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Best Fantasy Reads of 2013

By / December 11, 2013 / no comments

It really doesn’t matter what you do with these kinds of lists, you can’t please everyone and that certainly isn’t our aim. A couple of readers thought our Worst list was terrible. One of them even though we were deliberately stirring the pot!

Anyways, our Best list is massive…as it should be…hence our name! Take a look, anything new you could pick up? Maybe you have something on here that we didn’t put on here?

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Jon Snow: A really entertaining read. Was really hoping it wasn’t going to be a cliche farmboy with a sword story and I shouldn’t have doubted Sanderson. I predicted the ending, but it was an awesome ending so I didn’t care. The magic system did feel a little bit odd and I did had to refer back to the diagrams a lot. However I think I’ll be set when the next one comes out. It’s great to be reading some shorter work from him but bring on Words of Radiance!

Ben: One of my favorite reads this year. Sanderson takes some of the boy-goes-to-magic-school trappings found in Harry Potter and puts a bit of a twist on it. This time our Harry Potter like hero, has no magical ability and is forced to watch from the sidelines, blue with envy, as the his peers practice magic. The thing is you really feel sorry for the kid. He’s smart, eager and earnest, poor as a churchmouse,  and unpopular. To add insult to injuries, he’s attending a privileged academy for the wealthy via a welfare program.

Basically, the kid’s the classic underdog — and don’t we love those types!

There’s a lot to love with this book: coming of age story, unique magic system, compelling cast of zany characters, a lovable hero, an interesting and yet-to-be-expanded world, and Sanderson’s trademark dramatic moments. Hands down my favorite fantasy YA novel of 2013. I Look forward to book two in the series.

Laurentius: One more from the man who never stops typing. Loved the book. Cool concept and the protagonist is as usual a young nobody. But this time around the protagonist has no abilities what so ever, except he’s a geek for rithmatism. It’s math, angles, degrees, and oh how I love that he takes these concepts into a book. Were I to recommend one book on this list, Rithmatist would be it.


Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Jon Snow: One of my favourites this year. No Sandersonequse twist at the end, no new magic system (a slight twist on an old one). Yet this book was a page turner and was always entertaining. I’m a bit superhero/villain fan and there is definitely a unique spin on it. I’m really looking forward to Firefight. Sanderson has said it is a two book series but I’m secretly hoping for a bit more.

Ben: An entertaining book that takes the superhero sub-genre of fantasy and makes it more mainstream. Great action, interesting characters, and some dramatic twists make for a great read. If you are looking for a typical hero-with-hidden-power stands up to powerful wizard bad guys sort of story, then get ready for a reversal. This is more like “underpowered band of heroes going up against bad guys with horrible odds of winning”. While this wasn’t my favorite read of 2013, I still would recommend it as one of the better reads this year. I can’t say I’m dissapointed by Sanderson yet. By far he’s got the highest quantity to quality ratio out of any fantasy author on the market right now.

Laurentius: One of my favourite reads. It’s a quick read and lots of fun. The idea that power corrupts is not a new concept, but I like how Brandon Sanderson handled it. It lacks on the character development side, but the story and “magic” system is as always top notch. Brandon is a keeper!


Republic of Thieves by scott Lynch

Antoxx: One of the most anticipated books of 2013 from Scott Lynch delivered on pretty much all fronts for me. Multiple in-depth capers, a reintroduction to some old favourites via the Sanza twins and finally we also get to meet the love of Locke’s life, Sabetha. And whilst the romancing part of the book wasn’t to my liking it did serve the purpose of providing additional context to the Bastards’ pasts. Republic of Thieves also serves up additional information around the Elderan and the Bondsmagi through whom the series would appear to be more focussed on going forward. I feel that we’re at an important junction of the Bastards series, the next book of which will determine whether the Gentleman Bastards Sequence continues to justify its ranking in the top echelon of fantasy series.

Jon Snow: I’m really torn on this one. I think this is two great books that mistakenly got put into one book with too many flash backs. If you had taken all the flashbacks and put them in one book and the same with the current day series. I would have devoured it. Entertaining non-the-less but finesse was needed.


Raven’s Shadow by Elspeth Cooper

Antoxx: Raven’s Shadow is Elspeth Cooper’s third offering in The Wild Hunt quartet and for a “middle” book, the story is a damned fine one. I’ve found that each book in the quartet has improved upon the previous one and Raven’s Shadow has done a lot to justify my decision to continue on from what I thought was pretty average fare with the first book. The storyline remains well paced and with true multiple POVs, each storyline of which is engaging, there never is a dull moment. The cliff hanger ending has ensured that I’ll eagerly be seeking out The Dragon House to see how this epic fantasy series concludes.


Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Ben: I’ve been a vocal fan of Mark Lawrence the past couple years and his concluding novel to this trilogy doesn’t disappoint. This is a different sort of fantasy than your typical run of the mill and Lawrence deserves a lot of credit for breaking from the mainstream fantasy model and doing something unique. The setting is a futuristic post apocalyptic world where the future society (called The Makers) ultimately imploded from the very technology that made them god-like. The inheritors of this post apocolypse now live and enjoy a rather quaint medieval lifestyle. Except now this medieval world is itself threatened by the shadow of the very technology that destroyed the Makers in the first place. Besides the joys of discovering a very different sort of world that’s familiar yet different, the riches of this series are in reading about the antics of Honorable Jorg, the hero/anti-hero of this story.

Our prince, in the third book, is now all grown up and still somewhat pissed at the world but with a rage now tempered with age and experience. The last two books we saw Jorg acting out his revenge on the world that mistreated him. It’s true that some teenagers react badly to a violent childhood, falling with the wrong crowd, engaging in rebellious acts, etc. It’s understandable that Jorg, who’s pedigree of childhood troubles include being hung to die on a thorn tree while watching his younger brother and mother murdered, being sodomized by a priest, being made to slay his own pet dog, and having his own father try and kill him, ends up running with the wrong crowd. And as we found out in the first book, Prince of Thorns, that wrong crowd happens to be a band of marauding mercenaries with a penchant for a bit of rape and murder. In Emperor of Thorns, Jorg has managed to work his way from being captain of this band of killers to king of his (now deposed) uncle’s realm and now sets his sight on the ultimate prize: emperor of the world.

Will he achieve it and buck the almost impossible odds — human and non-human– arrayed against him? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Time is against Jorg in this book as the very dead are rising up against him, laying siege to the lands of the living.

Overall, a good conclusion to the story and one of the better fantasy trilogies to come out in the past decade. I look forward to Lawrence’s newest work. And a trilogy that’s actually a trilogy and not a 10 book unfinished monster.

Laurentius: This one is probably not as much “best of 2013”, but more of the surprise of 2013. I had promised myself not to read this book after I read book two, but I caved in because I needed something to read. I’m glad I did. This is actually a decent book, and it has a fitting ending. The anti-hero Jorg is back and makes ready to lay claim to the iron throne. This book is on par with Prince of Thorns, and a lot better than King of Thorns. It’ll never be a classic though.

Codex Born by Jim Hines

Laurentius: A fetching new series. Urban Fantasy at its best and funniest. Think the quality of the Dresden Files at book 3 or 4 and onwards. Quality stuff with a protagonist that loves books just as much as you and me. A great new series. Go read it while you’re waiting for the next volume in the Dresden Files.


Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Ben: A fun read, but I wouldn’t necessarily class it as one of the best reads of 2013. An interesting (and certainly novel) magic system. A cast of troubled characters. A steampunkish world on the brink of ending. Epic battle scenes of guns vs sorcery. Everything a fantasy fan should would like. Overall, cool book. I look forward to see what the sequel has in store. To me, had a faint whiff of Mistborn to it, both in the magic system and the way the action played out.

Jon Snow: This one is probably my favorite read. I understand it probably isn’t the most polished series to have been written but I actually got this book on a whim. When expectations are low, it can yield really positive reads. It was only after the fact that I found out he learnt a bit of his writing from Sanderson and you can clearly see some resemblance in the writing. I liked the magic system and how he put limitations on them. The story was from a couple of angles which helped with the suspense and I felt that it really was setting up for something much larger. Yes of course I already knew it was a trilogy, but sometimes a book one of a trilogy can be quiet self contained i.e. Mistborn: The Final Empire.


Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Danica: The Rivers of London series follows Peter Grant. A modern day London police officer, an apprentice to the wizard that runs a special branch of the London PD, and all round good guy. The books follow Grant as he tries to maintain order a city filled with not so average Persons Of Interest.

This series is shaping up to be as good as Dresden. The characters of developing deeply and in interesting ways in relation to each other. Aaronovitch is relying less on London references to establish the setting, which works in my favour! The plot was interesting and the twist left me reeling for days. The book is action packed, funny, entertaining and relatively light. I would recommend this series to anyone who is a fan of Dresden. You’ll be just as impatient waiting for the next instalment of these books … don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Laurentius: The folly series has quickly become one of my favourite series. The English Harry Dresden, constable Peter Grant is yet again thrown into a Sherlock-esque mystery, while trying to learn magic. It’s a fast, but most of all fun read. This is the stuff right here!


The Thousand names by Django Wexler

Ben: If you like military fantasy with a focus on squad dynamics, inter-regimental politics, and rampant colonialism (in this case, a somewhat positive treatment of imperialism), you are going to like this book. It faintly reminds me of The Black Company with the heavy emphasis on military life; a Brent Weeks book with the emphasis on quick action scenes that happen almost out of the blue, and a hint of inspiration from Malazan Books, specifically The Bonehunters, with the setting of the book taking place in a desert with the troops having to march through/survive it.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised when it came to this book (first in the series). Good characterization, an interesting dynamic going on plot wise, plenty of conflict to keep you entertained, a focus on military life (and how shitty it can be marching in the desert), and plenty of battles to quell your thirst for violence. A lot of potential with this one. Let’s see what Django (and who can beat a name like that as an author?) can come up with in the sequel

Laurentius: Besides having one of the most awesome and cool names, this guy can write a book. He can write it real good. Think Black Company mixed with Brent Weeks. Winter Ihernglass, our sometimes protagonist is a young soldier, not looking to make career, but to hide from the authorities. The story and the characters are very promising and I am psyched for the next volumes in this series. Lots of potential.


Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

Ben:  Self Publishing done right. Impressive debut, especially considering the author first self-published, managed to pick up enough steam from readers to land himself a deal with a major publisher, then went off and found some critical success. A poster boy for the self-publishing fantasy world and an all out riveting read.

This is a coming of age fantasy full of action, angst, magic, and battle — yes and even a dash of romance. Fans of David Gemmell and RA Salvatore will especially love this one — there is a big dose of those authors tossed into this book and even a spoonful of The Name of the Wind that first person angsty-ness of the protagonist. I suspect this one will probably by MANY fantasy readers favorite read of 2013.

Laurentius: A deserved place on this list goes to the debut Blood Song. A really great first book in a series. It has a lot of potential and if the sequels can keep the same level of writing, this will hit my top 10 favorite series of all time. The protagonist is cool. The magic system, which is referred to sa “singing” is awesome, and there is lots of politics and plotting to go through. I especially loved the use of the chronicler. We got to know the chronicler pretty good along the way, even though the book was about everyone else than him. I for one hope to see more of this guy. (Anthony Ryan AND the chronicler both that is!). Go team Ryan!


The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks

Ben: Probably my favorite fantasy read of 2013. This book had everything I like in a fantasy book: raw action, an awesome magic system, an awkward young boy with the potential for greatness, good guys who are bad guys and bad guys who are good guys. And did I mention the awesome action scenes? I admit I was never the biggest fan of Week’s Night Angel series which to me was quite a juvenile writing attempt to combine a franken clone of Gemmell and Salvatore. The first book, The Black Prism, was a move in the right direction but still fell short. I don’t know what Weeks was taking when he wrote the sequel, but whatever he’s on, please continue! One of the most improved (and exciting) sequels ever. And in a world where most sequels / second books are markedly disappointing, this is a high praise indeed.


River of Stars by Gaverial Guy Kay

Ben: The best written fantasy book of 2013, hands down. Kay ranks right up there with Gaimen and China Meiville as one of the most talented wordsmiths in the genre and his newest work, River of Stars, sequel to the masterful Under Heaven, only reinforces his credentials as such.

This is not a direct sequel to Under Heaven as it takes place 400 years later and follows several characters on who hinges the fate of the mythical empire Kitai (Kay’s version of a mythical historical China).

River of Stars is a complex and thoughtful novel that’s not always positive and uplifting, but sharply written with an intelligent and fascinating cast of characters who weave into and out of each other lives, affecting the destiny of the empire of Kitai.


The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Ben: On the surface a charming little magical fairy tale that delivers a heartwarming story that you simply don’t want to end; beneath the quaint magical charm though, it’s arguably also a serious literary work. If you want something literary this year that will take you to a fantastical landscape both unfamiliar and familiar, then you won’t find anything better in the “fantasy world” than this outstanding work. A romantic blend of historical fiction, fantasy, and re-woven fairy tales, I can’t recommend this book enough.


The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Ben: Gaiman has that magical ability to find the inner child in every adult; then scare the living hell out of it. This is that sort of book, one that embraces the beauty and innocence of childhood while also exploiting them for scares.

But it’s not a book about cheap scares and action, but more of a paced reflection about the innocence of childhood, the joys of growing up, of what you lose when you become an adult, and that maybe children know a thing or two about the world that adults don’t.  And yea, it’s a bucolic horror that in many a ways brings you back to that place when you were 6 years old, hiding under your covers from the monster that lives under the bed.

This one is perfect for that cold christmas day when you are trapped inside by the fireplace and want to get your goosebumps fix. This is Neil Gaiman and that man just can’t seem to fail to write something good.

The Tyrant’s Law by Daniel Abraham

Ben: Martin meets Abercrombie in the conclusion to a magnificent trilogy. This series is a big win because it creates an antagonist that you actually kind of like and relate to, or if not relate, at least emphasis with. While it’s not all vicious action and sarcastic humor, the characters are interesting as is the world that’s slowly been revealed over the three books. This series has never been a “race” but more of a methodical jaunt through a world that inch by inch slowly comes into focus as you delve deeper into it. The characterization is top notch, from the villains to the heroes — and every one of them is flawed with elements of good and bad. One of my favorite villains in fantasy.

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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