We’ve just posted our annual Favorites list — the best books we read which were published for the first time in 2013. For today’s discussion, we’ll tell you why we like some of these books and ask you what you thought of them.
You can find our reviews for each of the novels listed below by clicking on the linked author names. BE SURE TO VIEW OUR COMPLETE LIST OF FAVORITES HERE!
Bill: All right, all right. Guilty. I confess that many of my Best of books this year have a pretty slight claim to the “fantasy” mantle: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Shaman, Guy Gavriel Kay’s River of Stars, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. Granted, there isn’t a lot of textbook fantasy in any, but if you tilt your head and squint just right, you might kinda sorta see it (a “Fourth Wind” in Robinson, a fox-woman in Kay, time travel in Atkinson, and a maybe-ghost in Ozeki). But in any case, what you have are four novelists writing at the top of their game, turning out wonderfully character-driven/immersive world stories. Also of the character-driven / immersive world ilk, though working in somewhat (but only somewhat) more typical fantasy mode, Daniel Abraham’s The Tyrant’s Law continues his long run of consistently high-quality writing. If that isn’t enough enticement, I’ll remind you of what I wrote in my review: “Best. Quest ending. Ever. Seriously. Ever.” Five intelligent and sharply crafted novels. If the Spanish Inquisition showed up (and whoever expects those guys?) and demanded I pick “The” best, I’d have to go with Kay, as I’m a sucker for lyricism and the guy has it in spades. But really, you should just read ‘em all. And when you’re done with those, pick up these as well: Best Daniel Abraham book not titled The Tyrant’s Law: Abaddon’s Gate, co-written with Ty Franck under the name James S.A. Corey (Really, one guy should not be able to have three — Terry has listed one of his other books, which he wrote under the name M.L.N. Hanover, on her list — such good books out in one year). Best historical fantasy not set in a realistic early human setting: Quintessence by David Walton (unfortunately, judging by sales, also the most undeservedly overlooked book this year. You should rectify that and buy it). Best YA Fantasy: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson (the guy makes Abraham’s output look like Salinger’s). Best unfinished poetic retelling of a classic legend: The Fall of Arthur by Tolkien (Like Gandalf, he apparently gets sent back now and then to finish a task — such as publishing another book). Best Cliffhanger: The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett (bastard!). Best Western/Fantasy: The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher (zombies, pirates, and Mormons, oh my!).
John: John: My book consumption this year was much lower than in years past, but there were some stellar books. The Thousand Names by Django Wexler was outstanding because it was a wonderful blend of flintlock fantasy with more traditional fantasy. Speaking of flintlock fantasy, Brian McClellan‘s Promise of Blood was one of the harshest, grittiest, more interesting books to come along. I loved how very, very original it felt coupling magic with technology. Alex Hughes in the MINDSPACE INVESTIGATIONS, Sharp was the best urban fantasy that I read this year. The main character remained so compelling and realistic as he coped with drug addiction…. spectacular.
Kat: I didn’t read any 2013 books that I’d consider to be 5-star books, mostly because I read mostly old SFF this year, but very close was Gail Carriger‘s new FINISHING SCHOOL series for young adults. Carriger’s world, characters, and wit are delightfully weird and I absolutely loved the audiobook versions read by talented comedian Moira Quirk. The first books of two new series from two relatively new fantasy authors are also notable. These are Wesley Chu‘s The Lives of Tao and Chuck Wendig‘s The Blue Blazes. I’m looking forward to the second books! A couple of anthologies I enjoyed in 2013 were Jack Vance‘s Magic Highways and The Best of Joe Haldeman, both put out by one of my favorite publishers, Subterranean Press.
Kelly: The best book I read this year was Guy Gavriel Kay‘s River of Stars, which Bill has already mentioned. I also loved Erin Bow‘s second young adult novel Sorrow’s Knot. Bow’s debut, Plain Kate, was one of my favorite books in 2010, so I had high expectations for Sorrow’s Knot. Sorrow’s Knot not only lived up to my expectations but exceeded them. This is a fantastic novel, and even better than Plain Kate. I strongly recommend it.
Marion: Looking back at my top three for 2013, it seems the key word for the year is “humanity.” Neil Gaiman’s beautiful elegy to childhood and memory, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, knocked me out. Gaiman shifted between a world of terrifying magic, and a world of the terrifyingly mundane, seen through the memory of a man in his late forties remembering his childhood. There is a passage in that book, about the small, perfect bed and breakfast, that brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it. In Countdown City, Ben Winters explores how people would act when faced with the real end of the world, and gives us a main character who struggles to protect and serve, and to do the right thing, even if no one else cares. In How the World Became Quiet, Rachel Swirsky shows us many facets of humanity, including post-humanity. While not as centered on the human experience as the two novels, Swirsky’s stories demonstrated a love affair with language that left me feeling equal parts envy and awe.
Rebecca: Kate Elliott‘s excellent SPIRITWALKER trilogy ended with a bang with Cold Steel. This is a story of revolution and political upheaval. It’s not about saving the world from the forces of darkness, it’s about changing the world for the better, moving from an old totalitarian regime to one that embraces equality and democracy for all. Wisely, Elliott does not try to wrap this up with a neat little bow — revolutions are not fought and won overnight, and our cast still has a lot of work to do by story’s end. The SPIRITWALKER books are massive and exhaustive, stuffed full of ideas and detail and clever turns of phrase.
Ryan: The best SFF book of 2013 for me was easily A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. It might be the only WOT entry that I will never read a second or third time, but it was nevertheless a stunning conclusion to a series I started reading in ninth grade. Otherwise, I didn’t have great luck with 2013’s SFF. I reread Oryx & Crake in anticipation of the conclusion of Margaret Atwood‘s trilogy, but was disappointed in Maddaddam. I thought Robert Charles Wilson‘s Burning Paradise was quite good, but Spin remains the best work I’ve read by him. I’ve yet to read Terry Pratchett‘s Raising Steam, but I’ve heard it’s another good-but-not-great DISCWORLD entry. So here’s to 2014, which I hope will bring outstanding new stories from Lev Grossman, William Gibson, and Neal Stephenson.
Terry: For me it was a year with a surfeit of excellent books. My favorite book this year was Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Her protagonist, Ursula, is a woman whose alternate lives are spelled out on the page: she is born or stillborn; marries or doesn’t; is killed in the London Blitz or lives; and so on. It’s a remarkable way to look at what makes a person who she is. Horror writer Caitlín R. Kiernan makes the same point in a complete different way in Blood Oranges, the debut novel in her new urban fantasy series, which she is publishing under the name Kathleen Tierney. A sarcastic, angry teenager who is multiply cursed by creatures of the night, as she narrates in a thoroughly unreliable way. I can’t wait to read the next one. Another favorite this year was Wild Fell by Michael Rowe, a Gothic ghost story set in Canada, beautifully written and meticulously plotted. Lauren Beukes tells us what would happen if a serial killer got access to a time-traveling device in The Shining Girls, writing about a brutish villain and a determined would-be victim who is intent on catching him. Mira Grant produced another biological thriller in Parasite, a book that made me shudder as if it were a horror novel, but which also intrigued me with the well-thought-out science. M.L.N. Hanover produced another excellent entry in his series THE BLACK SUN’S DAUGHTER in Graveyard Child, in which Jayné Heller confronts the highly religious family she abandoned to attend a secular college, and winds up confronting some uncomfortable family history entwined with powerful demons. I also got a huge kick out of Paul Cornell’s London Falling, a police procedural crossed with an urban fantasy; I’m looking forward to the next entry in this series, too. S.M. Wheeler wrote a remarkable first novel in Sea Change, about a girl and an octopus who are good friends. It’s got a fairy tale feel to it, but questions of gender, sex, love and the nature of friendship make it unique. And what year would be complete without Stephen King? Joyland is a coming of age tale as compulsively readable as his best work. Finally, as FanLit’s resident short story reader, I offer kudos to Paula Guran, the editor of the highly enjoyable Once Upon a Time, a collection of beautiful new adult fairy tales. There was much more I didn’t get to, so it’s a good thing that nothing stops me from reading 2013 books in 2014! Well, except for all the great new books that are coming next year. What joy!