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Monday, July 12, 2010

Odds and Ends: Lists

I happen to like lists of recent and upcoming books - whether it's best of the year, the year at half, anticipated books, new anticipated books. I also prefer to talk about "disappointing books" rather than "bad" books with few exceptions.

The main attraction of "best of" lists is that they force a "paring" down of what someone liked and after the passage of time tempered the possible initial enthusiasm, or conversely brought a book that stayed with the reader to the forefront.

"Anticipated" lists beside the obvious use in finding out what new books are projected to come out, give also an indication of what priorities the list maker has in his or her reading.

Books have their readers and readers have their books is my motto, so most of the time the fact that I dislike a book is manifest of the fact that the book is not for me, though of course there are books that I disliked intensely:

The Magicians (reading it was like water drop torture, Quentin, drop, Quentin, drop...) and The Tome of the Undergates (potty and generally very juvenile humor, all caps words, almost at the "so bad to be really funny" level of the North Korean movies of my childhood) which is not to be confused with a meh or book that failed for me but which did not generate the "hate passion" of above: Fall of Thanes, The City and the City or the Dervish House, to give some notable examples.

I am not a series completist, so I never forgo reading a series installment because the series is not "done", but it's true that there are series books that I start, something else comes up and so on, so they end up back on the "to-read" pile until a new series installment - or something related for that matter - comes and rekindles my interest and that's sometimes noticeable in my lists too.

I usually find historical lists of much less interest for various reasons, most notably I find their 'interesting/nothing new" ratio very skewed towards the latter, but that's generally my bias towards reading newer books as opposed to older ones.

So in the spirit of paring down as if forced to choose *and order* the top 10 books (overall and sff) of 2010 so far:

1. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer - literary historical fiction, standalone and author's novelistic debut, came out of nowhere (full rv) - this novel has the combination of exuberant and dark that I find irresistible and of course the fantastic world building - or re-imagining if you wish - coupled with the Eastern Europe setting of the second half, made it the #1 choice.

2. The Folding Knife by KJ Parker - fantasy, standalone, my number two anticipated novel of 2010 (full rv); still powerful, still a masterpiece and most likely still my number #1 sff of the year, though the new Culture novel coming out in October may change that...

3. Cold Magic by Kate Eliott - fantasy, series debut, came out of nowhere with no expectations (full rv September, short take HERE)

Exuberant and with a superb ending that made me both eager for "Cold Fire" and made me satisfied with the first installment in itself.

4. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell - literary historical fiction with a touch of the fantastic, standalone, my top non-sff anticipated novel of 2010 (full rv)

5. The Evolutionary Void by Peter F. Hamilton - sf, series ending and another Top 10 Anticipated 2010 Book (full rv August, short take HERE) - while the whole 5 volume series including the Commonwealth duology is nothing short of brilliant as sense of wonder or plotting and is both magnificent sf and shows what sf can be at its best, the essential immortality of the characters deprives the books of a lot of the "real consequences" motif and I think I still prefer the author "Night's Dawn" a little bit more for its awesome character set.

6. Black Prism by Brent Weeks - fantasy series opening 1/3 and another Top 10 Anticipated 2010 Book (full rv August, short take HERE); this one has one flaw, it ends and despite its 600+ pages I wanted 600 more...This series has the potential of becoming if not my best fantasy one ever - since the six volume Kushiel's Legacy linked double trilogy will be very hard to dethrone from there - but close to that since it has the depth, originality and characters for that.

7. Salute the Dark by Adrian Tchaikovsky - fantasy, #4/10 (full rv); this is both for the book and for the series to date

8. The Last Page by Anthony Huso - fantasy, author debut, part of a duology and one of two awesome debuts (full rv August, short take HERE); while essentially a two character show, the book is not quite romantic as the blurb implies, but very matter of fact as their relationship goes; invetiveness galore, excellent writing and the best melding of steampunk and high magic I've seen.

9. City of Ruin by Mark Newton - fantasy, #2/4, Top 10 Anticipated (full rv) - if the weirdness descent continues unabated, while keeping the awesome characters and inventiveness of the first two books, the next one will be a strong competitor for #1

10. The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman - sf in setting, fantasy in spirit, very divisive - love it/hate it novel - but it really impressed me and its sequel stands among my highest anticipated ones ever (full dual rv that reflects this opinion split to an extent); when outside perennial favorites of 15+ years (Honor, Gordianus, Culture), you find yourself wanting the next book in a series as bad as I want this one, there is no choice but to include it on my top 10 list despite all the controversy...

11/Overall and 9 sff: Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis - historical fantasy, author debut as original work goes, part of a trilogy and the second of the awesome debuts of 2010 (full rv); characters and writing style dominate here

12/Overall and 10 sff; The Emerald Storm by Michael Sullivan - fantasy, #4/6 (full rv) - this is both for the book and for the series to date


Bastard said...

I've been waiting for Cold Magic for quite a while now, mainly because I haven't read Kate Elliott before and this seemed like a good chance to try it. Pretty sure I had it pre-ordered around February or March. Good to see the good word on it.

Since I knew you liked them a lot, where would you place Secrets of the Sands and The Noise Within had you continued the list?

I've only read Secrets of the Sands which I loved, so interested how these two stand-up to the other books you have really liked since based on your reviews and other mentions, you liked them quite a bit.

Also very excited in seeing you ranking Black Prism that high... the one I've had pre-ordered since early December, so I'm very much highly anticipating it.

Will be interesting to see how the list changes at the end of the year since there are still some books with quite a bit of potential, The Way of Kings comes to mind.

Liviu said...

For me the only Kate Eliott I liked was Jaran (4 books so far from the mid 90's, technically sf but very fantasy-like) and while fantasy, Cold Magic has something of Jaran as the ad that came with it mentioned and intrigued me, - though to be honest I would have opened the book immediately anyway since i do so with all arcs i receive and the first page was enough to make it a now read, which is quite rare. All the top 4 books are of the "first page makes me read it now" kind, Void does not count since that is a read on receive as is any PFH

I tried (and again now after Cold Magic) her other two main series Crown and Crossroads and neither interests me in the least

The Black Prism could have been anywhere from #3-#6, the reason I put it 6 was that all the other 3 feel complete - one is a standalone and one is a series ending of course, but Cold Magic feels satisfying in itself despite its twist ending; I have no idea about Cold fire - eg when the action starts, what's about - but while it may start at the end of Cold Magic, it may have a slight gap too; Black Prism sequel *must* start where Black prism ends, so in a sense that feeling of incompleteness was its main flaw as mentioned

Not a fan of B. Sanderson so far, though all the hype about Way of kings will make it give it a try when published but not before for sure; if there is a fantasy that may blow me away, the Gilman Half Made World or the Akers Horns of Ruin will be the one unless the Redick 3 book comes in 2010; House on Durrow Street has an outside chance

After the top 10 sff above, Secrets of the Fire sea and maybe Mighty Fortress would be next and then the rest including Secrets Sands and Noise Within, both most likely in the top 20. Btw both series have great potential so next installments definitely can see them higher, the way the Sullivan series or even the Kinden went; both need essentially more depth/extension as world building goes, so far the action is limited to some extent

Anonymous said...

Indeed, very surpirsed to see you rank Black Prism so high. While I liked Weeks' original series, I would have guessed that it was a little too "angry-teenage-male" to resonate with you. Which makes me think that Black Prism must be a marked evolutionary step from Way of Shadows series. Is that the case?

Liviu said...

Actually I loved Night Angel a lot for its twists/turns and narrative energy so as a trilogy - which is a little cheat but with all being published in 2008... - it was my #2 (genre) fantasy of the year after Caine 3 - there is a link to that list in the LHS widgets

But I also agree that Black prism is a step up for several reasons - originality, depth and no more (or at least considerably fewer so I did not really notice them) juvenile/cringing scenes - this one has the vibe of big time epic from the first pages and it does not disappoint; same energy and twists and turns as Night Angel

Bastard said...

Interesting about Sanderson, I would have thought that something like Mistborn would be to your liking. I don't know about his other books since I haven't read them, but even so Mistborn seems a bit in what you would like in your epic fantasies.

In any case, from what I've heard of The Way of Kings so far has been very very positive, and it looks like it's an ambitious series, so we'll see.

Also, you guys should remove the comment moderation, at least for a while to see how it goes. If spamming, etc. becomes a problem you can always put it back on. I don't know it's a bit annoying hehe.


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