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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fantasy Book Critic’s 2008 Review/2009 Preview — Juliet E. McKenna


I have this general feeling that I don’t read as much as I used to, or would like to. So it’s cheering to look round the bookshelves and see a good number of excellent books that I really enjoyed this past year. So here are some of them, in no particular order, as they catch my eye.

On the fantasy side of the genre, I thoroughly enjoyed
Kate Elliot’sShadow Gate”, second of her Crossroads series. Absorbing, intelligent and showing how the boundaries of fantasy are ever-expanding. The same is true of Scott Lynch’sThe Lies of Locke Lamora”, and its sequel, “Red Seas Under Red Skies”. Yes, I know I’m horribly late to reading these but that’s one of the curses of my inability to read fantasy unless I’m on holiday these days. Otherwise it’s just too close to “work” for me.

Urban fantasy is quite another matter. I read a lot of that. Highlights this year have been
Kelley Armstrong’sLiving With The Dead” and also her YA novel in the same world, “The Summoning”. Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series, beginning with “Moon Called” has also been solidly enjoyable with a satisfying fillip of originality. From the overlap of urban and high fantasy, crime and comedy, there was Mike Resnick’sStalking the Unicorn” and “Stalking the Vampire”. Great fun. At the harder edge of that sub-genre there was the tensely impressive “Black Magic Woman” by Justin Gustainis.

SF is also something that doesn’t count as work, so I’ve enjoyed
Tobias Buckell’sCrystal Rain”, as well as John Scalzi’sOld Man’s War”, “The Ghost Brigades” and “The Last Colony” enormously. Scalzi’sAgent to the Stars” was another delight. Charles Stross’Saturn’s Children” was a fabulous read, with so much of what I loved in the SF of my teens reflected through a contemporary prism.

Stross is an astonishingly versatile writer, as proved by “Halting State”, his near-future tech-crime novel that absorbed me utterly.
Ken MacLeod has also been looking at variations on alternate presents and futures with “The Execution Channel” and “The Night Sessions”. Both are compelling reads. The same is true of Cory Doctorow’sLittle Brother”. This has been a vintage year for thought-provoking SF that reflects on the world we live in.

Alternate history is a difficult thing to get right, especially for readers like me who live and breathe history.
Jo Walton’s Small Change series, beginning with “Farthing”, continuing with “Ha’penny” and concluding with “Half a Crown” is the best thing in that style that I have read in years. Superb.

It was also a very good year for anthologies. “The Solaris New Book of Science Fiction: Volume 2”, “Sideways in Crime” (
Solaris), “Imaginary Friends” (DAW) and “Myth-Understandings” (Newcon Press) offered myriad delights.

Finally, intrigued to see why
Dan Abnett’s Warhammer 40,000 stories were so completely enthralling my teenage sons, I’ve been reading the Gaunt’s Ghost series. Not the kind of thing I would usually read at all and you know what, most entertaining!


Well, I already know
Justin Gustainis’Evil Ways” is a worthy sequel to “Black Magic Woman” because I was lucky enough to get an advance copy. As for my vacation reading, I know that will include Gail Z Martin’sDark Haven”, Kate Elliott’sTraitor’s Gate” and Brandon Sanderson’sThe Hero of Ages”. Along with Stephen Hunt’sThe Kingdom Beyond the Waves” from the 2008 TBR list. Oh and Terry Pratchett’sNation”, naturally. Then there’s Emily Gee’sThe Laurentine Spy”, due out this year, a must-read given the excellence of her 2007 “The Thief with No Shadow”. I’m also hearing very good things about Daniel Fox’sDragon in Chains”, so that’s one to seek out.

Now “Hands of Flame” is out, I can read the whole of
C.E. Murphy’s Negotiator Trilogy. I’m really looking forward to that, given how much I enjoyed her Walker Papers urban fantasies. Then there’s her new series, beginning with “The Queen’s Bastard”. Very tempting, time permitting. With the final books of Charles Stross’ The Merchant Princes series now on the horizon, I must get up to speed with “The Merchants’ War”. 2009 also sees “Going Under”, the latest in Justina Robson’s Quantum Gravity series, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

Then there will be all the excellent books I come across through the year, both from new writers and those with a backlist I have yet to tackle. I have an ever-swelling list of recommendations from friends and colleagues. The current breadth and depth of speculative writing, in the all different areas of the genre is just breathtaking, isn’t it?


The big thrill will be the publication of “Irons in the Fire”, here in the UK and in the US, on March 31, 2009. I’m really proud of this story, the cover art by
David Palumbo is fantastic and the early feedback we’re getting from writers and reviewers is hugely gratifying.

What with the vagaries of publishers’ scheduling, I have already written the second book of this trilogy and am working on the third, so that will keep me busy. Not too busy to be looking at some other projects mind you. More news will be forthcoming as and when there’s something definite to say.


Juliet E. McKenna is a British fantasy author. Her bibliography includes The Tales of Einarinn novels & short fiction, The Aldabreshin Compass and her new series, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution. Juliet is also a member of
The Write Fantastic along with Sarah Ash, Mark Chadbourn, etc. For more information, please visit the author’s Official Website and Official LiveJournal.

NOTE: For more author responses, please visit Fantasy Book Critic's 2008 Review/2009 Preview index



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