Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 The Printed Page

For as long as I've been blogging regularly I've rounded up all that I read through the year and picked out a few books that were my favourites. I hesitate to use the word 'best' as it's quite subjective and what I think is the 'best' may not be what everyone else thinks is.

This past year I was only able to find 7 works that fitted for me. Surprisingly, or possibly unsurprisingly given my love and championing of the sub genre, 6 of the 7 are urban fantasy. 5 are by female authors and the other 2 are by men.

I cheated a little with two of them. The Geekvamp series by Australian author Narrelle M. Harris is two books (The Opposite of Life and Walking Shadows) and Emma Newman's Split Worlds series (Between Two Thorns, Any Other Name and All is Fair) currently stands at 3 books, although Emma plans to do a kick starter to raise the necessary funds to allow her to publish the final 2 volumes. The reason for this is that like last year with Ian Tregillis' Milkweed triptych I simply couldn't bear to break them up into specific volumes that I liked better than each other.

So here we go, my 7 favourite reads of 2015, this isn't in any specific order, although I kind of put them in as I read them.

Every time Chuck Wendig puts out a Miriam Black book it seems to find itself in this list. I just love the way Wendig uses pop culture references and his hard uncompromising view of the modern world as seen through the jaded and cynical eyes of the cursed Miriam Black, who's 'gift' of being able to see the manner of someone's death with an instant of skin to skin contact won't let her ever live a normal life.

I had read some of Larry Correia's Grimnoir Chronicles, but despite having an omnibus of the first 3 Monster Hunter books on Mt Toberead had never actually dragged it down. I did that earlier this year, and damn it was good. They're a bit of a guilty pleasure basically being full of the hero (Owen Zastava Pitt) systematically killing anything he considers a 'monster'. The third book of the series: Monster Hunter Alpha, is a departure. It's narrated by Earl Harbinger, the head of Monster Hunter International, unlike the first 2 books, which are told by Owen using first person PoV. It also employed a mixture of first person and third person to tell the story. It largely centres around a werewolf invasion in one small midwest town and Earl's efforts to save himself and everyone else from an apocalypse by werewolf. It helps to have read the first 2 books in the series, but it does standalone quite successfully. The 4th book (Monster Hunter: Legion) returned to Owen's narration, I have to confess, that while I enjoyed it, I missed reading things from Earl's point of view.

I originally read most of Seanan McGuire's Sparrow Hill Road stories about the 'pretty little dead girl' Rose Marshall some years ago when I first encountered the writer and these were published over the space of a year on the website Edge of Propinquity. Even then I had the feeling that they'd make a nice collection in a book. Obviously others thought the same because Sparrow Hill Road is those twelve stories, edited, cleaned up, put in an order, given a connecting thread and with one added story to make a baker's dozen. Rose started life as the rather malevolent hot rodding ghost in the song Pretty Little Dead Girl and then later morphed into the rather more benevolent Rose who haunts the roads of the afterlife doing what she can to make people's passing a little easier. The cover is done by Aly Fell, and that neatly makes the connection with Seanan McGuire's InCryptid series, which Aly Fell also does the cover work for. InCryptid and Sparrow Hill Road have a world in common and it's been made apparent that Rose and the Healy Price family from InCryptid are known to each other.

Jacqueline Carey is best known for her Kushiel epic fantasy series, but in recent years she's started to write urban fantasy and Dark Currents is the first Agent of Hel book, featuring the half succubus Daisy Johansson, who works for the Norse goddess Hel keeping her small town of Pemkowet a safe place for both mortals (locals and tourists) and the various supernatural creatures that make their home in Pemkowet. There's a lot of humour in these as well as a touch of romance and Pemkowet is described and imagined so well that the reader is left with the impression that it's a very real place. It's an example of some extraordinary world building that any writer of second world epic fantasy would be proud to call their own.

Kameron Hurley's The Mirror Empire (the opening book of her Worldbreaker Saga) blew me away. It's almost impossible to describe in a few words, it's a truly epic story with an ambitious vision. The words original and unique get thrown around a lot when people review fantasy, especially that of the epic variety. I find that they very rarely apply, they do with The Mirror Empire. I believe that Hurley has broken new ground with this one. Not just the concept of gender fluidity, which has given the book a lot of press, but for things like living sentient flesh eating plants and the idea of two worlds, that while different, are mirror images of each other, even down to containing identical people. I'll be fascinated to see where the author goes with this in the future.

Despite being a regular listener to Emma Newman's podcast (Tea and Jeopardy, not sure if that makes me a 'bless poppet' or not) I hadn't actually read her Split Worlds series. After seeing the author read the opening chapter of Between Two Thorns (the first book) at Worldcon in London, I decided to rectify that. I couldn't tell you which book I preferred the most, so I put in all 3 that are currently published. It's a very different type of urban fantasy. The central character is a member of the faery world who has fled her otherworldly home of Aquae Sulis (what the fae call Bath) for Mundanus (our world) and it's 18th century society of parties and oppressed gender for an independent life in our world which allows her freedoms that her own family and society would never allow. It is wonderfully realised and written and gives the reader characters that they can really care about.

As often seems to happen with this list, two books that I read late in the year managed to slip in. The Opposite of Life and Walking Shadows are urban fantasies and yes they do feature vampires. Unusually they're both set in Melbourne. I only know of one other urban fantasy author who sets her books in my home town (Keri Arthur, a Melburnian, like the author of the Geekvamp books, has set some of hers in the town, although they tend to be more paranormal than anything and I've never really been able to come at paranormal's mix of fantasy, romance and erotica), so it's quite exciting for me to read something featuring the city and the people that live there. Narrelle Harris nailed both the city and the way her central characters acted and spoke. I found them very real and relatable and the next time I wander down Little Bourke Street I'll be keeping a watchful and worried eye out for the alley that locates the vampire club Gold Bug. Huge amounts of fun and if anyone was thinking of writing an Australian character in a book they could do worse than read these for research. It was also nice to see a book in this vein feature an entirely platonic relationship between the human and the vampire.

No comments:

Post a Comment