Welcome to Smugglivus 2010: Day 27
Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors, bloggers and publishers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2010, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2011.
Who: Kristen, who runs the awesomeness that is Fantasy Cafe, a review blog dedicated to – you guessed it – fantasy.
Please give a warm welcome to Kristen!
Thank you, Ana and Thea, for inviting me once again to participate in Smugglivus! Smugglivus has become a holiday season tradition I look forward to every year now.
Wow, it’s really hard to believe 2010 is almost at an end. It was a very good reading year – it seems as though I read a lot of really good books. That may be because there were a few new series I discovered and kept going back to them instead of waiting 3 years to pick up the next book. This is pretty amazing considering I seem to have a severe case of Book ADD and can never seem to focus on just one series for very long no matter how good it is. For this reason, I’ve decided to talk about some favorite new series from this year instead of listing favorite books of the year. Most, if not all, of the books at the top of my list will be from these series unless I still read a really fantastic book before the year ends.
Aetherial Tales by Freda Warrington
Although she has written 19 fantasy novels according to her website, British author Freda Warrington had never been published in the US until last year. After reading her first novel published in the US, Elfland, I had to wonder what took so long. It was a character-driven drama about the fates of two families of Aetherials, an ancient race of sort of “faeries” from a world connected to Earth. With its focus on characters, drama, an intense romance, and some beautifully written passages, it was right up my alley. The way it dealt with the division between one’s head and heart, and doing what’s practical or expected versus what might be right for oneself was very well handled and easy to empathize with. I also really enjoyed the second Aetherial Tale novel Midsummer Night, but I loved the characters and drama in Elfland more (it’s my favorite book I’ve read so far this year). In any case, I am now on the lookout for more books to read by this amazing author and may have to hide my wallet from myself to prevent spending too much money on expensive copies from the UK (seriously, I looked up her books not available in the US and nearly had a heart attack when I saw the prices).
The Inheritance by N. K. Jemisin
Earlier this year I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, a debut novel by N. K. Jemisin, and loved it. The narrative style, in which the main character relates the story by interrupting herself to fill in readers, makes it feel as though she is really giving a firsthand account of the story, right at that moment. The world of The Inheritance trilogy has a mythology involving many gods, who started with three main gods involved in a big drama leading to a power imbalance and a sort of rewriting of history. Yeine, the main character discovers more of this backstory, and I found how Jemisin mixed race and gender into the story without repeatedly hitting her readers over the head with “issues.” There’s been some complaints that this book is more of a wish-fulfillment paranormal romance than a fantasy book, but personally I think there is so much MORE to this book than that and found the romance to be one of the least memorable aspects.
Fortunately, the second book in the series The Broken Kingdoms also came out this year, and I even enjoyed it just a little bit more than the first one. It had a similar chatty narrative style, but it was very different from the first book. The main protagonist, Oree, was a blind woman who had a completely different perspective than Yeine as a commoner who was outside the palace and made a meager living by selling her art on the streets. It didn’t suck me in on the very first page like The Broken Kingdoms, but it soon became impossible to put down. I cannot wait for the third book, The Kingdom of Gods, to come out next year – especially since it’s told from the perspective of Sieh, the trickster god.
The Queen’s Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
If you’ve been reading The Book Smugglers for a while, chances are you’ve heard a thing or two about this particular series. After reading heaps of praises for these books, I finally picked up the first book in the series this year. It was fun, and I enjoyed the pseudo-Greek setting and the ending, but I didn’t quite understand all the raving about this series. Then I picked up the second book, The Queen of Attolia – and completely got the love for these books. This was one of those books I savored and went through very slowly because I kept stopping to reread passages I’d just read. It’s darker and more mature than the first book, has more emotional impact, and has some just perfect wording. The ending was beautifully put, and I loved how there was still some mystery about just what was going on until later. It took me a while to pick up the third book only because I knew that meant I would nearly be out of books for a while since the fourth one just came out this year. It was also very clever and a book I greatly enjoyed, but for some reason I liked the previous book better (perhaps because I wasn’t expecting to love it so much). Now I’m relishing the knowledge that there is still one more book to read since I’m going to be very sad when this is no longer the case.
The Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews
I finally picked up the first Kate Daniels book this year and officially became addicted to the series. It was exactly as I’d heard – the first book was good but somewhat uneven, the second book was better, and the third one was incredible. I just loved the way there was a balance between the plot/some exciting action and character development/interactions. There’s also some great humor included in Kate’s perspective, and she has grown so much by the time this book starts. Even as the first person narrator, Kate is very slow to reveal a lot about herself and I find it interesting how she seems to open up more to the reader as she’s gradually learning to let down her guard and open up a little more throughout the series. She becomes more relatable as we learn more about her, and some of the things that may have irritated me about her in the past make sense as I read more. I also love all the hints that are dropped and how each novel tells just a little bit more about the bigger picture while dropping a few more clues. The fourth book came out the same week I finished the third, which was very fortunate – because I had to read the next book now or DIE. (Ok, maybe not actually drop dead in a dramatic fashion, but it may have been hard for me to pick up another book that was not a continuation of this story for a little while.) While I still very, very slightly prefer the third installment which seemed a little more tightly written and faster paced, the fourth was also very compelling and I cannot wait for Magic Slays to come out next May.
Lord of the White Hell by Ginn Hale
This may be a slight cheat since it’s not technically a series but one book that was split into two parts. Since I read it as two separate installments, I’m counting it, though – especially as I would find it difficult to write a personal “best of” list for my year without including it. Ginn Hale is the only author on this list I had read before this year since I read her novel Wicked Gentlemen last year and was eager to read more by her. I was not disappointed and found Lord of the White Hell to be even more absorbing than Wicked Gentlemen. The latter had prettier prose, but the two stories had one big similarity in that they featured compelling characters facing a conflict based on belonging to two very different social groups. I particularly liked how even though one of these cultures seemed more ideal, it still wasn’t perfect. It’s an epic fantasy with exciting fun things like a curse and a duke who controls a hell due to an ancestral pact, but it’s also part coming of age story about a young man leaving home for the first time to go to school in a foreign land. I found him easy to sympathize within the first few pages when he arrives at the academy and leaves his new teachers with a great first impression – their supposed “great thinker” falling face first into the mud. I loved the camaraderie between the characters, and there’s also a turbulent romance between him and another young man due to the aforementioned cultural differences.
There are certainly other great books from 2010, but those are the ones that stand out the most for me. 2011 is looking like a great year for new releases so far and the more I hear about them the more I’m salivating! In an attempt to keep this post from being the longest in the history of the world, I’m going to stick with 5 books coming out next year that I’m really looking forward to reading.
A Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear (August 16, 2011)
I was thrilled to see that the sequel to A Companion to Wolves had an official release date for next year. These are animal companion stories that are not sappy. The whole purpose of humans bonding with the wolves in this Norse-inspired fantasy was to protect the people from threats so the wolves are hardly cute and cuddly, plus they actually have more of the control than the humans do (not that they don’t like their human companions – they did choose them after all!). I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens in this book – and I’m excited to be getting another book from Bear and Monette, who are two of my favorite authors.
The Sea Thy Mistress by Elizabeth Bear (February 2011)
This is the third book in the Edda of Burdens trilogy, but it’s actually a direct sequel to the first book (the middle book was a prequel). I really liked the first book and loved the second one – Bear writes beautifully with a subtlety that most writers lack. She throws you right into her world and it slowly comes together. Plus I just love how she incorporates mythology (in this case, Norse). I always find myself looking up more details on the myths and find I learn something about them from it – and that just adds to the fun!
River Marked by Patricia Briggs (March 2011)
Last year I became a huge fan of the Mercy Thompson series, and I’m really looking forward to getting my greedy hands on the sixth book. Since I broke my rule about having matched sets to get the fifth in hardcover, I don’t even have to dither over whether or not to wait for paperback this time! I am amazed by just how much Briggs packs into these short little volumes since they have a lot of plot development and character development. I just love Mercy as a character – she’s so reasonable and admirable. The other characters come to life very well, too, and reading a new one of these books has become like visiting old friends to me.
Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey (June 2011)
This year I read both Naamah’s Kiss and Naamah’s Curse and really enjoyed both of them. Even though I thought the latter had a bad case of middle book syndrome and infodumping galore, I found it strangely impossible to put down. In spite of seeming a bit perfect, I can’t help but love compassionate Moirin and her spare but elegant narrative voice as well as the way Carey handles writing about various cultures. It looks like the next book will be coming back around to some unfinished business from the first and I’m looking forward to seeing how it concludes. Shamefully, I still need to go back and finish the Kushiel trilogy. I loved the first book but found it to be a huge time commitment so I’ve been hesitant to pick up the next one knowing it will take 2 – 3 weeks to read.
Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente (April 2011)
While I’m also looking forward to The Folded World, the second book in Valente’s A Dirge for Prester John trilogy, I’m looking forward to Deathless just a little more. It’s based on the legend of Koschei the Deathless and I’m very interested in reading a story rooted in both Russian folklore and history. Plus I just love Valente’s gorgeous writing style and inventive stories.
Once again, thank you, Ana and Thea, for the opportunity to babble on about some of the books that made me so glad I read them this year – and some of the ones I’m hoping will fall into that category next year. Happy Smugglivus and happy 2011 reading to all!
And a Happy Smugglivus to you, too, Kristen!