SciFi / Fantasy / Horror
by Cailyn Lloyd
Plot: A psychic aids the hunt for a serial killer in a cozy supernatural thriller. The plot is sequential and paced well, alternating perspectives of multiple characters, both corporeal and otherwise.
Prose: The writing is clean and straightforward without a lot of elaboration or descriptive writing. Dialogue reads naturally.
Originality: The central conceit of a psychic communing with spirits to solve a mystery is not unique, but is handled with originality. The characters are distinct and effectively portrayed.
Character/Execution: The characters are thoughtfully developed, particularly the spirits, which lend an uncommon and likable personality to the book.
by Steven Corbin
Plot/Idea: Corbin masterfully sets the stage for a battlefield storyline that displays the competing and conflicting desires between duty, sacrifice, and love. The plot flows with ease even as twists and turns uncover the shortcomings of characters originally presented as heroes.
Prose: Corbin's prose hooks readers in from the first page, skillfully painting the intricate details of each setting without leaving out the nuances and emotional complexities of interpersonal relationships.
Originality: Readers at first glance will feel like they've encountered another kingdom infighting story akin to Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, but Corbin leads the story beyond the usual grab for power and excess often central in similar stories. Indeed, Corbin creates a story that helps readers evaluate the futility and price paid for any kingdom pursuit.
Character Development/Execution: Corbin introduces a protagonist with desires beyond the common flare for power and greed and a supporting cast equally multidimensional in their motivations to have their desires fulfilled.
by Lee Hunt
Plot/Idea: Bed of Rose and Thorns offers intrigue, sabotage, assassination, and all the usual trappings of the fantasy setting. But what keeps the plot truly engaging is the complex emotional throughline. The character-driven narrative truly acts as the heart and mind of the whole work, which marks it as a noteworthy effort in the genre.
Prose: Hunt's oft-engaging prose goes far in bringing to life the tortured state of the main character, and in discussing more nuanced topics with a measure of grace and poise that are sometimes lacking within the genre.
Originality: Super-powered fantasy knights aren't a new flavor, but emotional and psychological richness distinguishes Bed of Rose and Thorns from some of its contemporaries—even if it still hangs on to some aging tropes.
Character Development/Execution: Hunt's main character presents an evocative, oftentimes challenging presentation of a hero, which offers a rare treat for a genre usually content with rather "clean" heroes and heroines. The supporting cast is brought together with a fairly solid amount of panache, though they sometimes struggle to define themselves as vibrantly, and sometimes resonantly, as the leads.
by Mark Tapper
Plot: Tapper's storyline has all the elements of a fun, eventful fantasy story spooled through it, yet is quagmired by odd sequencing and a general lack of focus that derives it of momentum and dramatic interest.
Prose: There are flourishes of power and potency within Tapper's prose, and an ambition that a great many readers will find engaging. At moments, however, the writing may strike readers as insubstantial in its delivery.
Originality: Road to Damascus kicks off with a greatly original base concept: Knights Hospitaller, made immortal through magic, are reborn into the modern era.
Character/Execution: The cast of Road to Damascus are intriguing by way of their very circumstances. In some respects, however, they struggle to define themselves against the winds of a breezy pacing and an ephemeral prose style.
by Kevin Knabe
Plot: Knabe’s dystopian novel is exciting and well-paced. While the intricate layers may perplex readers at moments, the fantastical universe won't fail to engage.
Prose: Knabe’s prose is accessible and lighthearted, enhancing the reading experience. However, characters at times lack distinctive “voices” to fully distinguish their personalities.
Originality: This novel is a unique tale about the coexistence of fae creatures in a human world. The author offers a new interpretation of fantasy conventions.
Character/Execution: Characters can at first come across as one note, however, as the novel progresses and individuals seek to find and use majick, they gain depth and appeal.
by J. Clark
Plot/Idea: There are a lot of ideas here, each engaging in their own way. There are Robin Hood connections, a plot about a dogmatic church versus the demonic heroine, and a lengthy subplot about becoming sole ruler of the Netherworld. Each of these concepts could carry a book alone, so collecting them all together means they lack the room to grow and reach their full potential.
Prose: Clark has a knack for a lively action scene, with bursts of movement that convey frenetic energy without being overwhelming. The dialogue is functional, though without tags it can be difficult to discern who is speaking. Time feels so off as to be dizzying, with what appear to be proceeding days actually taking place months apart.
Originality: This novel features magical powers, angels and demons, nods to Robin Hood, and elements of a crime drama. While none of these elements alone are unique, this is a very original arrangement of those elements.
Character Development/Execution: Robyn Carter is a powerful, intelligent, memorable heroine that readers will want to root for, which is why it is truly disheartening to watch her slowly fall for a man complicit in her abuse as part of a non-consensual "Marriage of Submission".
by M. A. Csortos
Plot: In a fresh and insightful story, fifteen-year-old Carly Cummings must confront a supernatural force that threatens to consume her entire community in yellow mist. Her mother has already succumbed, and now Carly, with the help of a boy from school, must uncover the source of the terrible vapor as well as her own sense of belonging.
Prose: Direct, first-person narration keeps readers oriented within the unfolding mystery Carly must solve and her efforts to preserve her sense of self over and against the pressure to conform.
Originality: Readers will appreciate the fresh take on finding one's way through the high school years, when everything can feel unstable and uncertain, as if it might vanish in a yellow mist. The setting enacts the challenges of clarifying one's place in the world.
Character/Execution: The tension between Carly and her family propels the narrative as Carly struggles to solve the mystery of what is stealing their essences. Carly’s connection to her grandfather, a writer like Carly aims to be, keeps her searching for the truth even when the rest of her family urges her to give up and join them behind the Veil.
Blurb: An alluring coming-of-age supernatural mystery about one girl’s quest to solve the mystery at the heart of her family, her school, and her town.
by John J Spearman
Plot/Idea: In a follow-up to Pike's Passage, Spearman offers another alluring and far-reaching sci-fi thriller. Though readers may initially struggle to dig into the meat of the story due to an avalanche of names, places, terms, and expository details, fully invested fans will be richly rewarded.
Prose: Spearman's prose is frequently technical and exposition-minded. Nevertheless, the author paints vivid imagery of gleaming starships and a future interplanetary landscape.
Originality: Pike's Progress sits comfortably in the realm of fellow space-op genre pieces. Though this installment of the series may not make a name for itself beyond the stars it already inhabits, Spearman remains an exceptionally skilled storyteller.
Character Development/Execution: The story's more expository approach to character-building may strike some readers as inorganic. Nevertheless, the novel's cast more than adequately serves the story and the sound worldbuilding.
by Cass Kay
Plot/Idea: In a fresh and energetically-paced tale, Vianna Roots, scion of an important family of witches, returns to her native Salem to deal with her dead mother's house, and encounters resistance, magically, from the house itself, and from the coven of witches who wish to claim it and her.
Prose: The writing, sentence by sentence, is sound, coherent, and artful enough. However, the rules of the game (witchcraft and magic) wildly proliferate, undermining a reader's trust in the reality of the world of the story.
Originality: Most striking in Legacy Witches is the blend of the supernatural and the quotidian. Characters quarrel, clean, munch, and form cliques, even as they summon spirits, work spells, and penetrate mysteries of dead ancestors.
Character Development/Execution: Conspiracies and feuds roil families. The protagonist, Vianna, has a warm friendship with Dee that sustains much of the action, as neighboring witches try to manipulate her, and Vianna's ghostly grandmother heckles her nonstop. That Vianna is uninterested in witchcraft and wants to live an ordinary life back in Boston makes her both an unusual and sympathetic character.
by Karen Bell
Plot/Idea: This genre-blending novel is unique and ambitious, but ultimately somewhat lacks a clear vision. Its numerous elements become jumbled and its pacing proves uneven. A final twist may strike readers as jarring.
Prose: Bell is an effective storyteller, but the overall writing style is inconsistent, and there is little balance between the humor and the drama. Dialogue can occasionally come across as clunky.
Originality: Like a Lily Among the Thorns, while uneven, is original in its blending of romance, eco-fiction, and fantasy.
Character Development/Execution: While the numerous characters are colorful, they are not fully realized, and so various character interactions can come across as underdeveloped.
by BRYCE HOUSE
Plot: In House's futuristic novel, Winner Takes All, House imagines an America in which most forms of work are controlled through AI and automation under the corporate entity called Quell. In order to secure resources, citizens are forced to compete in MMA-style battles.
Prose: House's prose is clear and accomplished. Certain expressions may strike readers as outmoded for the futuristic setting, but the author nevertheless delivers a satisfying sci-fi story with both humanity and technical details.
Originality: Stories of future societies that demand populations to compete in battles are familiar, as are faceless corporations controlling the fates of its citizenry. House puts a rather unique twist on these concepts, however, and readers will value the skillful worldbuilding.
Character/Execution: Aamil is a highly appealing central character whose narrative introduces readers to the future world in a manner that is matter-of-fact and engaging. The close attention paid in the narrative to Aamil's son--coming of age in the only world he's ever known--is an asset to the story.
by John J Spearman
Plot/Idea: The plot, while moving along at a decent pace, nonetheless feels overstuffed and unfocused, which may turn the read into something of an endurance test for readers.
Prose: Spearman leverages accessible, often evocative prose at the reader, which serves well to keep the flow moving, though it staggers a bit under the weight of wordy exposition and bursts of uneven dialogue.
Originality: The worldbuilding is crisp and well-developed. While the work may not stand out significantly amidst its contemporaries, fans of lore and world-craft should find much to delight in.
Character Development/Execution: Spearman crafts his characters with evident love and focus, though a reliance on exposition and front-loaded information works to bog down the cast and rob them of some of their organic qualities.
by Zachariah Jones
Plot/Idea: The paranormal plot establishes itself fairly quickly and will readily engage ghost story fans. The work, however, struggles to maintain itself due to uneven pacing and a passive voice that may make it difficult for readers to retain their interest.
Prose: Though the prose delivers some effective and evocative imagery, much of the word flow is thwarted by a repetitive delivery that decreases the piece's momentum.
Originality: While Chasing Shadows pays homage to works from the past and doesn't deliver strikingly new material, the story offers an intriguing historical mystery with nicely executed supernatural elements.
Character Development/Execution: The characters are clear and show a degree of depth, but their lives are somewhat more explained than experienced, and it results in a rather sedate view of the players, stripping them of fully emotive values.
by Keri Moore
Plot/Idea: Moore's novel pits two contrasting desires against each other within a vampire-hunting tale: the desire to flee for the sake of one's safety and the desire to remain in place for the sake of preserving what is important. It adds unexpected depth to the well-known vampire-slaying storylines.
Prose: Moore takes a slow and masterful pace in unfolding the twists and turns of her story but at times it felt heavily laden with details about things that weren't central to the flow of the story.
Originality: It's almost impossible to write a vampire-hunting tale that is entirely original since so much has been written on that topic. However, Moore manages to add her own flavor by creating a conflict that isn't just "us versus them".
Character Development/Execution: Moore successfully creates a central character that is a strong lead for the other characters to follow. While the supporting characters each have their own motivations for their decisions, they all tie back to the main protagonist which creates cohesion that could otherwise easily be lost among so many twists and turns.
by JA Bland
Plot: With the world destroyed by solar flares and a shift in Earth’s poles, a man leads a group in facing off against natural threats and from desperate fellow survivors. The Legend of Burroughs' Rangers is a solidly constructed and tense post-apocalyptic western.
Prose: Bland's writing is sound, but lacks a strong enough storytelling voice to truly set the book apart. The first-person perspective clashes somewhat with an oral history frame set up at the book’s onset and is largely dull in comparison.
Originality: Although the book provides engaging and vivid circumstances, the narrative doesn't fully differentiate itself from other works within its genre.
Character/Execution: While the events facing the cast of characters are monumental, many of the individuals are underdeveloped and deserving of more dynamism. Dialogue tends to exist in service of the plot, rather than to enhance character development.
by Theodore Thomas
Plot: Toothless throws readers into the middle of a glitched RPG. With a light touch and a big wink to the RPG community, Thomas serves up humor and gentle scares.
Prose: The narrative integrates player stats alongside the prose, adding an air of verisimilitude to the gaming aspect.
Originality: Thomas offers a clever and original concept that will readily appeal to RPG fans.
Character/Execution: Characters aren't fully fleshed out, but the concept works; it's a breezy, fun read that mimics the experience of gaming within the body of a horror novel.