First, let’s get over the rules. One: This is not my “Best of 2019” list. That list is coming at the end of January or the beginning of February. Some of the books that appear here will probably appear there, as well – and some won’t. I’m taking my time with it because I have about five really big releases I want to get through, including Abercrombie’s A Little Hatred. Two…One book per author! There you have it; let’s get on with it, shall we? Oh, and no numerals. None of that, thank you very much – all these are either 4.5 or 5 star reads. And all of them are fantasy – there’ll be a sci-fi bit later on, one hopes.
The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon
Benedict Patrick takes a sojourn away from the folklore-infested Yarnsworld series and pens a short, remarkably enjoyable standalone in a world as imaginative as anything I’ve come to expect from him. Add to the mix a likable lead by the name of Min, an elderly Samuel L. Jackson as her mentor, and a petty villain who will make you want to strangle him time and again, and you’ve got a memorable journey ahead of you.
I happen to adore the deliciously creepy tales of the Yarnsworld, but this portal fantasy really hit the right spot. Imaginative, short and striking a perfect balance between light-hearted exploration and matters of light and death, Benedict’s latest is a memorable adventure you don’t want to miss out on.
God of Gnomes by Demi Harper
This is probably my favourite debut of the year, and that’s saying something. This is the book that made me feel like a child again, standing over a strategy game with a lot of heart in it, and enjoying every last second. Humour, drama, action – you just don’t expect these things when you’re reading about a sentient gemstone. And yet, you get so much more.
You could adapt this into a Dungeon Keeper-style game with minimal issues and a bit of imaginative storytelling, and the world would be all the better for it. I could get a pitch done in three days, game developer person reading this – call me!
You can find the full review here.
The Gutter Prayer
Politics, magic, religion and alchemy all come to a head in The Gutter Prayer. Driven by a stellar cast of characters and an enviable imagination, this book is a must-read for fantasy lovers.
I must commend the author for the glossary of delightful monstrosities within these pages, from the alchemists’ insane servants, the Tallowmen with their wax bodies and sharp axes:
Before they can get to it, the door opens and out comes a Tallowman. Blazing eyes in a pale, waxy face. He’s an old one, worn so thin he’s translucent in places, and the fire inside him shines through holes in his chest. He’s got a huge axe, bigger than Cari could lift, but he swings it easily with one hand. He laughs when he sees her and Rat outlined against the fire.
all the way to the Gullheads; from the cursed Stone Men who become stronger the more their deadly disease progresses, to The Fever Knight, a creature of nightmare held together within its plate armour. Oh, and if these aren’t enough, there’s also worm-people, the arcane and utterly disgusting Crawling Ones:
Its voice is oddly musical and warm, but behind it she can hear the flapping and slithering of the worms, like hot fat on a frying pan. “What, may we ask, brings you walking in the places beneath?” It extends a cloth-wrapped “hand” to Aleena and helps her up. She feels worms pop and squish beneath the cloth as she pulls herself upright.
Ew. The descriptions of all these creatures lean almost towards the grotesque but they are all so very excellent. The cover, too, is a work of art, capturing the tone of the book perfectly – illustrated by Richard Anderson and designed by Steve Panton, it is nothing short of exquisite. If you take a look at it, you’ll get an idea, a feeling of what exactly awaits and this is witness to the makings of a great book cover.
You can find my full review over here.
Priest of Lies by Peter McLean
Peter McLean’s fantasy Peaky Blinders doesn’t have the right to be as good as it is! I tell you, friends, I bloody love this series – it’s despicably dark and twisted and it forces protagonist Tomas so far out of his comfort zone that it’d be funny…if the world of politics he comes to inhabit wasn’t just as deadly as the world dominated by gang violence from predecessor Priest of Bones.
You can read my review here.
The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang
This is the novel that emotionally shattered me. It’s ah…it’s probably my favourite book of the year, based on emotional punch alone. If I had any money to bet on a SPFBO 2019 winner, I’d bet them all on this one; don’t worry, fellow SPFBO judges, due to my obvious bias, I’m staying away from giving it an official score for booknest.eu’s part in the competition. It’s out of my hands – and I’m really hoping that the other nine finalists are as strong in terms of narrative and characters as this one is.
Here’s my review of it. (Booknest’s “Read” counter tells me this review has been read over 18 thousand times, which seems like an utterly insane number!)
Hero Forged by Josh Erikson
Josh Erikson is one of the finest narrators I’ve ever heard. That sucks, really – because he’s a writer, so you don’t have dozens upon dozens of novels narrated by him; instead, you only have two – Hero Forged and Fate Lashed. Luckily, Josh is also a word wizard, as evidenced by the fact that his urban fantasy series is fucking dope. I don’t particularly care for the subgenre, but I am crazy for Josh’s world – almost as crazy as for main characters Gabe and Heather!
You can find my review here.
Wrath of Empire
I am burdened by the greatest wrath – I have not yet read the conclusion to McClellan’s series, Blood of Empire. And when Wrath was such an excellent book – a novel whose greatest strength are its characters, a novel as explosive as the gunpowder Brian’s Powder Mages snort in what sure feels like unhealthy quantities — but I’m sure they’re fine. Right?
My review of this excellent book, y’all can find here. (I’ll permit myself a brag here – when I posted it on r/fantasy, this review was hot! Great discussion over there!)
Occultist by Oliver Mayes
From my review:
Oliver Mayes’ debut novel, Occultist, has made a litRPG believer out of me, an accomplishment I wasn’t certain would ever be in the cards for me. All this, considering how each time I’d picked up a book in this particular subgenre of speculative fiction, I ended up walking away with devilishly bad impressions. In my experience, the litRPG genre suffers from several issues, the biggest of which are an over-reliance on nostalgia and a trend towards dense exposition, and I mean walls upon walls of text as unreadable as a bad 80’s AD&D module! But this isn’t about the subgenre as a whole, it’s about the first instalment in the Saga Online series, so let’s get into it!I’m quoting myself now, that’s how bad ye olde ego has gotten.
The Hod King
If there’s a series that I expect to be read fifty years from now the way Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea is, for example, that would be Josiah Bancroft’s The Books of Babel. The Hod King is the third of four planned novels and it continues the adventure of Senlin and his merry band of pirates, adventurers, marauders, sky sailors, past and present and future wives, and – oh, even though I joke, I truly think it’s a brilliant work of fiction. I’m beyond excited to see it all come together with book #4. Will Bancroft stick the landing?
I reckon he just might.
You can read more about it here.
Never Die by Rob J Hayes
All throughout Never Die, Rob J. Hayes treats us readers with one badass fight after another; most of the main characters end up beating the living crap out of each other, or otherwise facing off through some convoluted challenge. The battles–and I can’t stress this enough (try as I might)–are like a shot of adrenaline through the system; if you’ve ever liked an anime battle, they will immediately feel familiar; and if you haven’t, they’ll still be cool as hell. Steel against steel, the sound of rifle fire and the smell of gunpowder, sweat and the metallic taste of blood – these are but a fraction of the images I came away with after reading this delightful novel.
Here’s my review of it.
Breaking Chaos by Ben Galley
In this final volume of the Chasing Graves trilogy, Ben Galley sees each of the myriad plotlines built over Chasing Graves and Grim Solace come to their fruition: Caltro Basalt, thief, locksmith and body-hopper extraordinaire at long last comes to embrace the role he’s tried time and again to swerve away from. Not that it’s painless. So very close to gaining his freedom, Caltro is again forced into playing different sides, listening to all their promises and trusting none of them.
The Dragon’s Banker by Scott Warren
As a reader with a bachelor’s degree in economics, I was the perfect audience for The Dragon’s Banker. The economics made sense and Warren seems to have a good grasp of how demand and supply work; he’s thought through all sorts of issues that the reader could’ve picked up on and works them in the story seamlessly and just at the right time. Some of main character Sailor Kestern’s most minor actions, at first, see great pay-off by the end of this 255-page read and in ways I didn’t necessarily expect.
My review can be found here.
The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
While I haven’t written the essay I’ve been meaning to about the relationship between Wizard of Earthsea’s main character Ged and priestess Tenar, I think The Tombs of Atuan is nothing short of a magical sequel, which does as many interesting things about fantasy as Wizard did, in many different ways. This is a novel of equality, of taking charge of your fate, of finding friendship in the darkest hours in your life. There’s good reason why Le Guin’s Earthsea is considered a classic, a novel that’s very much shoulders above most of the genre at the time of its publication, whose messages have lost none of its relevance nearly fifty years later.
This is it! My end-of-year fantasy list! Thank you to everyone for sticking around with my blog – this year has been incredibly fun in terms of books, blogging, making friends in the community. Looking forward to 2020 with you all!