The Best Of 2017

2017 is drawing to a close which means it is time to talk about the best books of the year. This year has been the strongest for fantasy and science fiction I can remember in at least a decade. The average quality of the releases this year was astoundingly high, and even though this will be my longest list of top books ever there are still several books that came out this year on my to-do list that I couldn’t get to (such as The Core by Peter Brett and Providence by Ann Leckie). In addition, I had to make a cut off for the list somewhere and I arbitrarily decided to pick 20 – but there were still a number of great authors not listed who should be proud of their books. All that being said let’s dive into the panoply of good reads in 2017.

20) Spellslinger and Shadowblack by Sebastien de Castell – The first of two authors to grab two spots on one of my lists in a year, de Castell has had an impressive 2017. Right as he ended his Greatcoats series (the other book of his later on this list) he also kicked off a new YA series that has something for everyone. This story about a mage becoming a stage magician was weird, funny, and had surprising depth for something so short. Kellen has a lot of growth in his future, and watching him forge his own path as an Argosi as he passes tests and investigates plagues is something I greatly look forward to. With the first two novels of this six book series already out, it is worth your time.

19) Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee – A sequel to The Ninefox Gambit, this weird and original science fiction series about a ghost master tactician stapled to another soldier is still incredible strong. The Ninefox Gambit was a book where I was really confused as to what was going on the entire time I was reading it, but still having a blast anyway. With Raven Stratagem I feel that the series is starting to shed some of its mystery and go deeper into its plot but the second book did not quite live up to the power of the first in my eyes.The series has an incredible world, deep and interesting characters, and I hope to one day be able to understand how I feel about the plot.

18) Soul of the World by David MealingSoul of the World is a monument to the idea that the most important thing in reading is to have a good time while doing it. A book about three types of magic squaring off, I have never seen more powers and abilities thrown around in a single book except possibly in Malazan. David defied a lot of traditional epic fantasy worldbuilding and wrote a romp about mages who find new spells every 20 pages and in doing so made a fast, thrilling, and captivating story about new and refreshing types of mages trying to save the world. Soul of the World was one of the best things to debut this year, do not let this less-talked-about gem go under your radar.

17) An Echo of Things to Come by James Islington – Beating out the reigning champion Anthony Ryan, James Islington takes the crown for ‘books that I couldn’t have read without an appendix to check every 10 pages’. The sequel to the incredible A Shadow of What Was Lost, Echo is a massive addition to a series about fantasy time travel and time manipulation. Echo has continued to show that The Licanius Trilogy is one of the best epic fantasies to come out in years (which is saying a lot given its company). These books are a maze of intrigue, characters, and self discovery that can be a bit of work to read – but the payoff is worth it. I hope I will find myself able to read the third book without checking who everyone is in the appendix, but either way I am pumped to see how this series pans out.

16) Communication Failure by Joe Zieja – Who says you can’t have humor, heart, and story all in one book? Zieja’s Mechanical Failure was a surprise dark horse last year that impressed me with its incredible humor despite its shallow story. Building on this, Zieja has returned with a sequel with everything that made the first book funny – but more fleshed out with a story I got caught up in. No longer am I just reading these books for their funny scenes and characters, I am now also invested in the plot. This is another book series that I find has snuck beneath everyone’s radar and unless you hate laughing you are doing yourselves a great disservice not checking it out.

15) The Dragon Lord: False Idols by Jon Hollins – Much like Communication Failure, False Idols is the second book in a humor based series where I found the first book (Fool’s Gold) funny but not very deep. Jon pulled out all the stops and addressed every major problem I had with his first book and made False Idols into a book that has both humor and story. When I finished Fool’s Gold I figured I would check out the sequel eventually, when I finished False Idols I moaned at how long I would have to wait for book three. Humorous books are hard, and to make one that is this funny also have a story that kept me coming back to learn more wins this book high marks. The worldbuilding has only gotten better and I want to see every area on Jon’s map before the book is done.

14) Vallista by Steven Brust – So I made the mistake of reading Jhereg earlier this year which resulted in my reading fifteen Brust novels – destroying my review schedule. The one upside of this was that I was ready when the newest Vlad Taltos book, Vallista, came out. A story about a mystery in a magical house, Brust is still somehow keeping the series fresh and new with every book he puts out and I dread the day when there won’t be more of them to look forward to. Vallista continues the Vlad Taltos tradition of tackling lesser explored subjects in fantasy (the subject reveal would be a spoiler so you will have to read it) and the series continues to steadily crawl its way up my top recommended list. These books will constantly surprise and impress you with Brust’s ability to address hard hitting (but important) subjects like divorce and suicidal thoughts but balancing it with humor and moments of levity to not leave you depressed.

13) With Blood Upon the Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu – Why aren’t more of you reading The Song of the Shattered Sands. I keep recommending this series to everyone I know and yet I still feel that it is criminally underread. Twelve Kings in Sharakhai was a book that that focused on the story and growth of its protagonist, Ceda, and gave you a glimpse of the world in which it is set. If Twelve Kings was a glimpse behind the curtain to the plot and world, With Blood Upon the Sand is the dramatic reveal of a powerful epic fantasy based on Middle Eastern lore. With Ceda firmly established as a character, Blood is free to show us a whole new world that is both shimmering and splendid. The stakes are higher, the antagonists more interesting, and the story more complicated and Blood has only made me want to recommend this series even more.

12) Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson – The king returns. What is there to say about Sanderson that all of you don’t already know? His books are all widely regarded as some of the best in fantasy and I am no exception to their charm. Arcanum was one of the best collections of short stories I have ever read, with all but a single short in the collection receiving top marks from me. However, Arcanum is so much more than a collection of great stories. One of the few books I think should always be bought in hardback, the book is gorgeous with tons of beautiful detail, maps, and illustrations surrounding the stories. In addition, Arcanum felt like the start of something new for Sanderson. We have been seeing hints and indications of his plans for the greater Cosmere story for awhile, but Arcanum felt like we finally found the entrance to the maze that will be Sanderson’s stories for years to come. The book showed just how deep Sanderson’s plans for his universe are and continued his habit of surpassing all my expectations.

11) Babylon’s Ashes by James S. A. Corey – Technically out in December of 2016, but I roll December over into the next year. With the next Expanse book coming out in mere days I find myself thinking back to just how consistently excellent this series has been for all the years I have been reading it. Babylon’s Ashes marked the end of the second arc in the Expanse story line, and though this arc was a lot darker than its predecessor, it has always been a series I look to for inspiration. Babylon’s Ashes show that its cast and world are still growing, evolving, and adapting to everything that the universe throws at it. Each book manages to raise the stakes past expectation without ever jumping a space shark. I go into each book genuinely unable to imagine where the series will go next and never come back disappointed, Babylon’s Ashes being no exception. I am currently trying to finish everything on my plate for Persepolis Rising next week, which I am sure will continue the Expanse’s legacy of excellence.

10) The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin – As we enter the top 10 please know that placing these ones were like choosing favorite children. The Stone Sky marks the end of one of the most original and revolutionary series I have ever read. Jemisin’s use of perspective and second person narration have cemented this series as one of the best I have ever read. That being said, I was noticeably less impressed with The Stone Sky compared to its two predecessors. The book felt like it ended a bit abruptly and I was not in love with the climax. That being said, this is still one of the best series, and books, I have ever read and it should be read by everyone – even if I docked it a point for not sticking the landing. It is a unique experience that everyone should have,

9) Sins of Empire by Brian McClellen – One of the most enjoyable things to see is authors grow and address issues you had with them in the past. Brian McClellen wrote The Powder Mage series, a trilogy I enjoyed greatly but always felt like it was evolving as it was written – making the story slightly incoherent. Despite this it still made its way up my recommendations list with its gun based fantasy and interesting characters. Sins of Empire, the first book in Brian’s follow up series, has everything that made me fall in love with his first books with none of the issues that seemed to plague it. Brian seems to have sat down, worked on his organization and planning, and delivered a fact paced and action filled story that is shaping up to be one of my most anticipated reads.

8) The Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone – I had an extremely hard time placing this one as I felt that the first half of Ruin suffered a little from pacing issues, but the second half shattered the outer boundaries of my imagination and left me sitting outside staring at the sky and contemplating life. I have always been impressed with The Craft Series and its take on a modern society in a fantasy setting. It is a series that is hard to classify that has reinvented what it means to be a fantasy book multiple times, but Ruin is a cut above the rest. I live and work in New York, and it is rare for a book to be so mind blowing to shock me out of the continuous grind that is my life. This book was a treasured experience and had it been a little less slow at the start likely would have topped the list.

7) Tyrant’s Throne by Sebastien de Castell – It is hard to follow perfection, and that is just what Tyrant’s Throne had to do in the wake of its predecessor, Saint’s Blood, my number one book of 2016. Although the finale of the Greatcoats did not surpass the third book in the series, it was still one of my favorite books of the year – packed full of all the things that make the series one of my favorite of all time. This final chapter sent off our trio of protagonists in a manner that befitted them: with humor, heart, and life lessons that I feel have made me a better person. It is uncommon for me to be as invested in a character as Falcio and I am glad that his last story held up to the exemplary record established by the first three books in this series. With the close of Tyrant’s Throne, The Greatcoats has cemented its place in my tier one recommendations forever and will always be a series I ask new people if they have read.

6) The Legion of Flame by Anthony Ryan – I pity those out there who are refusing on principle to check out the Draconis Memoria because they didn’t like how Bloodsong turned out. The Legion of Flame was surprisingly good, and this is from a guy who was expecting excellence. The Waking Fire was a book filled with mysteries that were solved, a world that was explored, and a goal that was reached – leaving me wondering where the series would go next. The second book, The Legion of Flame quickly shows that the map we made in book one was only a fraction of what is in this story and that there is much more to come. With more characters, higher stakes, weirder mysteries, and a story that doesn’t slow down for a second, The Legion of Flame is likely Ryan’s best book yet.

5) Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer – This is the smartest book I have read this year, and I am including several excellent non-fiction books I read in that ranking. Ada Palmer is the first person I have read to rival Ursula le Guin in knowledge, intelligence, insight, and revolutionary thought. Seven Surrenders was work to read, but every second of that effort felt like it was repaid tenfold. The story in this series feels like a Russian nesting doll, each outer layer revealing more and more underneath. I don’t really understand how Seven Surrenders can tell such a different story than its previous novel, Too Like the Lightning, and feel like it goes toe-to-toe with it on every possible metric. It is extremely apparent that Ada has planned every single sentence of these books to the letter and watching her plots unfold has given me my favorite new science fiction series since The Expanse.

4) Kings of the Wyld by Nicolas Eames – This is the first time a debut novel has gotten this high on one my best-of lists, but this spot is well earned. Kings of the Wyld has everything I love in a fantasy novel and invents new things that I didn’t know I wanted. It evokes all the old tropes I grew up loving and breathes fresh life into them. It has a memorable, unique, and lovable cast that I was heavily invested in. It has an original theme based on 80’s rock which has changed my music tastes. It has an engrossing plot and captivating world that keep you coming back for more. Finally, it has humor and heart that lead to moments of levity, heartbreak, and warmth that had my crying on like page 17 (which is ridiculous). Everyone I know has it as their best debut of the year, go read it.

3) Red Sister by Mark LawrenceRed Sister is everything I have wanted from Mark Lawrence since I read Prince of Thorns years ago. The book is dripping with excitement, each page digging its claws into you and refusing to let go until I finished it in almost a single sitting. Mark has found his stride with me, toning down his usual brutality slightly and giving me a character to root for. Red Sister is an adrenaline rush from start to finish and on more than one occasion had me so immersed that I thought for a moment I was in danger and found myself screaming aloud. The cast, world, powers, story, action are all best in class and I am counting the days until I can get my hands on Grey Sister. I could read 100 more of these books assuming my heart didn’t explode from the strain.

2) Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson – I am a bit late in getting this list out this year and it’s solely because I wanted to finish Oathbringer to know exactly how high to place it. Oathbringer. God I am so happy you are here. I feel like I just had a child that I want to introduce to the world. Stormlight has been the big gun in my arsenal since I started doing recommendations. It is single handedly responsible for convincing at least five people I know the value of books in general. Sanderson is nothing if not consistently excellent, but I am so happy that Oathbringer did not break that trend. If you know what Oathbringer is you are probably going to read it but know that it continues the family tradition of absolute brilliance. What’s really impressive is that something managed to top it.

1) City of Miracles by Robert Bennett – I had a solemn moment back in February when I closed the last page of City of Miracles and realized, ‘nothing is going to beat this’. City of Miracles is a masterpiece of writing that I will reread for years. Its execution in both telling Sigrud’s story and closing The Divine Cities series is flawless and is the only series as a whole I have given perfect scores. The book is simply beautiful. It tells a story that is tragic that left me emotionally wrecked for almost a month after finishing it. There are a few passages in the book that make me emotional thinking about. Normally this wouldn’t be enough to surpass the competition but there is something about City of Miracles that is uncomfortably real. The struggles are awful and they feel like they are happening to you or someone you love. Bennett achieves all of this without feeling like he is trying to make a point or break your heart, but instead just feels like he is giving you a window into the realities of what the world is like good and bad. And dealing with the truth that bad things can happen to good people, or that you can make mistakes that can’t be forgiven, is awful. Miracles doesn’t hold your hand, it doesn’t let you escape to fantasy, and it made me evaluate my own life in ways that were scary. However, while Miracles evokes that harshness of life, it also paints the future with some hope. It is a cracked, tarnished, and flawed hope – but a hope that feels beautiful for its honesty. It is a book that broke my heart, then pieced it back together stronger than it was before, and it is one of the best books I have ever read.

-Andrew

The Riyria Revelations – Classic Fantasy At Its Best

I am wildly behind on books to review due to two hulking 1000 page behemoths (To Green Angel Tower and Oathbringer), so I have decided to talk a little bit about a series I love: The Riyria Revelations by Michael J Sullivan. This self-published marvel came out in 2008 with the first of six books, The Crown Conspiracy. The books were so well received that Orbit picked Sullivan up as an author and created three compilation books, each containing two of the previously self-published novels. Since then, Sullivan has gone on to make four spin off books and two novels of a prequel series.

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What makes Sullivan’s work stand out so much is a dedication to older fantasy tropes with incredible execution. Riyria follows the story of Hadrian and Royce, a human swordsman and half-elf rogue who are trying to steal a sword when they are framed for the murder of a king. It’s a classic fantasy plot and the story is built around a world where elves and humans don’t like each other, in particular because the elves are a superior race in most ways. After the framed murder is resolved, the duo need to go on a quest to find a powerful wizard, journey to ancient cities to locate powerful artifacts, and find a chosen one to lead the humans in a coming conflict against the elves. All of these themes you have likely heard before, they have been around in fantasy since Tolkien.

However, Riyria doesn’t feel at all like books that are just trying to rip off older classics to sell a copy. The book is incredibly original, but uses popular classic tropes in its story, which results in a book that evokes all sorts of warm and positive feelings about it that remind me of how I felt reading fantasy when I was younger. Riyria came out during a period where fantasy was trying to find the next best thing. Grimdark and parodies were both getting really big and no one wanted to tell a classic quest tale in order to stand out from the pack. As a result, Riyria really does stand out to me as one of the most wholesome things published in the last decade that everyone will enjoy.

On top of being fun, the series is really funny. The first book opens with Hadrian and Royce being ambushed by bandits while they argue like an old married couple. In the middle of their domestic spat, they also make time to critique the robbers technique and give some helpful pointers for future robberies so that the bandits might have a little more success. You can read the first pages on the amazon link on the book picture, I guarantee you will not be able to do it without smiling. The entire series is that funny, constantly having fun contextual humor and witty one liners. It is a very easy read, especially in our current landscape of dark and depressing books.

Despite all the great things I have said so far about the books, their true strengths are their characters: in particular Hadrian and Royce. While the side cast is also excellent (in particular Esrahaddon who might be the best wizard since Gandalf), the two leads steal the show and have anchored themselves in my top character list forever. They are deep, interesting, grow as the series progresses, and I never get tired of their witty banter and clashing ideals.

If you are looking for a classic fantasy with good deal of humor and a lot of heart, I recommend you check out Riyria. The delinquent duo of Hadrian and Royce still continue to sit in my top character lists to this day and I can’t imagine anyone not laughing at some of the scenes in the story. You will have a good time.

-Andrew

Vallista – Ever Upwards

vallista-finalcover-740x1106So back in July I did a series check in for Vlad Taltos, by Steven Brust, for the first 10 books of the series. If you missed it, you can read it here, but long story short: this series is great and you should read it. Now since I had read 10 out of the 15 books currently available this year, I thought I would take a break from the series and read some other stuff – until the lovely people at Tor sent me a review copy of Vallista, the most recent book to come out. So screw it, we are back to snarky assassins and jhereg. I read through the four books I needed to for Vallista, and am now ready to talk about it. This review will have some minor spoilers for the series, so turn back if you want to remain pure.

One of my favorite things in stories is theme, and as I mentioned in my check in Brust is a master of finding new themes for his books. Vallista is no exception to this trend and follows t Vlad as he is trapped in a magical haunted house that breaks the rules of reality. Devera, our favorite time traveling niece, has found herself trapped in this weird house with doors that lead to weird places, times, and people. Vlad must figure out what is going on to free himself and Devera from this twisted location.

Vallista is an interesting mix of murder mystery and surreal philosophy that stands out as one of the most unique of the Vlad Taltos series. It takes place just before the events of Hawk, the previous book, and explains a few of the loose ends from that story. I was initially a little disappointed we were back tracking chronologically again, as we are running out of books in the series surprisingly fast and I feel like there is still so much I want to see. However, Vallista quickly broke through my grumpy mood and delivered one of the strongest Vlad Taltos stories ever. The mystery of what is happening is very well written, keeping me interested and on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Whenever a book involves Devera, the passage of time gets wonky, and things can get a little confusing – but I was able to grasp what was going on all the way through Vallista which made me happy.

Additionally, Vallista is one of the rarer Taltos books (Orca and Iorich being the other two that stand out) where we get to meet a lot of smaller Dragaerans and learn about their lives. This does a lot to add a sense of depth to the Dragaeran empire as we spend most of our time with the elite in the series. Learning about the daily struggle of a dancer or a butler is both wonderful in its own right and adds perspective that makes me appreciate the empresses and gods more. On top of this, Vallista continues Brust’s trend of what I think of as “hindsight explanation”. At the start of the series, Brust simply didn’t explain a lot of the quirky things about his world, such as the long life span of Dragaerans and how death works – and the writing was so fun that I just accepted them as is and suspended disbelief. However, as we get to the later books like Vallista, Brust is revealing hidden secrets about how his world works that make sense and it gives the series this pervasive feeling that it has all been planned out meticulously.

My only complaint about Vallista is that its completion means we are one book closer to the end of this fantastic series – and I am not quite ready for it to be over. Brust continues to show with each new book that he is only getting better and the quality of the Vlad Taltos series is ever climbing upwards. If you like the series and haven’t picked up Vallista yet I encourage you to do so. If you haven’t read the series yet, why are you reading this I told you there were spoilers – but while you are here, go do yourself a favor and go pick up Jhereg.

Rating: Vallista – 9.0/10
-Andrew

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn – The Paragon Of Growth Part 1

51dbdh9vm0l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is a classic fantasy trilogy by Tad Williams that I have only heard amazing things about. The first novel, The Dragonbone Chair, was published in 1988 and since then it has been the inspiration for any number of authors. I personally missed this classic series, but found it rising to the top of my to do list as Tad has released the first book in a follow up trilogy, The Witchwood Crown, this year and it is the only thing a few reviewers I know are talking about. This piece will cover the first two books, The Dragonbone Chair and The Stone of Farewell, but the final book will have its own piece soon as it is quite literally the longest fantasy book ever written and I don’t have enough space here to cover it.

Building off that last sentence, these books are huge. They have an extremely high page count, are very dense, and go into an enormous amount of detail. If you are looking for some light reading, you are going to have a hard time with Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. However, for those who are willing to take the time with it, you soon begin to see why this series is so highly regarded. The plot of The Dragonbone Chair is not incredibly complicated, in fact one of my first annoyances with the series is that the blurb on the back pretty much perfectly sums up the events of the entire book:

“A war fueled by the powers of dark sorcery is about to engulf the peaceful land of Osten Ard—for Prester John, the High King, lies dying. And with his death, the Storm King, the undead ruler of the elf-like Sithi, seizes the chance to regain his lost realm through a pact with the newly ascended king. Knowing the consequences of this bargain, the king’s younger brother joins with a small, scattered group of scholars, the League of the Scroll, to confront the true danger threatening Osten Ard.

Simon, a kitchen boy from the royal castle unknowingly apprenticed to a member of this League, will be sent on a quest that offers the only hope of salvation, a deadly riddle concerning long-lost swords of power. Compelled by fate and perilous magics, he must leave the only home he’s ever known and face enemies more terrifying than Osten Ard has ever seen, even as the land itself begins to die.”

This is pretty much it, a young boy sets out on a classic hero’s journey and is shaped by his experiences. The thing is, while the plot of the book is not exactly revolutionary – the growth of Simon as a character is. Simon’s story is probably the single greatest example of good character development I have ever read in my life. I will not lie to you, the first part of book one was rough for me. Simon starts as a irreverent, self-centered child (though only as much as you would expect of an actual child) and slowly grows into a hero. The beauty of the book is that this doesn’t happen due to some traumatic events resulting in him realizing he should be a better person. Instead, he grows due to the thousands of small interactions with people across the country that help him grow up and become a better person. It is the single most organic growth I have ever seen in a character and the change is truly stunning to watch, although, as mentioned it takes patience and investment on the part of the reader.

61uxop2akxlWhile The Dragonbone Chair focuses primarily on Simon, the second book (The Stone of Farewell) sees a large diversification of character screen time. Dragonbone is all about introducing you to Simon and building his foundation as a person – often through his interactions with a wonderful support cast around him. Once you get to Stone though, Simon has built up enough momentum that we do not need to spend every moment with him and it allows Tad to flesh out and grow his incredible support characters and make them closer to secondary protagonists. While Dragonbone took some time to get into, I absolutely flew through Stone.

The first two books show how a seemingly useless young man can change and grow in convincing ways that don’t feel like reader wish fulfillment. Simon’s origin story made me feel like I could be the person I wanted to be with hard work and determination, and that only you can decide who you are. The first two books have earned their place as two of the most powerful pieces of fantasy or fiction I have ever read, but you will have to come back for part two to hear about the finale: To Green Angel Tower (because it is frankly absurdly large and reading it is seriously messing up my review schedule).

Rating:

The Dragonbone Chair – 8.5/10

The Stone of Farewell – 9.0/10

-Andrew

Ruin of Angels – At The Edge Of Imagination And Fantasy

ruin_of_angels_authortop4Max Gladstone’s sixth Craft Sequence book, Ruin of Angels, is out and Will and I finally got a chance to finish it up over the weekend. If you are following this blog, you will know we are very partial to the Craft series around here and think everyone should pick it up. Ruin of Angels marked a new chapter in the world’s story as we (hopefully) move to a more linear chronological storytelling style. Has Gladstone found a way to keep things fresh and interesting, or has…actually I will just give you the answer now, Ruin is incredible.

Ruin follows Kai this time, our protagonist from Full Fathom Five. While not my top craft protagonist, she is an interesting character with a lot of depth that champions the idea of “we are who we decide to be, not what other people tell us we are”. Kai is in the city of Agdel Lex for work, and like all of Gladstone’s cities, it is weird and awesome. The city is home to Kai’s sister, Ley, and a large part of the plot revolves around Ley coming to Kai for help while she is in the city and their complicated family relationship. In addition, Agdel Lex exists on the site of one of the major cataclysms of the god wars, the city of Alikand, and as a result the city was turned basically into an explosion trapped in time. To deal with this, the Iskari (squid priests we have heard of in previous novels) altered reality and built a second city (Agdel Lex) on the site – sealing in the dying city (Alikand) under layers of reality. It sounds more confusing in brief than it is in the novel. Now the second city exists on top of Alikand, but it is possible to “fall’ into Alikand which is extremely dangerous due to the fact that it’s basically continuously exploding all the time. In direct defiance of this, Agdel Lex is home to many illegal “delvers” or people who dive into the old city for extremely short periods of time and try to bring artifacts back for profit. The reason this is illegal, aside from it being potentially lethal, is that the two cities are constantly in competition for existence. The more people who believe/acknowledge one of the cities, the stronger its grasp on reality is. This leads to some literal Iskari thought police who need to make sure believers don’t pull the exploding city back into existence and kill everyone. Sounds like a great place to live right?

As with many reviews of incredible books, let’s start with the bad and get it out of the way. The beginning of this book is slow. Kai was a bit frustrating when we last read about her, as she is prone to a lot of introspection which can feel like it hurts pacing and she made some questionable choices that made it harder to like her. While the Kai of Ruin still has her introspective nature, and doesn’t have her life completely together, she is a lot more fun and her story is better paced than previously. On the other hand, her sister Ley constantly tries to be a mysterious figure who projects an air of control, but often instead comes across as selfish and childish. I found Ley difficult to root for at the start of the book, but I did eventually come around. The start of the book as a whole suffers a little from pacing as Gladstone has to flesh out his worldbuilding a lot more than usual at the start of Ruin. This pays off in spades though, as the second half of Ruin is truly one of the most wondrous things I have read in a long time.

Max Gladstone entered the writing scene as a debut author with a lot of spirit, great ideas, and a modern look at fantasy that I loved every moment of. However, while his imagination has always been a powerhouse, I would not have pegged him as a master of prose or pacing back at Three Parts Dead. Since the first craft book, Max’s skill as an author has only risen and his books keep showing that he is only getting better. The prose in Ruin of Angels is absolutely phenomenal, with several passages leaving me emotionally moved, breathless, and fully immersed in his world. For example this line from Ruin is now one of my favorite love quotes ever: “I do not understand you. But neither do I understand fire, or starlight, or storms, and I love them” – and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

On top of all of this, Gladstone’s greatest strength – his imagination – has only grown as well. I have rewritten this paragraph seven times trying to convey into words what I experienced reading the back half of Ruin of Angels. The events in the climax of the book truly pulled me out of this world and into his. I found myself walking outside just to look up at the sky, clear my mind, and think on what I had just experienced and relive it. It was a one-of-a-kind experience that I recommend to everyone. I apologize for being so vague, but to tell you more is a major spoiler and I would not want to take this from you. In addition, Max Gladstone found the edge of what I would consider fantasy and stepped over it. I found myself thinking of the explorer, scientist, and philosophers throughout history as his book gave me rush of seeing something completely new and having no idea what it was – but wanting to learn more.

The start of Ruin of Angels is a bit slow, but builds into one of the most revolutionary fantasy books I have ever read. Max Gladstone’s skill as a writer is only growing and I suspect he has a long and extremely successful career ahead of him. I can’t wait to find out where craft will go next because I have no idea, and love it.

Rating: Ruin of Angels – 10/10

-Andrew and Will

Unbound Worlds: A Long Time Ago – Boundless Love for Star Wars

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Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Hi Folks!

With the 40th Anniversary of the release of Star Wars: A New Hope, Penguin Random House has released a Star Wars short story collection titled From A Certain Point of View. To coincide with this, Unbound Worlds has published stories from a group of authors, who are all Star Wars fans, about how they came to love the Star Wars universe in a piece titled A Long Time Ago. Last time we mentioned Unbound Worlds it was to give you an extra resource to find new books in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy sub genres thanks to one of their well-crafted lists. A Long Time Ago is just as good, with some wonderfully written and thoughtful pieces by a variety of great authors.

One of the reasons Star Wars has been and continues to be such a huge franchise is that it appeals to people for countless reasons, and this collection of stories gives you an eloquent view into the way it has influenced a bunch of authors’ lives. There are pieces on an inspiring love of the entire series, the pull of Dark Side, the strong heroines throughout the Star Wars movies, the inclusivity present in the galaxy far, far, away, and more.

The reason I absolutely loved reading all the stories in A Long Time Ago was how relatable so many of the stories were. These are people who fell in love with Star Wars just like I did, and whose love still runs deep to this day. These are the people that would nod knowingly when I explained how I sat in awe when I watched the 1995 THX remastered trilogy with my family one weekend, and how I proceeded to re-watch one movie after school every day when I came home for about a year. These are fans who get goosebumps when they hear the first crescendo of the main title, just like me.

The other reason I enjoyed reading through this collection of short stories is that, as long as you have a strong love for any particular franchise, you can relate to the way these authors feel about Star Wars. One of my favorite things to do is ask people to tell me about what their favorite series is and why. It is always a fun experience to hear what aspects of a series appealed most to people, and I think it helps me get to know who a person is. A Long Time Ago is basically textual nectar for me since all the stories coincide with my own love, but even if Star Wars is not your cup of tea (or blue milk), I think reading about the parts of the Star Wars Universe that spoke to these authors will help you get to know them better and give you a better appreciation of its influence on their storytelling.

If you have some free time, go check out some of these short stories! Max Gladstone(author of the Craft Sequence) and Peter Clines(author of the Ex-Heroes series) were some of my favorites. What were yours?

-Sean