What an excellent year of reading I’ve had. I read so many good books, I want to use this opportunity to show them off for all y’all. With that in mind, here’s my list of favorites books. Happy reading!
Best Recent Novels (2017 and 2018)
- For me, this is one of my favorite books of all time. I’ll admit that objectively it’s not perfect, but it’s themes of Greek mythology and alternate history really are in my wheelhouse. More, the audiobook narrator REALLY took this excellent story and knocked it out of the park. 10/10, would read again.
- Jade City
- If I were to describe this briefly, ‘Jade City’ is Game of Thrones meets 1970’s Asian Mafias. This is a character-focused story, featuring multiple characters who you love (and hate) in their trials and tribulations trying to run a magical criminal empire. The millisecond it’s sequel(s) come out I’m going to read it.
- This and ‘Red Sister’ have been trading places for the #3 position on this list for some months now. Brandon Sanderson has focused the Multi-Book Epic Fantasy formula to make the characters the main attraction. The flawed characters in this book really stand out, bringing life to a sweeping story spanning multiple planes of existence. It’s not perfect, possessing some pacing problems, but it’s strengths command respect.
- Red Sister & Grey Sister
- Here’s a two-for-one ranking, because I read both books this year. ‘Red Sister’ is, quite simply, one of the best High Fantasy novels I have ever read. It is the best High Fantasy novel starring a young protagonist I’ve ever read. While I don’t thing ‘Grey Sister’ is quite as amazing as ‘Red Sister,’ it would have made it’s place on this list based on it’s own merits anyway. NOTE: these are NOT YA novels.
- Wrath of Empire
- What do you get when you combine gun powder, blood magic and strong characterization in one book? ‘Wrath of Empire,’ is what! I strongly believe that ‘Wrath’ is a stronger book than ‘Sins of Empire,’ it’s prequel, giving it’s new and returning characters the chance to shine.
- Sufficiently Advanced Magic
- Now I’ll be honest, this book isn’t quite on the same level of literary excellence compared with most of the other books on this list, however I give bonus points to ‘SAM’ because it is pure, unadulterated fun. ‘SAM’ is a literaryRPG, meaning it is a book whose plot and setting is basically styled after a role playing game or a video game. The characters earn experience points through battle and level up. Another author would make this corny to read, but here the author makes the characters earn their triumphs with quick thinking and deviousness. It was engaging and nostalgic.
- The Bear and the Nightingale
- There’s something to be said for a book which perfectly captures the mood of a setting. This is one such book, perfectly capturing the frontiersman half-Pagan/half-Christian life of Tzarist peasant Russia. I’m looking forward to Arden’s future books if this is the quality of her debut.
- City of Brass
- Here’s another debut which really impressed me. ‘City of Brass’ is an even better example of a ‘Game of Thrones’ style book, for it features multiple political factions jockeying for power in a magical society. This was super up my alley and I loved it. It’s sequels are definitely day 1 reads for me.
- Lights, Camera, Action! The Spotlight is fighting back against Ospy oppression, and only our morally dubious heroes have a chance of overthrowing the uber-conservative fascist political party! This book’s prequel ‘Amberlough’ was a favorite for me from last year, and I was not disappointed with this followup.
- Kings of the Wyld
- You may be middle aged, but glory never gets old. An adventuring band must get back together to save one of their daughters from death, with the main obstacle in their way being their creaky joints and mortgage down-payments. This was a fun Sword-and-Sorcery romp with strong themes of getting older and rock music.
- Blunt Force Magic
- Are you in the mood to read some fantastic Urban Fantasy in the vein of early Dresden Files, but including the twist of characters struggling with PTSD and other war wounds? If so, this book is right up your alley.
- Senlin Ascends
- For a long time while reading this I was sure I would hate it. And yet I was intrigued enough to push through. Occurring in Steampunk Sumeria, ‘Senlin Ascends’ is a story about a man trying to find his wife in the glorious and depraved tower-city of Babylon. The author’s style is at times almost too slow paced, giving the book a slow start… but eventually the slow pace start revs up as mysteries unfold and the innocent protagonist becomes not-so-innocent any longer. This is a character book: if you like Senlin, you’ll like this book.
- The Poppy War
- I liked the brutal-yet-mystical setting, mostly enjoyed reading about the flawed characters, and adored the overarching plot. But the ending didn’t quite click for me. I intend to read the sequel(s) when it comes out.
- From Unseen Fire
- Adding another book to my list based upon my love of Classical mythology and literature, ‘From Unseen Fire’ is a book about magic in ancient Rome. It wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it. If you want to read a book about characters who derive their magic from worshiping Jupiter and Juno, Pluto and Mars, along with the rest of the Roman Pantheon, give this a whirl.
Best Older books
- The Eternal Sky Trilogy
- This trilogy, consisting of ‘Range of Ghosts,’ ‘Shattered Pillars’ and ‘The Steles of the Sky,’ is a traditional Chosen One Defeats Evil Overlord story. However it is set in an honest and heartfelt Mongolian/Chinese/Scythian/Ottoman setting which was just glorious to read. Most importantly this is a character focused book, so the slightly overplayed narrative of good-v-evil is merely the backdrop for the elaboration of numerous lovable characters.
- Alif the Unseen (2012)
- Now THIS is what Urban Fantasy should be. Set in an unnamed Arab city-state ruled by a callous emir, ALIF THE UNSEEN is bar none the best UF story I’ve ever read. It lives and breathes it’s Arabic setting, remaining true to it throughout.
- Obsidian and Blood Trilogy
- I just finished reading this, and I already want to read it again. This is a series of mysteries set in ancient Mexico City, where an overworked and underpaid priest of the dead/mystery detective must sleuth out who is causing various murders and apocalypses before it’s too late.
- The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, The Vampire Accountant (2014)
- This book was a fun Urban Fantasy. I’ll be reading more in the series in the future. The author plays up the comedy factor, creating a riotous series of short stories stitched together to form a greater whole.
- The Codex Alera
- Butcher isn’t exactly what I would call a literary-focused author. His prose is workmanly and banal. His plot, pacing and dialog, however, are simply the best in the modern day pulp Fantasy industry. And while his characters are tropey (and at times cliche), they are nonetheless loveable and memorable. His Codex Alera books are fine work deserving of accolades. If you’re in the mood for the book equivalent of action thriller movies, check the Codex out.
- Annihilation (2014)
- With every moment you spend in the Southern Reach, you change. The protagonist realizes this, too late. This is a horror novel, and I loved it despite the fact that I don’t like horror.
- The King of Elfland’s Daughter (1924)
- And oldie but a goodie. It’s flawed by our modern standards… but that’s because we modern people stand on the shoulders of giants. This is one such giant. Dunsany forged virgin trail when he wrote this book pre-Tolkein, so we have him to thank for so much of how our genre is today.
- Lovecraft Country (2016)
- Eldritch Horror + 1950’s racism. This is an excellent novel, and I’m looking forward to it’s on-screen adaptation.
- His Majesty’s Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War
- I’m late to the party on this one, but the Temeraire books are fantastic. If you want to read a Flintlocke Fantasy novel about Napoleonic Era Europe, go here first. I’ll be reading the rest of the series next year.
- Shadows of Self & The Bands of Morning
- These are worthy additions to the Mistborn series, and in the top 5 of the best works in the Cosmere as a whole. I just wish the series was done so I could read the final book already.
- City of Blades (2016)
- Oh RJB, why do you have to be such a good author? Why do you gotta rip out my heart with every book you write?
- Wheel of Time (Books 2-4)
- The Wheel of Time is the ultimate manifestation of what makes the Epic Fantasy sub genre so unique. At times it’s boring, but that is more than made up for by it’s moments of glory.
Best Novellas I’ve read this year
- The Flowers of Vashnoi
- This is a heartfelt piece of science fiction. The final(?) addition to the Vorkosigan saga, this is a wonderful note to go out on. The irradiated husk of Vorkosigan-Vashnoi is coming back to life with plants and genetically engineered animals, but when people start moving back in, they discover an orphanage for mutated children. I liked it, not just for it’s science but also it’s characters. That said, part of the reason why I liked it was because of it’s ecological science aspects so anyone else might not like it as much.
- War Cry
- For the sorcerers of fantasy-Vietnam, war never ends. It’s up to shapeshifters and illusionists to hold off an imperialistic power from taking over their lands. This book was bar none McClellan’s best character work.
- The Terracotta Bride
- Even after death you still owe your family loyalty. After her death and going to the Chinese afterlife, Siew Tsin is married by her depraved uncle to a rich man. After a while her rich-but-feckless husband grows distant and marries another woman- a terracotta golem. I liked this because of it’s setting and worldbuilding.
- Mira’s Last Dance
- This is a fun, middle-book for the Penric series. I liked it the most of all the Penric books… but I have to admit that it would make no sense without reading the other novellas in this series. Check out ‘Penric’s Demon’ if you’re curious.
- Apparently I like McClellan a lot, for this is his third story on this blogpost. Forsworn is a prelude to the original series of Powder Mage books. I think that McClellan is more consistently good in shorter form work like this novella than his novels. He does a good job with plot and characters when he doesn’t have to worry about pacing.
- It’s the Epic of Gilgamesh. Nothing to see here, move along.
- The Tea Master and the Detective
- This is a competent reinterpretation of the Sherlock Holmes/John Watson mythos. The Shadows Child is the Watson- she’s a spaceship who brews tea for fun and profit. Long Chau is the Holmes- she’s a disreputable detective type who’s trying to solve a series of deaths and disappearances.
And that’s that! I’m ending Mount Readmore 2018 at this time (Early December) and beginning Mount Readmore 2019. Overall this year was a MUCH better reading year than last year, and not just because I read 60 more books than last year. Next year I’m planning on reading more nonfiction. I read less than 10% nonfiction this year, while next year I plan on reading 15-20% nonfiction.
OMG CIRCE YES! And I loved The Poppy War too! Definitely plan to read the Mark Lawrence series asap.
Good luck with Red Sister!
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