2015 Favorite Books.

Now that the year 2015 is over, I’m going to talk about the books I enjoyed the most during the year. Not like certain places that have voting for the best books in October or November…

I’ve broken the books down into two categories for 2015’s reading. The first are the books I enjoyed reading more than any other, which were released in 2015. The second category is books that were not released in 2015—or books in series where only the latest book was released, but include the entire series. I realize the division is a little arbitrary, but it’s how the books break down in my mind, so it’s how I’m going to list them here. Also, note that I’m not including rereads here—all of these are books that I read for the first time in 2015, else the list would be pretty much the same (and almost completely Sanderson) every year.

Releases:

5. Gemini Cell.

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I don’t read a ton of SF books, but my 5th place for 2015 is actually a tie between two SF novels. The first, Gemini Cell, is a brilliantly paced, brutal, and exciting military SF/fantasy tale that I absolutely devoured. It’s an excellent starting place for Myke’s universe if you’ve never read any of his books before, so check it out!

5. Time Salvager.

TimeSalvager

This was my first Wesley Chu book, which I read because 1) I had it, 2) Chu was nominated for the Campbell Award, and 3) I was going to get to see him twice in 2015 (ArmadilloCon and WorldCon). It earned him my Campbell vote, and is probably my favorite time travel novel. It’s a very dark book, but has beautiful glimmers of hope, and I’m really looking forward to Time Siege next year.

4. The Autumn Republic.

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The concluding volume of Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy, which is a series I’ve been following from the beginning. McClellan has a real talent for battle scenes and rough, gritty fantasy without being grimdark (in my opinion), and it really shines here, when everything is going wrong, and the gods themselves are waging war across the planet. If you’ve not read any of his work, go check out some of his short fiction—it’s an excellent and quick starting point at a good price-point, and will hopefully convince you to pick up Promise of Blood.

3. The Providence of Fire.

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Staveley’s another author I’ve been following since his first book came out—and even before. The Providence of Fire is slightly longer, and perhaps a little slower paced than The Emperor’s Blades, but is also a more satisfying and epic read, and I thoroughly enjoyed how it is unabashedly straight up epic fantasy, done right. I am eagerly anticipating the last volume, out in March.

2. A Darker Shade of Magic.

A Darker Shade final for Irene

After Vicious (see below) was my first read of the year in 2015, I immediately preordered this one, and it is not a decision that I regret. I enjoyed the parallel Londons and the amazing characters that Schwab presents in the book, and how easy, fast, and thrilling the book was to read.

1. Sanderson.

Surprise, surprise, right? Well, Sanderson continued to not disappoint in 2015, with not 1, but 2, absolutely stunning novels full of everything awesome.

1-1. Firefight.

Firefight

As the second volume in a strict trilogy, this one should have been a bit longer, slower, and more boring than the first one. Even in my favorite series, this happens, and I don’t complain.

Someone forgot to give Sanderson the note about that, though, and Firefight was, in my opinion, better than Steelheart, and it has the distinction of being one of two books I read (probably since The Princess Bride, certainly of 2015) where I thoroughly enjoyed and cheered for the romance.

1-2. Shadows of Self.

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Cosmere! Mistborn! Wax and Wayne! Steris! Marasi! [SPOILER]! What isn’t to love? Shadows of Self was easily my favorite book released in 2015, and I can only imagine how entertaining it must have been for the people riding in the car with me while I finished the book on my way to the Sanderson signing. So many amazing, unexpected, surprising, and downright mindblowing moments. If you’ve never picked up a Sanderson book before, I might have to start recommending the Era 2 (1.5?) books as another starting point now.

Other new reads/Authors:

This list is 7 books long because the last 3 spots were more or less a tie—I thoroughly enjoyed all of these books, though they were all quite different, and they all earned their spot on my list.

5. The Goblin Emperor.

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The Goblin Emperor was a book I read last year because it was on the Hugo nominees list—and it is the book that ended up getting my vote. It’s just so much fun and happiness. This book has been described as anti-grimdark, and it fits the label. If you need an uplifting fantasy novel, check this one out!

5. Robin Hobb.

Assassin's Apprentice

I only managed to read Robin Hobb’s first trilogy, The Farseer Trilogy, last year. However, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and while it’s not flashy, it is still powerful, and her writing has a way of making things compelling, and she puts her characters through intense torture without resorting to tactics such as chopping off hands or other bits. I’m definitely aiming to read more of her books in the coming year, though I don’t know if I’ll have time to catch up to the latest books she’s written or not—but I’ll certainly try!

4. Jaime Lee Moyer.

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Now, this one is a little bit of cheating, since I’m talking about the Delia trilogy, the last book of which, Against a Brightening Sky, came out in October. However, I decided to consider the series as a group, and so I placed it on this list, because the first two books came out before last year. I only managed to review the first book, Delia’s Shadow, before school overwhelmed me and I had to take a break for a few months from blogging, but I read and loved the entire trilogy. Set in an alternate San Francisco, the books fall largely into an alternate history setting. The characters are such good people, the mysteries are intriguing, the magic is exciting, and the endings were exciting, even if they left questions unanswered.

4. Dan Wells.

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This one is also cheating a little bit, since I’m talking about Dan’s John Cleaver books, the latest of which, The Devil’s Only Friend, was released in 2015. Also, the series in ongoing. But… This is my list, so I get to do what I want with it. While I felt the first book got off to a slightly rocky start—it foreshadowed the supernatural elements a little too heavily for my tastes—they ended up being really good, quick, exciting reads, even though horror is not usually my genre of choice.

3. City of Stairs.

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I’ve talked about this one a lot—it was a surprisingly good read, and I am so glad that I made the time to read it. I really enjoyed Shara, and Saypur and the continent, the worldbuilding, the way political issues were handled, and Sigurd. I can’t talk about Sigurd enough… I think the most convincing recommendation I can give for this book is that when I was about 100 pages from the end, and forgot my copy at home, I bought the eBook so I could finish reading it on my phone on the train to work.

2. Vicious.

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I keep talking about how Schwab is one of my new favorite authors from last year, and this is the book that did it for me. My first read of 2015, it set the tone for the rest of the year, and I am so glad to hear that we are going to get a sequel! Seriously fun tale of superheroes and supervillains—and of people. Also, it has a really cool time-line structure that I’ve never seen any other book pull off successfully.

1. Ready Player One.

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I read this book for the first time last spring. Upon finishing the book, I turned it back over and started from the beginning, not even pausing to have something to drink. I don’t think I’ve done that since Harry Potter.

Since then, I’ve listened to the audiobook. And reread the book. So yes, I’ve been through it 4 times last year, something else I’m not sure I’ve done since I was reading Harry Potter, back in the days when I wasn’t in college and had a lot more free time.

This book scratched every itch I didn’t even know I had. Gaming, nerd-dom, geekery, virtual reality goodness, some absolutely awesome characters and twists, as big of an epic battle of good against evil as you can imagine, and the other romance that I cheered for. It was perfect, and in the grand scheme of books I’ve read, the only ones I’ve loved more are the Stormlight Archive.

It’s that good.

I realize that I haven’t posted a review of it yet—that’s because I haven’t figured out how to hack Goodreads to give it 6 stars. (I’m working on it, though.)

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So that was my year in books… What did y’all enjoy reading last year, new or old?

Book Review: Royal Assassin

NOTE: THIS IS THE SECOND BOOK IN A TRILOGY. I REVIEWED AND ENJOYED FIRST BOOK, AND IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT, GO READ IT, AS THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR IT.

Royal Assassin

From Goodreads:

Fitz has survived his first hazardous mission as king’s assassin, but is left little more than a cripple. Battered and bitter, he vows to abandon his oath to King Shrewd, remaining in the distant mountains. But love and events of terrible urgency draw him back to the court at Buckkeep, and into the deadly intrigues of the royal family.

Renewing their vicious attacks on the coast, the Red-Ship Raiders leave burned-out villages and demented victims in their wake. The kingdom is also under assault from within, as treachery threatens the throne of the ailing king. In this time of great danger, the fate of the kingdom may rest in Fitz’s hands—and his role in its salvation may require the ultimate sacrifice.

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb is a typical second book in what is shaping up to be a very enjoyable first trilogy, and I quite enjoyed jumping into it straight after finishing the first book in the trilogy, Assassin’s Apprentice.

Royal Assassin brings us back to all of our favorite characters, at least, those who survived the first book. In particular, we follow Fitz’s viewpoint for the entire story again, watching as he starts to really be an adult and have some power over those around him. He continues to grow more relatable, even though his life is far from anything I’ve ever experienced. His struggles feel real, and at times, incredibly frustrating.

We also see more of Burrich, Chade, Royal and Verity, Shrewd, and Molly, all the characters we came to know in the first book. There are hardly any new additions, however, and this book is very much a “dig deeper” instead of “spread wider” type of book, something rather uncommon in the fantasy world these days. I liked this digging, as it helped to give the feel that Hobb has complete control over her plot and characters, instead of letting them run rampant and multiply as, say, GRRM has done.

The magic continues to be semi-standard telepathic type magic, and it’s not the main focal point of the novel, though it continues to play an important role. I found myself neither excited nor disappointed by its possibilities—nothing short of Hurley or Sanderson levels of magical coolness gets me excited anymore—but it was well thought out and served its purpose well.

I found that, because I continued to be more and more engaged by the same characters, that this book didn’t have quite the same dragging feeling that the first book had, though it also wasn’t an incredibly fast book. There is no breakneck plot, which is just fine. This is the kind of book that enjoys what it is, and it feels good.

The emotional hooks here are definitely deeper too, and Hobb continues to put her characters through the wringer. While the tension only very gradually rises, the amount of pain the characters are going through is at a constant high level, both emotionally and at times physically. This, perhaps, more than anything, is what makes the book so engaging, and overall gave it a more cohesive feel.

The plot is the most “second book” part of the book, for sure. It leaves all of its threads unresolved, and I didn’t feel like it really even ended the threads that it should have. It did have an intense ending, but I have to admit that I was expecting more to be tied up, and new problems expanded for the third and final book.

In summary, Royal Assassin was a satisfying second book that dug deeper into all of the characters that we came to know in the first book, and used this digging to intensify the emotional pain that Hobb could deal to them. I did not find the plot to be as satisfying as I had hoped, and while it does leave me wanting the third book, I wish it had resolved a few more threads with its conclusion. I definitely give it four of five stars, though, as I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to what I hope is a conclusive final volume in the trilogy.

Robin Hobb.

Goodreads.

Amazon.

Book Review: Assassin’s Apprentice

Assassin's Apprentice

From Goodreads:

In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.

Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard, cast out into the world, friendless and lonely. Only his magical link with animals – the old art known as the Wit – gives him solace and companionship. But the Wit, if used too often, is a perilous magic, and one abhorred by the nobility.

So when Fitz is finally adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and embrace a new life of weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly, as he trains to become a royal assassin.

Robin Hobb is another of the authors I’ve had recommended to me for ages. I haven’t been actively resisting reading her books—in fact, I’ve been collecting them to begin reading for about a year now. I only recently began reading them, though, since I had enough to be sure that I could complete my collection by the time I got around to reading the books—I like to read a series from start to finish, without breaks in-between. Feels more cohesive to me, I guess.

And I’m glad I did. Hobb is another author whose books I’m sure that I’m going to love and treasure for years. Assassin’s Apprentice, the first in the first trilogy in her Realm of the Elderlings universe, was quite enjoyable, though I did feel that it dragged at times.

As with all good books, though, the strength of this novel lies in the characters. Our main character, Fitz, is the bastard son of the prince who is first in line to inherit the throne, and the entire story is told from his viewpoint. He has a fairly standard list of fantasy protagonist abilities—magic of two kinds, a few good friends, and the occasional exceptional ability, as well as being born into an important role in life. But Hobb somehow manages to never let him seem to be just a trope, instead imbuing him with a rich life and making her world seem very real.

And, of course, there’s the eponymous assassin’s training. Fitz, never to inherit the throne, but still required to be useful by the king, is assigned to learn the assassin’s trade, to become the king’s secret weapon at court. He must learn to juggle these increasingly taxing duties with the pressures of a young man’s life in a court he doesn’t quite fit into. This struggle is part of what defines him so well as a character, at least for me.

The threats of the novel do not become clear until later parts of it, and so I will not discuss the plot too much here—anything else would be a spoiler. I’ll simply say that the majority of the novel is spent introducing and moving the characters around, so it’s okay if you don’t understand where everything is going until the end.

This strategy worked fine for me. Not only Is Fitz himself a brilliant character, but so is the entire supporting cast, from Burrich to Chade to the Fool to Molly. They all feel so real, I almost expected to look up from my book and see one of them standing in my doorway every few pages. I feel as if I’ve come to know them personally.

And so, when Hobb starts heating things up, it hurts. Hobb, I’ve been told, is one of the most notorious character torturers in all of Fantasy. I’m not sure if I believe that, yet, but I definitely felt some serious pangs while reading this book, and even if she doesn’t torture her characters any more than a normal author does, she certainly makes you feel it more than most of them do, just by how real she makes her characters feel.

And while the plot takes a while to get truly going, the ending makes up for it in the number of emotional beats it manages to hit. By the end, I had tears in my eyes, and I immediately started on the second book, Royal Assassin, which I’m hoping to finish soon.

In summary, Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Assassin was a delightful, torturous, and slightly slow read that has some of the best characters I’ve read in a long time. I’m not fully convinced yet, but I’m fairly certain she’s going onto my favorites shelf as I read more and more of her books, and I give this one a solid four out of five stars, and a hearty recommendation.

Robin Hobb.

Goodreads.

Amazon.