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.

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Knight’s Shadow – A Thick Second Chapter in a Heartfelt Story

I like to think of myself as a fairly harsh critic. I think I have an eye for good world building, character development, plot, etc. and I think I am very fair in how I assess different books perform at these various metrics. That being said, I have noticed an interesting effect when I read a certain kind of book. I find that I am much more forgiving, and much more inclined to give a good review, to books that give me a funny and happier tone. That is not to say that the books are without sadness and suffering, and that is not to say that I prefer books with lighter tones than darker. I just feel that if you are going to tell a story that is really depressing all the time, you have to really nail it or I am going to be harsh. On the other hand, as long as I am laughing and smiling you can pretty much get away with murder.

That being said, allow me to introduce you to Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien De Castell. This lovely book comes all the way from Europe, where the author originally published both it, and the previous installment. I believe the US version should be available shortly, but I feel that the UK cover art (on the right below) is worth ordering overseas for (cost me almost nothing extra).

US art                   UK art

Knight’s Shadow is the second installment of the Greatcoats trilogy, a story about a group of magistrates called greatcoats who are tasked with traveling the land, hearing the pleas of the people (great and small) and making sure the law is upheld. They are sort of like duelist lawyers if you will. In Sebastien’s world, the job tends to take the form of telling all powerful dukes to stop oppressing some lowly peasants. So as you might expect, the life of a greatcoat is not easy. What originally drew me to the book is it takes a lot of influence from Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers (which you should read if you haven’t). The book follows the travels of three specific greatcoats, and documents their relationship and trials. The books are laugh out loud funny, and the dynamic of the three greatcoats is honestly unmatched for me outside of the gentleman bastards from The Lies of Locke Lamora.

The first book was a fairly straightforward story of the three greatcoats setting off on a quest and trying to complete it. The plot was not the most original, but the hilarity of the dialogue and the genuinely likable characters more than made up for it and helped the book rise to one of my favorite series. I was surprised to see that Knight’s Shadow actually did a lot to make the book less cliche than its predecessor, while also maintaining the clever wit and great dynamic. However, while it made serious headway compared to Traitor’s Blade (book 1), it still is not taking home any awards for most original plot. In addition, the characters are little deeper, have better motivations, have been fleshed out better. On the other hand, this might just be because the book is much longer than Traitor’s Blade, and had more room to work with.

In the end, Knight’s Shadow’s major appeal still comes from the laugh-out-loud funny dialogue and the heartwarming characters that make you smile and cheer. The witty humor is kept fresh and fun throughout this second chapter of the story and helped me move past the few contrived and cliche moments. At the end of the day, the only way to describe these books is that they are simply a good time. If you are looking for something to make you smile, laugh (sometimes cry), and bro out then I recommend this book for you.

Knight’s Shadow Rating: 8.5

The First Post – Part 2: Hidden Gems of Fantasy

In contrast to part 1, below are a few unknown and under-read books that are phenomenal. I will likely do longer reviews of each of these to give them more justice in the future, but for now here is a blurb:

Heroes Die (The Acts of Caine) – By Matthew Stover

When people ask me if there are any good Fantasy/Sci-Fi crossovers, I hand them these books. Welcome to Overworld, a fantasy world that Sci-Fi actors teleport into in order to broadcast fantasy adventures as live entertainment to a futuristic Earth across dimensions. Now I know that sounds awesome, and it is, but it is not even the best thing that makes these books so good.

Matthew Stover is one of a few authors I have read to get a really interesting and expansive character cast. These perspectives include a self absorbed violent anti-hero, an abusive father, a cripple, a loving mother/father, the young, the old, a tyrant, the list goes on. It is a really unique reading experience that honestly gave me a chance to put on the shoes of people I never really had a chance to before, while also being incredibly action packed with an amazing plot and really well done fights. If you are looking for an original story mostly following an anti-hero, this is for you.

Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats) – By Sebastian De Castell

For those of you who haven’t read Alexandre Dumas, I implore you to give him a shot. His literary classics like the Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers are amazing stories and you are often introduced to very pared down versions of them when you are younger. There is a lot to enjoy in their more full stories.

Someone who seems to agree with me is Sebastian De Castell. Traitor’s Blade clearly draws inspiration from The Three Musketeers, but carries most of the weight of the story on its own. The relationship of the three main characters is what makes the books special. It feels like you are reading a description of friendship. The dialogue between them is laugh out loud funny and makes your heart swell constantly. If you want to read a tale about you and your best friends fighting the world, this is for you.

Retribution Falls (Tales of the Ketty Jay) – By Chris Wooding

Who here likes Firefly? Ok you can all put your hands down. We all love Firefly, and we all wish it got its full run. Well…. how about something just as good to fill that hole in your heart? With how popular Firefly is I am always surprised at how few people know about these books. The Tales of the Ketty Jay are a series of four books that tell the stories of a crew of individuals on a ship. There is a captain with a sorded past, and a female crew member with a dark supernatural secret… and at this point many of you are assuming it is a rip-off.

Except the Ketty Jay does a lot differently than the Serenity and it makes for a very different experience with that same Firefly flavor. The crew is more dysfunctional, with each of them having a well developed reason to be on the ship and away from society. The society itself is much more deeply explored, and more time is given to the historical conflicts. In addition, I feel like the books do a much better job hitting that “western” feel because they avoid outer space, and stick to trans-continental airships duking it out wild wild west style. If you loved Firefly, you will likely love this series.

Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen) – By John Gwynne

This book is clever. I think the premise is pure brilliance and the execution is almost as good. Everyone has read the “farmboy destined to be king” story, where an unlikely individual is unbelievably gifted and must go on a story of self discovery to come into his power. But what if there were 6 destined farmboys, they all thought they were the figure of destiny, and one of them was actually in fact  the anti christ?

The story is about an age old vague myth that tells of the coming of both a bright and black sun, one to save the world, and one to end it. In a rare turn of events, instead of the protagonists vehemently denying that they are gods gift to the lands, the opposite happens and multiple people think they are the good sun. Except, one of them is the dark and doesn’t realize it. After reading so many stories about reluctant heroes, the breath of fresh air that is this book really appealed to me. If you are looking for a twist on the classic epic fantasy I highly recommend it.