The Best Of 2015

The time has come for ‘Best of 2015’ threads and to reflect on all the wonderful books I enjoyed over the year. This piece will address my top 10 reads published in 2015, but is missing some of the amazing older books I read throughout the year. I read roughly 80 books this year, about half of which (40) were published in 2015, and the following books are my top picks. I found the new releases this year surprisingly less powerful than many sequels. Last year I gave over half the top 10 spots to new releases, whereas this year only three made the cut. It has been a year of very powerful sequels, in particular second installments of series. With that said, let’s talk about some of 2015’s gems and please note that some of the blurbs link to my full reviews of the books.

 

2354736410) Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien De Castell – one of my top five books from 2014 was Traitor’s Blade, the first of the Greatcoat series, for its incredible humor, emotional impact, and great cast. The follow-up, Knight’s Shadow, was a great addition that explored some large growth in the trinity of main characters, while still keeping the same powerful voice and tone from book one. The plot evolved nicely and the general quality of the book stayed consistent with Traitor’s Blade, but there was slightly less emotional impact in the second novel. With two demonstrations of consistent talent I am eagerly awaiting De Castell’s third entry, Saint’s Blood, in 2016.

 

234444829) The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson – The first of the three entries on the list to not be sequels. The Traitor Baru Cormorant is a story of cultural warfare and a young girl whose home is eaten by an oppressive republic in her youth. To fight back, she becomes a cog in the great machine that is the republic and tries to bring it down from the inside. While suffering from some pacing issues, The Traitor Baru Cormorant brought a ton of new ideas to fantasy warfare and is a very different journey than your typical fare. The book has a fast pace start and end, but suffers a little in the middle. Regardless I am looking forward to more from Seth Dickinson.

 

twelve-kings_final-sm2-200x3008) Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu – The first of a new epic fantasy based in an Arabian setting. The story follows a girl named Cena, a gladiator in Sharakhai, as she tries to survive in an incredible city ruled by twelve kings in the center of a desert. The book had a very slow start but picked up pace rapidly after the first 20%, continuing all the way to the last page. With Bradley having found his groove I cannot wait to pick up the sequel to see where the story will go.

 

51pmvmp67ol-_sy344_bo1204203200_7) The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis – I read a lot of good historical fiction this year, with The Mechanical taking the win by a small margin. With its original setting, steampunk science, and character growth it was a refreshing read that distinguishes it from its competition. The story of The Netherlands and France has had me looking for historical fiction of a wider subject than WWII or England. The sequel, The Rising, releases next week and I will be picking it up immediately.

 

208838476) The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan – The only finale to make the list, The Autumn Republic finished off a series I don’t feel close to done with yet. McClellan’s world is gigantic, and with the close of this series I feel like we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. Despite the ending feeling a little too quick, McClellan has finished a series to be proud of that maintains a high quality and exciting ride the entire way through.

 

 

61j8lp2b-eol-_sy344_bo1204203200_5) Nemesis Games by James S. A. Corey – The Expanse novels are rapidly becoming my favorite purchase every summer (as they are released consistently every year in June). This series has now released five out of its nine novels and I have been blown away every single time. Every novel follows new perspectives, new challenges, and pushes the conflicts to new heights. I do not know how Ty Franik and Daniel Abraham are going to top the levels of panic and excitement Nemesis Games gave me, but I have said that about every single release. The books continue to both be a continuation of the greater series, and almost completely self contained at the same time. If you haven’t picked up any of The Expanse series yet, or have been waiting to read more, I highly encourage you to do so.

 

157044594) Firefight by Brandon Sanderson – Published early in the year, lots of people have overlooked this sleeper. Steelheart, a novel about powerless humans hunting super heroes, was a surprise hit with me. I decided to read it on a whim, despite not loving the premise,  and was blown away by the result. That being said, the first novel was very self contained and reached a pretty definite conclusion at the end, giving me a lot of concern where Sanderson was going to take the series or if it could remain good. The fact that Firefight is so much better than Steelheart was very hard to process at first. Sanderson takes his winning formula from book one, and makes it deeper, more intense, and simply a lot cooler. Sanderson’s talent for weird magic is on point with his collection of interesting super powers and the plot has a lot more emotional weight than it did in book one. The finale, Calamity, comes out next February and is one of my most anticipated books for 2016.

 

233463353) The Price of Valour by Django Wexler – The Shadow Campaigns keeps creeping up my lists the more and more I think about it. The third installment of five, The Price of Valour is proof that Wexler can learn from his mistakes and has no shortage of imagination. The Thousand Names, Wexler’s debut, was an incredible flintlock fantasy about a remote military campaign that was fast, exciting, and surprising complex. Its sequel, The Shadow Throne, was an attempt to expand the world from the first book and double the cast. While The Shadow Throne had a metric ton of new things I liked, it also felt like it lacked the exciting pace and style of Wexler’s Debut;however, The Price of Valour has it all. With the pacing and intensity of book one, and the amazing cast from book two, the third Shadow Campaign novel is the strongest so far and continues to unravel the gigantic web of mystery that covers the series.

 

220552832) Half the World by Joe AbercrombieHalf the World is the strangest book on this list to me. The second novel of The Shattered Seas trilogy, it stands miles above its prequel and sequel. Half a King (book one) and Half a War (book three) were both good Abercrombie novels (for those of you who know what that means) but neither is close to the level of Half the World. The second novel follows two perspectives, Brand and Thorn, that play off of one another in a truly magical way. It is the story of two people finding their place in the world, realizing who they are, and going on a journey. I have never seen better use of multiple perspective and the book led me on a emotional roller coaster from start to finish. This book is definitely one of Abercrombie’s finest pieces of writing.

 

91ishiycq1l1) Golden Son by Pierce BrownRed Rising is a really enjoyable book. It simultaneously steals all the things that are good from series like The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones,  and Ender’s Game while also creating both an imaginative and original setting and an exciting plot. It could simultaneously be described as a guilty pleasure, and an imaginative look as space colonization and class segregation. Red Rising had a pretty damn good thing going for it at the end of book one, and sets itself up to just reuse the incredibly powerful formula again in the sequel Golden Son… and then Pierce Brown decided to throw all of that momentum out the window and go in a completely different direction. The result is a book that felt like a massively different experience from Red Rising with the connecting theme being that both books are incredibly good. I was so confused as to why Pierce Brown would ditch his Red Rising gold mine until I was 10% in and read the entire book in one sitting. This book made me feel like a child again, discovering the wonder of reading for a first time and blowing my mind at every twist and turn. The finale, Morning Star, comes out in February and I highly recommend you check the series out.

The Autumn Republic – Putting the ‘Pow’ in Powder Mage

This Review will be both for The Autumn Republic, and The Powder Mage series as a whole.

The Autumn Republic is the final installment of the Powder Mage trilogy by Brian McClellan, a military fantasy that primarily follows the stories of three main protagonists; Tamas, Taniel, and Adamat. Tamas is the General of an army that just murdered his king in a coup. Taniel is Tamas’s son, and the leading powder mage  in the army. Adamat is a detective trying to protect his family in the chaos of the coup and really just trying to figure out what is even happening around him. The story is well written, exciting, well paced, and has great character development and world building like all great books. However, The Powder Mage is unique and interesting in how it goes about telling its story.

To begin there is the unconventional plot. If I had to describe the plot of The Powder Mage in one sentence, I think it would best be described as ‘putting out a series of increasingly complex fires’. In most stories, you are given an introduction of the cast, told where they stand now (point A), and told where they want to go (point B). The book then proceeds to tell you how that journey is completed or failed. In Promise of Blood, we achieve point B in the first 20 pages. Tamas is tired of his country being under the oppressive thumb of an all powerful king, and organizes a coup to kill the king and save the country. The rest of the series is the characters trying to understand the deep ramifications of what they have done and handle the fallout. Tamas is trying to keep the country from burning to the ground on a high level while Taniel and Adamat investigate where all the fires are coming from. At first events seem random and confusing, but Brian slowly weaves everything into a beautiful tapestry that displays an incredibly cohesive and well planned story.

Pushing that story forward is a group of phenomenal characters that put me in the shoes of people I rarely get to experience. Taniel and Adamat are both interesting, but I want to draw special attention to Tamas. Tamas is one of the few characters I have ever read about that gave me a really unique look at the world as both a father and general. From his perspective I found myself caring for other characters like my children and the fatherly-feel of his tale stuck with me well after I put down the final book. It is also rare for me to read a military book that both paints the military in a good light and does not feel like it was written for readers who were in services. These books are the most immersive I have ever read when it comes to military fiction due to how accessible Tamas and Taniel made it for me.

Then there is the scope. The Powder Mage takes place in a continent with 9 nations, each with their own distinct flavor, history, and story. This story primarily follows the country of Adro, and by The Autumn Republic we have only learned and interacted with about 4 of the other countries in the continent. Despite this, the story is so packed with rich history and culture I did not feel like I was shorted with only the small portion I got to see of Brian’s world. I am usually against additional series in the same worlds (as I feel they often have trouble being fresh and new) but I would happily sign up for several more stories in this place. The Autumn Republic does an incredible job expanding the horizons of the previous two books. However, one of my few complaints about the book is I felt Brian could have kept going even further in The Autumn Republic. I wanted the story to keep going and for there to be more books, if only to learn more about the privileged.

If you are unfamiliar with the books, you might be wondering what powder mages and privileged actually are. The powder mages of Brian’s world are men and women who have a myriad of powers that stem from the use of gunpowder and work primarily for the military. They can control the flight of bullets, detonate powder and control the blast, and even imbibe powder to enhance their physical strength and senses. On the other hand, privileged are elemental mages (Fire, Ice, Earth, etc.) that are mostly tasked with the protection of the kings of each country. These are only two of the schools of magic that Brian introduces in his books, and there are many more. By The Autumn Republic many of these magics are explored and explained to make an world in which there are any number of ways to be a complete and total badass. Speaking of which there is the combat. The combat in these books, in particular The Autumn Republic, is some of the best I have read. Taniel’s nickname is Taniel Two-Shot for his penchant for firing a double loaded musket with horrifying results. Avoiding spoilers, but some of the final fights had me gripping the edge of my seat.

In terms of The Autumn Republic specifically, the book brings the story to a very satisfying end with only a few loose ends. There are a few characters who I would have liked to have more time with and learn a little more about before this story came to an end. However, there is certainly room in the plethora of wonderful novellas that Brian puts out to give their stories the final boosts that I am looking for.

If you have been to my recommendations page, you might have seen I listed The Powder Mage as one of my all time highest ‘must reads’, even when there were only 2 books out. The final installment of the trilogy has succeeded in cementing the series in that list and has made me a lifelong fan of Brian’s work. If you are looking for a one of a kind reading experience, I hope my words have convinced you to go pick up Promise of Blood for the first time or to grab The Autumn Republic and finish this great story.

Rating: The Autumn Republic – 8.5/10
The Powder Mage – 9.0/10