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Saturday, July 18, 2009

The First Half of 2009 Part 1: Fantasy and Mainstream (By Liviu Suciu, Robert Thompson and Cindy Hannikman)

Introduction: Since we passed the half-mark of 2009 we decided to do a post of notable 2009 releases so far with contributions from Liviu, Robert and Cindy. Since we have 81 books to mention (77 unique titles, 4 repeats) we split the post into two parts based on genres/categories.
Today we present genre fantasy and mainstream (no-fantastic), while tomorrow we will present sf and mainstream-fantastic.

Considering the mind-boggling number of books released each month - only in sff Robert in his exhaustive monthly spotlights managed to catch 100 titles or so, while now we usually have 40 or so titles which are of interest to someone here, not to talk about the other genres/categories - everyone needs filters to find books for him or her and genres/categories act as first such. That rather than any "intrinsic" reason is why we split the books into four categories.

All the links to reviews not yet posted will be updated as those reviews appear on FBC. Unless noted otherwise the FBC reviews are done by the contributor selecting the books in cause as notable 2009 releases.

While varied in style and subject all the books below have one thing in common, each was a five star book for at least one of us and we recommend them.

Genre Fantasy:

Robert (6):

“Mortal Coils” by Eric Nylund (FBC Rv)

A hugely entertaining and ambitious contemporary fantasy that sets the stage for even greater fun.

“Dragonfly Falling” by Adrian Tchaikovsky. (FBC Rv Robert + Liviu)

Even better than the first volume, “Dragonfly Falling” is a terrific continuation of Tchaikovsky’s superb Shadows of the Apt fantasy saga.

“The Forest of Hands & Teeth” by Carrie Ryan (FBC Rv)

Just a superb YA post-apocalyptic/zombie tale that heralds a rising star in Ms. Ryan.

“The Price of Spring” by Daniel Abraham (FBC Capsule Rv)

I think I said it best in the review: “a triumphant conclusion to one of the most unique and spellbinding fantasy series that I’ve read in the past decade...”

“Monument” by Ian Graham (FBC Rv)
Okay, I know this came out over five years ago, but “Monument” merits mentioning because it ranks right up there with the best books that I’ve read all year...

“Last Argument of Kings” by Joe Abercrombie
Finally got around to reading this conclusion to The First Law trilogy and it’s every bit as awesome as I heard it was


Cindy (5):

Farwalker's Quest by Joni Sensel (FBC Rv)
As my review states it was quick fun read, I loved the characters. And while there wasn't major magic involved the characters warmed my heart.

The Horsemen Gambit by David Coe (FBC Rv)
Second installment, and great fantasy series. A lot of build up to the third book.

Age of Misrule 1: World's End by Mark Chadbourn (FBC Rv)
The use of many of England's landmarks and a great captivating story makes for a great fantasy.

Edge of the World by Kevin J Anderson (FBC Rv Liviu + Cindy)
A lot of plot lines and characters, great fast moving read.

Dragonseed by James Maxey (FBC Rv)
A third installment in a great series. A lot of resolved story-lines.


Liviu (24)

A quick note: since last year in my "best of 08" post I had trouble ranking books and deciding what is 2 vs what is 3 and such, I decided that from now on I will have three tiers: co-#1, co-#2 and notable.

Co-#1 Wildfire: A Novel by Micklem, Sarah (FBC Rv)
Firethorn follows her lover to war, gets hit by lightning and becomes (literally) touched by the Gods while later she continues her amazing saga in quite unexpected ways. Emotional, emotional and very powerful, if there was one novel I would love to read tomorrow, the sequel to this one is.

Co-#1 Naamah's Kiss by Carey, Jacqueline (FBC Rv)
Young Alban magician (druid) and princess of blood by descent, Moirin loves men and women, kicks butt, saves princes and princesses, makes friends with strange creatures, and finds true love (maybe). Just a rolling adventure written in a superb style and set in the best fantasy setting ever, though it's truly an alt-Earth one rather than a secondary world.

Co-#1 Best Served Cold by Abercrombie, Joe (FBC Rv)
Monza, Cosca and a great supporting cast intrigue and make war across the breadth of Styria; with great cameos from Vitari, Carlot and Jezal, and with the "cripple" hovering in the background, this is Abercrombie at his best.

Co-#1 Purple and Black by Parker, K. J. (FBC Rv)
A novella that falls a bit short of perfection by 20 pages say and is set as letters between two former academics and close friends, it has all the KJ Parker's themes from her superb novels. Just as a quick note, fate forced the two academics to change their jobs and one works as an emperor, other as his top general and governor for now...

Co-#2 /Top Debut Nights of Villjamur by Newton, Mark Charan (FBC Rv)
I loved this one and its sequel is another highly, highly expected book; there was enough discussion in the blogosphere to rehash it here, the only thing that stopped me from co-ranking it #1 is the lack of a character to take over the novel so to speak, but otherwise it has all that I want in sff.

Co-#2/Top-Debut The Adamantine Palace by Deas, Stephen (FBC Rv Robert)
While I was less impressed with this one when I read it, time and re-reads jumped it considerably in my ranking to my surprise; I guess the novel packs so much, so fast that when I was done I wanted more and I was disappointed I did not have the next volume, but once some time passed I really appreciated how superb is...

Notable books in order of reading:

Shadow Magic by Jones, Jaida and Benett, Danielle (FBC Rv)
Entertaining and relaxing follow-up to Havemercy and on the same par with magic instead of dragons, Ke-Han instead of Volstov and four new narrators though still all men

Retribution Falls: Tales of the Ketty Jay by Wooding, Chris (FBC Rv)
Pure fun; humor and seriousness mixed up in a tale of magic and steampunk; expect a rolling adventure that will make you laugh a lot, but not only

Interregnum by Turney, S. J. A. (FBC Rv)
Superb indie debut; a blood and guts military fantasy set in a later Roman Empire -like setting and with no magic; I thought it at least on par with Paul Kearney
The Ten Thousand and a tremendous achievement from a new writer

Blood of Elves (The Witcher, #1) by Sapkowski, Andrzej (FBC Capsule Rv)
The Gemmell winner, it took some time for me to get used to its style which reminded me a lot of childhood favorite Karl May, but is quite unusual in modern fantasy.

Storm Glass (Glass, #1) by Snyder, Maria V. (FBC Rv)
Superb romantic fantasy on par with Ms. Snyder's
Poison Study which is still a big time favorite

The Edge of the World (Terra Incognita) by Anderson, Kevin J. (FBC Rv Liviu + Cindy)
Epic fantasy in a true sense with mutliple pov's and complicated plot lines as well as the author's very clear and easy to read style

Heart of Veridon by Akers, Tim (FBC Rv)
Superb steampunk fantasy with great world building; if it gets continued this could easily vault into my top-top fantasies but for now it is stopped here due to vagaries of publishing

Corambis (Doctrine of Labyrinths, Book 4) by Monette, Sarah (FBC Rv)
As opposed to S. Deas' novel, this one started much higher in my estimation and moved down in time; a good finale to the
Labyrinths series I was originally impressed by its complete change of setting - from a Renaissance like to a Victorian like one - but now I wish the book would have remained in Melusine and its neighborhood. Not on par with the first three though still an A novel.

A Madness of Angels: Or The Resurrection of Matthew Swift by Griffin, Kate (FBC Rv)
The one urban paranormal read by me out of 150+ books in 09 so far, I enjoyed it maybe because it's different than the usual such from what I hear from veteran readers of the sub-genre. Also being a revenge thriller helps since I am not a fan of the mystery genre conventions and most urban paranormal are set as mysteries...

Midwinter by Sturges, Matthew (FBC Rv Robert + Liviu)
Great debut, but another book that I ranked higher on first read; in hindsight I saw some flaws though future installments are still of interest and will determine a complete assessment

The Laurentine Spy by Gee, Emily (FBC Rv)
My *personal favorite* of the year. Just loved it and while I enjoyed other novels above more overall, those were much more complex - even the 100 page novella by KJ Parker above beats this one in complexity and content packing by a lot - while this is romantic fantasy with suspense, a linear tale and relatively cliched characters, but I just loved it.

Avempartha (The Riyria Revelations, #2) by Sullivan, Michael J. (FBC Rv)
A great follow-up to
The Crown Conspiracy and the true beginning of the series in the big picture sense; almost a co-#2 book, the next one may get there

A Magic of Nightfall: A Novel of the Nessantico Cycle by Farrell, S.L. (FBC Rv)
Very good novel of intrigue and politics with great characters and world building but very annoying naming conventions

Wings of Wrath (The Magister Trilogy, #2) by Friedman, C.S. (FBC Rv)
Another excellent novel that could have been more considering that the author's famous
Coldfire trilogy is a big time favorite of mine; great characters but the setting does not quite add up for me so far at least; I explained why in the review linked and I am curious about book 3, if it will explain what I find very unlikely about its universe

The Gods of Amyrantha (Tide Lords book 2) by Fallon, Jennifer (FBC Rv Liviu + Mihir)
Great sequel to The Immortal Prince and starts the huge twists and turns of the series. Not enough Cayal and Arkady for my taste, but still excellent, though #1 and #4 in the series are my big time favorites.

Mortal Coils by Nylund, Eric S. (FBC Rv Robert)
Ok, this one could count as urban paranormal, but it's with Gods in modern times rather than elves, witches and the like; YA-like and 600 pages and I read it in 3 hours, so well it rolls of the page that I could not believe it ended so fast; the next installments are asap's

Dragonfly Falling by Tchaikovsky, Adrian . (FBC Rv Robert + Liviu)

Excellent second installment in the Kinden series and raising it to even higher complexity; the writing is better than in Empire but still falls a bit short of a true co-#1/2 book and it still hits the occasional narrative wall rather than rolling end to end

Gears of the City by Gilman, Felix (FBC Rv Robert)

Great sequel to Thunderer, goes into Mieville/Wolfe teritory and I loved it.


Mainstream Non-Fantastic

Liviu (7)

#1 Stone's Fall by Pears, Iain (FBC Rv)
Maybe *the* novel of 2009 for me though all those co-#1's in the other categories will give it a run at the end of 2009, this is historical fiction at its best with some of the most amazing twists and turns written in the understated style of the author that for one of them I had to re-read the paragraph three times to truly believe it... I gave some excerpts in my review - no spoilers of course; just brilliant though time has to pass to see how it compares with the author's
Dream of Scipio which ranks in my top, top of all time novels.

#2 Wonderful World by Calvo, Javier (FBC Capsule Rv)
Wonderful indeed - the novel, not the world, which is a Tarantino Pulp-Fiction like one with a clear homage to Stephen King too. Great cover made me pick it up and open it and then I *had* to buy it that day and read it asap.

Notable books in order of reading:

Marius' Mules by Turney, SJA (FBC Capsule Rv)
Adventure military novel based on the first phase of Caesar's conquest of Gaul it is fun and gripping though loaded with anachronisms and with some poor editing showing its indie roots; still excellent and I would love to read the implied sequel too

The Stalin Epigram by Litell, Robert (FBC Capsule Rv)
Osip Mandelstam's life takes a decisive turn when he decides to "stop beating around the bush" and tell the truth about the horrors of Stalinist Russia; Anna Ahkmatova, Boris Pasternak, Nadezhda Mandelstam and Stalin star in this darkly funny but ultimately tragic novel about the meat grinder that was communism.

Gladiatrix by Whitfield, Russell (FBC Capsule Rv)
Blood and guts in the arena with a twist; great fun and I am looking forward to the implied sequel

Vlad: the Last Confession by Humphreys CC (FBC Rv)
First western novel to do justice to Vlad Tepes (the Impaler) as a great crusading hero for Christianity and against the conquering Ottomans; I grew up on stories about Vlad's heroism and his famous night attack in 1462 is still remembered as one of the few glorious Christian acts during the seemingly unstoppable Islamic expansionist tide of the 14-1600's that ended only under Vienna's walls in 1683, while it had as highlights the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Belgrade in 1521 and the destruction of the kingdom of Hungary at Mohacs in 1526; the twist at the end makes it even better

The Kindly Ones (English tr) by Litell, Jonathan (FBC Capsule Rv)
A deeply controversial, flawed novel which won multiple prestigious awards and is a masterpiece, I read it several times on its French original publication in 2006 when it ranked as my number one novel of the year by far; the English translation is powerful too.


Fabio Fernandes said...

Wow! Time does fly! Excellent job, people!

Patrick said...

I really wish that quality wasn't so subjective or there were fewer authors running around.

What is life but getting increasingly behind in the good ole reading pile?

Liviu said...

It is both frustrating and great at the same time to have so many books of interest to read, but it's like with food, better to have than not have it and just discipline yourself to read the things you love the most first, enjoy them ,take your time...

I read a lot but I let books dictate the flow of my reading and spend as much time with them as needed to have my fill of their universe...

Regarding quality - books have audiences, so most of the time judgments about quality are actually judgments if a book is for you or not.

Rabid Fox said...

So many books. Too many books. My danged wish list is going to become self-aware at this rate.


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