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SciFi / Fantasy / Horror

  • The Dreamer and the Marked

    by Airic Fenn

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: The novel is well-paced and inviting, with hardly any lagging moments in the narrative. Transitions between dual perspectives from characters are seamless throughout and never leave readers disoriented.

    Prose: Fenn’s prose is both descriptive and stimulating, painting an alternate fae world with unknown creatures that never leave readers disengaged. 

    Originality: Fenn’s fairytale-like novel demonstrates an original perspective on interactions between fae creatures and humans through dream walking and otherworldly dimensions that readers are sure to enjoy.

    Character/Execution: Protagonist Krystal's evolution may strike readers as familiar, however, her growth is believable and well-executed, as she learns about her background in being half-human and half-fae. Other characters including Draqa also undergo character growth that adds depth to the story.

  • The Legend of Pedestrio

    by Abner Serd

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: Between Pedestrio and the Old Ones, Abner and Vern's scramble across the wilderness, and a running field guide told in footnotes, this novel is a fascinating, though sometimes unfocused, look at stories and the art of storytelling. The world occasionally feels more like a loose collection of puns than a cohesive whole.

    Prose: The choice to eschew traditional punctuation, such as comma placement, and occasionally grammar and spelling, distracts from rather than enhance the narrative. The novel might benefit from the poetic tone that might lend itself to some artistic license in those areas. While otherwise serviceable, the narration does spend much time explaining various wildlife and plant species that don't relate to the overall story

    Originality: From the catawampus on to Nothing Flat, this novel is rife with unique ideas in its names, wildlife, and story beats.

    Character Development/Execution: Serd nails the mythic tone when describing the Old Ones, and Vern and Abner have a charming friendship that certainly feels real and true.

  • Bardolomy

    by norbert weissinger

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: Bardolomy is an imaginative sci-fi adventure set on a hostile planet that explores notions of humanity through a context of selective evolution and transhumanism. The novel is a linear narrative from a single first-person perspective. 

    Prose: The novel features strong descriptive writing and dialogue that blends into the world of the story and works to create a consistent and creative science fiction setting. 

    Originality: The narrative is inventive and sets itself apart from many contemporary works. The planetary setting is original and thoroughly depicted, and the science fiction, anthropological, and philosophical aspects are interesting and unique.

    Character/Execution: The novel explores its themes through the development, interaction, and change of its central characters. The novel culminates in the completion of a character arc, nicely closing out the narrative and reading experience.

  • The Gospels of Peter Star

    by Thomas Drago

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: A unique approach to dystopian fantasy, the book tells an alternative mythology of our modern world, told from the perspective of a future human species looking back. It loosely follows the form of the New Testament, and depicts an amalgamation of Christian theology and 20th-century rock and roll lore.

    Prose: The writing effectively apes the diction and cadences of the Bible, as does character dialogue. The novel features a number of jokes and playful moments, often through punny names and musical or cultural references.

    Originality: The premise behind this work is truly unique in its concept and scope; it challenges genre conventions and delivers wholly unexpected storytelling.

    Character/Execution: Due to its structure as a series of connected parables, depth of character is not a narrative component the book relies on. The characters largely exist to further the premise and themes. Many are interesting and portrayed in entertaining ways, but few see much in the way of dynamism or development. 

    Blurb: A one-of-a-kind novel that defies easy categorization.

  • The Roar of the Lost Horizon

    by K.N. Salustro

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: In a fantasy empire where ordinary people have magical talents and are assigned their work accordingly,  19-year-old Nate embarks on an odyssey of self-discovery when he signs on to what turns out to be a pirate ship and helps to uncover an ancient mystery. On a journey of self-discovery, Nate's gradually blooming talent—to read the course of hidden objects through the wind—confirms at last his value to his shipmates and to himself. 

    Prose: The style of exposition is standard to the genre, by turns breathless and mysterious. The POV is mainly that of the young protagonist, with occasional insertions of a chapter belonging to the ship's captain. The story is composed without intrusions of elaborate overexplanation; once the outlines of the world are established, they are adhered to faithfully and interestingly.

    Originality: There are no surprises in The Roar of the Lost Horizon; it adheres closely to the expected swashbuckling fantasy arc. Inchoate talents bloom, lost treasures are revealed, secrets are uncovered, and the insecure and spurned weakling becomes a hero. However, the particular events are freshly imagined, and the young hero's humanity is not without its charm.

    Character Development/Execution: Protagonist Nate, his background, his aspirations, and his fears, are described in some detail, and his inner life evolves along with the events of the story. The ship's captain, in her Ahab-like pursuit of a legendary treasure, is well drawn, through her juxtapositions and interactions with subordinates, foes, and favorites. 

  • Shepherd's Warning

    by Cailyn Lloyd

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: Lloyd's plot brings along with it the usual trappings of the genre that readers will be familiar with: mysterious pasts waiting to be investigated, hauntings, cautious locals, and headstrong out-of-towners who don't heed their warnings. What helps set it apart from some of its contemporaries is an early-on decision to jump headlong into the stranger aspects of its genre, and inject a bit of life into a tried-and-true formula.

    Prose: Lloyd's prose does well to establish the picturesque scenery and grandiose MacKenzie Manor, though some readers may be less interested in the character-crafting, where many of the cast can start to feel like template-swaps of the same build.

    Originality: Lloyd makes an interesting call by deciding early on to give away the ghost, so to speak, and introduce not only the supernatural, but mystical as well —all of which may serve to grab readers with the unexpected move.

    Character Development/Execution: The cast of Shepherd's Warning are serviceable, if occasionally feeling rushed or somewhat underdeveloped. Still, fans of the genre will have enough meat to hook into that it should keep them invested.

  • Gemma Calvertson and the Forest of Despair

    by Ryan Hoyt

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: An exciting fantasy story that aims to kick off an epic series. The action builds nicely, with a complete plot arc that doesn’t leave the reader hanging despite the promise of more adventures to come.

    Prose: The book features a very strong narrative voice, setting it apart from many genre contemporaries. The novel has a timeless storybook feel, with convincing worldbuilding and characters who fully inhabit that world.

    Originality: The characters and world fit squarely in the genre, but the novel’s voice is effective in establishing a unique and original tale.

    Character/Execution: The characters are well-rendered with individual motivations driving them. Care is taken to flesh them out and this pays off to the novel’s benefit. Readers will want to join these heroes on their next adventure. 

  • Castillo Cove

    by Conor Metz

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: In this fast-paced horror novel, unusual circumstances impact the residents of a small town after the discovery of bodies missing since the nineteenth century. The story is exciting, though the plot can feel a bit unbalanced, with the characters enduring a series of connected events that the narrative doesn’t explore or explain to a satisfying enough degree.

    Prose: The writing is energetically paced, and the book moves quickly from scene to scene. The dialogue is authentic and supports characterization well, though the narrative voice could do more to connect the themes and supernatural elements to the chapter-to-chapter plot beats.

    Originality: The core conceit of the story, a town legend unleashing a storm that affects its residents like a curse, is exciting and somewhat uncommon if not unique; the addition of the possessed cars is particularly entertaining. The book blends elements of haunting and curse stories well. The characters fit the story's tone nicely.

    Character Development/Execution: Characters feel distinct, and their relationships play well off one another. While the characterization is not incredibly deep here, each character has a role and personality that fits the often cinematic storytelling.

  • Plot/Idea: Wiley’s intriguing reimagining of Washington Irving’s classic tale gambols around Dreamland. Wiley is free to add in new elements to such a dreamscape: characters as various as Anubis, William Blake, and Morgan Le Fay, which makes for an entertaining read. However, the overall thrust of the narrative is lost as the reader is left wondering whose story this is: Rip’s or Deacon’s?

    Prose: Wiley’s prose has an alluring fireside chat sensibility. His frequent addresses to the reader emulate the narrative style of tall tales about folk heroes like Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan.

    Originality: Wiley brings in several disparate ideas and threads them together to create a wholly original, inventive tale. However, his choice to include excerpts from Irving’s original text in the middle of his novel results in a bit of an unfavorable comparison.

    Character Development/Execution: Deacon is the most likable character in the story; his perseverance on this quest to find Rip will resonate with readers. The subtitle of the tale is somewhat misleading; The True Story of Rip Van Winkle seems to suggest that Rip will be the lead and readers will follow his adventures. However, the titular character makes a quick appearance only to disappear and then reappear halfway through the novel.

    Blurb: An inventive revisioning of Washington Irving’s 1819 classic Rip Van Winkle that explores the landscape of dreams. As Rip sleeps, he disrupts the creatures of Dreamland, most notably the faun lighthouse keeper Deacon, who must find Rip before he destroys the fabric of dreams. 

  • Plot: The third book in a trilogy, Covenant With the Dragons does a fine job of catching up readers who haven’t read previous installments, but will be better enjoyed in tandem with its predecessors. The plot is linear and the scope of the narrative is epic. The book features thorough appendices further detailing the expansive lore and quality worldbuilding.

    Prose: The prose is strong, with vivid descriptive writing, clear exposition, and dialogue that effectively builds characterization.

    Originality: The novel’s world is well-imagined and believably depicted. Fans of fantasy will find much familiarity here, while the social values central to the book's themes land effectively and give the book a strong sense of character.

    Character/Execution: The characters are distinct and dynamic, with arcs that appear to pay off from previous book installments.

  • In a Black Tapestry

    by Daryl K. Hill

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: Hill eschews the fantasy genre's bent for grandiose plots and fantastic quests, instead focusing his efforts on a harrowing journey of horror and survival, with a splintered approach to worldbuilding and a keen focus on character that keeps the whole affair exciting and fresh, even if the ending misses the landing a bit.

    Prose: Hill's prose is well-crafted to the genre, while managing to balance the more flowery aspects against a need for energy⁠—readers should delight in the page-turning aesthetic of the work.

    Originality: Hill delivers something rarely seen in the fantasy genre⁠—a narrative hewn from character, that only dabbles in the myth of plot, rejecting the tried-and-true quest for a much more compact journey that echoes the lore-making of video games like Elden Ring and Dark Souls.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters of In A Black Tapestry manage to strike that difficult balance of feeling dimensional without swaths of exposition and over-exposure. Even side characters feel truly lived-in, even if they hardly stick around for a full introduction.

     

  • The Flaws of Gravity

    by Stephanie Caye

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: Caye’s plot is ambitious and brimming with magical characters of every kind, all with a singular focus on a powerful book that can merge the human and Faerie worlds. The sheer scale of the story is immense, and even the most loyal fantasy fans may find their heads spinning with the level of creativity in the novel, but it moves along at a quick pace and boasts plenty of action, all the way to its chaotic ending.

    Prose: Caye’s prose is well-suited to the story and effectively builds a fantastical world hiding just outside of reality. The dialogue is contemporary without frivolity, and several action scenes are elevated through the dynamic writing style.

    Originality: Although the plot can become overwhelming at times, The Flaws of Gravity meets the genre expectations and elevates them into a mind-bending, extraordinary story that rushes along at breakneck speed from the first pages.

    Character Development/Execution: Caye sacrifices character depth in the name of immense fantasy worldbuilding, creating a slight disconnect between readers and the main players. Though the plot’s pace will keep fans intrigued, this detachment serves as an obstacle to the story’s cohesion.

  • Plot: The first entry in a series, the plot’s arc finds a satisfying conclusion. While the book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, the stage is set for more stories with these characters, stories readers will likely welcome thanks to the strength of the characters and the fanciful setting full of monsters and magic.

    Prose: The writing effectively conveys a captivating mood and sense of place. Dialogue supports characterization nicely, distinguishing individuals and supporting the setting and worldbuilding.

    Character/Execution: The book takes the time to develop the characters and their relationships, and in many ways, the novel’s plot feels like a precursor to a larger story not yet told. The budding potential of the protagonist as a magic user combined with the storybook feel of the narration will surely excite many readers for continued adventures.

     

  • Keeper of Scales

    by Anne Mollova

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: The plot of Keeper of Scales is mostly a familiar one, but executed with a confidence and verve that should have no problems hooking in readers with its venerable twists and turns.

    Prose: Mollova weaves her fantasy world with a deft, accessible prose, verbose enough to establish her vision, yet light enough that the reader's mind might hone the final image. The few shortcomings arise in occasional bouts of expositive dialogue that override its otherwise organic qualities, and a tendency toward anachronistic descriptors that serve to modernize the otherwise medieval fantasy setting.

    Originality: Readers looking for some new take on the trappings and trimmings of the fantasy genre will find little to appease them here; Keeper of Scales lives and dies on the tenets of its forebearers, however well-carved its particular path may be.

    Character Development/Execution: Like its predecessors and contemporaries, Keeper of Scales boasts an expansive cast - yet, while some stories buckle under the weight or feel padded with empty names, Mollova manages the feat of peopling her story with motivated characters that earn their place in the text. And even though they all walk well-trod paths, they are paths nonetheless laid out with thought and care; paths that genre fans should thoroughly enjoy walking.

  • Conjure Seven

    by Erik Day

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: The plot, while it has many sparkling moments, can also come across as a confusing scrum of factions, characters, and arcane terminology. These elements can somewhat undermine the storyline, especially as events reach their climax.

    Prose: The writing is lively and capably maintains several separate, but connected, plot arcs featuring distinct voices. 

    Originality: This novel expertly formulates a magic system based on scientific principles. It holds together rather well, with more fantastical elements like psychic mind control feeling right at home next to arcane radiation.

    Character/Execution: The highlight here is Aka'weyo, who makes for a credible, threatening villain, though his status as a hired gun without much obvious personal stake in the plot hinders him a bit. Other characters are sometimes charming, like Gabriel the medic, but there are so many named characters that they start to blend together.

  • Kermes Vermilio

    by Yellow Streamers

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: This ambitious, millennia-spanning tale is experimental in approach and involves numerous shifts in era and character. Ultimately, Cassie and Hayden Prior must unite to defeat the bad luck and misfortune that has doomed their families for centuries. Readers who enjoy ample backstory and family sagas will find much to appreciate.

    Prose: The descriptive, sometimes dense prose shifts in point of view and style, offering readers a kaleidoscopic view of this multigenerational saga.

    Originality: The narrative proceeds largely chronologically but shifts in style, from saga to vignette. The effect is a composite narrative that invites readers to make thematic connections across time and character.

    Character Development/Execution: Characterization happens largely through familial connections and plotting. Present-day characters like Cassie, who are introduced later in the story, must live the consequences of their ancestors’ choices.

    Blurb: An epic fantasy that transports readers across two millennia to the present day, where 17-year-old Cassie Finch teams up with loner Hayden Prior to face the curse that connects their families.

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