We’ve been in business for only four months at this point.
I’ve (subjectively) read a lot of books this year. My partners here have (objectively) read a lot of books. This particular list will just be my own favorite books published in 2015. Some of the others here would probably add their own opinions on the year, if asked. For example, Wilbanks would probably list Carol Berg’s Ash and Silver as a best book of the year, definitely Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Quest. Erickson would tout Kate Elliott’s Court of Fives, I bet, and Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman is up there.
There are many great books I’ve read this year that were published previous to 2015–like First Light (The Red) by Linda Nagata, Red Rising by Pierce Brown, and Django Wexler’s first two Shadow Campaigns books: The Thousand Names and The Shadow Throne. These books were fantastic, and while there are sequels I suspect I’ll enjoy that came out in 2015, I haven’t gotten to them yet. Mea culpa.
For this list, if a book was previously published independently, but was published this year via traditional publishers, or vice versa, I’ll count the book for 2015.
Until I started this blog, I rarely read a book the year it was published, so most of these are books I’ve read in the last four months.
My personal favorites of the year:
Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu
The book’s first chapter left me expecting a different book than the one that was described on the cover. I liked the book better as it opened up and the world came into view. As much fun as the pit fight was, I wanted something deeper and more atmospheric than “Gladiator in the Desert” would have delivered. Twelve Kings propelled me forward, forcing me to turn pages while still buffeting me in imagery, flashbacks, and history. Çeda and the Kings have a lot of story left in them, and I’m dying for book two.
Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer
This was a lovely book with a lot of imagery and complicated, broken, and unexpected characters. It is a hard book to describe without giving things away. The book explores love, desire, obsession, faith, power and sorrow. I think many of those who enjoyed Twelve Kings would enjoy this book. It stands alone quite well, though I’m hoping for future chronicles in this world.
Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This is much more of a love story than I expected. The magic here involves music. Early on, I was left wondering if there would actually be any magic in the book, but then BOOM, there it was. I enjoyed seeing how the book evolved. I felt shadows of other “teens learning magic” story lines, like the movie The Craft. And the leads are not always likable–they are flawed, as we all are, but flawed in ways that sometimes repelled me from them. A certain magic did flow through this book, though, and I enjoyed it for that.
Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
This was a creative work of young adult urban fantasy. I liked the magic and how it was used by those who were deeply a part of the neighborhood, and how it came across in art and music, much how culture is retained through the arts. The mythology of magic is really well done. There are some genuinely scary moments, particularly for the age group the book aims for. The characters are realistic in many ways, and some of the scenes were beautifully rendered. I have a few issues with the antagonist and his motivations. But I think I understand the decisions Older made and why he made them.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
If you’ve been missing Firefly and character-driven books about wacky characters, this might alleviate some of your pain/craving. It was just a hell of a lot of fun. The book also does one of the things that I think science fiction is uniquely situated to do–delve into what it means to be “human.”
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
My only complaint is that one word here is particularly overused, chum. Otherwise, this is a sort of epistolary novel, based entirely around illustrations, text messages, manuals, reports, and the like. It’s extremely innovative and clever, and that goes a long way in my book. There is a strong relationship thread running throughout, and the book has some pretty brutal scenes for a “YA” novel. I’d call this just a novel, myself. If you’re a fan of space zombies, unreliable narration, young love and realistic teen emotions, this is a book to try out. You might want to try it on a color-device, though. My Kindle Paperwhite couldn’t do the art justice.
The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher.
I’m already a Butcher fan, so that helped the book hit my “to read” list in the first place. I’ve read a few Steampunk series I liked, but most Steampunk has left me underwhelmed. This book is more Alera than Dresden, so if you’re hoping for Dresden aboard a flying ship, you won’t get that. The characters are interesting, the plot is well-woven, and the technology is mixed with some sort of crystal magic, which makes for a fun read. It would make an excellent “lost Final Fantasy” game circa 1995.
Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher
I’m new to this “Grimdark” thing. I’ve read and enjoyed Martin and Abercrombie, and I’ve seen them listed under that header. But I haven’t enjoyed a lot of the other works that are given to the sub-genre. This one I liked, and the author asserts that he just set out to write a fantasy novel. He’s new to the grimdark crowd, too. It will be deemed grimdark regardless; people love to label things. I feel like saying it is “grimdark for those who don’t like grimdark” but more importantly, it’s just a damned fine book,and transcends easy labels like the works of Abercrombie, Lawrence, and G Double-R Martin. It captures the grim and dark nature of the subgenre, but doesn’t feel excessive to the point of covering the plot and characters with a blanket of impenetrable gore. This book takes the philosophy of “perception becomes reality” and cranks it to 11. It’s an ambitious high-concept premise, and Fletcher delivers on that premise.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Interesting more for the concepts introduced than the plot-line, Binti is a thoughtful science fiction work. This book does an excellent job of looking at what makes a person “other” and how several characters deal with this. The book took a shift early on that I didn’t expect, and I thought the book did a lot in so few pages.
In Midnight’s Silence: Los Nefilim: Part One by T Frohock
Look, this series is a serial of sorts. I feel that the five (or however many there end up being) parts of this series, though put out as short fiction, would make a cohesive novel. I enjoyed both of the first two parts, and I can’t wait to read part three. The book has excellent atmosphere, deals with dark themes in a kind way, and features an intriguing story behind the angels, demons and nefilim. I’ve seen a few other books that were meant to be fantasy detective fiction, but this fits the noir feel better than most of those.