Friday, July 08, 2011

2011 Mid-Year Review - Top Five Reads

With June fully in the books, I figured I’d do what a lot of my blogging and genre compatriots are doing – rank the books I’ve read so far this year. I’ll just ramble off the top five, link to the review and provide the cover shot. So, without any further adieu:

The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown
Kings of Eternity is the type of SF novel that should appeal to many readers. It has enough science fiction-y goodness for seasoned readers; conversely, it doesn’t thrust the reader into these elements unawares at the beginning of the story, thus lulling the reader into those elements; and perhaps most importantly: fully-rounded and believable characters. Though I didn’t completely like Jonathon all the time while I was reading, he felt real and I could empathize with him. The same goes for Daniel, though I did enjoy his company more. Brown, like I’ve said in a number of my reviews of other writers, allows the world and events to unfold through his characters. As I implied, this is all the more enjoyable since those characters are so alive and believable.
I should also point out the beautiful cover by Dominic Harman, who has illustrated a number of Mr. Brown’s novels for Solaris. The cover has that “I must know what happens” feel to it and really encapsulates the feel of the novel (and quite possibly one scene) superbly.
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
Holden’s crew is very much a family and from my most recent reads, I was reminded of the crew of the Ketty Jay from Chris Wooding’s terrific Retribution Falls. I mentioned in my review of that book, the parallels I found with Firefly. The landscape in Leviathan Wakes, though confined ‘only’ to our solar system plays off both epic and personal, space after all is large, but the sense that all the characters have a comfortable level of knowledge of the solar system much like seasoned business travelers would have a good working knowledge of the United States. Part of what makes the solar system so believable is how the problems of big business seemingly controlling things from behind the scenes and the clash of societies mirrors today’s world, just on a larger canvas.
Leviathan Wakes is one of the best opening volumes to an SF series in recent memory, one of the most entertaining novels I’ve read in 2011 and a novel that only has me hungry for more in the series. This is a Space Opera I want to see more of on the shelves.

The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham
With The Dragon’s Path, Daniel transitions to a new publisher and launches a brand new Epic Fantasy saga under the title of The Dagger and the Coin. On the surface, Daniel is working in a more ‘traditional’ fantasy setting (emulating medieval Europe, deep history of magic, dragons, etc), than his previous novels and longer works. Though his Long Price Quartet was extremely well received from readers and critics, it flew under the radar of the general populace. The Dragon’s Path is sure to bring Daniel much more well-deserved attention.
So, what has Daniel Abraham done? He’s taken a proven formula and turned it slightly askew by focusing on a bank teller, a grumpy middle-aged man, and a fat idiotic fool. In other words, the surface may lead one to think you are looking at simply a steak, but when you slice and bite into it, you realize you are eating a fine cut of filet mignon cooked to near perfection. Along with The Wise Man’s Fear, The Alloy of Law, and of course, A Dance with Dragons, The Dragon’s Path will likely be one of the highlight Epic/Secondary World fantasy novels of the year. Bravo, I can’t wait for the second course, so bring it on Daniel!

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
This novel recounts what will likely be Kvothe’s middle years at the University as well as his time away from University where learns more about the world, himself, his enemies and his loves. This was a very wise choice by Rothfuss; although the University scenes were compelling in The Name of the Wind and here in The Wise Man’s Fear, any more could have easily worn out their welcome. Thankfully, Kvothe’s voice is still the same in its snarky reminiscence of his past.
The story unfolds as Kvothe’s semester takes a great deal out of him and his run-ins with Ambrose are still having a major effect on his ability to secure a patron as a sponsor for his lute-playing and singing. When his friends and teachers suggest he take some time off from the University he reluctantly agrees that all the work both as a student, in the various workshops like the fishery, and time in the taverns have taken their toll on the young arcanist in training. After Kvothe agrees, the one noble who has been aiding Kvothe – Threpe – arranges for Kvothe to help Maer Alveron, a noble across the sea in the land of Vintas. When Kvothe arrives, he begins to learn and play the societal game of nobles, which is most pointedly exemplified by those who receive rings from others.

Among Others by Jo Walton
Some novels are magical in their depiction of the mundane, ordinary life. When such novels add a sprinkling of magic and personal, then it is possible for said novel to transcend labels and simply be a wonderful and moving fictional account that touches upon the heartstrings of reality. In Jo Walton’s admittedly semi-autobiographical novel, Among Others, we meet a young girl named Morwenna Phelps who very much feels she is an outsider wherever she goes, especially after the recent death of her twin sister. This is can be consider a coming of age novel and despite the separation of an ocean, gender, and age, Mor is one of the most empathetic and identifiable protagonists I’ve come across in a long while. Or rather, what happens after one comes of age and has to pick up the pieces of a devastating loss.

1 comment:

Spaz said...

Leviathan Wakes is sitting on the shelf and will be one of my next reads. I still need to pick up The Dragon's Path and both of the Rothfuss. I'll look into the others too!