For my last blog post/article of 2015, I thought I’d share a few of my absolute favorite reads from the past year. I read a lot of great books this year, so this wasn’t an easy list to put together, but these are the stories that I found really stuck with me, engaged me, or made me think about different issues in the world (or even managed to do all three). That being said, you can check out my reviews on my Goodreads profile if you want to see my thoughts on some other great works I’ve recently read.
I will also note that not all of these stories were released this year, but this was the year that I read them.
Honorable Mention — The Rat Queens
The Rat Queens is to the quest fantasy what Buffy was to urban fantasy…only even more hilarious and raunchy. The story follows a questing troop called The Rat Queens who, in the first two volumes of the comic, fight to save the town of Palisade, a frontier adventurers town that has gotten sick of their presence but that they call home anyway. This is a great send up of the fantasy genre that is full of funny and relatable characters, and I can’t wait for more volumes of it to be released.
5.) The Traitor Baru Cormorant
The Traitor Baru Cormorant is the debut fantasy novel from Seth Dickinson. Many might compare this story to Game of Thrones, and there are some similarities in the sense that both are darker, grittier, and I suppose arguably more “realistic” fantasy stories. But where Game of Thrones focuses on the interplay between various lords struggling for power, The Traitor Baru Cormorant follows an accountant who is trying to stave off a rebellion. She isn’t a warrior, and her weapons are a knowledge of money and infrastructure along with a good bit of charisma.
Dickinson manages to tell a compelling and engaging tale despite the focus on topics that many might consider boring. The story also asks questions about major modern day topics like race, sexual identity, and colonization. I will warn anyone considering this book, that it is not an uplifting tale, but if that sort of thing doesn’t phase you, then I highly recommend it.
4.) The Grace of Kings
Ken Liu has been known in the sci-fi/fantasy community for his award winning short stories for awhile, but The Grace of Kings marked his first foray into the novel format. This is the first installment for a fantasy epic (I believe it is meant to be a trilogy), and it is a great story. Based on Chinese mythology, it features larger than life characters vying for control of an Empire at the behest of different gods. The writing style echoes that of older, classic epics and is wonderfully crisp and lyrical. I think this is a must-read novel for fans of epic or high fantasy, and I can’t wait to see how the story develops.
3.) Leviathan Wakes
I decided to read Leviathan Wakes after Syfy announced they were making a show based on the book series. I’m a huge fan of space opera, and Leviathan Wakes is one of the freshest ones I’ve read in awhile. The story takes place a couple centuries in the future when humanity has colonized the solar system. The technology featured is more realistic than most space stories. Eschewing a vast space empire that is traveled by warp drives or hyper gates, the story incorporates issues like having an elongated bone structure when growing up in low-g on colonies away from Earth or the fact that traveling anywhere takes a good deal of time.
I’m currently in the middle of the second book in the series, which I’m enjoying immensely, and I’ve been watching Syfy’s The Expanse as well. I think the world of The Expanse book series is incredible, and I’m looking forward to reading through all of it.
The space fantasy epic by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples continued on this year, and it is as good as ever. I reviewed all of the trade volumes thus far, and honestly I got bored of doing it because I never had anything new to say. All of the entries are really strong, and I think this is a story everyone should read. The setting is wonderfully imaginative and grows in every single episode, showing off new facets and inviting readers to learn new secrets.
The story is also very human. While many space epics are about young people going on adventures or some huge political intrigue, Saga is about two soldiers from opposite sides of a conflict who fall in love and have a child together. They are then hunted by the powers that be because neither propaganda department wants its people to think that the two warring factions could get along. At its heart, Saga is very much a story about the struggles of family life set against the backdrop of a fantastic world in the throes of war.
1.) The Water Knife
The Windup Girl is one of my favorite novels, and I was excited when I learned that Paolo Bacigalupi was releasing another adult sci-fi novel this year. It was not a disappointment. The Water Knife imagines a bleak reality in the southwest of the United States only a few years from now when global warming has led to the region being ravaged by drought.
Most of the action takes place in Phoenix, a city now on the verge of collapse due to its lack of owned water rights. The story moves between three different perspectives: a teenage girl trying to get by in the rundown shanties on the outskirts of the city; a reporter who has been blogging about the criminal underbelly of Phoenix; and a water knife (the name for a covert agent working for the leader of Las Vegas) who is trying to secure the water rights of more territories for his employer.
What I absolutely love about Bacigalupi’s stories is how he focuses on truly important and pressing topics, but he is never didactic. He manages to convey the weight of the issue through the characters, their lives, and their struggles. The characters also feel authentic, not like they are a mouthpiece for some point of view.
The Water Knife delivers a stark prediction for what our world could be like if we don’t handle the issue of global warming, which I think makes it an extremely timely and meaningful work. But outside of that, it is also a joy to read.
To those of you who have been reading my blog or my writing advice articles this year, I thank you, and I hope that you’ll continue following me in 2016.
If you’re willing to share, I’d also be curious to hear what your favorite reads of this past year were. Leave them in the comments, and I look forward to seeing all of you next year!