound emotional and psychological level--is a fantastic hook. 

    Character/Execution: Gorsky does an admirable job of fleshing out the backstories and personalities of each character. The diverse and well-rounded supporting cast goes a long way toward making this a rich and psychologically complex story.

  • Blood and Wonder: A Medicus Corpus Novel

    by Kami King Larsen

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: Blood and Wonder is skillfully plotted with lively scenes interspersed among character-driven moments. The story follows a trio of friends in a post-apocalyptic setting as they struggle to come to terms with their surroundings—and each other. 

    Prose: Larsen’s prose flows smoothly throughout the novel, and the worldbuilding is wrought naturally, with the story’s events taking place in a setting that is intriguing and familiar in many ways. The constant shifting between perspectives can become slightly distracting, but the well-developed characters make up for any shortcomings. 

    Originality: Larsen’s unique combination of dystopian with an almost Western atmosphere will hit the spot for readers seeking something new—and the addition of understated romance between the main players adds to the mix

    Character Development/Execution: The three main protagonists are intriguing from the start, with animated and dynamic interactions that build the storyline and draw readers into their subtleties. Larsen incorporates just the right amount of fantasy into the cast while balancing it nicely with realistic and relatable problems.

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