With the start of the new year, we tend to look back at the past year & all that it presented. So here are my top picks amongst all the books I read this year. All of the reviews are from the FBC site done by Liviu, Robert or me. The basic reasons for me choosing these titles is the varied milieu of the plots, the richness of the prose and the overall enjoyment they provided. And so without further adieu, here are my choices:
TOP 10 NOVELS OF 2011
1) RUN by Blake Crouch – This was the year I was introduced to the brilliance of Blake Crouch and RUN was possibly one of the most exciting & adrenaline-filled thrillers I have ever read. To start with, the blurb is one of the best I have ever read and while the story has a hint of SF/F to it. It sticks to its strongest suit that is; the prose and characterization and therefore the story is a marvelous one touching upon poignant moments and then giving us moments of sheer terror to completely unsettle the reader and remain unpredictable to its very end. David Morrell’s words about Blake seemed prophetic then however after reading Run, no one will ever doubt them. Highly highly recommended standalone thriller and one which might make a great cinematic adaptation.
2) Zero Sum by B. Justin Shier– This book proved that sequels can be better than the first books even with high reader anticipation. Zero Sum added on to the experience of its predecessor and avoided its pitfalls smartly. With an action packed plot which expanded the world and the main protagonist’s backstory, it managed to completely overcome all my expectations and now it will be intriguing to see where the author takes the series next.
3) Cold Vengeance by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child – Cold Vengeance was a return to the earlier excellent standards of this talented duo. While being the second book in a new trilogy, Cold Vengeance opens a chapter in Pendergast's life which has only been speculated at. The revelations and twists in this book are exemplary to say the least. And while it does end on a amazing note, it makes the wait for this year’s Two Graves that much harder. Another amazing thriller and one which rejuvenated fan interest in this series tremendously.
4) Magic Slays by Ilona Andrews – Magic Slays is the fifth entry in an epic series, following on the heels of two amazing titles, it was hard to imagine where the authors would be going with the overall story and not to mention all the anticipation from the readers. Magic Slays took a slight tangent from where the readers thought the story would be going however it still delivered on all counts and then ended on a note which again teases the readers about the tough battles ahead. Ilona Andrews are showcasing their versatility superbly and have quickly ascended to my favorites list.
5) The ShadowDance Trilogy by David Dalglish – The Shadowdance trilogy consisted of three novels A Dance of Cloaks, A Dance of Blades & A Dance of Death. And while all three had standalone plots, they focused on a character and a few folk around him. David Dalglish is an Indie author who was an unknown to me until early last year however all that changed when I read the first book and kept on reading the remaining two parts of the trilogy. Overall its his homage to the genius of GRRM’s plotting abilities and a good one at that. Since all the three titles are now available in one big omnibus, I heartily recommend picking it up to find out why David is the next big thing in the fantasy field you might almost never hear about.
6) The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss – The Wise Man’ Fear was perhaps the second most heavily anticipated book to be released and as the author took four years to complete it and to make it good enough for publication. While such dedication to his craft is indeed admirable, the book didn't really blow all my cylinders. Yes there were revelations and many more momentous events occur, however it felt as many passages could have been condensed. Its now highly probable that Kvothe’s story might not get finished in the third volume and there might be more to follow. It remains to be seen how it will all end but it can’t be denied that Patrick Rothfuss has serious talent and is a writer to be followed avidly in the future.
7) A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin – This was the book that almost everybody was waiting for. Even when the date was announced, there was excitement in gargantuan proportions and so when most readers got their hands on the book, it lead to a variety of reactions. I happen to like it for the fact that it featured many of the characters whom I love, what I didn’t like was the fact that it seemed a bit like AFFC and with all the cliffhangers in the end. The end storyline has yet to begin, its looking highly impossible that the author will be able to finish it in his projected seven volumes given his propensity for taking “the gardening route”. A series which can still reclaim its place as possibly the best fantasy series of all time, the next book will be looked upon with anticipation though not to the same degree.
8) The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham – Daniel Abraham is an author whose debut series was critically acclaimed however didn’t garner that much sales. Daniel’s next series however showcased a different style of a book. The Dragon’s Path is the first volume set in a world inhabited by many races, it is his take on epic fantasy and one which should be counted as a very good one. Following a few individuals as they go about their life paths while the world around is going down a path of ruination. It is a bit unique and common at the same time and a book which is to be savored over and over again in the forthcoming years.
9) Stirred by J. A. Konrath and Blake Crouch – Stirred was a collaboration between two dynamic minds and the way it was planned that it would serve as the culminative end to both their individual series. Mixing visceral thrills with dark, deadpan humor, Stirred is possibly one of the best series endings I have ever read. And with the way it ends, you can be sure that the authors have some aces up their sleeves if they should decide to ever write more.
10) Heaven’s Needle by Liane Merciel – Liane Merciel debuted in 2010 with The River King’s Road, it was a traditional fantasy book with some stellar characters, the sequel to that book however was a fantasy horror hybrid which very well showcased her talent and propensity to shock the reader with her imagination and world settings. Heaven’s Needle is one hell of a follow up and manages to out do its predecessor in almost all regards. Sadly the series was dropped by its publisher and now it remains to be seen if the author will ever write the third book in the series. However each of her books has a standalone plot and this makes it easy to read these two Ithelas books for those petrified to start unfinished series.
Honorable Mentions - Two books were great reads however could not make it to the above list. The books are Devil's Cape by Rob Rogers (which was published in 2008) and The Hammer by K. J. Parker. Devil's Cape was so terrific that it could easily been in the top 2 and the only reason I'm not including it because of it being published more than three & half years ago. In regards to The Hammer, it was another intriguing story by the pseudonymous author however it still falls a bit short of the high standards that I've come to expect, after the incredibly stunning The Folding Knife.
TOP 10 DEBUT NOVELS
1) Zero Sight by B. Justin Shier - This book was the debut of the year for me simply because of its writing style and characterizations and while it faced some very stiff competition amongst its subgenre, it won out in the end because of the surprise factor and the fact that the book is incredibly funny. A debut which was almost missed out by many, this book for me is one of the best urban fantasy debuts of the last decade.
2) Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines – This book is a bit of an outsider to this list as it was published in 2010 however I’m going to include it as I read it last year and also because its one of the most awesome debuts that I have ever read/reviewed. Combining superheroes with zombies with a last stand scenario, Peter Clines absolutely shines with his debut acing the characterization, comedic elements, plot twists and pace, highly highly recommended and with the sequel out as well I can safely vouch that this series keeps getting better.
3) The Informationist by Taylor Stevens – Taylor Stevens's past as covered by this wonderful Vogue article showcases a background which almost could from a thriller in itself. The Informationist is the first in a series which is sure to be great one if this book is any indication. A very good thriller debut and with the next book just being recently released, its great to see the author is not resting on her debut laurels.
4) Hounded by Kevin Hearne - This book was another winner and heralded an author who will be soon be competing with Jim Butcher. Opening in Arizona with a 2100 year-old druid who lives with his talking dog and is hunted by Gods who know how to hold a grudge for more than two millennia. Intensely funny and with a whimsical nature, the Iron Druid Chronicles has a strong opening with this book.
5) The Whitefire crossing by Courtney Schafer – The Whitefire Crossing is one of the most intriguing debuts of the year and certainly another ace from Nightshade books who have been resurgent this year. Courtney’s debut managed to mix the ethos of rock climbing within a fantasy world creating a unique storyline and a book which heralded a series to look out for. The sequel, The Tainted City is one of the books that I’m looking forward to with high anticipation.
6) Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – This book was admittedly one which produced a lot of diverse reactions however what cannot be denied is the sheer brilliance of the writing and story. Mark Lawrence’s storyline had the main protagonist who is a teenage sociopath and one who in most novels would be the series villain. The dark beauty of the series is that it dwells into his mind and showcases all that he does and why he does it. An excellent debut and one which manages to push the boundaries of dark fantasy so far beyond.
7) Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick – Douglas Hulick’s debut seemed a bit stereotypical but what made the difference was the accessible prose and the world settings. The main character was also a grey one and the author has fleshed him out nicely to make this story a very interesting one. Excellent addition to the dark gritty subgenre of fantasy, Douglas Hulick’s next few books will be eagerly awaited by many readers.
8) The Emperor’s Knife by Mazarkis Williams– Another debut which was a bit different in its world settings, author Mazarkis Williams has written a debut which offers spartan prose and very good characterization that helped elevate it in my reading list. He planned a different type of fantasy story and was successful in executing it, another interesting debut from Nightshade books and one to savor for readers who enjoy stories with interesting twists to them.
9) God’s War by Kameron Hurley – Kameron Hurley’s debut was an exciting one in terms of its subject matter. This tale was a futuristic one set on a different planet however the human species residing on it haven’t lost their human tendencies. Exploring race relations, feministic aspects and questions about faith, humanity & war, God’s War is an exciting but plot heavy debut. A bit difficult to get into but one which immensely rewards the reader for perseverance and connecting the dots. The sequel Infidel was released in later quarter of last year and with it further exploring the world created by Kameron, God’s War is an excellent starting point for readers enamored by R. Scott Bakker’s books and style of writing.
10) The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu – This debut was again by Nightshade books and another intriguing one in the long list of exciting books. The world setting and magic system are what differentiate this epic fantasy debut amongst the trappings of the genre. The author’s prose and characterization is not at the optimum level but there is definite potential here and it will be worthwhile to see where the author takes the story in the sequels.
New Authors to look out for:
Every year I’m on the lookout for newer authors who match my reading interests.This year was again an exciting one for me in urban fantasy & thriller genres. As I discovered many authors and quite a few excellent books. So here are the authors whom I'm most excited to have discovered within the last year(in random order):
David Dalglish – David was a terrific find for me from the fantasy side of indie publishing. Combining exciting prose with terrific action sequences set in a dark and disturbing world, his trilogy focusing on Haern the Watcher, was a standout read for me & thereby marking him out as an author to watch out for in the future.
Brian Justin Shier - Brian’s books were possibly the find of the year for me, combing humor, action and an exciting writing style, the Zero Sight series is one to be absolutely savored. Currently writing his third book Brian’s witty prose makes him an excellent addition to the writer league of Butcher, Hearne, Marquitz, etc.
Peter Clines – Peter Clines's take on Superheroes left me absolutely amazed, his books were a mix of multiple genres and yet managed to be retain the author’s unique stamp on them. Plus with his eclectic background, it will be interesting to see what he decides to write about next and how he ends the Ex-Heroes trilogy.
Kevin Hearne – Kevin Hearne was an author whose books had quite a buzz around them and after finishing them I had to admit they were deserving of all the anticipation. Mixing humor, action and a terrific protagonist, Kevin’s Iron Druid chronicles have captivated readers everywhere and now it will be fun to watch him give Jim Butcher a run for his money.
Taylor Stevens – It can safely said that Taylor Stevens had a stellar year and with two of her books releasing in the last year itself, fans didn’t have to wait a long while to jump back in the world of Vanessa Michael Munroe. Blending action, intrigue and a touch of personal history, her books have managed to garner attention from most thriller readers as well praise from most writers within the genre as well. If you haven't tried her books, you are definitely missing out on one of the most exciting writers in the genre.
Lastly I would like to give a thumbs-up to Nightshade Books for owning up to the troubles that had arisen last year and after being placed on a one-year probation period by the SWFA. And then doing a turnaround in terms of those specific problematic issues and also at the same time giving the fantasy readers an eclectic buch of books/authors to read. All in all their follow up actions have been admirable and I wanted to congratulate them for rectifying those mistakes and acting professional which has resulted in the lifting of the probation period. I hope they can continue their fine form and continue to provide praise-worthy and exciting books in the forthcoming year/s as well.