The Fifth Season -Breaking All Expectations

19161852I feel finished with the Hugos. The absolute disaster that has surrounded the Hugo Awards for the last two years has turned me off the entire award ceremony and I do not have the patience or the time to dig through what is happening any longer. As such, I ignored all the winners of the Hugo awards in the past year and treated the books as if they hadn’t be lauded for their excellence… a move that has turned out to be a huge mistake. The Fifth Season, by Nora Jemisin, was the ‘Best Novel’ award winner of the Hugos last year, and regardless of whether or not the Hugos are a sham these days, it is a really good book.

The Fifth Season is the first book in The Broken Earth trilogy, and it starts off strong. The book tells the story of an Earth that frequently experiences extinction level natural disasters, called fifth seasons, that tend to kill most of the humans left living on the planet. The humans have becomes ruled by necessity, adapting their lives to the sole purpose of surviving. The majority of fifth seasons come from enormous tectonic activity on the planet’s surface, causing earthquakes and ash falls that crush and smother everything in their path. The good news is that a small portion of people (orogenes) on the planet are born with the the magical ability to bend the earth to their will and control quakes and disasters. The bad news is that these individuals can sometimes be wildly out of control of their powers – creating more danger than they prevent – and have to be placed into essentially slavery to ensure the continuation of the species.

Our journey follows three protagonists, Essun, Syenite, and Damaya – three orogenes who are surrounded with different circumstance. Damaya is a small child who is discovered to have powers and demonstrates the fear, terror, and danger the earthmancers create around them. Syenite is a fully trained and accomplished orogene of the establishment who is sent out on missions and is currently being forced to breed with another powerful orogene to produce useful children. Finally, Essun is a rogue orogene – on the run from everyone – and simply trying to hide and live with her children and escape persecution. Each of these characters helps bring to life Jemisin’s world and do an incredible job establishing it as a living breathing thing with a lot of grey areas when it comes to morality. Jemisin hits the sweet spot where she has created a world clearly driven by necessity, but her world building doesn’t feel like it is just going for shock value.

The Fifth Season’s strongest asset is its prose. Jemisin has a once in a generation voice that is masterful in its storytelling. I love books that play with perspective well, and this certainly qualifies. The story is told in the form of a conversation, as if the book is talking with you. It creates this strange and intense feeling of connection with the characters and had me incredibly immersed right off the bat in their stories. The book is also incredibly diverse, with characters of all ethnicities, genders, orientations etc. The book manages to have something for everyone without feeling like it was written just to meet a diversity quota, which I really enjoy.

My one dislike for The Fifth Season is that the conversation style writing could sometimes make me feel like I was missing key plot points and that things were going over my head. However, this is much more a function of me needing to take the time to read close than poor writing. I found the plot so exciting and compelling that I rarely wanted to slow down to closely examine things. I sense that a reread of the series would be greatly rewarding.

The Fifth Season likely would have been in my top 3 in 2015 (possibly even #1) had I read it that year. The story and world are fascinating, the characters are fantastic, and the prose creates a unique and unforgettable experience that I can’t wait to have more of. I feel that Jemisin is likely one of the best writers of the current generations, and that everyone should check out this book. The Quill to Live ecstatically recommends The Fifth Season.

Rating: The Fifth Season – 9.5/10

The Bear And The Nightingale – Walking in Winter’s Wonderland

28862387A really quick way to rise to the top of my to-read list is to write a fantasy novel in a setting I haven’t read before. I have had some interesting firsts recently with historical fictions about the Netherlands, Aztec fantasy, 1900’s fantasy, workplace fantasy, and now Russian fantasy. The Bear and the Nightingale is the debut of Katherine Arden, and based on Russian folklore. When I first learned about the book’s existence, I was intrigued. I am extremely unfamiliar with Russian culture, though a quick spin through wikipedia got me excited to see it in a fantasy setting.

The book tells the story of Vasilisa and her interesting life from start to finish (more or less). The beginning of the tale felt a bit slow to me. We start with the birth and early childhood of Vasilisa, something that was not quite riveting. However, as Vasilisa starts to grow so did my appreciation for The Bear and Nightingale. The story revolves around the clash of Catholicism and Russian spirituality. Vasilisa has a connection to the spirits of Russia, most importantly Frost, the embodiment of winter. The encroachment of Catholicism starts to eat away at the strength of spirits, and threatens to release a prisoner long held dormant.

Vasilisa was a interesting character to follow around, but I never grew too attached to her. The Bear and Nightingale’s strength for me came from bringing Russia’s folklore to life, and teaching me more about the subject. This merit however did not really do enough to make the book particularly memorable. I am finding it extremely hard to remember the feelings and thoughts about the story that I made note of for my review, and that in and of itself is becoming the review. The book as a whole had great prose, except for some overly descriptive scenes. In one instance Arden described someone “fluttering their eyelids like wounded birds” and I stopped for a good three minutes trying to imagine what that would look like. The world building was great, getting me excited about Russia, though I would have liked to see more of it. There were very exciting scenes at the Great Bazaar and Kremlin, but we only spent a moment in them compared to a large portion of time in the forest.

The book is a fresh reminder that fantasy can be more than elves, orcs, and dragons (though there is nothing wrong with those things). It was an interesting look into Russian culture (note: as far as I know, I am not Russian) and the story feels fairly satisfying through and through. However, I just can’t find that much to say about it and while I don’t regret my time spent reading The Bear and Nightingale at all, I am also not exactly clamoring for a sequel either. If the idea of a fantasy novel based on Russian folklore excites you, this could be a great book for you, but if you find yourself uncaring about the lives of Russian peasants in Siberia, you might want to skip this one.

Rating: The Bear and Nightingale – 7.0/10

The Burning Isle – An Interview With Will Panzo

burning-isle-coverRecently I had the pleasure of reading one of the more interesting debuts this year, The Burning Isle by Will Panzo. In a stroke of luck, I actually got to meet Will (he was lovely in case you were wondering) at New York Comicon. I got the chance to talk with Will about his new book and ask a panoply of questions about the future of the series. I was sad to discover that it was not the first part of a trilogy, but a standalone. Although there will be additional books in the world and with the same characters. If you are interested in The Burning Isle, or have read it and want to find out more, check out our conversation below:

 

How has your time as a Comic book writer influenced your writing of fantasy? What are the key strengths, weaknesses, and differences between the two formats for you?

I was an editor at Marvel comics for a few years. I worked mainly on the X-Men family of books, which was a huge thrill for me as the X-Men were my favorite characters growing up. In terms of direct influence, I always appreciated how fearless and boundary pushing comics could be, particularly mainstream superhero comics in their formative years. Pick up any issue of Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four run and you’ll find a dozen ideas in there, each worthy of their own story. I try to emulate some of that fearlessness in my own writing, but aside from that, comic book writing and prose writing are so fundamentally different it’s hard to compare the two.

The Burning Isle feels like it could be larger than a trilogy by the end. Do you have a set number of books planned out?

The Burning Isle is a standalone story. The book I’m working on now takes place in the same world, but in a different location. Cassius is one of the main characters in the story, but not the only main character/ I’m writing it in such a way that you won’t need to have read The Burning Isle to read this new book, but if you have, they’ll be some deeper layers to the story. If possible, I’d like to continue writing books this way, as standalones that together deepen the lore and scope of this shared world. I don’t have a set number in mind. But I have the rough idea of three to four more stories.

Do you think revenge stories are more difficult that other plot types?

I’ve always loved revenge stories. There’s a part of me that can’t help but root for someone on a quest for revenge, even though I know that quest never ends well. There are certain difficulties inherent in a revenge story though. It can be hard to portray someone as sympathetic when their driven by the need to settle a score. Revenge is a dark quest, and it takes a toll on those who seek it. Fortunately, I like stories with morally ambiguous characters and there feels like a groundswell movement in the fantasy world towards those types of stories right now. So it seems the perfect time to tell this kind of story.

We only spend a brief time with Cassius at the Isle of Twelve. Will we get to learn more about his time at his magical school in future novels?

Absolutely. The masters of the Isle of Twelve are nothing if not cruel. They don’t forgive, they don’t forget. The manner in which Cassius left the school was a great insult to them, an insult they’ll seek to remedy by any means necessary. Cassius knows the masters will stop at nothing to hold him accountable and he’s certain a reckoning is in his future.

Cassius’s rune magic is one of the best parts of the book for me, what was the inspiration for the system?

There were two, sort of, abstract ideas that I wanted to incorporate in the magic of this world. First, I wanted Rune magic to be a relatively recent magic development that borrowed from older traditions, while also greatly upsetting those traditions. Antioch is a kind of fantasy version of ancient Rome. And we know Romans often appropriated and modified aspects of other cultures to suit their own needs. They took the idea of democracy but discarded the parts they didn’t like, added their own ideas and made Roman Republicanism. They took the phalanx, modified it, and made a professional army that conquered half the world. They stole the Greek pantheon and recast them to reflect Roman values. If magic had existed in the ancient world, Rome would have appropriated it and bent it to suit Roman needs. That’s exactly what Antioch has done.

Secondly, I wanted magic to be a commodity. A thing that could be traded and sold. That’s where the gems came from. I liked the idea that if you defeated a spellcaster in battle, you could reach down, pluck his gauntlets off his body and, in an instant, have all of his power at your fingertips. Literally. I really liked the idea that magic was a product instead of something esoteric. It makes it a little more crass, a little more street level, and allows for magic users to be unlike the wizards and sorcerers we’re used to.

One of the strongest things that The Burning Isle has going for it is the complicated and delicate political situation you have designed that is balanced on a sword point? How did you plan out and create this criminal ecosystem?

The novel’s structure borrows from stories where a mysterious stranger arrives in town, finds it controlled by two rival gangs and plays them against one another for fun and profit. We see this in Sergio Leone’s western A Fistful of Dollars and Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. There are other elements to my story though, particularly the revenge angle, which required some more depth to the political structure. And given that this is a novel, instead of a movie, I had some time to elaborate on the world a bit and explain how we came to have an island ruled by rival crime bosses.

In order for criminals to openly steal control of an island like Scipio, there hard to be a power vacuum, because a functioning government isn’t going to let that happen. In asking why government doesn’t function in Scipio, I came up with the idea of a city with no laws, but one purposely designed that way so that the seedier, but still profitable, activities that a lawful society doesn’t want to tolerate could be contained in one place. Once I had that nailed down, I had to figure out how these two particular bosses came to power and what drove a wedge between them. Without spoiling too much, I came to a solution that involved the subjugation of the island’s native population, which also incorporated the Antiochi legion present on the island, as well as laying the groundwork for our revenge tale.

What are your personal favorite fantasy authors and books, and did you draw any inspiration from them for The Burning Isle?

I’m a huge fan of Robert E. Howard, who is most famous for his Conan stories, although he wrote much more than that. I also love Michael Moorcock, Glenn Cook, David Gemmell, Fritz Leiber, George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Richard Morgan. This list can go on and on.

In writing, I think you draw inspiration from everything you’ve read, consciously or unconsciously. It’s probably easier to connect the dots from me to some of those names than it is to others, but they’re all there. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if I hadn’t read each of them.

In addition, what are your favorite comic books?

I think everyone’s favorite comics are the ones they grew up reading. For me that was early nineties Marvel superhero stuff, with the X-men at the top of that list. For me, Wolverine the way Larry Hama and Barry Windsor-Smith wrote him will always be the real Wolverine.

As you get older though, your taste tends to change and you seek out more complex stuff. It’s easier to name creators than it is individual titles, so I’ll just say I really enjoy Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction. Also I’m a little late on this one, but I recently discovered Jonathan Hickman’s work on Fantastic Four and New Avengers and thought it was great. But right now I’m reading his Black Monday Murders and it’s pure genius.

Best Served Cold – Reading In A Post-First Law World

uk-orig-best-served-coldThe First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie is one of the most powerful and genre defining series I have ever read in my life. I have a policy about not speaking of the First series, as I believe it is something everyone should discover for themselves to have the maximum impact while reading it. That being said, I highly recommend that if you find yourself at the end of The Last Argument of Kings, and clamouring to get your hands on another book in the First Law world, that you take a short hiatus before diving back in. Best Served Cold is a great book, but not one for someone looking for a light and happy tale. There are three stand alones in the world of The First LawBest Served Cold, The Heroes, and Red Country. I read Red Country a while ago and found it… fine. It certainly wasn’t a bad book, but it didn’t quite live up to the standard I expected of Joe. Best Served Cold is a different story. Best Served Cold is quintessentially Abercrombie, a dark and gritty tale in a fantasy world with the harsh bleakness of reality pumping through its veins. The book is a revenge story to boot, if that was not clear from the title, so if you are expecting a happy ending turn back now.

Our story follows Monza Murcatto, dashing and charismatic mercenary leader, and her story to claim the lives of seven men who betrayed her. Our book opens right away with Monza getting figuratively shafted, emotionally destroyed, and physically crippled. I think it does a good job setting the stage and tone for what you are in for in the rest of the book. Monza, stripped of her assets and fighting prowess, must enlist the services of an unlikely group of strangers to accomplish her goals. The story moves from area to area as she stalks and murders her prey, culminating in a final showdown with the ultimate man behind her betrayal.

First let’s talk about the good. If you are looking for more of world of The First Law, this will definitely give you your fix. Although the cast is almost entirely new from the first books, Best Served Cold keeps tabs on the old crew while also fleshing out the world more as a whole. Speaking of casts, as usual Abercrombie has crafted another set of incredible characters. They are the driving power behind this book and I am pretty sure that Joe could have sat them in a bar talking for 600 pages and I still would have enjoyed it a lot. The book is incredibly well paced, with every vengeful murder carried out in unique, exciting, and interesting ways. The growth and transformation of the characters is incredible, with every character of Monza’s crew changing with each passing death. Abercrombie is one of my top writers for action, and Best Served Cold is no exception. The fight scenes will have you on the edge of your seat, fingernails piercing through the arms of your chair, and screaming in exhilaration with each sword strike. The plot is brilliant, and surpassed all my expectations, and it is fair to say this might be Joe’s single strongest piece of work to date (though I have not read The Heroes).

Except, here’s the thing. If you read my post on The Burning Isle a week or so ago, you might have heard me say that revenge stories are really, really hard. Revenge is a hollow and ruinous goal; it won’t make you happy and it certainly will make other people sad. Due to this, it is hard to write a revenge story that isn’t cripplingly depressing (The Count of Monte Cristo is an example of one that gets the balance perfect). So I went into a Abercrombie book about revenge expecting to probably find it was sadder than I wanted to be. However, it was even more dark and bleak than I imagined and Best Served Cold depressed me so much that it’s taken me about a month to force myself to sit down and organize my thoughts on it.

Best Served Cold is definitely one of the best books I read this year, but I am not sure how much I can recommend it. A lot of that has to do with the fact that for me it has overall been a pretty depressing year in reality, and while I don’t need my books to be sunshine and rose petals, this felt a bit like a gut shot. Abercrombie is an artist with a pen, but I think I am going to build myself back up a bit before I return to his work to watch him tear me down.

Rating: Best Served Cold – 9.0/10

The 2016 Clean-up

Hi Everyone! As usual I am following my best of 2016 post with a site clean up today. Most noticeably the recommendations page has been updated thoroughly, both with new series and movement of older series with new releases. If any of you would like to see something new in the coming year, in terms of site design or content, please feel free to reply to this post with suggestions, I would love to know! Thanks again for making Quill great and know that you all are appreciated.

The Best of 2016

It has not been a great year on a lot of fronts, with a lot of people citing 2016 as the worst year in memory. However, despite the general trend in other areas, 2016 has been a pretty damn good year for books. There have been a few disappointments, but for the most part I have had great reads all year. Throughout this year I have been taking painstaking notes to map my top books this time around. With The Quill to Live reading more and more new releases sent to us, we are expanding our top 10 list to a top 15, and the book titles have links to their full reviews where applicable. So without further adieu, let’s pay tribute to some of the amazing books this year and the incredible authors who wrote them!

of-sand-and-malice-made-med-115) Of Sand and Malice Made by Bradley P. Beaulieu – Beaulieu is an up and comer in the fantasy world that I have my eye on. So far he has consistently made tales that are fun, mature, and exciting. His newest short novel, Of Sand and Malice Made, is a prequel to his major release last year Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. Twelve Kings was a strong book, but it suffered from a lackluster opening. Of Sand and Malice Made fixes this by providing the intro and back story I was looking for when I read Twelve Kings. The novel is fast, immediately engrossing, and continues to build the world nicely without disrupting the original story. I give Bradley a lot of credit for fixing the issues I had with his writing in the previous book, and I am even more excited for the sequel to Twelve Kings next year.

518jwaozhyl-_sx331_bo1204203200_14) Written In Fire by Marcus Sakey – I was extremely disappointed with the second book in the Brilliance Saga, A Better World, that came out two years ago. The trilogy is based around mutants who gain superpowers along the lines of super accounting. It was a unique take on superhuman abilities and it was one of the most refreshing series I have read in years. A Better World dumped a lot of that uniqueness when it became the standard mutant vs. human stand off that these stories always seem to gravitate to, but Written in Fire brought the series full circle. The series finale emphasizes all the great things that have made the body of work as a whole stand out amongst the landscape, delightfully stepped up the action, and took the plot to unexpected, but great, places. I was ready for the series to be over after the second book, but now I want an entire slew of sequels to keep the party going. The novel’s conclusion was slightly open ended and I hope Sakey takes that opening and keeps the story going.

51o88go-xhl-_sy344_bo1204203200_13) In The Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan – I honestly can’t get enough of this series. Brennan has reached down inside of me, torn out my inner most fantasies, and brought them to life. There is not much whimsy left in me these days, but what little there is wants nothing more than to be born into Brennan’s world. In The Labyrinth of Drakes continues to deliver on the idea of a meticulously build world with dragons. The stylistic prose and illustrations continue to bring the world to life in a way that very few novels achieve and the latest entry builds out an entire new piece of the world. This book is also basically a romance novel with dragons, and it is not often I am as invested in a relationship as I was in this one. I originally thought this was the final book in the series, but delightfully it seems that the conclusion comes next year (and I eagerly await it).

2685010012) Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja – One of my favorite sayings is I have never disliked a book that made me laugh. Mechanical Failure follows the story of a delinquent army officer trapped on a spaceship out of Catch 22. The book is laugh out loud funny, something extremely hard to achieve for a novel, and is all around a fun time. The plot is not particularly original, but you won’t notice it through the tears rolling down your cheeks as you try not to pee yourself a little. The characters are fun, the scenes are memorable, and the book is endlessly re-readable. While it wasn’t the best written book I read this year, it was definitely one of the most fun.

 

2503639511) Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst – The book is probably getting a small artificial boost in ranking from having a great magical school – but it still is easily one of the best books I have read this year. This book is aimed at younger teenage girls, a demographic I could not be further from, and I still could not put it down. The plot follows a young girl who is sent to a magic school to learn to protect the world, and finds that she must use hard work and tenacity to overcome her lack of talent. Books that exemplify hard work over talent are badly needed in the fantasy genre, and the book does so much else right at the same time. It treats men and women both as people, not alienating either gender of reader. It has a simple plot (traditional for YA) but does not treat its readers as if they are immature or simpletons. The novel feels like a great gateway for younger readers moving from YA to more adult books – but is still fun for everyone. The genre needs more of these and hopefully Durst can give us a sequel to equal it.

1757053810) The Blood Mirror by Brent Weeks – Although breaking the top 10 is a serious accomplishment, I was expecting to put this book higher on my list this year. Lightbringer is an astounding series that is easily in my top picks of all time. If you are unfamiliar with it, I recommend you check out our guest review and pick up The Black Prism quickly. The latest addition to the series, The Blood Mirror, is an amazing book – but probably the weakest of the four that have come out so far. It truly feels like a bridge book, adding tons of flavor to all the things you already love, but having trouble standing as it’s own self defined book. While reading it I was having a ball, but upon finishing I had trouble identifying any truly memorable scenes. However, while The Blood Mirror was not the best book I read this year, it did succeed at getting me extremely excited for the finale of the Lightbringer series.

51rrwwieqcl-_sx335_bo1204203200_9) The Rising by Ian TregillisThe Alchemy Wars series keeps surprising me and crawling higher in the list each year. A historical fiction about a steampunk war between The Netherlands and France, The Rising continues the story from The Mechanical last year. Everything in the sequel is bigger and better and the plot is going in an interesting direction. Tregillis is a master of prose and has used his poetic voice to stoke my interest in The Netherlands. I have lost nights on wikipedia reading up about subject matters from these books. This historical fiction/fantasy/science fiction series defies categorization and appeals to fans of all categories. The one issue that kept the book from placing higher was an extremely predictable, though satisfying, ending. Hopefully we will see the third book reach even greater heights next year.

spider8) The Spider’s War by Daniel Abraham – I honestly can’t believe how well Abraham pulled of the ending to the Dagger and Coin series. One of two books on this list about dragons and the economy, things were looking grim for The Spider’s War at the end of the previous book. I felt that while the series had been great, Abraham had backed himself into a corner with his plot and that the book could only end one way that made sense. As usual, Abraham defied my expectations and crafted an ending that was unexpected, memorable, and utterly fitting for his fantasy series. This quintet is one of the few fantasy stories that has to do with the economy, and it is fascinating how interestingly money can be instead of magic. I am sad to be leaving this world so soon with its multiple well defined cultures, twelve distinct races, and huge cast of characters. Despite having some of the best worldbuilding I have read, the world feels unfinished and I want Abraham to just give me an info dump about all the nooks and crannies of his world that we have not seen. While I am sad the series is over, I am excited that this will mean we get installments of The Expanse series back on a more regular schedule.

9780230769496night20without20stars7) A Night Without Stars by Peter Hamilton –  The only book I read this year for which I had to plan out my reading schedule. Hamilton books are huge and time consuming, an issue when one is trying to read a book a week for reviews. But Hamilton is always worth the weight, delivering his consistent science fiction brilliance once again with A Night Without Stars. No author better makes me feel like I am staring into the future of our race, and makes anything seem possible. A Night Without Stars was weaker than its predecessor, The Abyss Beyond Dreams, but I almost always find it hard to leave a Hamilton world at the end of a series. A Night Without Stars once again finds a way to raise the stakes higher than the death of the universe, and I can’t wait to see how Hamilton tops this book next. If you have a month’s worth of free time, I recommend you plan out a read of any of this series (or the previous ones).

271544276) The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence – Lawrence does not choose easy characters to write. Jalan is a self serving, womanizing, dick but Mark Lawrence used skilled characterization and deft context to build a story in which you can be a terrible person and a hero at the same time. Jalan is the perfect balance of endearing and repulsive in The Wheel of Osheim, and his character growth makes the book an emotional rollercoaster. The finale of the Red Queen’s War goes out with a bang, as Lawrence does an impressive job of tying his second trilogy in with his first, without making either the lesser for it. The book had a few slow patches and felt like it ended too early but otherwise rounded out as one of the strongest book of the year, narrowly missing the top five slots.

176648935) Age of Myth by Michael J Sullivan – I give a lot of credit to books with unique stories, but there are also some books that do classic stories well. There is something extremely clean and polished about Age of Myth that puts it a cut above Sullivan’s earlier work. The main antagonist is a bear, who is terrifying, and anyone who can make a bear seem as scary as an angry deity or the death of the universe is doing a good job. One of the best character writers I have read, Sullivan has also brought his A-game to improve upon the previously weaker areas he had. With such a strong start to a five book series, this is rising to the top of my watch list as one of the best new series around.

 

253325664) Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay – Anyone familiar with Kay should be utterly unsurprised with him being near the top of this list. Children of Earth and Sky was powerful and moving like all Kay novels, leaving me thinking about it for weeks after I finished it. As usual, Kay has chosen an artist as his stories vehicle, and as always Kay has brought that art to life and made it magical. Children of Earth and Sky inspired me to break out my old art supplies and try and capture some of the beauty of the world on paper. That is not a sentence I would normally say ever, but there is something about every Kay novel that makes you want to get up and change the world. Earth and Sky had some POV balancing problems, but made up for it with some incredibly poignant scenes that are burned into my memory.

259721773) The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan – For the bronze medal this year we have the first book of Anthony Ryan’s new series, The Waking Fire. The Waking Fire is Ryan’s best work yet, and feels like a maturation of his earlier work. The book is all around phenomenal, but it earns the third place spot for its ability to tell three stories from different genres simultaneously, and have them be supportive instead of detracting. This book has adventure, spycraft, and military action all boiled down into one book and it makes it feel bigger and better than almost anything else I have read this year. Ryan still needs to work a little harder on his initial worldbuilding (as I felt in the dark in a bad way for the first 20%), but the ending of the book is epic and I am frothing at mouth for the sequel.

bennettrj-2-cityofbladesuk2) City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett – We really need more fantasy set around the 1900’s. City of Blades does something truly impressive. After all the work put into building up the plots, characters, and places in City of Stairs (which was amazing) – Bennett chose to drop most of his previous established flow and build a sequel from the ground up. I thought it was a bad idea when I first started reading, but Bennett as usual has defied all my expectations and created a second masterpiece. The story gives a touching tribute to the trials and tribulations of war, and how it ruins everything it touches. With just as much emotional impact as Stairs, Blades turns the action up to 11 and comes in solidly as my second best book of the year.

238991931) Saint’s Blood by Sebastien De Castell – I knew Saint’s Blood was going to be my #1 book of the year the second I finished it and started reading it a second time. Castell’s Greatcoats gets better and better every year, and Saint’s Blood is one of the best books I have ever read. The books you read as a child and YA shape the person you become, but Saint’s Blood was impactful enough that it changed how I see the world as an adult. The stylistic prose format of the book as a duelist’s manual gives the storytelling a differentiating flare and the dialogue continues to be some of the funniest I have ever read. The story also has some themes that I have rarely, if ever, seen in fiction. One of these themes is tenacity – as Saint’s Blood is all about getting back up when you fall and continuing to push forward. To me there has been no better incarnation of what I needed to hear this year, as this, along with all its other merits, is why Saint’s Blood is The Quill to Live’s #1 book of 2016.