Tuesday, January 03, 2017

My favorite reads of 2016

This past year was a busy one for me, so I didn’t get to read nearly as many books as I would have liked. Such is life these days, though, for many people, so who am I to complain?

Of the books I did get to read, there were some fantastic selections. Some of my own reading prejudices were also challenged in 2016 (actually, beginning in late 2015), and you’ll see more self-pubbed authors than ever before on my list of favorite reads.

As I do every year, I want to remind anyone reading this that it is not a “best of 2016” list. I read far too few books to make such judgments, and a number of the books that you’ll find on the list were not released in 2016. It’s simply a list of the books that I most enjoyed this year, and though I’ll admit the first few are my favorites, there is no particular order after that, so don’t read in any “rankings” that aren’t there. If you asked me to rank them 10 times from 1 to 10, you’d probably end up with 10 completely different lists.

“The Shepherd’s Crown,” Terry Pratchett. Published May 16. I’ll admit that this is a very sentimental pick for my favorite read of the year, but it will be my last visit to a world that I’ve been a regular tourist in for more than a quarter of a century. I waited a long time after Pratchett’s death to read this, not wanting to say goodbye, but I decided the time had come about mid-year. It was a fitting farewell, and fitting also that one of his most beloved characters went out with the author and the Discworld.

“The Wheel of Osheim,” Mark Lawrence. Published July 28. I keep singing Lawrence’s praises year after year, but he keeps deserving those praises. “The Wheel of Osheim,” the conclusion of his second post-apocalyptic trilogy might just be his best work yet. He blends darkness and humor seamlessly, and creates some fascinating characters that you want to cheer for, even when you probably shouldn’t.

“Morning Star,” Pierce Brown. Published February 22. Speaking of singing praises, Pierce Brown is another author that I’ve heaped plenty on, and his works have been most worthy of it. “Morning Star” was probably my most anticipated book for 2016, and it delivered a stunning conclusion to his Red Rising trilogy. Oddly, I still think the second book, “Golden Son,” was my favorite, but, oh man, that ending.

“Senlin Ascends,” Josiah Bancroft. Published October 25. This book is exactly what I was talking about in my intro when it comes to the current state of self-publishing. “Senlin Ascends” blends fantasy with a variety of other different genres with great success. It’s whimsical. It’s inventive. It’s powerful. It’s, as I said in the review, remarkable in almost every way. I dare say there were very few better books turned out by the big publishers this year than Bancroft’s debut.

“The Aeronaut’s Windlass,” Jim Butcher. Published January 15. I didn’t want a Jim Butcher book that was not about Harry Dresden. Realistically, I know that Harry’s tales can’t go on forever, but I put off reading this one for that reason. The surprise was on me, though, how much I enjoyed this book, and even though I’m not a cat person at all, I can’t wait to go on a few more adventures with Rowl.

“The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids,” Michael McClung. Published February 29. This winner of Mark Lawrence’s inaugural Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off was my first true surprise of the year. I said then and still believe that it represents exactly what that contest was designed to find – self-published novels that are just as good as the big boys. This is an action-packed adventure that is incredibly fun.

“The Ballad of Black Tom,” Victor LaValle. Published August 3. I went into this book with a little trepidation because I feared that it might be a bit of a smear piece playing on Lovecraft’s well-publicized racism. What I got was anything but. LaValle’s book is much more than a retelling of “The Horror of Red Hook” through a black character’s eyes. It’s a great story of its own that gives us a mystical and memorable protagonist. Yes, there’s certainly a critique of Lovecraft’s work, but the book is just as much as a tribute to the master of tentacled horror.

“The Daylight War” and “The Skull Throne,” Peter V. Brett. Published June 10 and July 1. I hadn’t intended to read these books back-to-back, but the ending of “The Daylight War” left me in a place where I just had to continue the story. I’m glad that I wasn’t like most people who had to wait a while for it, and I could just dive in. Of course, now I’m waiting like everyone else. The intensity ramps constantly up through the course of both books, and at the end of book four, we’re looking at a much different world from the one we began in.

“Monster Hunter Vendetta,” by Larry Correia. Published January 29. I never expected myself to like this series. It looked kind of cheesy to me, but a friend strongly recommended it, and he was absolutely right. I’ve had great fun with it so far, and I expect to catch up in 2017.

“The Path of Flames,” Phil Tucker. Published September 19. I decided to try to get a bit of a headstart on reading the finalists of this year’s SPFBO since I discovered so many good books out of the first one, and this was one of the first announced. “The Path of Flames” doesn’t really tweak the epic fantasy formula very much, but it follows it very well. Tucker has done one of the most important things an epic fantasy writer can do, create a fascinating world that I want to explore and learn more about.

“Bloodrush,” Ben Galley. Published March 16. Yet another finalist in the first SPFBO, this one intrigued me because I’ve always had a thing for Wild West milieus in fantasy. It’s an underused setting, and Galley does it well, giving it enough parallels with our own history, but making it stand out with its own unique elements.

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