Thoughtful Thursday: Best of 2010

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYesterday we released our Best of 2010 list. It’s always an interesting process generating a list like this with a dozen people or so. We read broadly and there’s not a lot of overlap, so what I’m going to do today is just quote some of our reviewers on why they chose the books for the list that they did. I’m including links to the author pages so you can see the reviews in full, and I’ll include some of the better cover art to help break up the wall o’ text.

Kelly said:fantasy book reviews Skyler White In Dreams Begin

One of my favorite books this year was In Dreams Begin by Skyler White. A romantic fantasy linking a modern graphic artist with the tumultuous lives of W.B. Yeats and Maud Gonne, it’s a sensual, poetic read that explores love, beauty, and artistic inspiration. The prose is gorgeous, and White peppers the book with Yeats quotes that fit eerily well with the invented history.

Bill had a bit more trouble narrowing down his nominations this year, so he took a minute to explain why:

Felix Gilman The Half-Made WorldThe Half-Made World by Felix Gilman made the cut as one of my favorite reads this year because it had one of the most strikingly original visions I’ve seen this year: a West-that-never-was as a battleground between the Gun and the Line (frontier archetypes brought to literal life)and their human agents.  While the novel had a few flaws, its underlying premise was absolutely fascinating and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Bird and the River is one of those quiet novels I simply love to fall into and drift along with slowly, much as the main character does in this lovely little tale by Kage Baker, sadly lost to us this year. Peopled with a host of sharply realized characters, the real pleasure in The Bird and the River is the slow awakening to adulthood of its three main characters.

There isn’t a scene I’d take out of The Clockwork Three and how often do you get to say that nowadays in this genre?  There’s little unfamiliar here but what makes this YA novel shine is Matthew Kirby’s attention to character and to structure, making it a tight enjoyable and at times moving read.

The Boneshaker reminded me of nothing so much as Ray Bradbury‘s small town fantasies. That Kate Milford lives up to that comparison in her own original way is no small feat. With a great central character and lots of equally wonderful side characters, The Boneshaker is an absolutely beguiling read.fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

The Ring of Solomon,due to its more YA nature,  lacks the depth of Jonathan Stroud’s earlier novels set in this universe, but by bringing back one of fantasy’s best recent characters-the wise-cracking demon Bartimeus -and streamlining the plot Stroud ratchets up the humor to laugh-out-loud levels.

The Passage is a massive tome that reads like a 300 page novel. Justin Cronin takes a lot of what will be very familiar to sci-fi/fantasy fans but puts his own take on it, part of which means crisp dialogue, vivid prose, fully realized characters, and a near-impeccable pacing.

Blackout is as much a historical novel as it is a science fiction time-travel story and along with the sharp vivid detail that makes WWII England come fully alive, as is usual with Connie Willis, the character-driven nature of the intertwined stories will keep you reading to find out what happens to them, whether for good or  bad.

Ian Whates  City of Dreams and NightmareRyan nominated two books:

Thaiburley is a sprawling city carved into a towering mountain. For everyone but the privileged few that live in the upper rows, Thaiburley is a city of nightmares. Those that live in the City Below do their best to survive gangs and poverty, sometimes scavenging the scraps thrown down from the heights. It’s a great setting, but what makes City of Dreams and Nightmares memorable is Ian Whates‘ tight plotting.

In Zero History, a recovering drug addict and a retired singer are hired to track down the creator of Gabriel Hounds, an unusually marketed clothing line. It’s a premise that sounds somewhat plain, which is what makes William Gibson’s achievement all the more impressive in this concluding volume of the Bigend trilogy.

And Greg threw all his weight behind Watcher of the Dead:J.V. Jones Sword of Shadows: 1. A Cavern of Black Ice 2. A Fortress of Grey Ice 3. A Sword from Red Ice 4. Watcher of the Dead

This is the 4th book of the Sword of Shadows which is a personal favorite series. J.V. Jones is a master storyteller. Her worlds seem so very real and every character is uniquely interesting. My only complaint is the insanely long wait between books.

Stefan, who is probably the stingiest amongst us about handing out kudos, nominated four books:

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald is a gorgeous near-future story set in Istanbul, following six separate characters whose lives intertwine in various ways. It’s beautifully written and a pleasure from start to finish. You’ll feel like you’ve visited Istanbul after turning the final page. Ian McDonald has written some amazing novels in his career – this is easily one of his best.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsJoel Shepherd is one of my favorite new fantasy authors, and I can’t thank the folks at Pyr enough for bringing his work (originally published in Australia) to the US. Tracato is the third book in his “A Trial of Blood and Steel” series, and a textbook example of how to structure a series: while the first 2 books are excellent in their own right, Shepherd pulls all the threads together in this nail-biting third book. This series deserves much more attention than it’s received so far. I simply can’t wait for book 4!Guy Gavriel Kay Under Heaven

What can we say about Guy Gavriel Kay‘s stunning new novel Under Heaven that hasn’t been said before? It’s another beautiful historical fantasy, this time set in China during the twilight of the Tang Dynasty. This novel has it all – gorgeous prose, complex characters, and a well-paced, gripping story. This was my favorite Guy Gavriel Kay novel since The Lions of Al-Rassan, and easily the best new fantasy novel of 2010.

Real Unreal: Best American Fantasy 3Real Unreal: The Best American Fantasy 3, edited by Kevin Brockmeier, is an excellent collection of fantasy stories from the literary end of the genre. If you’d like to explore some fantasy that’s closer to the magical realism of e.g. Graham Joyce or Gabriel García Marquez, this is a great place to start and to discover some new authors you may not be familiar with yet. Some other anthologies published this year have received far more attention, but this one was definitely my favorite.

Our fearless leader Kat has been spending a lot of time listening to the classics on audio, which influenced her recommendations.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsIt was really hard for me to choose my favorite books this year because most of what I read was by audio and there were so many classics that came out on audio this year! Two big series that I’ve been waiting for came out early in the year: Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth Saga (Brilliance Audio) and Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun (Audible Frontiers). How can anything else compete with that? They were as wonderful as I was expecting them to be. As for new fiction, by far my favorite was Guy Gavriel Kay’s absolutely gorgeous and absorbing Under Heaven which I also read on audio.

Justin narrowed down his recommendations to two:

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsI chose N.K. Jemisin’s debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, as one of my fave for 2010 for a number of reasons. I won’t go into great detail here, you can find that in my review. Every fan of fantasy should at least give it a try. I was blown away by this book, and its sequel The Broken Kingdoms. Writing the first novel is tough, and often a learning experience. It’s rare that someone steps up and hits it out of the park on their first try. That is essentially what Jemisin has done.

fantasy book review Jesse Bullington The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart audioThe Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart is a book I will never forget. I unfortunately overlooked the print version of this gem in 2009, but Brilliance Audio released it this year. The Sad Tale is unique in that it tries very hard to get you to stop reading it. It dares you to give up in disgust. The protagonists are awful and vile human beings, and you wish death upon them every step of their journey. I have never had so much fun being disgusted and rooting against the protagonists than I did with The Sad Tale. Jesse Bullington is an amazingly talented writer to pull off a premise that in anyone else’s hands would surely have been a colossal failure.

And then there is me. While I would highly recommend the short story anthologies The Poison Eaters by Holly Black and The Very Best of Charles de Lint, my top two novels for 2010 are Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn and The Folding Knife by K.J. Parker.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsTroubled Waters is a perfect fantasy novel with an intriguing and innovative magical system with a strong romantic flare and The Folding Knife is a creative historical tragedy with no fantastical elements at all. The two books are very different from each other, but both show off the skill of their author. Sharon Shinn had me smiling throughout the entire book just of the sheer pleasure of reading, and Parker told me in the first chapter that the story would end in disaster, and kept me on the brink of anticipation for the entire length of the book wondering how it could possibly end the way I was told. And then it did. And I was flabbergasted that it had happened that way, and yet, wondered how it could have possibly happened any other when it made perfect sense the way it unfolded. These are two novels from authors at the top of their game, and both could be enjoyed by a wide range of readers.

So, dear readers, we come to the end of a great year of fantasy readings in 2010. SEE OUR ENTIRE 2010 FAVORITES LIST HERE. Is there something we missed? A hidden gem from this year we should read on New Year’s Day? Let us know what you think of our picks. And happy New Year from all of us at FanLit!


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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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4 comments

  1. That’s a lot of books to put on the TBR list!

  2. in the words of the Little Rascals “And how.” My wish list on Amazon is so huge it’s ridiculous.

  3. Again with the “stingy”! :)

    Seriously, what an awesome list of books. Can’t wait to see what 2011 will bring!

  4. Stefan, now it’s just a running joke. :D

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  1. 2010: The Year We Make Contact | Epiphany 2.0 - [...] Barnes and Noble blog (which included The Broken Kingdoms!) and Ruth Arnell’s top 10 over at Fantasy Literature. [...]

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