Fantasy-Faction’s Best Fantasy Books of 2014
We fantasy readers were some of the luckiest people alive in 2014 because fantasy publishers around the world just kept on giving and giving. Previous years we’ve done a top 10 of our favourite books, then last year we were forced to produce a list of 25. Well, this year, we’ve stepped things up again. This year we’ve had absolutely no option but to bring you a list of 50 books released in 2014 that we feel you HAVE to read.
Of course, even allowing ourselves 50 books, we’ve had to leave some off that should probably have made it. We may have committed the cardinal sin of not having read the book, it may not of matched our tastes or, perhaps, somehow, we forgot about it. We’ve done our very best to make sure that this isn’t the case – but that’s what the comments section is for: if you think we missed a top title out, put something too high up or too low down do let us know. Multiple opinions and perspectives are what makes this site one of the best places on the net to hang out in, right? 🙂
We’ll start off with a list of 25 books that we absolutely loved in 2014 but that didn’t quite make our top 25; they are in alphabetic order (by title). From there we will move onto the books that did make our top 25, which – with great, great difficulty (such difficulty that this list is three weeks overdue!) – we have put in order of which we enjoyed the most.
Top 50 – Part 1: 25 (ish) Books from 2014 That Shouldn’t Be Missed
Assail (Malazan Empire, #6) by Ian C. Esslemont
Tens of thousands of years of ice is melting, and the land of Assail, long a byword for menace and inaccessibility, is at last yielding its secrets. Tales of gold discovered in the region’s north circulate in every waterfront dive and sailor’s tavern, and now countless adventurers and fortune-seekers have set sail in search of riches. All these adventurers have to guide them are legends and garbled tales of the dangers that lie in wait—hostile coasts, fields of ice, impassable barriers and strange, terrifying creatures. But all accounts concur that the people of the north meet all trespassers with the sword. And beyond are rumoured to lurk Elder monsters out of history’s very beginnings.
Into this turmoil ventures the mercenary company, the Crimson Guard. Not drawn by contract, but by the promise of answers: answers to mysteries that Shimmer, second in command, wonders should even be sought. Arriving also, part of an uneasy alliance of Malazan fortune-hunters and Letherii soldiery, comes the bard Fisher kel Tath. And with him is a Tiste Andii who was found washed ashore and cannot remember his past life, yet who commands far more power than he really should. Also venturing north is said to be a mighty champion, a man who once fought for the Malazans, the bearer of a sword that slays gods: Whiteblade.
And lastly, far to the south, a woman guards the shore awaiting both her allies and her enemies. Silverfox, newly incarnated Summoner of the undying army of the T’lan Imass, will do anything to stop the renewal of an ages-old crusade that could lay waste to the entire continent and beyond.
Casting light on mysteries spanning the Malazan Empire, and offering a glimpse of the storied and epic history that shaped it, Assail is the final chapter in the epic story of the Empire of Malazan.
Banished (The Blackhart Legacy, #1) by Liz de Jager
Sworn to protect, honour and slay. Because chaos won’t banish itself…
Kit is proud to be a Blackhart, now she’s encountered her unorthodox cousins and their strange lives. And her home-schooling now includes spells, fighting enemy fae and using ancient weapons. But it’s not until she rescues a rather handsome fae prince, fighting for his life on the edge of Blackhart Manor, that her training really kicks in. With her family away on various missions, Kit must protect Prince Thorn, rely on new friends and use her own unfamiliar magic to stay ahead of Thorn’s enemies. As things go from bad to apocalyptic, fae battle fae in a war that threatens to spill into the human world. Then Kit pits herself against the Elder Gods themselves – it’s that or lose everyone she’s learnt to love.
Blood and Iron (The Book of the Black Earth, #1) by Jon Sprunk
Set in a richly-imagined world, this action-heavy fantasy epic and series opener is like a sword-and-sorcery Spartacus.
It starts with a shipwreck following a magical storm at sea. Horace, a soldier from the west, had joined the Great Crusade against the heathens of Akeshia after the deaths of his wife and son from plague. When he washes ashore, he finds himself at the mercy of the very people he was sent to kill, who speak a language and have a culture and customs he doesn’t even begin to understand.
Not long after, Horace is pressed into service as a house slave. But this doesn’t last. The Akeshians discover that Horace was a latent sorcerer, and he is catapulted from the chains of a slave to the halls of power in the queen’s court. Together with Jirom, an ex-mercenary and gladiator, and Alyra, a spy in the court, he will seek a path to free himself and the empire’s caste of slaves from a system where every man and woman must pay the price of blood or iron. Before the end, Horace will have paid dearly in both.
Blood Will Follow (The Valhalla Saga, #2) by Snorri Kristjansson
Ulfar Thormodsson and Audun Arngrimsson have won the battle for Stenvik, although at huge cost, for they have suffered much worse than heartbreak. They have lost the very thing that made them human: their mortality.
While Ulfar heads home, looking for the place where he thinks he will be safe, Audun runs south. But both men are about to discover that they cannot run away from themselves.
King Olav might have been defeated outside the walls of Stenvik, but now Valgard leads him north, in search of the source of the Vikings’ power.
All the while there are those who watch and wait, biding their time, for there are secrets yet to be discovered…
Dust and Light (The Sanctuary Duet, #1) by Carol Berg
National bestselling author Carol Berg returns to the world of her award-winning Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone with an all-new tale of magic, mystery, and corruption.
How much must one pay for an hour of youthful folly? The Pureblood Registry accused Lucian de Remeni-Masson of “unseemly involvement with ordinaries,” which meant only that he spoke with a young woman not of his own kind, allowed her to see his face unmasked, worked a bit of magic for her. After that one mistake, Lucian’s grandsire excised half his magic and savage Harrowers massacred his family. Now the Registry has contracted his art to a common coroner. His extraordinary gift for portraiture is restricted to dead ordinaries—beggars or starvelings hauled from the streets.
But sketching the truth of dead men’s souls brings unforeseen consequences. Sensations not his own. Truths he cannot possibly know and dares not believe. The coroner calls him a cheat and says he is trying to weasel out of a humiliating contract. The Registry will call him mad—and mad sorcerers are very dangerous.
Foxglove Summer (Peter Grant, #5) by Ben Aaronovitch
In the fifth of his bestselling series Ben Aaronovitch takes Peter Grant out of whatever comfort zone he might have found, from London to a small village in Herefordshire where the local police are reluctant to admit that there might be a supernatural element to the disappearance of some local children. But while you can take the copper out of London you can’t take the London out of the copper.
Travelling west with Beverley Brook, Peter soon finds himself caught up in a deep mystery and having to tackle local cops and local gods. And what’s more all the shops are closed by 4pm.
Full Fathom Five (Craft Sequence, #3) by Max Gladstone
The third novel set in the addictive and compelling fantasy world of Three Parts Dead.
On the island of Kavekana, Kai builds gods to order, then hands them to others to maintain. Her creations aren’t conscious and lack their own wills and voices, but they accept sacrifices, and protect their worshippers from other gods—perfect vehicles for Craftsmen and Craftswomen operating in the divinely controlled Old World.
When Kai sees one of her creations dying and tries to save her, she’s grievously injured—then sidelined from the business entirely, her near-suicidal rescue attempt offered up as proof of her instability. But when Kai gets tired of hearing her boss, her coworkers, and her ex-boyfriend call her crazy, and starts digging into the reasons her creations die, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence and fear—which will crush her, if Kai can’t stop it first.
Mirror Sight (Green Rider, #5) by Kristen Britain
Karigan G’ladheon is a Green Rider – a seasoned member of the royal messenger corps whose loyalty and her bravery have already been tested many times. And her final, explosive magical confrontation with Mornhavon the Black should have killed her. But rather than finding death, and peace, Karigan wakes to a darkness deeper than night. The explosion has transported her somewhere – and into a sealed stone sarcophagus – and now she must escape, somehow, before the thinning air runs out and her mysterious tomb becomes her grave.
Where is she? Does a trap, laid by Mornhavon, lie beyond her prison? And if she can escape, will she find the world beyond the same – or has the magic taken her out of reach of her friends, home and King forever?
Murder (Mayhem, #2) by Sarah Pinborough
Dr. Thomas Bond, Police Surgeon, is still recovering from the event of the previous year when Jack the Ripper haunted the streets of London – and a more malign enemy hid in his shadow. Bond and the others who worked on the gruesome case are still stalked by its legacies, both psychological and tangible.
But now the bodies of children are being pulled from the Thames and Bond is about to become inextricably linked with an uncanny, undying enemy.
Night of the Hunter (Companions Codex, #1; Legend of Drizzt, #25) by R.A. Salvatore
R.A. Salvatore’s New York Times best-selling saga continues as dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden returns to Gauntlgrym with old friends by his side once again, as they seek to rescue Bruenor’s loyal shield dwarf-turned-vampire. But not only do Drizzt and his allies face a perilous journey through the Underdark and the dangers of the undead that lie within, but they must cross through a colony of drow, who would like nothing better than to see Drizzt Do’Urden dead.
Seal of the Worm (Shadows of the Apt, #10) by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Empire stands victorious over its enemies at last. With her chief rival cast into the abyss, Empress Seda now faces the truth of what she has cost the world in order to win the war. The Seal has been shattered, and the Worm stirs towards the light for the first time in a thousand years. Already it is striking at the surface, voraciously consuming everything its questing tendrils touch. Faced with this threat, Seda knows that only the most extreme of solutions can lock the Worm back in the dark once again. But if she will go to such appalling lengths to save the world from the Worm, then who will save the world from her?
The last book in the epic critically acclaimed Shadows of the Apt series.
Shattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #7) by Kevin Hearne
Acclaimed author Kevin Hearne makes his hardcover debut with the new novel in his epic urban fantasy series starring the unforgettable Atticus O’Sullivan.
For nearly two thousand years, only one Druid has walked the Earth—Atticus O’Sullivan, the Iron Druid, whose sharp wit and sharp sword have kept him alive as he’s been pursued by a pantheon of hostile deities. Now he’s got company.
Atticus’s apprentice Granuaile is at last a full Druid herself. What’s more, Atticus has defrosted an archdruid long ago frozen in time, a father figure (of sorts) who now goes by the modern equivalent of his old Irish name: Owen Kennedy. And Owen has some catching up to do.
Atticus takes pleasure in the role reversal, as the student is now the teacher. Between busting Atticus’s chops and trying to fathom a cell phone, Owen must also learn English. For Atticus, the jury’s still out on whether the wily old coot will be an asset in the epic battle with Norse god Loki—or merely a pain in the arse.
But Atticus isn’t the only one with daddy issues. Granuaile faces a great challenge: to exorcise a sorcerer’s spirit that is possessing her father in India. Even with the help of the witch Laksha, Granuaile may be facing a crushing defeat.
As the trio of Druids deals with pestilence-spreading demons, bacon-loving yeti, fierce flying foxes, and frenzied Fae, they’re hoping that this time, three’s a charm.
Steles of the Sky (Eternal Sky #3) by Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear concludes her award-winning epic fantasy trilogy with Steles of the Sky.
Re Temur, exiled heir to his grandfather’s Khaganate, has finally raised his banner and declared himself at war with his usurping uncle. With his companions—the Wizard Samarkar, the Cho-tse Hrahima, and the silent monk Brother Hsiung—he must make his way to Dragon Lake to gather his army of followers.
Temur has many enemies, and they are not idle. The sorcerer who leads the Nameless Assassins, whose malice has shattered the peace of all the empires of the Celedon Highway, has struck at Temur’s uncle already. To the south, in the Rasan Empire, a magical plague rages. To the east, the great city of Asmaracanda has burned, and the Uthman Caliph is deposed. And in the hidden ancient empire of Erem, Temur’s son has been born and a new moon has risen in the Eternal Sky.
Sworn in Steel (Tales of the Kin, #2) by Douglas Hulick
It’s been three months since Drothe killed a legend, burned down a portion of the imperial capital, and unexpectedly elevated himself into the ranks of the criminal elite. Now, as the newest Gray Prince in the underworld, he’s learning just how good he used to have it.
With barely the beginnings of an organization to his name, Drothe is already being called out by other Gray Princes. And to make matters worse, when one dies, all signs point to Drothe as wielding the knife. As members of the Kin begin choosing sides – mostly against him – for what looks to be another impending war, Drothe is approached by a man who not only has the solution to Drothe’s most pressing problem, but an offer of redemption. The only problem is the offer isn’t for him.
Now Drothe finds himself on the way to the Despotate of Djan, the empire’s long-standing enemy, with an offer to make and a price on his head. And the grains of sand in the hour glass are running out, fast.
The Boy with the Porcelain (Erebus Sequence, #1) by Den Patrick
An ornate yet dark fantasy, with echoes of Mervyn Peake, Robin Hobb and Jon Courtenay Grimwood. An original and beautifully imagined world, populated by unforgettable characters.
Lucien de Fontein has grown up different. One of the mysterious and misshapen Orfano who appear around the Kingdom of Landfall, he is a talented fighter yet constantly lonely, tormented by his deformity, and well aware that he is a mere pawn in a political game. Ruled by an insane King and the venomous Majordomo, it is a world where corruption and decay are deeply rooted – but to a degree Lucien never dreams possible when he first discovers the plight of the ‘insane’ women kept in the haunting Sanatoria.
Told in a continuous narrative interspersed with flashbacks we see Lucien grow up under the care of his tutors. We watch him forced through rigorous Testings, and fall in love, set against his yearning to discover where he comes from, and how his fate is tied to that of every one of the deformed Orfano in the Kingdom, and of the eerie Sanatoria itself.
The Dark Defiles (A Land Fit for Heroes, #3) by Richard K. Morgan
Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold meets George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones in the final novel in Richard K. Morgan’s epic A Land Fit for Heroes trilogy, which burst onto the fantasy scene with The Steel Remains and The Cold Commands.
Ringil Eskiath, a reluctant hero viewed as a corrupt degenerate by the very people who demand his help, has traveled far in search of the Illwrack Changeling, a deathless human sorcerer-warrior raised by the bloodthirsty Aldrain, former rulers of the world. Separated from his companions—Egar the Dragonbane and Archeth—Ringil risks his soul to master a deadly magic that alone can challenge the might of the Changeling. While Archeth and the Dragonbane embark on a trail of blood and tears that ends up exposing long-buried secrets, Ringil finds himself tested as never before, with his life and all existence hanging in the balance.
The Fell Sword (The Traitor Son Cycle, #2) by Miles Cameron
The Red Knight was one of the most acclaimed fantasy debuts of 2012 – and now he rides again. Miles Cameron weaves a tale of magic and depravity in its sequel, The Fell Sword. Prepare for one epic battle…
Loyalty costs money.
Betrayal, on the other hand, is free.
When the Emperor is taken hostage, the Red Knight and his men find their services in high demand – and themselves surrounded by enemies. The country is in revolt, the capital city is besieged and any victory will be hard won. But the Red Knight has a plan.
The question is, can he negotiate the political, magical, real and romantic battlefields at the same time – especially when he intends to be victorious on them all?
The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M Harris
The first adult epic fantasy novel from multi-million copy bestselling author of Chocolat, Joanne Harris.
The novel is a brilliant first-person narrative of the rise and fall of the Norse gods – retold from the point of view of the world’s ultimate trickster, Loki. It tells the story of Loki’s recruitment from the underworld of Chaos, his many exploits on behalf of his one-eyed master, Odin, through to his eventual betrayal of the gods and the fall of Asgard itself. Using her life-long passion for the Norse myths, Joanne Harris has created a vibrant and powerful fantasy novel.
Loki, that’s me.
Loki, the Light-Bringer, the misunderstood, the elusive, the handsome and modest hero of this particular tissue of lies. Take it with a pinch of salt, but it’s at least as true as the official version, and, dare I say it, more entertaining.
So far, history, such as it is, has cast me in a rather unflattering role. Now it’s my turn to take the stage.
With his notorious reputation for trickery and deception, and an ability to cause as many problems as he solves, Loki is a Norse god like no other. Demon-born, he is viewed with deepest suspicion by his fellow gods who will never accept him as one of their own and for this he vows to take his revenge.
The High Druid’s Blade (The Defenders of Shannara, #1) by Terry Brooks
Legend has it that Paxon Leah is descended from the royals and warriors who once ruled the Highlands and waged war with magical weapons. But those kings, queens, and heroes are long gone, and there is nothing enchanted about the antique sword that hangs above Paxon’s fireplace.
Running his family’s modest shipping business, Paxon leads a quiet life—until extraordinary circumstances overturn his simple world…and rewrite his destiny.
When his brash young sister is abducted by a menacing stranger, Paxon races to her rescue with the only weapon he can find. And in a harrowing duel, he is stunned to discover powerful magic unleashed within him—and within his ancestors’ ancient blade. But his formidable new ability is dangerous in untrained hands, and Paxon must master it quickly because his nearly fatal clash with the dark sorcerer Arcannen won’t be his last. Leaving behind home and hearth, he journeys to the keep of the fabled Druid order to learn the secrets of magic and earn the right to become their sworn protector.
But treachery is afoot deep in the Druids’ ranks. And the blackest of sorcery is twisting a helpless innocent into a murderous agent of evil. To halt an insidious plot that threatens not only the Druid order but all the Four Lands, Paxon Leah must summon the profound magic in his blood and the legendary mettle of his elders in the battle fate has chosen him to fight.
The Magician’s Land (The Magicians, #3) by Lev Grossman
Quentin Coldwater has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams. With nothing left to lose, he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic, but he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him.
Along with Plum, a brilliant young undergraduate with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. But all roads lead back to Fillory, and his new life takes him to old haunts, like Antarctica, and to buried secrets and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers the key to a sorcery masterwork, a spell that could create magical utopia, and a new Fillory–but casting it will set in motion a chain of events that will bring Earth and Fillory crashing together. To save them he will have to risk sacrificing everything.
The Shadow Throne (The Shadow Campaigns, #2) by Django Wexler
Anyone can plot a coup or fire an assassin’s bullet. But in a world of muskets and magic, it takes considerably more to seize the throne.
The ailing King of the Vordan lies on his deathbed. When he dies, his daughter, Raesinia Orboan, will become the first Queen Regnant in centuries—and a ripe target for the ambitious men who seek to control her. The most dangerous of these is Duke Orlanko, Minister of Information and master of the secret police. Having meticulously silenced his adversaries through intimidation, imprisonment, and execution, Orlanko is the most feared man in the kingdom.
And he knows an arcane secret that puts Raesinia completely at his mercy.
Exposure would mean ruin, but Raesinia is determined to find a way to break herself—and her country—out of Orlanko’s iron grip. She finds unlikely allies in the returning war hero Janus bet Vhalnich, fresh from a brilliant campaign in the colony of Khandar, and his loyal deputies, Captain Marcus d’Ivoire and Lieutenant Winter Ihernglass.
As Marcus and Winter struggle to find their places in the home they never thought they would see again, they help Janus and Raesinia set in motion events that could free Vordan from Orlanko’s influence—at the price of throwing the nation into chaos. But with the people suffering under the Duke’s tyranny, they intend to protect the kingdom with every power they can command, earthly or otherwise.
The Splintered Gods (The Memory of Flames, #6) by Stephen Deas
Forced to wage war by an unknown, the Dragon Queen is hated, safe while she has her dragon, but her necklace throttles her if she tries to flee. Berren the Bloody Judge, in another’s body, seeks the man who stole his life. When he is in danger, a power inside him disintegrates others around. That power will lead to the Dragon Queen and battle.
The Widow’s House (The Dagger and the Coin, #4) by Daniel Abraham
Lord Regent Geder Palliako’s war has led his nation and the priests of the spider goddess to victory after victory. No power has withstood him, except for the heart of the one woman he desires. As the violence builds and the cracks in his rule begin to show, he will risk everything to gain her love or else her destruction.
Clara Kalliam, the loyal traitor, is torn between the woman she once was and the woman she has become. With her sons on all sides of the conflict, her house cannot stand, but there is a power in choosing when and how to fall.
And in Porte Oliva, banker Cithrin bel Sarcour and Captain Marcus Wester learn the terrible truth that links this war to the fall of the dragons millennia before, and that to save the world, Cithrin must conquer it.
Thief’s Magic (Millenium’s Rule, #1) by Trudi Canavan
In a world where an industrial revolution is powered by magic, Tyen, a student of archaeology, discovers a sentient book in an ancient tomb. Vella was once a young sorcerer-maker, until she was transformed into a useful tool by one of the greatest sorcerers of history. Since then she has been gathering information, including a vital clue to the disaster Tyen’s world faces.
Elsewhere, in a land ruled by the priests since a terrible war depleted all but a little magic, Rielle the dyer’s daughter has been taught that to use magic is to steal from the Angels. Yet she knows from her ability to sense the stain it leaves behind that she has a talent for it, and that there are people willing to teach her how to use it, should she ever need to risks the Angels’ wrath.
Further away, a people called the Travelers live their entire lives on the move, trading goods from one world to another. They know that each world has its own store of magic, reducing or increasing a sorcerer’s abilities, so that if one entered a weak world they may be unable to leave it again. Each family maintains a safe trading route passed down through countless generations and modified whenever local strife makes visiting dangerous. But this is not the only knowledge the Travelers store within their stories and songs, collected over millennia spent roaming the universe. They know a great change is due, and that change brings both loss and opportunity.
Tower Lord (Raven’s Shadow, #2) by Anthony Ryan
“The blood-song rose with an unexpected tune, a warm hum mingling recognition with an impression of safety. He had a sense it was welcoming him home.”
Vaelin Al Sorna, warrior of the Sixth Order, called Darkblade, called Hope Killer. The greatest warrior of his day, and witness to the greatest defeat of his nation: King Janus’s vision of a Greater Unified Realm drowned in the blood of brave men fighting for a cause Vaelin alone knows was forged from a lie. Sick at heart, he comes home, determined to kill no more.
Named Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches by King Janus’s grateful heir, he can perhaps find peace in a colder, more remote land far from the intrigues of a troubled Realm. But those gifted with the blood-song are never destined to live a quiet life. Many died in King Janus’s wars, but many survived, and Vaelin is a target, not just for those seeking revenge but for those who know what he can do.
The Faith has been sundered, and many have no doubt who their leader should be. The new King is weak, but his sister is strong. The blood-song is powerful, rich in warning and guidance in times of trouble, but is only a fraction of the power available to others who understand more of its mysteries. Something moves against the Realm, something that commands mighty forces, and Vaelin will find to his great regret that when faced with annihilation, even the most reluctant hand must eventually draw a sword.
Valor (The Faithful and the Fallen #2) by John Gwynne
The Banished Lands is torn by war as High King Nathair sweeps the land challenging all who oppose him in his holy crusade. Allied with the manipulative Queen Rhin of Cambren, there are few who can stand against them. But Rhin is playing her own games and has her eyes on a far greater prize.
Left for dead, her kin fled and her country overrun with enemies, Cywen has no choice but to try to survive. But any chance of escape is futile once Nathair and his disquieting advisor Calidus realise who she is. They have no intention of letting such a prize from their grasp. For she may be their greatest chance at killing the biggest threat to their power.
Meanwhile, the young warrior Corban flees from his conquered homeland with his exiled companions heading for the only place that may offer them sanctuary – Domhain. But to get there they must travel through Cambren avoiding warbands, giants and the vicious wolven of the mountains. And all the while Corban must battle to become the man that everyone believes him to be – the Bright Star and saviour of the Banished Lands.
And in the Otherworld dark forces scheme to bring a host of the Fallen into the world of flesh to end the war with the Faithful, once and for all.
Veil of the Deserters (Bloodsounder’s Arc, #2) by Jeff Salyards
History, Family and Memory… these are the seeds of destruction.
Bloodsounder’s Arc continues as Captain Braylar Killcoin and his retinue continue to sow chaos amongst the political elite of Alespell. Braylar is still poisoned by the memories of those slain by his unholy flail Bloodsounder, and attempts to counter this sickness have proven ineffectual.
The Syldoonian Emperor Cynead has solidified his power base in unprecedented ways, and demands loyalty from all operatives. Braylar and company are recalled to the capital to swear fealty. Braylar must decide if he can trust his sister, Soffjian, with the secret that is killing him. She has powerful memory magics that might be able to save him from Bloodsounder’s effects, but she has political allegiances that are not his own. Arki and others in the company try to get Soffjian and Braylar to trust one another, but politics in the capital prove to be far more complicated and dangerous than even Killcoin could predict.
Deposed emperor Thumarr plots to remove the repressive Cynead, and Braylar and his sister Soffjian lie at the heart of his plans. The distance between “favored shadow agent of the emperor” and “exiled traitor” is an unsurprisingly short road. But it is a road filled with blind twists and unexpected turns. Before the journey is over, Arki will chronicle the true intentions of Emperor Cynead and Soffjian. And old enemies in Alespell may prove to be surprising allies in a conflict no one could have foreseen.
Top 50 – Part Two: Our Top 25 Books From 2014
25. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment. Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend…and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.
This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.
The court culture of this novel is fascinating, and small details such as the switch from formal to informal language in the midst of a conversation are laden with meaning. In some ways, the worldbuilding, interest in language and childlike fancy of the protagonist make us think those who like The Hobbit will also like The Goblin Emperor. There’s no Battle of the Five Armies, nor are there any warriors, assassins or antiheroes, but this book finds a way to pull you in all the same. If you’re looking for a fantasy book that doesn’t rely on violence to tell its story, this may be your book of the year.
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24. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies, but this one is unique even by Detroit’s standards: half-boy, half-deer, somehow fused. The cops nickname him “Bambi,” but as stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?
If you’re Detective Versado’s over-achieving teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you are the disgraced journalist, Jonno, you do whatever it takes to investigate what may become the most heinous crime story in memory. If you’re Thomas Keen, you’ll do what you can to keep clean, keep your head down, and try to help the broken and possibly visionary artist obsessed with setting loose The Dream, tearing reality, assembling the city anew.
If Lauren Beukes’s internationally best-selling The Shining Girls was a time-jumping thrill ride through the past, her Broken Monsters is the genre-redefining thriller about the horror of our city’s future.
Lauren Beukes takes readers on a twisted journey through the city of Detroit to uncover the identity of her most disturbing serial killer yet. Through the eyes of multiple narrators, she reveals a tableau of horror, which stems from the heart of the city itself. Broken Monsters is a searing blend of the traditional police procedural, Lovecraftian psychic horror and darkest urban fantasy, and, as more than the sum of these parts, it is a triumph of genre fiction.
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23. The Emperor’s Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, #1) by Brian Staveley
The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again…
The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy.
His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.
Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move?
I, personally, felt a little let down by The Emperor’s Blades. I truly enjoyed it, but I think the pre-launch hype got to me. Going into this book I was told to expect a novel that would be as loved by me as the likes of George R.R. Martin and Robin Hobb. So, when I cracked it open, my expectations couldn’t have been higher. The sad fact was that it didn’t live up to the crazily high benchmark I’d placed on it. Of course, that is not Brian’s fault and I am still a big fan of the book – I just wish I could go back and head into it having not been told anything about it. For that reason I sought out Charlie, one of the F-F staff reviewers, who went into it expectation-free, so I hand over to him to give you a fairer analysis:
I loved The Emperors Blades and I’m not at all surprised Brian Staveley won the Best Debut Author at the Reddit Fantasy Awards. It is an outstanding epic fantasy that towered head and shoulders above almost everything else I was reading and went punch for punch with fellow favourites and heavyweights like Brandon Sanderson and Mark Lawrence. It stood on my bookshelf, brandishing its middle finger at any who dared question its brilliance and became a personal recommendation to many friends and strangers because of the incredible story, unforgettable characters and tight seamless writing. Considering the quality of this book, and the extraordinary fact that Providence of Fire is even better, I think we’ll have many good stories to come from this author in the future.
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22. Dreamer’s Pool (Blackthorn and Grim #1) by Juliet Marillier
In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.
Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais. He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love. But Oran discovers letters can lie. For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.
With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma. Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help. To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic.
Even if you’re new to Marillier’s writing, Dreamer’s Pool is a great place to start. This is historical fantasy at its best, with original, engaging characters and a fairytale-esque plotline. Like all good fairy tales, it’s dark, painful, tragic and humorous in turns and while it teases the reader, it also wraps up succinctly. The setting of the prince’s court and surrounding lands is something of a microcosm and provides a perfect backdrop to Blackthorn and Grim’s adventures. This has the feel of an early detective story with all the danger, clue-hunting, confrontations and exciting conclusions of the genre.
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21. The Crimson Campaign (The Powder Mage, #2) by Brian McClellan
“The hounds at our heels will soon know we are lions.”
Tamas’s invasion of Kez ends in disaster when a Kez counter-offensive leaves him cut off behind enemy lines with only a fraction of his army, no supplies, and no hope of reinforcements. Drastically outnumbered and pursued by the enemy’s best, he must lead his men on a reckless march through northern Kez to safety, and back over the mountains so that he can defend his country from an angry god.
In Adro, Inspector Adamat only wants to rescue his wife. To do so he must track down and confront the evil Lord Vetas. He has questions for Vetas concerning his enigmatic master, but the answers might come too quickly.
With Tamas and his powder cabal presumed dead, Taniel Two-shot finds himself alongside the god-chief Mihali as the last line of defence against Kresimir’s advancing army. Tamas’s generals bicker among themselves, the brigades lose ground every day beneath the Kez onslaught, and Kresimir wants the head of the man who shot him in the eye.
The Crimson Campaign is the rare middle book of a trilogy that actually kicks its pace up a notch. Both books in the series so far have been packed with action, but the real key to McClellan’s success is the depth he gives his characters. Amazingly, he manages to add even more nuance to the characters we met in Promise of Blood, giving us new insights to their pasts and their present while building intrigue for the third and final installment. It’s an amazing work, and has the series well-situated for an outstanding finale in The Autumn Republic due out this year.
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20. Ruin and Rising (The Grisha, #3) by Leigh Bardugo
The capital has fallen.
The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.
Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.
Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.
Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.
The third and final installment in the Grisha trilogy, Ruin and Rising is quite the thrill ride. Alina Starkov is the Sun Summoner with powers that could turn the tide on a war dominated by the Darkling. Seeking magical amplifiers to aid in the cause, Alina and her childhood best friend, Mal, together with the resistance fighters face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The surprise twists and turns make this conclusion a great read. Character and devotion are tested, good and evil is not so black and white, and happy endings require a different perspective to appreciate. This trilogy should definitely be in your to-be-read pile.
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19. Son of the Morning by Mark Alder
Edward the Third stands in the burnt ruin of an English church. He is beset on all sides. He needs a victory against the French to rescue his Kingship. Or he will die trying.
Philip of Valois can put 50,000 men in the field. He has sent his priests to summon the very Angels themselves to fight for France. Edward could call on God for aid but he is a usurper. What if God truly is on the side of the French?
But for a price, Edward could open the gates of Hell and take an unholy war to France…
Mark Alder has brought the epic fantasy of George R.R. Martin to the vivid historical adventure of Bernard Cornwell and has a created a fantasy that will sweep you to a new vision of the Hundred Years War.
In a Hundred Years War where kings can call on angels as well as demons, Mark Alder has created a sublime blend of the historical and the fantastical, merging factual and fictional characters together so well that it’s often difficult to tell one apart from the other. Son of the Morning is a book that is a feast for the senses, set in a world that is brought vividly to life by wonderful writing. Hailed as a mixture of two best-selling authors, Alder nevertheless has a unique voice that will keep the pages turning until late in the night. Always gripping, sometimes unsettling, and quite possibly worth the price for the sea battle scene alone. Brilliant.
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18. Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats, #1) by Sebastien de Castell
Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.
Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.
All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…
Scott Lynch didn’t write a novel for adults this year and technically Joe Abercrombie didn’t either. So, if you are looking for a gritty epic fantasy with a kind of humour that means it really, really shouldn’t be given to anyone but adult-adults then this (or Age of Iron) is the one you want. I really admired Sebastien’s ability to take the three musketeers (trope, at least) into the fantasy genre. There’s tonnes of sword fights, tons of making fun of each other, plenty of traitorous back-stabbing villains and even a little girl to save. This is a novel that won’t tax your mind – it’s quick, it’s fun, but at the same time is very rewarding.
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17. Shadowplay (Micah Grey, #2) by Laura Lam
The circus lies behind Micah Grey in dust and ashes.
He and the white clown, Drystan, take refuge with the once-great magician, Jasper Maske. When Maske agrees to teach them his trade, his embittered rival challenges them to a duel which could decide all of their fates.
People also hunt both Micah and the person he was before the circus–the runaway daughter of a noble family. And Micah discovers there is magic and power in the world, far beyond the card tricks and illusions he’s perfecting…
A tale of phantom wings, a clockwork hand, and the delicate unfurling of new love, Shadowplay continues Micah Grey’s extraordinary journey.
Shadowplay continues Micah Grey’s story, both in terms of plot and character growth. The interplay between Micah and Drystan, the white clown, is charming and heart-wrenching in equal measure, as Micah struggles to reconcile his past life as Iphigenia with his present life as the runaway circus performer wanted for murder. Beneath this internal conflict lies another far larger and more deadly, and Micah is unwillingly caught up in it.
I loved the world Lam created. She discusses themes of social and sexual inequality and sets them against a backdrop of an advanced civilisation long lost. With its immaculate prose, haunting exposition and brilliant transgender protagonist, this series is doing important things for the genre and is an absolute must read.
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16. Age of Iron (Iron Age, #1) by Angus Watson
Legends aren’t born. They’re forged.
Dug Sealskinner is a down-on-his-luck mercenary travelling south to join up with King Zadar’s army. But he keeps rescuing the wrong people.
First, Spring, a child he finds scavenging on the battlefield, and then Lowa, one of Zadar’s most fearsome warriors, who’s vowed revenge on the king for her sister’s execution.
Now Dug’s on the wrong side of that thousands-strong army he hoped to join ¬- and worse, Zadar has bloodthirsty druid magic on his side. All Dug has is his war hammer, one rescued child and one unpredictable, highly-trained warrior with a lust for revenge that’s going to get them all killed.
It’s a glorious day to die.
Age of Iron has got to be one of the most under-read and under-hyped fantasy books released in 2014. It definitely falls into the grimdark realm, with gritty violence that is well balanced with dark humor. The story follows an unlikely trio of a mercenary, a revenge thirsty warrior and a mysterious little girl. Each is a fascinating and strong character on their own, and together they create a wonderful group dynamic that adds much to the story. All of the elements of Age of Iron: the story, the characters, the action and the humor, come together to create a fun and addictive read. Angus Watson may not be on your radar, but he should be!
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15. The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga, #1) by Kameron Hurley
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.
The Mirror Empire is a wildly inventive, risky, provocative novel that subverts fantasy tropes by the dozen. With that said, it’s not an easy read. It’s not a fluffy piece of forgettable fiction you casually pick up in the airport before a long flight. It’s a challenging book—not only challenging to fantasy readers, but also a challenge to the genre. Nevertheless, if you can handle that, it is a fun, bold, and exciting read that will stick with you long after you put it down. Ultimately, The Mirror Empire will be one of the most talked about fantasy novels that appears on this list.
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14. Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #3) by Laini Taylor
By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz.
Common enemy, common cause.
When Jael’s brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people.
And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love.
But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz, something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world.
What power can bruise the sky?
From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.
At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter?
Expectations for the finale of the exquisite Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy were high but Dreams of Gods and Monsters smashed straight through them. All ends are tied up in a neat but emotional bow and what’s most astonishing, given the ceaseless mystery throughout the series, is that everything makes such complete and shocking sense. If we really have to pick a best bit it’s clearly going to be the continuing inclusion of characters like Zuzana but, honestly, there are no negatives. You can’t have a fairy tale ending that’s too optimistic, right?
In fact, so enchanting and full of visceral detail is Karou’s world of angels and demons that it’s hard not to feel cheated at having to live in this mundane reality instead. Except of course that this world has authors like Laini Taylor. Lucky us.
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13. Skin Game (Dresden Files, #15) by Jim Butcher
Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day…
Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.
He doesn’t know the half of it…
Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.
It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.
Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance…
If you’ve made it this far into the Dresden Files, then I can assume you will love Skin Game. It combines Jim Butcher’s slick, fast and witty writing style with a plot that I can only describe as absurdly cool. Harry is mixing with the ‘Big Bads’ now – although he still has a likeable edge of ‘underdog’. This means the character list is great, with old favourites and a couple of good new characters to keep it interesting. Also, Skin Game’s plot is nicely self-contained in regards to the rest of the series, which, when you are dealing with the ultimate bank heist (Harry Dresden style), is very satisfying.
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12. Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1) by Pierce Brown
The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity’s last hope.
Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it’s all a lie. That Mars has been habitable – and inhabited – for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.
Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield – and Darrow isn’t the only student with an agenda.
Typically you complain when a book draws too much of its inspiration from other books. However, Red Rising is a special, special book that rather than coming across as a rip-off draws upon classics/modern-classics such as The Hunger Games, Avatar, Ender’s Game and The Lord of the Rings to result in what can only be called a love-letter to the young adult and fantasy genres.
What is amazing is the journey the character goes on, what starts off as a story purely about revenge quickly turns into one of growth. This growth is made all the more complex, because what happens when you are surrounded by people you are supposed to hate, but need to rely on and trust if you are to reach your ultimate ambition?
If I’ve not convinced you to pick it up yet, how about telling you that upon getting their hands on the book Universal Pictures sparked a bidding war that saw them throw over $1,000,000 at securing the rights to one day make a movie based on it. Not a bad day for a debut author, huh?
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11. The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #1) by Erika Johansen
On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.
Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.
But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend…if she can survive.
One of the finest debuts of the year. Although marketed as a young adult novel, this is one that everyone – teen, adult, male or female – will enjoy; and is far more complex than first appearances. Unprepared for the dire state of her kingdom’s economy, readers will share the harsh political decisions that nineteen-year-old Kelsea is forced to make even before she formally arrives as its new queen.
As stated in the blurb, her people are subject to a lottery where those whose names are drawn are sent to a neighbouring kingdom as slaves: tributes, designed to prevent the outbreak of war. Yes, it’s a familiar formula, but this one doesn’t read like a carbon copy and the amount of action and twists will see you finish it very quickly. The stand-out element though is Kelsea, who channeling Danaerys’ regal fury and Hermione’s determined academia is the next of fantasy’s great heroines.
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10. Smiler’s Fair (The Hollow Gods, #1) by Rebecca Levene
Yron the moon god died, but now he’s reborn in the false king’s son. His human father wanted to kill him, but his mother sacrificed her life to save him. He’ll return one day to claim his birthright. He’ll change your life.
He’ll change everything.
Smiler’s Fair: the great moving carnival where any pleasure can be had, if you’re willing to pay the price. They say all paths cross at Smiler’s Fair. They say it’ll change your life. For five people, Smiler’s Fair will change everything.
In a land where unimaginable horror lurks in the shadows, where the very sun and moon are at war, five people – Nethmi, the orphaned daughter of a murdered nobleman, who in desperation commits an act that will haunt her forever. Dae Hyo, the skilled warrior, who discovers that a lifetime of bravery cannot make up for a single mistake. Eric, who follows his heart only to find that love exacts a terrible price. Marvan, the master swordsman, who takes more pleasure from killing than he should. And Krish, the humble goatherd, with a destiny he hardly understands and can never accept – will discover just how much Smiler’s Fair changes everything.
Despite having one of the best covers of 2014, I think that the cover will probably hurt this book a little in terms of ‘getting it out there’. Smiler’s Fair is the Sonic the Hedgehog version of a hedgehog. Whereas epic fantasy is usually pretty slow burning, long, complex and requires a vast amount of concentration, Smiler’s Fair is fast, short, easy-going and hits you in an episodic manner. A better analogy might be A Game of Thrones the book compared to Game of Thrones the TV show.
The author, Rebecca Levene has experience working on video games and television shows and you really feel that – it’s snappy and slick. All that said there’s more to this than a refreshing pace. The characters you meet are all loveable, intriguing or terrifying. There are twists and turns that you’ll never see coming. There is a story in the background that you know is going to get incredibly deep and there are mysteries you are left with by the end of book one that will leave you desperate to pick up books two, three and four.
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9. The City Stained Red (Bring Down Heaven, #1) by Sam Sykes
Long before he was sent to hell, the Aeon known as Khoth-Kapira was the closest thing to a living god the world had ever known. Possessed of a vast intellect, he pioneered many of the wonders that persist in the world that lingered long after he was banished. Nearly every fragment of medical, economic and technological progress that the mortal races enjoyed could be traced back to him. But with his wonders came cruelty beyond measure: industrialized slavery, horrifying experimentations and a rage that would eventually force the world to bow to him.
Now, as Khoth-Kapira stirs the world begins to shudder with disasters yet to come. The epicenter is the city of Cier’Djaal. A religious war between two unstoppable military juggernauts begins to brew. The racial fury among many peoples of the world is about to explode. Demons begin to pour from the shadows at the head of a vicious cult worshipping dark powers.
And Lenk finds himself in the middle once more, his fate and the fate of Khoth-Kapira interlinked as the demon attempts to convince him of his earnestness.
“Your world is breaking around you,” He Who Makes says, “let me fix it. Let me help you. Let me out.”
Sam Sykes does things in the fantasy genre that other writers don’t do. Where your typical author says, “I cannot write that,” Sam Sykes says, “I have to write that.” For that reason when I read his work I always feel as though I’m reading something I haven’t come across anywhere else.
I think that with Sam’s work it helps if you are of the generation that has experienced the ‘cheesy fantasy’ of the 80s and 90s and can laugh about it with him today. Much of his work is inspired by that period, the stock characters for example, but it has been twisted up, broken and pieced together in a way that is unique and never fails to entertain. That said, The City Stained Red is more than just a bit of fun, it is a mammoth-sized fantasy novel that cannot be read chapter by chapter. This is because Sam does a fantastic job of showing the reader a ticking time bomb in the first few pages and leaves us constantly feeling it’s about to go off.
The story of The City Stained Red is far more typical of today’s market than Sam’s previous books and, despite this being his forth book, I think it’s a great place to begin. Finally, Sam’s increased focus on the character’s emotions and development make this his best yet.
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Joint 7. Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1) by Joe Abercrombie
“I swore an oath to be avenged on the killers of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”
Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea itself. And he must do it all with only one good hand.
The deceived will become the deceiver.
Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.
The betrayed will become the betrayer.
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.
Will the usurped become the usurper?
But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, and traps and tragedy…
When we first heard Joe Abercrombie was writing a young adult novel we panicked. There is no way it would work, right? It was doomed to fail. An author of grimdark fantasy cannot write a novel for 14/15-year-olds.
Turns out we were being stupid.
YA is a marketing term. Joe wrote a book that young adults can read, but which is essentially just a book. There are blood, knives, murder – everything you’d expect from an adult-adult novel, but with a couple of young adult themes added in (as opposed to everything being taken away).
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Joint 7. Prince of Fools (The Red Queen’s War, #1) by Mark Lawrence
The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.
The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.
After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board.
Mark took a huge risk with Prince of Fools: he took a step away from Jorg, the character who launched his career and who readers had no desire to see go anywhere. The result is a book that is far more mainstream in feel and sits to a far greater extent with what else is already out there.
That said, this isn’t just another epic fantasy book. It has a certain freshness and honour to it that feels similar to the work of Michael J. Sullivan. The quality of the prose has a poetry to it that we’ve come to expect from Lawrence, but still can’t quite fathom. How can an author write so beautifully and so eloquently for the entire length of a novel?
Once you get past the missing Jorg, this is a fun and exciting story, which told through Mark’s prose and tinged with his ability to turn your stomach through disturbing scenes, will leave you eagerly anticipating the follow-ups.
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6. Breach Zone (Shadow Ops, #3) by Myke Cole
The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began “coming up Latent,” developing terrifying powers—summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Those who Manifest must choose: become a sheepdog who protects the flock or a wolf who devours it…
In the wake of a bloody battle at Forward Operating Base Frontier and a scandalous presidential impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorsson, call sign “Harlequin,” becomes a national hero and a pariah to the military that is the only family he’s ever known.
In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind.
When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil.
There seems to be nothing that Myke Cole cannot do, that includes writing fantastic fantasy. I disliked Harlequin, as I was supposed to, in Control Point, but he becomes the likeable hero of Breach Zone as New York comes face to face with monsters of legend, and a new monster much worse than those, a magically charged human.
Myke Cole does military with the accuracy of an electron microscope, action with the energy of nuclear power station, and pace with all the speed of Usain Bolt (if he was racing a beam of light, and winning). As the last in the trilogy, it rounds up the loose ends and explains almost all of them, but leaves the door open for more. Myke Cole can write and, worse than that, he is a thoroughly nice bloke too.
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5. City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city’s proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power.
Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Divani. Officially, the quiet mousy woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country’s most accomplished spymasters-dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian. As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem – and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well.
City of Stairs is the story of spies, politics, and murder–of both men and gods. It’s also the tale of conquest, rebellion, and how culture and history are harder to defeat than armies. Mixing the best elements of noir, urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and new weird, as well as some of the most creative and top-notch worldbuilding fantasy has offered recently, City of Stairs is a mysterious, action-packed, and engaging page-turner. If you’ve not come across Robert Jackson Bennet’s work yet then this should be your first. Put simply, he is one of America’s finest, most exciting authors.
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4. The Copper Promise (The Copper Promise, #1) by Jennifer Williams
There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel. Some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, great riches; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths. For Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance.
Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him…and now someone is going to pay.
For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There’s the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they’re done.
But sometimes there is truth in rumour.
Soon this reckless trio will be the last line of defence against a hungry, restless terror that wants to tear the world apart. And they’re not even getting paid.
The Copper Promise is a breath of fresh air in the often stuffy world of epic fantasy. The worldbuilding is refreshingly light, the characters well-realised and the magic system is straightforward and a lot of fun. In fact the whole novel is a lot of fun and I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed hanging out with characters this much. But it’s not all laughs: Williams demonstrates an unflinching grasp of contemporary issues and relationships and she addresses prickly subjects with subtlety and tact. Having just finished her second book, it pleases me to say that this series keeps getting better and should earn Williams a place in the debut fantasy hall of fame.
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3. The Broken Eye (Lightbringer, #3) by Brent Weeks
As the old gods awaken and satrapies splinter, the Chromeria races to find its lost Prism, the only man who may be able to stop catastrophe. But Gavin Guile is enslaved on a pirate galley. Worse, Gavin no longer has the one thing that defined him — the ability to draft.
Without the protection of his father, Kip Guile will have to face a master of shadows alone as his grandfather moves to choose a new Prism and put himself in power. With Teia and Karris, Kip will have to use all his wits to survive a secret war between noble houses, religious factions, rebels, and an ascendant order of hidden assassins, The Broken Eye.
With The Blinding Knife taking Brent Weeks from being one to watch to genre superstar. We were expecting huge things from The Broken Eye and Brent certainly delivered. What makes Brent’s work different from so much out there is his ability to make epic fantasy as readable as a comic book. The short chapters, quip-laden prose and snappy sentences are just a few of the tools he utilises that will see you tear through his novels.
However, to commend Brent on just his prose is a huge disservice: Brent’s magic system is perhaps even more complex than Sanderson’s, the changes his characters go through from when you first meet them is so ridiculous that it shouldn’t work – but truly does, the story twists and turns in directions you never see coming and never rights itself back onto the path you were initially following. Quite simply, Brent Weeks is one of today’s finest authors of fantasy and you can already see his work having a profound influence on what comes next.
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2. Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, #2) by Brandon Sanderson
In the first volume, we were introduced to the remarkable world of Roshar, a world both alien and magical, where gigantic hurricane-like storms scour the surface every few days and life has adapted accordingly. Roshar is shared by humans and the enigmatic, humanoid Parshendi, with whom they are at war. Among those caught up in the conflict are Brightlord Dalinar Kholin, who leads the human armies; his sister Jasnah, a renowned scholar; her student Shallan, a brilliant but troubled young woman; and Kaladin, a military slave who, by the book’s end, had become the first magically endowed Knight Radiant in centuries.
In Words of Radiance their intertwined stories will continue and, as Sanderson fans have come to expect, develop in unexpected, wonderfully surprising directions. The war with the Parshendi will move into a new, dangerous phase, as Dalinar leads the human armies deep into the heart of the Shattered Plains in a bold attempt to finally end it. Shallan will come along, hoping to find the legendary, perhaps mythical, city of Urithuru, which Jasnah believes holds a secret vital to mankind’s survival on Roshar. The Parshendi take a dangerous step to strengthen themselves for the human challenge, risking the return of the fearsome Voidbringers of old. To deal with it all, Kaladin must learn to how to fulfill his new role as leader of the restored Knights Radiant, while mastering the powers of a Windrunner.
With this second book, The Stormlight Archive grows even more richly immersive and compelling. Sanderson’s fans, old and new, are likely to lift it at least as high on the bestseller lists as its predecessor.
Words of Radiance was Fantasy-Faction’s Most Anticipated novel for 2014, but did it deliver? Well, did you honestly think it wouldn’t? This is a novel that showcases Sanderson at the height of his writing ability and is a sequel more than a match for its breath-taking predecessor. With all the epic scope, immaculate worldbuilding, and lively characterisation that we’ve come to expect from this contemporary fantasy giant, Words of Radiance is vibrant and compassionate storytelling at its finest. If you haven’t started The Stormlight Archive yet then what on earth is stopping you?
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1. Fool’s Assassin (The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy, #1) by Robin Hobb
Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown. But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually Fitz Chivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more…
On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing.
Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger?
Suddenly Fitz’s violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe.
This was not a book stemmed in action: powerful mage’s don’t have huge battles, dragons don’t stand against armies who have come to take their gold, nothing like that. This is a book that takes its time binding us to its protagonist, Fitz Chivalry, and ensuring that his feelings, emotions and experiences are consumed as our own. Over the years we’ve all come to love Fitz. We’ve all come to want – need, even – a happy ending for him and so when we find him working towards and truly seeming to be accomplishing just that we are delighted and content.
Slowly though, as the novel unfolds, Robin Hobb uses her masterful prose and storytelling abilities to weave little puzzles into the narrative, these become tiny threats that grow until we begin questioning whether this happy future is sustainable. We share Fitz’s initial denial when trouble comes knocking, we share his desire to be left alone – we know what he is been through, and as much as he can’t bear to suffer any more grief or loss neither can we. But when it happens, when Fitz must face that which he has been hoping was long behind him, we, his friends, feel a responsibility to follow him, despite the hurt we know is coming.
When studying literature I came to see the most successful and powerful books as the ones that not only have an effect on your emotions, but which reshape you as a person. The most amazing books take you on a journey that changes you, they force you to see the world in a different way and change how you react to certain experiences. Robin Hobb’s books have always done this, but this is by far the best example of it. The Fool’s Assassin will change you as a person, force you to look at the world in a new way – that’s an incredible power that only very, very few authors have and for this fine display of such magic, Robin Hobb is the only possible choice for Best Fantasy Novel of 2014.
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I truly hope you enjoyed this list. It has been incredibly hard to put together and order. Second guessing yourself, having other members of staff put their opinions in, offer advice and sound reasoning as to why something is too high or low; pointing out that a book I’ve not read should be in here: so, so tough! But we’ve given it our best and I hope this serves as a good reading list going in to 2015 (in addition to our Most Anticipated lists!). A big thanks to the staff who helped in writing recommendations for the books I’ve still yet to read and to our readers for being patient while we put this massive list together.
I would finally like to say a huge, huge thank you to the publishers, authors and agents who seem to have raised their game year after year since I started this site back in 2010. Each year I feel as though there is more and more varied and exciting work available to me as a reader and having met so many people working within the industry now I feel this is the result of a true love of fantasy and a deep desire to provide us with the very best they possibly can.
Thank you all! 🙂