Speculative Fiction Reviews, Interviews, Art and Whatever Else!
2015 has been a cracker of a year in Fantasy land. I don't think I've ever seen so many stand out books released in one year! It's certainly made me a very happy camper, that's for sure! Subsequently, it's made it surprisingly hard to put this list together, as 10 spots just didn't seem to be enough to showcase the brilliant year of releases! Alas, one must be practical, and if I didn't limit myself, I'd probably find a reason to list everything I've consumed!
Here's the thing about Top 10 books lists though; they are extremely subjective! This one is certainly no different. It's also my 'favourites' rather than the 'best of', because I haven't read every book from 2015! I'm quite sure if I had, this list might look quite different (or not? I don't know, I haven't read the ones I haven't read!).
What I can do, is say "I really loved these ones in particular!", and hopefully you might find something in there that you might also enjoy!
Let's get this show on the road! And, in no particular order:
Book Three of The Faithful and The Fallen
Tor/ Pan Macmillan
The Banished Lands are engulfed in war and chaos. The cunning Queen Rhin has conquered the west and High King Nathair has the cauldron, most powerful of the seven treasures. At his back stands the scheming Calidus and a warband of the Kadoshim, dread demons of the Otherworld. They plan to bring Asroth and his host of the Fallen into the world of flesh, but to do so they need the seven treasures. Nathair has been deceived but now he knows the truth. He has choices to make, choices that will determine the fate of the Banished Lands.
Elsewhere the flame of resistance is growing - Queen Edana finds allies in the swamps of Ardan. Maquin is loose in Tenebral, hunted by Lykos and his corsairs. Here he will witness the birth of a rebellion in Nathair's own realm.
Corban has been swept along by the tide of war. He has suffered, lost loved ones, sought only safety from the darkness. But he will run no more. He has seen the face of evil and he has set his will to fight it. The question is, how?
I am a gigantic fan of The Faithful and The Fallen series; it's a massive epic adventure, that has a huge cast of characters, all gorgeously written. So well written, they make me all squidgy emotional! A true character driven fantasy! It feels quite old school familiar, but it still likes to take the tropes and kick them around a bit. It's not as predictable as a lot of this type of fantasy has become, and it explores much more of the grey areas that surround the characters and plot.
If you're a classic adventure fan, but would like to notch up the quality of the characters and story line, this is your series! I cannot wait for Wrath, which I believe will be out next year!(?)
Book One of The Series That Will Hopefully Happen Damnit!
Faith shapes the landscape, defines the laws of physics, and makes a mockery of truth. Common knowledge isn't an axiom, it's a force of nature. What the masses believe is. But insanity is a weapon, conviction a shield. Delusions give birth to foul new gods.
Violent and dark, the world is filled with the Geisteskranken—men and women whose delusions manifest, twisting reality. High Priest Konig seeks to create order from chaos. He defines the beliefs of his followers, leading their faith to one end: a young boy, Morgen, must Ascend to become a god. A god they can control.
So, you thought you knew Grimdark? Wrong! This is the new high lord of the grim! It'll give you gravel rash, as you are pulled along the long, hard road, with some of the least likable characters in fantasy history! Not recommended for those that expect any type of 'happy'; cause there is just none to be found! My dark side loved it. A lot. Definitely recommended for those that love their fantasy gritty, twisted and truly grim.
Now, we need to wait to see if Harper Voyager grants us the second novel (You can do it HV! We have faith in you! Do it...)
Tor/ Pan Macmillan
Emily Marshwic has watched the war take her brother-in-law and now her young brother. Then comes the call for more soldiers, to a land already drained of husbands, fathers and sons. Every household must give up one woman to the army and Emily has no choice but to join the ranks of young women marching to the front.
In the midst of warfare, with just enough training to hold a musket, Emily comes face to face with the reality: the senseless slaughter; the weary cynicism of the Survivor's Club; the swamp's own natives hiding from the conflict.
As the war worsens, and Emily begins to have doubts about the justice of Lascanne's cause, she finds herself in a position where her choices will make or destroy both her own future and that of her nation.
A fantastic flintlock fantasy, that truly took me by surprise! I've always been a fan of Tchaikovsky, but this was a a standout standalone. It's Elizabeth Bennett in the trenches, but it's also a brilliant exploration of how war affects the human spirit. Highly recommended for fans of historical fantasy, and those that love a truly in-depth single person narrative.
Book Two of the Worldbreaker Saga.
Angry Robot Books
Every two thousand years, parallel dimensions collide on the world called Raisa, bringing a tide of death and destruction to all worlds but one. Multiple worlds battle their dopplegangers for dominance, and those who survive must contend with friends and enemies newly imbued with violent powers.
Now the pacifist country of Dhai's only hope for survival lies in the hands of an illegitimate ruler and a scullery maid with a powerful – but unpredictable –magic. As their dopplegangers spread across the world like a disease, a former ally takes up her Empress’s sword again to unseat her, and two enslaved scholars begin a treacherous journey home with a long-lost secret that they hope is the key to the other worlds' undoing.
But when the enemy shares your own face, who can be trusted?
Ah geez, Kameron Hurley. What can I say? I just love her ability to create totally unique worlds and characters, that subvert every fantasy trope - and still create a story that sucks you in and won't let go! I have true respect for Kameron Hurley. Her writing and plotting skills just get better with every book, and have pushed her into 'mega awesome writer' status! Definitely one of the most original writers out there, and Empire Ascendant showcases her amazing talent!
Book One of a series.
Tor/ Pan Macmillan
Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up from the sand of her home and see red sails on the horizon.
The Empire of Masks is coming, armed with coin and ink, doctrine and compass, soap and lies. They'll conquer Baru’s island, rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. But Baru is patient. She'll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she'll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free.
In a final test of her loyalty, the Masquerade will send Baru to bring order to distant Aurdwynn, a snakepit of rebels, informants, and seditious dukes. Aurdwynn kills everyone who tries to rule it. To survive, Baru will need to untangle this land’s intricate web of treachery - and conceal her attraction to the dangerously fascinating Duchess Tain Hu.
But Baru is a savant in games of power, as ruthless in her tactics as she is fixated on her goals. In the calculus of her schemes, all ledgers must be balanced, and the price of liberation paid in full.
I chose 'The Traitor' at Grimdark Mag, as my favourite Grimdark of the year. I need everyone to read it and tell me what you think! It's one of those books you want to discuss with everybody, but you can't really say anything about it, without becoming one big spoilerific dick! It's just one of those books with so many twists, turns and rug pulls, it keeps shocking your socks off, all the way through. Seth Dickinson is the true master of the blindsight, and I think the second in the series will only solidify that standing!
Book One of a series.
In a warren of crumbling buildings and desperate people called the Old City, there stands a hospital with cinderblock walls which echo the screams of the poor souls inside.
In the hospital, there is a woman. Her hair, once blond, hangs in tangles down her back. She doesn’t remember why she’s in such a terrible place. Just a tea party long ago, and long ears, and blood…
Then, one night, a fire at the hospital gives the woman a chance to escape, tumbling out of the hole that imprisoned her, leaving her free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago.
Only something else has escaped with her. Something dark. Something powerful.
And to find the truth, she will have to track this beast to the very heart of the Old City, where the rabbit waits for his Alice.
Well, it had me at Alice. And then it had me with the everything else about it! It was actually nominated for Goodreads Horror of the year (Congrats!!), though I think it's really more of a dark fantasy. Just my humble opinion! This is a really unique take on the Alice in Wonderland story, and Christina Henry just blows all the previous Alice spin offs out of the water! All my senses imploded, I was constantly amazed at how crazy Henry's imagination must be, and to see all my favourite characters transformed into these gangster mad men, was incredibly fun! I believe this is going to be a series *crosses fingers*, and I can only hope that I'll get to revisit this Alice's world again soon!
Carolyn's not so different from the other human beings around her. She's sure of it. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. She even remembers what clothes are for.
After all, she was a normal American herself, once.
That was a long time ago, of course—before the time she calls “adoption day,” when she and a dozen other children found themselves being raised by a man they learned to call Father.
Father could do strange things. He could call light from darkness. Sometimes he raised the dead. And when he was disobeyed, the consequences were terrible.
In the years since Father took her in, Carolyn hasn't gotten out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father's ancient Pelapi customs. They've studied the books in his library and learned some of the secrets behind his equally ancient power.
Sometimes, they've wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.
Now, Father is missing. And if God truly is dead, the only thing that matters is who will inherit his library—and with it, power over all of creation.
As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her.
But Carolyn can win. She's sure of it. What she doesn't realize is that her victory may come at an unacceptable price—because in becoming a God, she's forgotten a great deal about being human.
Look, I absolutely love bat shit crazy fantasy books; especially when they are done with a writing skill, that is good enough to make it work convincingly. The Library at Mount Char was the battiest book of the year, and was written so well, I had no trouble believing in it. Bloody brilliant! I think the synopsis probably says much more about it, than I can contribute! I swear to the gods, if I had Scott Hawkins imagination, I'd probably be five steps away from madness. All I can say is, I'll never eat BBQ again..
Tor/ Pan Macmillan
Long ago, poets were Seers with access to powerful magic. Following a cataclysmic battle, the enchantments of Eivar were lost–now a song is only words and music, and no more. But when a dark power threatens the land, poets who thought only to gain fame for their songs face a task much greater: to restore the lost enchantments to the world. And the road to the Otherworld, where the enchantments reside, will imperil their lives and test the deepest desires of their hearts.
Oh wow, this book had my empathy organs all in a smush, It will probably haunt me for the rest of my life, it's just.. wonderful. I actually have trouble talking about it in a short amount of space, because it needs to be looked at in depth, and with real thought, and feeling. It's probably easier just to point you to the review, and let you decide for yourself!
I eagerly await Ilana C. Myers next creation!
Book One of The Song of the Shattered Sands
Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.
Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power...if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.
Hands down, Çeda is my favourite fantasy character of the year! I wanted to be her! Even through all her trials, and struggles; I still wanted to have her strength, courage, kick arse abilities - and her vulnerabilities, her love, and compassion. I couldn't get enough of her story, and the way Beaulieu has made this fairly bleak world, so sumptuous, so beautiful... I hate heat, deserts, and SAND (each grain contains a piece of the devil.).. and I am still thinking of taking up residence!
Twelve Kings actually presents the first time, I think, I've been fully comfortable with long flashback scenes; Beaulieu weaved them in and out of the present narrative with such expertise, I didn't have a qualm ! I only have good things to say about 12 Kings. Love.
Book Two of the Malediction Trilogy.
Angry Robot Books
Beneath the mountain, the king’s reign of tyranny is absolute; the one troll with the capacity to challenge him is imprisoned for treason. Cécile has escaped the darkness of Trollus, but she learns all too quickly that she is not beyond the reach of the king’s power. Or his manipulation.
Recovered from her injuries, she now lives with her mother in Trianon and graces the opera stage every night. But by day she searches for the witch who has eluded the trolls for five hundred years. Whether she succeeds or fails, the costs to those she cares about will be high.
To find Anushka, she must delve into magic that is both dark and deadly. But the witch is a clever creature. And Cécile might not just be the hunter. She might also be the hunted…
I always like to keep one spot open for YA, because although I tend to gravitate to adult fantasy, there are still some really fantastic YA fantasy out there. This year, I actually didn't have to 'keep it open', because I would've put Hidden Huntress in my top 10 at any rate! In all of the YA noise out there this year (A good thing, but overwhelming!), nothing stood out quite so brightly as Hidden Huntress. It's a gorgeous trolliicious romance, that restored my faith in original story line, fairy-tale style fantasy.
Warrior Witch (the third, and last in the series) looks as though it's going to be just as amazing! Can't wait to see the outcome of this tale!
That's 10 right?
I hope everybody has wonderful holidays, and a fantastic year of reading in 2016!!