Best of 2012

Monday, January 14, 2013

Fourth year of my best of!  I now present you with almost the same categories as last year.

I still haven't posted by review of Red Country by Joe Abercrombie and I'm now almost finished with Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson.  As you will see with the review, Red Country isn't my favorite novel of the year (and not my favorite Abercrombie either). So the author won't be my favorite for a third time in four. As for the other two novels, they would have been contenders but since I haven't finished them, they will wait for next year.  The same can be said for Black Bottle by  Anthony Huso, Mage's Blood by David Hair and The Broken Isles by Mark Charan Newton, three books I wanted to read this year but  didn't have time to.

Best from the past ...(20112010 / 2009)


Best novel

King of Thorns
Mark Lawrence

Last year, he was among my favorite new debut authors and this year, he delivered an even better novel. King of Thorns may not be a book for the whole family, but it's a book you'll never forget.  Jorg, how can stay indifferent to Jorg's story? I clearly remember that this year, no novel made me feel as exhilarated than when I was turning the pages of the second book of The Broken Empire. The bar was set higher for the author's trilogy but I'm pretty confident that he can do it, King of Thorns is testament enough. Here's an extract of my review
The narrative is simply a paradise of introspection for the reader in search of a breakdown of human behaviour in circumstances where a psychopath in search of equilibrium finds out that the only way to survive is to charge.  These bursts of action can even be pretty cool but the reasons behind it could be disturbing for some.  Jorg explains his point of view about everything. Moreover, the epigraphs at the end of the chapters about Red Jorg's brothers are still present and they add to the peculiar lore of the characters surrounding the man.  The only element lessening that exploration is the realization that others influence the king of thorns' mind.
I felt more comfortable the second time around with the author's world. The wonder and feeling of surprise when discovering the nature of the broken empire has faded by now but there are still enough curiosities to keep a reader's appetite more than satisfied. If there were some reproach I could address to the author, it would be with the easy way out of an impossible situation where magic is involved. 
So, if you liked the first book and ask yourself if Jorg still delivers, the answer would simply be "Hell yes!".  If you couldn't stand Jorg... well he's still Jorg...

Runners-up for best novel

The King's Blood
Daniel Abraham
Review to come

Alright, the review is not posted yet but I have finished the book as I was writing my best of 2012.  I really liked the first book of Daniel Abraham new Fantasy series (The Dagger and the Coin), The Dragon's Path but I didn't see the second one coming (in term of impact). I was thrown off balance by some storylines in Dragon's Path and it goes even farther in King's Blood.  Geder's arc is formidable and since it's now mixing with almost everyone in the book, the prospects become more than interesting.  The plot moves slowly but steadily and without even knowing it, the world of the fascinating characters is turned inside out in way that I didn't saw coming.  The King's Blood should be on every Fantasy reader list! 


The Blinding Knife
Brent Weeks

The Blinding Knife is in my best list for two simple reasons: it's a great book and it quenched my thirst of   good old epic Fantasy. It's a great adventure with cool protagonists, personal struggles, big wars, an imaginative magic system and surprises. Here's a glimpse of my review: 
To quote myself: "The Black Prism is a fast paced epic adventure concentrated around its magic system with a bunch of entertaining characters.".  With this in mind, I started reading The Blinding Knife and I was glad at first when I realized that the magic system, original and slightly overwhelming as it is, is now out of the way, firmly installed.  To my surprise however, I found out that it's developed even further and integrated into the story with much more skill than in The Black Prism. Weeks' world feels even more real this time around, the cohesion between the historical, magical, political and narrative elements being achieved seamlessly, all in symbiosis with the 'chromaturgic' lore.

The Lightbringer series is clearly for the fans of classic Epic Fantasy with big empires, prophecy, heroes and villains and a good deal of prowess.  However, even if Weeks is playing with subjects like fatherhood, love, power, brotherhoods and war, he's also able to dig deeper into these issues through his characters.  The book may look at first for all the family, without much grittiness in the prose, meaning that it's written for everyone but with adult subject matter more often than not, demonstrating some candor, deep reflection and perceptivity from the author. The storyline was meticulously planned out.


As you can see, I would recommend this book to everyone who read the first opus.  Be it that you were a bit disappointed by it or simply loved it, in this case, second time's the charm.

The Cold Commands
Richard Morgan

I know, it's a fourth 'second book' in a series. However, I had to mention this title. The Cold Commands is an intelligent novel written with some shock in mind by the author but the better for it.  The story of Ringil is captivating and here again, the expectations for things to come couldn't get better.  From my review:
At some point, the name of the book was The Dark Commands and eventually Morgan optimistically announced that he found a way to switch it back to Cold. When you read the novel, you'll understand the implications and I think he made the right choice.  The reference is toward the Dark Court. Their motivations in the first book were shrouded in mystery and it's not totally clear after two books what their ultimate goal really is or why they are meddling with the Dwenda's return and Ringil's "development". By the way, I think he should have more inkling by now that his path is being guided.

So, are we reading a story were the world will be saved by an unlikely redeemer or the creation of a new sinister overlord or unconscious deliverer?  I may repeat myself but having to ponder this even after two books is what makes this great. More so since it's through the characters themselves that this interrogation occurs.  When I started reading the book, I had some difficulties remembering the story of Steel Remains.  In a comment concerning that topic on Twitter, Justin of Staffer's Musing mentioned that it could be because the characters were strong and overrode the plot. I think he was spot on and that it shows again in Cold Commands.

In conclusion, I really feel that Morgan's writing transpire intelligence. He uses a peculiar way at times to render his dialogue but I felt that there was serious thinking behind all that is being said or thought of by the characters and where he wants them to be. The second time around, I think that he didn't try to disturb, shock or write a revolutionary work of Fantasy and it created a better novel.

Best new author / Fantasy debut

Jeff Salyards
Scourge of the Betrayer

When Scourge of the Betrayer was released, it went under the radar.  Slowly, the blogosphere became interested and it caught my attention, the comparison with Abercrombie, Morgan and Cook helping.  Take a well-written first person perspective, just the right dose of grittiness, brilliant fight descriptions, a vivid atmosphere and great characters, mix them together and you have the debut novel of Jeff Salyards. Even though it felt slightly short, that's quite a start! Here's an extract from my review:
Among the aspects I preferred in Scourge are the battle descriptions but mostly the performances or progresses of them.  Brayard, the Syldoon Captain is skilled but he's not killing everybody with a well-placed stroke coming of nowhere.  His enemies are usually well armored so he has to use much cunning, perseverance and techniques to finally get 'through' them, and then, harm also finds its way to him.  It's read as a savage choreography seen almost in slow motion where every move is described and interpreted. 
Mr. Salyard's writing is straightforward.  Some of his characters have a peculiar way of speaking and his turns of phrase are somewhat 'singular'.  There are only a couple of chapters divisions and everything and I mean everything is detailed, a chronicle of every moments of the span of time covered in Scourge.  From the first encounter of Captain Killcoin and Arkamondos to their nights at the inn, from the road to the city Alespell to the machinations undertaken by the Syldoon in the city, there's only a dozen days or so going by and we are witness to all of it.  That's an intriguing way to tell a tale.  However, it creates some really great moments, full of expectancy. 
Taking all of this into consideration, you get a story recounted by an honest, untested and original narrator who makes it more than real.  The atmosphere is vivid, murky but enveloping.  I could easily imagine myself standing side by side with Arki. I'm not even sure the word imagine is the right one, I could feel the scenes.  Great work!

Runner-up for best new author / debut

Saladin Ahmed
Throne of the Crescent Moon

Saladin Ahmed was one of the most talked about new voice in Fantasy this year. Throne of the Crescent Moon is a simple looking story hiding more depth than it looks with compelling characters set in an amazing setting. I hesitated between him and the mysterious Mazarkis Williams but I think that Ahmed skills were more honed. Here's an extract of my review:
As you have supposed by now, the tale recounted in Throne of the Crescent Moon is taking place in a mid-eastern setting. It's not a fanciful and unearthly world infused with elements of that particular culture but an imaginative world digging its roots deep into the lore of the Middle East.  From the names to the buildings depictions; from the food description to the preternatural beings inhabiting it, the world building connects together smoothly to create a great tapestry clearly reminiscent of these so called Thousand and One Nights, a fantastically brilliant execution of it. 
Throne of the Crescent Moon is a book in three parts.  The first is a quick rise of action where multiple  compelling (and sometimes marginally annoying) characters are presented through some deeds and conversations while they present their nature.  The second act is where the events resolve for a time, an aftermath shedding some lights on the life of the protagonists in the city.  That part has intriguing moments, the investigation itself, but I also sensed some laxism with the characters relationship development.  Hopefully, the third act brings the pace back to its former speed and the resolution is gratifying. 
There you have it. You may have the same reflex that I had when I saw this book coming out: "oh well, another Arabian Nights inspired sword and sorcery in a short time 'a la'  The Emperor's Knife or The Desert of Souls". Not quite. It's a fast and satisfyingly enjoyable read and you shouldn't miss it. I tell you, go pick it up now!

Most beautiful map

Far/Near Country
Red Country by Joe Abercrombie
created by David Senior and Laura Brett

Runner-up for most beautiful map

The Cerani Empire
The Emperor's Knife by Mazarkis Williams
created by David Senior

Special mention

Speculative map of aSoIaF
aSoIaF by George R.R. Martin
created by Ser Mountain Goat


Most beautiful cover

I can't seem to get enough of maps in Fantasy books. Even better is a map on the cover of a Fantasy book!

Red Country

Joe Abercrombie
Cover art by David Senior and Laura Brett

Runners-up for most beautiful cover

Dark Currents
Anthology edited by Ian Whates
Cover art by Ben Baldwin

Songs of the Earth
Elspeth Cooper
Gollancz MMPB edition


Kick ass moment of the year

Argh!  Another tough choice this year with only one entry... I promise that I will put more attention into my kick ass moments this year!

Alex Bledsoe
Wake of the Bloody Angel


Bonus time!

Best cover art with an infamous hooded assassin

Falling Kingdoms
Morgan Rhodes
Cover art by Shane Rebenschied


Best audiobook narration

The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks
Narrated by Simon Vance


Best novel I read this year that came out before 2012

The White Luck Warrior
R. Scott Bakker

The White Luck Warrior is the second book of the second trilogy of Bakker's Fantasy story that started with the Prince of Nothing and is followed by the Aspect Emperor.  I think that Bakker's series should receive more attention.  His work may not be the easiest read but it's worth the try. Fans of Steven Erikson will certainly find something interesting in this series. An extract from my review:
What I realize while writing this review is that there are so much things I would wish to talk about. It's the kind of book that becomes so fun to speculate and share thoughts about.  The last series I read that created that feeling in me is Erickson's Malazan book of the fallen, which is more varied in almost all of the elements mentioned before. There is a score of interesting and entertaining Fantasy books out there, but there's only so much that can bring this kind of analytic playground. 
'Storywise' and in accordance with the Judging eye, there's still not much new stuff about the Consult and No-God. They remain as mirages on the horizon with brief reality check. However, their war peons are another idea. The Sranc ride the coattail of the army or run in front of it like a school of fish or a flock of birds. They are doing their part of the greater scheme of the almost unseen Consult/No-God but mostly act as bait. With Kellhus power being overwhelming, numbers becomes the answer for them. 
Then, there's the climax or conclusion for at least one important part of the tale.  I won't spoil and I'll simply summarize by saying that the point of view switches that bring to life an epic battle scene mixed up with a confrontation of timeless entities is simply brilliant. I hope that with this review you'll be able to judge if this novel is for you. I, for one, think that's it more than worthy of far greater attention.



Jeff Salyards said...

Thanks so much for including me in this group. I'm honored--it's pretty amazing company.

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