Fantasy-Faction’s Best Fantasy Books of 2013
Firstly, and fore-mostly, I want to say a huge thank you to every author, publisher and blogger involved in fantasy literature in 2013. I’ve been involved in the fantasy community for about four years now and this was BY FAR the very best year I’ve experienced in terms of the amount of quality fantasy published and the additional amount of passionate community involvement.
For that reason it has proven impossible to do a top 10 for 2013, so we’ve been forced to come up with a top 25 instead. As always, there will be people who think some books on the list should be reordered, there will be some who disagree completely, but reading is a subjective thing and this is our opinion; I hope you will respect it 🙂 Oh yeah, and remember that although between our staff writers we read A LOT of books, we didn’t read EVERYTHING.
So, PLEASE do leave a comment with your thoughts – we truly are interested in what you think.
25) Ack-Ack Macaque & Hive Monkey by Gareth L. Powell
In 1944, as waves of German ninjas parachute into Kent, Britain’s best hopes for victory lie with a Spitfire pilot codenamed ‘Ack-Ack Macaque’. The trouble is, Ack-Ack Macaque is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey, and he’s starting to doubt everything, including his own existence. A century later, in a world where France and Great Britain merged in the late 1950s and nuclear-powered Zeppelins encircle the globe, ex-journalist Victoria Valois finds herself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who butchered her husband and stole her electronic soul. Meanwhile, in Paris, after taking part in an illegal break-in at a research laboratory, the heir to the British throne goes on the run. And all the while, the doomsday clock ticks towards Armageddon…
We enjoyed this book immensely. It can be read as pure entertainment, a combination of pulp fiction and cyberpunk, but beneath all that it addresses the issues of freedom and choice, life and death. What could have been a novelty story about a gun-toting monkey, is instead a deep and moving tale of a woman coping with the loss of her husband, a man she still has access to via the medium of his soul-catcher, a device that has stored his personality and essence. Not only does this provoke the reader into sadness, but it also has its amusing moments too, all balanced with great skill by the author, so it’s never trite or clichéd.
24) A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .
All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.
Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.
A Natural History of Dragons is exactly what it sounds like. A memoir written by a Victorian naturalist who has an obsession with dragons and embarks on an adventure to be on of the first to study them. What follows is a half travelogue, half whodunnit book that is fun every step of the way.
23) The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann
Don’t get yourself noticed and you won’t get yourself hanged.
In the faery slums of Bath, Bartholomew Kettle and his sister Hettie live by these words. Bartholomew and Hettie are changelings–Peculiars–and neither faeries nor humans want anything to do with them.
One day a mysterious lady in a plum-colored dress comes gliding down Old Crow Alley. Bartholomew watches her through his window. Who is she? What does she want? And when Bartholomew witnesses the lady whisking away, in a whirling ring of feathers, the boy who lives across the alley–Bartholomew forgets the rules and gets himself noticed.
First he’s noticed by the lady in plum herself, then by something darkly magical and mysterious, by Jack Box and the Raggedy Man, by the powerful Mr. Lickerish . . . and by Arthur Jelliby, a young man trying to slip through the world unnoticed, too, and who, against all odds, offers Bartholomew friendship and a way to belong.
Part murder mystery, part gothic fantasy, part steampunk adventure, The Peculiar is Stefan Bachmann’s riveting, inventive, and unforgettable debut novel.
The world is a delightful nightmare of imagination. The plot is a rollercoaster of gut-twisting tension. While the two lead characters are well drawn and brilliantly believable, as they struggle to piece together a clockwork puzzle that takes them across a weird and wonderful country to save the day.
22) Prince of Lies by Anne Lyle
Elizabethan spy Mal Catlyn has everything he ever wanted—his twin brother Sandy restored to health, his family estate reclaimed and a son to inherit it—but his work isn’t over yet. The guisers’ leader, Jathekkil, has reincarnated as the young Prince Henry Tudor, giving Mal a chance to eliminate his enemies whilst they are at their weakest.
With Sandy’s help Mal learns to harness his own magic in the fight against the renegade skraylings, but it may be too late to save England. Schemes set in motion decades ago are at last coming to fruition, and the barrier between the dreamlands and the waking world is wearing thin…
Anne Lyle is one of Fantasy-Faction’s favourite authors. This final volume is her debut trilogy was as exciting and action-packed as the previous two volumes, and it picks up all the loose threads that were left hanging at the end of The Merchant of Dreams. The ending is solid, although, perhaps, had potential to be even greater – which undoubtedly would have meant this book would be in this year’s top 10. We very much look forward to seeing where Anne goes next and will be sure to pick up her subsequent books.
21) Last to Rise by Francis Knight
The concluding volume of the Rojan Dizon series where magic must save a city on the eve of its destruction.
The towering vertical city of Mahala is on the brink of war with its neighbouring countries. It might be his worst nightmare, but Rojan and the few remaining pain mages have been drafted in to help.
The city needs power in whatever form they can get it — and fast. With alchemists readying a prototype electricity generator, and factories producing guns faster than ever, the city’s best advantage is still the mages.
Leading the alchemists is Rojan’s sister, with a risky plan to help tap the mages’ strength and overcome the armies marching towards them. With food in the city running out and a battle brimming that no one is ready for, risky is the best they’ve got . . .
Francis Knight’s dystopian urban fantasy books with their incredible world building and unique magic systems – where magic is derived from pain – have appeared on numerous Fantasy-Faction lists over the years. In this, book three of the series, the stakes rise dramatically, but the characters seem to come into their element in the very worst of circumstances. the result is a novel that forever has you on edge and, no matter what you think you’ve worked out, will blow you away.
20) Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
There are no heroes.
Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.
But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.
Nobody fights the Epics… nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.
And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.
He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.
As in other books set in an alternate-world Earth, Sanderson has managed to take a standard setting and give it a fantastical element. He keeps the familiarity of the setting but changes enough to make it a new and interesting place for the readers to discover. Sanderson’s return to the YA market is filled with his signature worldbuilding and a fast-paced, high action cinematic style that is easy to lose yourself in.
19) The Lives of Tao & The Deaths Of Tao by Wesley Chu
When out-of-shape IT technician Roen Tan woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.
He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.
Meanwhile, Roen is training to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…
Ever daydreamed of quitting your dead-end job? Of becoming a secret agent? James Bond even? Of course you have! The result of Roen & Tao sharing the same brain provides readers with follows an at times hilarious, sad and philosophical thriller that has an excellent pace to it. These juxtapositions in addition to the author’s use of his martial arts experience for the kick ass scenes and the sensitive way he deals with death gives this series a surprising amount of emotional depth.
18) The Split Worlds #1, #2 & #3 by Emma Newman
Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath’s secret mirror city.
The new season is starting and the Master of Ceremonies is missing. Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is assigned with the task of finding him with no one to help but a dislocated soul and a mad sorcerer.
There is a witness but his memories have been bound by magical chains only the enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs.
But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?(less)
Fantasy-Faction has known Emma Newman for quite a while – even before she was a published author (around the time she was writing short stories). Over that time her writing has improved immensely and her work today is some of the finest of Angry Robot’s list. The first novel in the Split Worlds, Between Two Thorns, is magical, exciting, and clever. It manages to conjure a world that feels completely natural but also mysterious, sometimes dangerous, sometimes funny, combining several different kinds of urban fantasy into one story, and capturing a lovely sense of modern Britishness that is reminiscent of other fantastic British fantasy. The sequels – all published this year – are just as good; if not better too!
17) Drakenfeld by Mark Newton
The monarchies of the Royal Vispasian Union have been bound together for two hundred years by laws maintained and enforced by the powerful Sun Chamber. As a result, nations have flourished but corruption, deprivation and murder will always find a way to thrive.
Receiving news of his father’s death Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld is recalled home to the ancient city of Tryum and is rapidly embroiled in a mystifying case. The King’s sister has been found brutally murdered – her beaten and bloody body discovered in a locked temple. With rumours of dark spirits and political assassination, Drakenfeld has his work cut out for him trying to separate superstition from certainty. His determination to find the killer quickly makes him a target as the underworld gangs of Tryum focus on this new threat to their power.
Embarking on the biggest and most complex investigation of his career, Drakenfeld soon realises the evidence is leading him towards a motive that could ultimately bring darkness to the whole continent. The fate of the nations is in his hands.
We were mightily impressed with Drakenfeld. This, Fantasy’s answer to Sherlock Holmes, was a break away from the ‘dark’ and ‘gritty’ fantasy that has become this decade’s trend. The plot kept us interested, the twists and turns were solid (although we do look forward to even tougher ones), the World Building was impressive and the characters all had great backstories that left us wanting to know more about them and enjoying their interactions.
We’d also add that Mark Newton is an author we’ve always been impressed with: his prose are flawless and his imagination is one of the genre’s finest. Bloggers and critics alike often wonder why Mark hasn’t done even better over the years, and we can only conclude that it is because Mark’s imagination is so good that he sometimes falls into the ‘new weird’ bracket (which is much smaller than the mainstream fantasy bracket). We certainly feel that Drakenfeld is Mark’s key to the mainstream and the recognition he deserves.
16A) Masks by E.C. Blake
In Aygrima, magic is a Gift possessed from birth by a very small percentage of the population, with the Autarch himself the most powerful magic worker of all. Only the long-vanquished Lady of Pain and Fire had been able to challenge his rule.
At the age of fifteen, citizens are recognized as adults and must don the spell-infused Masks—which denote both status and profession—whenever they are in public. To maintain the secure rule of the kingdom, the Masks are magically crafted to reveal any treasonous thoughts or actions. And once such betrayals are exposed, the Watchers are there to enforce the law.
On the day of the Masking of our protagonist, something goes horribly wrong, and instead of celebrating, Mara is torn away from her parents, imprisoned, and consigned to a wagon bound for the mines. Is it because she didn’t turn the unMasked boy she discovered over to the Night Watchers? Or is it because she’s lied about her Gift, claiming she can only see one color of magic, when in truth she can see them all, just as she could when she was a young child?
Masks is a book that took me by complete surprise. Not since the likes of Lirael or Sabriel have I enjoyed a YA with a female protagonist to the extent I did Masks. E.C. Blake breaks the trend of setting YA in an urban environment and goes for a straight coming of age tale in a fantasy world. Our female protagonist is so loveable and innocent that when she is thrown from society – for she puts on a mask designed to tell if one would plan/is planning treason – we share her feelings of pain and – as adults – are disgusted by the injustice of it all. As with Garth Nix’s aforementioned novels, the World is dark, overrun by evil forces and seems to set our protagonist an impossible task. The result is a novel that will emotionally touch you and leave you reeling through it.
16B) The Oathbreaker’s Shadow by Amy McCulloch
Fifteen-year-old Raim lives in a world where you tie a knot for every promise that you make. Break that promise and you are scarred for life, and cast out into the desert.
Raim has worn a simple knot around his wrist for as long as he can remember. No one knows where it came from, and which promise of his it symbolises, but he barely thinks about it at all—not since becoming the most promising young fighter ever to train for the elite Yun guard. But on the most important day of his life, when he binds his life to his best friend (and future king) Khareh, the string bursts into flames and sears a dark mark into his skin.
Scarred now as an oath-breaker, Raim has two options: run, or be killed.
A gripping YA action-adventure fantasy, the first part of a planned duology.
I’ve locked Amy McCulloch’s debut and Masks as equally good and needing to share the number 16 place due to how similar they are. Amy’s book is another YA set in a fantasy world and that sees its protagonist thrown from society due to breaking the rule that one cannot lie once committing to a promise by tying a knot. The Worldbuilding is rather light, as you would expect from a YA, but the description of the scenery is so vivid that you will picture the various locations the protagonist visits long after you finish. Not only that, Raim is one of those loveable rogues with a bright heart that you can’t help but want to succeed and regain his place in society.
15) The Thousand Names, by Django Wexler
In the desert colony of Khandar, a dark and mysterious magic, hidden for centuries, is about to emerge from darkness.
Marcus d’Ivoire, senior captain of the Vordanai Colonials, is resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost, when a rebellion leaves him in charge of a demoralized force in a broken down fortress.
Winter Ihernglass, fleeing her past and masquerading as a man, just wants to go unnoticed. Finding herself promoted to a command, she must rise to the challenge and fight impossible odds to survive.
Their fates rest in the hands of an enigmatic new Colonel, sent to restore order while following his own mysterious agenda into the realm of the supernatural.
The Thousand Names is the latest in the growing trend of Flintlock Fantasy novels, inspired more by 18th century France than the usual medieval trappings we have come to expect. Wexler has chosen to take us on a military campaign, where his blue-coated heroes’ discipline and etiquette are tested against a pseudo-Arabian guerilla force and where magic is considered no more than ideal superstition.
Wexler is extremely skilled at turning up the tension, and always has you wondering how his heroes are going to get out of their next scrape. Blood is spilled, limbs are lost and the cost for success is always high. And, just when you think you know what’s going to happen, he manages to pull the rug out from under you with a lovely little twist at the end. The Thousand Names is an assured debut from Django Wexler and a must-read if you enjoy an action-packed, page-turner.
14) Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan
The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it.
It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king…
Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.
It’s up to a few…
Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.
But when gods are involved…
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…
In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets? PROMISE OF BLOOD is the start of a new epic fantasy series from Brian McClellan.
The first in The Powder Mage Trilogy is a fantastic and engaging book from debut author Brian McClellan. Powerful sorcerers, trained Marksmen with magical abilities, and long forgotten gods bring color and intrigue to the world of Adro following a bloody revolution that has left the King and his royal cabal dead and a new government run by the people on its way to power. Promise of Blood is filled with engaging characters, original worldbuilding, and a plot that left us unable to put the book down.
13) Herald of the Storm by Richard Ford
Welcome to Steelhaven… Under the reign of King Cael the Uniter, this vast cityport on the southern coast has for years been a symbol of strength, maintaining an uneasy peace throughout the Free States. But now a long shadow hangs over the city, in the form of the dread Elharim warlord, Amon Tugha. When his herald infiltrates the city, looking to exploit its dangerous criminal underworld, and a terrible dark magick that has long been buried once again begins to rise, it could be the beginning of the end.
Herald of the Storm takes the fundamental parts of gritty, epic fantasy and puts the focus on character first. It’s filled with big personalities that each have their own stake in keeping the city of Steelhaven safe from the constant threat of war. The lack of any cohesive plot throughout the novel may be an issue for some, but this is the story of one city in a vast fantasy world. It’s testament to Ford’s worldbuilding skills that although we never leave the city of Steelhaven, we do get the sense that outside its walls is a whole world, just ready for exploring. If you love the works of Joe Abercrombie or even George R.R. Martin you will probably find something to enjoy in Steelhaven – it’s violent, vicious and darkly funny. Book Two can’t come fast enough – bring it on.
12) The Tyrant’s Law by Daniel Abraham
The great war cannot be stopped.
The tyrant Geder Palliako had led his nation to war, but every victory has called forth another conflict. Now the greater war spreads out before him, and he is bent on bringing peace. No matter how many people he has to kill to do it.
Cithrin bel Sarcour, rogue banker of the Medean Bank, has returned to the fold. Her apprenticeship has placed her in the path of war, but the greater dangers are the ones in her past and in her soul.
Widowed and disgraced at the heart of the Empire, Clara Kalliam has become a loyal traitor, defending her nation against itself. And in the shadows of the world, Captain Marcus Wester tracks an ancient secret that will change the war in ways not even he can forsee.
The third book, marking the midway point in Daniel Abraham’s series, may not be the best is the series so far, but it is a tight, action-packed novel that remains one of Epic fantasy’s very best entries if G.R.R. Martin style depth is to your taste. The large list of characters now feel completely realised, each has substantial depth and we find ourselves caring about each of them as Abraham nudges them through multiple-genres that are primarily epic and action-packed, but range from romance through to gritty realism.
11) Frontier Fortress – Myke Cole
The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began to develop terrifying powers—summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Overnight the rules changed…but not for everyone.
Colonel Alan Bookbinder is an army bureaucrat whose worst war wound is a paper-cut. But after he develops magical powers, he is torn from everything he knows and thrown onto the front-lines.
Drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder finds himself in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier—cut off, surrounded by monsters, and on the brink of being overrun.
Now, he must find the will to lead the people of FOB Frontier out of hell, even if the one hope of salvation lies in teaming up with the man whose own magical powers put the base in such grave danger in the first place—Oscar Britton, public enemy number one…
If you’ve read Myke’s first book you’ll know roughly what to expect as a reader. However, Fortress Frontier is an even faster-paced adventure that doesn’t lack for substance. Cole draws readers deeper into his imaginative and complex world, while telling a compelling story. Excitingly, he also sets the table for bigger and better things to come (and having read book 3 we can tell you he realises them too). We’d be amazed if Hollywood doesn’t come knocking in the near future.
10) Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb
The dragons’ survival hangs in the balance in the thrilling final volume in the acclaimed River Wilds chronicles fantasy series
The dragons and their dedicated band of keepers have at last found the lost city of Kelsingra. The magical creatures have learned to use their wings and are growing into their regal inheritance. Their humans, too, are changing. As the mystical bonds with their dragons deepen, Thymara, Tats, Rapskal, and even Cedric, the unlikeliest of keepers, have begun transforming into beautiful Elderlings raked with exquisite features that complement and reflect the dragons they serve.
But while the humans have scoured the empty streets and enormous buildings of Kelsongra, they cannot find the mythical silver wells the dragons need to stay health and survive. With enemies encroaching, the keepers must risk “memory walking”- immersing themselves in the dangerously addictive memories of long-deceased Elderlings – to uncover clues necessary to their survival.
And time is of the essence, for the legendary Tintaglia, long feared dead, has returned, wounded in a battle with humans hunting dragon blood and scales. She is weakening and only the hidden silver can revive her. If Tintaglia dies, so, too, will the ancient memories she carries – a devastating loss that will ensure the dragons’ extinction.
So, we’ll be the first to admit that The Rain Wild Chronicles is no Farseer or Liveship Traders; however, book four in the series was by far the best and, as a whole, when you quash your ridiculously high expectations when you see Hobb’s name on a cover, the series is still some of the best fantasy out there. Essentially, this series has been all about taking us back and showing us the hidden lives of the Dragons and who doesn’t like dragons? (Note: If you said ‘me’, hit the ‘x’ you strange person!). The reason this book works so well is that the numerous limitations that Hobb set on the characters at the start of the series have been shed and this freedom allows the characters to take the story to a new level.
9) Crown Tower & Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan
A warrior with nothing to fight for is paired with a thieving assassin with nothing to lose. Together they must steal a treasure that no one can reach. The Crown Tower is the impregnable remains of the grandest fortress ever built and home to the realm’s most valuable possessions. But it isn’t gold or jewels the old wizard is after, and this prize can only be obtained by the combined talents of two remarkable men. Now if Arcadias can just keep Hadrian and Royce from killing each other, they just might succeed.
The Riyria Revelations and The Riyria Chronicles are two separate, but related series, and you can start reading with either Theft of Swords (publication order) or The Crown Tower (chronological order).
Michael Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations are straight up adventure stories with a very fun duo of thieves in the middle of it. His new series, The Riyria Chronicles, serves as a prequel story, telling the tale of how Royce and Hadrian met and became the team of thieves we are familiar with from Riyria Revelations. As we expected, Sullivan delivered a very enjoyable adventure story. We get a better picture and understanding of what caused Royce and Hadrian to become such opposite personalities, and we get more insight into what makes them tick. We are shown how they team up and learn to work together and how they really complement each other. We also get to hear Gwen’s story and how she came to be the character we are familiar with in Riyria Revelations. It’s enjoyable, the characters are as loveable as ever and we have no doubt you’ll finish it and wonder where all the pages went…
8) She Who Waits – Daniel Polansky
Low Town: the worst ghetto in the worst city in the Thirteen Lands.
Good only for depravity and death. And Warden, long ago a respected agent in the formidable Black House, is now the most depraved Low Town denizen of them all.
As a younger man, Warden carried out more than his fair share of terrible deeds, and never as many as when he worked for the Black House. But Warden’s growing older, and the vultures are circling. Low Town is changing, faster than even he can control, and Warden knows that if he doesn’t get out soon, he may never get out at all.
But Warden must finally reckon with his terrible past if he can ever hope to escape it. A hospital full of lunatics, a conspiracy against the corrupt new king and a ghetto full of thieves and murderers stand between him and his slim hope for the future. And behind them all waits the one person whose betrayal Warden never expected. The one person who left him, broken and bitter, to become the man he is today.
The one woman he ever loved.
She who waits behind all things.
Daniel Polansky’s has crafted a series that is must-read material for any fan of fantasy. She Who Waits is the rarest of fantasy achievements: it is a concluding novel that pays off on the promises made at the outset. Polansky has crafted a stunning conclusion to the Warden’s tale that will leave you breathless and aching for just one more page, one more chapter. The dark, gritty world of Low Town’s not been an easy place to visit but you’ll never forget your time there.
7) Vicious by Victoria Schwab
Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.
Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?
One heck of a book: this is a tale set in the near-future that provides an intriguing plot in a beautifully created world that is full of ambition, jealousy and betrayal – not to mention super powers. Somewhat reminiscent, but perhaps even better than Adam Roberts’s early superhero novels, Vicious reads like a comic book and adds to that deeper characters that aren’t necessarily heroes. Superhero fiction is becoming more and more popular with the rise of Marvel and this is by far the best entry to the genre to date.
6A) Blood Song by Anthony Ryan
This book was originally self published in 2011, so shouldn’t really appear. However, due to popular demand, we are going to allow it to share a spot with Ghost of the Citadel, also originally self published in 2011.
An epic fantasy exploring themes of conflict, loyalty and religious faith. Vaelin Al Sorna, Brother of the Sixth Order, has been trained from childhood to fight and kill in service to the Faith. He has earned many names and almost as many scars, acquiring an ugly dog and a bad-tempered horse in the process. Ensnared in an unjust war by a king possessed of either madness or genius, Vaelin seeks to answer the question that will decide the fate of the Realm: …who is the one who waits?
Raven’s Shadow is the first volume in a new epic fantasy of war, intrigue and tested faith.
Blood Song is one of those rare epic fantasy novels that delivers an incredible pace and yet extensive world building. By adding to that characters – and pets – of depth and nuance, Anthony Ryan draws readers into his tale that features a world of conflicted loyalty, human frailty, and love in a time of war. The novel is between Patrick Rothfuss and Joe Abercrombie in tone, which should excite the vast majority of readers.
6B) Ghosts of the Citadel (The Copper Promise) by Jennifer Williams
This book was originally self published in 2011, so shouldn’t really appear. However, due to popular demand, we are going to allow it to share a spot with Blood Song, also originally self published in 2011.
There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel. Some say the Mages left their most dangerous secrets buried there; some say the gods themselves have been imprisoned there. For Lord Frith the caverns hold the key to his vengeance, against all odds he has survived torture and the death of his family, and now someone has to pay. For Wydrin and Sebastian the quest into the Citadel is just another job, the promise of gold and adventure and the possibility of getting a good tale or two that will stand them drinks everywhere they go.
But sometimes there is truth in rumours. Sometimes it pays to listen, pays not to be a reckless adventurer. But Wydrin was never a good listener and soon this trio of adventurers will find themselves the last line of defence against a hungry, ruthless terror that wants to tear the world apart.
But worse than that, they’re not even getting paid.
As a debut fantasy novel the Copper Promise is a gem and a breath of fresh air. Whilst the norm for fantasy now is grim, gritty and bloody – not a form of fantasy we are knocking, we’re all massive GRRM and Abercrombie fans – this turns around and shines a light on how fantasy used to be written. It’s very retro in its prose and styling, a rollicking boys-own adventure with a feisty female lead who you definitely would not want to take home to meet your mother.
5) The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
With what should have been the greatest heist of their career gone spectacularly sour, Locke and his trusted partner, Jean, have barely escaped with their lives. Or at least Jean has. But Locke is slowly succumbing to a deadly poison that no alchemist or physiker can cure. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmage offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him or finish him off once and for all.
Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body – though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean’s imploring – and the Bondsmage’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past: Sabetha. She is the love of his life, his equal in skill and wit, and now, his greatest rival.
Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha – or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.
We waited so, so long for this book and although it wasn’t the life changing book we were expecting, it was pretty damned good. In this, the third book of the series, we spend our time immersed in two wonderfully realised cities, with quirks and oddities galore. In addition to all our favourite characters returning – through flashbacks if not through the main plot thread – we meet a few new characters and were especially fond of the ‘baddie’. We won’t spoil it for you, but the relationship between Locke and his adversary is unique, and must have been very difficult to create and keep as tense and fraught as Lynch has managed here.
4) Daylight War by Peter V. Brett
On the night of the new moon, the demons rise in force, seeking the deaths of two men both of whom have the potential to become the fabled Deliverer, the man prophesied to reunite the scattered remnants of humanity in a final push to destroy the demon corelings once and for all.
Once Arlen and Jardir were as close as brothers. Now they are the bitterest of rivals. As humanity’s enemies rise, the only two men capable of defeating them are divided against each other by the most deadly demons of all–those lurking in the human heart.
We waited with baited breath for the third instalment of Brett’s Demon Cycle, and true to form he rewarded his fans generously for their patience. The Daylight War weaves between continuation of the Arlen/Jardir plot and the back story of a female protagonist, Inevera (Jardir’s wife). It’s apparent that some readers aren’t quite sure about Peter dedicating half of each book to the past; however, if you like Brett’s style of moving backwards, laterally and backwards laterally to expand the story as opposed to constantly forwards, we have no doubt that you will agree that this is Brett at his very best. Essentially, book 3 goes above and beyond the brilliance of the first two books in style, character and worldbuilding, action and suspense… basically all the elements that make a book worth reading over and over again.
3) A Memory of Light by Brandon Sanderson
And it came to pass in those days, as it had come before and would come again, that the Dark lay heavy on the land and weighed down the hearts of men, and the green things failed, and hope died.’ – Charal Drianaan te Calamon, The Cycle of the Dragon.
In the Field of Merrilor the rulers of the nations gather to join behind Rand al’Thor, or to stop him from his plan to break the seals on the Dark One’s prison – which may be a sign of his madness, or the last hope of humankind. Egwene, the Amyrlin Seat, leans toward the former.
In Andor, the Trollocs seize Caemlyn.
In the wolf dream, Perrin Aybara battles Slayer.
Approaching Ebou Dar, Mat Cauthon plans to visit his wife Tuon, now Fortuona, Empress of the Seanchan.
All humanity is in peril – and the outcome will be decided in Shayol Ghul itself. The Wheel is turning, and the Age is coming to its end. The Last Battle will determine the fate of the world . . .
Twenty-two years and over four million words later, A Memory of Light has arrived to drag you into the final battle. You will chuckle, laugh out loud, choke up, cry and curse yourself for not being able to read faster. Sure, some questions remain unanswered, some expectations aren’t met and some resolutions aren’t as exciting as we’d imagined them to be, but overall Brandon Sanderson did a hell of a job finishing this series and the concluding book remains one of the years very best.
2) The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane shows that Neil Gaiman still has the gift of capturing a child’s perspective and putting it on paper in stark realism. The injustice and helplessness felt by every child living in an adult world is rekindled through this story, as is the romantic love for the pure and righteous world of myths and magic. It is a book for everyone and, as with everything that Neil Gaiman writes, there seems a certain power to this short novel that will have it stay with you for a long time after you’ve turned that final page.
1) Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
The path to the throne is broken – only the broken may walk it.
To reach the throne requires that a man journey. Even a path paved with good intentions can lead to hell, and my intentions were never good.
The Hundred converge for Congression to politic upon the corpse of Empire, and while they talk the Dead King makes his move, and I make mine. The world is cracked, time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end days, the future so bright that those who see it are the first to burn. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne whoever seeks to thwart me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will make of it such an ending.
This is where the wise man turns away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. These are the last miles, my brothers. Don’t look to me to save you. Don’t think I will not spend you. Run if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don’t follow me.
Follow me, and I will break your heart.
In our opinion, Mark Lawrence is one of today’s finest writers of fantasy. His ability to craft beautiful, fluent prose is matched only by the likes of Patrick Rothfuss and Robin Hobb, and we’d argue that his writing is often even deeper and more powerful than either of them. What Mark has is an ability to use these prose as a means to present darkness and pain in its truest form; whether it is through his protagonist Jorg or simply when blogging about his life experiences, we honestly don’t believe there is an author who can evoke emotion in a person to the extent Mark can.
Whether or not the ending had been satisfactory, we believe people would have been content that Mark’s writing and unique character gave them one hell of a reading experience. The fact that the ending could well be the finest achievement of Mark Lawrence’s entire trilogy ensures that this is a series that will be recommended to future generations as enthusiastically as the likes of Martin, Hobb and Sanderson.
Words from our Winner
We were lucky enough to catch up with Mark and get a comment from him upon presenting the award. This is what he had to say:
It’s traditional to be humble in victory… then again, they say write what you know. Perhaps I could try a third way and go for reflective instead. Emperor of Thorns is, after all, the end of the trilogy and a goodbye to many of the characters.
Fantasy-Faction and the Broken Empire books have grown together, and it’s been a great journey for both. The site started in 2010, the year I signed my book deal. Peter V Brett’s The Desert Spear won best book that first year.
In 2011 Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes won best book and Prince of Thorns shared best debut with Among Thieves by Doug Hulick. In 2012 King of Thorns came 3rd in the best book category behind Brent Weeks’ The Blinding Knife and Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes.
I knew if I waited long enough I’d find a year when neither Weeks or Abercrombie had a new book out, and this, my friends, is that year! And to be honest, if I had to choose one of my trilogy to win it would be Emperor of Thorns. Because a writer always hopes their work is improving from book to book, and because having let Jorg’s story come to an end it’s good to go out on a high.
So standing on the [cross out]shoulders of giants[/cross out] piled corpses of my enemies at the pinnacle of 2013 and of the Broken Empire, I salute all you Fantasy-Factioners out there and bid you an excellent year of fantasy ahead.
TA-TA & A THANK YOU
So, that just about wraps up 2013 for us. Over the next few days we’ll be posting our most anticipated novels of 2014, our favourite publishers’ choices for 2014 and announcing our plans for our own unique award. I do hope you keep coming back to Fantasy-Faction throughout the next year and beyond to check out our reviews, articles, interviews and join in the forum too, of course.
Oh, and, again, if we missed off a book you think deserves to be on here – please let us know in the comments.