As I was unable to keep myself from only writing a few sentences about my top 10 reads of 2017, here is my second round of favourite books of the year. If you would like to see the other half, check out my first post here. In no particular order….
The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams
I enjoyed this one so much I was unable to write a decent review when I first read it, so I will try my best to describe why you need to read this book here. The Ninth Rain has everything a fantasy book should have: magic, flawed heroes, vicious villains and a complicated world. Plus witches, war-beasts, behemoths, an ancient god-like race and a life giving tree. Intrigued? The great Eboran empire is no longer the glittering powerful place it once was. The tree-god is dying and so are its people. Tormalin the Oathless is not ready to watch his homeland die, instead he explores the dead remnants of his people’s great enemy, the Jure’lia with an incredibly intelligent, witty and all round wonderful person Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon. Noon is a fell-witch and is struggling against captivity by the Winnowry – the organisation determined to portray the fell-witches as an abomination, just because they are able to create fire through life energy. Without delving into the plot for fear of spoilers, it is the characters that really make this novel come to life. It is full of great dialogue that genuinely had me laughing out loud. I really admire the way Williams has expertly weaved humour, sarcasm, wit and intelligence into all the characters actions and conversations. It adds to the reading experience and makes the novel fun. Despite all the terrible things the characters have to endure and witness, the way they snap, tease and banter with each other is so natural and realistic that you forget you’re reading and makes you feel like you’re actually there. It’s wonderfully immersive. I love how complicated they all are; they’ve all seen/done/endured terrible things and they’re all a bit broken by it. The way that the author shows us how they battle their demons and how it affects the way they behave and interact is brilliant. What’s more, they all deal with it differently and in unexpected ways. It really is so enjoyable to watch them evolve and find hope and joy in each other despite the horrors. I have also just read the sequel, The Bitter Twins, which comes out in 2018 and let me tell you. Shit. Goes. Down. I’m an emotional wreck.
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I’ve heard a lot about Guy Gavriel Kay and I was unsure how I’d get on with his stories. He is known for writing historical fantasy with a heavy emphasis on the historical as the fantasy elements tend to be quite subtle. I read this while in a fantasy binge so I didn’t know if it’d be for me. Well, it was. I did a whole review on this wonderful fantasy standalone here if you’d like a fuller description of my views. The Peninsula of the Palm comprises of 9 provinces that, after an invasion, are ruled by two rival sorcerers: Brandin, King of Ygrath and Alberico, a warlord from Barbadior. In revenge for the death of his beloved son, Brandin curses the province of Tigana so that no-one remembers its history, culture or can even speak its name, save for those born there before the curse. He also sacks it, renames it and imposes heavy taxes in order to cripple its economy just for good measure. Tigana follows the story of several characters who all desire to see the end of one, or both, of these tyrannical invaders.
Kay’s writing was what really stood out for me. I was completely sucked into his world and he made me feel sympathy for characters who probably didn’t deserve it. Sometimes stand alone fantasy stories struggle to create well-rounded worlds with complex character histories and personalities as well as execute an exciting plot but thankfully this is not the case with Tigana. Each character was well developed and had their own purpose and direction. Even though they were going through situations I couldn’t hope to fully comprehend, I still felt for them. I was fully immersed in their tale and rejoiced when characters came together or were revealed to one and other. Even though I often disagreed with their decisions, I still felt like I was going through all their heartbreak, loss, betrayals and elations right there with them. The ending wasn’t neat, some characters did not get the closure I would have liked, and some characters made choices that I’d rather they hadn’t, but it made an addictive and really enjoyable read. I look forward to reading more of his work soon!
Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell
In a similar vein to Eames’ Kings of the Wyld, I loved the humour de Castell brought to this fantasy. We follow Falcio Val Mond in a first person narrative as he and his two best friends, Kest and Brasti, attempt to stay honourable in a world where the once illustrious Greatcoats are considered the worst kind of traitors, untrustworthy and barely worth the spit it takes to call them ‘tattercloaks’. All 150 of the Greatcoats disbanded after they let the Dukes of Tristia kill their king. Once revered as wandering magistrates who ensured the King’s law was adhered to across the land, Falcio won’t allow his friends blacken the Greatcoats name further by stealing from the rich, even if they are in pretty dire straits. Five years after the death of his king, Falcio is still trying to fulfil his last request: to find the king’s Charoites, no matter how futile it seems.
My favourite aspect of this swashbuckling story is the friendship and banter between the three men. It’s immediately evident that they have been through so much together and know each other inside out. This makes their quips and banter personal and hilarious. They tease each other in ways only great friends can and their witty retorts contrast wonderfully with some of the bleaker aspects of their quest. The camaraderie is so realistic, the characters and their individual personalities almost jump from the page. The crudeness of their repartee works particularly well as they are no green boys looking for their first taste of adventure; firmly in their thirties they’ve endured a great deal of hardship and have surfaced firm friends who are ready to put the world to rights. All the characters are well developed but Falcio, Kest and Brasti are especially complex protagonists. Although we learn early on their strengths and weaknesses I know there’s still much more to their pasts that we are yet to discover. De Castell had me laughing out loud early on and didn’t let up throughout. I found the humour very refreshing as a high fantasy reader I rarely get a giggle out of the characters.
That’s not to say the plot is light-hearted and frivolous. This is definitely an adult novel, not only can the humour be quite salacious, the characters face their fair share of tragedy and danger. That the darker aspects sit so well alongside the humour helps make it feel more realistic and showcases the author’s skill. It is evident in the fantastic fight scenes that Sebastien de Castell know his stuff. His passion and knowledge of swordplay is tangible in the details. I wouldn’t say I generally enjoy military battles and war but I was never bored when they fought and was often on the edge of my seat. He knows exactly how long the scenes need to be so we don’t lose interest and every move feels natural and realistic. I never felt that the characters were invincible, despite knowing how extensive their training had been. I highly recommend!
Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson
So as usual I am late to the party. Erikson’s first novel set in the epic world of the Malazan empire was originally published in 1999 and is the first of 10 huge tomes in this expansive world. Reviews are mixed, people either love it or hate it. Erikson doesn’t spoon feed you information, you’re thrown right into the action with little context. Although this can be a bit baffling at first, and for the first 200 pages or so, I guarantee you get explanations. And that is one of the things I fell in love with about this novel. When it all came together, my brain rejoiced. It was done so naturally, you almost don’t notice. Events occur, characters meet and discuss things and suddenly you know what’s going on, why it’s happening and who’s who. It’s wonderful. I can’t say too much about the plot as there are many threads that weave together masterfully but basically, the Empress Laseen overthrew the previous Emperor of the Malazan Empire and wants to expand it across the Free Cities. Darujhistan is the last of the Free Cities in Genabakis and that is where the game will be played. Sorcerers, Gods, Warlords and ancient evils are all brought together to fight in the last standing beacon of hope against the Empire. And what about the floating Moon and Anomander Rake? Not a tale of Good vs Evil as we are made to look deeper and decide between shades of black. No one is good, no one is evil. We follow characters on both sides of the conflict and end up rooting for them all. It’s a tricky one.. but so worth it! I feel I must warn you that there are a lot of characters, but there is a handy list in the paperback that you can make use of. I also used the Malazan Wiki page a lot so I could check out the fan art for certain characters to help me picture them but I don’t recommend that as I was spoiled a few times. Saying that, there is a huge community of Malazan readers on goodreads that are always happy to chat and help. If you’re just starting this one, you can ask me too! The ending was spectacular and had me literally on the edge of my sofa gripping my mass market paperback in awe. I am genuinely so excited to make my way through this series.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
And last but certainly not least, A Discovery of Witches. I was put off from reading this one for a long time as I don’t tend to go for vampire novels now as I’ve read a lot of same-y ones. I know that’s not a good philosophy but I felt like I’d read them all. But I found out that Diana, the witchy protagonist, is a historian studying in Oxford before finding a very important book that kickstarts her whole adventure. This called to me as I studied history at university and I was interested to read a novel about someone like me (apart from the Americanness, Oxford PHD-ness etc..of course). I was quickly sucked into the story and I found it to be utterly addictive and magical. The romantic side was unexpected but thoroughly welcome as it did not dominate the story or detract from the epic world and magic Harkness has created. Yet again I found myself gasping out-loud while desperately turning the pages to find out what happens. Finally, a decent adult vampire/witch novel with an extremely rich history and world stretching over centuries and even strong Greek mythology links. I recently found out it is being turned into a tv show which I am super excited about, even if the casting is all wrong. This really is a gem and I soon purchased the other books in the series so I can devour the story whole.
So there you have it! My top 10 favourite books of 2017. A mixed bag of genres to keep me on my toes and luckily, many of them are part of series so I can continue on in their worlds.
I hope you all have a wonderful holiday break! Merry Christmas & Happy New Year ❤