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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Mihir's Top Reads of 2018 (by Mihir Wanchoo)

As has been the pattern with these lists of mine, January seems to be the best time for posting these. I hope our readers will forgive this idiosyncrasy of mine. The main reasoning for choosing these titles is the varied milieu of the plots, excellence in prose, characterization and the overall enjoyment they provided. This year was the least amount of books that I’ve ever read since I started blogging but I try to up my ante for 2019. So here we go for 2018 ...

Top Ten Titles:

1) The Wisdom’s Grave trilogy by Craig Schaefer What can I say about this trilogy comprising of Sworn To The Night, Detonation Boulevard, & Bring The Fire, that I haven’t already gushed about the books in the reviews. Craig Schaefer’s trilogy was the epic culmination of plots that have been in the works over three different series and nearly 16 titles. Featuring a love story between a witch and her knight, the story has epic battles, inter-dimensional escapades and everything in between. The revelations provided in these titles went a long way in explaining the crazy amount of planning that must have gone with this trilogy. Craig Schaefer now is solidly among my alltime favorite writers.

2) Paternus: Wrath Of The Gods by Dyrk Ashton – Dyrk Ashton marked himself as a special talent with his debut. With this sequel, Dyrk basically made sure that he marks his books out as a genre within their own. Mixing several mythologies (coherently), epic battles and a huge cast of inhuman characters, Wrath Of The Gods was The Dark Knight to Paternus: Rise Of The Gods. Excellent in every which way, Dyrk Ashton made this sequel a glorious reading experience.

2) Circe by Madeline Miller  Circe is a hard book to describe, it basically is the humanistic retelling of perhaps the most understood persona in Greek mythology.  Historians haven't been kind to Circe but via Madeline Miller, we get an in-depth, nuanced portrayal that is astounding to say the least. In part magical and in parts literary, Madeline Miller's Circe is possibly one of the best books of the decade.

3) Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence – Mark Lawrence is an anomaly, he writes books that combine beautiful prose, tremendous action and characters that stay with you even after the books are done. Grey Sister builds up on the epic finale of Red Sister and sets up the world conflict spectacularly. Mark Lawrence has shaped the story brilliantly and now we only have to wait to see how it all ends in Holy Sister.

4) Age Of Assassins by R. J. Barker – R. J Barker is a tremendous find for orbit books, his Wounded Kingdom trilogy is complete and Age Of Assassins is an epic conclusion to the tale of Girton Clubfoot. Brilliantly mixing action, intrigue and vulnerable characters, R. J Barker marks himself to be a writer to watch out for. I also hope he branches out to write crime thrillers just based on the empathetic scope of this trilogy.

5) Fire Dance by Ilana C. Myer – Ilana Myer’s sequel explores a different part of her world. Again we are drawn in by the beautiful prose, intriguing characters alongside magic as well as political revolution. Fire Dance showcases exactly why I love Ilana Myer’s work and why her books need to be read more widely.

6) City Of Kings by Rob J. Hayes – Rob J. Hayes is another favorite of mine and this standalone title after last year’s pirate duology proves his acumen at writing conflicted characters, grey situations and action sequences to blow your mind. Mixing a pregnancy with a bloody siege and with a lot of character conflict, Rob Hayes writes a spectacular story of the fall of a regime while making you cry all the same. City o]Of Kings is an excellent introduction to the First Earth saga but it will also implore you to read the earlier books strongly.

7) The Empire Of Ashes by Anthony Ryan – Anthony Ryan is a storyteller who impressed us mightily with his debut Blood Song. The Draconis Memoria trilogy is his sophomore effort and arguably his better work. The Empire Of Ashes is an epic conclusion that gave the readers their fill of action, magical battles and most of all an ending that leaves you with a gut punch but mentally satisfied as well.

8) We Ride The Storm by Devin Madson – Devin’s book was one out of the left field. It’s the first book in a new series but set in the same world as her debut trilogy. Dark, brutal and with lots of chopped heads, it left me in awe of her sparse writing style. With a very streamlined plot and an in-depth focus on characters, We Ride The Storm became our SPFBO pick for the finals and a series that I’ll continue to read as soon as the next title releases.

9) The Silver Sorceress by Alec HutsonContinuing from his magnificent debut Alec Hutson showed no sophomore slump and with The Silver Sorceress gave us more of the epic goodness that was so solidly reflected in The Crimson Queen. This book neatly avoided the middle book trap and sets up an intriguing geo-magical conflict that is sure to explode in the next volume.

10) Master Assassins by Robert V. S. RedickMaster Assassins is a welcome return by Robert V. S. Redick. Set in a brand new world and focusing on a plot about brotherly love. Robert brilliantly showcases various themes afflicting mankind and provides us with a cracking story that left me wanting to read more about this world.

Honorable mentions to the following titles that narrowly missed out on this list:

– Forever Fantasy Online by Rachel Aaron & Travis Bach

– The Neon Boneyard by Craig Schaefer

 Starless by Jacqueline Carey

 Those Brave Foolish Souls From The City Of Swords by Benedict Patrick

Top Ten Debuts:

1) The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang – Rebecca Kuang’s debut title mixing epic fantasy and Chinese history, showcased that women can write grimdark fantasy magnificently and do it better than most. The Poppy War is a book that outshines most military fantasy titles by showing the brutality of war and the sacrifices it asks of mankind. Absolutely horrific in its brutality and terrific in its scope, The Poppy War is an unforgettable debut marking Rebecca Kuang as an author who will only get better.

Kings Of Paradise by Richard Nell – Richard Nell just snuck up on most of the fantasy readers as his debut Kings Of Paradise was the textbook sleeper hit. Opening with a cannibal protagonist and making him relatable is just the start of this epic fantasy story. Richard Nell’s prose and characterization are what made this debut such a standout one. Think Hannibal meets Deadwood meets epic fantasy, Kings Of Paradise is epic in every sense of the word and shares the top spot.

2) The Great Hearts by David A. Oliver The Great Hearts was another surprising find for me, combining the amazing characterization of Blood Song within a grimdark frame and topping it off with action-adventure a La Indiana Jones. David A. Oliver marked himself out in my eyes with his splendid mix of genres and I can’t wait to read the sequel.

3) Endsville by Clay SangerEndsville is a debut that feels like it’s specifically written to counter most of the urban fantasy genre. Endsville is dark, hell it’s about a family who presides over a biker clan and certainly draws some glorious comparisons with Sons Of Anarchy. This story very epic in scope and major props to Clay Sanger for his glorious descriptions of gang heraldry and culture. Exciting characterization, epic plot scope and a unique story made this debut land a special place in my heart.

4) City Of Lies by Sam HawkeCity Of Lies was an epic fantasy debut that had an interesting take on a brother sister duo. Their familial bond and their shared passion with poisons was what made this debut such an exciting read for me. Sam Hawke injects her story with charismatic prose, characters with flair and also has one of the best opening lines that I’ve ever read in speculative fiction.

5) Orconomics by J. Zach PikeOrconomics is a comedic fantasy with a very striking cover that makes no bones about what the reader can anticipate. This book has its mix of comedic turns, action sequences, and heart-breaking moments that highlight the characters within. A debut that will be in the running for the 2018 SPFBO finals and a solid contender at that. I can’t wait to start Son Of A Liche after reading Orconomics.

6) Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri I was really excited for Empire Of Sand as it was supposed to combine elements of Hindu mythology with those of the Mughal empire. Empire Of Sand did all of that while also giving us a tender love story and setting up an epic conflict. Tasha Suri’s prose and style was solid and I’ve high expectations from her forthcoming sequels.

7) The Boy Who Walked Too Far by Dom Watson – Dom Watson has written one of the most distinctive books that I’ve ever read. It was definitely the most unique across all four editions of SPFBO and one that’s very, very hard to classify. Mixing every sort of genre and ideas, TBWWTF is a unique reading experience and I can’t wait for Dom to write more of the Xindii Chronicles.

8) Kingshold by D. P. WoolliscroftElections can be pretty boring to write and read about. But Kingshold proves to be the exception to that maxim. D. P. Woolliscroft’s debut manages to catch a kingdom in upheaval and with an election upcoming. A myriad host of characters are thrown into the mix as they all try to do the various things. Funny, laidback and with some intriguing characters, Kingshold is a book that you will want to read and watch out for the sequels to come.

9) Banebringer by Carol ParkBanebringer is one of those titles that slipped by in the 2018 edition of SPFBO but it deserves more praise and reader spotlight. Combining a complex world, unique magic system and a dark world scenario, Carol Park has written a hefty book that has a bit of everything for most fantasy readers. I’m going to follow this series and can’t wait for the next book Sweetblade.

10) City Of Shards by Steve Rodgers – Steve Rodgers has written a very, very cool high fantasy book that speaks to his imagination. Mixing some very cool concepts and a myriad plot with engaging characters, City Of Shards is a perfect debut for those readers who love high fantasy and are looking for the next Brandon Sanderson. Steve Rodgers might very well be the next in line to his throne.

1) Not all linked reviews are from FBC but are either from FBC contributors and other fellow sites whose opinions I trust. Since I wasn't able to review every book that I read, I felt this was a good alternative option.
2) Two notable exceptions from this are Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames and Arm Of The Sphinx by Josiah Bancroft as I wasn't able to read them in the past year. However they easily would have graced this list, if I had read them in time.



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