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A Year in Review: The Top 25 Best Fantasy Books of 2014

By / December 22, 2014 / no comments

The 2014 Fantasy Year In Review

Without a doubt, 2014 has been an astounding year for fantasy with a slew of big releases from major hitters. We’ve had new books released by the likes of Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Robin Hobb, Lev Grossman, Richard Morgan, Daniel Abraham, Brian McClellan, Django Wexler, and Anthony Ryan. There’s also been a few awesome debut fantasy books as well showcasing some amazing new talent.

For specific picks of the best by category, do also check out our Best Fantasy of 2014 Awards

It’s also been a year where a lot of the fantasy releases are tinged with darkness — either directly classified as grimdark or influenced by it. 2014 is certainly not a happy year to be a fictional character in a fantasy world  —  you’re likely suffering from a traumatic past, have no real friends, and live in a world where most of humanity are a pretty sordid example of the human race. Oh, and your probably a violent sociopath — great at killing and torturing your enemies in imaginative ways, but not so good at making real, connecting relationships. And if you manage to make a connection to someone, that person usually ends up dying a horrible death. 

And on that note, we begin our picks.

Note about inclusions: this list only considered books published in the US between the January – December 2014 period. It does not take in consideration ebook-only releases, self-published titles, or books printed by unknown publishers. We are working on a potential ‘best of self-published fantasy list’, but it’s not ready yet. And, I simply haven’t been able to read every single fantasy book released this year (I need time to sleep too you know!).

 

Editor Update: Also be sure to check out the sequel list compiled at the end of 2015: The Best Fantasy Books of 2015. And if you want to know what’s hot in 2016, then our 50+ Most Anticipated Fantasy Books of 2016.

 

1Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

Best fantasy book this year. A strong strong finish to an already wonderful series that’s only gotten better with each book.

This series has been a divisive one — with many despising what the author’s done, with the other camp fawning over it. I feel with the final book finished, it’s a series grown stronger with each book. It’s a work where the sum is greater than the individual parts. If you read one or two books out of the three, you will likely be disappointed.

As the series grows stronger each book in, so do the characters themselves continually grow (and suffer) from book to book and this final book wraps things up pretty tightly. About as good as an ending you can get in a story about a bunch of depressed mages.

This is one of those books that definitely hits all the literary notes if you look for them (which is one of the reasons the critics rave about this series). The whole work is very much self aware and there’s tons of references to external literature packed between the pages. Also very clever (one of many things) is Grossman’s subversion of the idea of the ‘hero’ by taking the protagonist Quinton’s idea of the hero, developed from the various fantasy fiction Quinton read, and showing the vast chasm between the ideal and the dark reality of it when Quinton decides to try his hand at being the hero. So if you fall in the camp that dislikes this work, you still can’t deny the cleverness of the author in crafting this series.

The whole frame story of Fillory is in itself a subversion of Narnia, but populated with monstrosities instead of cute animals; the whole go to magic school thing, as well, is an age old fantasy trope, popularized by Harry Potter, but originating with A Wizard of Earthsea, almost 40 years ago. Of course, Grossman also subverts that trope too.

Magician’s Land was one of those books that just wowed me the whole way through; it really elucidated some of the choices and direction the author took with the way he portrayed the characters in the first two books (choices that upset many an average fantasy reader): it was all for this book to bring things to a head and for the characters to ultimately find some sort of attenuated redemption.

If you haven’t started this series, make it a priority. If you didn’t like the first or second book, READ Magician’s Land (it all makes sense after). One of the best, most intelligent fantasy series I’ve had the pleasure of reading and my favorite fantasy book of 2014. Also, this book series will be adapted into a television series by SyFy 

2. City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Best new Fantasy by an already established author, this year. Strong characters and a re-mixing of existing ideas with a blend of genres. The result? An astounding story for the ages. Typical of a Jackson novel, there’s a cast of  strong characters, each haunted by a damaging past, a wildly imaginative world, and an eclectic blend of different genres. In his previous works, Robert Bennett Jackson’s dallied with the Urban fantasy genre (The Troupe and American Elsewhere) but this time around he turns his pen to the more traditional fantasy tale — an epic fantasy of sorts with a mystery twist to it, but of course, not just your regular old epic fantasy, but something pretty unique. And it looks like the critics have noticed; if there has been one book that’s made some unexpected waves this year, City of Stairs would be that book. And the author, who has not really gained the attention he deserved, is finally getting his due.

This book starts off slow (I almost put it aside at first), but be patient for about one hundred pages in, the novel picks up some serious steam. There’s mystery, there’s fantasy, and there’s an indelible human story beneath it all. And of course, there’s some crazy good action scenes that explode out of nowhere, leaving you with your mouth open. And don’t even get me started on the character Sigrid. Pure awesomeness. Hell, he deserves a book JUST on his own (hint Mr. Robert).

If you have not read this book, well, I envy you — because I wish I was you so I could pick it up again and read it fresh!

3. The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

Epic fantasy done just the way most of us like. Combining SOME of the elements that make A Song of Ice and Fire and the Wheel of Time style fantasies entertaining reads, The Emperor’s Blades delivers on most of the hype behind it.

Truth be told, it reads like a cross between the grim seriousness of A Game of Thrones, the action and excitement of Brent Weeks novel, the narrative plot device of Acacia, and (some of) the worldbuilding of Sanderson’s Way of Kings. 

It’s not as dark as Martin’s work yet there’s definitely darkness found; yet at the same time the coming of age tale within retains that enthusiasm, action, and sense of grand adventure with all the characters all on the cusp of great things the whole way through.

There’s a cast of royal children who are spread about the vast kingdom for security reasons, each raised in a different setting with their stories twining back together near the end of the tale.

The oldest and heir to the empire, is raised on the furthest reaches of the kingdom by a monastic order. The youngest, who will not be inheriting, trains with the empire’s elite spy company, while the middle child wrestles with political intrigue in the kingdom’s capital.  There are three, very distinct, very different stories at play here that do, by the end, connect as events come to a head. And in the backdrop of the politics and adventures, there’s the discovery of a long forgotten mythical threat to humankind that may be coming back for some good old fashion revenge.

With all these elements going in, there’s really is something here for every type of epic fantasy fan. If you like epic fantasy, The Emperor’s Blades is for you to read this year. Keep in mind, this novel has not one but two (arguably even three) coming of age stories going on at the same time. If you don’t like coming of age tales, well, this is not a book for you.

4. The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley 

New, refreshing, violent — and completely boundary pushing in concept. This one gets my vote for the most original fantasy work this year bar non. I’d nominate this one as Best Debut Fantasy of 2014, but the author has in fact won two HUGO’s for previous books, so she’s rather experienced and pedigreed.

I would hazard a guess readers will fall in two camps about this book: those who really love what the author has done here, and those who utterly hate the book. But hey, you’ve got to read it first to decide what camp you are in — and there are certainly worse books out there to try.

I for one look forward to the next book in this series — things can only get better, and with a book this good, that’s a lot to say indeed.

 

 

 

5. The Dark Defiles by Richard K. Morgan (A Land Fit for Heroes)

A monstrosity of dark violence and fantasy subversions. But so intelligently well written, and with such power (not to mention the savage action and violence on just about every page) that you can’t help but get sucked up into this dark, depressing, and thoroughly enjoyable world.

Make no bones about it, Richard Morgan’s A Land Fit for Heroes is just about the darkest fantasy you’ll read in the genre.

If you’ve been reading some of the current grimdark stuff that’s come out, you’ll realize its all just been kiddydark; ‘A Land Fit for Heroes’ is grimdark written for adults. It’s ‘grimdark’  so grim you might as well shuck the ‘grim’ part of the word and just go with the ‘dark’. But damn, what a story, what a roller-coaster ride through a hell you definitely don’t want to live in but absolutely don’t want to stop reading about.

Case in point: I don’t think there was one single period in the three books making up the trilogy where any one of the three characters was happy. But that’s part of the appeal of this series.

The Dark Defiles is my pick for one of the strongest books to come out this year. It’s a modern take on the old Sword and Sorcery style story, but packed with about a million jolts of savagery, violence, and human depravity. Oh yea, and its got just about the best all-out relentless, violent action scenes you’ll read about.

Fans of Abercrombie, Lawrence, Lynch, Martin, and Cook, will do well to read this series. It’s also a series that gets better with each book (the final book, The Dark Defiles, the best of the bunch).

6. Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson (The Stormlight Archives)

The most exiting and the most anticipated epic fantasy of 2014 by most fantasy readers. And I would say, one of the pure epic fantasies currently written, though there are some flaws with it. It’s far less morally complex read than say Mazalan or A Song of Ice and Fire, but the world building is expansive, very much so.

However, if you are looking for a book that delivers those ‘holy shit it’s happening’ moments that send shivers down your spine, this book has quite a few of those going on.

Superb worldbuilding, amazing action scenes, an intriguing magic system, and compelling (enough) characters — there is a reason why The Stormlight Archive has gone down another evolutionary path than some of the other ‘gritty epics’ and perhaps become THE definitive epic fantasy series of the style that eschews all that morally ambiguity other big hitters in the genre write in (couch Martin).

So while The Stormlight Archives might not be as complex as other epics, it tells a different sort of story on that’s with some grand worldbuilding and a faster pace. Does that make it better or worse? That’s up to you to decide.

But sometimes you just want a more simple tale where heroes are heroes and bad guys are bad guys. And Words of Radiance brings it.

 

7. The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan (The Powder Mage Trilogy)

One of the most action packed fantasy releases this year. Next to Morgan’s The Dark Defiles, I don’t think there is a book with as much violence and as high a body count. If you want to read heroic fantasy with a dark twist and one of the more compelling magic systems, this is the one to read. The style of this author is very much influenced by Brandon Sanderson, which is no surprise as Sanderson actually taught MeClellan. I feel McClellan’s story is a darker one than the typical Sanderson tale, however.

In every way, I felt The Crimson Campaign was an improvement over the first in the series (which I was actually ambivalent about).The Crimson Campaign is darker, more reflective, and with even more action than the first book. McClellan has almost single-handedly given new life to the Flintlock fantasy sub-genre.

 

 

 

8. Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Lawrence is always the author to watch — he’s not satisfied with churning out the typical run-of-the-mill fantasy and aims to do something new. After completing his Broken Empire trilogy, he wasn’t satisfied to write the same sort of story and cash in on it, no, rather he’s shaken things up and written about another prince, but this one a very different sort of anti-hero.

It’s a refreshing change of pace and a somewhat more lighthearted read over his darker books due to the protagonist’s inability to take pretty much everything — good or bad — that happens seriously. As such, the cowardly Prince and his antics make it a funny book.

However, it’s still very much a dark story, though the humor cloaks and mitigates the horrific but never hides it. And beneath the humor, there’s a fundamental observation made:  it’s men, in their treatment of other men, who are more monstrous than the actual monsters they fear.

All in all, Prince of Fools is a darkly funny read with a likable, bumbling (but surprisingly adept) character you root for the whole way through.

A great read. Keep doing what you’re doing Mark and we will always be first in line to read your stuff!

 

9. The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks (The Lightbringer Series)

A strong continuation to Weeks’s Lightbringer series, but not as good as his previous effort The Blinding Knife. The fault is not in the prose specifically or even the storytelling. In this book, Week’s spends a good deal of time (more in this single book than the previous books combined) fleshing out and developing the characters. They really grow as individuals, becoming more complex and real — rather than just ‘kick ass heroes’. They are flawed individuals who realize it and try and better themselves.

But the story does get bogged down with very little in the plot development actually happening. It feels more like that bridging novel between novels that (slowly) moves some of the pieces around the board, setting up the events for the a next book where the real plot action will happen. Yes, there are some squirts of incredible action that do happen, there’s tension and political drama, but mostly this all just happens on a small scale that doesn’t progress the actual plot. It’s very much a ‘characters move from point A to point B’ type book  for hundreds and hundreds of pages.

Yes, it’s still a good book and for many probably will rank as their own favorite fantasy book of 2014. For me though, it wasn’t. Still, a fun fun read despite these problems.

10. Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell

Action, heroism, adventure and a king to save. I can’t rave enough about the magnificence of Traitor’s Blade, a debut novel that signals some serious talent in the genre. This book is all swash-bucking heroes, fast paced adventure, and joyful action scenes. Think of it as a fantasy version of The Three Musketeers.

If you are tired of slogging through slow-paced grim epics and want something entirely different and a non-stop tour of action, adventure, treachery, and twisting plots, well, stop reading thing and make Traitor’s Blade your very next read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

11. Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

In a universe where all god’s are manufactured and made by craftsmen then sent off to be gods — who are not conscious but who an still accept their follower’s sacrifices and protect them , there’s been a few manufacturing defects with one of the gods. And the creator of the broken god tries to save her creation…with disastrous consequences — consequences that almost get her killed in the attempt, then get her kicked out of the god-making business by her peers. And thus starts Full Fathom Five — a really strange, but beautifully written, emotionally rich story. 

Always a much underrated author in the fantasy genre, but supremely talented, Full Fathom Five is Max Gladstone’s third novel of the Craft Sequence, which can fully be read as a stand alone or as a continuation of the previous books; you don’t have to have read the previous two however.

This book is an interesting eclectic mix of different genres. Full Fathom Five is a mystery story masquerading as urban fantasy with some heavy steampunk elements mashed in. In that regard, there are some similarities to the Drakenfeld books by Mark Charan Newton, though replace the setting with something mythical and bizarre and add more weighty human story to the mix and much better writing.

Gladstone’s work is an intoxicating mix because the world portrayed is so bizarre and fascinating the mystery elements of the story are made even more mysterious because you are trying to come to grips with the strange fantasy world built by the author. The world is so remarkably strange that it’s something an author like China Mieville would come up with for one of his stories.

But, this is not just a regular whodunit mystery — there’s a lot going on between the pages here beyond the ‘mystery’ element. While it’s a mystery, it’s also a very human story set in a strange sea of ideas manifested into reality; a combination of mythic and the real, an almost cyberpunk world of digital data and manufactured silicon, but with the digital data replaced with human souls and the silicon stuff made of dreams, nightmares, and human worship. It’s an interesting take on the whole idea of ‘human faith’ powering the world — a cycle of worship powering the actual manufacturing of gods, but gods that are simply there to fulfill a role, gods that can be broken and repaired, built and murdered.

It’s a beautiful book that’s hard to categorize into any one genre and one of the more interesting and touching novels this year. Absolutely read it.

12. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Classic fantasy made for the modern audience. In a genre of grims, this book gives hope to those who want a happier sort of fantasy. This book completely surprised me — after about fifty or so pages, I was completely sucked into the story. The setting is unique and the characters are all well drawn.

And the setting — did I mention it’s completely unique? The author draws an interesting world of political relationships, uneasy alliances, different races (with races), detailed court etiquette, and even a specific style of speech pattern the characters follow.

The protagonist is thoroughly likable, the 4th child and a half-goblin, half-elvish result of an unwanted political union between the (former) emperor and a princess from a neighboring goblin kingdom.

Shunned from court along with his mother, the youngest son of the emperor grows up isolated from the back-stabbing court, living a cloistered life with his mother. Things change when an accident kills the whole royal family, leaving him as the new emperor — and woefully unequipped for the job and highly despised by the elvish noble court of  his half goblin blood.

But the new emperor seems to have a knack for being emperor, much to the dismay of everyone who hates him. Part of the appeal is the young emperor is so likable, and the abuse he’s suffered as a child makes him all the better for it with his ability to look past the past grievances and shake up the way things have been run in the past.

This magical world slowly becomes revealed through the eyes of the young goblin emperor, who like us, is completely unfamiliar with the entire structure of it.

This is not a book where the action takes place with swords or magic but on the political front. But the power of this novel is in a coming of age story well told and the rich, captivating world drawn by the author. A feel good fantasy that you want to read and read more of when it’s done.

13. The Fell Sword by Miles Cameron

If you liked the first one, which was an amalgamation of different things coming together as a whole — combining a very detailed medieval setting with strong military fantasy and gut-wrenching action and an interestingly detailed magic system — then you will love this one, which does more of the same. There’s still some issues with the pacing and there’s too many POV’s with narrative shifts somewhat jarring, but as a whole the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses. This is one of those polarizing series where you either ‘get it’ and really love it or completely dislike it. I’m firmly in the ‘wow’ camp. The first book, The Red Knight, was my personal pick for the Best Fantasy Debut of 2013. The sequel doesn’t live up to that, but it’s still a great read.

 

14. The Waking Engine by David Edison

An interesting debut, one that’s highly inventive with it’s worldbuilding and interesting ideas. I always likes me a good ‘afterlife gone to hell’ read, and this one delivers.  It’s a weird trip into an even weirder landscape,  but this just adds to the appeal because the author has the writing chops to pull the whole thing off.

The worldbuilding itself isn’t unique in the way someone like China Mieville would pull off (this is a type of novel I could see Mieville sinking his writing teeth into, though), but it’s packed with quite a bit of mystery and the strength of this novel is in how the world is slowly revealed to the reader. You find out about it piece by piece, which keeps the mystery of it all alive. Wonderful book. Some problems, yes, but if this debut is anything to go by, Edison has a bright future indeed.

 

15. The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Instead of the next book in the Kingkiller Chronicles, we got a short story by Rothfuss. But I’m not going to be complain because it’s so good. As many will agree, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a different tale than the Kingkiller, but I had the feeling there was far less pressure on the author here — he was writing a tale HE wanted to write without having to live up to vast expectations. Overall, a poignant if sad story. And still, even as a novella, one of the best reads this year proving Rothfuss ‘still gots the skills.’ 

 

 

 

16. Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb (Fitz and the Fool Trilogy)

A wonderful character-driven fantasy tale. This one is for the fans of Fitz and the Fool, of course — for who else would pick up the first book of a new trilogy about characters who already have two trilogies? And she (Hobb) does deliver on the promise. It’s as slow, meandering tale that relishes the slow build up of events. And you know, that’s not a bad thing at all. If you want action, violence, and darkness, there are dozens of other books released this year you can sink your teeth in.


17. The Widow’s House by Daniel Abraham (The Dagger and the Coin)

The best in Abraham’s series so far which has proved to be one of the best epic fantasy series currently being written right now. It’s a very different style of epic fantasy than the typical — more paced, more measured, with intricate details given to character development, and the minutiae of the world’s economic structure.

I mean, when was the last time you read a fantasy that relishes on economic details like banking while also tossing a wide array of different fantasy elements like ancient dragons coming back to life, evil spider gods manipulating the world, civil wars between kingdoms and racism between human subspecies?

The answer is never.

But you can with Daniel Abraham’s smart epic fantasy. It’s different, but in a very good way. And this book really gets things going.

 

18. Veil of the Deserters by Jeff Salyards (Bloodsounders Arc)

A superb follow up to Scourge of the Betrayers, a book that debuted the powerful skills of a new author in the fantasy genre.

This is a grimdark tale to its core. If you love that gritty style manifested by Abercrombie, Lynch, Cook, and Rothfuss, set up camp for an extended stay in Salyards world — you won’t be leaving it any time soon.

Complex, troubled characters, a gritty world, and an interesting premise, this book was one of the best grimdarks to come out this year — and with quite a few strong books released, this means something indeed.

 

 

 

19. Sworn in Steel by Douglas Hulick (A Tale of the Kin)

A tale that carries on the exploits of Drothe, a criminal underworld information broker. The book does a fine regard — if you liked the first book, you will like the second book. There’s not a drop in quality and there’s a different setting than the first which shakes things up a bit, but in a good way I feel.

Fans of the Night Angel trilogy will definitely love this book though it’s not the same sort of story.  


20. Half A King by Joe Abercrombie (Shattered Sea)

Abercrombie knows how to write grimdark. He practically made the genre into what it is today, or at least the current modern perception of it (his twitter is even @lordgrimdark). Here, Abercrombie tries at Young Adult fiction. And for the most part, he does succeed.

Half a King reads a bit like a lighter version of his previous works. It’s not as dark, not as coarse, and the violence and sarcasm is all toned down. But the classic style Abercrombie voice is still there.

Abercrombie has always been about slowly crafting the unlikeliest character into the hero while showing the most heroically seeming characters to be anything but a heroic. The same formula applies here.

Yarvi is a maimed youth who becomes king when his father unexpectedly dies in an accident. But in a world where the measure of a man is in that of his deeds, his stature, and his martial prowess, a king with a crippled hand who prefers scholarly pursuits over martial ones is hardly considered a figure out of myth. Yarvi  is barely tolerated and much maligned by his peers. But the power of the story is in the transformation story of Yarvi — how this unlikely youth transforms into a capable leader who inspires loyalty.

Should you read it? Yes. The world is inventive and the characters likeable and it’s a pretty damn good adventure yarn, even though Abercrombie has muzzled his more savage narrative for the YA crowd.

21. The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler (The Shadow Campaigns)

The author with the most original name in the genre, Django Wexler, wrote one of the best fantasy books of 2013. This year, he writes a sequel that delivers on the first book’s promise, though to a lesser degree. The writing and characters are all great but the author abandons the setting that made the first book so great in favor of the urban. As such, it’s a very different sort of read than the first one. I fully admit I’d like to see the author return to something like the first book. However, kudos to the author for doing something new here. There’s a lot to love here with this book, though I suspect most readers probably share my opinion that the first was a better book.

 

 

22. The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick

An interesting debut no doubt and a sign that there may be a rising star in the genre.

This book really took me by surprise; quite simply, it’s a magnificent tour-de-force of detailed sword action, intrigue, and a right powerful coming-of-age story that sucks you in.

What’s also compelling is the  interesting collection of ideas stuffed into the novel. The setting takes place in a sort of darker version of an alternative Italian renaissance period. There’s noble houses all vying for power, dark secrets to unveil that threaten the balance of powers and a protagonist who must navigate these dark waters to survive. It’s a story full of magic, mystery, intrigue, plots, and plots within plots drenched in noir.

And of course, the brilliant sword fighting action scenes — we can’t forget those! The whole tale itself sucks you in; if you are a sucker for a coming of age about a despised, yet highly talented boy who’s trained to be a sort of assassin/courtier/noble who must endure relentless torment from his teachers and peers all the while proving himself to be the best of the best — with the stakes set at life or death — this is the book to read. It brings to mind elements of Red Rising (boy must use intelligence to outwit peers), Harry Potter (talented boy goes to school and makes enemies and friends both with teachers and peers), with a bit of the Three Musketeers (fencing, swordplay, and relentless action) thrown in, you are going to love this book.

This book shows some serious promise for the next in the series and was actually one of my favorite debut fantasy reads of 2014 by a new author. Read if you want a page-turner with plenty of intrigue, sword fighting and with a darker, alternative Italian Renaissance period feel to it.

 

23. The Shotgun Arcana by R.S. Belcher

The first book, Six-Gun Tarot was a jumbo of different subgenres and ideas that somehow, surprisingly all work together. It was an amalgamation of the weird west, steampunk, and urban fantasy. I wasn’t expecting much from Six-Gun Tarot when I read it last year, but it turned out to be pretty damn awesome.

The cast of characters are just so damn complex, the weird wild west setting so dry you can pretty much feel the moisture seeping from skin, and the strange world described oddly a compelling place —  locale that draws in supernatural characters who all live together in an uneasy harmony.

The sequel which was just released a couple months ago in 2014, turned out to be even better. You’ll need to read the first one before you read the sequel, but if you want something very different, start reading this series.

Read if you like urban fantasy, the wild west, complex characters, and strange settings and characters, give this one a read.

24. Hidden by Benedict Jacka (An Alex Verus Novel)

A kick-ass addition to the already delicious Alex Verus series. The whole series, for me, has replaced the Dresden Files, as my favorite Urban fantasy series. ]Hidden was a much better Urban fantasy sequel book than Dresden’s Skin Game. Of course, there’s always going to be those comparisons to Dresden as both series are very very much cut from the same mold (and there is no doubt that without Dresden, there would never have been any Alex Verus).

Overall, Alex Verus books are better than the Dresden books when you look at the last few Dresden books; the Verus books at this point RETAIN that hero vs. more powerful villains feeling, even five books into the series.

They are darker, more character driven, and it’s quite fun watching the mostly powerless Alex take on all the baddies who can crush him, but somehow, through his strange talent, his wits, some serious pre-planning, and not an inconsiderable amount of luck, he mostly comes out on top.

A fun series that combines the best of Dresden while chucking out the worst of it.

 

 

25. Sleeping Late for Judgement Day by Tad Williams (A Bobby Dollar Novel)

Tad Williams sinks his teeth into the Urban Fantasy Genre. This is the third book in his trilogy and it’s the best one so far. Williams takes the heaven and hell concepts and twists them around. The protaganist is a wisecracking joker who always end up in a bad situation — usually pursued by both heaven and hell. Sleeping Late on Judgement Day is darker than the first two books, but with the kinks worked out; it’s clear Williams is finding his stride with this series. I’d rate it right up there with Dresden and Alex Verus. If you haven’t picked up the Bobby Dollar books yet and you like Urban fantasy, you are missing out.

 

 

BONUS RECOMMENDATION: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

This is science fiction, but holy shit, what a read. I know we are discussing PURE fantasy here, but I had to mention Pierce Brown’s Red Rising among the recommendations.

Why?

Because it’s bloody fantastic and the best book I’ve read this year out of both the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. I won’t go into the plot, but it’s a delicious combination of Ender’s Game meets Lord of the Flies mated with the Hunger Games. The prose is sharp and the author has some intelligent insights about the human condition scattered throughout the narrative. There’s quite a few themes explored too over the course of the novel. It’s a book that starts off a bit slow, but just you wait until you are 100 pages in and things pick up and you won’t be able to let the book go until you’ve finished the whole thing.

If you liked Ender’s Game you’ll love this book. If you liked the Hunger Games, you’ll adore this book — it’s far superior in every way to it in both writing and plot.

I can wax lyrical about this book for another 300 words or just cut it short and say buy the fucking book. It’s my recommendation as the best fantasy AND science fiction book of 2014, hands down.

Really, I mean it.

 

Other Major Fantasy Book Releases This Year

These are some of the other major fantasy book releases this year. We give our opinions on how the books fared, both the good and the bad.

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

For the most part, Butcher delivers the goods here. His last book in the series was a big let-down for the most part. But Butcher returns to form with Skin Game, which in plot had the shape of a ‘wizard’s rob a magical vault’ version of Ocean’s 11.

Lots of action, the typical cameo appearances of Butchers various characters, and even the return of an old villain. So, this book is better than his last few for the most part (I feel his novel a few back  ‘Changes’ was his best so far as it upped the stakes and took a darker turn).

But, when looking at the series as a whole, I’m starting to have a few problems with The Dresden Files now. Butcher is killing the series a bit by focusing TOO much on all the side characters he’s obligated to bring in for guest appearances which just bogs down the books. And Butcher seems unable to kill off characters; I think he needs to raise the stakes and start killing some of the core characters, who are seemingly invincible at this point.

Hell, I’d even be satisfied with a few minor characters to bite the bullet, if only to thin the herd a bit. And then there’s the whole ‘power-up-to-infinity’ thing going on with the characters — especially Dresden. They just keep getting stronger and stronger with every book or two.

I miss the good old days when Dresden was just an impoverished detective, barely able to pay rent, always facing down a MUCH stronger villain and barely escaping by the tip of his wizard hat. That character is now replaced with the new and improved Harry 2.0, a character of legend so powerful he could now challenge Goku from Dragon Ball Z to a’who’s got the biggest Super Saiyan‘ pissing match.

If you want a good old darker tale about a broke wizard (sorry…a ‘mage’ in this case) , who’s tries to do the right thing SOMETIMES (and sometimes he just says ‘fuck it’ I’m going to kill a bunch of kids because they are assholes trying to kill me) and who’s always a fly on the wall compared to the bad guys he takes on, then I heartily recommend the Alex Verus books, which retain the early Dresden book feel, but are darker and better written.

Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan (A Raven’s Shadow Novel)

Disappointing and doing everything wrong the first book did right. The protagonist of the first book was mostly absent. I think for a lot of people this book would have been an awesome sequel IF it was the story of Valin’s return. But instead it was mostly the story of a couple other characters we don’t care about. As such it didn’t have the same rich feel of the first book.

The Revolutions: A Novel by Felix Gilman

This is one of those authors that can’t seem to write an bad (or simple) novel. The Revolutions is a real jumbo of different genres, but it brings with it shades of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The novel also can be a bit confusing, but if you can press though, you are in for a rather eclectic treat. The writing is awesome and the characters very well drawn. The author knows how to build an utterly captivating setting that sucks you in and comes off as completely real, even though it’s such a weird and exotic place. The second part of the novel takes a turn for the worse with the change of setting. It’s not a novel for everyone, but if you love richly draw worlds, awesome prose, planetary romances, and period fantasy (this takes place in an alternative Victorian era set in a strange fantastical London where magic works through alchemy), this book will take you for a ride you won’t forget any time soon.

Shattered by Kevin Hearne

Those who like The Dresden Files and can’t get enough will probably enjoy this series. The latest in the series, keeps things about the same. You know what you are getting here and for the most part the author delivers exactly that.

Personally, I’m not so much a fan of this series and Book 7, is more of a collection of mini tales thrown into a single book. But, if you are a fan of the series, you’ll probably enjoy this one. It’s certainly not the best in the series though.

Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen by Garth Nix

After years and years, Nix finally returns to his Old Kingdom world with a proper novel. Nix is an inventive world builder and I am a big fan of his original Abhorson trilogy.  That man can write a damn good yarn, one of magic, mystery, and dark adventure.

Unfortunately, his return to the Old Kingdom falls flat with Clariel. The world building is good and it’s nice to see the author flesh out the mysteries of his world a bit more with this book. I also was intrigued with how he portrays the kingdom — it’s a kingdom that’s decaying and almost on the brink of collapse. As a backstory to the Abhorson books, you get to see HOW the Old Kingdom had disintegrated into ruin hundreds of years later by the time the Abhorson series picks up.

My major complaint with this series was the protagonist Clariel who is a paper thin character and not at all fleshed out. The entire book consists of Clariel whining about wanting to return to the Great Forest, a place which she spent an idyllic summer planting trees and hunting animals. Yes there are adventures and dark magic and a kingdom on the brink of collapse in need of saving, but overall, I found it hard to care about the protagonist or the greater world for the most part because the heroine was so damn unlikable.

If you want to see MORE of Nix’s Old Kingdom fleshed out, you might want to check this book out. But don’t expect it to be anywhere close to his Abhorson trilogy.

Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk

An interesting though flawed novel. It’s worth reading if you are really on the prowl for some gritty fantasy. The main complaint I have with this book is the protagonist. He’s not at all developed, which is a shame as the novel could have been a much better read if he was. The plot falls back to the whole ‘I wake up and I don’t remember who I am but slowly start recalling moments from my past as the story progresses.’ In other words pretty much plot contrivance. ‘

I’m not a fan of this as it’s a ham-fisted way to go about telling a story. There’s a good deal of political intrigue in the novel which seems to slow the pace down quite a bit. But it is a book where the second half is much better than the first half, so if you pick it up and find it a slog, keep reading. Overall it’s not a bad story, but it’s certainly nowhere near the top of the heap when it comes to considering the best reads.

I’d read about 25 of the books on this list first before picking this one up.

Thief’s Magic by Trudy Canavan 

I did like Trudy’s original Black Magician trilogy which was a good read about a young street urchin who ends up going to a prestigious mage school and finds she has a knack for magic. It’s been her best work so far.

Her newest book, Thief’s Magic was disappointing. The author tries her hand with a different sort of fantasy. I won’t go into the plot details, but the whole thing just doesn’t work. The two main stories going in the novel don’t really connect to each other — that’s after a book that’s nearing 600 pages.

I found the book quite boring overall. And let’s not talk about the ending, which sucked. Overall, not a book I would recommend over any of the better books out there. If you want to read her work, checkout her much superior The Black Magician trilogy.

The Barrow by Mark Smylie

A rip roaring adventure that’s absolutely the definition of a classic ‘grimdark’ fantasy novel. Fans of Abercrombie’s First Law, Luke Scull’s The Grim Company, Jeff Salyards Scourge of the Betrayers, and Scott Bakker’s works will like this one. It’s very much that story about a group of misfit, selfish ‘heroes’ who don’t like each other forced together by dire circumstances on a quest to rob liberate an evil wizard’s grave of valuable items.

But oh is this book dark.The setting, the tone, the character interactions, the language, the explicit sexual imagery. I don’t think I’ve actually read a fantasy book with the word ‘c*nt’ used once, let alone every other page or two. Nor a book that so readily describes depraved explicit sexual practices or relishes expanding on the details of the various gruesome deaths that occur during to various characters during the story.

So if you like those ‘grand company on a quest where everything just goes wrong, characters die horribly, and well, horrible things just happen to everyone involved’ sort of tales, The Barrow is that sort of novel.

When it’s all said and done, it’s one of the better, more exciting Grimdarks this year, and it really brings to mind, stylistically, Luke Scull’s The Grim Company and Abercrombie’s First Law books.

Breach Zone by Mike Cole

This is one of the more interesting mixes of genres. It’s action, military fantasy, superheroes, and urban fantasy all in one. If you want a huge dose of military action, a cast of zany hero characters who all have issues, and superhero power battles that will have you hiding under the sheets from the explosions, this is your book. Don’t expect anything deep here or for a complex emotional tale — this one is all about action, adventure, and more action with very heavy body counts. But, if that’s the sort of tale you want to read (and really, who doesn’t want to read about superheroes kicking ass?) then Mike Cole’s Shadow Ops series is one of the best superhero gigs in the genre.

The series is wrapped up with Breach Zone, which is a fitting finale to the series. If the first two books are like 20 minutes of a fireworks display, then Breach Zone is the last 20 seconds where every firework is released at once in a grand finale. Can’t recommend a better book if you want pure zany action.

Valor by John Gwynne 

The first book was interesting. There’s a huge number of glowingly positive reviews (I’m suspicious about this, but I’ll save that one for later) for Gwynne’s books. I found the first book a good read, though it did lag at times (I found the pacing a bit off). There were parts of the book I really liked and was really interested in, and parts I was bored to tears. My biggest complaint was the cast of characters. For the most part, I didn’t care too much about them.

As for the style of the book, Malice felt like it was a combination of a more classic fantasy tale combined with a modern one. I rate the first as a good read, but not necessary a great one. Valor, the sequel, offers more of the same. It’s a decent read, but it didn’t necessary impress me. The author has potential, but I’m ambivalent about Malice and Valor.

If you want an fantasy tale in the more classic mold (I don’t get why it was being compared to A Song of Ice and Fire — the books, besides the medieval details with knights and lords and inhuman creatures, are not very similar in style or scope), you might like this one. It’s certainly not a bad book.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Westerfeld is one of the most talented YA authors in the genre. This is probably his most clever book yet; a story about the day-to-day life of an upcoming female author (Darcy) and the life of her teenage fictional protagonist Lizzie, both told in rotating chapters. Sound confusing? You’re not alone. But it’s one of those confusions that begin to ease then vanishes as you begin reading.

What’s fascinating is the subtlety taut connection you begin to see between the fictional character Lizzie  and Darcy as their lives begin to influence the other. Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?

Read this book to find out!

The story is a poignant look at just how art and life can mingle together to create something beautiful, both in the art itself and the life being lived outside of the art process. This is definitely a style of book that will be new to most of you readers — a story about a fictional story and the nonfictional story, with the different POV’s weaving in and out; the meta and the non-meta combine to form something different.

And the story itself is also a pretty damn accurate look into the whole process of getting a book published from writing the book to the actual publishing and subsequent marketing of it (there’s even mention of ARCs). So if you want to fully and  understand the book publishing process in a fun way, read this astoundingly clever novel. It might not ‘work’ for everyone, but kudos to Scott for doing something new in the genre. It’s a risk, but I believe it pays off.

Jon’s List of Best Fantasy in 2014

My list is really different to Ben’s List. I haven’t read nearly as many as Ben has. What I will do is write you a list of books that I have enjoyed this year and a comment or two about them, without trying to repeat what Ben said. I like my characters more so than worldbuilding and that’s what drives me when I read. However, I do like my worldbuilding as well. I think of what Sanderson does and I am in awe. Butcher has built up a MASSIVE world but it can be hard to keep up.

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

This one took me a while to get my head around, but once it got going I had to finish it quickly. A polarising book in the forums. Many stated it was a good book but it never wowed them. Perhaps a let down to many do to the fact it was really hyped up. I can understand where the forum members are coming from as all three main protagonists are all over the world and they really have no connection. This can be very frustrating to some. While not my favourite read this year, it was still enjoyable and book 2 should be a lot better.

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

The more I kept reading the more I liked it. I felt that the story just kept going and kept giving. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about the characters whining. I’m sorry, but that to me seems more real. If you think this is whining, then you really need to read some other books with REAL whiny characters. This series is going to be an absolute masterpiece. I can’t even comprehend the magnitude when this is only book 2 of 10.

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

While I enjoyed reading this book, I couldn’t help but feel I was let down. This is a watered down version of what we usually get served by @LordGrimDark. We still get the humour and the flawed characters which is a hallmark of Abercrombie. However, what makes Abercrombie so good is his violence and grit, both which were lacking. I always imagine that YA books are for 13-14 year olds and this book certainly isn’t but if you are targeting 15-17 year olds, then why not just hand them The Blade Itself?

The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

I really enjoyed this book like the first one. I think the magic system is intriguing and the characters all play a different role and keep the story moving forward. I have an inkling though, that McClellan might be a bit too Sanderson-esque and  might be too afraid to kill off characters. I think that’s what separated GRRM from the rest, he killed off important characters at regular intervals, no one’s favourite is immune.

The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler

A new age Alice in Wonderland story. Following a young girl who finds out she is a “reader” and is able use certain powers if she is able to gain them through the books she “reads”. I thoroughly enjoyed this book as it was light, moved quickly and I can recommend to children. The ending is a bit WTF but I would say, appropriate for the age group Wexler is targetting. I look forward to the sequel where it might explain the ending a bit more and get into more of the meaty stuff.

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

There will be MANY people who will disagree with me, but this was my favourite book in 2014. Yes, this book is utter crap without reading Farseer and Tawny Man trilogy, but if you have, how could you not love reading about Fitz again. I had a feeling before picking up the book that we’d just go through more roller coaster emotion rides with Fitz. How right I was. At one point, I was on the verge of tears if it wasn’t for the fact that I was in a public place at the time. Reading this book is like looking through old photos of family and friends.

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

I think this latest Dresden Book ticks so many boxes. Action, Love, Vengeance, Redemption, Betrayal and Plot Twists. In some ways I really agree with Ben that the series overall is suffering from this overpowering God like syndrome, but for me, Dresden was always about a lot of fun. The characters and in a sense the books were never to be taken seriously. Think MacGyver, he always survived and the the impossible and every week people tuned in to watch. While I’ve said that some authors are too afraid to kill off characters, I don’t mind it in the Dresden files. Just imagine if some villain killed one of the Scooby Doo gang…it just wouldn’t be right.

The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

Stroud is right up there as one of the best writers of YA fantasy. Bartimaeus Trilogy was simply amazing and with Lockwood and Co. it is a good successor. The Whispering Skull delves deeper into the life of Lockwood and we start to understand how much more depth this world has. I’m thinking that Stroud is still just setting us up with the mysterious reason why “ghosts” appeared 50 years ago.

Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

A minor prince escapes a plot to kill him. While escaping the magic, he becomes magically bound with a Norse Warrior and must be together at all times. A very different book compared to Lawrence’s Broken Empire. This book is much more light hearted as we follow a fool of a prince rather than an angry, vengeful one. It can be quite hilarious at times as we follow Jalan who at times seems to think this is all a dream.

Legion: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson

One of Sanderson’s Novellas, we follow Stephen Leeds a detective with multiple Aspects that he imagines and gathers information from. It is a cute and quirky story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, while giving just enough meat to keep the pages turning. I would have much preferred if he had brought out Firefight or The Rithmatist 2, but beggars can’t be choosers.


That’s it. Look out for our upcoming posts where we asking a few of our forum members what their favourite books were of 2014. We will also have an “awards” night where we hand out some awards =)

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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