Monday, January 05, 2015

Reading Year in Review - 2014

I’ve done this for a few years now (2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006), so in order to maintain my flailing credibility as a a genre blogger/book reviewer I have, I'm doing it again for 2014.

As I have in the past, I’ll start with some stats: I read (or at least attempted* to read) 74 books in 2014, depending on how you count omnibus editions. I say attempted because a few books I simply dropped because nothing about the book compelled me to keep reading. About one third of what I read were new/2014 releases.

In 2014, I posted 34 reviews to SFFWorld and 6 to In addition to the book reviews I posted to, I published 7 posts in my Locke & Key reread (6 review/recaps of the Graphic Novel “chapters” plus intro post).

I did more for SF Signal in 2014, too. My Completist column continued with 15 installments in 2014. Keeping with the gender theme, 6 of the 15 Completist columns featured books by women. Still short of a fair and balanced 50%. I also became a regular wrangler of the popular Mind Meld feature, having organized 6 in 2014. Lastly, two of my book reviews appeared at SF Signal.

So all of that said, I think it was a fairly productive year, in terms of what I wrote/edited and posted – a total of 70 things I wrote were posted to those three Web sites. Plus whatever I rambled on about here on my blog. Whew…

Aside from the regular gamut of current year releases, some of my ‘catching up’ reads included a couple of installments of Butcher’s Dresden Files, a re-read of Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow and Thorn Trilogy, and a couple of installments of Elizabeth Moon’s Paladin’s Legacy series that fell by the wayside over the past couple of years.

Here are some stats:
  • 31 2014/current year releases
  • 45 can be considered Fantasy
  • 28 books by authors new to me
  • 28 books by women
  • 20 can be considered Science Fiction
  • 13 can be considered Science Fiction
  • 13 can be considered Horror
  • 6 can be considered 2014 debuts
  • *4 books I started and did not finish
I made a concerted effort to read more books by women, and on a quantity basis, I’ve doubled and almost tripled the number for past years, which amounted to 38% of my reading. I’d like to do better than that, but I feel as if I’m on a good path to getting closer to a 50/50 divide.

All that said, on to the categories for the 2014 … which,  I'll continue to call the Stuffies. As I said last year, this isn’t a typical top 10 or 12 or anything, but whatever you want to call them, here are some categories for what I read in 2014 and what I put at the top of those categories.

Rob’s Favorite Fantasy 2014 Novel(s)

I’m lumping Horror into Fantasy because (a) we do that at SFFWorld and (b) the two categories often overlap, at least more than Horror and SF. With all of that having been said, a fair number of novels I read, and those I enjoyed the most, had a mixture of horror and fantasy / dark fantasy.

Determining the Fantasy novel to take my very top spot is probably the toughest nut to crack in years of tallying up my favorite reads so I’ll just call it a draw because these two books worked so well for different reasons.

I’ll go alphabetical, which means for the third year in a row, Robert Jackson Bennett makes an appearance on this list. His offering for this year is set in the imagined city of Bulikov, the novel is the first Bennett has penned which does not take place in a version of our world (although the parallels and echoes are there), but rather a fully realized secondary world., City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett and is one of those two I mentioned splitting the top vote.

Bennett seamlessly brings together elements of spy fiction and epic/secondary world fantasy together in City of Stairs. Think a female James Bond set in a novel of Steven Erikson/Ian Esslemont’s Malazan. Right, that’s not exactly an exact “high-concept” for City of Stairs but rather a jumping off point into something much more complex. In some parts of the world, Bennett’s world feels more technologically advanced even if parts of Bulikov seem to be stuck in time while much of it could be analogous to one or two hundred years in our past. There’s a steampunk/clockpunk feel to the world in places, but I wouldn’t say that is a dominant aesthetic of the setting; Bulikov seems to be at a nexus of many things. I couldn’t help but feel a strong resonance between City of Stairs and the landmark graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Both begin (as superficially), politically charged mysteries, only to unfold into a story with more globally affecting ramifications. While there was only one (two if you include Adrian Veidt) godlike beings in Watchmen with many of the heroes no longer active, the sense of their absence and the void of power left in the wake of their absence felt similar here in City of Stairs in a way that worked very well for this reader.

There’s a lot to unpack in the novel and Bennett is such a smart and engaging writer that none of what he packs really bursts the seams; instead, City of Stairs is a smooth novel of near perfection. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough.

Myke Cole brought his Shadow OPS ‘trilogy’ to a close with the extremely satisfying Breach Zone:

With Breach Zone being the third installment of the Shadow OPS trilogy, Cole can focus on action and physical conflict since much of the character foundation for the protagonists (Alan Bookbinder, Jan “Harlequin” Thorsson, and to a lesser extent, Oscar Britton) and support characters was laid down so strongly in the first two volumes. This physical conflict is the complete war zone the island of Manhattan becomes when the rogue Probe Scylla makes a bold comeback after disappearing in Fortress Frontier to make war against the human (mostly American) government.

In many ways (as I said on twitter while reading the book), Scylla is like a sexier, younger (maybe more dangerous) version of the Marvel Comics/X-Men ‘supervillain’ Magneto. Over the fifty or so years since the X-Men first appeared, Max Eisenhardt aka Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto has been cast in many different lights (Evil Overlord, Leader of the X-Men, Misunderstood Social Activist), but the one thing that has always remained was the character’s pursuit of mutant rights and that mutants were the next step in human evolution. He was the less peaceful counter-argument to Professor Charles Xavier. Like Magneto, Scylla was wronged by the system and is seeking retribution on a global (or even multi-planar) level. Her clash of ideals with Harlequin both as “Grace” and as “Scylla” is equally fascinating as the dialogue in the past is a strong parallel to her actions in the “present.”

Another top read of the year for me is technically partially a 2013 release, since it is a trade paperback compilation of comics published in 2013. I speak of course of Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega:

I think my copy of “Alpha & Omega” had a lot of dust mites in it or maybe I’m allergic to the glue used on the binding because my eyes kept watering up. Seriously though, it isn’t always the case that storytellers can promise something in the early stages of a story and not only deliver on that promise, but surpass the hopes of what may come. Hill and Rodriguez, for me, far surpassed my expectations.

The final issue, as mentioned, is a coda. Hill and Rodriguez aren’t letting readers go without some more tugging of the heart strings. In some of my earlier posts on the series, I mentioned the potential for redeeming Lucas’s character. I wrote those thoughts that without having read this volume, and I’m more than pleased with how the scenario played out. Tyler truly learned from his father and is not doomed to repeat the mistakes Rendell mad.

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb is the other fantasy novel sitting atop all others I read in 2014, splitting the number one spot with City of Stairs:

Years have passed since readers were last privy Fitz’s thoughts, he is now married to his boyhood love Molly, his daughter Nettle (whom Molly’s first husband Burrich raised as his own and is now very much enmeshed in the life of Buckkeep court) has appointed him the Holder of the Withywoods Estate she’s been bequeathed. In short, life for the man many know as Tom Badgerlock is far more bucolic than the courtly intrigue in which he spent much of his life embroiled. Then one Winterfest, a traveling group of minstrels and performers arrive; these strangers are very different indeed and bear little resemblance to any folk to have passed through Withywoods as far as any of the staff and people can remember. Life soon returns to its leisurely pace for Molly and Fitz until Molly boldly proclaims she is pregnant. This is something she and Fitz always wanted for many of the children she bore were from Burrich, her first husband and the man who served as a father figure to Fitz.

I suspect this novel might be a bit divisive for readers, if a few twitter conversations I had can be insightful. When examined from afar, not very much happens in the novel over the course of the many wonderful words Hobb spins into the story. As such, the pacing of this novel is deliberate and because of Hobb’s delightful prose I never felt as if the events needed to be moving at a different pace. That said, the only elements that I found a little problematic is how certain events were recounted multiple times in Fitz’s internal dialogue with himself. Those were the few spots for me that slightly impeded the lovely stroll through our narrators’ voices..
Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, was also a standout and while not perfect, really blew me away:

Another aspect of Epic Fantasy Hurley plays with in The Mirror Empire (and likely The Worldbreaker Saga) is the trope of Destiny. With two of the main characters, Roh and Lilia, Destiny comes into play over the course of the story arcs. For Roh, he is fighting against his destiny of being a meager farm boy, he wants to be more. For Lilia, she has a destiny, that for most of the novel, which does not become clear to her despite what other people know of her.
Hurley is one of the most brutally honest writers spinning words in the genre today whom I’ve read; nothing is safe in her fiction (or her non-fiction for that matter). The world is uncompromising to a degree surpassed only by some of the more steadfast characters in the novel (Zezili, I am pointing my finger at you, and don’t think I’ve forgotten how much you are sticking to your guns with your promise to your mother Lilia). The world building here is nothing short of imaginative and eye-opening. In addition to the recast genders, Hurley leaves no leaf unturned. Well, rather, some leaves are best left unturned in this world because they’ll eat you, the plant life gets hungry. Some leaves and plant life are fashioned into swords and other weapons; bears are used as draft and mount animals, dogs are used as mounts, too.

Although I read both of Django Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns novels this year back-to-back and enjoyed the first one a great deal (The Thousand Names) the second in the series, which published this year, really took a hold of me - The Shadow Throne
One of the things that Wexler does so well in both of these novels is to really lay down a level playing field for gender and sexuality. The groundwork was laid in The Thousand Names with Winter’s character and again, the theme continues when she is reunited with her friend / companion / lover Jane, whom she last saw in the women’s prison from which she escaped prior to the beginning of The Thousand Names. What I found most effective in this point is how matter-of-factly Janus works with Winter and Jane to bring their female-only battalion into the military fold. In fact, Winter is the one who made the biggest deal out of it and was surprised at how amenable (and frankly figured into his plans) Janus was to Winter’s plan. Janus places the same rules and restrictions as he would on any military unit, but adds the caveat that the men alongside whom they serve may not be as friendly.

The Shadow Throne is an extremely successful second-in-a-series book, and nearly perfect in that regard. Wexler takes the characters we know from the previous volume and puts them in challenging situations which allows them to grow along the track charted in the first novel, with some surprises as well. Things hinted at in book one come more into the light as fully formed developments in the world / series and Wexler expands the cast in a smart and exciting fashion. It is a novel that, a week after finishing it, still has me thinking strongly about it, realizing upon reflection how very good it was/is, and anticipating the third book in the series.

Other fantasies that really stood out to me were:

  • Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson - "Brandon’s storytelling managed to transport me to Roshar quite quickly and would have done so even had I opened the pages of Words of Radiance without scanning those posts at … Words of Radiance was a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience for me, it delivered what I’d hoped it would deliver, and has me very excited for where Brandon is taking this series. Much as I thought The Way of Kings was an excellent Epic Fantasy novel, Words of Radiance is even better."
  • The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris - "Through a first-person narrative, Loki tries to convince us that, even if he isn’t the hero, he shouldn’t be considered the villain history and mythology have cast him. At best, Loki is a misunderstood being and one who is thrust into a situation that provided little chance for him to be anything other than a heel. At worse, he is the Father of Lies. … The story begins when Loki’s wildfire essence is extracted from Chaos by Odin, who bonds Loki as a brother. When Odin brings Loki back to Asgard, the distrust Odin’s people have for Loki is immediate, and most strongly exhibited by Heimdall, the watcher who sees all who not only distrusts Loki, but shows a great hate for the trickster. "
  • Sworn in Steel by Douglas Hulick - "One could easily say of Sworn in Steel, compared to its predecessor: more of the same. I don’t intend that to be a reductive back-handed compliment because I enjoyed Among Thieves a great deal and I was hoping for just that, more of the same. However, by expanding Drothe’s world, plumbing the depths of its history, and revealing that fact has been glossed over by years of assumption Hulick has brought more to the table. Two books into the Tales of the Kin and Hulick is building something quite enjoyable. The easiest comparisons is Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels; as both authors employ a first person, intimate narrative with a healthy dose of snark."
  • Revival by Stephen King – Although this one hit some familiar King beats, I was enthralled from the very beginning of the novel. King rarely does first person narratives but after this, I’d love to see more. A fine balance in the story between hinting and revealing.

Rob Favorite 2014 Science Fiction Novel(s)

Rachel Bach / Rachel Aaron brought her Paradox series to a close (hopefully not permantly) with the thrilling Heaven’s Queen is the first installment of Paradox:

Bach builds each novel upon its predecessor extremely well. We start out in a personal story on an intimate level about the adventures of one character (and what a character Devi is) in the first book and by the third book the scale has expanded greatly (though the intimate nature of the narrative is still present). While the story begun in Fortune’s Pawn comes full circle here in the final novel, the universe has plenty of room for more stories about Devi or many for the characters who inhabit the world. If anything, the closure at the end of the novel, which acts as the closure to the series as a whole, was a little too neat and clean. This isn’t to say that Devi didn’t earn her ending, because she did.

All told, The Paradox Trilogy is edge-of-your seat science fiction that is fun and entertaining. The characters struck a great balance between believable and over-the top. The setting felt fleshed out and rich, Bach revealed enough to both make for a fascinating backdrop and also leave room for conjecture. In short, Wherever Rachel (Bach or Aaron) spins her tales, I’ll follow.

The fantastic two-headed writing machine James S.A. Corey (AKA Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) continue the best space-based science fiction series on the shelves with the fourth installment of The Expanse; Cibola Burn (The TV show kicks off next year!)

Corey has always populated these novels with strong characters. We’ve come to know Holden fairly well over the course of these four novels, and while it is great to see returning characters (Bobbie Draper was a POV character and she returns as a POV character in the prologue here), meeting new people is always a feature. The standout here was Elvi, a determined scientist who fits the mold of ‘scientist hero’ in the same vein as many protagonists from the Golden Age aside from her gender. One of the most telling things we learn through her is how the “life” on New Terra cannot be really measured by any known means.

While Cibola Burn is the fourth book of an ongoing series, it is really can also work as an entry point for new readers; perhaps the best example of a series novel that can work as such. In other words, the book is set on a new world, with new characters and starting with a relatively new status quo from the previous novels. Not bad timing considering The Expanse is quickly going to be a television show.

The next in my batch of favorite SF is a mash-up of a parallel worlds tale and post-apocalyptic tale Extinction Game by Gary Gibson:

Through Jerry’s first person voice, we get an intimate portrait of a man losing his sanity despite surviving the initial apocalypse. He speaks with his dead wife, he wants to make sure the people responsible for her death, Red Harvest, get their just desserts. When Jerry finally ventures out of his ramshackle hovel, he finds other people.

One of the many strengths of Extinction Game is Gibson’s well-rounded, inclusive cast. While the protagonist is male, the two most prominent supporting characters are women. Those two women are in a romantic relationship with each other; and other characters come from diverse backgrounds, as well. This is only logical (and a logic many writers might be blinded to seeing) since by definition the characters pulled into the Pathfinder organization are literally from all over not just one Earth, but multiple Earths. Gibson portrays each character quite well and with an emphasis on how important their relationships are, especially how important trust is between them as the novel rushes forward.

I read about half as much SF as I did Fantasy this year, which is a slightly lower percentage than usual. There were a few standouts, but the one that stood out the most was Defenders by Will McIntosh:

What makes Defenders such an incredible novel is McIntosh’s pure elegance, the beauty of its simplicity. Each element of the novel, the characters, the situations, the world, the results of the world’s actions, organically feed into each other as the novel progresses. Oliver could very easily have been the typical geeky scientist and there are elements of that in him; he’s a bit socially awkward for example. However, it isn’t a defining trait. Wiewall could, in the hands of a writer with lesser skill at fleshing out characters, been the proverbial bitch on wheels so many women in power are painted as with shallow strokes.
However, in the (relative to other characters) small amount of space we are in Wiewall’s head, she comes across as a woman who is admirably head-strong, as well as flawed and nervous. In other words, she’s reads like a real, living and breathing person.

Rob's Favorite 2014 Debut(s)

My favorite debut of the year was from Tor in the US and was surrounded with a fair amount of hoopla Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades, the first installment in his Epic series Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne:

As is par for the course in many fantasy stories, the Emperor is murdered leaving the Unhewn Throne somewhat vacant with Kaden, the next in line, half a world away with the monks. Each of the Emperor’s three children must deal with conflict and pressure in their training; though the majority of the plot focuses on Valyn and Kaden’s training. Like many Epic Fantasies before it, so begins The Emperor’s Blades, the first installment of Brian Staveley’s Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne.

A recommended debut that brought, if not a sense of closure, a sense of completion to the first stage of Kaden, Valyn, and (to a much lesser extent) Adare’s journey at filling their father’s shoes and determining why they are required to fill his shoes prematurely. Staveley pushed many of the buttons I like to see pushed in Epic Fantasy with The Emperor’s Blades while living ample room to take the story in directions and paths of his own charting. What readers enjoy most about Epic Fantasy and why it is such a successful subset of the greater Science Fiction & Fantasy genres, is that they look for “more of the same but different, and done well.” Here, Staveley has delivered on what this reader seeks; an embracing of what is enjoyable about the genre in a fun, very engaging debut and launch book for Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne.

Another debut which I enjoyed is a slight nudge for 2014; the ebook published in August 2013 and the physical book published in December, which in the publishing world pushes the book to a 2014 copyright year. I wanted any excuse to highlight the very engaging debut from Jacqueline Koyanagi, Ascension, which is the first book of the Tangled Axelon series. Koyanagi takes many of the gender and identity issues highlighted in Anne Leckie’s award winning debut, I found Koyanagi’s storytelling far more engaging.

Alana Quick dreams of the sky and working on starships, she is a sky surgeon. She understands machinery much better than people, especially better than she understands her sprit guide sister Nova. One of Alana’s many complications is the rare illness that can be crippling if left unchecked. People come looking for Nova, and when Alana leaves her world and stows away on a ship at the suggestion of a member of the ship’s crew, Alana gets far more than she expected. Her job doesn’t pay well, so she hopes that stowing aboard the star vessel, the Tangled Axon, will allow her to connect the crew with her sister to help Alana get the money she needs to help bring her disability under control. Alana is also not white and prefers women to men, additional characteristics that set her very much apart from the typical Space Opera protagonist, and this is just one standout element in Ascension, Jacqueline Koyangi’s debut novel.

So ultimately, what do we have here with Ascension? Well, lots of good things and many of which are what Science Fiction needs. We’ve got a very unique perspective and voice in the main character – a disabled woman of color who finds herself attracted to the same sex. That alone sets the novel apart, and fortunately, the novel is not simply about what makes Alana stand out from a gender/sexuality/disabled perspective. If that were the case, the novel wouldn’t have been so engaging for me. Koyanagi doesn’t use Alana’s uniqueness to be the lone standout element of the novel and tells a good, engaging story, with great character interaction and plot momentum, and sets up a potential foundation for more stories to be told.

Favorite Backlist / Book Not Published in 2014 Read in 2014

Elizabeth Moon has really been impressing with her fantasy writing for the past few years so I shouldn’t have been surprised with how much I enjoyed Trading in Danger, which is the first book of the Vatta's War series. I have the four remaining books on Mount Toberead and I hope to get to them soon.

In Trading in Danger, Elizabeth Moon introduces readers to Kylar “Ky” Vatta as she’s being discharged from the military. Ky, fortunately, is a member of the Vatta family, owners of Vatta Transport Ltd a powerful space trading corporation based on the rich planet Slotter, so she can fall back on her family’s company as a means to an end. However, her heart was in the military and in the first chapter, Moon’s depiction of the Ky’s discharge is one of the strongest novel openings which immediately generates empathy and sympathy for the protagonist. It may seem a simple thing and with little introduction to or knowledge of Ky, but a great sense of emotional turmoil and shock is conveyed through what Ky experiences and how she deals with it through her internal dialogue. I immediately began rooting for Ky to succeed and felt that way over the course of the novel. I think I like the character of Ky Vatta even more than Moon's more famous character Paks.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel a great deal and plan on reading through the remaining books in the series sooner rather than late, which I define as ‘within the next year.’

A late entry to this section is a book I finished in December, a debut I've been meaning to read for the past couple of years.  Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone was such a novel filled with a wonderful mix of inventiveness and familiarity, a novel that worked for me on many levels.
The spine of the plot is fairly straight-forward as a whodunit/legal thriller, but like a great batch of chili, it is the subtle, evocative spicing ingredients where the novel shines. The back-history which informs the current day events evokes a rich tapestry, especially when characters continually refer to events like the God Wars as a defining time in the world. As the world is powered by gods, the church surrounding the faith to these gods plays a large role in the governing and politics of the world.
There’s a great balance in the characters who comprise the main cast; our protagonist is female, as is her boss. Another supporting character, Cat, has a strong character arc that parallels and intertwines with the main plot. These women have power in this world, or are the most forthcoming in their quest to gain a foothold with it. Despite the church’s power being represented by a man, Elayne exhibits no qualms about dealing with him and these people if not on an equal level, then a level on which she has a moral high ground. What makes these women such great characters, especially Tara and Elayne, is that they have agency of their own and are not defined by their relationship to men in the novel. Granted, Tara’s relationship with her former professor at college is an integral element in the novel, but it isn’t the only defining aspect of who she is. Cat, on the other hand, is a bit of a dependent character, but that dependency is not intertwined with her gender. She is, in essence, an addict.

I’ve been reading The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher since about 2006, shortly before the first and only season of the TV show premiered on the then SciFi Channel, but I loved the hell out of Cold Days the installment (14th overall) of the series published in 2013 

This is the closest thing resembling a review I’ve put to words for this, or any of The Dresden Files books, but I was grinning the whole time I was reading the book.

I’ve enjoyed every book in the series and this one seemed to increase the speed at which Butcher is driving towards that hinted at Epic Apocalyptic Trilogy set to close out The Dresden Files.

Plus, this one has more Odin in it and I’m a sucker for fun depictions of Odin and Butcher's depiction of Odin as Donar Vadderung is one of my favorites.

Also, Harry pals around with Santa Claus a wild hunt

Butcher often closes out his books with panache and that was no exception for this one.

Favorite ‘New To Me’ Author(s) of 2014

Disclaimer: I’m only considering writers from whom I read more than one book this past year…. There were a couple of writers who could fit this category, the first of whom is Django Wexler – and not because he’s a colleague over at Douglas Hulick published in is Tales of the Kin series: Among Theives and Sworn in Steel and look forward to where he takes these characters next.

Favorite Publisher of 2014

This is a three-way tie and one and the same, because Ace/ROC/DAW although separate imprints, and especially DAW being separate in many ways from Ace & ROC, still is marketed with the other two. So, in other words, I’ll say the SFF Publishing arm of Penguin. Granted, I may have received more books from them than other publishers, but the percentage of those titles which appealed to me, which I read and enjoyed I think is a bit higher, too. (I’m only mentioning my re-read of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams, but not really counting it towards this MVP designation). Of course I’ve already mentioned Django Wexler and Doug Hulick in some detail, as well as Breach Zone the closing novel Myke Cole’s Shadow OPS ‘trilogy.’ Ace published two debuts excellent debuts I enjoyed:

The Bloodbound by Erin Lindsey - “The majority of the novel is told from Alix’s point of view, with some scenes through her King’s eyes. Alix comes across as an honest, almost-too-good-for-her-own-good protagonist torn between duty and passion. She finds her passion and romantic feelings for her closest companion Liam growing, so she acts upon it. The thing that throws a monkey-wrench into their relationship is the king himself. Rather, Alix acting as headstrong as ever; she goes against the orders of her superior Allan Green and breaks formation to save the King’s life. He wakes to find Alix draped over her. That physical interaction leads to more emotional interaction between the two.…I liked this one a great deal. Lindsey does a fine job of building tension as in the narrative and while I was hooked into the novel early on, I felt much more invested and glued to the page as the novel progressed. I genuinely liked the characters and want to read more about them. In a genre landscape where darkness in characters and grimdark tone seem to be rather prevalent, The Bloodbound was a refreshing change from that. There’s a great sense of hopefulness and positivity in the characters and paths through which the plot drives.”

The Midnight Queen (Noctis Magicae Book 1) by Sylvia Izzo Hunter - “Set in an alternate England somewhat reminiscent of the Regency era, where Magic is taught to young men at Oxford’s Merlin College, Sylvia Izzo Hunter’s debut novel wastes no time introducing the protagonist, Graham (nicknamed Gray) Marshall, and the situation which propels his plight through The Midnight Queen. Specifically, some of his college friends encourage Gray to join them in a night time escapade, a heist of sorts, which ends in tragedy and Gray receiving a forced dismissal from the school. Gray is taken by Appius Callender, the Professor who sent Gray and his friends on the ill-fated mission to Callender’s estate where Gray is something of a prisoner and indentured servant. The only thing that gives him respite during his dreary days is young Sophie Callender, the Professor’s middle child…. Hunter pulls off the affected and mannered speech very well, both in dialogue and narrative. Early in the narrative, Gray has a stammer that could indicate a genuine speech problem or simply nervousness. The more he interacts with Sophie; however, the less prominent his stammer becomes. Sophie also has a difficulty of her own to overcome, a block is placed on her magic while she was under the Professor’s roof. As the novel’s plot progresses, we (and Sophie herself) learn Sophie is much more than she initially appears to be.”

I will always sing the praises of DAW for doing such a fine job of ensuring their authors work remains in print and / or available for new readers. This is best exemplified in the Species Imperative omnibus they published in celebration of Julie Czerneda’s fantastic trilogy (comprised of Survival, Migration, and Regeneration.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t once again call out Orbit Books for continuing to publish great books (a few of which I called out earlier in this post, Cibola Burn and Defenders by Will McIntosh, as well as a great second book in Brian T. McClellan’s Powder Mage Trilogy, The Crimson Campaign; The Widow’s House, the fourth installment of Daniel Abraham’s hugely enjoyable Dagger and the Coin series.

Other Stuff

2014 saw the second anthology I helped edit (i.e review stories for inclusion and provide editorial comments) publish – Wars to End All Wars: Alternate Tales from the Trenches, featuring a reprint of an Elizabeth Moon story as well as the following new stories: “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair” by Igor Ljubuncic; “Wormhole” by Lee Swift; “Jawohl” by Wilson Geiger; “On the Cheap” by Dan Beiger; “One Man’s War” by G.L. Lathian; and “The Foundation” by Andrew Leon Hudson.

I also appeared not only on a podcast for the first time (SF Signal about Upcoming 2014 books), but three more after that. I suppose my voice isn’t as annoying to other people as it is to me:

I did another series review/catch up for this year. Whereas last year I rewatched Orphan Black, in January and February of this year, I did a re-read of the dark, twisty and fantastic Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.

I also re-read Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, but more about that next year except to say that its place as my favorite completed fantasy series was reaffirmed after finishing all three/four books.


Carl V. Anderson said...

So glad you did your list again this year, I really enjoyed it. There are several books on your list I am either reading (Like Defender and the second book in Rachel Bach's trilogy, which will lead to the third) and others that I really want to read, the Shadow Ops books.

I recently grabbed a copy of that Elizabeth Moon book as I had read some good reviews, nice to see it make your list.

You had a really productive year, and I hope your 2015 is even more so.

RobB said...

It was more productive than I thought, after tallying up what I wrote and posted all over the place.

IMHO, one can't go wrong with an Elizabeth Moon novel.