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Best Fantasy Books of 2015: BFB Staff Picks

By / December 23, 2015 / no comments

Note that this isn’t the official BFB top 2015 list. A lot of the staff don’t read 2015 published books, so don’t be frustrated that your favourite is not on here. What this is, is a good indication of what books are probably worth reading and what is not.

@sneakyburrito

In no particular order:

VagrantThe Vagrant by Peter Newman – I liked the writing style a lot.  I prefer not to have an excessive amount of description, to have to figure a few things out on my own, and I got that here.  The mute protagonist was an interesting touch, and the non-verbal communication was well done.  And I thought the goat was awesome.

Nightwise by R.S. Belcher – I enjoyed this mostly because of the dark tone and because Belcher was a master bullshit artist in this book.  He would take urban legends and conspiracy theories, twist them a little bit, add a piece or two of factual information, and almost have me going.

Ruin by John Gwynne – This series was just OK for me at first, but it took a turn for the better in the most recent book.  Some storylines were finally resolved and some events I’d been waiting for finally happened.  The ending was a little bit of a surprise for me, but in a good way — I do want to find out what happens next.

Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland – This was a light read and might appeal to fans of Patricia McKillip.  I just loved the descriptions of the castle, and the members of the royal family were sympathetic protagonists, especially the princess who couldn’t speak (odd that I read two books with mute protagonists this year, but both were well done).

Golden Son by Pierce Brown – I have to admit to not understanding the motivation behind everything Darrow does (like visiting his mother…).  Some of these actions get him into trouble.  However, although it’s been awhile since I read this, I just remember frantically tapping my Kindle to get to the next page.  Even though I always knew another betrayal was coming, this book was a fun, popcorn sort of read for me.

And the disappointments:

Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan – The villain was too over-the-top (her scenes were nearly unbearable to read) and I just couldn’t get behind Lyrna’s mission.

The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett – There was far too much content about Krasia.  Arlen barely appeared.  And the incompetence Arlen and company display when they are present with respect to interrogating the demon they’ve caught, does not give me hope for a good finale.

@alucard
  1. uprootedUprooted by Naomi Novik

    “I don’t want more sense!” I said loudly, beating against the silence of the room. “Not if sense means I’ll stop loving anyone. What is there besides people that’s worth holding on to?” Naomi Novik, Uprooted

    This was my first book by Novik and it couldn’t have been a better introduction to her writing. It ended up being my favourite book for 2015. Uprooted mixes fairy tale and Polish and Slavic folklore with adventure and mystery and does it in quite an organic way. It introduces us to the world of Agnieszka, a girl who’s faced with a tremendous challenge of learning magic after being picked out by a wizard called Dragon. She must serve with him and protect her village from The Wood, a menacing place of mysterious origin.

    When you are reading Uprooted you get this great sense of adventure, because the pacing is so well done, and the danger is never quite fully known. The Wood always seems to have one more trick up its sleeves and Agnieszka always has more to give and learn and by doing so change the people and her world.

    Overall a great mix of different fantasy subgenres, which can take quite a dark turn sometimes, so small warning there. It’s marketed as YA, but it can be darker then most books labelled that way. I sincerely hope Novik has plans for sequel because as of now it’s still a standalone.

     

  2. Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

    “Some would say a whore don’t have no expectation of Heaven. I’d say, if she gives value for cash, she’s got a better shot at God’s blessing than your average banker. Jesus loved Mary Magdalene. He kicked over tables when He met a moneylender.”
    Elizabeth Bear, Karen Memory

    Oh what a delightful and unexpected treat Karen Memory was. Same as Uprooted by Novik, Karen Memory was my first glimpse into Bear’s writing and it was a bullseye. Karen Memory is a steampunk/adventure novel set in 19th century Seattle, featuring a set of colourful, memorable characters. The main character is in the title. She’s a prostitute in a Hôtel Mon Cherie, a high-end bordello, who gets involved with an US marshal after he comes to town to investigate gruesome murders of prostitutes. The story just gets bigger from there, unearthing a huge conspiracy at the end.

    Great multicultural characters, unorthodox MC, murder mystery and steampunk adventure all rolled into one – this is Karen Memory.

     

  3. White Trash Zombie Gone Wild (White Trash Zombie #5) by Diana Rowland

    “A redneck toolkit,” he said with a snort. “Duct tape and WD-40.” He grabbed a roll from a drawer and taped the door in place, then stepped back and regarded our handiwork. “Well, at least it ain’t a driveway paved in crushed beer cans.”

    I laughed. “We’re hicks with standards.” Diana Rowland, White Trash Zombie Gone Wild

    This is the newest instalment of the ongoing series by Diana Rowland which I’ve read fully (or maybe I should say listened to) this year. In my opinion undeservedly underrated, this series offers quite a unique spin on zombie genre, which I’m not really a fan of on its own. Yet this series gives much more, as it treats some serious topics such as drug addiction and family abuse. It also

    features one of the most sympathetic characters I have come across. Angel Crawford is flawed, stubborn, and self-destructive, but she’s also brave, curious and open to help. Through these books you can see her grow and fall, pick her self up and fall again, and you sympathise because she’s so realistic. This is where the zombie angle also works, because despite being a zombie she’s more human, than some humans around her. It’s fun, original, supported by great humour, but if you scratch under the surface it also more than your average urban fantasy series.

  4. The Mechanical (The Alchemy Wars #1) by Ian Tregillis

    “Having tasted life without the pain of obligation perpetually burning him from within, he’d choose death over the return to bondage. He’d make that choice in an instant. Life as a slave was unspeakable; life as a slave who had briefly tasted freedom was unthinkable.”
    Ian Tregillis, The Mechanical

    The newest series by Tregillis is a steampunk/alternative history mix, which features a clockwork man named Jax who by chance experiences free will and is no longer obliged by great pain to listen to his master’s orders. In the Jax’s world, he’s an abomination which must be destroyed and so his adventure begins.

    The Mechanical is a great book which explores interesting questions of free will, societal norms, slavery, war etc, but does it through one mechanical man lens. The world is quite interesting, the pace is great and it has that unpredictable quality to it. A great read if you want something different, but it does end with a cliff-hanger. The sequel however is already out and I need to get to The Rising ASAP.

  5. Nightwise by R.S. Belcher

    “Belief has power. Getting someone else to believe what you believe has even greater power. I’ve always been all about the power, not so much with the following or the believing. I believe in me, that’s pretty much it. Believe in someone else too much and they’ll fail you or screw you, or both.”
    R.S. Belcher, Nightwise

    This is a great start of a new dark urban fantasy series, but it can be read as a standalone. The book picks up on the tradition of noir novels, and that translates directly to the characters. You won’t find any good guys here, just different shades of grey or completely black. Nightwise successfully combines different mythological traditions. It also tries to incorporate some real world facts but that part leaves a lot to be desired from. The main character is a negative one, so if you need to sympathise with the characters you are reading about, you might want to look into something else. If you don’t hold this requirement however, this book will reward you with great action scenes, interesting magic and superb noir atmosphere. I am really looking forward to the sequel.

@TomTB

 

  1. halftheworldHalf the World by Joe Abercrombie
    Characterisation was spot on, they were all fantastic. The relationships were great, particularly Brand and Thorn.
  2. Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
    All the characters were great, I don’t think the series was affected by its YA branding, and (as is always the case with JA) I would recommend to all who would care to listen!
  3. The Sane King by Matt Knott
    It’s a dark fantasy style where Gods walk amongst mortals and wars are raging. The characters are well portrayed, are believable and are generally quite sombre, reflecting the world they’re part of. The story starts off at a fast pace and was interesting from the get go.
    The Sane King did remind me of the Malazan world at points, particularly the last third of the book, which is praise indeed in my mind.
  4. A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab
    It started off great, but the story progressively got worse as it progressed. I liked the characters, they were pretty standard fare characters that you’ve seen countless times before, but they were likeable and interesting. I liked the setting of the book, and the various dimensions, and travel between. I liked the magic system. But I just felt a bit let down towards the end by the writing style.

Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan comes last.
Dinosaur Lords is a fantasy book touted as being a cross between Game of Thrones and Jurassic Park. Game of Thrones is great, Jurassic Park is great. So Dinosaur Lords must be doubly great, right? Wrong. It’s awful, and is possibly the worst book in the fantasy genre I’ve had the misfortune to read. There is a pointless rape scene, which happens suddenly, and then isn’t mentioned again despite both characters playing integral on-going parts. There are countless references to the use of raptor feathers (you name it, it’s made of bloody raptor feathers). Homosexuality is actively encouraged within the King’s army, which is just bizarre. There is a token magical element, which is terribly incorporated into the story.

@JonSnow

1) providenceProvidence of Fire by Brian Staveley
This book is great. It is better than The Emperor’s Blades (book 1) and every chapter is exciting, something happens. An awesome continuation, which keeps getting better. The characters start to come into their own, and all protagonists get more and more defined.

2) The Vagrant by Peter Newman
I knew nothing of the book, no hype, nothing. It was great. A man on a mission to get his baby and a package to safety. However, the world is in a dystopian state where monsters have taken over the world. You can read it as a standalone. There isn’t really a big cliffhanger ending, but it does set it up for more books. Best Debut book for me.

3) The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan
An exciting read, in which I didn’t have time to put it down. The ending is great. Definitely a couple of flaws in the story, but a well worth your time to pick up the trilogy.

4) Half the World by Joe Abercrombie
While there is nothing new or big wow moments (a minor one near the end), I thought Abercrombie did really well. His characters were fleshed out slowly, and surely, they became great characters unique to their own. World building still needs work though.

5) The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
The short of it is, this book has pirates, cats, and mid-air battles, what more do you want?

6) Golden Son by Pierce Brown
While it was still good, it has nothing on Red Rising. This whole book was a roller coaster ride and while it was a fun ride, I did want to get off at the end.

7) Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb
Hobb’s ability to get us to love Fitz is like an ensnaring trap by an angler fish. We see the pretty lights and then bam! Reading Hobb is like having a wound that is healing. You go through the pain and start to feel the itching sensation that is healing and you think, everything is ok. Then she stabs you again at the point of the wound.

8) Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson
Sanderson has improved on his romance aspect of writing. While nothing gets serious in this book, I like how he is able to show a lot of emotion through the characters’ actions.

9) A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin
I really enjoy the Heroic fantasy element. The hero is flawed in so many ways except for his heart. A bit of a cheat though, as these stories were published well before 2015 and therefore ranked it lower.

10) Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
Introducing new characters into the third book probably wasn’t needed but added another dimension into the story, another strong female character. The ending is very Abercrombie like, predictable and open ended.

Biggest Disappointments:

Firefight by Brandson Sanderson
Steelheart was interesting, unique. Firefight took all the good parts and threw them all away. The puppy love in story makes me want to stop reading. The ending was the only redeemable feature.

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
So much hype around this book on the internet and our forums. Picked it up because it was $2 on Amazon. I’m so glad I didn’t pay more. While the first 1/4 of the book was great, the whole story cycle just repeated over and over again. Motives of the main protagonists seemed confusing and both of them just seemed so dumb.

About the author

Jon Snow

Believe it or not, Jon Snow really got into reading only after reading A Game of Thrones back in 2002. Previously the only fantasy he had read were Lord of the Rings and many Magic: The Gathering books.While juggling teaching life, he tries to keep up with recently published books.

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