Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Best of the Back List: 2013 Edition

I've been gearing up to do a year's best books list since the end of the first quarter. But in looking over the books I've read thus far (I'll probably add at least four or five more by the end of the month) I realized that I've read a pretty large number of older works and that perhaps including those doesn't give a wholly accurate view of this year's best novels. So with that  in mind, I've decided to do a separate list for books that were released prior to this year. Thanks to the realization that I had been reading with a bias toward male authors this fall, I've been making an effort to seek out books by female authors that I may have overlooked. I'm happy to report that many of those authors have made their way not only onto this list but also into my "must buy" list of authors. I'll be posting a list of the best of 2013 closer to the end of the year.

10. Miserere by Teresa Frohock: I’m not a huge fan of stories with religious overtones, and exorcism movies freak me out more than almost anything else. Nevertheless, Frohock’s tale of exorcists, demons, possession, and priests was one of the most compelling books I’ve read this year. With a focus on personal drama over supernatural hi-jinks, Miserere reads more like a Shakespearean play that typical dark fantasy. Those afraid of a preachy sermon of a story will be disappointed, and those who avoid such things like the plague will be surprised with how deeply this story of redemption and forgiveness touches them.

9. And Blue Skies from Pain by Stina Leicht: Don’t let the dewy and fuzzy cover art fool you, there is nothing dewy or fuzzy about Leicht’s second installment of The Fey and The Fallen series. Set during Ireland’s Troubles, this story has enough swearing, violence, and supernatural menace for two other books in its genre. Achingly human drama and richly detailed storytelling make Leicht another author that bears far more attention than she’s gotten. Fans of Emma Bull and Charles DeLint should hurry to their local bookseller and give this fantastic series a read.

8. Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson: Jackson’s PhD in American History is put to good use in this historical fantasy. His protagonist, Ethan Kalle is deeply troubled, haunted not only by his past but the spirit of one of his ancestors. Equal parts historical fantasy and murder mystery, Thieftaker is one of the best debuts I’ve read since starting this blog. If the buzz surrounding the second volume of this series is any indication, Jackson is an author to watch.

7. Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear: Epic fantasy is filled with grim Euro-centric themes. Kings, castles, vast battles, and political intrigue are the order of the day. Readers who’d like to explore a completely different and unexpected take on the epic fantasy could do no better than to explore Bear’s Eastern influenced Range of Ghosts. With nuanced world building, characters that eschew the common archetypes that permeate the genre, and best of all, heroes that are not only struggling to survive but to actual make their world a better place, Range of Ghosts is a breath of fresh air for those tired of endless variations on the same time honored themes.

6. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig: Rarely does a protagonist hook me through the lip in the first page. Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black is an exception to that rule. Her blend of street smarts, moxy and vulnerability guarantee that she’d a character you won’t soon forget. Blackbirds is full of foul mouthed banter, visceral action, and characters that would make Tarentino envious. Word to the wise; don’t crack this book late at night, unless you have time off to burn at your job or enjoying working through sleep deprivation. Blackbirds is the most compulsively readable book I’ve seen in a decade.

5: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente: Fans of Neil Gaiman and contemporary fairy tales in general should miss Valente’s Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. Despite having the longest title I’ve ever seem, Valente’s tale of twelve year old September’s adventures in Fairyland, is simultaneously familiar and completely original. Taking the best parts of the fairy tales we all grew up with and mixing them with razor sharp insights into childhood, growing up, and more. Told with elegant poetic prose, this a book that will captivate readers of all ages, and bears reading again and again if for nothing more than the beauty of Valente’s narrative voice.

4. Red Country by Joe Abercrombie: Joe Abercrombie, the lord of Grimdark fantasy is a master of dark humor, visceral violence and broken anti-heroes that you can’t help but cheer for. His latest novel, Red Country is perhaps his best work to date. While exploring the tropes and themes of the western novel, Abercrombie treats readers to compelling character studies, pitch perfect dialogue and the return of his most well known character, Logen Ninefingers. Red Country is an excellent study of the effects of violence on the human spirit, the crushing cost of progress, and the men and women who dare to try to tame a frontier.

3. Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey: Science Fiction, while a staple of most genre reviewers is not really my bag. I could care less about theoretical physics, or how any piece of equipment works in anything more than the most basic sense. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes eschews most of the crunchy bits of the genre and focuses instead on the intimate and personal stories of everyday men and women navigating a universe on the brink of war. Even with plenty of bullets and torpedoes, Corey’s focus on the political and the personal elevate this story to far more than a paint-by-numbers space opera. If you like your science fiction with a double dose of complex characters and high stakes, you can’t go wrong with Leviathan Wakes.  

2. Feed by Mira Grant: Zombies are everywhere, and I’ll admit to loving a good apocalypse story but rarely does a zombie story sink its teeth as deep into my throat as Feed did. Set in the aftermath of the a zombie outbreak that will forever alter the shape of the world, Feed focuses on a group of journalists following a presidential campaign that is beset by undead catastrophes at every turn. A compelling thriller with perhaps the most complex world building I’ve seen in a novel of its type since World War Z, this is a novel that defies expectations at every turn and challenges the genre to be far more than the splatter-fest readers have grown to expect. This is a tense gem of a novel that will leave you itching for the sequel.

1. The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett: What can I say, Bennett's The Troupe just won't go away. It's held the top spot on every list I've made based on the fact that I have rarely found myself thinking back over characters and events from a novel months after I turned the final page. With lyrical prose, this subtle and moving tale about what it means to be a family, and how art enriches not only the audience but the creator and the world as a whole is one I cannot recommend more highly. That's why it remains in the top slot on this list. If you take only one recommendation from this site all year, let it be this one.

1 comment:

  1. I've seen The Troupe pop up on a few lists so far this year. Maybe I should be checking it out... ;-)

    Awesome list, Matt!