Erika Johansen’s debut novel, Queen of the Tearling, is a sure-handed and accomplished start to a new series. The novel opens as a cadre of Queen’s Guards arrive at a humble little cabin in the woods to retrieve Kelsea Raleigh. The young heir to Tearling throne was smuggled away as a baby and raised in secret. With the Regent’s (her uncle) assassins closing Kelsea must face what may be the shortest reign any monarch has seen. On her journey to New London she meets an enigmatic bandit known only as the Fetch and begins her true education in regards to the devil’s bargain her mother made after the invasion from Mort burned its way to the walls of the palace. Once in New London Kelsea moves to right the wrongs of her mother’s reign while doing her best to stay alive long enough to usher in true change.
Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds and Blue Blazes are excellent novels with vibrant worlds and complicated heroes. Needless to say that I was pretty excited to hear that Chuck Wendig was scheduled to be the man in the pilot’s seat for the first post-Return of the Jedi Star Wars novel in the new canon. When early samples of Aftermath were released ahead of the novel’s publication my excitement was somewhat dampened by Wendig’s chosen style. The present tense narration, coupled with the short quick sentence structure was completely off putting for me and I was immediately nervous that I wouldn’t be able to get past the narrative style. Thankfully, while Disney and Lucasfilm, have in a sense “abandoned” previous canon they have not abandoned Star Wars audiobook narrator Marc Thompson. Thompson’s skill as a narrator combined with some rather insane production quality (official sound effects and music) meant that, like with the previous Fate of the Jedi novels, I was definitely going for the Aftermath audiobook experience.
Much was made about John Scalzi’s recent $3.5M deal with Tor books (10 years, 13 books) and I can think of few authors as deserving. While I haven’t read all of Scalzi’s work everything I have read has been somewhere around fantastic. I am a particular fan of the Old Man’s War universe and have thoroughly enjoyed each successive work set there. The End of All Things is the hardcover release of Scalzi’s latest Old Man’s War novel which was previously serialized on Tor.com. I greatly enjoyed Scalzi first serialized Old Man’s War work in The Human Division so I eagerly snatched this up when Tor sent me a review copy. It should be said that for anyone new to the universe first seen in Old Man’s War, The End of All Things is not necessarily the place to start. It primarily builds on the events in The Human Division but a general knowledge of past events seen in Old Man’s War, Zoe’s Tale, and The Last Colony will definitely help readers.
In honor of Del Rey re-releasing Paul S. Kemp’s The Hammer and the Blade today I am re-posting my review of the original release here. You can find the new edition at your book seller of choice.
The Hammer and the Blade
Paul S. Kemp
Angry Robot, 2012
I haven’t read a lot of Forgotten Realms fiction, what I have read was typically from the setting’s creator Ed Greenwood or the ever-poular R. A. Salvatore but what I had read I enjoyed. But you can only take so much of a certain powerful wizard and a particular scimitar wielding dark elf before you grow a little weary. So, when I had heard buzz about Paul S. Kemp’s Erevis Cale books I decided to give it a shot. Kemp’s Twilight War series managed to not only tell an entertaining story full of action, adventure and magic but also managed to muse a bit about the nature of spirituality and faith. Kemp has primarily worked with in shared worlds moving from The Forgotten Realms to Star Wars but I’ve always wanted to read something of his that was wholly original. Now, with the release of The Hammer and the Blade that time has come.
Weston Ochese’s American Golem was one of my favorite stories from the Operation Arcana collection and as a result I was excited to give Seal Team 666 a shot. Unfortunately, I wanted to like Seal Team 666 far more than I actually did. The novel opens up with Cadet Jack Walker, nearing completion of SEAL training, suddenly yanked out of said training and attached to titular Seal Team 666 for a covert mission. Walker, finds himself suddenly part of a strange new world where everything that goes bump in the night is real. The novel’s primary threat centers on a cult being led by a man possessed by an ancient spirit and the efforts of Seal Team 666 to bring him down.
Impulse by Dave Bara is very much an old-school space opera. The novel’s hero Lieutenant Cochrane is also a member of a landed gentry class and in line for the throne; competent and capable Cochrane is thrust into the unexpected when an attack on a lightship kills his girlfriend along with many of his friends. Taken from his expected duty and assigned to the titular Impulse, the very same ship that was attacked, Cochrane sets off to investigate who that mysterious attacker might have been. Bara tosses a bit of romance into the mix as Cochrane meets the Impulse’s stern and attractive Executive Officer and complicates things further when he later meets an insanely competent and attractive “alien” (isolated human) Princess. There are shades of Asimov’s Foundation as the technology employed by the Unified Space Navy is doled out (on an as needed basis) by enigmatic Historians from Earth. The world building is light and the novel manages to engender both the feel of old-school nautical adventure and old-school science fiction adventure at the same time. This isn’t by any means a perfect read, I often found some of the history hinted at in the novel more interesting than the main thrust of the narrative and the novel leans heavy on the opera in space opera but it is at the least a highly entertaining read. If you’re looking for a novel of high adventure and high emotion than Impulse by Dave Bara might be worth a shot.
Okay, so fantasy fiction experts Buzzfeed (!?) have put together a list The 51 Best Fantasy Series Ever Written. Go ahead a read their commentary but let us take a look here.
My comments are below but there are several noticeable omissions from this list at least off the top of my head:
- Tad Williams: Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn.
- Lois McMaster Bujold: The Cruse of Chalion, and Paladin of Lost Souls
- Any Robert E. Howard.
- Any Fritz Leiber.
Buzzfeed’s list is really just “a list of Fantasy series.”
- The Kingkiller Chronicles. I lov e me some Pat Rothfuss (make of that what you will) and I certainly enjoyed both The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear but the can one really call a series “best” if it isn’t finished yet.
- The Stormlight Archive. Once again, not finished yet, so can it really be best?
- A Song of Ice and Fire. Another unfinished series. I’ll give ASoIF credit for its importance to the genre and as a cultural phenomenon so it does likely belong here but only time will tell how readers feel once all is said and done.
- The Lord of the Rings. Yes, of course. I think there are some caveats here, Tolkien doesn’t write action well and he really loves songs and poems which sometimes detracts from the fiction but this is still a deserved Best of All Time right here.
- The Lightbringer. Weeks isn’t a household name, though he should be. I’d recommend the Night Angel books first over these. Also, I think this series is still ongoing.
- His Dark Materials. Interesting but I’ve always been a little lukewarm on this one.
- Discworld. Pratchett is one of my secret shames since I haven’t read any of his novels. This is a beloved series and likely belongs any best-of list.
- The First Law. I don’t know about this one. I love it. But best? Maybe.
- The Sword of Shannara Trilogy. I’m currently mid re-read on The Elfstones of Shannara and these are certainly important “classics.”
- Demon Cycle. Brett’s series is one that I’ve enjoyed despite its many flaws. The gender politics are uncomfortable at best but still likely a deserved place on a best list.
- The Riddle-Master Trilogy. The words “best written” and Patricia A. McKillip belong together like peanut butter and jelly.
- Mistborn. Sanderson’s Mistborn is certainly fun and has amazing magic system but I think the aforementioned Stormlight Archive is better written.
- Gentleman Bastard Sequence. Again good, but I’m not certain best.
- The Inheritance Trilogy. I haven’t read this one yet.
- The Liveship Traders. Oddly, the first Robin Hobb series mentioned is one I haven’t read yet.
- Harry Potter. Sure, why not.
- The Sword of Truth. Nopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenope.
- The Chronicles of Narnia. Important and likely many child’s first introduction to fantasy (it was mine).
- The Earthsea Cycle. This is a must-read fantasy series.
- The Fionvar Tapestry. Buzzfeed name-checks Tigana so good for them on that count. This is another classic that belongs on a best list.
- Raven’s Shadow. Anthony Ryan is a newcomer and I haven’t finished this yet. It is certainly good.
- The Broken Empire. This is perhaps the first more recent series that I absolutely agree with. Jorg is a complex and fascinating son-of-a-bitch and Lawrence’s world-building is top notch. If you’ve enjoyed Game of Thrones this is the book I’d recommend next.
- A Land Fit for Heroes. I love Richard K. Morgan and while I enjoyed this series it isn’t his best. This isn’t the only series with a gay hero and I’d recommend Sarah Monette’s Melusine over this series.
- Outlander. Certainly popular but I haven’t read it.
- The Wheel of Time. Important? Yes. One of my favorites? Absolutely. Best-written? Well, maybe not. Still a classic.
- Malazan Book of the Fallen. Erikson isn’t mentioned enough. I love this series and think that anyone who likes fantasy at all should be forced to read it.
- The Black Company. An undisputed classic in my eye. This is a great swords and sorcery series that is well worth reading.
- Elemental Logic. I can’t comment here since I haven’t read it.
- The Chronicles of Amber. Zelazny’s Amber is one of my favorite. This is again what I would consider required fantasy reading.
- The Avalon Series. Marion Zimmer Bradley is another author who has written “classic” series that I haven’t read.
- The Merlin Quintet. I tried reading The Crystal Cave when I was in the 8th grade and didn’t finish it. This is one I should go back to.
- The Dark Elf Trilogy. Salvatore is certainly a name to be reckoned with but I actually didn’t read this trilogy. I enjoyed the Icewind Dale trilogy and think its better than many of the other D&D based novels out there.
- The Elric Saga. Another undisputed classic. I’ve read some but not all.
- Redwall. Like Terry Pratched I am ashamed to admit I never read any Brian Jacques.
- Temeraire. I love theearly novels by Novik novels (though I haven’t read the last few) and the audiobooks narrated by Simon Vance rekindled my love of that format. This is a wonderful example of how to blend fantasy and history.
- Inheritance Cycle. Notable given how young Paolini was when he got Eragon published but this is otherwise derivative fantasy.
- The Ryria Revelations. Michael J. Sullivan is a fantasy author worth watching and this series kept getting better and better with each book. Well worth a look.
- Prince of Nothing. I never finished R. Scott Bakker’s series. I should restart it but this is bleak, hardcore fantasy that I’m not currently in the mood for. Well worth a look for fans of George R. R. Martin, particularly those who think his work is too soft.
- Dragonlance. I enjoyed my time with Weis and Hiclkman but I would not neccesarily list them as a “best.”
- The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. If you can make it past the hero raping a character in the first book than maybe it gets better? I wouldn’t really know.
- The Powder Mage Trilogy. Brian McClellan’s series is entertaining and engaging the whole way through. Definitely worth reading.
- The Once and Future King. I never finished this.
- The Bartimaeus Sequence. Never read it.
- Gormenghast. I think I read this but I can’t remember, which is a little sad.
- The Abhorsen Trilogy. Garth Nix’s fantasy series is pretty well regarded and I enjoyed the first novel. This is one I should get back to.
- The Dark is Rising Sequence. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Perhaps my absolute favorite series of all time. I could never recommend this series enough.
- The Farseer Trilogy. I feel like a grew up with Robin Hobb’s FitzChivalry and I love Nighteyes. This is another modern classic well worth reading.
- The Traitor Son Cycle. I’ve only read the first book of Cameron’s series.
- Dreamblood. I have not read enough N.K. Jemisin.
- The Riftwar Cycle. The first three novels of Feist’s series are classic quest fantasy well worth looking at.
- The Magicians Trilogy. I found the first novel to feel a little condescending but I’ve been meaning to give these another sot.
Lauren Beukes follows her excellent The Shining Girls with another cross-genre blend of the real and the other-worldly in Broken Monsters. When boiled down to its most basic elements Broken Monsters lays somewhere near the intersection of mystery and thriller with the majority of the focus on the murder investigation involving a young boy whose remains were sowed to those of a fawn. It’s a horrific premise but one that despite forming the bedrock of the narrative isn’t really what the novel is about. The novel features a variety of perspectives including that of the divorced Detective Gabriella Versado and her daughter Layla, the journalist Jonno, Thomas Keen (TK) a homeless Detroit native, and Clayton who the less I say about the better. Each different perspective offers a different thematic thread that weaves into a novel of surprising breadth that still offers a taught, cohesive story.
Helen Lowen’s Wall of Night series was recommended by Courtney Schafer here as a series that improves after book one. Having read the first book of that series, Heir of Night, I’m excited to see if that truly is the case. Malian, the heir of Night, is set to inherit her father’s title and take over the long watch for the Darkswarm; the abominations that her people are pledged to fight against. Before she can even dream of ascending however it is revealed that the Darkswarm is rousing and the time of ancient prophecy, a prophecy in which Malian will play a key part, is at hand. What is so fascinating about The Heir of Night is how much the familiar elements are used in counterpoint to what is an original and interesting world. There are element of The Heir of Night that are strictly borrowed from science fiction and while couched in terms of the fantastic there is the general feeling that this is a novel of the far future and an alien world more than a typical secondary world fantasy tale.
The Exapnse series is back once again and, as has been the case so far, is once again an excellent and exciting dose of science fiction adventure. Where the previous novel, Cibola Burn, dealt with unauthorized colonies beyond the edge of know space Nemesis Games sees a return to more familiar locales and deals primarily with the political repercussions of events that have occurred in the series so far. The primary focus of Nemesis Games is zeroed in on the crew of the Rocinante in roughly equal measure. Where the previous novels focused more on Holden’s journey Nemesis Games expand perspective quite a bit by splitting up the crew and giving readers chapters from each of Roci’s core family members.