Favorite SFF Reads of 2016

SFF award season is upon us! I thought I’d share some of my favorite reads of the year that were published in 2016, in case either

a) you really liked some of these too and could do with a reminder they’re nomination-eligible, or

b) you’d like to check some of them out!

 

A few notes about my list here:

  1. They’re all novels, because that’s mostly what I read.
  2. There are no YA books, because this list would go on forever if I didn’t focus SOMEHOW.
  3. It looks like most of my favorite reads this year were not the first books in their series, so if you do want to check them out, keep that in mind when looking them up.
  4. I have not yet read everything published in 2016 that I meant or mean to. Story of our lives, I know, but there’s still time! If I’m missing something here that seems like it would obviously suit, though, that’s probably why.

Between moving and the election, this was a rough year for me, and I reached for a lot of stories that I either knew would be lighter reads or were set in worlds I was already comfortable with. I did try out new authors and series, of course, many of which didn’t make it onto this list — I’m picky, some were YA, many I enjoyed but weren’t my personal favorites (target audience is hard! taste is subjective!), etc. — but there are also some I desperately want to read and just haven’t gotten to due to limited mental bandwidth.

On that note, first, two shout-outs to books I’m really excited about and have on my e-reader, have started, have every confidence I’m going to love in their entirety, and have not yet had the brain space available to finish. I could just finish reading them before posting this, but if I delay I might never get around to posting at all, so. Really smart space opera and secondary world urban fantasy respectively!

  • Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1), by Yoon Ha Lee – from Solaris
  • The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2), by N.K. Jemisin – from Orbit

 

Without further ado, the rest of the list in order of publication, with some very brief descriptions of why they’re favorites:

  • City of Blades (The Divine Cities #2), by Robert Jackson Bennett – from Broadway Books
    • Secondary world urban fantasy. Mind-breaking and awesome in every way.
  • A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2), by V.E. Schwab – from Tor Books
    • High/portal fantasy. Action-packed and full of thieves, shenanigans, and feels.
  • The Edge of Worlds (The Books of the Raksura #4), by Martha Wells – from Night Shade Books
    • Best high fantasy world-building I’ve read in ages.
    • If you’re new to Martha Wells LOOK UP HER WORK NOW.
  • Children of Earth and Sky, by Guy Gavriel Kay – from NAL
    • GGK is the master of historical fantasy. Lyrical and dense.
  • Memories of Ash (The Sunbolt Chronicles #2), by Intisar Khanani – self-published
    • High fantasy, just straight-up fun. More thieves and magic and exploring an expansive world!
  • Four Roads Cross (Craft Sequence #5), by Max Gladstone – from Tor Books
    • Secondary world urban fantasy. Again with the “mind-breaking and awesome” descriptor.
    • Please believe me: you want to read the Craft Sequence. I promise.
  • Behind the Throne (The Indranan War #1), by K.B. Wagers – from Orbit
    • Space opera! Action-packed adventure and politicking.
    • (I believe K.B. Wagers is Campbell-eligible!)
  • No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (Heartstrikers #3), by Rachel Aaron – self-published
    • Urban fantasy with dragons and sorcerers and adorable/terrifying demonic cat familiar. Definition of “changing the game and raising the stakes.”
  • The Guns of Empire (The Shadow Campaigns #4), by Django Wexler – from Roc
    • Military fantasy. Arguably his best yet.
  • Once Broken Faith (October Daye #10), by Seanan McGuire – from DAW
    • Urban fantasy, my favorite fae-based UF series to date. I love these characters so much.
  • Magic Binds (Kate Daniels #9), by Ilona Andrews – from Ace
    • Urban fantasy of the shapeshifter variety. Case study in how to do a long-running series while still pushing the characters and having a functioning arc.
  • Unquiet Land (Elemental Blessings #4), by Sharon Shinn – from Ace
    • High fantasy romance? Character work is exquisite, and I love this world-building a lot.
  • One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3), by Ilona Andrews – self-published
    • I have no idea what subgenre this falls into, but I love it. Like a cross between urban fantasy and space opera.
    • You can try out the beginning of this serial on her website.

 

Happy reading! (And if I DID miss something you’re sure should be on here, please let me know so I can check it out!)

 

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Excitement for 2015 Fantasy Novels

So, this is not the normal time of year for “best of” or “most anticipated” posts, but it’s never the wrong time to celebrate awesomeness, right? Given all the upset in SFF lately, I wanted to share a dose of my excitement for some novels coming our way this year. Because for me, that’s what being a fan is about — sharing my excitement with other passionate people — and I refuse to let that be tainted by other interpretations of how fandom does or should work.

ANYWAY. I’m going to list these in order of release. I am so excited for other people to have read these so we can squee and argue together.

(UPDATE I somehow forgot a critical book in my initial post, and I don’t want to remove anything or fix the numbering system so I’ve just inserted it where it should properly go chronologically.)

 

A Crown for Cold Silver

  1. A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall, out on April 14th.

(Epic fantasy, first in its series.)

Cobalt Zosia conquered an empire and retired — until politics followed her. Now, she’s out for blood. I love that this protagonist is an old woman, that she’s a mercenary, that she is at times she is terrifying and at others unexpectedly relatable. I love that this empire spans a lot of cultures that are not Eurocentric, and I love how much is going on with gender and sexuality in this book.

The Mad Apprentice

  1. The Mad Apprentice by Django Wexler, out on April 21st.

(MG fantasy, second in its series following The Forbidden Library.)

Alice gets thrown off the deep end in this book. Everyone — excepting one terrifying, perfect dragon — keeps claiming they know what’s best for her. It’s one thing to know their agendas could get her killed, but how can she know what to do or who can she trust? Also, there are cats.

Hana

  1. Hana by Tam MacNeil, out in May.

(YA historical fantasy, fifth installment in its series beginning with Okatsu.)

I don’t know exactly what date Hana is coming out on, but keep your eyes peeled. This series is set in a fantasy Japan with samurai and assassins. I am SUPER PICKY when it comes to fictionalized versions of Japan, but this one I love. Doku, the most recent Jao book, was in my opinion the best yet, so I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next. I’m also legitimately worried for Jao and Masahiro, because Tam puts those poor boys through an emotional wringer every time.

 

Letters to Zell

(Genre: complicated, stand-alone.)

I LOVE THIS BOOK. It’s some cross between fantasy, women’s fiction, new adult, and literary. It’s written epistolary-style between Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, as their “official” stories are finished and they’re expected to get on with their lives in approved fashions or risk unraveling their entire fairytale universe. Camille walks the edge perfectly between so sharp it hurts and absolutely hilarious. To be honest, I generally don’t go for fairytale retellings, but I literally cannot recommend this book highly enough. She had me at “IMPORTANT FUCKING CORRESPONDENCE from Snow B. White.”

 

The Talon of the Hawk

  1. The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy, out on May 26th.

(Fantasy romance, third in the Twelve Kingdoms series following The Tears of the Rose.)

I enjoyed The Mark of the Tala (book 1), but I did not expect to love The Tears of the Rose like I did. Normally, for me, not respecting the protagonist means I’m unlikely to enjoy the book. But Jeffe Kennedy has a gift for complicating characters I don’t like until they’re so compelling I don’t care that I don’t like them. The Talon of the Hawk follows the third sister: the responsible one, the one who her father wishes were a man, the one who trained as a warrior and as a politician and has a mind like a steel trap. If the author could get me to enjoy the passive and bratty sisters, I can’t wait to see what she can do with the one I’m already rooting for.

The Devil's Only Friend

  1. The Devil’s Only Friend by Dan Wells, out June 16th.

(YA horror, restarting the John Cleaver series.)

If you have not read the John Cleaver series beginning with I am Not a Serial Killer, you have missed out. It’s not too late. Dan Wells gets what makes monsters so horrifying on a creeping yet visceral level, and he gets what makes humans horrifying, and also what makes humans amazing. This series is a master work, and I can’t tell you how excited I am he’s picking these characters and this world up again.

Last First Snow

  1. Last First Snow by Max Gladstone, out on July 14th.

(Secondary world urban fantasy, latest installment in the Craft sequence.)

In this book we are back in Dresediel Lex with Elayne Kevarian who is pretty much my favorite character ever (ever), the King in Red who is a skeleton sorcerer ruling a city because why not, and Temoc who is the last surviving knight worshipping fallen gods. This book leads us inexorably through a fantasy version of a protest from all sides, and it is wonderfully done and actually painful in parts. SO GOOD. If you haven’t read Three Parts Dead and on, please do yourself a favor and check this series out.

Court of Fives

  1. Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, out on August 18th.

(YA Fantasy, first in its series.)

Somehow I haven’t managed to read any of this author’s work before, so this will be my first. Besides hearing extremely positive reviews, I’ve heard that this book was actually borne out of a roundtable discussion we had at Sirens in 2013 about women in power positions in fantasy, and I’m excited to see what she took.

Updraft

  1. Updraft by Fran Wilde, out on September 1st.

(Fantasy, first in its series.)

Wings. A growing city of bone, with towers and spires. Sky monsters. Did I mention the wings? Fran has such an immersive world, and I absolutely loved the protagonist — resourceful, realistically mature, indomitable. HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

The Bloodforged

  1. The Bloodforged by Erin Lindsey, out on September 29th.

(YA Fantasy, second in its series following The Bloodbound.)

Our protagonist is a warrior — once a scout, then the captain of the king’s personal guard — and also an aristocratic lady, and extremely notable as both. I love competent protagonists. She’s observant, resourceful, and willing to buckle down and do what needs to be done when no one else will. I also find it refreshing that this is a world that does not preclude or shame women from being warriors.

Sunbolt

  1. Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani.

(YA Fantasy, next novella installment following Sunbolt.)

The author hasn’t announced yet when this will be out, so I list it here out of hope. Sunbolt is a fabulous introduction to a vast, multicultural world full of inventive magic and monsters with a heroine who is actively working in an underground rebellion as a spy. Some authors struggle with giving their characters agency, but the protagonist of Sunbolt is active and making choices constantly and it’s absolutely delightful. I really want the next one!

That’s it for now! I did not realize how many of these were YA when I started writing, and I am newly pleased — I feel like I didn’t enjoy as many YA fantasy novels last year, but it looks like this year will be a great one for my YA reading =). So a quick note for two others I’m excited about and only aren’t on this list because beyond positive reviews I know nothing more about them than what’s included in their official synopses: Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer and The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, both out in September.

Did I mention how excited I am for this year as a fantasy fan? It’s going to be fabulous. We will make it so.