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Top 25 Best Fantasy Books of 2015

By / December 30, 2015 / no comments

And here we have it: at the end of another year.

And what does that mean? It means yet another Best Fantasy Books Year in Review list, written by yours truly, Ben aka the lazy fantasy book critic who occasionally writes best lists.

Now following last year’s format (when I somehow managed to cook up a surprise Best Fantasy of 2014 list), I’m releasing another end of year list.

I’ve been meaning to get around to this new best of 2015 list earlier this month, but too many sips of rum soaked egg nogg during pre-Christmas party left me in a state most unable to do much of anything.

Except read more books of course. Or, I could have just been lazy. Yea, probably that.

Fantasy Year in Review

There have been some outstanding works of fantasy this year — we’ve had a slew of authors release some awesome books including some highly anticipated ones – with some of those books delivering the goods (Providence of Fire) and some that failed.

Yet, on the whole of things, 2015 was a solid year for the fantasy reader – no matter what your taste are, there’s at least a couple books that will impress. Last year was a stronger year when it came to the number of great fantasy, but this year was nothing to sneer at either.

Some particular standouts in 2015 were works by Peter Newman who’s debut The Vagrant impressed me, Luke Scull’s fantastically gruesomely Sword of the North, and Brian Staveley’s phenomenal epic fantasy The Providence of Fire, the continuation to his The Emperor’s Blades which was my favorite fantasy book of 2014. We also saw some interesting works, particularly Twelve Kings in Sharakhai which is set in a Central Asian / Indian / Arabian milieu and Sorcerer to the Crown, an outstanding debut by Zen Cho that deals in the same space (fantasy of manners) that Susanna Clarke occupies with her works.

This was also the year that the Game of Thrones TV show at last departed from the books’ narrative (we all knew it was coming with how slow Martin has been writing) and finally wrangled out a confession out of George R.R Martin that he’s  finding it hard to write with all the ‘distractions’ he’s facing. As if we didn’t know that Martin’s not spending any time writing, but rather touring TV show sets, signing autographs and basically living it up as a famous author.

In other news, Rothfuss still hasn’t released his new book and meanwhile Sanderson has pumped out about 20 new books this year.

Oh yea, and the new Star Wars came out. And the force was finally strong this time.

Yep, 2015 in 100 words.

Ok, let’s get to the business of recommending books.

Top 25 Best Fantasy Books of 2015: The Picks

These books are MY personal picks for the best of the best this year.

If we consider the massive heaps of traditionally published fantasy produced this year, not to mention the piles and piles of indie works released on Amazon, there’s been a lot of fantasy books to read in 2015. And I don’t claim to have read all the fantasy this year, so I’m open to admitting that I may have missed more than a few works (I only read about 150 or so books this year).

But the picks given here are all stand out books that have

a) impressed me personally

b) been impossible to put down when reading

c) have a good deal of critical praise, positive reviews, and release hype surrounding them.

I did NOT use any scientific method, any reader choice polls, or anything quantitative — so sue me! Rather, these are the books that really impressed us/me. Many of the books also have garnered praise (from both readers and critics) alike — so while these choices are our ‘expert’ opinions as it were, you’ll find a lot of other bloggers / readers agree with some of the choices.

Jon Snow, the other co-editor / blog writer and manager of our Forums, has also listed his opinions on some of my picks to provide an alternative view.

I try my best to give a detailed analysis of why the book made the list, but if you think I’m off the wall crazy with my picks, feel free to tell me so in the comments.

Note: I will be creating a publicly ranked version of this list so readers can vote on the entries with the rankings sorted by popular vote.  And for more curated ‘Best of 2015 book lists’ check out our BFB Staff Picks for Best Fantasy Books of 2015 and our Forum Picks for Best Fantasy Books of 2015.

Also if you want to know what’s in the line for the 2016 year, read our 50+ Most Anticipated Fantasy Books of 2016 post — we pretty much cover most of the major fantasy books released during the new year (i.e. 2016) and then some more.

So, with those disclaimers said about the unsuitability and thoroughly unscientifically sound method of compiling this list,  let’s actually get to the picks.

1. The Providence of Fire (Brian Staveley)

providenceLast year Staveley impressed with his outstanding debut The Emperor’s Blades. This year, he did one better with an ever more impressive sequel, The Providence of Fire.

Despite a year with some very good books indeed, Providence of Fire was one of the most enjoyable reads this year for me – and this is saying something since Providence of Fire came out nearly a year ago (January 2015). Despite the dozens (100+) fantasy novels I’ve read since then, The Providence of Fire STILL stands out to me as the best read this year.

The Providence of Fire a masterclass on how to do serious epic fantasy right and (so far) stands out as one of the best epic fantasy tales to grace the fantasy world this decade. The second book in a fantasy series is usually a disappointment, but Staveley deftly avoids disappointing with Book 2 and, in fact, delivers a sharper, tighter plot, even more complex characterization, and turns up the action knob even higher.

This is my selection for the best epic fantasy book of 2015 and my overall pick for the best fantasy book of 2015.

If you are looking for epic fantasy that hits ALL the right buttons…twice over – an intriguing setting, a huge world full of different cultures and varied landscapes, a cool magic system, a cast compelling and complex characters, awesome action, plot twists, and a strong plot that pulls you in and really won’t let you go — then this book is THE book to read this year, just like the first book was last year.

Even better, The Providence of Fire avoids the ‘middle book syndrome’ that seems to plague most fantasy series – it’s thoroughly a better book than the first book which was already an outstanding debut.

All in all, if there is a ‘must read’, then The Providence of Fire is that pick this year. So if you haven’t read it yet, treat yourself to a Christmas present and pick this one up – and if you haven’t read the first book, you know what you have to do!

Jon Snow: I can’t agree more and this is definitely my number one pick for 2015 as well. I feel that it is better than The Emperor’s Blades in almost every single way. The characterization gets better and we really start seeing protagonists differentiate themselves. The story moves forward yet leaving a lot of mystery for us readers. I’m just so happy to have stumbled upon this series in 2014 and I can’t wait for The Last Mortal Bond in 2016.

2. Twelve Kings in Sharakhai (Bradley P. Beaulieu)

24611565In a year with some strong new fantasy releases, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is my pick for the all round best new series. This is one of those magical fantasy tales that make you fall in love with epic fantasy all over again. And for lovers of big fantasy books, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai also delivers here as well – this beast is over 700 pages long.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai comes like a refreshing breeze in a fantasy landscape that’s been a bit of a year-long desert when it comes to good epic fantasy..

Twelve Kings eschews the usual medieval western Europe setting and opts to move into a new setting, highly inspired by the likes of India, Central Asia, and the Middle East — and called The Silk Road. Having personally traveled to Central Asia myself and finding the landscape, cultures, and peoples, fascinating, it was very interesting to see Beaulieu craft a fantasy tale inspired by these exotic locals.

This ‘Silk Road’ setting which, as Beaulieu demonstrates in his debut, is an intoxicating place to be and marks the rise of a new subgenre of fantasy labeled Silk Road Fantasy.

With strong, complex characters (including a kick-ass heroin), some awesome worldbuilding, and a plot that wraps you up in steel threads and drags you along, this book is one of the best books released this year. Even better, the silk road desert setting is wonderful, unique, and just as much a character of the story as the characters themselves.

With such a strong opening salvo in a new series, this is THE book to read this year. If last year’s The Mirror Empire and City of Stairs took the spot light as the best unique new fantasy that was both different and compelling, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai takes the same spotlight this year.

Hint: don’t start reading this book if you’ve got important work to get done…because you won’t until you finish this magical book.

3. The Vagrant (Peter Newman)

VagrantThere were a few outstanding fantasy books during the 2015 year, but almost no book impressed me — and surprised me — as Peter Newman’s The Vagrant.

The book was not without problems – mainly, the initial start of the book where the author refuses to mollycoddle the reader and just throws you into the thick of things with no explanation.

Because of this, I found myself confused for a good third of the book as to the world, the characters, and..well…everything.

But, as they say ‘persistence pays off’ and in the case of The Vagrant, persistence really pays off.

I found by the end of a book a remarkably captivating story — one that hits all the right notes and sets up what looks to be a  uniquely interesting fantasy/science fiction hybrid series. The prose is quite beautiful on a whole, though at times, can be dense and hard to penetrate.

If you are looking of a simple layman style prose found in say a Sanderson novel, The Vagrant will disappoint you in that regard– Newman is a far superior wordsmith than your usual fantasy author. But he can also get too caught up in creating those tersely beautiful sentences that it makes it hard to easily understand what the characters are actually trying to say. Not necessary a bad thing (it seemed to me Newman employed a very Hemmingway style of prose in his work), but it’s not a usual style of prose used in Fantasy literature.

Certainly, The Vagrant is not a book that every fantasy fan will appreciate (the reviews are mixed if you look around), but if you start the book and push through, you may find your efforts sumptuously rewarded.

This book is my pick for the Best Debut Fantasy Book of 2015. I can honestly say that The Vagrant was the fantasy book I most enjoyed reading this year. Everything about the book — the strong moody atmosphere, the mysterious characters and setting, the subdued coming-of-age story, the terse yet beautiful writing, and the compelling plot — is phenomenal.

Once I pushed through the confusing start of the novel, I simply could NOT put it down and lost an entire night of sleep reading it to the end.

Very impressive debut by new author and I can’t wait for the second book next year. Whatever you do, don’t disregard this book until you are half way through — it really does pick up steam!

Jon Snow: I almost didn’t pick this one up. It arrived in my mailbox and I wasn’t that keen, however, there weren’t that many books at the beginning of the year, so I gave it a go. I loved it. Yes, it is confusing at the beginning, you have no idea what is going on, but what you get is a weird mix of dystopian future made by some nuclear war, heroic fantasy and an action packed book. I really felt like I was playing a solo mission of Starcraft II. While Newman has stated that he didn’t deliberately write his story this way, there have been many things that have influenced his writing, and gaming is one those factors. The sequel, The Malice, will be my most anticipated book of 2016. Ben also mentioned that it’s not for every fantasy reader, and that is very true. One of our avid forum members couldn’t finish it because of the prose; Amazon ratings and Goodreads rate it relatively low (2.9-3.6), but if you ‘get’ this book, you will love it.

4. Uprooted (Naomi Novik)

uprootedNovik is author of the acclaimed ‘Temeraire’ series — a series I absolutely loved until the narrative sort of died out after the first couple books when she just lost her narrative steam — has come back in a big way with her best book yet with Uprooted, a dark, somewhat subversive fairy tale that pulls on the heart and won’t let you go till the last page is done.

Uprooted combines the likes of a dark modern fairy tale and court intrigue. The book feels very much like something you would find written by Patricia McKillip, which is high praise indeed as McKillip is one of the top female writers in the genre.

Uprooted is a magically enchanting read that will warm the heart while also freezing the bones and it’s such a sweet charming story that you really won’t want to stop reading it from start to end.

This is one book that will probably top many of the ‘best fantasy books of 2015’ lists this year for many readers – and after reading it myself, I see there’s good reason for this.

Because it’s actually that good!

I’ve got a soft spot for Novik, mainly because she, like me, finished a degree in English lit while also finishing a second degree in Computer Science – the two disparate fields of study.

The difference though being that I’ve failed to become an author and devolved into an angry critic of sorts while she’s become a published household name in the fantasy world.

But I can put aside my raging jealously enough to admit she’s done a fantastic job with her new book, and with this reboot book found her way back to the top of the genre. Even better, this is a standalone fantasy in a world where most new fantasy become an epic sized stack of paper that could sink a small boat. In a world where 10 book mega series are becoming the norm, a beautifully written standalone fantasy stands as unique.

So for a self-contained, clever yet inspiring fair tale read, Uprooted must be read. Read it, laugh, cry, and remember just why you love fantasy so much.

Jon Snow: I am in the same mind as Ben. I definitely loved the first couple of books from the Temeraire but then it really petered out for me. I was excited about another Novik book and I definitely enjoyed this book. It is completely self contained and has a heroine that uses a lot of her wits. However, I don’t rate it that highly. Many others have said how much they enjoyed it, but it was a bit too fantastical for me. Those that love European fairy tales will get this and will love it, but for me, it was just ok. Without the love story, it would make a great YA book.

5. Sword of the North (Luke Scull)

north

While Abercrombie is a hailed as one of progenitors of the modern grimdark tale, Scull has picked up Abercrombie’s torch and started sprinting with it.

With Sword of the North, Scull’s definitely writing the best grimdark in the genre right now. And the ‘apprentice’ that was inspired by the ‘master’ has now pretty much equaled him — at least in how to tell a grimdark tale at in it’s finest form. So if you love Abercombie’s First Law series, you won’t find anything better (or more similar) than The Grim Company and the sequel Sword of the North.

In my opinion, Scull has produced better grimdark than Abercrombie’s most recent efforts.

The second book, Sword of the North is Scull’s best work yet and solidly cements Scull as one of the best writers in the fantasy genre right now and certainly near the top when it comes to writing gritty fantasy / grimdark.

Sword of the North is also one of the darkest fantasy books I’ve read, so be warned. It’s gritty as hell, darker than black, and the characters really fucking suffer.

A lot.

But it’s also deeply satisfying tale and the narrative just won’t let you go. Despite grimacing, wincing, and feeling some serious physical pain as you read about the trails, tribulations, and ultimately redemption of the flawed and troubled heroes, you can’t stop reading.

Bonus points also given for some of the bloodiest most dramatic action scenes in fantasy this year too. A disturbing book this is. A boring book this is not.

Absolutely read if you love works by Joe Abercombie, Mark Lawrence, Glen Cook, Steven Erickson, and George Martin. Scull rings all the same bells as these authors, but does so with his own unique note. A big warning: this is some of the darkest fantasy I’ve read this year, so don’t read if you want a happy tale where the characters are not consistently brutalized for long periods.

6. The Traitor Baru Cormorant (Seth Dickinson)

Traitor-UK1A fantasy where the hero is…an accountant.

This novel wins award for originality if nothing else.

But fortunately, there’s a lot of other awesomeness to The Traitor besides this.

The plot is highly detailed and finely woven together and the action and story move along at a relentless pace – despite the fact an accountant may be the ‘hero’ of the story, in no way does the book feel boring or plodding. Rather, it’s gripping the whole way through.

This is a tale that deals heavily in politics, economics, and trade rather than by sword or magic. And yes, this can be exciting too as Baru Cormorant proves.

Before you run away from what may look like on the surface a boring premise, know that you will be missing one of the most unique, compelling, and dare I say, interesting fantasy tales released this year.

I very much enjoyed The Traitor Baru Cormorant.

The story is, for the most part, an engrossing one, the characters are fun to follow. The downside to this story is that the characters feel like they are put in place simply to carry forward the author’s clever story rather than the story follow the characters.

If you are looking for one of the better political fantasy tales this year (somewhat in the vein of last year’s The Mirror Empire which has a tight liberal political message scattered through) where economics and trade are highly detailed and important to the story (again, something like The Dagger and the Coin by Abraham), The Traitor delivers.

Overall, the Traitor by Seth Dickson is one of the better fantasy reads of 2015 – a heartbreaking, coldly mechanical yet all the while heartwarming tale with a hero that captivates while also repulsing.

Do read if you love non-traditional fantasy that includes spies, world building, plenty of politics, economics, and trade. And absolutely, positively read this one if you liked The Goblin Emperor or The Mirror Empire, you will especially love this book – it’s a guarantee you’ll love it.

7. The Dread Wyrm (Miles Cameron)

wyrmThird book in a military sword & sorcery saga that is shaping up to be some of the best new series since Malazan Book of the Fallen.

The beauty of Cameron’s world building is in the details. The details he so cleverly and precisely builds up. Cameron has a degree a degree in Medieval History and uses his vast wealth of knowledge about medieval minutia to build a world from ground up full of realistic details.

From the weight of the armor, to the horses, to the inns, towns, knightly tournaments, military camps, and just about everything else, Cameron infuses his world with the way things really were (ignoring the fantasy elements of course).

For whatever reason, Cameron doesn’t seem to have hit mainstream appeal for his awesome gritty fantasy series – a series that rings some of the same bells that do Malazan Book of the Fallen and The Black Company.

The Dread Wyrm continues the awesomeness that is Cameron’s world with bigger of everything: bigger battles, bigger villains, more heroes and villains, more complex plots, more magical battles, more military campaigns, and the most dramatic, biggest climactic battle this year by the end of it.

It’s as though Cameron looked at Book 2 and said ‘let’s make it more extreme.’

And more extreme it is!

If this is not enough to convince you, I don’t know what will. Cameron delivers an outstanding tale with the latest entry (and a middle entry at that). Do yourself a favor and start reading the first book The Red Knight and know that by book 3, you have a serious treat in store.

The third novel in the The Traitor Son Cycle, The Dread Wyrm delivers one of the most breathtaking climaxes in any fantasy book written this year. Which is a lot to say, considering that this is a middle book in the series.

Miles Cameron continues to deliver some of the most compelling and convincing depictions of Medieval warfare in the whole genre. If you like your fantasy brutal and violent, Cameron is your man. The gritty, dark, bloody, and brutal sequel to 2013’s The Grim Company features enough monsters, magic, and gore to keep any fan who loves action, magic, military battles, and epic fantasy satisfied, entertained, and anxious for the next installment.

8. The Price of Valor (Django Wexler)

price-of-valorThe man with the strangest name in fantasy (and I might just say..the coolest) continues to pump out solid military fantasy with his Shadow Campaign novels. The Price of Valor is the third in his Shadow Campaign series, and the best of the bunch (though the other two are very good reads as well).

Strong characters (the female characters are particularly well done), bone shaking action scenes, detailed military squad life, and a lot of marching – what more could you want from a gritty military fantasy?

Oh, what about a heavy dose of save the world from evil epic fantasy thrown in to boot?

Wexler continues to impress me with each new Shadow Campaign novel and  you won’t be disappointed by The Price of Valor, his best book yet.

If you haven’t picked up the first in the series, you are missing out one of the best new wave of military fantasy that’s being released. Fans of The Black Company, Malazan Book of the Fallen, and The Wheel of Time will find themselves right at home in Django’s world.

9. The Liar’s Key (Mark Lawrence)

keyI’ve been slower to warm to Lawrence’s new world than I was to his outstanding Broken Empire. But Lawrence’s new character, the part time coward, part time hero Prince Jalan has grown on me as as the this new series.

I respect Lawrence’s desire to write a new sort of tale (and hero) and take his writing in a new direction than his last series, and I must admit he does succeed.

If I was mildly intrigued by Prince of Fools, first in the series (the Red Queen’s War), by the end of The Liar’s Key, I was absolutely hooked into Lawrence’s new tale.

The story of the emotionally broken, single minded Northman Snorri, heroic coward Prince Jalan, and the motley cast of characters they encounter on the way to Death’s Door stand out as some of the best and funniest fantasy I’ve read this year.

If you haven’t started on Lawrence’s newest tale, yet, I recommend you do. It’s a different sort of story than the Broken Empire, but equally enthralling and a whole lot funnier too.

Lawrence continues to impress with his ability to create compelling characters — especially his ability to craft anti-heroes that intrigue and seduce you into their world.

Jon Snow: Nope, don’t agree. Just don’t like this series. Oh don’t get me wrong, I’ll probably trudge through the final book of the Red Queen’s war, but I don’t expect too much. In saying that, this series has great reviews on Amazon. I just feel like I don’t like any of the characters, and that’s usually Mark Lawrence’s strong suit. Snorri is a ‘Viking’ who is pretty much just up the guts, bash’em kind of character. He has heart, skill and loyalty, but driven on a goal that should be unwinnable. Jalan is a coward, but every time in this series he does something heroic.

10. The Aeronaut’s Windlass (Jim Butcher)

aeroA thoroughly enjoyable read and another shining example of Jim Butcher’s skills as a top writer in the fantasy genre. In his newest book (and the first NON Dresden Files book in a loooong time), the epic of Wheel of Time meets the swashbuckling of The Tales of the Ketty Jay.

The world presented is…imaginative — a combination of the steampunk, air-to-air action like the Ketty Jay books, the cutesy anthropomorphic animals of Redwall books, and the epic, end-of-the-world fantasy of a Wheel of Time book tossed in for good measure. There’s also a good deal of world building setting up a large world that any fan of Butcher’s Alera books or Jordan’s Wheel of Time series will find themselves right at home in.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is really a blend of steampunk with epic fantasy – and done in such a way that make it unique. There’s nothing quite like it out there that combines the two in such a way.

A cast of strong, there’s some rather interesting characters, a unique magic system, and a rather interesting (if zany) world propped up by some compelling world building, a nice steampunk setting, and a potential end-of-the-world plot thrown in makes this one a keeper.

I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series. I enjoyed every page of this book, and you will too.

Jon Snow: Swashbuckling action, check. Magical and weird characters, check. Talking cats, check. Hey, what’s not to like? A book that was up in my top 10, it probably still suffers from Book 1 syndrome, where it has to introduce too many things at the beginning to really delve into the story line. The world’s population lives in giant spires (think Mega-Cities, from Judge Dredd) and anything in between are creatures that will tear you asunder and terrain that is uninhabitable. Airships are how economy flows and how war is ultimately decided. I would have liked to have a glossary page that details the different kinds of ships, as I am unfamiliar with ship terminology. Definitely a solid fantasy book and great that it is something other than Dresden (which I love).

11. Sorcerer to the Crown (Zen Cho)

sorcerer_front mech.inddMove over Susanna Clarke, your successor has arrived.

The setting is a Victorian / Napoleonic period of England, the characters are English magicians, and the topic is English magic. There’s even a fairy court thrown in to boot. Sound familiar? Well if you’ve read Susanna Clarke’s magnificent Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, then it should.

Sorcerer to the Crown is very much a fantasy of manners tale in the mold created by Clarke’s magnificent Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Note quite as deep, richly built, or as detailed, but still a fantastic debut novel by author Zen Cho.

But despite the similarities that will eventually crop up when juxtaposing this book to Clarke’s, The Sorcerer to the Crown goes it’s own way and becomes a different sort of tale all together.

Cho’s tale explores a world where women, racial color, and class are highly suppressed by the institutions of the day. In this class-based society, two magically gifted individuals dare to buck the established conventions, and just perhaps save England and English magic in the process.

Sorcerer to the Crown delves into other topics Clarke blithely ignores, such as racism and sexism. The hero of the tale is a former black slave turned magician and a spunky woman of mixed heritage who throws off the trappings of her gender and position as scullery maid / assistant teacher.

There’s so much charm and warmth imbued in the novel that you just can’t help but love it, even if at times the narrative plots along pedantically. By the end of it, a compelling tale of magic, romance, and reform is presented to the reader in such a unique and enjoyable way.

While other authors may deal with some of the serious topics in a ham-fisted manner, Sorcerer to the Crown presents it all in such a charming, captivating manner you don’t feel preached to. This was certainly one of the more unique novels to come out this year and a book absolutely worth reading. If you are looking for an action packed epic fantasy, this tale is not that, but for a uniquely built world, an interesting setting, rich prose, and well developed characters, pick this one up.

Zen Cho is a new author to keep your eye on. I see good things for her in the future and await the next book in this series.

12. Fool’s Quest (Robin Hobb)

foolsquestHobb continues to cement her position as the best character writer in the fantasy genre. No other fantasy author can quite do a character like Hobb can – or draw your into the long dark despair she invariably puts her characters through, then yank you to highest emotional heights by the end of it.

Fool’s Quest is an outstanding book and, in my opinion, a stronger book than her first which I found a bit slow.

But really, if you’ve read any of Hobb’s previous books and you read the first in her new trilogy (featuring her most beloved characters of course – Fitz and the Fool), there is nothing I will say here that will dissuade you from reading the latest Fitz adventure anyways.

And if for some reason, you haven’t already picked it up and started reading if you’ve read the first in this series, then shame on you – you’ve got some reading to get done over the new years.

Jon Snow: Ben has said this is stronger than the first book. In terms of moving the story forward, yes, this book is stronger. The first book didn’t really go anywhere, however, I must say, that I enjoyed the first book a lot more. Fitz and the Fool was what Hobb does well, characterization. I didn’t care that the story didn’t go too far, because the characters were interesting and it had been a long time between drinks for me and Fitz. Fool’s Quest, moves the story quickly, but because of the slowness in book 1, this one probably still didn’t move fast enough for some. Myself and many others on the forums, thought there was a major botch up in this book, and I would love to ask Hobb what she was thinking when she decided to write that part.

13. The Fifth Season (N. K. Jemisin)

5thJemisin is one of the strongest female writers in an arguably male-dominated genre. And she’s one of the best writers in the genre: her prose is beautiful, her themes complex and always thought provoking, and she always explores female-centric issues while thoroughly entertaining all the while.

If Ursula Le Guin started writing fantasy with a romantic bent, well Jemisin occupies that space nicely.

The Fifth Season is the start of Jemisin’s new epic fantasy tale, one that covers the soul-searching journey of a mother who searches a war-torn landscape for the son who was stolen from her.

If you liked Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy, you are going to love her new effort which I feel is her best book yet.

 

 

 

14. The Library at Mount Char (Scott Hawkins)

library“Carolyn, blood-drenched and barefoot, walked alone down the two-lane stretch of blacktop that the Americans called Highway 78.”

With a book that starts out with a sentence like that, you know you are in for a long, dark, disturbing ride that is The Library at Mount Char.

This is the story of a family like you’ve never seen before. A family of adopted children where the father, a mysteriously cruel figure, trains them in the secret arts of magic, then abruptly vanishes, pitting sibling against sibling.

It’s cruel sadistic tale and yet strangely human at the same time.

The Library at Mount Char is something that shares the same space occupied by American Gods, but I’d go as far to say it’s better and at the same time, more disturbing, book in equal measure.

A startling cruel fantasy but one hits all the right fantasy notes with deep themes, wonderful writing, unexpected plot twists, action, and plenty of horror inflicted on the characters by the characters.

It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s weird. And I loved every page of The Library at Mount Char.

This book has a shout out of blurbs from just about every all-star fantasy author out there. It’s that good, and you should read it too. There’s a wack load of plot twists, turns, action, and a grand plot thread woven in. And even better, this book is a self contained stand alone — so there is no need to commit to anything more then this single, poignant story.

For those books that are weird, bizarre and disturbing, yet somehow beautiful, The Library at Mount Char – a tale of former friends turned against one another – is a book you need to read.

15. Golden Son (Pierce Brown)

goldensunTechnically this was a science fiction / fantasy blend, so I could equally put this on a Best Science Fiction Books of 2015 list as well.

Golden Son is a great read (and I suspect for the non-discerning, casual reader, likely an outstanding read), but I felt it was a much lesser read than the first book. Personally, I rate it a solid 8 out of 10, while the first book was a solid 9.

Golden Son still tells an entertaining story about a young man who angles himself into a position of power to overthrow an established order that suppresses lower classes, but finds when he gets to the top that everything is not as simple as he thought.

There’s a non stop stream of action from start to finish with the protaganist pretty much landing himself in impossible to survive situations, yet finding a way to survive. I found this steady stream of deus ex machina fed to the reader throughout the novel, and the consistent betrayals (obvious ones at that) of the protagonist’s followers utterly wearisome.

But it’s absolutely still worth reading and I don’t think there is anything I can say that would dissuade you from wanting to read Book 2 if you love the first.  Just don’t expect the highs reached by the first book.

Jon Snow: Red Rising was such an amazing book. It would have been my number 1 if it wasn’t a science fiction book. Golden Son is even more science fiction than Red Rising. As Ben said, it was a let down compared to Book 1, but definitely worth persisting through. If you just like constant action, then you will definitely love this book.

16. The Grace of Kings (Ken Liu)

graceOne of those novels that’s polarizing – at times both brilliant AND frustrating. IF you want a richly create world with a heavy oriental influence (and a unique setting), this is one of the best fantasy books of that type I’ve read.

Likely, you’ll either love it or detest it, but even if you don’t’ like it, you can’t help but admire the effort by Liu, a highly talented new author.

Read if you like complicated, sophisticated fantasy that focuses on characters, motivations, and unique settings with a decent amount of action. Don’t read if you expect an easy fantasy read full of in-your-face action and simple prose.

There are some flaws with the book that ultimately pull it from being ‘great’ to merely ‘good.’ The characters, while they are developed personalities and complexly written, do end up doing some rather idiotic things over and over that don’t make a lot of sense. And the story falls into repetition mode with plot elements continually repeated.

Ultimately, The Grace of Kings is a flawed book that could have been a masterpiece, yet still a better book than most. It’s well worth reading if you want an interesting fantasy that tries to do something new with a pretty awesome oriental setting.

Liu is highly talented author and a rising star in the genre — let’s see what his next effort produces.

Jon Snow: I didn’t hate it because I really liked the beginning, but that’s about it though. The characters are all really dumb. The same story repeats itself over and over again. Again, it is a book full of action, very similar to Golden Son, however, there is more purpose to Golden Son.

17. Six of Crows (Leigh Bardugo)

Six-of-CrowsTake one part Ocean’s Eleven, one part Game of Thrones, a tiny bit of Lies of Locke Lamora, mix in a revenge plot and you have Six of Crows, one of the more interesting and exciting fantasy novels of 2015.

Keep in mind though, Six of Crows is NOT Lies of Locke Lamora, although there are some similarities with the main character being a thief and the initial plot premise being a heist of a person imprisoned in an impenetrable fortress. The tone and the humor are completely different.

Still, I found myself wildly entertained from start to finish. There’s definitely a strong element of romance tossed into this book as well, though this never quite takes over the plot.

All in all, Six of Crows was a pretty splendid read. I read this one late (December) and didn’t have my hopes up that another book would grab my attention before the year, but Six of Crows succeeded.

I’ll also throw this one out there for the most impressive fantasy cover of 2015 as well. Something about the cover just grabs your attention and won’t let it go.

 

18. The Autumn Republic (Brian McClellan)

autumnThis series started on a high note and ended on a high note. One of the new wave of fantasy books that are pioneering the newly forming ‘Gunpowder Fantasy’ sub-genre, and one that makes it proud.

Epic fantasy, strong, flawed characters, interesting magic, crazy amounts of action, and a war-torn world on the brink and under siege from men and hostile gods.

And as the concluding book in the trilogy, The Autumn Republic ends on a high note and does not disappoint the reader. In fact, I’d go as to say it had one of the best endings I’ve read this year.

Now that the series is done, I highly recommend it to all fantasy readers looking for gritty military fantasy (or action packed fantasy in general).

Jon Snow: Definitely one of the best books of the year. I would rate it much higher than this. What let’s it down is a few random pieces. One, the introduction of a completely new character that really doesn’t add anything to the series. I  would even call it a plot device. Two, the battle scenes, just don’t seem very believable. I’m no battle tactician but there were a few parts where I was left asking myself, really? With all that said, this book really does wrap the series well. Many things happen, things get explained, people die and an author finishes a series (yes, I did just say that).

19. The Devil’s Detective (Simon Kurt Unsworth)

devilsHell, but like one you’ve never seen before. The Devil’s Detective is one of those unassuming books that takes you completely by surprise. The world building is highly imaginative – some of the more unique in fantasy this year. The tone, style, and setting is hardboiled noir – and I’m a big fan of this style.

Being a noir detective tale set in hell, this is an Urban Fantasy (one that straddles the horror genre if we want to be precise). Urban fantasy is one of the biggest sub-genres of fantasy (a case could be made that Urban Fantasy is its own genre) and there’s a LOT of books released each year that touch it. It’s actually impossible for me to keep up with all the various Urban Fantasy tales spawned each year.

But there are a few stand outs each year – and the Devil’s Detective is one such novel. It’s imaginative, wonderfully written (the prose almost has a lyrical tilt to it), and the setting is a place you love to read about from the comfort of your home, but never visit).

Make no bones about it, The Devil’s Detective is a pitch black tale, full of darkness, set in a grim place. It’s Hell after all and not an exaggeration to call this a ‘hellish story.’ Ok, stupid puns aside, this is a pretty damn good read and will scratch that Urban fantasy noir detective itch if you have it. It’s in the realm of The Dresden Files, Alexa Verus, Sandman Slim, but darker and more gruesome.

This novel also works completely as a stand alone, which is a refreshing change of pace from all the trilogy dominating the fantasy landscape.

20. Wake of Vultures (Lila Bowen)

wakeA dark journey into a weird alternate version of Paris.

Fans of the weird fiction will find a lot to love in this disturbing, yet enthralling novel by Lila Bowen.

Trying to describe this one is like trying to describe the wind to a blind person: you can say what it does, but you can’t truly do the description justice. It must be seen to be experienced. And in this case, Wake of Vultures must be read to be experienced.

Take a hodgepodge of different genres, lyrical writing, supernatural weirdness, toss them into a bucket stir it really good and Wake of Cultures might just float to the top. It has some of the same feels as The Dark Tower and a brutal steampunk world gone wrong.

Read if you love the weird west. Read if you love mysterious and haunting settings. Read if love compelling yet disturbing characters. Read if you love vivid descriptions and lyrical prose.

READ this one if you want to lose yourself in a strangely beautiful fantasy story well told.

21. Black Wolves (Kate Elliot)

blackwA surprisingly good new fantasy by Elliot – arguably her best work in years by a long shot. Many years ago, Elliot blew my socks off with her imaginative Crown of Stars series, which buckled and meandered under the weight of all the story threads and size of the series (7 massive books it finished at).

Elliot has continued to produce new fantasy over the years, but nothing has really captured my attention again like her first (flawed) work until Black Wolves (which is set in the same world as her Crossroads saga).

This remarkable book stands out as one of the better fantasy (epic fantasy if we want to be precise) this year. Elliot builds her story on the many of the standard fantasy conventions we are used to in the genre, but her masterful storytelling sublimates it to a new level.

The real joy here are the characters – they each are beautifully drawn, realistic, complex, and grow on you. Elliot writes characters in the same style as Robin Hobb — slow and with subtle yet deft touch.

The start of a series that really does weave together the perfect mix of politics, religion and world building. This is not a subversion of the epic fantasy genre, but rather taking what’s already good and combining the parts perfectly.

22. Signal to Noise (Silvia Moreno-Garcia)

513INnIMhDL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_

The time is the 80’s, the setting is mexico, and the subjects a couple of teenagers. Signal to Noise is a modern magic realism tale that’s striking, poignant, and unique. I found myself wanting to dally in Moreno-Garcia’s strange yet also relatable world as long as possible.

This is one of those books that stays with you long after you finish it. It’s poignant story that you don’t want to finish and one that will have you thinking about it for a long while after completion. If you are looking for an easy to read epic fantasy full of sword fighting, epic military battles, empire-spanning conflict and magical duels, well Signal to Noise ain’t that book.

It’s a slowly crafted novel that details a coming of age story. It’s slow, but it’s rich and for those who love well written fantasy with a decidedly literary feel to it, Signal to Noise is a must-read. It’s novel that deals with that tricky space of teenage adolescence, in a world where teenagers find they can cast magical spells with music.

Music, magic, family problems, love, and magic — how can you not love a novel that deals in these?

Read for a story about magic, about the passing of time, and about what it’s like to be a teenager. And of course, what it’s like to live in Mexico during the 80’s as a teenager with magical abilities.

23. Half the World (Joe Abercrombie)

halfawarAbercombie makes this list with his YA-centered fantasy, The Shattered Seas trilogy.

The setting is interesting, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before and, frankly, done better elsewhere. What stands out (besides the fact the author released all three book in the trilogy in the matter of a year) were the strong, sassy characters who handed a pile of lemons, somehow find a way to make lemonade –particularly the quick witted ‘king’ with a maimed hand, Yarvi, and Thorn, a female who becomes a hero in a realm where only men are deemed fit to be heroes.

I still maintain Abercrombie is at his best when he writes grimdark for adults rather than half grimdark for younger audience, but there’s still a lot to love with his dark, Norse-inspired fantasy tale for the kids.

Jon Snow: Half the World is a much better book than Half a War (book 3). It was interesting to see how Abercrombie changed his main protagonist in the first book to become a somewhat 3rd string character. I felt that introducing even more characters in the last book was over the top and killing characters off screen just seems cheap. The ending to the series is very Abercrombie like, read one, read them all.

24. Son of the Black Sword (Larry Correia)

son of the black sword review

If you are looking for a dark, terrible fantasy world that’s depressing but with a kick ass hero, Son of the Black Sword takes my pick for being one of the best gritty action fantasy tales this year.

The world of Lok is isolated, bordered by uncrossable seas infested with demons cast to earth by the Gods.

On this isolated island religion is dead, culture is stagnant, magic is forbidden. The old royalty has been cast down and made castless. The old ways are banned. Only the Law exists and all are bound to uphold it, made sure of by the Protectors — and ruthless order of mystical warriors that uphold the law , seeking out any taint of the old ways and eradicate them with fury.

And the most ruthless Protector of all is Ashok Vadal. But Vadal finds a startling truth that changes everything. And the hunter becomes the hunted.

Son of the Black Sword is Larry Correia newest and best work so far (he’s written a couple pulpy urban action fantasy series). This a far more serious take on the fantasy genre then his previous efforts, with complex world building, a mysterious and well developed protagonist, and of course, a setting that’s a sort of alternative fantasy version of India — if India was infested with demons, and of course, a shit load of action. The story moves along at a brisk pace, the plotting is well done, and the word building is good.

If you are tired with high brow fantasy and you want something that nips at the heels of a Brent Weeks novel, well, Son of the Black Sword might be what you are looking for.

25. The Death of Dulgath (Michael J. Sullivan)

deathThis new entry to the Riyria series hearkens back to the simple fantasy  of yesteryear, before it became vogue as a fantasy writer to make your story as dark and genre subverting as possible.

And there’s nothing wrong with that – sometimes you want to read a light-hearted fantasy featuring a couple wise-cracking heroes who always win the day without being brutalized for half the book.

The Death of Dulgath embodies this idea of light fantasy to the tee – there’s plenty of action, comedic moments, likable pair of heroes pulling off the big win in every book with the narrative maintaining an optimistic mood the whole way though.

With all the harsh grimdark and gritty fantasy out there now, where it’s pretty much expected that your heroes are dragged the the mud and brutalized every way to Sunday, well, The Death of Dulgath is a nice counterpoint to this, a balancing of the scales so to say.

It’s refreshing in way to see Sullivan sticking to his style of light fantasy in the Riyria Chronicles. There is a need for some fantasy reading where you feel good and happy and not depressed.

Overall, The Death of Dulgath is fun read — pick it up if you are in the mood for action, excitement, and a tale where heroes live…and always win in the end.

 

Honorable Mentions

There are some books that also struck a chord with me and almost made the list. Likely for some of you, these books will be on your own Top 25 fantasy you read this year.

Queen of Fire (Anthony Ryan)

queenThis wrap up to Anthony’s Raven’s Shadow Trilogy was one of the most anticipated fantasy novels of 2015. But it opened to mixed reviews – some loved it, while many hated it.

Ryan, with his first book Blood Song, combined the action and excitement of a Gemmel novel with the emotional intensity of The Name of the Wind. Book 2 did NOT live up the premise while book three is squeeze between Book 1 and Book 2 – much closer to book 2 than Book 1.

Still, it’s a fitting, if somewhat disappointing conclusion to the series. But overall, the Raven Shadow trilogy is a good read – with some novels in the series better than others.

His brilliant The Blood Song has pretty much carried the series forward on the strength of how good it was — I suppose after the highest of highs ascended by the first, the other two sequels could not reach such lofty hights and perforce will seem like a ‘low’.

But compared to other fantasy out there, the sequel books — specifically Queen of Fire — are pretty good as fantasy goes. Not brilliant or great, but good (or as some might say ‘good enough’).

As a whole, I recommend you do finish off the last book in the series – you’ll probably fall into the hate it or love it camp  by the end of it. But respect given to Ryan for finishing up the series and trying to go in a different direction than the first book. I don’t think it worked as a whole, but the trilogy stands as a pretty good read.

Empire Ascendant (Kameron Hurley)

517pd-QjKTL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_A strong follow up to the first The Mirror Empire which won a slew of awards last year and ranked near the top of our Best Fantasy of 2014 Book list. The sequel is great, but like many follow up books to strong first novel, struggles to find footing.

Still, if you loved the first, you’ll also love Empire Ascendant.

Much of the world building heavy lifting has been done by the first book which means Empire Ascendant is easier to process.

Hurley deals with complex themes and even more complex characters. You may not like some of her characters, but you will certainly understand them. Like the first book, the sequel is a heavy book to read. The characters are put into miserable situations and they suffer. A lot.

This is definitely not a book for the light hearted, but if you read the first in the series, you know that already. Avoid if you want light hearted fantasy. But if you want a real fantasy novel of substance, dealing with unique ideas, lofty themes, and complex characters and motivations, then this this sequel delivers.

It’s a weaker book than the first, but still an enjoyable read.

Jon Snow’s Top 10 Reads of 2015

And to cap this year off with a bonus best list, Jon Snow, blog editor, presents his own Top 10 list of the best this year.

Note: I haven’t read half as many books as Ben has, so my list might be missing perhaps what some may call, crucial reads of 2015.
For a slight explanation, see our Staff Members Top Picks of 2015.

1) Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley
2) The Vagrant by Peter Newman
3) The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan
4) Half the World by Joe Abercrombie
5) The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
6) Golden Son by Pierce Brown
7) Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb
8) Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson
9) A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin
10) Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
HM) The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud

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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