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

Advertisements

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.