Favorite Books of 2014

This list is going to be presented in 2 parts. The first part is the books I read for the first time in 2014, but which were not released that year. The second is 2014 releases that I read and really enjoyed. I didn’t put any rereads on this list, to prevent it from being 100% Sanderson. Neither list has a strict number of books on it, they’re just however many books I really enjoyed. I’m hoping this list will be longer next year, as I want to get more reading done. (Goals/resolutions post coming… Tomorrow?)

2014 Most enjoyed backlist books.

3. The Last Unicorn

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This is something of a classic that a lot of people couldn’t believe that I’d never read–and I see why. It’s not an epic tale, but it’s a touching one. It’s a beautiful story that just resonates in some way that is timeless and is difficult to describe. Really good read, and quick too. Definitely recommended.

2. The Android’s Dream

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I think one of my problems with many sci-fi novels is that they try to dig into the technology to make it “hard” sci-fi, and they do it wrong. Often, it’s obvious that the author has no idea what they are talking about, and it just makes me cringe. This happens particularly often in the realm of computers… Or perhaps I just notice it more because I’m a computer science major in college and spend an unhealthy amount of time working with the things every day. That’s why The Android’s Dream was so incredibly refreshing. It’s computer technology, hackers, aliens, and all the stuff that makes sci-fi cool. Done right. It’s very accurate, but it’s also riotously funny, completely self-contained, and never gets distracted from the hugely entertaining plot. This one really exceeded my expectations and I’m surprised there isn’t more hype about it. You can find my review here.

1. A Storm of Swords

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Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire is a modern classic, and it’s hard to believe that I only started reading this series in 2013 and finished in 2014. (Up to A Dance with Dragons, the last book that is actually out.) GRRM is an absolute master of characterization and satisfying, interesting grey characters. I’m constantly left in awe of his work, and the second half A Storm of Swords, with The Red and Purple Weddings, the trial and combat, and the appearance of a certain someone in the epilogue, is one of the most gut wrenching and amazing things I’ve ever read. You can get away with not reading the books after this, but everyone should at least read up through here. It would be criminal not to.

2014 Most enjoyed releases.

6. What If?

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This is a non-fiction book, which is why I’ve stuck it at the end of the list. It’s quite a departure from my usual fare–I typically only read books like this when I have to for a class. This one, based on the popular What If? columns that xkcd writer Randall Munroe offers up on his website, is simultaneously one of the most entertaining and educational books I’ve ever read. You don’t need to be an uber nerd to understand what’s going on here–Munroe does a great job of explaining the results of his questions without going into the unnecessary details of the formulas he had to use. You will enjoy this one regardless. I promise. My review is here.

5. The Mirror Empire.

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I really enjoyed this one a lot. It had some of the most creative worldbuilding that I’ve ever seen. More inventive, honestly, than even some of Sanderson’s worlds. It really blew my mind, and the plot is utterly brilliant as well. I wish I could have said I completely loved it, but it left me confused in places and I felt it could have used a little smoothing out. Still, I did enjoy it, and I have high hopes for the next book in the series, Empire Ascendant. My review can be found here.

4. Ghost Train to New Orleans.

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This was a fun little read that I wasn’t quite expecting to be this good. I’m not a huge urban fantasy fan (Though a few of my friends are trying to convert me.), but I enjoyed the first book in the series enough to get this one on release day. If we’re going purely by enjoyment versus expectations, this one exceeded my expectations more than any other book on the list. My review resides here.

3. The Crimson Campaign.

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Brian McClellan in one of those guys who just won’t stop writing good stuff. In-between producing an amazing novel every year, he’s written several short stories and novellas in his powder mage world, which explores what happens when magic meets (and comes from) gunpowder. It’s a fascinating blend that I haven’t seen anywhere else, and his ability to ramp up the tension is superb. His first book, Promise of Blood, was an excellent, solid, four-star book that even earned him a well deserved cover-quote from Sanderson himself. The Crimson Campaign was even better in every way, and I tore through it as soon as I had the chance. Highly recommended. My review can be found here.

2. The Emperor’s Blades.

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This book was getting a lot of hype, so I figured that, when I received an ARC, I should probably read it. I did. I’m glad that I did. It was utterly incredible. I have never read a book with such incredibly tense pacing, certainly not of this length. What Staveley has managed here is nothing short of magical, especially in his debut. This isn’t just a book that I highly recommend, this is a book that I very nearly demand that you read. My drooling review is here.

1. WORDS OF RADIANCE.

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(I know that’s not the cover, but it’s one of the amazing end-pages and it’s just too beautiful to not use.)

I do not have enough superlatives to describe this book. Sanderson’s early books, Elantris and Warbreaker, are good, with very powerful surprise endings. He outdid himself with the Mistborn trilogy, which is still one of the most feels-inducing, beautiful things I have ever read. There are, perhaps, only a handful of books in all of fantasy literature that I would compare to the Mistborn trilogy, and most of those would be to describe how Mistborn is better. Then Sanderson wrote The Way of Kings. It is incredible. Simply put, when I read it, my initial thoughts (When I could think again) went something like, “This is the best book I have ever read. There will not be a better book. I’m sorry to all of the other books I ever read.” I felt the same way when I reread it last year. And then Words of Radiance came out. My mind has never, ever, been blown so much. World of Radiance is as big of an improvement on The Way of Kings as the Way of Kings is over every other book written. I was not able to write a review that did this book justice. I’ll try when I reread it, but I’m not making any promises.

That’s it for me. I read a total of 42 books, plus numerous novellas and short stories in 2014, and these were the ones I most enjoyed. I hope everyone else had a great year and found many books that they enjoyed as well! I’m looking forward to 2015 and the books it will bring. 🙂

Most Anticipated Books of 2015

It’s that time of year again, and I’m going to name my top 5 most anticipated books of 2015, and tell you why I’m so excited about them. I’m going to restrict myself only to books with a confirmed or highly likely 2015 release date. This means that Winds of Winter, Doors of Stone, and Stones Unhallowed, though they would unseat any book on this list, are not eligible.

Before I start the list, I’ve got two books I’m going to talk about. You’ll see why.

First, The Dinosaur Lords. This book didn’t quite make the cut for the top 5, but I felt I had to list it anyway. Even before I read anything about it, just from the title and that cover, I knew I was going to have to buy it. I mean, look at this cover, by Richard Anderson!

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You can read an official synopsis over here, and even though it’s seven months out, it’s already received quite high praise from no less than George R. R. Martin himself. I’m pretty much immediately sold on anything he recommends. I want to get my hands on this as soon as I can.

I also just received and finished reading an ARC of Gemini Cell by Myke Cole. It was utterly amazing, and I would definitely give it a place on this list (And it may have a place on 2015’s year-end, best-of list.), but it’s not one I was anticipating highly before I read it, and so I’m not going to give it a place on the official list. You should still check it out, because it’s amazing.

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5th most anticipated: Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley. (No cover released.)

I read Mirror Empire earlier this year, and I loved it. Oh, I felt that it had rough spots here and there, but the book lived up to a large part of its incredible potential, and I have every confidence that Hurley will continue to improve as a writer. Her world beats out many of Sanderson’s creations for its chilling inventiveness, and that is not praise that I give lightly. I have high hopes that, with the confusing overhead of introducing her characters and world out of the way, the second book in the trilogy will improve on the first and be an incredible read.

4th most anticipated: The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan

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I read and enjoyed McClellan’s Promise of Blood. I read and loved his Crimson Campaign. As the final volume of the trilogy, this book has a lot of threads to juggle, and some absolutely massive conflicts to resolve. It handles them all very, very well. Yes, I’ve read it already. It lived up to my quite high expectations, finishing out the trilogy in a satisfying way, while still leaving plenty of threads open for the next trilogy in the Powder Mage universe. McClellan, who writes at a rate to rival that of Sanderson, whom he once took writing classes from and is friends with, is an author to watch for years to come. His short fiction is quite excellent as well, but The Autumn Republic is a real Tour de Force.

3rd most anticipated: Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

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You were wondering when the Sanderson would appear, wouldn’t you? Well, here it is. I’ve read this one too, and it is absolutely stunning. Steelheart was good. Someone forgot to tell Sanderson that the second book in a trilogy is supposed to be set-up for the third, and kinda boring. Firefight knocks it out of the park. I can’t say too much more without spoiling this one, but it’s Sanderson, and not only that, it’s Sanderson YA, so hopefully it’ll reach an even wider audience. Okay. I’ll say one more thing. This is the only book on the list (and one of very few ever) where I actually have a ship that I really like. That alone should tell you how good it is.

2nd most anticipated: The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

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(Richard Anderson really does some amazing art.)

I managed to get an ARC of Staveley’s debut novel, The Emperor’s Blades, last year, and it was absolutely AMAZING. The pacing was the best I think I’ve ever seen in an epic fantasy novel. This was, perhaps, the hardest book to put down that I have ever read. The sequel promises to be even better, even longer, and it delivers. Yes, I’ve read this one too. I had to go to some lengths to secure an ARC of this one, but it was completely and utterly worth it. While it slows down a hair from Emperor’s Blades, Providence still has some of the best pacing in epic fantasy. The characters grow even more, and even the inconsequential characters become surprisingly relevant. One of my biggest complaints with the first novel, the lack of female viewpoint characters, is remedied in this novel: Adare becomes even more important, as do several other characters you wouldn’t expect. A note: Don’t read the blurb that is on the back of the book. It spoils half of the book. And yes, this book beat out a Sanderson for the 2nd spot on the list. It’s that good.

Most Anticipated: Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson. (No cover yet.)

It’s Sanderson. It’s Cosmere. It’s Wax and Wayne, Mistborn world, etc. How can I not want it more than anything else? Let me put it this way. I have received and read ARCs of #4, #3, and #2 on my list, and I’m scheduled to receive one for #5 as well. I think I would trade all of them for an ARC of Shadows. I want it that badly. (If you know of any way to read this early, let me know. I will do whatever it takes.) I’ve gotten even more excited about this one lately, with the announcement of the sequel, Bands of Mourning, for January 2016. It’s amazing how quickly Sanderson writes these things. Also, if you’ve not read the Mistborn trilogy yet, they are absolutely amazing.

So, that’s what I’m looking forward to in 2015. It’s a very epic fantasy heavy list, but then, that’s what I love. I also apparently love trilogies, as every book on the list is either the second or third book in a trilogy. I have no problem with this; longer forms of storytelling allow for more build-up, more character growth, and, ultimately, more payoff in these stories. I love it, and I’m not ashamed of it.

What are you looking forward to (And by extension, should I be looking forward to) reading in 2015?

Book Review: The Mirror Empire

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From Goodreads:

On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin.

As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.

Before I launch into my review, just let me say that I love that cover. Richard Anderson has done some amazing art recently, and this one is no exception. Chillingly beautiful.

Books that I rate with four stars tend to fall into two categories. The first is books that were not spectacular in any way, simply enjoyable, straightforward, decently well written books that didn’t do anything wrong. These aren’t books that I’ll get excited about. They’re decent books, something I’d only occasionally recommend that other people pick up and read.

And then there’s the second kind: Those books that were very, very impressive, which blew me away in many ways, but had what I felt were a few fundamental flaws that kept them from being truly awesome. Because I feel that both types represent good books that are recommendable and enjoyable, I put them both in the four star category—none of them are bad enough to warrant only a three-star rating, but they’re not good enough to warrant a five-star rating either. Unfortunately, they also don’t necessarily fit well with each-other.

For examples of books I’ve read and reviewed in the past, Ancillary Justice falls into the first category, while Elantris is firmly in the second. Ancillary Justice has an interesting set-up, but a fairly slow plot and only a handful of really cool moments. Nothing that gets me incredibly excited. Elantris has a few characterization issues, and the plot feels a little slow, but the ending is a succession of gut-punch mind blowing moments that leave you in awe. They both fell into the four-star category for me.

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley does too, and it falls firmly into the second category. I loved this book, and it’s one that I wish I could give a five-star review to. (Perhaps that’s the distinction? The first category is books that I felt deserved a four-star, the second category is books I felt should get five, but couldn’t quite bring myself to give it to them.)

The Mirror Empire is one of the few books I’ve ever read that can truly rival Sanderson for its world-building awesomeness. The world is full of brilliant ideas, many of which I’ve never seen done before. In most fantasy stories, default mounts are typically horses or the equivalent creature, occasionally magical. You’ll often see dragons used as well. But Hurley has placed her characters on quite a variety of dogs and bears. Yes, you read that right, her characters travel around and charge into battle on the backs of massive bears—something I’ve only ever seen done in His Dark Materials, and it’s totally awesome.

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How can you not want to do this?

 

Her warriors also wield a variety of tree based weapons, some of which retract into their bodies. These are not your traditional fantasy swords, though they often function much the same way. There’s sentient trees lurking around, and an unhealthy helping of blood magic, too. The central conceit of the novel, which I won’t give away here, is one that I’ve seen done before, but never this well. The world-building is incredibly creative and, sometimes, brutal. I love it.

And unlike most authors, Hurley doesn’t restrict her world-building to just the physical aspects of the world. The cultures we encounter in Mirror Empire are so creatively and strangely built that I guarantee that you haven’t seen anything like them before. Ever. Her ideas of societal roles and positions are interesting, but her treatment of genders and gender roles is very unique. I lost count of exactly how many genders there are, but I’m pretty sure that there was a culture with our two, a culture with three, and another with at least five. They all make sense, and there are characters who are each of them. And they are not token characters, either. They inhabit several of the main roles of the book, and there’s one (viewpoint) character whose physical sex changes several times through the book, and who does not fit into any of the diverse boxes that Hurley has built—an interesting take on the issues that society faces today. The roles are, I believe, meant to be a social commentary in part, but they’re far more than that. They are ingrained and built into the culture, and they play pivotal roles in the novel. Hurley knew what she was doing when she built these cultures, and it shows.

And the book doesn’t allow itself to be distracted by them, either. The plot of the novel—which I can’t say much about without spoiling things, drives constantly forward. The pacing never lets up, though the many POVs and occasional rapid switches gave me whiplash at some points. The ending is properly climactic, bringing together several of the character’s threads, and taking all of them in new and interesting directions. It also made the world seem much bigger than I had realized at first, and I’m really excited for the next entry in the trilogy, Empire Ascendant.

While the plot itself was always interesting, the changes and confusion I experienced through the novel—especially in remembering who all of the widespread (across 2 continents) characters were—was one of my main complaints about it. The whole novel feels rough and powerful, like a train that Hurley barely has control over. I think I would have enjoyed it more if the final product had been a little more polished and smooth. Perhaps this is because in epic fantasy, I’m used to the characters starting out in a single place, so that the reader has time to get to know them before they’re scattered as widely as they are here.

But don’t let that deter you! The Mirror Empire is excellent, and it’s the first in the trilogy. I hope that the second novel, with hopefully many of the confusing world elements already explained, will flow more smoothly, and really reach all of its potential.

I’m already predicting nominations and awards for The Mirror Empire next year, though probably not as many as Ancillary Justice won this year. I’m not sure where exactly it’ll land yet, but it’s definitely in my top five novels of the year. I reluctantly give it four of five stars, and wish I could do more. If you’re hungering for really awesome world-building, damaged, unique, and distinctive characters, and you’re willing to hang on for the ride, I would highly recommend that you pick up The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley. I know that I’m heading out to find myself copies of her other books while I eagerly await Empire Ascendant.

Links:

Kameron Hurley

Amazon

Goodreads