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Tuesday, January 7, 2020

2019 Review/ 2020 Preview - Courtney Schafer


Favorite Books of 2019


- Sword of Kaigen, by M.L. Wang. Hands-down the best indie fantasy I've yet read. The beginning of the book seems like the story/characters will follow some familiar tropes, but this is absolutely not the case. The novel combines detailed worldbuilding and fun elemental combat magic with some really excellent character work and emotional arcs. It's awfully rare in fantasy to have a mother protagonist who's heavily involved in cool magic, battles and action at the same time as she's caring for young children, and I thought the handling of Misaki's character and the difficulties of her marriage was very well done. For me, the novel was both emotionally satisfying and powerfully affecting.

- A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine. This SF tale reminded me a bit of C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner, with an ambassador struggling to navigate complex and deadly politics in a culture they can never understand as a native does. I liked Martine's protagonist Mahit more than Cherryh's Bren, which helped make the reading experience much more engaging. If you're looking for science fiction with a lot to say about issues of culture and colonization, or if you just enjoy SF with interesting worldbuilding and character interaction, this one's for you. I'm eagerly looking forward to the sequel.

- Door Into Light, by Rachel Neumeier. Long-awaited (at least by me!) sequel to her 2012 fantasy novel House of Shadows. I adored House of Shadows for its atmospheric prose, mythic magic, and interesting characters, particularly the bardic sorceror Taudde, who struggles to navigate questions of morality and honor while living in an enemy country. House of Shadows stood well alone, but left plenty of room for futher intriguing developments--and I'm happy to say the sequel did not disappoint. I read it twice, just to savor my time with the characters. I particularly recommend the duology to anyone who loves Patricia McKillip; it reminds me of her work in all the best ways.

- Where Oblivion Lives, by T. Frohock. A dark, riveting novel of espionage and magic, featuring the same characters and setting as her Los Nefilim series of novellas. The characters are terrific; I'm always amazed at the depth of arc that Frohock can pack into a relatively svelte set of pages. I also love that even though she writes dark fantasy, with some nicely creepy horror styling to her scenes, she keeps a beautiful thread of hope throughout, rooted in the solid loving relationships of the characters. (For those folks seeking LGBT fantasy where the protagonist's sexuality isn't the main focus of the story, and he actually gets to enjoy a positive same-sex relationship that's a source of strength for him rather than angst, this is definitely the series for you!)

- A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery, by Curtis Craddock. Sequel to last year's rollicking fantasy adventure, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors, and just as much fun to read. I love both protagonists: the clever, stubborn polymath princess Isabelle, and her protector and father-figure, the aging but ebullient and devious musketeer Jean-Claude. If you like fantasy with plenty of swashbuckling, cunning court intrigue, wit, humor, and heart, don't miss out on this series.

- An Illusion of Thieves, by Cate Glass, a.k.a. Carol Berg. Berg has long been one of my favorite fantasy authors, because her work always combines unique/fascinating magic, terrific character work, and clever plot twists. She's been steadily putting out one excellent secondary-world fantasy after another for years now, and this latest book continues the streak, albeit under a new name. An ex-courtesan with a forbidden magic talent pulls an unlikely team together to pull off a challenging heist, and I sure enjoyed the ride.

- Empire of Grass, by Tad Williams. Second book in his follow-on trilogy to his earlier Memory, Sorrow & Thorn trilogy, which in my view is one of the great classics of epic fantasy. Some might complain of slow pacing and over-description, but to me, the leisurely build-up, deep introspection, and detailed settings help make both world and characters feel rich and real in a way few other fantasy authors can match. Every time a new book set in Osten Ard comes out, I sink right into the story and never want it to stop.

Looking Ahead to 2020

I'm eager for the sequels to many of the books above (Martine, Frohock, Craddock, Glass, Williams). Plus, I'm excited for The Girl and the Stars, the opener to Mark Lawrence's newest series, and also Network Effect, the first full length novel in Martha Wells's Murderbot series. Oh yes, and I impatiently await one last 2019 release which hasn't quite landed yet, as I write this: The Hanged Man by K.D. Edwards, sequel to his excellent The Last Sun, releasing Dec 17th.

What's Ahead for Me?

I'm working on two projects I hope to finally finish in 2020. One is a collection that'll include a novella and short stories set in the world of my Shattered Sigil trilogy. The other is a brand new fantasy novel tentatively titled The Dreaming Sea, which features coral reefs and undersea magic and a young saboteur whose mission gets derailed when she's forced into alliance with a ruthless team of spies.

About The Author

Official Author Website

Courtney Schafer attended college at Caltech where she obtained a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and also learned how to rock climb, backpack, ski and scuba dive. She then earned her Masters at the University of Colorado. Courtney now works in the aerospace industry and is married to an Australian scientist who shares her love for speculative fiction and mountain climbing.

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