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SciFi / Fantasy / Horror

  • Finalist


    by Christopher Hawkins

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/Idea: The genius behind Hawkins’s plot is his skill at revamping a natural phenomenon into a malignant, evil force. Suspense builds from the start, and readers will be on the edge of their seats until the very last sentence.

    Prose: Hawkins is a polished, talented storyteller, with chilling prose that splatters visceral fright across the pages. The book’s setup is intense, and the writing style delivers shocking turns through succinct, measured phrasing.

    Originality: The book’s premise—incessant rain that turns humans into uncontrollable, deadly creatures—is an extraordinarily original concept, and Hawkins melds the moments of horror and the characters’ experiences into an epic, not-to-be-missed read.

    Character/Execution: Scott is a riveting lead, willing to do whatever it takes to protect his loved ones. The tension simmering just below the surface of his family life ignites a frenzy from the first pages, and his attempts to preserve his family and survive at all costs are palpable. Hawkins renders the situation Scott finds himself in remarkably well, deftly portraying the sacrifices he must make and evoking the fierce, all-consuming emotions he feels throughout.

  • Semi Finalist

    The Red Rebel Extravaganza

    by Angela Kay

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/Idea: The story has an aura of unseen danger, and the plot keeps readers on their toes with constant twists and an elaborate magical world that’s alive and breathing at every moment. Readers will soak up the ending, full of promise for more in the future. 

    Prose: Kay’s style sparkles with magic, embodying the novel’s temperament in the silky prose that glides across the pages. The handwritten letters included in the text are challenging to read, but even that can’t distract from the supple beauty of Kay’s writing.

    Originality: The worldbuilding is stunning, with dramatic imagery that transports readers into a complex system of magic and treachery, where the next step is always unknown and there’s no guarantee of an easy ending. 

    Character/Execution: Both Copper and Raleigh are richly developed characters with an intense connection to each other. Copper’s self-doubt and painful regret haunt nearly every move she makes, and Raleigh’s determination to protect her from herself is equally powerful in the storyline. Kay’s cast is immense, but the forcible writing ensures every character plays a central role to the story’s enchantment. 

  • Semi Finalist

    Three Grams of Elsewhere

    by Andy Giesler

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/Idea: Three Grams of Elsewhere has prolific plot that keeps readers guessing at each turn without being confused. By telling this story through Bibi's perspective, as well as through a series of interviews and other documents, Giesler builds strong suspense and tension throughout the novel.

    Prose: Giesler's seamless prose captivates readers. Most importantly, Giesler has a worthy message to communicate to readers through his novel and insightful writing.

    Originality: Giesler crafts a stunning world for readers to explore with incredibly detailed storytelling. The dystopian post-American world is not only believable and well-constructed, but also provides relevant and intriguing commentary on the current political landscape. The themes throughout this story are truly unique and provide an important perspective of modern technology.

    Character/Execution: Bibi is a compelling main character that Giesler carefully and slowly unravels throughout the novel. The gripping details about his life drive the narrative in an engaging way for readers. Each character is well developed and provides additional character development for Bibi, as well as adds to the overarching plot.

    Blurb: Three Grams of Elsewhere is a stunningly well-crafted science fiction novel with dynamic themes. Giesler pushes readers to think deeply about how we connect to each other and make challenging choices. This is the perfect novel for those who not only love science fiction, but also readers who want to reflect upon their own philosophical beliefs. 

  • Semi Finalist

    Leap of Faith

    by Anthony Harrington

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Leap of Faith starts off with a bang—and a terrifying death in the opening pages—and never lets up. The action is constant, but conveyed in a natural way that forges suspense at every turn.

    Prose: The prose is concise, polished, and chilling in all the right places, with perfectly crafted dialogue and crisp descriptions that set the scene while leaving readers reeling with vivid imagery. 

    Originality: The storyline has familiar elements, but the delivery of the novel’s horror scenes and tension buildup is startlingly original, making Leap of Faith easily stand out.

    Character/Execution: The cast is large, but the authors render each character in arresting detail. The main protagonists are relatable, with powerful emotions that drive their actions throughout the story, and the supporting characters are equally memorable.


  • Semi Finalist

    CRISPR Evolution

    by Charis Jones

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: Set in a future world where biotechnology is closely monitored by the Federal Institute for Biomedical Research (FIBR), a geneticist and his family constantly shift locations to evade government surveillance. Jones explores the implications of genetic engineering in a layered and engrossing work of dystopian speculative fiction.

    Prose: Prose is finely rendered and Jones shows a finesse for worldbuilding, gradually revealing the circumstances behind geneticist Howard Wake's experiment in the advancement of human evolution. Though at moments slow to develop, invested readers will relish the reading experience.

    Originality: Jones crafts an unusual premise by focusing on a geneticist whose work has become prohibited. Jones displays clear knowledge of DNA and bio-genetics to craft a wholly convincing and well-informed narrative.

    Character/Execution: Jones fills out a future world with convincing details and the science to support the concept. The characters' personal journeys and the moral dilemmas they grapple with offer a contemplative exploration of the interplay between science, ethics, and human nature. The tender relationship between Howard and his offspring also injects the story with heart.

    Blurb: CRISPR Evolution is a striking work of speculative sci-fi that examines the ethical nuances of genetic engineering. 

  • Quarter Finalist

    Apnea: a novel of the future

    by Jay Sizemore

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea:  Apnea will keep readers on the edge of their seats from start to finish. Occasionally, there are moments that would benefit from minor refinement (i.e. the placement of Alice Munroe’s story depicting her husband's death and further exploration of revolutionary Judith). Overall, this dystopian tale is plotted beautifully. Tension remains taut until the very end.

    Prose:  This nightmarish, dystopian, surreal world is painted to all its splendor. The author does not spare the vivid, evocative details that make this world come to life. Poetic, rich, gory, horrific, and lyrically beautiful.

    Originality: A pandemic is unraveling society as we know it: a virus that afflicts only men wipes them out one by one in their sleep. A cure does exist, but it forces them to stay awake for 21 days straight. The premise for this story is deeply haunting and original. Basic human needs are pinned against the stake of death—to sleep would equal certain death, but to stay awake beckons certain insanity. The tale is fresh, haunting, alluring, philosophical, and relevant to our times.

    Character/Execution: This work features fully developed, rich characters that are offered deep context and backstory. The only characters that long for additional refining are Virginia and Judith. Virginia is painted as a perfect wife, then is suddenly holding her husband hostage against his will. While the author does allow her inner world to explore her motivations, a more organic buildup to her abusive antics may be beneficial. Meanwhile, Judith is deserving of more details relating to her personal anger and motivations against men. 

    Blurb: This nightmarishly dystopian, Kafkaesque novel will have readers feverishly turning the pages.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Blood Fortune

    by Brock Rivers

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Blood Fortune, set in both the future and the past, is a twisty novel that combines tech, danger, and historical relevance.  The result is a complex and intricate story, with the perfect amount of believable detail to make the events plausible. 

    Prose: The author composes precise, impactful language that conveys the story's gravity and reinforces the all-or-nothing drama being played out. The writing is top-notch, employing the perfect balance of description, dialogue, and action.

    Originality: The varied and unique settings in this novel—from ancient Aztecs to a future moon that hints at potential alternate life forms—are stunningly crafted and indisputably original. 

    Character/Execution: The author is careful to give each character a distinctive voice, and, although the stakes are high for the small group of protagonists, they manage to be relatable and relevant to the story's settings.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Three Shades

    by J.D. Grubb

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Grubb has crafted an intriguing story set in an inventive and complex new world. The story is evenly paced, action-filled, and smart. It is obvious that Grubb carefully contemplated each conversation and event to ensure they all made sense within the context of the novel's elaborate world.

    Prose: The prose is top-notch; Grubb is a skilled writer and storyteller, exceptionally gifted with artistic, natural dialogue.

    Originality: Grubb has created an entirely innovative world brimming with its own history and intricate rules—it's extremely accomplished and highly original.

    Character/Execution: Characterization is as strong as the novel's other elements. Ashe in particular is well-defined, but Grubb ensures that all characters with significant roles are adequately portrayed.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of The Carandir Saga

    by David A. Wimsett

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: The author has created a complex story line nestled against stunning worldbuilding. The plot is rich and meandering, but laser-focused on the details for discerning readers. 

    Prose:  Dragons Unremembered is a foreign and complex world, and the author is able to recount its history and culture through narration and dialogue, rather than long, descriptive passages—a potent way to set up the story while still engaging readers.

    Originality: The book hums with diverse characters and a vibrant, multilayered setting, and the creative storytelling flawlessly immerses readers in the plot. 

    Character/Execution: Readers will glean insight into the main players through their words and actions, and the large, varied cast is most effective when reacting naturally to the tense moments in the story. 


  • Quarter Finalist

    Simon Says

    by Linda Williams Stirling

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: Stirling offers readers a creative, twisty plot to keep them engaged. The premise—a powerful Druid capable of transforming others' lives while struggling to procure his own happiness—is thought-provoking and unusual; readers will root for Simon's happy ending.

    Prose: The complex plot is delivered through a detailed, concise narrative that will immediately grab readers' attention—and entertain them until the end. Stirling is clearly a talented storyteller.

    Originality: Simon Says features a striking main character whose conflict is immersive and memorable.  Stirling achieves the perfect balance between character-driven scenes and compelling action.

    Character/Execution: Stirling excels at characterization, particularly for Simon, whose heartache is glaring despite all the good he extends in the world.

  • Quarter Finalist


    by J.J. Cunis

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: Cunis's story of the discovery of a mysterious time portal by a group of teenagers is at once bewildering and highly enjoyable. Although the plot suffers from being a little meandering, it packs a hefty punch that will leave readers dazzled and giddy.

    Prose: This bizarre time traveling adventure is executed with supreme attention to detail and evocative imagery. Its short chapters are packed with depth, detail, and the occasional pop culture reference.

    Originality: The novel's blistering opening is full of humor, mystery and wonder. The different time periods visited during the course of the novel are effectively brought to life with minute attention to detail.

    Character/Execution: Cunis's text features myriad characters that are all excellently rendered in pinprick detail. From the evil homicidal maniacs of Wampanoag to the disparate group of goofy teenagers, Itchiwan's pages are filled with well-crafted and effervescent personalities.

    Blurb: A frenetic, intense, and thoroughly enjoyable journey through time.

  • Quarter Finalist

    48 States

    by Evette Davis

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: 48 States is an explosive thriller, brimming with high stakes and riveting suspense from the start, particularly in the author’s believable premise of a new America struggling to get a foothold following a ruthless assassination. Between the exquisite worldbuilding and twisty storyline, readers will be equally stunned and intrigued by the novel’s events.

    Prose: The author is clearly a skilled writer, capable of crafting powerful scenes and polished dialogue. However, some of the terminology used to sketch the richly developed characters may be off putting to some readers.

    Originality: Fans of dystopian thrillers will find much to savor here, and the author’s expert command of edgy action and well-executed characters is remarkable.

    Character/Execution: The author’s character development is staggering, delivering an electrifying cast that’s as relatable as it is compelling. River—widowed and trying desperately to provide for her young daughter—is fully realized and grippingly raw, while Finn’s survival instincts are admirable. Supporting characters clearly relish their roles and bolster the plot at every turn. 

  • The Covenant Sacrifice

    by Lee Allen Howard

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Howard gifts readers a clever and twisty plot that will keep them on their toes. The action remains steady throughout as the tension continues to build. The opening scene, set earlier than the bulk of the work, is particularly riveting.

    Prose: Howard is a talented and skilled writer, able to deftly create action, description, and dialogue. The crux of the work centers on the supernatural, and Howard's prose will enthrall readers.

    Originality: The Covenant Sacrifice is creative and distinctive, with an unusual premise that will help it stand out among others in the genre.

    Character/Execution: Howard has a gift for characterization, particularly for Jarod and Pastor Zalmon, the central figures in the work. Secondary characters are painted realistically and bolster the plot.

  • The Girl in the Zoo

    by Jennifer Lauer

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Lauer will keep readers guessing from start to finish. Even though there are plot points that would benefit from more detail and intrigue, the author evokes the emotion of the reader from the beginning as the main character has grown up in a zoo run by AI robots.

    Prose: Vividly written with an even tone, Lauer capably builds a distinctive world, allowing the reader to feel the captivity of the zoo and leaving them wondering what is on the other side of the walls.

    Originality: While the topic of artificial intelligence is familiar territory for fiction, Lauer's work feels especially original, riveting, and timely. 

    Character/Execution: Mirin is a well-developed character who is thoughtful and inquisitive. Her companions are equally unique and layered, while the robot characters are afforded a degree of unexpected depth. 

  • Legends of Andolin: Adella of the Campos

    by A. M. Portman

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: The plot of Legends of Andolin moves at a lively and invigorating pace, following Adella as she desparately tries to find her brother with the help of the skilled and resourceful Kol. It is a daring tale of action and adventure that maintains a high degree of quality throughout.

    Prose: Portman's adventure thriller is littered with majestically constructed sentences that ooze pure fantasy. The evocative atmospheres of Valenna and beyond are described in devlishly intricate detail.

    Originality: Legends of Andolin is a robust and confidently written fantasy that is a worthy addition to the genre.

    Character/Execution: The central characters of Adella and Kol are particularly noteworthy. Adella goes on a journey of self-discovery as she is unceremoniously whisked off on an unsuspecting adventure, while the disgraced Kol relunctantly agrees to accompany her on her quest.

    Blurb: A thrilling and captivating sea adventure.

  • The Street Between the Pines

    by J.J. Alo

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: The Street Between the Pines hosts an engrossing plot with shades of Stephen King. The author immediately hooks the readers with a flawed protagonist whose normal life suddenly starts going sideways. 

    Prose: The author is a skilled and talented writer, great with a turn of the phrase and with detail. The writing is layered and the storytelling top notch.

    Originality: Alo brings a unique sensibility to the pages, finely interweaving paranormal circumstances with mystery and a lead character's own grappling with trauma and a fractured sense of self and purpose. 

    Character/Execution: Also masterfully develops characters, with Curtis's tenuous grasp on reality casting the whole of the circumstances and the monster he trails into captivating uncertainty.