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Friday, January 9, 2015

Mihir's Top Reads of 2014

I’m a little late with my list this year but I finally managed to pot it. This past year at FBC, we have been a little lean on the reviews than we would like it to be. Our professional lives kept us busier than we wanted and hopefully we’ll be able to turn it around this year. Moving on here are my top picks among all the books, which I did manage to read this year.

As has been the case with previous lists, many of the reviews are from this site and are done by Liviu, Casey, Cindy or me. I have also linked the remaining reviews of books that I enjoyed but could not review over here. The main reasoning for choosing these titles (as always) are the varied milieu of the plots, excellence in prose, characterization and the overall enjoyment they provided. And so without further ado, here are my choices...

TOP TEN NOVELS OF 2014

1) City Of Stairs by Rob J. Bennett – Rob J. Bennett’s first foray in secondary fantasy turned out to be a colossal winner. Combining a spy story within a world of gods, Rob’s tale of colonialism gives us a stark story about loss, nationality & how history affects the perceptions of people. City Of Stairs was simply a fabulous story that blew away all my expectations.

2) Defenders by Will McIntosh This was a fascinating SF story about alien invasion in which the author superbly inverted several tropes and gave us a frightening future wherein mankind’s defenders turned out to be something much worse. A riveting story that deserves many more accolades than it has received.

3) Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews This was the big book event for the Kate Daniels series, six previous volumes have lead to the climatic meeting between father and daughter and it didn’t disappoint. The authors knew the amount of expectations that fans had from this book and yet they made it that much more exciting. Setting up a fascinating end to the first arc, the series is still very much on for further adventures of Kate, Curran and the rest of the amazing cast.

4) Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan The sequel to last year’s Blood Song was a title that was as highly anticipated as Rothfuss & Lynch’s next titles (if not more). The story builds upon the exciting first chapter in Vaelin’s life and the author further adds three other POVs and makes the story that much more epic. For some this was a disappointment as the story lacked the tight narrative of the first book, but for many others it was as terrific a book as the first but with even more fantastic twists and revelations.

4) Maplecroft by Cherie Priest  I had no clue about the real life legend of Lizzie Borden but kudos to Cherie Priest for blending fact and fiction in a Lovecraftian story wherein the readers are slowly drawn deep into the happenings. With a strong narrative voice as well as a fantastic historical thriller, Cherie Priest simply proves that when it comes to fantastic ideas and their execution, there’s none to match her brilliance.

5) Prince Of Fools by Mark Lawrence Seems like with every new book, it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore Mark Lawrence’s cynical intelligence. Set in the same world as his debut trilogy, but with a completely new protagonist and geographical settings. Prince Of Fools is simply a book that beguiles with its terrific quotes about the nature of man & beast while providing a fantastic read for those enamored with the darker side of fantasy.

6) Shotgun Arcana by Rod S. Belcher – Rod Belcher continues to impress with his ensemble cast of characters stuck in this weird west town wherein the apocalypse is just sort of a few steps away. The sophomore effort was even more ballistic in almost every department and absolutely demands a sequel book.

7) Unholy War by David Hair – The Moontide quartet is perhaps the most understated fantasy series currently being written. It features a wide, diverse cast of characters spread out over dual continents. Focusing on a clash of civilizations storyline, David Hair offers a tale that encapsulates epic fantasy to its entirety.

8) Heaven’s Queen by Rachel Bach – Rachel Bach is one of my all time favorites and with this SF-action trilogy; she proved her plotting skills in spades. Mixing a whole lot of twists, along with a tad bit of romance and then garnishing it with action, the trilogy and its narrator Devi Morris were a huge hit. Heaven’s Queen rounded out the story laying bare all the secrets that were hinted and culminating in an absolutely balls to the wall climax.

9) The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler – Django Wexler impressed a lot with his debut and in the sequel volume, he ups the ante by introducing political machinations and spycraft. The characterization has been noteworthy and the world & magic settings were considerably magnified. All in all this series is shaping up to be a superb epic fantasy series. 

10) Pretty Little Dead Girls by Mercedes YardleyThis was my first Mercedes Yardley title and this is one quite hard to describe. What it also is a fantastic genre-mixing read that offers a completely different experience. Closest to the darker works of Neil Gaiman along with a solid dash of Terry Pratchett’s oddball comedy, this book is one for the ages.

TOP TEN DEBUTS OF 2014


1) The Martian by Andy Weir This is another self-published book that tore through the charts and soon got picked up by Crown Publishing. I hadn’t read it when it was released nearly 3 years ago but I did pick it up on its re-release and I can’t stress enough how much a delightful page-turner it is. Mixing some solid scientific commentary with some terrific plot twists makes this book the best debut of last year. If you haven’t read it, then buy a copy promptly and thank me later.

2) I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes This was a thriller debut that was so much more complex than its blurb makes it out to be. Focusing on two different individuals who are at the opposite ends of international law. The story was fleshed out superbly and the characterization top-notch. The end result was a debut that will surely be considered a thriller classic in the future.

3) The Heresy Within by Rob J. Hayes Okay I cheated with this one, as it was self-published last year and was re-published this year with some changes. This edition is the stronger one and basically is a book that out-Abercrombies the one person who’s considered the gold standard in the grimdark genre.

4) The Enchanted by Rene DenfeldThis was a solid debut and an even solid tearjerker (if you consider its ending). Focusing on a prison and on understanding, the roots of crime, the reality of prison life, the possibility for redemption, and the ability of people to use imagination to rise beyond the purely material to the transcendent. The book is a must read for all readers who love prose.

5) The Traitor’s Blade by Sebastian de Castell – This was a great throwback to the 80s & 90s escapist fantasy. Mixing in a little bit of the musketeers as well as a fun character voice, Sebastian de Castell announced himself successfully as a fantasy writer to be enamored with.

6) Damoren by Seth Skorkowsky This book was another fantastic debut from Ragnarok Publications and it focused on the concept of magical weapons and its wielders. Damoren is the special gun that has been fighting evil since it was forged, Seth Skorkowsky managed to construct a fun but intriguing tale and world mythos that made the UF & thriller fan in me salivate for more. A thriller in UF clothing, Damoren heralds Seth’s arrival rather convincingly.

7) The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley – Brian Staveley mixed quite a lot of fantasy tropes in his debut story and then gave them his own interpretations to make the story fantastic. The best part of the story is all the world-building and cool things that are hinted at and showcased partly. I can’t wait to dig into the sequel to see where he takes the story.

8) Fluency by Jennifer F. Wells This was a book I discovered thanks to the ever-awesome Rachel Aaron. A throwback to alien contact stories previously, Jennifer F. Wells gives a wholesome heroine to root for, as well as a story that has many tropes we love. What made this book such an enjoyable read was the superb mix of characterization, plot twists & cool SF. All in all, this is a story for those who want to read SF with a solid amount of fun associated with it.

9) Frostborn by Lou Anders  Lou Anders is a name that is already well known to many fantasy fans. He had established Pyr books and has been a very successful editor. With this book, he makes the switch to the other side of the writing craft. His debut focusing on Norse mythology and two young kids completely won me over with its charm, buddy travel adventure trope and the gorgeous world set within. Lou Anders has a written a fun story that is sure to be hit among younger readers and those elder readers with a younger heart. Very highly recommended & I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel.

10) Moth And Spark by Anne Leonard  This debut book manages to mix dragons with certain lovable aspects of Pride and Prejudice. Anne Leonard’s debut mixes fantasy, action, romance and a whole host of characters and she manages to pull it off with a few bumps along the road. I enjoyed this debut which had intriguing protagonist couple (in-the-making) and of course dragons.

NEW AUTHORS TO LOOK OUT FOR -

Last year, I thought these five folks managed to make a distinct impression with their writing skills and I’ll be waiting for their next books with lots of interest:
 - Will McIntosh 
 -  Mercedes M. Yardley 
 - Andy Weir 
 - Jennifer Foehner Wells 
 - Lou Anders

11 comments:

Simon Gray said...

Good list, I'm in complete agreement on City of Stairs, I was reading it when all the talking heads on cable news were discussing 'white privilidge', and laughed out loud, when I got to the part about the 'privilidged' in the book.

The other books are praiseworthy too, though myself, I'd have included McClellans Crimson Campaign, and Miles Cameron's The Fell Sword

The Reader said...


Hi Simon,

City Of Stairs has been the standout fantasy title of 2014 IMO. Rob Bennett has managed to cram so much into this book without making it bulky.

Crimson Campaign (B. McClellan), Breach Zone (M. Cole) & Skin Game (J. Butcher) were some of the titles that missed out being on the list in spite being terrific reads on their own.

Mihir

Bibliotropic said...

I regret that out of all the titles you listed, I think I've only read 3 of them. T_T Clearly I have a lot of catching up to do!

Liviu said...

There seems to be City of Blades coming in the summer of 2015

http://www.quercusbooks.co.uk/book/City-of-Blades-by-Robert-Jackson-Bennett-ISBN_9781848669581#.VJs0o_cAAA

Bob R Milne said...

Interesting list. City of Stairs and Prince of Fools were on my top list as well. Tower Lord and The Shadow Throne I didn't get to, but do have on my TBR list.

Nice pick of debuts as well. Andy Weir and Brian Staveley were fantastic, and I'm excited to see Sebastian de Castell's follow-up. Ann Leonard I really didn't care for, though.

Ron Buckmire said...

I'm about 150 pages into City of Stairs but it is really not working for me. does it get better? I like the main character and her "secretary"/assassin but it just seems to be too slow to keep my attention.

I read "Confluence" But am not sure I feel good about it. It's a bit too close to romance for me. A very interesting concept and very well-paced and suspenseful. I am pretty sure I would read the follow up books.

The Darklord said...

What about Pierce Brown with his debut book Red Rising? it garnered quite the attention throughout last year, and its sequel is out right now.

The Reader said...

@ Ria,

You do read a lot of different titles, believe me I haven't read some of the biggies that you have :)

@ Bob,

All those books were simply fantastic. I'll be looking forward to reading what you think about Tower Lord & Shadow Throne. Especially TL which has such diverse opinions among its readers.

Anne Leonard's M&S was a debut with its flaws, I just felt the flaws didn't detract enough from its potential. However I do see why it could leave a sour taste for some :)

Mihir

The Reader said...


@ Ron,

Yeah COS is a bit slow to start as RJB lays down the foundation for the awesomeness to come later. Pay particular interest to the interludes & factoids as they deliver big with all the revelations in the end. Sigrud is awesome btw :)

Confluence was a surprise read for me, I enjoyed the romance as it was intertwined well within the story (rather than being the sole focus). I'm looking forward to the sequels as well :)

Best,
Mihir

The Reader said...


@ Darklord,

I couldn't list Red Rising as I didn't read it. Ive heard all the rave reviews for it so I'll be trying to get to both the books later this year.

Mihir

Rosie Jenkins said...

Great List. Some very cool looking recommendations in there that I will have to check out this month.
The best of 2014 for me was an amazing fantasy novel from David Kuklis called Escape From Netherworld. (http://www.escapefromnetherworld.com/).
As a big fan of dungeons and dragons, this book had huge appeal to me and I think it would be a great read for most fans of role playing. A group of friends that actually transform into their role play characters and enter the world. Easily one of the best written and most original adventure stories I have read.

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